Another Solid Quarter for Ametek as Management Raises Its Full-Year EPS Guidance
Another Solid Quarter for Ametek as Management Raises Its Full-Year EPS Guidance
Analyst Note| by Joshua AguilarUpdated Aug 03, 2021
Narrow-moat Ametek’s second-quarter results were broadly in line with our expectations. We reduce our fair value estimate to $120 per share from $123, though this was entirely due to incorporating Morningstar’s probability-adjusted U.S. tax rate of 26% in 2022 and beyond in our discounted cash flow model. Without this impact, our fair value would have increased by 3% to $127, given that management raised full-year guidance to $4.65 at the midpoint from $4.52 previously. Management’s sunnier outlook for the year prompted us to raise our estimates for the year, particularly as we thought it previously baked in some conservatism, given the uncertain operating environment (particularly the semiconductor supply shortage) and the add-back of certain temporary COVID-related cost savings.
Sales for the quarter increased by 37% year on year (or about 24% on an organic basis) to $1,386.3 million and marginally exceeded what we earmarked in our second-quarter estimates (about a 3.5% variance). Nonetheless, adjusted EPS came in at $1.15, which is precisely what we penciled in for the quarter. Of course, this implies that supply chain-related headwinds plaguing the sector were about 50 basis points greater to segment operating margins than we initially appreciated.
Nonetheless, Ametek’s operating units performed well, with its electrical instruments group expanding its core margins (net of acquisitions) by 170 basis points year over year, while its electromechanical group’s grew margins by 170 basis points, year on year. Total segment operating income margins (which excludes corporate costs) came in at 24.5% (or 22.8% on a GAAP basis, including corporate costs).
Business Strategy and Outlook| by Joshua AguilarUpdated Aug 03, 2021
Ametek is a cash compounder that combines premier elements of best-in-class conglomerates. First, like Roper, Ametek prefers allocating capital through acquisitions. Its asset-light model’s firepower focuses on companies that compete on differentiated technology and hold dominant positions in oligopolistic niches. Second, like Danaher and Fortive, the company materially improves its targets’ underlying operating margins. Ametek often reduces the amount targets spend on raw material costs through superior supply chain sourcing.
Third, like 3M, Ametek allocates a large amount of dollars as a percentage of sales to research, development, and engineering (about 5.5% for Ametek). RD&E expenditures allow Ametek to charge a premium for its products relative to the market. They also provide Ametek with greater than inflation pricing power, typically about a 50-basis-point spread. Finally, like Idex, Ametek generally focuses its acquisition activities on pre-existing adjacencies. In our view, this focus minimizes the firm’s execution risks.
Despite these similarities, Ametek’s businesses are also unique. Ametek’s electrical instruments group segment is a world leader in the precision instrumentation market. EIG sells test and measurement apparatus that are vitally important to the markets they serve and have few alternatives. Compliance needs drive demand for these types of products, which translates to an inherently high cost of failure for Ametek's customers. Ametek’s electromechanical group sells highly engineered, mission-critical equipment. The firm’s overall portfolio has exposure to key, higher-growing portions of the economy, like medical, which benefits from research spending and the rise of infectious diseases, and defense spending.
We are bullish on Ametek’s more recent acquisitions in Abaco, with its mission-critical open-architecture computing and electronic system solutions in aerospace and defense, and Gatan, which provides Ametek with strong, niche specialization in microscopy. Acquisitions like these reinforce the firm’s already strong switching costs and further provides Ametek with enough ammunition to make value-creative acquisitions for many years.
Economic Moat| by Joshua AguilarUpdated Aug 03, 2021
We assign Ametek a narrow-moat rating, although we believe the overall business is on the wider side of narrow. In Ametek’s case, however, it’s difficult to separate the horse from the jockey given the firm’s acquisition-heavy model. Nevertheless, even accounting for management’s capital allocation bias, we believe it’s likely the firm can continue exceeding its weighted average cost of capital over the next 10 years on the merits of its collective businesses alone. We believe the firm’s moat sources primarily include switching costs, followed secondarily by intangible assets, which mirrors our moat analysis in the other diversified industrials we cover.
