Westport Kicks It Up a Notch


Westport Innovations (NAS: WPRT) reported earnings last week, and though the numbers weren't enough to move the stock higher, investors should be pleased. Highlights for the natural-gas engine manufacturer included:

  • Revenue up 83% for the year and 155% for the quarter to $264 million and $100.6 million, respectively.

  • Heavy-duty units shipped increased to 170 units in the quarter from 85 units the previous quarter and 71 units in all of 2010.

  • Yearly revenue increased by 308.6% in the light-duty division to $66.6 million, 185% in the heavy-duty segment to $19.9 million, and sales from its joint venture with Weichai rose to $110 million for an increase of 145%.

  • Gross margin improved to 39.6% from 32.5% a year ago.

Revving up
Despite the strong growth, Westport is still in the red, posting a loss of $14.5 million for the quarter and $60.2 million for the year, worse than its 2010 results. But the jump in revenue and margins indicates that the company should soon be moving toward breakeven.

The engine maker continues to grow both organically and through acquisitions. In October, Westport bought AFV, Volvo's natural-gas-system supplier, and in July closed on its purchase of Emer, an Italian alternative energy fuel system provider. For a total price of just about $45 million, those companies already contributed $34 million to Westport's revenue in just the part of 2011 they were under their new parent's control. That additional contribution helped its light-duty division more than quadruple its revenue over the previous year. Meanwhile, organic LD sales doubled for the year.

Going the distance
With management projecting a revenue increase of about 50% in 2012, there's still plenty of upside for this company. The shale boom should continue to keep natural gas at record lows in North America, and the relative environmental friendliness of the alternative energy helps incentivize organizations to switch from diesel.

CEO David Demers said he believes 2011 was a tipping point in natural gas' adoption as a second major transportation fuel, and he added that Westport has begun shifting its focus away from market awareness, which it's been doing for the last decade, to "entering markets with leading products and reaching market penetration rates of 20% or more."

Looking at future profitability, management said it expects its LD division to reach breakeven in the second half of 2012, and believes the HD segment will hit breakeven when it sells 1,200 units per year. It moved 170 units in its most recent quarter. Westport's joint venture with Cummins continues to be its most established and most profitable segment, contributing $15.2 million in net income in 2011, nearly double its 2010 total.

Investments in research and development increased over the year to $53 million, and Demers feels confident that those expenditures "will produce strong returns in market position and profit contribution." The manufacturer's WiNG Power System for the Ford (NYS: F) F-250 and F-350 will roll out in the second quarter of this year, and Westport expects to sell 500 units and bring in revenue of $5 million from those engines. They will be available through Ford dealerships and are targeted at gas producers such as EnCana (NYS: ECA) for use in the gas fields, Demers said. The CEO also singled out another company he's targeting -- fracking-service provider Heckmann (NYS: HEK) , which is a regional hauler with high mileage, high fuel-consumption trucks.

Foolish takeaway
The Canadian engine maker bears much in common with another young upstart trying to disrupt the transportation industry -- Zipcar (NAS: ZIP) . Both have sought to expand through organic growth and acquisitions, and they are looking to dominate both international and domestic markets in their respective fields. Car-sharing and natural gas fuel each look like concepts with bright futures ahead of them, and these companies are the first-movers, swallowing up potential competitors as they look for opportunities around the globe. Without the R&D expenses necessary for a company like Westport to succeed, Zipcar has found its way to profitability. Westport investors are still waiting for cash flow to materialize, but with last quarter's growth and partnerships with big names such as GM and Caterpillar, it's easy to see why the stock has shot up recently.

Still, much of that future growth could be baked into Westport's valuation. Analysts have revised their estimates downward in recent months. They are projecting negative net income through 2013, and that comes with a caveat that analysts tend to overestimate Westport's earnings. The company posted larger-than-expected losses across last year. However, I think revenue projections could be underestimated moving forward, as Westport will likely continue to acquire smaller outfits in different corners of the world. Just this past Tuesday, the company announced a $1.6 million purchase of assets from Advanced Engine Components, an Australian engine maker.

As the company continues to grow, look for net income to move closer to breakeven in the coming quarters. If management can deliver on that, investors should be rewarded in the long run.

While Westport has attracted a lot of attention as one way to play the natural gas boom, there's another company with great prospects in natural gas that's already posting handsome profits and pays a dividend to boot. This drilling supplier even has a 60% market share in its industry, according to Morningstar. Find out what this hot stock is in the Fool's special free report: "The Only Energy Stock You'll Ever Need." Get it while you can. Just click right here.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman holds no positions in the companies above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford Motor, Heckmann, and Zipcar. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford Motor, Westport Innovations, General Motors, Zipcar, and Cummins. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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