Falling crop prices have caused demand to drop sharply for Deere’s tractors and combines, but the best time to buy high quality dividend stocks is usually during periods of distress. Warren Buffett seems to think so and added to his stake in Deere during the fourth quarter of 2015.
Among the funds tracked by Insider Monkey, 28 reported long positions in Deere, worth $3.28 billion in aggregate at the end of 2015. This compares with 35 funds holding $2.64 billion worth of stock a quarter earlier. Therefore, these funds, including Berkshire Hathaway, amassed nearly 14% of the company’s stock heading into 2016. David Blood and Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management is another shareholder of Deere, with a stake of 6.10 million shares reported in its last 13F filing.
Let’s take a closer look at Deere’s business as we consider it for our Top 20 Dividend Stocks portfolio.
Deere was founded in 1837 and has since grown to become one of the largest manufacturers of agricultural and construction equipment in the world. Many of Deere’s products retail for several hundred thousand dollars and are mostly sold through its independent dealer networks.
The company’s Agriculture & Turf segment accounted for about 75% of Deere’s equipment operating profit last fiscal year. Some of its key products include tractors, combines, corn pickers, and mowers.
Deere’s Construction & Forestry segment accounted for the remaining 25% of operating profit and includes products such as backhoe loaders, excavators, crawler dozers, and dump trucks.
The company also has a Financial Services segment that lends money to Deere’s independent dealers and end customers when they purchase equipment on credit or need a lease.
By geography, close to 60% of Deere’s sales are generated in the U.S. and Canada.
With a rich operating history dating back more than 175 years ago, Deere is one of the most iconic American companies of all time.
Many of Deere’s competitive advantages are rooted in its long-standing operations and the conservative culture it has embraced throughout its corporate life.
As a testament to the company’s consistency and steady culture, the Roman Catholic Church has had more popes than Deere has had CEOs since it was started in the 19th century.
One of John Deere’s famous quotes has continued to guide the company from one generation to the next:
“I will never put my name on a product that doesn’t have in it the best that is in me.” – John Deere
Deere has relentlessly focused on improving the productivity of its customers by listening closely to their needs and heavily investing in product development.
Deere spends over $1.4 billion annually on research and development and has been named as the number one innovator in the heavy industrial equipment industry by the Patent Board. According to a Bloomberg article, some of Deere’s products literally have more lines of software code than a space shuttle!
As a result of Deere’s product innovation, the company has developed a pristine reputation for quality and reliability. Customers know they will achieve a lower total cost of ownership by buying their equipment from Deere.
Deere’s reputation for quality has made it one of the top 100 brands in the world and allowed it to consistently raise its prices at a low-single digit rate virtually every year, including recessions.
Even with U.S. agriculture equipment sales expected to fall by 15-20% in 2016, Deere expects to realize 2% pricing gains across its equipment operations this year.
The company’s pricing power is built on more than just the quality of Deere’s products. In fact, one of Deere’s biggest competitive advantages is intangible in nature – the relationships its independent dealers have with their customers.
Deere has amassed the largest network of independent dealers in the U.S. agricultural industry. These dealers have developed strong, multi-generational relationships with the farmers in their communities.
Many dealers have been passed down from generation to generation and know their customers really well.
Farmers are generally loyal people, too. According to a survey of 2,000 Midwest farmers, about 65% of respondents described themselves as brand loyal, and a whopping 77% of John Deere customers described themselves as brand loyal.