Water Industry News

Layne Christensen's well-positioned in three of the hottest markets going: water, minerals, and energy

By Stephen D. Simpson, CFA
Motley Fool
Dec. 6, 2005

It can be hard enough to find a company well-positioned to take advantage of one market. How often do you find a company where management can credibly say that it can make money from three separate markets? That seems to still be the case for small LayneChristensen(Nasdaq: LAYN) as it continues to profit from opportunities in its water, minerals, and energy businesses.

Total revenue for the recently completed quarter rose more than 24%, with revenue from the water business climbing almost 34%. Much of this growth came from acquisitions, but there was still some positive organic growth as well. Elsewhere, the minerals segment posted low-teens growth, the energy segment more than tripled, and geoconstruction revenue fell by more than 21%, in large part because of difficult year-over-year comparisons.

Going down the income statement, we see that the gross margin suffered a bit from higher-than-expected costs on some water projects. Nevertheless, earnings per share still managed to grow by nearly 15% from the year-ago level.

Management seems to expect things to slow down a bit next quarter, which makes sense when you think about it. With colder weather in the U.S. and the holidays here and abroad, business in the water and mineral segments should cool off somewhat. Still, we at The Motley Fool don't recommend investing on a quarter-by-quarter basis, so I'd view this as just another blip on the scope.

There are a lot of things I like about Layne Christensen. Wall Street barely follows it at all, it hardly has any comparable peers (companies such as Baker Hughes(NYSE: BHI) or Barnwell(NYSE: BRN) really don't meet the criteria), and it has some real opportunities in underexploited areas, such as coalbed methane production.

Of course, it's not perfect. The company opts not to include a complete balance sheet or cash flow statement in its earnings report, and the number of shares outstanding is pretty small. What's more, this is not a high-margin business on the whole, and returns on capital aren't as high as I normally like to see. Still, investors who like to explore the hidden and forgotten corners of Wall Street may want to pause and take a look here.