Sound Investment

This company’s offers a stealth monopoly on the sound and entertainment systems are being integrated in everything from stadiums, cars, homes and headphones. This makes it an attractive acquisition target.

One of the great “ah ha” moments in my learning curve of stock investing was realizing that many of the great well-known brands I see and use in everyday life are owned by a parent company I barely heard or knew little about. Obvious examples are in the food and fashion industry where companies put at multiple lines of similar products to hit all tiers of price points and demographics; think early days of Gap (GPS) running the gamut from Old Navy up to Banana Republic. Or Hormel (HRL) maker of spam, now buying organic Applegate.

This taught me to dig deeper and look for other companies that have a stealth monopoly on a category. A few years ago I discovered the maker of sound and entertainment equipment, essentially a technology company which was sneakily integrating its way into much of my daily life. After a recent pullback it looks like a sound investment ready to hit new high notes.

Harman International (HAR) was once a tightly held family company focused simply on high end audio components such as speakers. As the elders died off (sorry, it happens) new management has leveraged the name to make acquisitions, expanded the product line and became more shareholder friendly.

Harman now manufactures and installs audio, lighting and electronic systems for stadiums, movie and home theaters. It also has mobile applications and accessories such as ear buds, noise cancelling headphones under the Harman/Kardon and JBL brands. These are all solid business lines displaying good double digit growth and solid profit margins. The result is a stock that gained some 300% from 2012 to its recent peak of $150 in April of 2015 giving it a $8.7 billion market capitalization. I don’t throw this out as an idle statistic but as a potentially important catalyst. The most exciting and scalable growth potential comes from the automotive industry.

Driven to Dominate

One of the main drivers, pun intended, has been its domination as the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for the installation of audio/information systems in automobiles.   Harman is well positioned to benefit as cars becoming large mobile “internet of things” device.

Harman’s recent acquisition of Bang & Olufsen Automotive car audio business cements its position as the de facto monopoly supplier for sound and software systems in cars that range from the Ford (F) to BMW.

The most recent car sales data was the strongest in over a decade.   Harman systems are now standard equipment in nearly 80% of new cars and over 90% for high end autos priced over $60,000. Harman’s hand-in-glove relationship not only gives direct exposure to auto sales but also leverage for higher profit margins.

Which in turn makes it a very attractive acquisition target. As everyone from Google to Apple to Uber push into auto industry through software platforms to self-driving cars it might make sense to own the main component maker to create efficiencies of vertical integration.   The above mentioned $8.7 billion market cap could command a 20% premium and still bes easily digestible by one the larger companies.

Even if the acquisition doesn’t play out Harman is on a nice growth path displaying double digit top and bottom line growth. The recent pullback towards the $123 level offers a good entry point.

HAR 060415

I’m suggesting buying calls. Specifically;

-Buy October $125 calls for $8 a contract

HAR risk 6.4.15

I think this offers a great risk/reward. My expectations are shares make a new high above $150 by the October expiration which would give the calls a minimum value of over $25 or a 400% gain. That’s music to my ears.

— Steve Smith

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About the Author: Steve Smith