Is the Tail Wagging the Otter?

With a company as diverse as Otter Tail Power (Nasdaq: OTTR  ) , you just know there are always a few storylines going on. And watching those storylines can help you better understand the big picture at this Minnesota-based regional power supplier and mini-conglomerate.

The company reported second-quarter financial results earlier this week that presented flat earnings on 14% higher revenues year over year. Electric power generation brought with it some of the expected coal-delivery problems, but since Burlington Northern Santa Fe (NYSE: BNI  ) improved its delivery service considerably during the quarter, Otter Tail management now expects no further issues on that front. This quarter did deliver a hit to profits, though -- the company reported just $3.5 million on a bottom line that one year earlier was home to $5.6 million.

The "other businesses" division, consisting of heavy construction and trucking operations, saw the biggest efficiency improvement of all the component parts, turning last year's $2.9 million loss into just $683,000 of red ink. The segment is expected to become profitable in the near future, thanks to increasing orders of wind power generation towers and overall strong infrastructure growth across the Midwest.

All in all, the gains in plastics and construction balanced out potato problems (in the food ingredient processing division), coal complications, and health headaches, with manufacturing holding rather steady in between, and it all added up to a flat quarter. CEO John Erickson increased 2006 earnings guidance by $0.05 per share, crediting what he called the "soundness of our diversification strategy."

I'd say that a flat quarter is better than the 31% drop that a pure power supplier might have suffered. I love diversification, especially when it comes in small packages. Otter Tail may be smaller than Tyco (NYSE: TYC  ) , 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) , Mitsui (Nasdaq: MITSY  ) , or even Fortune Brands (NYSE: FO  ) , but it's at least as diverse per dollar of market cap as any of them. Whatever the market conditions, Otter Tail is likely to see some segments gaining ground and others losing out, and while the company remains agile, it can wait out still waters in search of a good wave to ride. In that respect, anyway, your money is safe in Minnesota.

Widen your horizons:

Otter Tail is aMotley Fool Hidden Gemsrecommendation, and both Tyco and 3M areInside Valuepicks. To see why Fools like diversification, check out a 30-day free trial to any of our investing services.

Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check outAnders' holdingsif you like. Foolishdisclosureis well-rounded in and of itself.


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