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Turmoil in Bahrain Means I Might Finally Buy This Stock

Alex Pape
February 25, 2011

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series.

Dredging is dirty work, but it's also big business, and the sultan of silt in North America is Great Lakes Dredge and Dock (NYSE: GLDD  ) .

Great Lakes is one of those behind-the-scenes companies that keeps important things running without us even knowing about it. Take, for example, trade in and out of U.S. ports. Without Great Lakes keeping the depth of the ports and other waterways at appropriate levels, we'd have quite a problem on our hands.

This is a great business and a well-run company. However, Bahrain (of all things) has thus far kept me from buying shares.

This silt is our silt
Being a dredger in the U.S. is a pretty sweet deal. Under the Foreign Dredge Act and the Merchant Marine Act (known colloquially as the Dredging Act and the Jones Act, respectively), dredging vessels operating in the U.S. must be:

  • Manned by U.S. crews
  • Built in the U.S.
  • Owned and operated by a company that is at least 75% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens

Together, these regulations effectively thwart any foreign competitors from entering the U.S. dredging market. In fact, there is only one foreign vessel operating in the U.S. -- it was grandfathered in before the Jones Act passed in 1920. I'm not too worried about it.

The result of all this is that the U.S. market is left to U.S. dredgers, of which there are about 250. Most of those are small, inland players, though, leaving the bulk of the bidding market to four major companies. And of those four, Great Lakes, which won 47% of the total 2009 bid market, is king.

Right place, right time
On top of Great Lakes' great competitive position, the company is curre