Say it with me, brothers and sisters -- boring can be beautiful. Give me a well-run business that puts the attention-deficit-disordered day-trading community to sleep, and you might have a winner on your hands. Of course, boring doesn't guarantee anything. Sometimes boring is just . well, boring. So what, then, are we to make of UAP Holding
C'mon, wake up! I know it's Friday, but this could be interesting.
To start off, second-quarter performance looks like a mixed bag. Although the company beat top-line expectations, the earnings-per-share number came up 12% short of the average. As you might imagine from that, margins were soft. The company blamed some of the trouble on the impact of generic pesticides and other forms of crop protection in the chemicals business. Yes, just as in the pharmaceutical trade, generic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides can hurt the profits of those who sell the branded version of the chemicals in this industry.
The company also reported that fertilizer sales were mixed, with higher prices being somewhat offset by lower usage. As we know from following the likes of Mosaic
Although this wasn't the greatest quarter for UAP, I think the company could still be worth a little due diligence. This company serves an important purpose distributing chemicals and seeds from suppliers like BASF, Monsanto
Three details in particular make this story interesting to me. (I told you it could be interesting.) First, the company is on a mission to improve its operations. It was once part of ConAgra, which didn't run it very well. Current management still has room to improve -- particularly in working capital usage. Second, the company has a growing and higher-margin proprietary business that could help improve profitability. Third, the company generates a very good return on its capital base, and that's generally a reliable indicator of good management.
I can't in good conscience call UAP a slam-dunk winner at this point. But I do believe there is room for the company to grow faster than its industry, improve its cash-flow generation, and continue to generate good returns on capital and a nice dividend. In other words, I think it's at least worth watching a bit longer.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).