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1 Top Infrastructure Investment to Put on Your Radar

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® – Sep 24, 2021 at 6:41AM

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This company could be a major beneficiary if we get an infrastructure spending package.

Although Congress still has to work out the major details, it's looking very likely that there will be trillions in infrastructure spending in the United States over the next decade or so. In this Fool Live video clip, recorded on Sept. 13, Senior Analyst Asit Sharma discusses why Deere & Co. (DE 0.86%) is one of his top ways to invest before the wave of spending begins.  

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Asit Sharma: This company is Deere and Company symbol DE. This is probably one of the most well-known brand names that's on the list today among manufacturers at least. I really like Deere because over the past, I would say seven years, they have funneled a lot of their investment, research, and developments, and also capital expenditures into trying to become a more technology oriented company and I almost think of them more as it tech embedded or tech-infused manufacture than a straight-up manufacture, I think that says a lot about where they've come.

Now, Deere plays very heavily in the agricultural space, they've got really three business units. The first is Production and Precision Agriculture, the second is small Ag and Turf, and the third is Construction and Forestry. When we're talking about infrastructure, we're really talking about that last business unit, Construction and Forestry. But I wanted to talk for just a moment about these other two segments because they're important to putting the picture together on why Deere makes such a great infrastructure investment. The company has really, through both acquisitions and the R&D I was mentioning, invested in trying to become the go-to manufacturer if you are an agricultural concern of any size in the race to get yield out of your land. We know that climate change is making it much more difficult to have predictability of yields and crops.

What Deere has been investing in over the past few years, and also as I mentioned in investing in, helps farmers utilize artificial intelligence and also automation to get the maximum out of their crops each year and it helps them rotate faster. I see a world in the future where farmers are going to have to make quicker decisions on which crops will suit the conditions in a shorter timeframe. We used to have a concept called crop rotation in the '70s and '80s, '90s still around today but it's almost like we're going to come full circle back to that idea that the best usage of the soil is to have a rotation of crops. Precision agriculture where you're utilizing data that's available to the farmer either from a control center or within a console on the field, if you're writing within a piece of equipment, better enables you to get the yield out of the soil.

Now, why is all this important to infrastructure? Basically, John Deere has lifted some of the technology that they've developed and purchased in their precision agriculture business and shifted it over to the equipment that's used on the construction side. If you think about the use of visual optics, the artificial intelligence machine learning that I was talking about, that's very translatable into the technology which is used to build roads. This is going to be a major component of what Deere is able to capitalize on as we start spending. I want to actually, rather than share my screen, I want to read verbatim a couple of paragraphs in the company's most recent earnings conference call. This is not from the CEO but this is from John Stone who basically runs the global construction for street business.

Let me give you a few examples on how this technology will make our product smarter, safer, and more sustainable. The next generation of Deere's Construction Equipment will feature a higher degree of our proprietary technology stack inclusive of grid control, vision systems, and remote monitoring. Roads are going digital and we're positioned to lead this. We see today's state where no individual machine is used to it's full capacity and this inefficiency is coming from the lack of data, a lack of communication, and coordination between machines, and different steps of the production system. Our analysis indicates cost savings in the range of 15%-30% is possible versus today's traditional methods of road building and road rehabilitation. When a three mile road rehabilitation project can cost $1-1.5 million, this is a big opportunity.

He goes on to talk about these technologies in more detail but the point here for us all to grasp is that Deere is really reaping the fruits of its decision to shift into more technology-based manufacturing company and I think they do have the equipment to lead as companies begin to bid up for those government contracts to repair both roads and also bridges, anyplace where Deere can put it's equipment. I like this very much for these reasons, I also like the fact that the company stabilized its operating margins above 15%. This was a long-term goal expressed by management and in the last couple of years, they really have come into that from an operating margin of the 10%-12% range, they've been able to find this next few percentage points of margin. That translates into really great cash flows. The company has generated about $4.3 billion of operating cash flow in the first nine months of this fiscal year. They're up above $5 billion on a trailing 12-month basis.

This is one of the companies in opposition to when I discussed earlier, Autodesk (ADSK -2.81%). That's a fast-growing Software as a Service company, which has maybe more growth potential for share price. This company Deere is, I think, more capable of having share price appreciation than say, Union Pacific (UNP -0.56%), but it's got similar characteristics in that it's got a really big footprint in the market. It's not going anywhere. It's very entrenched among those who purchase equipment. Its technology stock is second to none after all this investment over the past few years, great management team throwing off those tremendous cash flows. I think between the three of the ones I've discussed, this will be in the middle in terms of taking on a little bit more risk. It's $111 billion market cap company.

There's no reason why Deere can't continue to grow at a double-digit rate easily. I shouldn't say easily, but I see a very possible double over the next five years, especially if we get that infrastructure spending component. This again goes back to what I said the very outset of this little conversation on Deere with these three divisions, they've got a lot of balance. All three divisions have been performing extremely well for the past several quarters, so all the company needs is capital to flow in any one of these three areas and if it sees that capital investment on the Construction and Forestry side, that's really going to push a lot of incremental profit margin, incremental cash flows to the company's financial statements.

Matthew Frankel, CFP has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Autodesk. The Motley Fool recommends Union Pacific. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Deere & Stock Quote
Deere &
DE
$445.61 (0.86%) $3.80
Union Pacific Stock Quote
Union Pacific
UNP
$214.73 (-0.56%) $-1.20
Autodesk Stock Quote
Autodesk
ADSK
$201.11 (-2.81%) $-5.82

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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