www.globeandmail.com

The Globe and Mail
leaftheglobeandmail

  Hemisphere GPS provokes food for thought

BENJ GALLANDER and BEN STADELMANN

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sometimes, Benj finds it fairly obvious that a pledge will not be kept. Such was the case when Prime Minister Harper told the Canadian people that our troops would leave Afghanistan in 2011. To say that he was skeptical is simplistic; utter disbelief was more the equation of the day.

Integral to our contrarian investing is to assess probability, and in this case, the question was, "Can we win in Afghanistan?" Given that the U.K., former Soviet Union and U.S. have all been spectacularly unsuccessful, the likelihood is somewhere between small and none. But the decision has been made to stay, so the question becomes how to win while losing. How can greater humanity come of this abysmal war?

Here is one somewhat subversive thought of Benj's: the troops that Canada leaves in Afghanistan should all be openly gay. This will show the Americans that troops with a same-sex desire, who declare it publicly, can wage war as effectively as those who are straight. Without causing collateral damage. This will hopefully lead the United States to break down another barrier of inequality and move humanity one step further forward.

It is hard to believe that it has only been in the past 100 years that women received the right to vote in the United States, blacks finally received the same rights as whites, and that in some places, albeit it only in some, gays can marry. None of these changes has led to the demise of society that some bigots predicted.

If Canadians really want to help Afghanis move ahead, one sure way would be to increase crop yields in that land. In a nation where primary crops include wheat, rye, barley, corn and rice, along with plenty of fruits — and the dreaded, but medicinally useful, opium — modern techniques to increase crop yields are a necessity. Not surprisingly, machinery is lacking, given the difficulties that plague the country.

One company that specializes in this arena is Hemisphere GPS, an outfit that, as its name suggests, manufactures GPS devices.

Hemisphere has been moving in the right direction, with the most recent period featuring record third-quarter revenue of $13.2 million, up a whopping 46 percent from last year. Alas, the red ink continued, with the firm losing $2 million. For 2009, the loss checked in at almost $6 million.

Fortunately, the balance sheet is squeaky clean, and black ink was not so distant, with better than $6 million in 2008 lighting the bottom line. Insiders appear confident, pumping in money, apparently believing that a turnaround is in store, and perhaps sooner rather than later.

One reason that HEM keeps losing money is its R&D costs — $2.7 million in the most recent quarter. While staying on top of innovation is a key success variable for this outfit, maybe this is an instance where less can be more. In the third quarter, there was a record number of new product introductions. Perhaps it is necessary to slow down the technology process to tickle the bottom line black.

A possible kicker to profitability for HEM is that the agricultural sector is doing well now, allowing farmers to invest more. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that net farm revenue this year will be $77.1 billion this year, up 24 percent from 2009. This is not isolated: while some nations have had poor crop conditions this year, commodity prices in this sector have increased globally, offering the potential for better earnings overall. And of course, food is a necessity, and more of it is a must as the human population continues its rampant increase.

HEM does more than just provide GPS in the farming sector. Sunshine Village in Alberta has outfitted its Snow Cats with the company's equipment. This aids the ski resort in setting out-of-bounds markers, noting hazards and areas of interest amongst other things. Rod Chisholm, the maintenance manager at Sunshine Village, stated, "We experienced productivity improvements immediately with Hemisphere's snow-grooming guidance systems."

Other areas that the company has developed equipment for are the oil and gas sector, marine technology and aerospace. Moving into areas such as this should help enhance the company's profitability going forward, if it does not stretch itself too thin.

Currently sitting around a buck, it is not unreasonable to project a three- or four-bagger for HEM, a price range that it regularly touched the majority of years in the last decade. The stock is in both our President's and Vice-President's portfolios.

Meanwhile, back to war, which in Afghanistan seems to be the norm. Perhaps the Americans will not be happy with openly gay Canadian troops in their midst. In their prejudice, the U.S. might state that our men and women of this nature are not desired, and might even ask that we remove them from Afghanistan. This would give the PM an out as Canada complied, finishing our presence in this country. While some people might perceive this as losing the battle, it could be considered to be winning the war.


back