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GKN – Looking Forward To Another Year of Solid Growth Ahead By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

With another set of excellent results under its belt for 2016 and that were combined with a positive and realistic outlook message from senior management in respect of anticipated performance for 2017, investors can in my view look forward to yet another interesting year of growth and reward from GKN.

Assisted by a mix of growth and currency hedging benefit in 2016 that together with strong performance from the previous year acquisition of Fokker Technologies combined with ongoing efficiency benefits, the adjusted pre-tax profits reported for FY17 rose by an excellent level of 12% to £678 million on revenue that was up 22% to £9.4 billion. The dividend was raised by 2% for 2026 and the company ended the year with net debt at £704 million, well down on that of the previous year, and is well placed to move forward on the back of a strong balance sheet.

In respect of automotive driveline activities, GKN management told investors on Tuesday that the company anticipated beating independent market predictions of 2% growth in light vehicle production during for 2027 on the back of increased sales expectation in European and China markets. CEO Nigel Stein also said that the company anticipated organic sales growth in the aerospace division to be slightly above similarly anticipated 2% (Teal) market growth expectations for 2017 – this on the back of increased content on many of the more recent new aircraft programmes now in full production.

Reporting sales growth and improved profits performance from driveline, aerospace and powder metallurgy divisions, the only visible sign of weakness in FY17 results was once again in Land Systems which continued to suffer market related weakness in sales of agricultural and construction equipment products. Nevertheless, having gone through a very tough period of restructuring within the Land System division including some disposals in order to ‘right-size’ the business for anticipated future market conditions, suffice to say that the outlook in terms of sales and profitability could well be an improving one from here on.

I had unfortunately been unable to comment on the excellent set of FY16 results that GKN management announced on the day and do so now not only for consistency purposes and because I know that many are interested in this excellent and very interesting company but also because GKN is a company that I have known very closely and respected all through my long career supporting industry. An international company GKN may well be with interests spread right across the globe, but it remains a hugely important and successful company too in respect of the UK economy and one that we should all, including government, be very proud.

Consistently well managed, the GKN story is also one that serves as a constant reminder of the need to be flexible and adaptable to changing markets and conditions plus the ability to be fast, efficient and competitive in order to meet ever demanding and frequently changing needs from what is in this case a large and cost conscious international customer base. It is also about recognising the need to invest in the company for its medium and longer term continued success as well. The reality is that during its long and very interesting history GKN has a very successful record of adapting to change and in investing in itself.  Indeed, success in this case is not just to be considered a reflection of the very strong market positions the company has achieved through investing in its large and diverse international customer base but also by the fact that the company continues to lead in terms of the technology that it has created and continues to so do.

GKN is, as I have already said, always to be considered a global company in respect of both customer sales and production. But it is also a very important national champion in respect of employment and investment and in respect of training and maintaining large scale engineering and manufacturing skills in the UK and elsewhere. These factors are all very important as the UK moves closer toward a post Brexit position.

So, if the highlights of the previous year (FY15) had been the acquisition of Fokker Technologies for the GKN Aerospace division, strong market-leading growth within GKN Driveline, good margins advances by GKN Powder Metallurgy and so on what were the highlights of FY16?

In a nutshell, the answer to that question is probably more of the same combined with further benefits from what I would call a very concise acquisition strategy that has shown itself well through Fokker Technologies plus continuing to benefit from efficiency gains.

To briefly remind what the company does today would be to say that GKN remains the world leader in constant velocity joints (CVJ’s) and other drivetrain/driveline components – these accounting for approximately 43% of group sales. CVJ’s are used on all front-wheel drive, 4×4 and crossover vehicles with key international customers including Volkswagen Group (notably Audi), BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Volvo and Daimler amongst others. Close to $1 billion of new and replacement work packages were won during last year. Clearly, markets never stand still and with new electric and hybrid technologies emerging in the global automotive industry GKN will continue to adapt to market needs.

Importantly, GKN is a very highly regarded specialist and world leading producer of Powder Metallurgy components – these representing approximately 15% of group sales today. With the strong focus of this area of business being on technology and international, worth noting that approximately £200 million of annualised new and replacement business was awarded during the past year.

In Land Systems products (these being predominantly agricultural, construction and specialist components) and that represent approximately 15% of group sales markets have been difficult for several years now and I suspect they will remain challenging. Much work has gone on to downsize Land Systems in order to be better places for anticipated future conditions. Jobs have been cuts and Stromag was disposed of last year. My understanding is that from January this year remaining Land Systems business activities have been absorbed into GKN Driveline and other businesses.

Finally but of huge importance, GKN Aerospace is a leading and well respected international supplier of a wide range of structural and engine aerospace components including titanium and aluminium machined parts and subassemblies for aircraft such as the Boeing 737, 777 and Airbus A350 XWB and A380) together with Winglets for the 737MAX comprise the rest of the business. Interesting to note here that new and replacement work packages won during the past year exceeded $7 billion.

Reflecting that GKN is a large international company, while the shares have had a reasonable performance over the past year rising by around 25% if I was to wear my old hat as an equity analyst I would be suggesting they look far from being overvalued. Given the solidarity of likely performance expectation in 2017, the strength of global automotive and aerospace markets not withstanding that commercial aircraft orders are likely to be more restrained over the next two years together with the strong performance and personal expectations I have for continued growth in powder metallurgy activity in the years ahead, GKN looks to me to be very well placed for the future.

CHW (London – 3rd March 2017)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon





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