A bank collapse is always a testing moment for financial markets. I realised something strange was going on at the end of last week because a share I hold suddenly fell heavily although I have no reason to suppose they are remotely affected by what is happening at SVB Financial Group.
It’s kind of a Black Swan event with the bank going into receivership 24 hours after launching an emergency share sale. The worry is that the world has experienced an unprecedented interest rate shock after a decade of easy money.
It’s strange what is going on in Wall Street because another report suggests that share buybacks are running at record levels.
For the first time, stock buybacks by companies in the S&P 500 are on track to surpass $1 trillion in a calendar year. Authorizations for buybacks had already reached $220 billion by mid-February, which firmly set the pace for this new record.1Zachs, 11 March 2023
It creates an interesting situation for the central banks because they have a duty to control inflation which points to higher interest rates but they also have a duty to make sure that the banking system is in good health and that may compromise their ability to raise interest rates.
Meanwhile we are already hearing of secondary effects of the SVB collapse. Roku has said that a quarter of its cash, $487m, was held at SVB while Etsy has warned that because of funds tied up at the bank it cannot pay sellers.
Since this was written central banks on both sides of the Atlantic have come galloping to the rescue but seemingly without managing to cheer up investors who remain nervous that there may be other shoes to drop in a world where money has suddenly become a great deal more expensive.
This is obviously a time for extreme caution and reinforces a growing shift on Quentinvest away from the shares that led stock markets higher in the decade long run-up to 2021 to new names. As part of this process I have embarked on a complete reinvention of the QV benchmarks list. This ties in with the idea that each new bull market is led by new names. We don’t have a new bull market yet but it will come and when it does I want us to be placed to take maximum advantage.
America is the home of great growth stocks and what I have been doing is looking for new 3G names and there are plenty to choose from. Just looking at US quoted shares in the Russell 1,000 (the 1,000 largest quoted US shares suitable for institutional investment) I have found 33 shares beginning with the latter ‘A’. All of these will go into my benchmarks list and six which look particularly appealing are featured below.
Just in case you are wondering the reason why they all begin with ‘A’ is because the list is in alphabetical order.
Arch Capital Group
Arch Capital Group Ltd. (Arch Capital or ACGL), a publicly listed Bermuda exempted company, writes insurance, reinsurance and mortgage insurance on a worldwide basis with a focus on specialty lines. The combination of our underwriting platform, our experienced management team and our strong capital base have enabled us to establish a prominent presence in the global insurance and reinsurance markets. Our common stock (Nasdaq: ACGL) is included in the S&P 500 index.
We seek to increase shareholder value through three main strategic principles:
Selectively pursue diverse specialty markets where we can apply our knowledge and expertise;
Maintain flexibility and responsiveness to allow us to take advantage of market opportunities when they arise; and
Maintain a disciplined underwriting approach to enable us to select risks and price them appropriately in all phases of the insurance cycle.
For the full year of 2022, Arch generated over $1.8bn of operating income with an operating return on equity of 14.8pc. 2022 was our third consecutive year of sustained premium and revenue growth, supporting stronger and more stable earnings power for the near term. The net premium written growth from our P&C unit was exceptional. Reinsurance segment NPW grew 51pc for 2022 as the team seized on market dislocations, while our insurance segment grew a robust 21pc on the year. We continue to see a broad array of opportunities to allocate capital where rates and terms and conditions allow for growth and attractive returns. Taking stock of where we are in the current market cycle, it’s important to note that we have recorded premium growth significantly above the long term industry average.
Over the last four years, we’ve grown property and casualty net premium written threefold to nearly $10bn from less than $3.6bn in 2018, while overall rates increased cumulatively by over 40pc. As we have stated previously, our cycle management strategy dictates that we maximize premium volume when rates are rising, which is precisely what we’ve done. While we expect to continue to allocate more capital to the P&C segments for the next several years, I wish to remind our shareholders that we capitalize on the attractive return opportunities in our MI segment to the tune of $5.4bn of underwriting income since 2017. These profits allowed us to redeploy capital into more accretive uses, including $2bn worth of share repurchases since 2018 and the substantial growth in profitable P&C premium.Q4 2022, 14 February 2023
What is obvious from these results is that Arch Capital is a most remarkable company.