We see switching costs related to Ametek’s mission-critical highly engineered products found in narrow, defensible niches: the high cost of failure in the vital portions of the end markets it serves; the need for customers to reliably test and measure materials based on environmental and regulatory compliance needs; and to a lesser extent, some modest multiyear contracts with appreciable recurring revenue bases. We also identify intangible assets based on: the firm’s research, development, and engineering prowess, as shown by products that yield both pricing power and premium pricing; valuable and sticky customer relationships, including with original equipment manufacturers and national governments; and to a lesser extent, intellectual property, including patents and know-how. In our view, if management were to turn off the acquisition spigot, we believe the firm’s returns on invested capital would likely rise albeit at the expense of value-accretive growth. For the consolidated business, we model midcycle ROIC including goodwill of about 16.5%, slightly above the firm’s recent historical 10-year average.
We assign EIG a narrow-moat rating, and project midcycle ROIC including goodwill in the lower midteens. EIG is traditionally Ametek’s higher-growing higher-return segment. This segment is also higher margin, owing to its comparably richer fount of direct aftermarket (parts, service, and software upgrades) revenue that we strongly associate with switching costs. Seventy percent of EIG’s mix involves sales of technologically differentiated monitors, sensors, and a plethora of test and measurement tools like spectrometers (instruments that use light to identify and quantify samples). Among a host of other products, EIG sells high-purity germanium-based, or HPGe, detectors, which according to academic papers, are widely considered the gold standard for precise gamma and x-ray spectroscopy relative to silicon detectors. User training is also offered at an additional cost to the list price of nearly $100,000 per unit.
EIG sells portable radiation detectors for U.S. customs, border patrol, and emergency services under a multiyear contract with renewal options. This contract was awarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under the Human Portable Radiation Detection System. Of the five contractors initially chosen to improve and enhance their radiation identification technology, DHS recently selected Ametek to continue in the program. Ametek’s multimillion-dollar contract wins haven’t been limited to the U.S. government. For example, Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port, which is the pre-eminent deep-water port in the United Arab Emirates, awarded such a contract to Ametek as its primary radiation and nuclear threat inspection solution provider.
These devices are mission-critical instruments that are designed to detect and prevent the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials in the world’s largest ports of commerce. This high-resolution technology can positively identify weapons-grade nuclear or other radiological materials, even when shielded by other radioactive sources that may fool lower-resolution lower-cost silicon alternatives. We note that HPGe detectors have 20-40 times better resolution when compared with sodium iodide detectors. We also highlight that in 2011, the year of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, EIG’s sales of radiation detection equipment saw an appreciable spike, which we believe helped drive segment organic sales growth to record highs on a year-over-year basis (over 17%).
According to DHS, these types of monitors are also preferable because they provide a nonintrusive means of screening people, vehicles, or other objects when testing for the presence of these materials, saving governments time and expense. High-resolution technology also eliminates false positives that are common with lower-resolution technology. False positives can also slowdown the flow of commerce, which is yet another reason Ametek’s radiation detectors can save taxpayer money. At the same time, these monitors eliminate the need for protracted individual searches.
The high cost of failure associated with these detectors is further self-evident: if governments fail to detect radioactive materials and prevent them from entering their borders, the health and psychological well-being of their respective populaces are at stake. The only way to detect certain radioactive material is by the amount of radiation given off, specifically, gamma radiation at various energy levels. According to foreign policy experts, the threat of a crude fissile nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists is admittedly low given the technical difficulty with manufacturing such a device, as well as difficulty gathering enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. What many foreign policy experts agree on, however, is the highly probable threat of a so-called "dirty bomb," whereby conventional explosives are used to disperse radiation from a radioactive source.
Regrettably, the ingredients for a radiological dirty bomb, which employs the same isotopes that are used in life-saving blood transfusions as well as cancer treatments, are located at thousands of sites in over 150 countries. From our understanding, many of these sites are poorly secured and vulnerable to theft. The biggest single theft concern would be Cesium-137. Cesium-137 is a powder that is far more dispersible relative to other agents that can be dispersed only as metal pellets. It also has a half-life of 30.2 years, meaning it remains radioactive for a long time. While few lives would be lost because of an initial dirty bomb blast (orally administered Prussian blue can be ingested to counteract the effects of radiation poisoning), a single dirty bomb using Cesium-137 could render several metropolitan blocks unusable, threatening the health and well-being of the citizenry in surrounding areas. Given lingering radioactive contamination risks, billions of dollars in damages would likely ensue.
