Agilent: Technology and health care

This stock offers exposure to two attractive market sectors in one company.

By TheStockAdvisors Aug 6, 2012 11:13AM
Image: Dentist working on a computer © Andersen Ross/Brand X Pictures/Getty ImagesBy Chuck Carlson, DRIP Investor

Technology and health care are two of the more attractive sectors for long-term investors. Agilent Technologies (A) gives you quality exposure to both industries.

The company provides measurement and testing equipment used in a host of industries, including communications, electronics, chemicals, and healthcare and life sciences. Profits are expected to be a record this year, and the company's long-term growth should exceed the growth rate of the overall economy.

Agilent shares have pulled back sharply in recent months and are trading at a 21% discount to their 52-week high of $46.72. The price dip is providing an excellent entry point for investors who want a solid growth opportunity at a reasonable valuation.

Agilent provides testing and measurement instruments used in a variety of environments, from life-sciences laboratories and wireless communications to chemical analysis and aerospace/defense.

The company has broadened its product line via acquisitions in recent years, including the acquisition of Varian in 2010. Its most recent acquisition was the June 2012 purchase of cancer-diagnostics company Dako.

In addition to acquisitions, Agilent's growth strategy hinges on creating cutting-edge products. To that end, the firm spends roughly 9% of annual sales on research and development.

Profit growth should be decent this year, with per-share profits for fiscal 2012 ending in October expected to rise 10%. Growth in fi scal 2013 should accelerate to 14%, paced by improving U.S. economy.

The stock currently trades at 11 times the fiscal 2012 consensus earnings estimate of $3.24 per share and 10 times the fiscal 2013 estimate of $3.71 per share.

Those seem to be very reasonable earnings multiples for a company growing its bottom line at double-digit rates.

Profit growth should provide a nice boost to the dividend over time. Agilent initiated a quarterly dividend of $0.10 per share earlier this year, and I would expect dividends to grow 5% to 10% annually over the next five years.

Agilent stock has not behaved all that well over the last four months. Investors seem anxious about the U.S. economy and remember that Agilent had a particularly rough go of it in 2009, when the recession bit hard on testing firms.

However, I don't expect the economy to slump into a 2009-like funk and actually see economic activity accelerating a bit by year-end.

That should dispel investors' fears of a "double-dip" recession and fuel better investor support for Agilent shares. Downside seems limited to the $32 to $34 level. The stock traded in the mid-$50s in 2011, so there is plenty of upside.

Please note that Agilent recently initiated a direct-purchase plan. Any investor may buy the first share and every share directly from the company. Minimum initial investment is $500.

Agilent will waive the minimum if an investor agrees to automatic monthly investment via electronic debit of a bank account of at least $50.

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