Benchmark’s Latest Acquisition

Is Benchmark’s acquisition of CTS a good move?

Yes, it says here, and for multiple reasons. In no particular order:

1. Profits. Benchmark says the acquisition will be accretive starting in fiscal 2014, which suggests they think they can make it profitable in short order (Bench’s fiscal year ends Dec. 31.) Before reporting successive losses in the first and second quarters of 2013, CTS had turned in 10 straight quarters of operating profits.

2. Integration. It’s true CTS’s first-half revenue ($97 million) was down from 2012 ($148 million) and 2011 ($158.4 million). For that matter, it’s down versus 2008 ($197 million, ’09 ($146.6 million), and ’10, too. It compares most closely to 2010 ($122.6 million). But to be fair, CTS has been closing plants, which in part drives the revenue loss. (Of course, had those sites been profitable, perhaps they’d still be open.) This may play in Benchmark’s favor in that the organization as currently sized should be fairly easy to integrate.

3. The better mix will help margins. IBM was 21% of Benchmark’s revenue in 2012, more than twice the percentage in 2010. Benchmark has been looking to balance its (over)dependence on the computing segment. CTS is focused on industrial, automotive, aerospace and defense. This pickup will definitely help.

4. CTS’s footprint is in areas where Benchmark is strong. The deal includes five sites, four in North America (two in California, one in New Hampshire and one in Mexico) and one in Asia (Thailand). (While CTS still lists two EMS sites in Scotland and one in China on its website, these have either are already closed or are now being shut down.) As for the acquired sites, CTS will shut down the sites that they can’t fill, and move production to existing plants. They might lose a few customers along the way, but probably not so much that it will hurt them. Moreover, the deal doesn’t force Benchmark to learn a new region on the fly.

5, Benchmark’s track record with acquisitions is good. That’s not to say every site remains open. Far from it. But Benchmark doesn’t bite off more than it can chew, and that’s improvement in industries as cyclical and cash-intensive as EMS.

Since CTS is losing money, good luck calculating the valuation as a multiple of earnings. In that regard, the $75 million price tag seems a big high. By comparison, Benchmark paid $19 million in June for Suntron, which had sales of about $70 million. Given that CTS is more expensive, I’m guessing it is operating closer to breakeven than Suntron was.