Recreational-vehicle maker Fleetwood Enterprises
Fleetwood's stock chart over the past 10 years starts out looking like a steady, meandering hike up Pike's Peak; it reached the summit in the late '90s. But then the journey quickly became an abrupt and scary descent down the other side of the mountain. A stock that traded in the $40s has now mostly fallen off a cliff (if you'll permit me this one last mountaineering metaphor) to its recent $6.78.
Q4 sales grew 8%, while earnings were slightly positive after a big quarterly loss last year. Overall sales for the year were up only 2%, and earnings were a negative $0.10, although results were much worse last year, when Fleetwood lost $1.31 per share. The manufactured-housing business has caused the bulk of the company's troubles in recent years, and this quarter was no different. That being said, while sales in this segment fell 18% for the quarter, they did rise 1% for the year. The RV segment, which also sells travel and folding trailers, performed just the opposite, posting a 13% jump in sales for the quarter but a 3% decrease for the year.
What drives me to track the stock is the purported appeal of the RV industry. Demographic trends are supposed to be in the company's favor as baby boomers retire and purchase RVs to explore the country. These retiring boomers -- a group that's expected to grow in number by the double digits going forward -- are the industry's target market. What's more, there is little foreign competition, since the RV industry is mostly U.S.-based. RV sales make up around 70% of Fleetwood's total, and that is the segment for Fools to focus on.
However, the industry has been unable to benefit from any demographic tailwinds with high gas prices and rising interest rates wreaking havoc on growth profitability among the major players, including Winnebago Industries
Operating cash flow has also been uneven, and free cash flow has been negative or only barely positive -- as it was this year. The manufactured-housing unit looks set to stabilize as the company has exited the retail side of the business for good. Investors can hope that this marks an end to the significant levels of discontinued operating losses of the past few years.
Overall, unless you have some particular insight into how management might quickly turn either of its segments in a positive direction, I'd suggest you stick with the more stable Winnebago Industries -- or avoid the industry altogether until consumer sentiment becomes more agreeable.
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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to further discuss any companies mentioned here. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.