What is the reason behind AGCO's (AGCO) stock outpacing Deere's (DE) in 2016? Part of AGCO's success could be the result of it being a pure-play on the agricultural sector, which is projected to show less of a slowdown than construction, AGCO's geographic focus and its support from a so-called "friendly activist."
Shares of the Georgia-based manufacturer of agricultural equipment are up roughly 15% year to date. Meanwhile, shares of Illinois-based Deere, which produces agricultural as well as construction equipment, have increased nearly 8% over the same period.
AGCO's potential was noted over a year ago by Blue Harbor Group, which is led by Clifton Robbins. The Connecticut-based firm, which manages assets pension funds, endowments and other institutional investors, has an 8% stake in the company, according to data provided by Thomson Reuters. In a July 2015 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Blue Harbour said AGCO was an "attractive" investment opportunity.
In an interview with CNBC last month, Robbins continued to show support for AGCO, highlighting the company's management team as well as its global focus.
"Our private equity approach to investing is very much a friendly, collaborative way of investing," Robbins told CNBC. "So, if we don't like the management team, if we don't think they're smart and hard-working ... we won't invest."
"Three important factors contributing to AGCO's outperformance in 2016 are, in our view, AGCO's focus on the significantly less volatile and below normal European Agricultural equipment market, AGCO's margin enhancement strategies, and AGCO's high quality balance sheet which enables it to continue repurchasing shares at this low point in the cycle," said Peter H. Carlin, a Managing Director of Blue Harbour Group in an email to Real Money Tuesday.
With respect to stacking AGCO against Deere, despite AGCO posting a steeper drop in revenue that Deere, it sees fewer headwinds. Both companies acknowledged global economic worries in their respective earnings announcements: AGCO posted an 8.4% decline in revenue for the first quarter, while Deere reported a 4% decline in revenue for its fiscal second quarter, which ended on April 30. Deere, however, sees greater headwinds in its construction business in fiscal year 2016 (ending October), noting that it expects a 13% decrease in sales of construction forestry equipment, while it sees an 8% decrease in agricultural equipment, combining for a projected 9% decrease in sales. AGCO, meanwhile, forecasts a 6% decrease in sales for 2016.
Representatives for AGCO and Deere did not immediately respond to requests to comment.
Another differentiator between both companies is their plays in South America. Both forecast a 15% to 20% decrease in sales for the region due to political and economic uncertainty in Brazil, but AGCO's early optimism in nearby Argentina may pay off. The South American country, which was at one point heavily invested in agriculture, has become a bigger proportion of AGCO's sales mix, offsetting some weakness in Brazil, according to AGCO CFO Andy Beck.
After nearly of decade of rule by Cristina Kirchner, Argentina may be poised for a turnaround under newly elected president Mauricio Macri.
Macri "is reducing export customs for farmers and that helps, which means, also, that good political leadership can improve the economic environment of a country," Beck said. "And we hope that, one day, also Brazil will get it, where the situation, of course, is very, very complicated and difficult right now."
Of opportunity in Argentina, Deere has taken a more cautious stance, with management saying on a call with analysts earlier this month that although the country has seen "some very positive changes," it views the country as a "2017 opportunity versus a 2016 opportunity."
But we'll see as we move forward, because there's still some uncertainty. I think again, we're getting the sense that the agricultural community is viewing these changes positively, but it is early. And I would say the same thing in Argentina. Again, some very positive changes for farmer customers, their ability to export their product, those sorts of things, but it's still early. So we could potentially, I suppose, later in the year, you could see some benefit, but I would argue most of that we would view as a 2017 opportunity versus a 2016 opportunity."
--This piece was updated to include comments provided by Blue Harbour Group.