A core strategic tenet of Arch is that underwriting acumen and discipline through the cycle drive superior risk adjusted returns.Q4 2022, 14 February 2023
This business is quality through and through.
On the capital front, we did not repurchase any shares this quarter as our assessment of the market opportunity in 2023 remains very positive, one where we should be able to deploy meaningful capital into our business at attractive returns for the benefit of our shareholders. Finally, as Marc mentioned in his remarks, the results we enjoyed this year across our operations were achieved through a thoughtful and deliberate execution of our cycle management strategy and a strong culture of allocating capital to the most profitable markets and opportunities. These results, which were an important contributor to us joining the S&P 500, were only made possible by the ongoing hard work and dedication of our over 5,000 employees across the globe. They deserve a tremendous amount of credit for making us who we are today, an industry leader with a stellar 20 plus year track record that is ready for the opportunities and challenges ahead of us.Q4 2022, 14 February 2023
Marc Grandisson became CEO in 2018 and the pace of acquisitions has noticeably accelerated since then.
Allegro has pioneered several major advances in the field of Hall-effect sensor ICs, including chopper stabilization, vertical Hall-effect technology, circular vertical Hall (CVH) arrays, and non-intrusive high-speed hardware diagnostics. We are also one of very few IC manufacturers that directly integrate GMR technology on top of our semiconductor wafers—improving reliability and simplifying design.
Our new cutting-edge tunneling magnetoresistance (TMR) effect technology combined with the company’s vertical Hall technology (VHT) offers designers superior heterogeneous redundant sensor solutions that deliver industry-leading accuracy for advanced levels of automation in the automotive and robotic industries.
If you want to find out what the Hall effect is all about I suggest you look on their web site. My impression is that even in the unlikely event that I somehow managed to become an expert in the Hall effect it would make no difference to my ability to evaluate Allegro as an investment so I don’t propose to bother.
The latest comments on trading make impressive reading.
“Our team delivered another quarter of record results. Momentum in e-Mobility applications, including xEV and ADAS, as well as strong demand across our magnetic sensor and power IC product portfolios continues to drive growth,” said Vineet Nargolwala, President and CEO of Allegro MicroSystems. “Sales in our Automotive business increased 30 percent year-over-year, with e-Mobility expanding to a record 43 percent of Automotive sales. We also achieved another record quarter in our Industrial business, led by ongoing growth in Clean Energy and Industrial Automation end markets. Complementing our top line performance, fiscal third quarter gross margin expanded to record levels due to higher sales of feature rich products as well as favorable foreign exchange. This allowed us to deliver record GAAP and non-GAAP operating margins of 26 and 30 percent, respectively in the quarter. Further highlighting our operating leverage, GAAP and non-GAAP diluted EPS increased 94 and 84 percent year-over-year, respectively. With Allegro’s strategic alignment to fast-growing secular megatrends, we expect to continue to outperform the broader end markets we serve.”Q3 2023. 31 January 2023
The company has recently appointed an experienced new CEO to lead the group into its next phase of growth and is very confident on prospects.
We believe we are extraordinarily well positioned to seize the opportunities ahead of us to provide innovations that offer unique value to our customers, advance safety and energy efficiency for the world, and deliver shareholder value.Annual report, 2022The company is operating with strong following winds.
In 2016 the group began the transition to a fabless, asset light strategy which has transformed the business. The company has strong relationships with Japanese auto companies which are normally hard for companies outside Japan to achieve. This is a particular advantage because solutions adopted by Japanese companies are frequently then adopted by companies outside Japan.
I have been looking at the latest results under new CEO, Vineet Nargolowalla, and it is clear that Allegro is a company on fire.
Sales in our automotive business increased 8pc sequentially to a new quarterly record and represented year-over-year growth of 80pc. Our focus on the secular mega trend of e-Mobility, which includes the increasing electrification of vehicles and the higher adoption of ADAS feature sets, continues to drive Allegro’s growth above market. In fact, e-Mobility applications expanded to a record 43% of Allegro’s third quarter automotive sales, reflecting the combined contribution from our sensing and power products. In addition, the majority of third quarter automotive design wins were in e-Mobility. We continue to focus efforts across the company on the strategic fast-growing opportunity. Notable design wins included a large ADAS application for our power products in a steering system for a North American OEM as well as multiple wins with the Chinese EV manufacturer.
