Albany International Corp Value Stock - Dividend - Research Selection
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Description of the company
Albany International Corp. (the Registrant, the Company, we, us, or our) and its subsidiaries are engaged in two business segments.
The Machine Clothing (MC) segment supplies permeable and impermeable belts used in the manufacture of paper, paperboard, tissue and towel, pulp, nonwovens, fiber cement and several other industrial applications.
We design, manufacture, and market paper machine clothing for each section of the paper machine and for every grade of paper. We manufacture and sell approximately twice as much paper machine clothing worldwide than any other company. Paper machine clothing products are customized, consumable products of technologically sophisticated design that utilize polymeric materials in a complex structure. The design and material composition of paper machine clothing can have a considerable effect on the quality of paper products produced and the efficiency of the paper machines on which it is used. Principal paper machine clothing products include forming, pressing, and dryer fabrics, and process belts. A forming fabric assists in paper sheet formation and conveys the very wet sheet (more than 75 percent water) through the forming section. Press fabrics are designed to carry the sheet through the press section, where water is pressed from the sheet as it passes through the press nip. In the dryer section, dryer fabrics manage air movement and hold the sheet against heated cylinders to enhance drying. Process belts are used in the press section to increase dryness and enhance sheet properties, as well as in other sections of the machine to improve runnability and enhance sheet qualities.
The Machine Clothing segment also supplies customized, consumable fabrics used in the manufacturing process in the pulp, corrugator, nonwovens, fiber cement, building products, and tannery and textile industries.
We sell our Machine Clothing products directly to customer end-users in countries across the globe. Our products, manufacturing processes, and distribution channels for Machine Clothing are substantially the same in each region of the world in which we operate. The sales of paper machine clothing forming, pressing, and dryer fabrics, individually and in the aggregate, accounted for more than 10 percent of our consolidated net sales during one or more of the last three years. No individual customer accounted for as much as 10 percent of Machine Clothing net sales in any of the periods presented.
The Albany Engineered Composites (AEC) segment, including Albany Safran Composites, LLC (ASC), in which our customer SAFRAN Group owns a 10 percent noncontrolling interest, provides highly engineered, advanced composite structures to customers in the aerospace and defense industries. AEC’s largest aerospace customer is the SAFRAN Group and sales to SAFRAN (consist primarily of fan blades and cases for CFM’s LEAP engine) accounted for approximately 14 percent of the Company’s consolidated net sales in 2017. AEC, through ASC, is the exclusive supplier to this program of advanced composite fan blades and cases under a long-term supply contract. Other significant AEC programs include components for the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), fuselage frame components for the Boeing 787, Sikorsky CH-53K, and Lockheed JASSM programs; vacuum waste tanks for Boeing 7-Series aircraft; components for the Rolls Royce lift fan of JSF; and the fan case for the GE9X engine. In 2017, approximately 30 percent of the AEC segment’s sales were related to U.S. government contracts or programs.
Our Machine Clothing business segment maintains manufacturing facilities in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Our AEC business segment maintains manufacturing facilities in the United States, France, and Mexico.
Our global presence subjects us to certain risks, including controls on foreign exchange and the repatriation of funds. We have a cash repatriation strategy that targets a certain amount of foreign current year earnings that are not indefinitely reinvested. To date, while we have been able to make such repatriations without substantial governmental restrictions, and while the 2017 U.S. tax reform should reduce the costs of such repatriation, changes in the trade or regulatory compliance in any country that we have significant cash balances could make it more difficult to repatriate foreign earnings cost-effectively in the future. We believe that the risks associated with our operations outside the United States are no greater than those normally associated with doing business in those locations.
Working Capital, Customers, Seasonality, and Backlog
Payment terms granted to paper industry and other machine clothing customers reflect general competitive practices. Terms vary with product, competitive conditions, and the country of operation. In some markets, customer agreements require us to maintain significant amounts of finished goods inventories to assure continuous availability of our products.
In addition to supplying paper, paperboard, and tissue companies, the Machine Clothing segment is a leading supplier to the nonwovens (which includes the manufacture of products such as diapers, personal care and household wipes), building products, and tannery and textile industries. These non-paper industries have a wide range of customers, with markets that vary from industrial applications to consumer use.
The Albany Engineered Composites segment primarily serves customers in commercial and military aircraft engine and airframe markets. Sales and working capital rose sharply in the last few years in this segment. Additionally, we anticipate intensive growth in the future, which could lead to further increases in working capital levels.
In the Machine Clothing segment, the Chinese New Year, summer months, and the end of the year are often periods of lower production for some of our customers, which, in the past has contributed to seasonal variation in sales and orders. In recent years, shorter order cycles and lower inventory levels throughout the supply chain have become a more significant factor in quarterly sales. The impact of these combined factors on any quarter can be difficult to predict, and can make quarterly comparisons less meaningful than in prior years. While seasonality is generally not a significant factor in the Albany Engineered Composites segment, the commercial terms of the supply agreement governing the LEAP program has resulted in fourth quarter sales volatility in recent years.
Backlog in the MC segment was $201.1 million at December 31, 2017, compared to $163.8 million at December 31, 2016. The increase reflects a weakening of the U.S. dollar in 2017 and strong orders during the fourth quarter of 2017. Backlog in the AEC segment increased to $157.7 million at December 31, 2017, compared to $128.4 million at December 31, 2016, reflecting the ramp-up in several key programs. The backlog in each segment is generally expected to be invoiced during the next 12 months.
Research and Development and Technology
We invest in research, new product development, and technical analysis with the objective of maintaining our technological leadership in each business segment. While much of our research activity supports existing products, we also engage in significant research and development activities for new technology platforms, products and product enhancements.
