NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- They may be called "shovel-ready" projects, but in truth their long lead times make them anything but. And that means 2011 may be the right time for investors to finally dig into the stocks of the infrastructure companies responsible for bringing them to completion.
"Large infrastructure projects take time to plan, engineer and source resources," says Eric Marshall, who helps manage the
Hodges Small Cap Fund
. "As a result, there were few infrastructure projects that were so-called "shovel ready" 18 months ago when Washington introduced this term. But now we have reached the point where many of these huge projects are ready to go."
Mark Schultz, manager of the
MTB Mid-Cap Growth Fund
, said: "As energy prices remain firm, we expect a lot of construction prices to come back on stream after being held in abeyance during the downturn in energy prices and disruption in the credit markets. As we see spending come back to infrastructure projects, those companies that design and execute those projects will benefit."
searched for the market's top infrastructure stocks with the help of Marshall and Schultz.
As a leading cement producer in both California and Texas, Texas Industries is well-positioned to benefit from infrastructure projects. It appears the worst is behind the company, says Marshall, as construction markets have stabilized. And as older, high-cost capacity is taken off the market, he says pricing power should improve, especially in the spring as demand picks up. A weaker dollar makes cement imports less competitive and irrelevant as a competitive threat to supply.
"Going forward, we expect over half of their business to be tied to public-works spending," says Marshall. The investor says the company may be a takeover target.
General Cable provides copper, aluminum and fiber-optic wire and cable products worldwide. After several years of underinvestment, domestic utilities are facing a new capital-expenditure cycle. In Marshall's view, General Cable stands to benefit from spending on the electrical-power grid. In addition to electrical-utility infrastructure in North America, Marshall believes General Cable has substantial long-term opportunities in industrial infrastructure, construction in emerging markets and telecommunications around the world.
"With more than two-thirds of the company's business generated outside the U.S., General Cable represents a global growth story that should benefit from a recovery in developed markets, new opportunities in emerging markets and the potential for a weaker U.S. dollar. Also, the stock appears attractive at about 15 times this year's earnings and 12 times forward earnings expectations," says Marshall.
Quanta Services provides specialized contracting services for the electric-power, telecommunications, broadband cable and gas-pipeline industries. The Houston-based company designs, installs, maintains and repairs virtually every type of infrastructure.
Quanta shares dropped sharply after its recent fourth-quarter results were announced, due to postponement of several projects and lower-than-anticipated margins on certain gas-transmission projects. However, Schultz says the company has a strong pipeline of business once the shovels stop getting ready and start digging.
"Demand will increase as Quanta has some rate settlements around the corner. Some of those infrastructure projects will hopefully be released and that will help increase revenue," says Schultz.
Foster Wheeler is an engineering and construction contractor and power-equipment supplier employing about 13,000 people worldwide. The Switzerland-based infrastructure giant has two primary lines of business: a global engineering and construction group, which designs and constructs processing facilities for oil and gas companies, and a global power group, which designs, manufactures and erects power stations and industrial facilities.
Foster Wheeler recently released third-quarter earnings, which showed a drop of 43% on weaker demand. Nevertheless, CEO Umberto della Sala said in a statement he was encouraged by the "amount of activity regarding proposals and client inquiries in a number of regions around the world." And it is just that global clout that Schultz says will propel Foster Wheeler in 2011.
"They have big positions in the emerging markets and Middle East where a lot of spending is going on. We expect those projects to ramp up as the global economic recovery gets longer in the tooth," says Schultz.
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