The recovery in the US auto market is a fact, as evidenced by a significant increase in sales. One way to play this recovery is buying stocks of automakers. However, several commentators have pointed to the possibilities inherent in auto parts manufacturers, which often provide strong growth at attractive valuations. This often neglected industry may prove to be an enticing alternative to traditional car manufacturers. One company, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (NYSE:CTB), has been consistently beating the analyst consensus over the last year, and is still trading at a steep discount to the industry.
Introducing Cooper Tire & Rubber
Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (NYSE:CTB) manufacturers and markets replacement tires for passenger cars, light and medium trucks, motorcycles and racing vehicles. Operating in the US and international markets, the company founded in 1913 has a market cap of $1.54 billion with some 13,500 full-time employees. The stock has a fairly volatile beta of 1.93 and is up over 55% in the last year. It also has a dividend yield of about 1.7%.
Earnings and Competition
Over the last few years, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (NYSE:CTB) has been doing a good job of growing earnings. The company was hit hard by the crisis in 2008, posting an annual loss of $2.30 per share. This was followed by a strong rebound between 2009 and 2012. In 2012 Cooper earned $3.41 per share, with a number of very large quarterly beats throughout the year. Moreover, the company’s margins have been on the increase, the gross profit margin going from 7.5% in mid-2011 to 18% at the end of 2012.
For Q4 2012, Cooper reported record quarterly and full-year results beating the consensus by about 36%. Record sales of $1.1 billion for the quarter represented a 2% increase year-on-year, whereas the full-year figure of $4.2 billion was up 7% compared to 2011. International operations did better than the North American segment with a 9% increase in sales versus a 5%.
The company’s performance benefited from lower material costs, with the price of rubber still dropping, as well as increased manufacturing efficiencies which bolstered the company’s margins. Looking ahead, the company is cautiously optimistic about 2013 while management expects higher long-term basic material costs. Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (NYSE:CTB) will report Q1 2013 earnings on May 9th.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (NYSE:CTB)’s two major rivals are Bridgestone and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (NASDAQ:GT). Of these two, Bridgestone has been the best performer by far over the last year, its stock rising nearly 60%. The Japanese tire manufacturer has rallied along with the Nikkei, and has no doubt benefited from a weak yen and falling rubber prices. With an increase in operating income of nearly 50% from 2011 and 2012, the company has certainly been growing the bottom line, despite only a small uptick in net sales.