Saturday, December 20, 2014

My Trip to the McRae Industries Annual Meeting

After owning McRae (MCRAA) for two years, I've seen the stock double. After such a runup, it is always prudent to re-evaluate the investment. To help me re-evaluate MCRAA I decided to trek to North Carolina for the company's annual meeting held on Dec 18.

The trip was a success for me. First and foremost, I got a basic education about the company. I am surprised at how little I know about the company! I mainly put the most weight on the the financial statements for my investment decisions. But McRae's core business of selling boots has nearly doubled in the last 5 years. And anyone that invests in the company now must understand what the company does. The company is no longer a simple balance sheet purchase like it was when I bought two years ago; the stock is so much higher now.

The following from the company's website sums up its history well.

McRae Industries was founded in 1959 by Branson J. McRae with the primary focus of manufacturing high quality children’s shoes. In 1966, during the height of the Vietnam War, McRae received a contract award from the U. S. Government to manufacture military combat boots for the United States Army using the “direct molded sole” design. As a result, McRae Industries’ Footwear division has provided quality combat boots to the men and women serving in the U. S. Army for more than 40 years.

In a strategic move in 1996, McRae Industries purchased American West Trading Company, a manufacturer and seller of a variety of western boot products. During the 2002 to 2006 time period, the array of western boot products was significantly enhanced by the acquisition of several popular brand names – Dingo, Dan Post and Laredo. Also, during this same period of time, the company’s name was changed to the Dan Post Boot Company to more closely identify our products in the western boot market. In 2005, Dan Post Boot Company became a licensee of John Deere and began to design and market men’s and women’s work boots along with a line of children’s shoes and boots. Dan Post continued to expand its product mix in 2008 with the addition of the durable, price effective McRae Industrial line of work boots.

The company gets 1/3 of its sales from its commercial line and 2/3 from its western/lifestyle line. But the latter only started in 1996 and really took off in the mid 2000's when it purchased several companies in financial troubles. So the company, despite being in business for over 50 years, really took off in the last 10 years or so. And it makes talk about expansion more believeable. The company's FCF is around $6-8 mil a year, and management is thinking of using that money prudently for expansion. Initially, I was skeptical because I didn't realize that the company's western sales only got started in the last 20 years. And I thought if you haven't successfully expanded much in 55 years, why do you think you can now? But now I am willing to think of the company in the present form as only about 15 years old. It was only in the last 15 years that Gary McRae has run the company and has divested itself of the printer and bar code machine business. And most importantly in the last 15 years the company bought the various western boot businesses.

I personally don't have knowledge of the western boots that McRae is known for. In the future I'll definitely pay more attention to the boots that women wear, especially when I am in the South. So, I do not have an informed opinion of McRae's industry. Anyway, fashion market and trends are difficult to predict even for the experts. So really the only thing I can go by is the past results. And the past results show that McRae has expanded prudently, the company has executed well and management has been spot on diving into a lucrative market. The company did $104 M, $97M and $76 M in revenues in 2014, 2013 and 2012, respectively. The company also just reported Q1 revenue of $29.2M versus $31.7 M a year earlier. I wouldn't be surprised if revenue is slightly down this year versus 2014. However, this is still satisfactory considering where revenues were just a few years ago. If earnings plateau, the stock is a reasonable value. But if management can grow revenues and earnings over the next several years like they have for the last several years, this company can turn into a growth stock and would be ripe for acquisition. In that scenario I think a larger player must offer at least $60 a share for company. Compare this with Justin, one of the biggest players in the western boot business. Justin was a public company until 2000 when Warren Buffett bought out the company for $600M. At the time of his purchase, Justin was selling at about 20 times earnings and two times book. To buy McRae with those kinds of multiple would mean more than $60 a share.

I think this trip was invaluable for me. It also didn't feel like work. It was more like a learning experience and vacation rolled together. I saw the factory where they made their military boots — their western boots are outsourced to overseas suppliers. The management is very respectful and friendly towards the employees. But they are also capable of making the tough but necessary decisions to move manufacturing jobs overseas.

I also learned their VP of finance Marvin Kaiser will be stepping down. His replacement-in-waiting is now bringing up the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Management is making an effort to improve the company. Ultimately, the results should show up in the books through improved margins, lower inventory levels, etc. Margins have dropped slightly in the last year and it definitely isn't due to pricing pressure. Management told me they are working on reversing the margin trend. This is probably my biggest area of concern.

Microcaps like this have very little coverage and insight into management. Furthermore, management in largecaps probably have no time for small individual investors. But for small companies this isn't so. I have heard of several successful smallcap money managers who regularly visit company management. Warren Buffett in his younger days used to drive around the country visiting management. Lynch also used to crisscross the country when he ran the Magellan Fund, And Francoi Rochon of the Giverney Capital also visits management regularly. This is my second company visit and I hope in doing so to emulate a bit of their success.

1 comment: