I've been a fan of Ceradyne
While the firm is most famous for the ceramic body armor plates that have propelled earnings for the past few years, today we got a bit more information on one of its future plans, nuclear waste containment systems.
As Ceradyne CEO Joel Moskowitz has said time and time again on conference calls, the firm's boron carbide powder (provided by the recent acquisition of ESK) has interesting properties beyond stopping bullets. One of these is its ability to absorb neutron radiation. Today's press release gives the first details of a deal with Canadian aluminum giant Alcan
To move ahead with the project, Ceradyne will be building an 80,000-square-foot facility close to Alcan in Saguenay, Quebec. But hanging out on the partner's doorstep isn't the only reason for that location. As we've discussed in this space before, part of Ceradyne's admirable ability to earn better margins has been by building plants in locations with lower energy prices, electricity being a big part of Ceradyne's costs.
CFO Jerry Pellizzon -- who was kind enough to take my call today, but stoic in the face of my needling for juicy details -- did tell me that the Canadian plant will have cheaper energy costs than Ceradyne's new Kentucky plant, with the result that the MMC business won't be the only thing moving in.
Although there are no revenues from this project on the immediate horizon, it's still an important one for shareholders to consider. First, the continued problems with energy independence, and a somewhat friendlier atmosphere toward nuclear plants, may just make these materials a must-have in the future. Moreover, the MMC products have potential uses beyond the nuke containment.
Layered something like a sandwich cookie, this composite material could provide vehicle armor materials that are lighter than steel and offer better protection. All this, and without so much of the high-price penalty currently associated with lacing vehicles with high-end ceramic materials.
But while we're on the topic of aluminum, shareholders should remember that Ceradyne is also talking about a new ceramic product that it says will help producers of the metal reduce their fabrication costs. Those revenues are closer.
Finally, one of Ceradyne's biggest future opportunities may be back out in the oil fields, where it's working with a major oil company on a drilling-environment product that could help make a lot of heretofore unrecoverable American and Canadian oil worth drilling and pumping. The big oil partner hasn't been named, but given demand for oil (and the worry about oil independence) it's a safe bet that if this works out and makes sense at $25 a barrel and up -- the figure Pellizzon mentioned today -- the likes of ExxonMobil
So while Ceradyne has a lot of the interesting 'n' boring projects I like in a business, I won't try to convince you that the stock is cheap. Fact is, it's really tough to put a price on these future projects -- maybe impossible. You need an element of faith here, but you get a bit more than that. In the meantime, the body armor sales are carrying the company nicely, and the foray into new types of vehicle armor is beginning to roll.
Given management's track record, I'm hanging on to see what it can deliver on the rest. If you've been waiting for a chance on this stock, you may see it soon. Mr. Market has tossed it in the trash with all the rest, despite the fact that the 2007 guidance just announced was ahead of what the Street expects.
Seth Jayson has liked ceramics ever since he threw that first pot. At the time of publication, he had shares of Ceradyne, but no positions in any other stock mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.