Investors may want to invest in liquor or golf equipment or kitchen and bathroom fixtures, but few wish to invest in all three using a single company. Fortune Brands learned this the hard way. In 2011, it sold its golf division, and broke itself up into the liquor company Beam and the home products company Fortune Brands Home & Security. A corporate breakup gave Fortune Brands investors the simplicity they needed -- and the following three companies might need to follow its example.
Jack of all trades, master of none
The industrial conglomerate Textron (NYSE:TXT) is essentially seven almost completely separate companies, all rolled up into one incredibly complicated investment. Textron's two most prominent divisions are Bell Helicopter, makers of military and civilian rotorcraft, and Cessna Aircraft Company, makers of private business aircraft. The remaining five divisions include Textron Systems, E-Z-GO, Greenlee, Kautex and Jacobsen, which respectively make unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), golf carts, power tools, auto parts, and turf mowers.
I think that bears repeating: the company's products range from military attack copters to lawn mowers.
With share prices down more than 60% from their all-time high in 2007, there is clearly something wrong with the company: namely, Cessna. After reporting record revenues of $5.662 billion in 2008, the private jet business stalled in midair. Just two years later, Cessna would report a full-year revenue loss of $29 million.
The real shame of the matter is that the company's Bell Helicopter division has performed exceptionally well, and is now the company's largest division. Bell managed to increase its revenues, profits and profit margins each year from 2009 to 2012. If Bell Helicopter were its own separate company, maybe investors could enjoy some of that strong performance.
Beer and heavy machinery: What can go wrong?
Manitowoc (NYSE:MTW) is a second example of the weakness of one division hiding the strength of another. The financial crisis severely damaged the construction industry and the need for construction equipment, and Manitowoc's crane business was no exception. Thanks to the global slowdown, the Manitowoc Cranes division saw its operating earnings and margins get hit with a wrecking ball, falling from $557 million and 14.3% in 2008 to a 2010 low of $91 million and 5%.
Manitowoc's food-service equipment division, on the other hand, battled through the recession like a champ. Manitowoc Foodservice hitched its growth prospects to the likes of McDonald's and Yum! Brands and never looked back. Selling everything from deep fryers and walk-in refrigerators to buffet counters and beer towers, the restaurant industry makes up about 66% of this division's revenues. From 2008 to 2012, operating earnings and margins for Manitowac Foodservice jumped from just $59 million and 10% all the way to $239 million and 16.1%.
Despite the exceptional growth of Manitowoc Foodservice, longtime shareholders are still seeing red due to the exceptional poor performance of Manitowoc Cranes. Shares of Manitowoc Company are down about 60% since the beginning of 2008.
A failure to communicate
Unlike Textron and Manitowoc, at least Harris's (NYSE:LHX) business offerings make sense together. Harris is a telecommunications equipment company... and only a telecommunications equipment company. But it has two very different types of customers for its products: government and corporate.
Harris' government business develops products for defense, national intelligence and federal civilian agencies such as military aircraft avionics, border security systems, and air traffic control networks. The corporate business sells products and services that include digital signage for professional sports arenas, IT services for the health care industry, and providing entertainment solutions for cruise ships (just to name a few.)
Harris' government business has the slower growth of the two, but it has the benefit of predictable government contracts and cash generation. As a separate company, this government business would be perfect for income investors seeking higher dividend yields.
Harris' corporate business is comparatively more risky, but is also faster-growing, with the potential for a higher earnings multiple. As a separate company, this corporate business would be perfect for growth investors seeking share price appreciation. Together, though, these two divisions are perfect for neither class of investors. They're certainly not bad together, but they're arguably much better apart.
Foolish bottom line
For publicly traded companies like these, breaking up is fairly easy to do. More importantly, it can also be quite beneficial for companies and individual shareholders alike. Keep an eye on the three businesses above; if they show signs of splitting up, you may want to give them a closer look.