John Bean Technologies Keeps Soaring on Strong Food-Industry Growth

By Dan

Transport system for food processing. Image: John Bean Technologies.

Many companies include two very different businesses within a single corporate umbrella. For John Bean Technologies , the somewhat unlikely combination of food-processing equipment and airport operations equipment like jetways, deicing service vehicles, and aircraft towing equipment has led to impressive growth recently. Just as Manitowoc has had long-term success by combining exposure to the food industry with a more industrial focus, JBT investors came into Wednesday's third-quarter financial report expecting that the company would be able to sustain its impressive track record of growth. JBT didn't disappoint, with solid gains in revenue and earnings that outpaced the expectations among most of its shareholders. Let's look more closely at what John Bean Technologies had to say and what it means for the company's future.

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How John Bean Technologies served its investors wellJBT's third-quarter results featured impressive growth even in the face of some tough headwinds. Revenue jumped 12% to $273 million, crushing expectations for 6% sales growth even in the face of currency impacts that cost the company nine percentage points of potential additional revenue gains. Net income jumped 40% to $12.6 million, producing earnings of $0.42 per share, topping the consensuss forecast by a nickel per share.

Looking more closely at JBT's numbers, you can see the much greater impact that the food-equipment business had on the company's overall performance. Revenue in the FoodTech segment soared more than 20% to $177.8 million, with pre-tax operating profit rising by nearly a third. By contrast, the airport services arena was far less financially healthy for John Bean, with AeroTech segment revenue staying roughly flat at $95.8 million and with an 8% decline in pre-tax operating profits.

Order-related metrics further supported the disparity between John Bean's two major businesses. Inbound orders for FoodTech jumped by $30 million to $190.5 million, even as order activity for AeroTech posted a $15 million decline. Backlogs also went in opposite directions, with what had been roughly equal levels for the two segments in the year-ago quarter shifting to a 60/40 split favoring FoodTech as of the end of the third quarter of 2015. Overall, inbound orders rose about 5% to $286.5 million, and backlogs jumped by 8% to $461 million.

That disparity is consistent with what Manitowoc has seen recently. Manitowoc reaffirmed its full-year outlook for its Foodservice business, where the company is seeing continued improvement. Yet Manitowoc's Crane segment is more exposed to adverse conditions in the industrial economy, and that caused Manitowoc to downgrade its expectations for that business going forward.

CEO Tom Giacomini was generally pleased with the progress that JBT has made. "Our continued strong top- and bottom-line growth reflect the progress on our One JBT cultural transformation and Next Level strategy," Giacomini said, "which is making us a more disciplined, productive, and growth-oriented company."

Can JBT keep growing?Looking forward, John Bean Technologies made some revisions to its full-year 2015 guidance. The company boosted its revenue growth estimate to 9% to 10%, with organic growth of 8% being boosted by acquisitions but offset by currency impacts. JBT expects full-year earnings of $1.75 to $1.80 per share, and it's looking for operating margins to improve by between half and three-quarters of a percentage point from 2014 levels.

To help it keep moving forward, JBT hasn't hesitated to make smart strategic acquisitions. The completion of its buyout of Stork Food & Dairy Systems during the third quarter adds vital technologies in the aseptic and thermal processing and filling areas. Together with October's closing on a deal to purchase A&B Process Systems, which brought improved secondary processing capabilities into the mix, JBT's Liquid Foods business should become more well-rounded. Combined, the acquisitions should add about $0.15 to $0.20 per share in earnings in 2016 and $0.30 to $0.40 per share for 2017.

Investors were happy about JBT's results, sending the stock to new all-time highs following the announcement. By focusing on its most promising business areas, John Bean Technologies should be able to sustain growth, and the prospect for an eventual lessening of adverse currency headwinds could accelerate future gains even further.

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