Emerson Electric Moves Gradually Higher On Private Equity Speculation

On the surface the creeping improvement in the price of Emerson Electric (EMR) shares seems odd.

The company is a powerhouse in process manufacturing–you know industrial automation, industrial control and safety, and the Internet of Things. And those haven’t been investment superstars during the U.S.-China trade war and in a slowing global economy.

Those are the reasons I added the shares to my Jubak Picks Portfolio back in February 6, 2019.

But until yesterday that position was underwater. Now, thanks to a gradual rally that I’d say started on August 22 at $57.00 a share, the stock actually broke into the black on Friday. Today the shares closed at $67.21, pennies above the $67.01 purchase price back in February.

Emerson shareholders are looking at a 17.6% rally since August 22.

So what gives?

Speculation that a hedge fund or a private equity investor would push the company into a breakup that would release the embedded value of the company’s automation and Internet of Things units. That isn’t just idle speculation either as activist hedge fund and private equity investor D.E. Shaw Group has been building a position in the company that has, according to Wall Street scuttlebutt, risen to more than 2% of outstanding shares. The rumors get an added edge because long-time CEO David Farr, in the office since 2000, is set to retire in 2021. The thinking had been that any breakup would have to wait for Farr,  who has built the global automation business at Emerson, to retire. But surprise, surprise, the company’s 8-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission on October 1, disclosed a review of Emerson’s business portfolio and its capital allocation decisions. That’s exactly the kind of review you’d expect to see if an activist investor had entered the mix.

I’m leaving my target price at $82 a share as of October 14. The shares pay a 2.92% forward 12-month dividend.