You won't always find the best stocks in the most obvious places. Technological advances have made their way into applications across the economy, and many of the winning stocks lately have taken advantage of innovation in new and interesting ways.
Architectural glass might not seem like a hotbed for technology, but Apogee Enterprises (APOG -0.68%) has taken advantage of demand for high-end building construction to boost its sales lately. Builders want cutting-edge techniques in their buildings, and Apogee has become a go-to provider of the solutions that builders need in order to stand out from their peers. Coming into its fiscal first-quarter financial report late last month, Apogee investors hoped that improving conditions in the industry would lift its results, and what the company said created optimism that helped produce a quick double-digit percentage return for shareholders.
How Apogee made investors happy
Apogee's fiscal first-quarter results showed how a smart strategy can produce sales growth. Revenue was up 24% to $336.5 million compared to the year-ago period. GAAP net income was down 5%, but after taking account of some extraordinary items, adjusted earnings stayed stable at $0.62 per share.
Acquisitions were the primary driver of performance for Apogee during the quarter. The purchase of EFCO continued to contribute the bulk of the company's sales growth, especially in the key architectural framing systems division. On an organic basis excluding the impact of the EFCO acquisition, Apogee's sales were roughly comparable to year-ago levels.
From a segment perspective, Apogee had some ups and downs. Architectural framing systems saw organic sales of growth of about 3%, with sales from EFCO adding nearly 60 percentage points of further gains to the top line. However, lower margin from EFCO's business limited the positive impact on the segment's earnings, with adjusted operating income rising less than 10% from year-ago levels. Nevertheless, segment backlog was strong, reflecting solid bidding activity, and the $427 million figure was more than $170 million higher than the corresponding amount 12 months ago.
Elsewhere, architectural glass suffered some timing-related headwinds, with revenue falling more than 20% and operating income seeing a more dramatic drop of more than 80%. However, in architectural services, sales were higher by more than 40%, resulting in large gains in both operating income and segment backlog. The large-scale optical technologies unit also enjoyed good performance in segment revenue and operating income, with gains of 12% and 23% respectively coming from strong demand for picture framing and a favorable product mix.
CEO Joseph Puishys put the results into context. "In the first quarter," Puishys said, "we executed our plan for a solid start to fiscal 2019: revenues rose significantly, backlogs continued to grow across the business, [and] we saw ongoing productivity gains and excellent cash conversion." The CEO also pointed to efforts to flatten out performance to make Apogee less cyclically dependent on the health of the construction industry.
What's ahead for Apogee?
Apogee has high hopes for the coming year. The architectural specialist is already seeing margin improvement from its EFCO business, and that will be instrumental in driving further growth for the remainder of the fiscal year. At the same time, Apogee also sees further opportunities to invest in its business in order to boost efficiency and take advantage of a good outlook for the North American construction industry.
Those positive views made their way into Apogee's guidance. The company raised its full-year earnings guidance for fiscal 2019 to a new range of $3.48 to $3.68 per share, up $0.05 from its previous forecast. Apogee still sees revenue growth of around 10%, which reflects the fact that the integration of EFCO will no longer provide higher sales on a year-over-year basis starting in the fiscal third quarter.
Apogee investors responded favorably to the news, with the stock quickly gaining 10% immediately after the announcement and having continued to build momentum in the weeks since the report. With demand for the company's architectural products and services remaining strong, Apogee investors can see a crystal clear pathway toward the successful future they've hoped to see for the glass specialist.