A.O.Smith Corp Value Stock - Dividend - Research Selection
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Description of the company
Our company is comprised of two reporting segments: North America and Rest of World. Our Rest of World segment is primarily comprised of China, Europe and India. Both segments manufacture and market comprehensive lines of residential and commercial gas and electric water heaters, boilers and water treatment products. Both segments primarily manufacture and market in their respective regions of the world. Our North America segment also manufactures and markets water system tanks. Our Rest of World segment also manufactures and markets in-home air purification products in China.
With the acquisition of Aquasana, Inc. (Aquasana) in 2016 and Hague Quality Water International (Hague) in 2017, we entered the North American water treatment market. Sales of water treatment products in North America totaled $57 million in 2017 and $18 million in 2016.
Sales in our North America segment increased 9.3 percent, or $161.6 million, in 2017 compared with the prior year. The sales increase in 2017 was the result of higher volumes of water heaters and boilers, and price increases in the U.S. for residential and commercial water heaters related to steel cost increases. North America water treatment sales in 2017, comprised of recently acquired Hague as well as a full year of Aquasana, incrementally added approximately $40 million of sales compared with 2016.
We serve residential and commercial end markets in North America with a broad range of products including:
Water heaters. Our residential and commercial water heaters come in sizes ranging from 2.5 gallon (point-of-use) models to 12,000 gallon products with varying efficiency ranges. We offer electric, natural gas and liquid propane tank-type models as well as tankless (gas and electric), heat pump and solar tank units. Typical applications for our water heaters include residences, restaurants, hotels and motels, office buildings, laundries, car washes and small businesses.
Boilers. Our residential and commercial boilers range in size from 40,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs) to 6.0 million BTUs. Our commercial boilers are primarily used in space heating applications for hospitals, schools, hotels and other large commercial buildings.
Water treatment products. Our water treatment products range from on-the-go filtration bottles and point-of-use carbon and reverse osmosis products to point-of-entry water softeners and whole-home water filtrations products. We also offer a complete line of food and beverage filtration products. Typical applications for our water treatment products include residences, restaurants, hotels and offices. A large portion of our sales of water treatment products is comprised of replacement filters.
Other. In our North America segment, we also manufacture expansion tanks, commercial solar water heating systems, swimming pool and spa heaters, related products and parts.
A significant portion of our North America sales is derived from the replacement of existing products.
We are the largest manufacturer and marketer of water heaters in North America with a leading share in both the residential and commercial markets. In the commercial markets for both water heating and space heating, we believe our comprehensive product lines and our high-efficiency products give us a competitive advantage in these portions of the markets. Our wholesale distribution channel, where we sell our products primarily under the A. O. Smith and State brands, includes more than 1,300 independent wholesale plumbing distributors serving residential and commercial end markets. We also sell our residential water heaters through the retail and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) channels. In the retail channel, our customers include four of the six largest national hardware and home center chains, including a long-standing exclusive relationship with Lowe’s where we sell A. O. Smith branded products.
Our Lochinvar brand is one of the leading residential and commercial boiler brands in the U.S. Approximately 40 percent of Lochinvar-branded sales consist of residential and commercial water heaters while the remaining 60 percent of Lochinvar-branded sales consist primarily of boilers and related parts. Our commercial boiler distribution channel is primarily comprised of manufacturer representative firms.
We sell our Aquasana branded products primarily directly to consumers through e-commerce as well as on-line retailers including Amazon and through other retail chains. Our Hague branded products, primarily water softeners, are sold through Hague water quality dealers and home center retail chains.
Our energy efficient product offerings continue to be a sales driver for our business. Our Cyclone product family and our condensing boilers continue to be an option for commercial customers looking for high efficiency water and space heating with a short payback period through energy savings. We offer residential heat pump, condensing tank-type and tankless water heaters in North America, as well as other higher efficiency water heating solutions to round out our energy efficient product offerings.
We sell our water heating products in highly competitive markets. We compete in each of our targeted market segments based on product design, reliability, quality of products and services, advanced technologies, energy efficiency, maintenance costs and price. Our principal water heating and boiler competitors in North America include Rheem, Bradford White, Rinnai, Aerco and Navien. Numerous other manufacturing companies also compete. Our principal water treatment competitors in the U.S. are Brita, Culligan, Kinetico and Ecowater as well as numerous independent water quality dealers.
REST OF WORLD
Sales in our Rest of World segment increased 15.6 percent, or $150.7 million, in 2017 compared with the prior year. A 15.9 percent increase in sales in China to over $1 billion was the primary source of the increase. Excluding the appreciation of the U.S. dollar, sales in China increased 17.9 percent in 2017.
We have operated in China for more than 20 years. In that time, we have been aggressively expanding our presence while building A. O. Smith brand recognition in the residential and commercial markets. The Chinese water heater market is predominantly comprised of electric wall-hung, gas tankless, combi-boiler and solar water heaters. We believe we are one of the leading suppliers of water heaters to the residential market in China in dollar terms, with a broad product offering including electric, gas tankless, heat pump and combi boilers as well as solar units. We also manufacture and market water treatment products and air purification products, primarily in China.
We sell water heaters in more than 8,000 retail outlets in China, of which over 2,900 exclusively sell our products. Our water treatment products and air purification products are sold in over 7,400 and 3,500 retail outlets in China, respectively. Our e-commerce sales continued to grow in China, to approximately $250 million in 2017.
In 2008, we established a sales office in India and began importing products specifically designed for India. We began manufacturing water heaters in India in 2010 and water treatment products in 2015. Our total sales in India were $26.2 million in 2017 compared with $18.2 million in 2016.
Our primary competitors in China in the electric water heater market segment are Haier and Midea, Chinese companies. We compete with Rinnai and Noritz in the gas tankless water heater market segment. Our principal competitors in the water treatment market are Qinyuan, Angel and Midea. We also compete with numerous other Chinese private and state-owned water heater and water treatment companies in China. Our principal competitors in the China air purification market are Phillips, Panasonic and Sharp. In India, we compete with Bajaj and MTS-Racold in the water heater market and Eureka Forbes, Kent and Hindustan Unilever in the water treatment market.
In addition, we sell water heaters in the European and Middle Eastern markets and water treatment products in Hong Kong, Turkey and Vietnam, all of which combined comprised less than six percent of total Rest of World sales in 2017.
Raw materials for our manufacturing operations, primarily consisting of steel, are generally available in adequate quantities. A portion of our customers are contractually obligated to accept price changes based on fluctuations in steel prices. There has been volatility in steel costs over the last several years.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
To improve our competitiveness by generating new products and processes, we conduct research and development at our Corporate Technology Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at our Global Engineering Center in Nanjing, China, and at our operating locations. Our total expenditures for research and development in 2017, 2016 and 2015 were $86.4 million, $80.1 million and $73.7 million, respectively.
PATENTS AND TRADEMARKS
We own and use in our businesses various trademarks, trade names, patents, trade secrets and licenses. We do not believe that our business as a whole is materially dependent upon any such trademark, trade name, patent, trade secret or license. However, our trade name is important with respect to our products, particularly in China, India and the U.S.
We employed approximately 16,100 employees as of December 31, 2017, primarily non-union.
Due to the short-cycle nature of our businesses, none of our operations sustain significant backlogs.