VANCOUVER -- Once upon a time, technology proponents and new media gurus predicted that the Internet would give rise to a paperless society, one in which information would be read from digital tablets and PC monitors.
To the contrary, however, the advent of the Net has yet to give rise to such change. Paper products seem to be more popular than ever. Just walk the crowded aisles of your local magazine shop for proof. So while environmentalists lament the renaissance of paper in the Digital Age, companies such as
are tapping into new opportunities arising from the trend.
The Burnaby, British Columbia-based printing firm -- specializing in computer-to-plate printing technology -- is emerging as one of Canada's
technology stars, with several products poised to lead the printing and graphic-arts world.
This is no upstart digital products company, mind you. The company has been active in the industry since the early 1980s, although the investing mainstream hadn't really clued into the firm until recently. Since going public last summer, Creo stock has endured the peaks and valleys familiar to so many of its high-tech brethren since the new year.
Shares trade around 35, well off their 52-week high of 52. But investors -- including Creo-invested mutual funds such as
Oppenheimer Enterprise and
Chase Vista Small Cap Equity -- appear willing to ride out the volatility.
What makes Creo attractive compared with sexier technology outfits is its attention to fundamentals. This is, after all, a company that toes the line between the New and Old economies -- with profit expectations taking their cue from the latter.
Creo has delivered. Earlier in the week, the company released solid quarterly results, with revenue growth coming in 52.5% higher and net earnings rising 67.3% compared with the same time period from 1999. Its net income of $7.1 million, or 20 cents per share, surpassed analysts' expectations.
Creo's product line has produced a loyal client base in printing circles. "They've earned a great deal of following in the commercial business," said one industry executive, who asked for anonymity. "They're considered the standard of the industry
in computer-to-plate imaging."
The company's growing stature in its industry has allowed it to make several bold moves since January, including the early April acquisition of one of its key competitors, Israel-based Scitex
. The stock buyout of the digital preprint and print-on-demand behemoth, valued at $551 million, has given way to CreoScitex, Creo's principal operating division, which will focus on technologies for the graphic-arts business (Scitex now has a 26.1% stake in Creo).
And in February, Creo completed a $35 million investment in
, a Web-based, business-to-business outfit specializing in the printing and graphic-arts industries. "Our e-commerce venture signals a fundamental change in our market," said CEO Amos Michelson during Tuesday's conference call. "We believe the printCafe will be a major player in this market, and we expect to see a significant return to Creo with this investment."
Despite these ventures, the company has garnered only limited coverage from Wall Street. New York-based analyst Jonathan Rosenzweig of
Salomon Smith Barney
rates Creo a buy, with a target of 58. (Salomon was the lead underwriter for Creo's 1999 initial public offering.)
The company's aggressive growth hasn't gone entirely unnoticed. In March, Creo was added to the
Toronto Stock Exchange's
TSE 300 Composite
Tracy Rawa, investor relations for Creo, admits that competitors such as
of Belgium could be set to mount offensives of their own. "The whole climate of the industry may start to shift," she said, indicating that her company has long-term-growth ambitions. "Creo Products does have intentions to acquire other companies and to expand its focus. We intend to capitalize on any opportunities that we'd be able to use our technology in."
With one foot planted in the New Economy and the other in the Old, the company should appeal to investors looking for fundamentals, growth and some digital pizzazz. Creo, after all, is the kind of company that both
could cozy up to.
Derek Moscato is a freelance financial journalist in Vancouver. At the time of publication he had no positions in any of the securities mentioned, although holdings can change at any time.