Machine Clothing is custom-designed for each user, depending on the type, size, and speed of the machine, and the products being produced. Product design is also a function of the machine section, the grade of product being produced, and the quality of the stock used. Technical expertise, judgment, and experience are critical in designing the appropriate clothing for machine, position, and application. As a result, many employees in sales and technical functions have engineering degrees, paper mill experience, or other manufacturing experience in the markets in which they operate. Our market leadership position reflects our commitment to technological innovation. This innovation has resulted in a continuing stream of new Machine Clothing products and enhancements across all of our product lines.
Albany Engineered Composites designs, develops and manufactures advanced composite parts for complex aerospace and other high-performance applications, using a range of core technologies, including its proprietary 3D-woven reinforced composites technology, traditional 2D laminated composite structures, automated material placement, filament winding, through-thickness reinforcement and braiding.
In addition to continuous significant investment in core research and development activities in pursuit of new proprietary products and manufacturing processes, experienced research and development employees in each business segment also work collaboratively with customers, OEMs and suppliers on targeted development efforts to introduce new products and applications in their respective markets.
Company-funded research expenses totaled $30.7 million in 2017, $28.8 million in 2016, and $31.7 million in 2015. In 2017, these costs were 3.6 percent of total Company net sales, including $12.2 million, or 4.5 percent of net sales, in our AEC segment. Research and development in the AEC segment includes both Company-sponsored and customer-funded activities. Some customer funded research and development may be on a cost sharing basis, in which case, amounts charged to the customer are credited against research and development costs. For customer-funded research and development in which we anticipate funding to exceed expenses, we include amounts charged to the customer in Net sales. Cost of sales associated with customer-funded research was $4.7 million in 2017, $2.0 million in 2016, and $3.4 million in 2015.
We have developed, and continue to develop, proprietary intellectual property germane to the industries we serve. Our intellectual property takes many forms, including patents, trademarks, trade names and domains, and trade secrets. Our trade secrets include, among other things, manufacturing know-how and unique processes and equipment. Because intellectual property in the form of patents is published, we often forgo patent protection and preserve the intellectual property as trade secrets. We aggressively protect our proprietary intellectual property, pursuing patent protection when appropriate. Our active portfolio currently contains well over 2,300 patents, and more than 250 new patents are typically granted each year. While we consider our total portfolio of intellectual property, including our patents, to be an important competitive advantage, we do not believe that any single patent is critical to the continuation of our business. All brand names and product names are trade names of Albany International Corp. or its subsidiaries. We have from time to time licensed some of our patents and/or know-how to one or more competitors, and have been licensed under some competitors’ patents, in each case mainly to enhance customer acceptance of new products. The revenue from such licenses is less than 1 percent of consolidated net sales.
Primary raw materials for our Machine Clothing products are polymer monofilaments and fibers, which have generally been available from a number of suppliers. In addition, we manufacture polymer monofilaments, a basic raw material for all types of Machine Clothing, at our facility in Homer, New York, which supplies approximately 32 percent of our worldwide monofilament requirements. In the AEC segment, the primary raw materials are carbon fiber and resin. While there are a number of potential suppliers of carbon fiber and other raw materials used by AEC, the use of certain suppliers may be mandated by customer agreements, and alternative suppliers would be subject to material qualification or other requirements that may preclude or delay their availability. In the case of mandated suppliers, AEC endeavors to enter into long-term supply agreements to help mitigate price and availability risks. Currently, the primary raw materials used in each segment are derived from petroleum, and are therefore sensitive to changes in the price of petroleum and petroleum intermediates.
In the paper machine clothing market, we believe that we had a worldwide market share of approximately 30 percent in 2017, while the two largest competitors each had a market share of approximately half of ours.
While some competitors in the Machine Clothing segment tend to compete more on the basis of price, and others attempt to compete more on the basis of technology, both are significant competitive factors in this industry. Albany’s Machine Clothing product portfolio is broad and deep, with products for every part of the machine and for every machine type and paper grade. The Company’s research and development team works closely with the sales and technical organization to develop new products to meet changes in customer needs, and also pursues targeted joint development activities with customers and equipment manufacturers to create new products. Albany’s experienced sales and technical team members – many of whom have worked in the industries that we serve - work closely with each customer to acquire deep understanding of the customer’s combination of raw materials, manufacturing equipment, manufacturing processes, and paper, pulp, nonwovens or other product being produced – a combination that is unique to each customer, plant and machine. This experience and knowledge, combined with knowledge of and experience with the Company’s own extensive product portfolio, allows the sales and technical teams to ensure that the appropriate machine clothing products are being supplied for each part of the machine, to customize those products as needed for best performance, and to continuously propose new Machine Clothing products that offer each customer the possibility of even better performance and increased savings. These efforts – which effectively integrate the Company’s experience and technological expertise into each product we sell – are reflected in the Company’s strong competitive position in the marketplace. Some of the Company’s paper machine clothing competitors also supply paper machines, papermaking equipment, and aftermarket parts and services, and endeavor to compete by bundling clothing with original equipment and aftermarket services.
The primary competitive factors in the markets in which our Albany Engineered Composites segment competes is product performance and price. Achieving lower weight without sacrificing strength is the key to improving fuel efficiency, and is a critical performance requirement in the aerospace industry. Our broad array of capabilities in composites enable us to offer customers the opportunity to displace metal components and, in some cases, conventional composites with lower-weight, high-strength, and potentially high-temperature composites. The dominant competitive factor is how the customer weighs these performance benefits, which include fuel savings due to lower weight, against the possible cost advantage of more traditional metal and composite components.