When you invest in a cyclical sector like oil and gas, your stocks will probably move up as long as commodity prices increase and market sentiment on the sector stays positive. But when one or the other goes sour, even strong stocks can get dragged down in the selling wave.
Industry giants like Halliburton
What if you could find a stock that is so far under the radar that it seems to defy sector movements and trade on its own fundamentals?
U.K.-based Hunting PLC (OTCBB: HNTIF.PK), which trades as HTG.L in London, fits that description. Since its early 2003 low of 60 pence (about $1.15), Hunting's chart has marched almost straight up to today's 675 pence ($13). Despite its phenomenal growth, less than a million shares of Hunting change hands on the LSE each day -- less than 10% of a typical day for competitor Halliburton. Hunting continues to dwell under the radar for those who don't mind drilling deep for values.
I first heard about Hunting on CNBC Europe in fall 2005 from star U.K. hedge fund manager Hugh Hendry. If I hadn't tuned in that day, I would never have known Hunting existed, because you sure won't hear about the company anywhere else unless you are an industry insider.
Hunting is a diversified oil services firm that operates primarily in Canada, but also has divisions with international exposure in the North Sea and beyond. In its latest earnings report for the fiscal year ended in December 2006, Hunting posted a 19% revenue gain, a 73% jump in free cash flow, a 77% increase in earnings per share, and a 25% bump in the dividend.
Strong drilling activity in Alberta's conventional oil fields and the oil sands projects kept Hunting's Gibson Energy midstream services division busy. Hunting also operates a refinery, the largest crude oil truck fleet in Canada, and Canada's second-largest propane company, Canwest Propane, which is expanding operations into the northern United States.
Hunting's upstream division is Hunting Energy, which provides a variety of sophisticated equipment to drillers and exploration companies, with an emphasis on tubular products for below-ground applications.
CEO Dennis Proctor summed up the company's position in the latest quarterly report: "The global thirst for energy continues to provide your Company with the opportunity to deliver excellent results." He noted that even with a busy drilling schedule, many oil and gas companies were not replacing their reserves each year. He expects strong activity levels going forward, with order books in some product lines filled well beyond 2007.
Proctor also looked after the company's balance sheet. Debt was reduced from 54% of equity in 2005 to 39% in 2006. Proctor emphasized that earnings won't double again like the last two years, but he expects strong results again in 2007.
At less than one-half times sales, Hunting is still a cheap stock -- even after doubling since my 2005 purchase, and scoring a 10-bagger off its 2003 lows. For under-the-radar stocks like Hunting, slow and steady wins the race.
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Fool contributor Dale Baker, a private client portfolio manager and former U.S. diplomat with extensive experience in Europe and Africa, owns shares in Hunting PLC for himself and his clients. He hopes that Hunting remains an unknown stock except for Foolish value investors, and welcomes your questions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.