Since 2000, Eaton Corporation (NYSE:ETN) has consummated over 50 acquisitions. That's helped change the company from a truck and industrial equipment maker to a "power management" company. That's a purposely vague term, but one that offers up a plethora of growth opportunities that could push Eaton's shares higher. Here are three things worth watching.
Eaton's repositioning efforts have left it with an interestingly balanced portfolio. Roughly half of its business comes from the U.S. market. The rest is spread across the world, with 26% of sales from developed markets and 24% from emerging ones in 2013.
Although the industrial company is still tied heavily to the success of the United States, its emerging market exposure is notable. For example, according to the World Bank, Asia is expected to expand its collective gross domestic product (GDP) by around 7% a year through 2016. The United States, meanwhile, is forecast to grow GDP at around 3% a year over that span, or less than half Asia's rate.
Even areas with pedestrian overall growth rates like Latin America have bigger potential when emerging markets are broken out. For example, the World Bank projects Latin America to ramp up from roughly 2% GDP growth this year to 3.5% in 2016. However, emerging markets in Latin America will hum along at roughly 5% a year.
Exposure to emerging markets is no panacea. Small and fast-growing economies can experience frightening growth swings (both good and bad). However, over the long haul, they should provide a nice boost to Eaton's growth prospects and shares. The current goal is to hit 30% of sales from emerging markets by 2015.
Autos and aerospace
Eaton has a history in vehicles. However, it's the future that matters, and vehicles and aerospace made up about 25% of the company's business last year. That's exciting when you pair these businesses with the company's emerging market exposure. For example, according to the World Bank, China had just 12 vehicles per 1,000 people in 2000. By 2011, that number had grown to 69 per 1,000.
Not only is the growth rate embedded in that increase noteworthy, but so too is the potential when compared to the United States. In the U.S. market, there were 786 vehicles per 1,000 people in 2011 (essentially unchanged when compared to 2000). In other words, China has a long way to go before it reaches the kind of vehicle penetration seen in the United States.
Air travel is roughly similar, with more and more people taking flights each year in developing nations. For example, Boeing (NYSE:BA) expects the number of airplanes in service in 2033 to be twice the roughly 21,000 in the air last year.
If the U.S. experience with vehicles and air travel is any guide, there's huge growth ahead for Eaton on the ground and in the air. Add in the upgrade cycle in developed countries, and these are two segments that appear likely to help drive results for years to come.
While it would be (small-f) foolish to count your eggs before they've hatched, Eaton has proven to have a big appetite for acquisitions over the past 14 years. And it attributes much of its recent success to this trend: "Eaton has become a stronger company through acquisitions. A focus on higher-margin, higher-growth market segments has provided the balance to mitigate the impact of volatile economic conditions and the ability to significantly increase shareholder value."
The company is currently integrating the nearly $12 billion purchase of Cooper Industries (2012), which, according to the company is going well. However, watch for additional acquisitions, perhaps more bolt-on than megadeal, to hone Eaton's offerings. That will provide additional upside across the company, assuming it is as successful in selecting candidates in the future as it has been in the recent past.
Buy the dip?
Eaton's second-quarter numbers weren't as upbeat as industry watchers had expected, leading the company to lower its guidance. However, the industrial company is positioning itself well for future growth and has proven adept at changing with the times. The recent price drop could be a worthwhile entry point for long-term investors. The company's expanding emerging market exposure, global vehicle growth (in the air and on the ground), and astute acquisitions could all serve as catalysts to higher long-term prices.
Reuben Brewer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.