There have been obvious winners during the COVID-19 pandemic, but so far, ATS Automation (ATS Automation Stock Quote, Chart, News TSX:ATA) has been skipped over.
That’s a shame, says portfolio manager James Telfser, who calls ATS a Top Pick for the next 12 months.
“ATS Automation presents a very interesting opportunity right now,” says Telfser, partner at Aventine Asset Counsel, who spoke on BNN Bloomberg on Thursday. “If you think about what ATS does which is they make automated manufacturing processes for businesses, predominantly in the healthcare space but they also do work for auto manufacturers on the battery production side and they do some consumer work, as well.”
“As the world looks to lower costs, as they look to onshore some processes because of the supply chain disruption that we just saw through the pandemic, we believe that companies like ATS Automation should be well rewarded,” Telfser said.
ATS’s share price has jumped around in 2020, falling with the general market in February and March and making a couple of aborted rallies. Currently at $17 and change, the stock is down 19 per cent for the year and has been trading in the $16 to $24 range for the past two-and-a-half years.
ATS showed something of how COVID-19 has been treating business in its latest earnings report, its fiscal first quarter, 2021 (ended June 28, 2021). There, ATS saw revenue drop four per cent year-over-year and EBITDA fall to $39.2 million from $47.2 million a year earlier.
Management referred to lower customer activity and production inefficiencies due to the pandemic as causes, saying in the Q1 press release, “We are in a good position to succeed with a healthy Order Backlog, a strong balance sheet and the capabilities to emerge from this downturn in a strong competitive position.”
Subsequent to the quarter’s end, ATS announced a $20-million order from a medical device manufacturer related to the US government’s COVID vaccine initiative. ATS said the automated systems on order will feature the company’s new Symphoni programmable manufacturing technology, with the program to be completed over the next ten months.
Telfser said ATS’s role in the pandemic and subsequent shifts in the business climate should be one to watch.
“We’ve seen their backlog growing and we’ve seen them win some really mission-critical contracts such as producing components for testing kits and things of that nature on the healthcare side,” Telfser said. “We really think that they’re in the right place at the right time.”
“But for whatever reason — maybe because some of the auto stuff has slowed down a little bit over the last six months — they’ve been hit on their multiple and they’re trading at about 10x EBITDA and the stock is down about 20 per cent this year,” Telfser said. “If you look at Rockwell Automation it’s up about 20 per cent on the year —that’s a pretty big spread or if you look at Magna which is down four per cent on the year.”
“So we think there’s a disconnect here that just doesn’t really add up and we think it’s a great opportunity to get shares of ATS automation into your portfolio, with a great management team who’s been executing really well,” Telfser said.
Telfser’s views are shared by Stifel Canada analyst Justin Keywood who earlier this year argued that COVID-19 was presenting both challenges and opportunities for ATS Automation. In that update he talked about the company’s healthcare segment.
“We remain bullish on ATS’ healthcare segment, which has a rapidly developing new area related to test kit automation for COVID-19 and is a global opportunity as an on- shoring trend progresses in the background. Although ATS has conveyed caution, we see healthcare as supporting the business in the near term, evidenced by the $65-million contract in Q1. ATS is also expected to be acquisitive with a potential focus in the healthcare segment that we see as a valuable pursuit. ATS recently drew down $250 million of a credit facility that could be used for M&A. Our conviction in ATS remains high,” Keywood wrote.
Then, on October 8, Keywood issued another update in which he talked about developments in the company’s transportation segment.
“We spoke to two EV executives this week to gain better insight into ATS’ transportation segment (~25% of sales), which is going through a restructuring, along with the potential divesture of one facility in Germany,” the analyst said. “Although a dynamic industry with a potential catalyst from the U.S. election outcome, there appears to be a pause in OEM capex spending before a potential inflection point of growth. We conclude that ATS’ restructuring was prudent and reflective of good management to right size the business in preserving margins. The potential divesture of a transportation facility could also help mitigate the $24mm announced restructuring charge and preserve jobs, while still maintaining EV infrastructure to support eventual growth. Our thesis and forecasts are largely unaffected by the feedback received as we already baked in conservatism for the transportation segment and continue to focus on the healthcare segment (~60% of total) that is on pace for +$1b in sales within two years. We also continue to have supportive feedback for an increasing on-shoring trend, which appears to have bipartisan support and is expected to benefit ATS for many years ahead.
Keywood currently has a “Buy” rating and a $30.00 one-year price target on ATS.