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Minyanville Op-Ed: Bicycle Riding a Secular Trend To Profit


Shimano keeps wheels turning.


Tokyo Stock ExchangeEditor's Note: Minyan Michael Gat rides two bicycles and walks in LA.

There are very few bike-specific companies out there and none that would make for a really liquid trading vehicle. Likewise, there's nothing of note in the retail or service spaces, as most bikes tend to be sold by large retailers for which they represent only a small piece of the business.

In keeping with my general preference for buying monopoly suppliers rather than the final producers -- think Intel (INTC) versus any PC maker -- my pick in the bicycle space would have to be Shimano Inc., which trades on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, as well as on the pink sheets (SHMDF) in the U.S. The stock made a big move February through April and has been marking time since then. A bit of a penant formation to my relatively untrained eye.

What do they do? They make all the key components for bikes: cranks, sprockets, shifters, derailleurs, wheels, etc. It's not an absolute monopoly, but the comparison with Intel is appropriate both in terms of its market position and the IP it has locked up under patent. From the cpmpany's latest annual filing:

Interest in environmental problems and health is increasing worldwide and a trend toward re-evaluation of the importance and value of bicycles has gained momentum, resulting in increased demand for all models in European markets and higher demand for medium-grade models, such as cross bikes, in the U.S., Asia, and Central and South America.

Competition is limited. SRAM makes a number of components as well, but has attacked primarily from the top end of the market. That's what I have on my mountain bike. Campagnolo is still around as well in the road bike world, also mostly hitting from the top end. But the reality is that 80 percent of bikes out there probably have some Shimano components on them. Shimano has also been an effective consolidator, regularly purchasing manufacturers of complementary products around the world.

And yes, there are a few other specialty players in each type of component, like Mavic for wheels, but they too tend to be the exceptions rather than the rules.

Shimano also has a significant presence in the Chinese market with its own plants, through joint ventures and by licensing some of its designs to others.

The not-so real downsides: the cost of energy, aluminum, steel and other raw materials. But the company's market position makes it easier to pass on costs to the bike makers than for the bike makers to pass them on to consumers.

The real downside: It's very thinly traded. You'd have to buy this one slowly and for the long term.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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