Trimble Navigates Along Steady Growth Course

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You won't find the folks atTrimble Navigation ( TRMB ) veering off course.

The maker of GPS and other advanced positioning systems for industrial uses has mapped out a winning strategy to strengthen its position in its field.

Acquisitions and a steady stream of new and improved offerings have become standard fare at Trimble as it's moved to broaden the focus and application of its technology.

Its efforts are bearing fruit. Over the past few years, Trimble has evolved from a company offering basic GPS-based positioning devices to a provider of advanced software and data subscription products designed to improve equipment accuracy and efficiency in farming, construction and other industries.

Trimble's ability to integrate technology focused on location or position, such as GPS, with application software that boosts productivity has worked to the company's advantage in a big way, analysts say.

"Trimble Navigation is one of the most compelling growth stories in our coverage because of the growth trajectory its business is on," said Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Ryan Connors. "That trajectory is not related to any short-term cyclical factors, but it's driven by the long-term adoption of technology in their end markets."

Late Adopters

Trimble, he adds, brings technology to industries such as agriculture and construction that historically were late adopters. As a result, these industries are still in a growth phase. That growth, he says, has been strong for years and should remain so, he says.

And Trimble has been reaping the benefits. The company has seen profits rise by at least 17% the past 11 quarters. The company has also beat earnings forecasts by Thomson Reuters analysts for at least the past eight quarters.

In the third quarter, earnings rose 31% to 68 cents a share. Revenue climbed 21% to $504.8 million.

But analysts polled by Thomson Reuters see fourth-quarter earnings growth slowing with only a 4% gain to 56 cents a share. The reason for the slowdown: "They had an exceptionally strong quarter a year ago, so the comparison is very challenging this quarter," Connors said.

Still, Thomson Reuters analysts forecast a 22% rise to $2.63 for all of 2012. They see an 18% jump in 2013.

A major growth driver over the past two years has been a trend in the agricultural sector called precision farming, which is the use of GPS-enabled devices and software to improve the efficiency and productivity of farming, says Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Cox.

Through its precision agriculture offerings, Trimble helps farmers throughout every step of the farming process, starting with land preparation and throughout the planting, nutrient and pest management, and harvesting phases of a crop cycle.

It provides manual and automated navigation guidance for tractors and other farm equipment used in spraying, planting, cultivation and harvesting applications. The benefits to the farmer include faster machine operation, higher yields and lower consumption of chemicals than conventional equipment. Also in the lineup are products to automate applications of pesticide and seeding.

To ensure better decision-making, Trimble also offers integrated operations management with its so-called Connected Farm, which provides information exchange across the entire farm. Last August, it introduced a Connected Farm smartphone application, which uses the smartphone's built-in GPS for collecting in-field information to help with fast and accurate decision-making. The application lets farmers and agronomists map field boundaries, mark flags, take geo-referenced photos and enter scouting information for pests.

Cox says Trimble's strengths in the area of precision farming include accuracy, its broad offering and the compatibility of its products with other devices.

Trimble has been reaping the benefits of the push on the part of farmers to use more technology to enhance the level of sophistication of how their farms are operated, says Cox. The company's Field Solutions segment, which addresses the agriculture and geographic information system markets, grew 13% to $103.0 million in the third quarter, due mainly to increased sales of agricultural products.

The fundamentals in agriculture remain "relatively steady," said Chief Executive Steven Berglund on the third-quarter conference call.

Trimble saw growth in all regions, including North America, which grew by double digits, he added. New information and flow control products continued to grow at a faster rate than the mainline agricultural products.

Among its flow control devices is the Field-IQ system. It prevents seed and fertilizer overlap, controls the rate of material applications and monitors seed delivery and fertilizer blockage.

Trimble's Engineering and Construction segment also saw strong growth in the third quarter. It enjoyed a 19% pop in sales to $287.2 million.

This segment's software and information technology capabilities include advanced civil engineering alignment, design and data preparation software for advanced surveying and geospatial data collection and analysis as well as an application-specific field and office software component.

One example is the Connected Site, which is comprised of offerings that integrate the construction process, including the ability to track equipment and perform remote machine diagnostics.

To bolster the software offering it provides through its Connected Site, Trimble formed a joint venture withCaterpillar ( CAT ) in 2008, called VirtualSite Solutions, which develops software for fleet management.

New Products

Trimble continues to develop new products as it moves to strengthen its position in new and existing markets. In the third quarter, it launched a number of new products and enhancements in the Engineering and Construction segment. Among them was the Spectra Precision QM75 Quick Measure distance meter designed to give contractors a distance measuring tool that is easy to use and can withstand the rigors of the construction job site.

Also in the third quarter, it came out with new products for farmers, including the GreenSeeker handheld crop sensor, which is a measurement device designed to assess the health of a crop.

Readings taken with the Green-Seeker can be used to make objective decisions regarding the amount of fertilizer to be applied, resulting in a more efficient use of fertilizer.

It also continues to be aggressive on the acquisition front with close to 20 deals in 2011 and 2012 combined. It made its first buy of 2013 this month with the purchase of privately held ALK Technologies for an undisclosed amount. ALK offers navigation software for transportation, logistics and mobile workforces. ALK software products include CoPilot Live, which offers onboard GPS navigation for professional drivers.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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