Leveraging its R&D and intellectual property used in nuclear detection devices, Ametek also developed a chemical identification system that both rapidly and safely identifies hazardous chemicals inside munitions or chemical storage containers through nondestructive gamma ray analysis. This system is also entirely portable and works without the need for liquid nitrogen as a coolant, nor does it require the use of shielded radioactive sources. We believe few companies have the technical expertise to compete with Ametek’s brand Ortec in the radiation detection market, with only companies such as private company Mirion and narrow-moat Thermo Fisher coming to mind.
While these are only a few examples of the products available for sale through EIG, we believe many of these same competitive advantages are prevalent throughout the entirety of the segment’s portfolio. For example, in terms of R&D prowess, Ametek’s Zygo business supplies critical instrumentation and components found in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. This observatory successfully detected gravitational waves, which was critical in three recent Nobel Prize-winning physicists’ work that proved one element of general relativity theory. As result of these factors, we believe EIG can likely generate 10 years’ worth of excess returns on capital, even when including goodwill.
We consider Ametek’s electromechanical group, or EMG, to have a narrow moat rating, and model an upper-teen, midcycle return on invested capital for the segment. We also base our assessment on switching costs and intangible assets for the EMG segment. With the exception of its aerospace exposure, EMG is the more original equipment and Tier 1 manufacturer-focused segment of Ametek’s business, which is why we posit it earns lower, albeit still strong, operating margins in the lower-20s. EMG is a niche supplier of differentiated automation solutions, thermal management systems, specialty metals, and electrical interconnects to a wide variety of end markets. Seventy-five percent of EMG sales involve automation and engineered solution sales, including specialty motors that are used in a wide variety of household and commercial appliances, food equipment, lawn equipment, as well as industrial-grade blowers. Many of Ametek’s motor contracts have inherent price escalation clauses.
Moreover, as in EIG, EMG has historically won major contracts with national governments, such as its agreement to equip submarines with interconnect systems that install cabling interconnects between the outside water and the inside of the submarine. These are highly engineered parts built to withstand high amounts of underwater pressure. In some mission-critical applications, like in the submarine example, or in Ametek’s contract to design and manufacture engine data concentrators for both the U.S. Air Force and L3 Aerospace Systems, suppliers like Ametek will collaborate closely during product development stages with its customers. Data concentrator units, for instance, are specifically tailored to avionic requirements, and support real-time conversion of aircraft sensor data into a digital format. Other examples include Ametek’s manufacturing of heat exchangers, which are found in U.S. tanks and are designed to cool the crew and electronic equipment, or its multimillion-dollar contract with Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Navy’s testing of naval avionics used in both shore-based and sea test applications. The customer costs of switching to marginally cheaper products that meet a similar reliability and performance standard in harsh and hazardous environments (for example, moisture-proof and hermetically sealed) is meaningful both in terms of time and expense.
Some of Ametek’s products are mission-critical in other ways, such as those acquired through the Rauland-Borg acquisition, which provides niche clinical communications and workflow solutions for hospital and acute-care facilities. We believe this business could benefit from value-based care initiatives because Rauland’s value proposition (and the value proposition of nearly all workflow solutions) is to reduce customer costs, as well as improve nurse productivity and efficiency. These solutions can help nursing care facilities comply with Medicare requirements, which, in theory, may lead to higher levels of reimbursement. Rauland’s solutions, for instance, also allow hospitals to share real-time data to optimize patient bed management and help reduce the time nurses spend looking for the correct patient room. According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, healthcare costs as a percentage of U.S. GDP now total nearly 18% (over $10,000 per person), about 10 points higher than other advanced economies. Chronic disease like asthma and diabetes is on the rise, as are surgical procedures. The aging baby boomer population could provide this business with a long runway.
Other offerings in this space also have inherent high cost of failure, such as EMG’s fault recorders on high-speed rail systems. Fault recorders provide complete electric power quality trends and alarm management of all substation events providing real-time indicators, as well as high-resolution post-mortem analysis in the event of a fault. Other Ametek solutions perform similar functions, like automating crisis solutions in schools to keep students safe in the first few moments before first responders arrive. We point out that the first few moments of an emergency, whether it be in law enforcement, fire suppression, and emergency medical services, are often considered the most important. As a result, well-regarded brands like Rauland are also somewhat valuable. Relatedly, EMG's material science expertise with metal powders in oil and gas drill bits or with ceramics in aerospace sheathing applications also indicates the presence of intangible assets. Accounting for all these factors, we believe EMG will also generate over 10 years' worth of excess returns.
