Look what I found, Mom! A stock that has held its value over the past year.
Indeed, small-but-solid Hawkins Inc. of northeast Minneapolis has nearly doubled in value since 2003, while most stock indexes today trade at or below their 2003 values.
Hawkins, a chemical company founded in 1938 by CEO John Hawins' father, has proved to be an able operator and contrarian bet that has gained market share in volatile times.
Hawkins posted earnings per share of $1.14, a 100 percent rise in the first six months of the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, on revenue that rose 50 percent, to $145.5 million. Shares closed Friday down 44 cents, at $14.50. The stock was about $9 per share in 2003.
Hawkins serves thousands of Midwest businesses and municipalities with chemicals used in meat-and-cheese processing, fertilizer production and water purification. People want clean tap water and disease-free food, regardless of the state of the economy.
The company employs 265 professional and operational staff, including chemists and engineers, trained technicians, drivers and customer support specialists.
"We've been in a period of rapidly escalating prices and as a result we're selling inventory in a rising market that has meant higher profit margins," Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Pepski said. "We also are able to supply [water-treatment] customers quickly from our Red Rock distribution facility on the Mississippi River in St. Paul. We are able to get product to customers by barge, rail and truck. It's a combination of good supply management and good customer focus. As the raw material shortages have occurred, we've been able to compete and take market share."
Hawkins expanded its distribution centers around the Twin Cities and Midwest and developed its supply networks to capitalize on the commodities boom of the past two years. The company bought and stored industry-essential ingredients and then brought them to market faster than competitors, who are largely private companies or subsidiaries of European conglomerates.
The company, which is worth about $150 million, trades thinly -- about 12,000 shares a day -- and is not followed by any retail, or "sell-side" brokerage analysts.
About two-thirds of its business is focused on food and water-treatment.
"Those are two recession-resistant areas," Pepski said "Although some of the supply-demand market forces we've seen recently will continue in the short term, in the long term they will return to normal margins."
The stock is off about 10 percent since CEO Hawkins told investors Nov. 6, when the company released second-quarter earnings, that long-term profit margins probably will narrow back to normal as the surge in commodity and industrial prices abates.
"However, our strong financial position allows us to continue to invest for the long term, and we expect to retain a share of the new business gained as these customers understand and appreciate the value of the company's infrastructure and our resulting ability to provide the critical supply needs during difficult market conditions," Hawkins said.
The company doesn't publicly discuss customers, nor does it estimate future earnings.
"We have a team that looks at water and water treatment and Hawkins fit right into that," said Mario Gabelli, CEO of New York-based Gabelli Funds, which is a major Hawkins shareholder. "That company is in our area of core competency. We know the management. They've got cash, a plan and an interesting business model."
An analyst at the Motley Fool, the Web-based market adviser, helped bring attention to Hawkins a year ago by pointing out its solid track record, strong balance sheet, growing portfolio of chemical niche products and management/employee ownership of more than 20 percent of the company. Hawkins also has consistently paid a dividend that today yields about 3 percent against the stock price.
The company completed its expanded St. Paul facility in 2001 for its water-treatment business. The facility has Mississippi River access while being above the historical flood plain -- ensuring distribution of water treatment to communities and other customers when they need it most.
Hawkins also serves the metal-finishing and pharmaceutical industries.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144