The last time I checked in with building materials manufacturer USG
USG shares have promptly tripled since early March, suggesting that investors' concern for the company's survival prospects have ebbed. Let's assume that Warren Buffett's willingness to double Berkshire Hathaway's
USG reported its sixth consecutive quarterly loss this week, with a 26% decline in sales. The loss was only about half the hemorrhage analysts had feared, helping to spark a quick 35% rally over the past two days. Evidence emerged that cost-cutting measures are having the desired effect, as the gross margin improved from 3.9% to 5.6%. The combined impact of a 20% workforce reduction, plant closings, and production cuts has yielded a far leaner company more suited to the horrendous market conditions. Toss in the $400 million infusion earlier in the year from the same convertible debt offering that doubled Berkshire's stake, and we find USG in a substantially improved liquidity position, with $223 million in cash.
Notwithstanding the greater operational efficiency and liquidity, the most crucial ingredient for sustained improvement remains elusive. To get USG back on its feet, of course, we need healing within the underlying construction industries. Fellow Fool contributor David Smith saw some relative thawing within the housing sector fundamentals between his last check in November 2008 and his update this week, but also reminds readers that sustained weakness looms large on the horizon. The Pulte Homes
I believe the declarations of looming recovery are drastically premature, and consider homebuilding and construction among the least attractive sectors out there. Sure, a true recovery for USG shares could eventually yield a tidy sum, but even this patient Fool would prefer a more direct route to profit.
More than 1,800 members of Motley Fool CAPS, including 516 All-Stars, expect three-star pick USG to outperform the S&P 500. Whether you think USG has the "eye of the tiger" or one foot in the grave, I know Fools would like to know your thoughts on this and other companies.
Fool contributor Christopher Barker wonders whether gypsum wallboard was invented by gypsies. He can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He owns no shares in the companies mentioned. Berkshire Hathaway and Canadian National Railway are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Berkshire Hathaway and USG are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.