Ametek combines some familiar elements of wide-moat Roper's asset-light and narrow-moat Danaher and Fortive's "buy-it and fix-it" strategies within its own operations. Ametek's portfolio mostly consists of mid- and long-cycle businesses that operate in somewhat mature niche markets and where over 95% of its products compete on differentiation. Further, Ametek typically holds first or second market share positions in oligopolistic and duopolistic markets, with share typically hovering around 30% (but upward of 50% in certain precise instrumentation markets); we think this is a testament to its market segmentation strategy. At 1,900-plus global engineers strong, Ametek also allocates about 5% of sales to research, development, and engineering (about 50-100 basis points below innovative firm 3M), which allows it to yield on average about $7.30 of returns on research capital (current year gross profits divided by prior year R&D), about $1.60 below 3M but well above the $5.50 average of other well-regarded innovative companies we cover.
Ametek’s new vitality index (sales from products Ametek has introduced over the past three years) typically totals 25%, relatively in line with statistics reported by both 3M (30% over a five-year basis) and Danaher (high 20s over a three-year period). This sustained level of R&D spending also allows Ametek to take price greater than inflation (positive price inflation spread typically hovers in the 20- to 30-basis-point range), which is somewhat exceptional. In our observation, most moaty industrials typically use price to offset raw material costs and tariffs, but generally don't have greater-than-inflation pricing power. For example, net of its electronics business, wide-moat-rated 3M typically raises prices 50-70 basis points year over year (or 30-50 basis points when including electronics). Additionally, Ametek needs to spend only a near-industry low of about 1.8% of sales on capital expenditures, while working capital hovers around only 19% of sales. This allows Ametek to generate free cash flow conversion rates of about 120%, which, in our view, is best-in-class and toward the upper end of our diversified industrial coverage. These factors give us confidence in our 10-year horizon excess return projection.
Ametek’s returns on tangible capital impressively now hover over 100% and the company's historical returns have safely exceeded our estimated, normalized WACC over the past 20 years. Even so, we still lack the requisite degree of confidence needed to award a wide-moat rating given our strict 20-year forward hurdle combined with Ametek's slimmer excess return profile, when baking in goodwill. While we don't base our moat ratings on relative assessments, we have awarded multi-industry wide moats based on similar 700-800-basis-point projected excess return spreads. Roper Technologies is one such example. However, in Roper's case, the firm's go-forward mix is evolving toward increasingly asset-light and less capital-intensive sales--only Roper's average free cash flow conversion regularly exceeds 130% in our coverage, which gave us added confidence in assigning that rating. Given the nature of its software businesses, Roper also benefits from negative working capital thanks to large amounts of deferred revenue that it can continuously reinvest at incrementally higher returns on capital, albeit Ametek's balance sheet reveals it has also begun to benefit from customer advances in 2018.
In terms of our competitive moat framework, Roper's business model is protected by a strong third moat source in the network effect, which is the rarest moat source across our coverage but traditionally the most lucrative in terms of ROIC. We note that Ametek does appear to have elements of network effect in Rauland-Borg because presumably the more hospitals that are added to the network, the better the quality of data that is shared among practitioners (and the better the corresponding quality of patient care). However, we point out this is probably not typical throughout a significant portion of Ametek's portfolio. Furthermore, 60% of Roper's consolidated business generates recurring revenue, which we believe shows even stronger, immutable switching costs. This figure stands as high as nearly 70% in rival Danaher.
Ametek’s recent acquisitions in Telular (65% recurring revenue) and Spectro (25% recurring revenue) have elements of these characteristics, but Ametek's overall business lacks these qualities. By our count, as of 2018, about 20% of its overall business portfolio has recurring, aftermarket revenue. Finally, while both wide-moat 3M and Ametek have proven track records of innovation, 3M's gross margin typically exceeds Ametek's by nearly 15 percentage points. We believe this better prepares 3M to weather economic storms, which is partially why 3M's returns historically exceeded our estimated WACC by about 3 times, even while both businesses generate similar GDP-plus organic top-line growth rates.
By contrast, we believe Ametek’s business model is inherently more comparable to narrow-moat rated Idex in terms of its preference for market adjacencies (in other words, the markets it knows best), as well as narrow-moat rated Danaher and Fortive in terms of driving continuous operational improvements. For example, we think a large part of why Ametek can achieve its M&A targets of an ROIC of 10% by year three post-acquisition is its ability to drive significant margin improvement in acquired companies (at a minimum, over 200 basis points within a short period of time after an acquisition). Ametek will typically buy moaty businesses but identify cost synergies throughout a target's supply chain. The firm relies on its own local-for-local suppliers that manufacture in low-cost regions to meet its stated acquisition goals. These are pre-qualified suppliers with skill sets ranging from circuit board construction to precision machining and casting, which can significantly drive down a target's bill of material costs--by 20% to upward of 30%. Material costs, from our understanding, are typically the highest cost found in niche industrial technology.
