Stalwart American Standard

Sometimes, you find investment ideas in the strangest places -- like the men's room of a restaurant. See, with the lack of reading material in these places, my eyes naturally find the only letters that they're likely to find there. And those letters spell out the name brand of the toilet the restaurant has chosen for its patrons. More often that not, that name is American Standard (NYSE: ASD  ) .

But the old ball-and-chain version of our home porcelain god is on its way out. The company has just introduced its new Champion toilet, and no, I'm not kidding.

Now, to be fair, the company makes a lot of bath fixtures and much, much more. It also makes air conditioning systems for huge places like airports. It even makes brake and control systems for cars. Now, some people might look at a company like this, think it's a terrible example of "diworsification," and flush it as a possible investment. But they'd be missing a real standard in American business.

This $9.5 billion company (in revenue) just reported a year-over-year earnings increase of 24% on 7% sales growth. It has guided investors to expect earnings between $2.60 and $2.75 this year, a 14% increase over last year (on the low end). The thing I like most about American Standard, though, is the amount of free cash flow it generates. The trailing 12 months produced $548 million of it. You'd think there just isn't big money in the company's businesses, but you'd be dead wrong, especially when it comes to braking systems, which accounted for 24% of its income last year and sports 14% operating margins, roughly double that of its other businesses

Some of the company's largest customers are DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX  ) , Ford (NYSE: F  ) , GMC, Hino, Iveco (Fiat), Nissan (Nasdaq: NSANY  ) , Paccar (Nasdaq: PCAR  ) , Volvo (Nasdaq: VOLVY  ) , and Volkswagen.

A company this diversified and successful -- one that generates this much free cash flow, displays good earnings growth, sells products all over the world, and has a forward P/E of 17 -- may make investors want to look into American Standard. and check out their local restrooms for other great investment ideas.

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Fool contributor Lawrence Meyers is toilet-trained, but he's not an expert on (or an investor in) American Standard or any other company mentioned here. Don't let your money get flushed -- do your own research.


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