Tuesday, July 03, 2007

MSNBC: Investing in Your Backyard: Cleveland

It's alway nice to read good news about Cleveland from the national media.

Investing in Your Backyard: Cleveland

Rewrite the book and rule the pages -- take a souvenir.

By Anders Bylund
Updated: 5:29 a.m. ET June 29, 2007

Break out the beer and burgers -- it's a backyard investing barbecue at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

There are many good reasons for researching investment opportunities in a certain geographic area. Today, it's Cleveland, Ohio, where old-line business meets a new global economy -- with explosive results.

If you happen to live in Kamm's Corners or Duck Island, you already have a few advantages when it comes to evaluating the local market, such as access to local news sources and the word on the street, and a high probability of being a customer or employee of these companies. And if you're not a local resident, you might still want to know whether the weather matches the business climate -- a hot area could be chock-full of undiscovered treasures on their way to greatness.

Without further ado, here are the largest companies headquartered between Vermillion and Ashtabula:

CompanyMarket Cap (billions)CAPS RatingBull Ratio

National City (NYSE: NCC)




Progressive (NYSE: PGR)




KeyCorp (NYSE: KEY)




Eaton (NYSE: ETN)




Parker-Hannifin (NYSE: PH)




Data taken from Motley Fool CAPS on June 28, 2007.

National City is a rare beast in Foolish lands -- an official newsletter recommendation with an unflinching one-star CAPS rating. The Motley Fool Income Investor pick is busy divesting as much of its subprime-mortgage lending operations as possible, while expanding its retail banking network through acquisitions. It's an intricate restructuring process, with risks that are difficult to measure -- so the skepticism on the street is understandable.

Income Investor lead analyst James Early thinks the worst of this storm has blown over for National, though. In an exclusive newsletter update from early May, he said that "although the stock is vulnerable to further housing-related shocks, the downside should be limited to $33.50 given the substantial buybacks, the healthy dividend yield, and the ever-present rumors that the bank is a buyout candidate."

Industrial components might be closer to Cleveland's wheelhouse. Eaton and Parker-Hannifin support their generous star ratings with long and luminous corporate histories, stretching back to the early 20th century. "A stock for widows and orphans," says one player about Eaton in an argument for supremely long-term holdings. "Very lean and Toyota-like," says another about Parker-Hannifin, and I can certainly think of worse companies to be compared to.

Heavy metal is more than just loud music
In fact, heavy manufacturing is the big game in town. Much like Memphis or New Orleans, Cleveland was designed for heavy lifting, built at the crossroads of several railroad arteries and the Cuyahoga River flowing into Lake Erie, all of which made for easy movement of heavy equipment, materials, and finished products.

Steelworking, manufacturing of all kinds, and basic materials production form the backbone of the Forest City. Working to change that focus a bit, city government is pushing for new business in the biotech and high-tech sectors to reignite a stalled population growth. Case Western Reserve University plays into both of those initiatives, and there are miles of fresh fiber-optic networking cable, sponsored by city funding. In 2005, The Economist called Cleveland the best city in America for business meetings and gave it a shared top spot for "most livable" city, alongside nearby Pittsburgh.

Fancy new-age business ideas aside, the Sixth City is doing just fine with its manufacturing base, thank you. Among the thirty-four tickers with a CAPS rating I found with my usual Capital IQ screens, there are 12 five-star stocks, including iron-pellet producer Cleveland Cliffs (NYSE: CLF) and plastics manufacturer Lamson & Sessions (NYSE: LMS). In fact, all but one of those top-scorers work in manufacturing one way or another. The 12th provides business services to the other 11.

Metalworking mills may not be sexy, but they do get a lot of investor respect -- and with the massive and booming infrastructure markets in China and India, there's no shortage of buyers for their products. Cleveland is riding a wave of global growth right now, and it seems to be making the most of it. So I just have to break into song for a moment:

All the little chicks with the crimson lips go
"Cleveland rocks! Cleveland rocks!"

And I'll let that stand as my statement on the local business prospects in northern Ohio. Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to weigh in on the C-Town market -- or on any stocks at all, really -- by joining Motley Fool CAPS and blasting away with your ratings and commentary pitches. And if Kamm's Corners isn't your 'hood, maybe we'll come around where you live the next time.

Further Foolishness:

  • 7 Highly Rated Stocks on Sale
  • Gristle at Eaton
  • Does Parker-Hannifin Have a Second Act?

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. He likes bolts of lightning, the sounds of Cleveland industry, and riding with the wind. You can check out Anders' holdingsif you like, orfollow him around the worldon these Foolish local-business treks. Foolish disclosure is always red-hot.