Other areas Ametek will drive down acquired companies' costs include shared services, such as human resources, IT, tax accounting, and legal expenses. This is a similar playbook to both Danaher's and Fortive's, which is modeled after the Toyota production system. Nevertheless, while Ametek's results are impressive, we consider this a hallmark of operational excellence and part and parcel of our stewardship analysis for the firm. A business such as Roper, by contrast, is really limited in the amount of step-up it can drive in a target's operating margins given the types of software-related businesses Roper typically acquires (implying these may be inherently moatier without managerial improvements).
Finally, while Ametek has significant exposure to highly contract-oriented industrial end markets with deep moats like aerospace and power plants, where higher-margin aftermarket revenue can easily span two to three decades, we surmise this exposure still represents a minority of its end-market exposure given the firm's preference for heavy diversification. We point out that aerospace, which is one of Ametek's largest end markets, for example, represents only about 15% of consolidated sales. For these reasons, we hold off from awarding Ametek our highest moat rating.
Fair Value and Profit Drivers| by Joshua AguilarUpdated Aug 03, 2021
After reviewing Ametek's second-quarter results, we are lowering our fair value estimate to $120 from $123. However, the reduction is entirely due to incorporating Morningstar’s probability-adjusted U.S. tax rate of 26% in our model beginning in 2022. Without this impact, our fair value would have increased by 3%, given that management raised 2021 EPS guidance. Our 2021 adjusted EPS projection now sits at $4.68, at the top end of management's guidance. We value Ametek at about 25.5 times our 2021 adjusted EPS expectations.
In a normalized situation (specifically, the out years of our model), we believe each of Ametek's subsegments will grow at a low-single-digit plus to mid-single-digit CAGR. Within EIG, we think a rising need to test different parameters, such as gas and liquid in a manufacturing process, will drive growth in its process and analytical instrumentation subsegment. Aging baby boomers will also create growth opportunities by expanding the pharmaceutical market. With an aging boomer population comes rising incidence of surgical procedures, as well as chronic disease. Spectrometers are an important product category in this business, and sales should rise given the need to test different metals, while water treatment equipment should be used to test pH for effective and efficient water treatment processes. In aerospace and power instrumentation, we think high demand for cleaner and more efficient energy, as well as the need for electromagnetic compatibility compliance will propel this business’ results going forward.
We think healthcare automation solutions will be a boon for EMG's automation and engineered solutions. This business should be driven by the trend toward value-based care. The value proposition for this product includes reduced nursing costs, as well as improved communication that cuts down on human error. Aerospace should see continued growth from rising revenue passenger miles given rising middle-class disposable income. Furthermore, we model value-accretive acquisitions based on EV/sales multiples Ametek has typically paid in the past. Acquisitions add, on average, about 7%-8% year-over-year sales growth in our model.
Finally, we model GAAP midcycle operating margins of nearly 28% based on the firm’s operating excellence initiatives, particularly given Ametek’s laser-like focus on reducing targets' raw material costs. As a result, midcycle ROIC including goodwill rises to about 16%, modestly above Ametek's historical average.
Risk and Uncertainty| by Joshua AguilarUpdated Aug 03, 2021
We assign Ametek a medium uncertainty rating based on the dispersion between our model’s bull and bear scenarios. Like other multi-industrials, Ametek is exposed to broader macroeconomic risk, which would result in a corresponding slowdown in its end markets. The biggest risk to Ametek's portfolio in the near term is the slowdown in the commercial aerospace markets, which we expect will take about three full years or so to recover. Other possible negatives are cybersecurity risks and fallout related to tariffs from a trade war, as well as the risk of its R&D pipeline failing to generate products that gain broad acceptance in its niche markets.