We also achieved another record in our Industrial business with sales growing 6pc sequentially and 60pc year-over-year. Continued growth of Clean Energy and Industrial Automation end markets drove our performance in the third quarter. Overall design win traction has remained strong and well balanced across target markets as well as on magnetic sensors and power IC product portfolios. I’m equally pleased with our performance from a product line perspective. We continue to reinforce our market leadership in magnetic sensors, which grew 25pc year-over-year. Our Power IC portfolio continue to see very robust sales growing 50pc on a year-over-year basis. These results underscore our core value of innovation with purpose, the strong alignment of our R&D investments and portfolio with our strategic focus areas as well as our initiatives to accelerate new product velocity. And finally, punctuating our continued investments and innovation, last week we announced plans to open our newest R&D center in Richardson, Texas, which will expand Allegro’s research and development efforts.Q3 2023, 31 January 2023
Allegro MicroSystems looks like a super exciting company. They are holding an analysts’ day on 14 March which is unlikely to hurt the share price. There is no particular message in the share price chart but it is certainly a strong chart.
Arista Networks pioneered software-driven, cognitive cloud networking for large-scale datacenter and campus environments. Arista’s award-winning platforms redefine and deliver availability, agility, automation, analytics and security. At the core of Arista’s platform is the Extensible Operating System (EOS™), a ground-breaking network operating system with single-image consistency across hardware platforms, and a modern open core architecture enabling in-service upgrades and application extensibility. Arista has shipped more than fifty million cloud networking ports worldwide with CloudVision™ and EOS. The Arista team is comprised of experienced management and engineering talent from leading networking companies. Arista designs revolutionary products in California and delivers them worldwide through distribution partners, systems integrators and resellers with a strong dedication to partner and customer success.
Arista Networks is another company on fire.
You might recall, in November 2021 Analyst Day, we have given you a guidance of 30pc growth and instead have achieved well beyond that at 48pc growth for the year, driving to an annual revenue of $4.38bn with a non-GAAP earnings per share of $4.50, translating to an EPS growth of 58pc for 2022. Indeed, a memorable year.Q4 2022, 13 February 2023
Yeah, we see AI as a very, very important use case and workload for all our cloud titan customers. Clearly, it’s just the first innings. We’re just beginning. So very much like cloud networking 10 years ago, we see AI as an additional use case.
It is a very, very small portion of our use cases so far. So a lot of upside ahead.Q4 2022, 13 February 2023
Arista Networks is a classy business with a superb leader in Jayshree Ullal (who is one of America’s richest self-made businesswomen). The shares look a strong buy even though we don’t yet have a clear breakout on the very long term chart.
Its initial product and former namesake is the Taser, a line of electroshock weapons. The company has since diversified into technology products for military and law enforcement, including a line of body cameras and Evidence.com, a cloud-based digital evidence platform. As of 2017, body cameras and associated services comprise a quarter of Axon’s overall business.
In 2022, Axon delivered record revenue growth of 38pc to $1.19bn and net income of $147m (12.4pc net income margin), supporting Adjusted EBITDA of $232m, or 19.5pc margin.
The Axon Cloud software suite continues to be our top growth driver, with revenue up approximately 50pc in 2022 on top of 38pc growth the year before, and making up an increasing share of our business. Axon Cloud revenue of $368m represented 31pc of total revenue, and drove 45pc Annual Recurring Revenue growth to $473m.
In Q4 2022, we successfully completed our first-ever debt raise, with total net proceeds of approximately $603m. A powerful combination of timing, market demand and the underlying health of our business, allowed us to be opportunistic and strengthen our capital structure at a low cost of capital. Year-end cash, cash equivalents and investments of more than $1bn provide us with meaningful capital allocation optionality looking forward.Q4 2022, 28 February
Outlook/ something new
Axon is joining forces with law enforcement and community leaders in a moonshot goal to cut gun-related deaths between police and the public in half over the next 10 years. In announcing this goal, Axon pointed to the relevance of our R&D product roadmap of hardware devices and SaaS software solutions.
