AeroVironment: Innovation in Drones

07/27/2018 5:00 am EST

Focus: INDUSTRIALS

Glenn Rogers

Contributing Editor, Internet Wealth Builder and The Income Investor

AeroVironment (AVAV), which makes and sells drones and related equipment to the U.S. military, should profit from the never-ending increases to the U.S. defense budget, asserts Glenn Rogers, contributing editor to Internet Wealth Builder.

This is a profitable business, and the widespread use of drones shows no sign of slowing down. The products are widely used by the military, but they are also deployed by law enforcement and border patrol. Some estimates show drone sales of $12 billion globally by 2021.

The company will be co-investing with SoftBank (SFTBY) in a new venture called Hapsmobile, which will design long range solar powered aircraft. This appears to be a wildly futuristic idea, but eventually it could involve bringing the Internet to remote areas of the world.

These aircraft could also provide high altitude surveillance and coverage for natural disasters like forest fires, hurricanes, etc. This is very advanced technology but an interesting added opportunity for the company.

As far-fetched as some of this may sound, the company has established a track record for trailblazing innovation. Its many technological "firsts" include the first practical electric car; flying the Nano Hummingbird drone, record-setting, solar-powered aircraft flights in near space; and reshaping the battlefield with portable, hand-held, tactical drones.

Earlier this month, the company announced it is collaborating with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to build the drone helicopter recently selected by NASA's Mars Exploration Program. It displayed a model of the Mars Helicopter, which is planned to fly on Mars in less than three years.

AeroVironment released its full year results for fiscal 2018 (to April 30) and they were excellent. Revenue from continuing operations increased 18% to $271 million (figures in U.S. dollars). Earnings per share from continuing operations were up 32% to $0.95, from $0.72 the year before. The company recorded a record backlog of $174 million, which was an increase of 146%.

So, things are looking good for this interesting company. However, I must caution that the broad market worries me a great deal. Trade wars, rising interest rates, and lack of market leadership, as tech starts rolling over, are all concerns. It all adds up to a bad set-up going forward.

We may get a relief rally but this bull market is getting long in the tooth. With that caveat, if you are interested in adding a defense-technology stock to your portfolio, this is a good one to consider.

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