Other risks include a downturn in the oil and gas markets given some portfolio exposure (about 6% of sales), as well as finding suitable M&A targets at reasonable valuations, which could lead to future write-offs of intangibles and goodwill. We note that goodwill and intangibles constitute over two thirds of Ametek’s assets, as stated on its 2020 balance sheet, of which goodwill is the majority figure. Given its M&A focus, we think the biggest risk to our Ametek thesis by far lies in the firm’s execution risk. However, the firm’s focus on market adjacencies somewhat mitigates some portions of these risks. Ametek also has a history of driving rapid operational improvements in targets, which also ameliorates this issue to a certain degree because it helps the firm achieve its year three 10% ROIC hurdle. We also note Ametek has never taken an impairment charge.
While we note several risks, we think Ametek's overall ESG risk is low. Risks we point to include potential environmental liabilities for hazardous substances in some of its manufacturing sites, human capital risk related to retaining difficult-to-find, highly-skilled labor, a potential cybersecurity breach, products liability for faulty design of equipment, worker safety in manufacturing facilities, asbestos litigation, and groundwater contamination liabilities.
Capital Allocation| by Joshua AguilarUpdated Aug 03, 2021
We assign Ametek an Exemplary capital allocation rating. We think its balance sheet is sound, its investments exceptional, with shareholder distributions mixed. On the positive side of the ledger, Ametek is flushed with cash, with net debt/EBITDA below 1 times, and minimal debt maturities over the next three years. Further, we believe Ametek's management team has done an exceptional job adding materially positive shareholder value through its organic investments in innovation and its programmatic approach to M&A. While we believe share repurchases would likely be somewhat value dilutive (the stock consistently trades at a premium multiple), we think shareholder distributions are appropriate because of the firm's growth focus above its hurdle rate.
We believe management has done an exceptional job of creating long-term shareholder value through astute capital allocation decisions as seen by long-term shareholder returns. We also believe management has successfully created a culture of disciplined, value-creative M&A activity, as demonstrated by its strict adherence to a 10% ROIC target by year three over its estimated WACC of 7% to 8% (our normalized estimate is a good deal higher at 8.6%). Ametek also never strays far from its circle of competence, preferring to stick with its adjacent markets. Total returns in the stock have grown at an impressive 18%-plus per year, on average, over the past 10 years (or nearly 250 basis points, on average, over the Morningstar U.S. market index over the same time period), and management’s strategy has remained relatively intact during this period. The company also pays a modest dividend, which totaled 19% of 2020 diluted GAAP EPS, and we expect will rise to 20% of diluted EPS for 2021, and which we expect should rise to 25% of diluted GAAP EPS by the end of our explicit forecast.
Longtime Ametek insider CEO David Zapico has been Ametek’s CEO since May 2016 and was elected chairman of the board of directors in June 2017 following the retirement of veteran Frank Hermance, who served as CEO of Ametek for over 15 years and spent 27 years with the company. During Hermance’s tenure, the market capitalization of the company grew over 1,500 percent from about $700 million to over $11 billion. Hermance deserves some credit for shifting Ametek to its four key strategies, which emphasize growth through strategic acquisitions, international and market expansion, new products through breakthroughs in R&D, as well driving fundamental operating improvements. He also helped Ametek shift away from more commodity, price-competitive businesses and toward differentiated niche businesses that compete on technology. We think it’s a testament to the firm’s commitment to investing in R&D. The firm’s aspiration is to double the earnings per share of the company every five years, which is aggressive given its current large cap status. However, management’s aspirations don’t come at the cost of ROIC including goodwill, which hovers in the lower midteens and which management has committed to preserving.
Turning to Ametek’s current CEO, we note that Zapico has worked at the company since 1990, when he joined as a product engineer before advancing to different positions of management. Zapico became head of the EIG segment in October 2003 and served there for nearly 10 years. We note that under his leadership, Ametek has done an excellent job of improving the underlying operating margins of target companies, often immediately improving these margins by over 200 basis points just by attacking a target’s bill of material costs. About 50% of Ametek’s sales are made outside the United States, and Ametek often sources these materials from low-cost regions. The firm has also shown its skill at doubling target company EBITDA margins of 10%-5% over a two- to three-year period. Thanks to capital expenditure as a percent of sales that’s a near industry low of 1.6% (and similarly 1.8% on average), the firm can successfully convert a significant portion of its EBITDA into free cash flow.
If there is one gripe we have with stewardship, it's with management’s incentive compensation structure. That compensation structure moved away from historically return-based measures and more toward EPS, organic sales growth, operating margins, and working capital. These figures are subject to manipulation. That said, unlike other acquirers, we appreciate that Ametek’s management has not compromised its strict adherence to its 10% ROIC target in an inflated multiple environment.