Will Manitowoc Continue to Struggle in 2012?

Crane maker Manitowoc (NYS: MTW) didn't have a great year as far as its stock price performance is concerned, but this doesn't imply a slow 2012 for it. For one thing, Manitowoc did very well in its last quarter, and the emerging market boom is also there to help.

Here's what to expect from Manitowoc in 2012.

Watch out for...
Manitowoc is in a good position to capitalize on the construction boom in the emerging markets that have taken the equipment industry by storm. Equipment giant Caterpillar's (NYS: CAT) construction equipment segment sales were up by a solid 41% in its third quarter, driven by higher demand from developing markets. Terex's (NYS: TEX) crane segment sales also shot up by 47.4% year over year, as markets like India and China continued to drive up demand. Buoyant Asian markets were also the drivers behind Illinois Tool Works' (NYS: ITW) 16.2% jump in third-quarter revenues.

Considering that emerging markets are giving these companies fatter top lines, Manitowoc's growth moves in these markets are something investors should watch out for.

Robust equipment demand from fast-growing regions pushed up Manitowoc's last-quarter crane segment revenue by almost 21% from a year ago. Brazil particularly has emerged as the strongest revenue driver for Manitowoc's cranes lately, and the company is making sure it is prepared to bank on the opportunity.

Track these moves
To capitalize on the high-potential Brazilian market, Manitowoc is building a 250,000-square-foot crane plant near Paso Fundo. The project is running on schedule, and is expected to be completed by mid-2012. This project deserves a close watch, given how every industry player is racing ahead to gain traction in the Brazilian market.

From truck maker PACCAR to farm-equipment maker Cummins to tractor giant Deere (NYS: DE) , these companies are shelling out more on building huge facilities in emerging markets, particularly Brazil, and they remain highly optimistic about these markets. In fact, Deere is now entering the high-potential Brazilian construction market after establishing its agriculture and forestry equipment business successfully there. Brazil's burgeoning middle class and growing spending power, along with the preparations going on for the World Cup and the Summer Olympics, should keep the demand for construction equipment alive.

Manitowoc's growth move fits in well here, and it should be interesting to see how it tries to capture market share in such a highly competitive scenario. What's worth noting is that Manitowoc also has presence in other growing markets such as India and China. The proportion of the revenue Manitowoc is generating from Asian markets has in fact doubled in the last five years, and is likely to grow further.

Don't forget the other segment
What makes Manitowoc an interesting play is the diversity between its two business segments. On the one hand, it makes cranes catering to the construction business, while on the other it manufactures equipment for the food service industry.

Manitowoc isn't just focusing on its crane segment, though. Its food service equipment segment is growing, too, with many new product launches this year (Manitowoc had planned a total of 50 new products in 2011), and the upgrading of some products. The company is developing its full line of blended beverage equipment, and is also in talks with large restaurant chains for its products. 2012 should be a busy year for this segment.

Word of caution
Manitowoc recently hinted at a possible delay in crane shipments in its fourth quarter owing to some supplier issues as well as an ongoing workers' strike at one of the company's facilities. As a result, Manitowoc expects a dent in its crane sales and operating income by almost $35 million and $10 million, respectively, in the forthcoming quarter.

The other issue that arises here is that owing to a delay in cash collections, Manitowoc is likely to fall short of its debt-reduction target in the next quarter. Manitowoc currently has huge amounts of debt on its books, sporting a high debt-to-equity ratio of 450%.

While this is worrisome, the company is working toward reducing its debt levels. Also, the way Manitowoc's top and bottom lines grew in the last quarter comes as a relief. The forthcoming quarter may not give us many reasons to cheer, but 2012 as a whole should be interesting for Manitowoc.

The Foolish bottom line
Rising demand from the emerging markets will be the key to Manitowoc's strong top-line and bottom-line growth next year. Completion of its ongoing Brazil project should also blend well with the new product offerings Manitowoc is likely to come out with next year and should help boost revenue.

Fears of a recession might have hit Manitowoc's stock hard this year, but signs of life from the economy should help the company going ahead. And its emerging market advantage is something that Manitowoc hopes will continue to drive growth.

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At the time thisarticle was published

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