Axon is executing against a $50bn total addressable market. Our four key customer categories of US state and local governments, the US federal government, international governments and commercial enterprises comprise $45bn of that TAM, and grew ~33% over our 2021 published estimate.
The largest growth drivers in our updated analysis reflect TAM expansion in Axon’s key customer categories of state and local law enforcement and the US federal government, as well as key product categories, encompassing camera devices,TASER devices and robotic security, including Axon Air.Q4 2022, 28 February
The Taser 10
What an incredible weapon this is.
Major new advancements that TASER 10 delivers, include:
Individually targeted probes. A key improvement for TASER 10 is the individually targeted probes. Each probe comes in a single cartridge with its own dedicated propellant. This allows each probe to be precisely targeted and individually deployed, with officers controlling their own probe spread.
The ability to deploy up to 10 probes compared with four probes previously. With 10 opportunities to deploy a cartridge probe, the calculated probability of an officer obtaining a sufficient electrical connection is approximately 98%, based on data from TASER X2 deployments in the UK. We are still evaluating field data, however we believe we will see dramatically higher effectiveness rates.
A longer range of up to 45 feet (13.7m), compared with only 25 feet (7.6 m) previously. This provides more time and distance for the officer, which allows greater opportunity for de-escalation and may avoid the need for lethal force.Q4 2022, 28 February
It makes such incredible sense to give the police a weapon that puts the villain out of action without doing any lasting damage. The business model is also brilliant as the weapons are sold on a subscription basis.
We expect the TASER 10 platform to be gross margin neutral once we are at scale, beginning
in the second half of 2023. And we expect TASER 10 to support expanding TASER segment gross margins over time. Bundled pricing on TASER 10 starts at $50 per user per month, on a five-year contract, and extends to our $299 per user per month highest tier Officer Safety Plan bundle, which also includes body cameras and a suite of SaaS cloud-software features. The TASER 10 magazine holds 10 cartridges each containing a single probe, wire bundle and propellant. Following a deployment, unspent cartridges are still usable and the user can easily replace
spent cartridges, which are typically included as part of customers’ subscription bundles.
The percentage of TASER devices sold on a subscription was 79pc in the quarter. As a reminder, Axon has been successfully transitioning its TASER hardware business into a subscription service in more mature markets and expanding into new markets where some initial sales are not on a subscription, with the intention of building subscription businesses in those markets over time.Q4 2022, 28 February
Axon was already in the Quentinvest portfolio but I had not looked at the business for a while. Since I last looked it has been transformed into a phenomenally exciting company. Definitely one to buy.
Opened in 1979 as Auto Shack by J.R. “Pitt” Hyde III, AutoZone was created with the belief that we can offer ordinary customers clean, well-organized auto parts stores and excellent customer service. Since then, AutoZone has revolutionized the industry while maintaining a customer-first, innovative mindset. AutoZone has grown to be the leading retailer and a leading distributor of automotive replacement parts and accessories. Auto and truck parts, chemicals and accessories are available through AutoZone stores in 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Brazil.
Steered by a commitment to WOW! Customer Service and driven by our Pledge and Values, AutoZone has adapted alongside rapidly changing technologies, expanded into new markets, and spread our reach to more than 6,700 (and counting) stores in the United States, Mexico, and Brazil.
AutoZone, Inc. (NYSE: AZO) today reported net sales of $3.7bn for its second quarter (12 weeks) ended February 11, 2023, an increase of 9.5pc from the second quarter of fiscal 2022 (12 weeks). Domestic same store sales, or sales for stores open at least one year, increased 5.3pc for the quarter.
“We are proud to report solid same store sales growth on top of last year’s 13.8pc. We could not have achieved these results without phenomenal contributions from across the organization. Once again, our AutoZoners’ efforts generated double digit domestic Commercial growth and single digit domestic Retail sales growth. We continue to believe the initiatives we have in place position us well for the remainder of our fiscal year,” said Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer.
