Originally published at RealMoney on September 19, 2007.
Tony Crescenzi says the latest PPI report should be tossed because the benign headline reading will almost certainly be reversed in the months ahead owing to the surge in energy costs that has occurred of late. I say not so fast! If prices are rising, that means some companies out there are likely to see better profits. Before tossing out the report, I’m betting we can figure out who a few of them will be.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which prepares the PPI report, provides detailed information on an industry basis. The problem is figuring out how to find it on their web site. Starting at the PPI home page, I scroll down to the headline that says “Get Detailed PPI Statistics” then click on Industry Data. You can then pick out which industries you want to see (I pick ‘em all) and click “Retrieve Data.” Then I select “More Formatting Options” and click on the boxes for 12-month percent change, all years, and include graphs. Once I hit “retrieve data” again I have what I’m looking for – graphs that make it easy to tell which industries are gaining or losing their pricing power.
First up is the fruit and vegetable canning industry. At 5.3% year/year inflation, pricing is clearly better than normal. It is down from a recent peak but still looks to be generally in a rising trend.
Possible plays on this industry include can makers such as Ball Corp. (BLL), Crown Holdings CCK - Annual Report), or Silgan (SLGN - Annual Report). Or you can go to the food processors such as Campbell Soup (CPB), Del Monte (DLM - Annual Report), Hain Celestial (HAIN), or HJ Heinz (HNZ).
Looking better still are industrial valves, up 9.3% year/year against tough comparisons.
But enough with boring “old” industries. How about tech? It is seldom that tech prices actually increase, but sometimes they decline at a slower than usual pace, which can provide a similar opportunity. That may be the case right now with computer storage devices.
Last month’s 2.9% decline from last year was the smallest price drop on record for this industry, and the ongoing consolidation may help the trend continue. Plenty of ways to play this one, including Brocade (BRCD), EMC (EMC - Annual Report), Iomega (IOM), Hutchinson (HTCH), Quantum (QTM), Sandisk (SNDK - Annual Report), Seagate (STX - Annual Report), and Western Digital (WDC).
By contrast, semiconductors are experiencing the worst pricing on record.
That could be the signal for a contrarian play (I happen to think the worst will soon be over for semiconductors) or possibly just an excuse to avoid the group for a while.
The PPI clued me in to the opportunity in railroads a year before Buffett bought in. I hestitate to bet against him, but it looks like the industry’s price increases have ground to a halt.
If you have the guts, I’d count this as bad news for Burlington Northern (BNI), CSX Corp. (CSX), Norfolk Southern (NSC), and Union Pacific (UNP).
Finally, Wired Telecommunications saw pricing decline for years after the 1996 Telecom Act, but recent consolidation is allowing them to raise prices again.
By my count, that is 26 potential stock tips, all courtesy of the U.S. government. I’ll take that over tossing the report any day.
Disclosure: Long Semiconductor HOLDRs (SMH).