BESIDE THE POINT
February 8, 1998
Trimble Navigation has been getting a lot of attention from the press lately, the financial press that is. Standard and Poor's The Outlook, a weekly publication available for $300 per year ( or free at the Sonoma County Public Library ) discussed it in the 1998 Annual Forecast Issue. :
"This company is the leader in commercial markets for Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite-based navigation, positioning and communication data products. GPS systems use a signal emitted by 24 NAVSTAR satellites to determine precise geographical location. In 1996, President Clinton permitted civilian access to this military system. Trimble serves a number of markets, including real-time surveying and mapping, aviation and marine navigation, military weapons, vehicle tracking systems and cellular and mobile computing platforms. As new civilian uses of GPS expand, we expect Trimble's sales to rise 30% annually. We estimate earnings will double to $! per share in 1998. This volatile stock (TRMB, 22) is an attractive speculation."
On January 7 The Outlook mentioned Trimble again in "S&P Analysts Pick Top Stocks for 1998" in a list of 25 stocks including Cisco, Airtouch, and (oops) Qualcomm.
The February issue of Individual Investor discussed Orbital Sciences ( ORBI ) in its Insider's Edge section.
"Insiders at Orbital Sciences have been quick to buy into this high-flying provider of space technology and satellite services. In July 1997 four officer's and directors added to their holdings with open market purchases at prices between $17.75 and $18.13 a share"
Now they tell us. ORBI closed last Friday at $35.50. Last week they posted 1997 annual earnings at an increase of 45% over 1996, revenues up 31%.
"Most of the improvement has resulted has resulted from building and operating launch vehicles and satellite systems, as well as supplying supporting ground controls....prospects are good for the company's Magellan GPS, a portable device...."
Later in the same issue an article titled "The Magic 25", a list of companies selected in November, 1997 for growth in 1998 included Trimble Navigation.
"In December Trimble's competitor Ashtech was bought by Orbital Sciences. The combined company became the second largest manufacturer, behind Trimble of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) devices...Orbital bought Ashtech for nearly two times 12 month trailing revenues. Trimble also trades for two times trailing revenues but is the largest player in the GPS industry and is projected to double earnings in 1998. We estimated $0.58 per share in 1997 but even if Trimble doesn't make that estimate, don't worry, the long-term trends look promising."
Last week Trimble announced 1997 results with annual revenue increases of 17%, earnings of $0.42 per share versus a loss of $0.51 per share in 1996. Also in the "Magic 25" were Lucent Technologies, Tandy Brands, and ( oops again ) Qualcomm. TRMB closed last Friday at $19.62 per share.
Whoever comes out on top, itís pretty clear that the GPS industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Positioning is becoming a consumer pastime and while geodesy is not quite a household word, there is certainly a greater public awareness of global coordinates than there ever has been. Not too long ago an acquaintance said he was thinking of "surveying" his rural property with his hand held Magellan! Perhaps this a good opportunity for the professional surveying community to assume their rightful role as the masters of this discipline. How about some workshops for the general public, "What you can and canít do with your sporting goods GPS." with some plugs for the surveying profession thrown in?