For the quarter, gross profit, as a percentage of sales, was 52.3pc, a decrease of 69 basis points versus the prior year. The decrease in gross margin was impacted by a 27 basis point ($10m) non-cash LIFO charge driven primarily by freight costs. The remaining deleverage was driven by supply chain costs and accelerated growth in our Commercial business. Operating expenses, as a percentage of sales, were 34.1pc versus last year at 34.4pc.
Operating profit increased 6.9pc to $670.0m. Net income for the quarter increased 1.0pc over the same period last year to $476.5m, while diluted earnings per share increased 10.5pc to $24.64 from $22.30 in the year-ago quarter.Q2 2023, 28 February 2023
Lastly, we plan on continuing to grow our business in Mexico and Brazil at almost 800 stores combined across the two markets. These businesses had impressive performance again this quarter and they should continue to be key contributors to sales and profit growth for decades to come.
We are leveraging many of the learnings we have in the U.S. to refine our offerings in Mexico and Brazil. In Brazil, in particular, we are targeting to expand our store footprint significantly and aggressively over the next five years. We are very excited about our growth prospects internationally.
With 11pc of our total store base currently outside the U.S. and a commitment to continued expansion in a disciplined way, international growth will be an attractive and meaningful contributor to AutoZone’s future growth. We are bullish on international growth, and as Bill mentioned earlier, we are adding distribution center capacity in Mexico to improve our competitive positioning in the market.
For the remainder of fiscal 2023, we are launching some very exciting initiatives. This year not only we would be opening roughly 200 stores across the U.S., Mexico and Brazil, but we will be opening many more mega-hub and hub stores, and we are focused on initiatives to continue driving strong performance in both our retail and commercial businesses.Q2 2023, 28 February 2023
Autozone is one of those tortoise-catch-the-hare type of stocks. Most years the business delivers steady growth but the cumulative effect over time helped by dividend payments and share buy backs is surprisingly rewarding for shareholders.
Heritage AspenTech has developed its applications to design and optimise industrial operations across three principal business areas: engineering, manufacturing and supply chain, and asset performance management. Heritage AspenTech is the recognized technology leader in providing process optimization and asset performance management software for each of these business areas. With its mission to digitally transform the industries we serve by optimising their assets to run safer, greener, longer and faster, we believe that Heritage AspenTech is also a global leader in helping companies achieve their sustainability goals while achieving operational excellence.
Customers use our solutions to help advance sustainability technology pathways in improving resource efficiencies, such as energy, water or feedstock; supporting energy transition and decarbonisation initiatives, including integrating renewable and alternative energy sources, such as biofuels; innovating new approaches for the hydrogen economy and carbon capture; and, enabling recycling efficiencies for waste reduction throughout operations with advanced simulation and scale-up solutions.
Our OSI business offers operational technology (OT) solutions that enable electric, gas, and water utilities and asset operators to manage and optimise the digital grid, incorporating all types of generation, industrial cogeneration, transmission, distribution, and microgrids. Our OSI business’ systems are also crucial in expanding electrification as the world’s power demand is anticipated to double by 2050 under International Energy Agency (IEA) and U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) scenarios. Utilities, industry, and institutions use OSI solutions to transform and digitise the grid to seamlessly incorporate renewable energy and storage, to achieve reliability, maximise cybersecurity, and minimise peak loading.
Our SSE (subsurface science and engineering) business is a global provider of geoscience and modelling software for optimisation across subsurface engineering and operations. With over 30 years of technology leadership in geophysics, petrophysics, geological and reservoir modeling, SSE software empowers decision makers to reduce uncertainty, improve confidence, minimise risk, and support responsible asset management. Used extensively by the global energy industry, SSE solutions also have applications that extend into geothermal energy and carbon capture and storage.
The above is not intended to be definitive but to give a general idea of the services provided by AspenTech as the company is usually known.
“AspenTech’s second quarter results reflected continued, strong end market demand and the benefit of the addition of the OSI and SSE businesses to heritage AspenTech. We made significant progress on our integration and transformation initiatives and we believe we are well positioned to deliver on our full year operational and financial objectives,” said Antonio Pietri, President and Chief Executive Officer of AspenTech.
