Germany's DAX (DAXINDICES:^DAX) stock index has picked up steam recently after a lackluster start to the year, and the DAX scored another strong week by racing to gains of nearly 2% over the past five days.
Two of the DAX's big industrial powerhouses, conglomerate Siemens (NASDAQOTH:SIEGY), and chemicals giant BASF (NASDAQOTH:BASFY), are making moves to capitalize on the German economy's slow rise out of Europe's recession; but will the continent's greatest economic power continue to be a safe haven for investors in European markets?
Shaking up the established order
Siemens has had a tough go in 2013 that culminated in the ouster of its CEO after numerous quarters of poor performance. The prominent DAX stock has managed to gain since, and shares have moved higher by more than 10% year to date. However, just as recently as the beginning of September, Siemens stock had actually lost ground on the year, and hadn't kept up with the DAX overall.
A poor past track record since the recession hasn't just left the company seeking new leadership; Siemens is also moving ahead on a reorganizational plan. New CEO Joe Kaeser is hopeful that his firm can react more quickly to the changing demands of the marketplace. He's doing so by decentralizing sales management from past CEO Peter Loescher's "clusters," which clumped together sales forces from several nations. Kaeser's returning the company's sales leadership to a country-by-country basis, a move that should help the company adapt more to local and regional trends.
Large competitors such as General Electric (NYSE:GE) have outstripped Siemens in profitability recently. Over the past 12 months, General Electric has racked up a 9.8% net profit margin, a strong showing for such a diverse and sizable firm. Meanwhile, Siemens's net profit margin comes in much smaller over that time period, at just 6.1%. Part of General Electric's success has come as the company has focused in on segments that have soared recently, particularly its large aviation business, which recorded 6% growth over the first six months of 2013. Siemens is trying to emulate its American rival by keying in on what's growing.
Kaeser's fighting back by selling off some less-profitable assets in a move that should spell good things for investors. Siemens's new CEO is planning on selling the firm's water technologies group to AEA Investors, a private equity firm, for $800 million, in order to refocus on more profitable ventures such as its energy business. If Siemens can narrow its focus onto areas of strength such as fossil fuels, this company -- and stock -- will be better able to rise over the coming years.
Siemens isn't the only DAX member focusing in on what works for the betterment of its investors over the long term. BASF is in talks with Norwegian agricultural firm Yara to build a massive ammonia plant on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Ammonia's a big product for BASF, as the company uses the chemical in its downstream business, and BASF already maintains a sizable presence in the U.S.
However, it's also a great way for BASF and its investors to take advantage of the American shale gas boom that has cut down on natural gas prices. Additionally, ammonia is a chemical in high demand among fertilizer makers, giving BASF a route to capitalize on the agricultural market -- a market that's only going to grow over the long term as the world confronts the challenges of feeding a fast-growing global population. BASF's stock has wobbled year to date, but this chemicals giant is making strong moves to reward its investors for years to come.
Fool contributor Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.