Veolia: A French Legacy

08/21/2014 10:00 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Vivian Lewis

Editor and Publisher, Global Investing

We are adding a large-cap, French stock to our buy list; this is a very old company, which is a successor of one of the dual 19th century French waterworks giants, explains Vivian Lewis, editor of Global Investing.

This new idea—Veolia Environnement (VE)—has just completed the destruction of 190 tonnes of Syrian chemical weapons and precursors by incineration at a UK facility in Marchwood, not far from London, on behalf of the British Ministry of Defense.

But that is not why I want to buy these shares. Rather, it is my taste for water and sewage stocks, which I think are a key component of future growth. VE is also in energy, developing a complex system to turn waste into energy by anaerobic digestion in Wales.

It is already in the waste business and now owns the former Dalkia joint venture international energy side, after the split with EdF, which took over the French power side.

It has low margins, low growth, and low or negative return on equity. It has huge sales of $36.7 bn, of which 47% are outside France but its profits are not up to scratch.

The result is that it is scorned by institutional investors—although it does have some US supporters mainly because of its 5.8% yield.

The company is ripe for a shake-up and should appeal to a dissident. I hope one turns up.

There are 550 million shares out and VE has relatively high debt for a company in the clean-up business. It claims it does resource management but that is just a fancy name for delivering water, waste, and energy services.

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