Playing a Rebound in Global Commerce

11/30/2009 12:00 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Elliott Gue

Editor and Publisher, Energy and Income Advisor and Capitalist Times

Elliott Gue, editor of Personal Finance, says shipping of goods and commodities is recovering along with the economy, and he finds a stock that should profit from it.

Dry bulk tankers are ocean-going ships used to transport commodities such as coal, iron ore, and grain. Because import demand from Asian countries such as China and India drives demand for dry bulk goods, the Baltic Dry Index—a key measure of dry carrier shipping rates—is a proven indicator of the health of Asian markets.

Ongoing improvement in the global economy is driving demand for transportation of consumer goods and commodities alike, a trend that’s likely to continue well into 2010. Stocks exposed to a recovery in freight volumes are among the most leveraged beneficiaries of the rebound.

But the investment case for transport stocks goes far beyond a cyclical recovery in the global economy. Several secular growth themes support the group as well.

One, a railroad can move a ton of freight nearly 450 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel. In an era of high energy prices, rail freight volumes are displacing less fuel-efficient trucks on
long-haul routes.

Two, Chinese iron ore and soybean imports have soared 250% and 50%, respectively, over the past five years, driving demand for dry bulk ships. And China isn’t alone; India is expected to be the world’s fastest growing coal importer in the next decade, importing as much as 200 million tons annually by 2014.

The seaborne coal market could grow as much as 8% annually over the next five years, which means accelerating demand growth for dry bulk vessels. In 1995, the Port of Long Beach handled 2.8 million 20-foot equivalent containers; last year, amid the worst recession in decades, the southern California port handled nearly 6.5 million. In fact, the number of containers destined for export actually grew in 2008.

Expeditors International (Nasdaq: EXPD) is a leading player in the freight forwarding, customs brokerage, and consolidation markets. The company doesn’t own its own fleet; it buys freight capacity directly from the major shipping and air freight transport firms and resells the cargo space to customers looking to ship internationally.

Expeditors buys in large, regular quantities, so it’s able to demand better rates and pass some of these savings to its customers. And consolidating freight from multiple customers means even bigger discounts for its clients.

The firm also offers ancillary services, such as clearing customs in foreign ports, which can be tedious and cost-prohibitive, especially for smaller firms. But Expeditors operates in 61 countries and has extensive experience dealing with local authorities, reducing costs and delays in the process.

Expeditors’ two largest markets are Asia and the US, which account for 51% and 23% of the business, respectively. Asia is the fastest-growing region of the world for trade, so this is a particularly attractive market for a logistics firm.

And the company also wins points for having a debt-free balance sheet and $4.32 per share in cash on hand. Buy Expeditors International under $37. (It closed Friday at $32.10—Editor.)

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