“AspenTech is playing an essential role in helping our customers meet the demand for the products that support greater global prosperity while achieving their sustainability goals and ambitions,” Pietri added. “Delivering on both goals is the core of our Dual Challenge mission. Our customers have validated this value proposition and recognize our unique position to help them achieve it. We are confident these imperatives will enable AspenTech to deliver attractive growth and profitability over the long-term.”Q2 2023, 25 January 2023
Emerson Electric Co (EMR.N) said on Monday it would merge its software units with smaller rival Aspen Technology (AZPN.O) in a deal for about $11bn, boosting its industrial automation business that caters to a swathe of sectors ranging from utility and mining to chemicals and automotive.
The combined industrial software company will comprise Emerson’s grid modernization technology and geological simulation software, and AspenTech’s software offerings to mining, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries.Reuters, 11 October 2022
We have a significant opportunity to accelerate growth across end markets by enabling existing and new customers to accelerate digitalization, to implement industrial internet of things solutions, and to realize sustainability goals, in particular, our collective focus on reducing industrial emissions, increasing carbon capture, and the electrification of industry and transport sectors. We seek to achieve this growth by leveraging our enhanced product portfolio, culture of innovation, and go-to-market capabilities. In addition to our existing product portfolio, we plan to bring more innovative solutions to market faster and more cost-effectively by utilizing the combined domain expertise, technology, and engineering cultures of Heritage AspenTech and the OSI and SSE businesses. Our go-to-market capabilities will be enhanced through commercial agreements with Emerson, providing us access to Emerson Automation Solutions’ large global installed base and go- to-market capabilities, expanding our presence in existing and new markets, including pharmaceuticals, metals and mining, alternative energy, and other asset-intensive industries, as well as geographies where Emerson has a stronger presence.
We seek to maintain and extend our position as a leading global provider of industrial software to capital-intensive industries. We have introduced a new strategy to evolve our scope of optimization from the production units in a facility to the process and equipment, or entire asset. We have expanded our reach in optimization from conceptualization and design, operations, and supply chain to the maintenance aspects of the facility. We plan to continue to build on our expertise in process optimization, our installed base, and long-term customer relationships to further expand our reach in the maintenance area. By focusing on asset optimization, we will be able to optimize the design and operations of a facility considering the performance and constraints of equipment to optimize the full asset lifecycle.
We also expect to be well-positioned to further develop our business through the pursuit of organic and inorganic growth initiatives, which we expect will be an important element of our growth strategy.Annual report 2022
As can be seen from the above AspenTech has been totally transformed in 2022 as a result of the deal with Emerson Electric, who will end up owning 55pc of the enlarged business and will itself be joining the QV benchmarks list when I reach the ‘E’s. I think AspenTech is an exciting new business that has been created with excellent long-term growth potential.
The global economy is being tested by sharply rising interest rates and the dust has yet to settle on where this is all going. Investors are still very twitchy.
As noted above I have embarked on a wholesale revamp of the QV benchmarks list which will have grown dramatically once I have finished and will form the not-so-short short list for future recommendations.
So far I have only looked at the ‘A’s and only among the 1,000 largest US companies. This search is going to be an ongoing programme with much to be done. It will keep me busy for months. However I am surprised and excited by the success of my first trawl. Who cares about the bear market? It turns out that there is plenty of exciting, positive stuff happening out there and shares to be bought regardless of where the overall market might be going.
Indeed a bear market is a good basis for buying shares which are performing strongly anyhow because the likelihood is that they will be among the stars of the next bull market.
There is a shift away from technology in the shares I am finding and I expect this will continue but this partly reflects the way that all businesses are adopting technology in their operations. There is also less emphasis on the disruptors that were so heavily favoured in the bull run that ended in 2021.
Arch Capital Group. ACGL. Buy @ $64.50
Allegro Microsystems. ALGM. Buy @ $43.50
Arista Networks. ANET. Buy @ $145.5
Axon Enterprise. AXON. Buy @ $211
Autozone. AZO. Buy @ $2421
Aspen Technology. AZPN. Buy @ $212.5
If you start buying these names to create or refresh your portfolio I think you will do well and will end up with a large but impressive portfolio superbly placed to prosper in future years.