Knowledge is power, goes the old saying. But IHS (IHS) may rewrite the adage to replace power with profit. The Englewood, Colo., information-services firm compiles data on everything from oil wells and cars to security concerns and regulatory demands. It sells the figures and its analysis to companies hoping to coax more oil out of abandoned wells, automakers looking for a competitive edge and engineering firms trying to keep pace with a rapidly changing regulatory environment.
Businesses and governments in more than 165 countries rely on IHS to provide the data and analysis needed to succeed in a world where economic and political structures are changing rapidly. In the process, IHS has become a stock market darling, with its shares nearly tripling in price since the market's 2009 trough. The company's future remains bright, says Morningstar analyst Michael Corty. "It's a great business and a great stock."
The only caveat? Wall Street is so in love with this business-to-business niche that IHS shares can get pricey, leaving them vulnerable to seemingly inconsequential developments. Last September, the stock dropped from $119 to $91 after the company made a modest adjustment to its earnings projections. IHS expects earnings to grow 11% to 12% a year over the next two years -- hardly shabby in a dicey worldwide economy, but not as impressive as analysts' predictions of 17% annual growth over the next few years. On the bright side, the pullback gives you a chance to buy shares of this great company at more-reasonable prices.
Business travel agent
Consumers who want to get from point A to point B might rely on Kayak or Priceline to find the best fare. Manufacturers that need to ship goods, however, are likely to turn to C.H. Robinson, a logistics company based in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Robinson owns no trucks, airplanes, trains or ships; it buys space on trucks, planes, trains and ships owned by others. Because it represents some 37,000 customers, it can get a better price on shipping from the 53,000 transportation providers it contracts with than a manufacturer is likely to get by itself. Meanwhile, shippers, including hundreds of mom-and-pop trucking operations, are able to secure far more business by dealing with Robinson than they could by using their own marketing efforts. "It's a virtuous cycle, in which truckers benefit by getting more business and shippers benefit by getting group rates," says Morningstar analyst Matt Young.
Robinson, the largest transportation broker in the country, is gaining market share, which provides a virtuous cycle for the company, too. As Robinson represents more truckers, Young says, it can negotiate better rates, which in turn attracts more clients. He sees sales and earnings growing at above-average rates for some time, and thinks the shares are worth $73, or 16% more than the current price of $63.
Medical waste disposal
The health care industry produces tons of hazardous waste, such as germ-laden examination robes and used needles and specimen jars. Stericycle (SRCL) cleans up by cleaning up. The Lake Forest, Ill., company provides waste-management services to 535,000 hospitals, blood banks, and doctors' and dentists' offices.
It's a boring business, says T. Rowe Price's Milano, but a good one. The reason? Doctors and dentists don't want the trouble of disposing of hazardous materials themselves, because one false move could get them fined. So Stericycle provides plastic bins for medical waste and picks them up regularly. That's convenient for the medical providers, and it gives Stericycle a unique marketing opportunity. Because the company already has a trusted role in many medical offices and regular pickup schedules, it has easy access to the right decision makers when selling additional services. It also makes it easy for Stericycle employees to sign up new health care providers as they open offices down the hall.
None of this is lost on the company's managers, who brainstorm about which products they might be able to add to their menu every year. The company launched an occupational safety and compliance arm, and it is moving into patient communication -- everything from running after-hours answering services to providing reminders that it's time for a checkup. Kevin Steinke, an analyst with Barrington Research, says Stericycle's existing business combined with new opportunities will likely fuel double-digit profit growth for a long time.
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