Both Exelis and Vectrus will benefit:
- Exelis benefits by shedding the underinvested services business which is experiencing severe declines in revenue due to budget constraints and the draw down of troops in Afghanistan. The mission systems business is weighting on the rest of the business and masking the improved growth profile of Exelis's C4ISR segment and other growth initiatives, giving the remaining business a higher multiple.
- Vectrus is similar to other recent spins in the government services space (Engility Holdings & SAIC), declining revenues in the near term is less of a problem than it appears due to the low fixed costs, most of their costs are variable and attached to specific contracts.
At the time of the Exelis spinoff from ITT, mission systems was the growth business and the rest of the business was flat or declining, times have certainly changed. Shortly after the spinoff from ITT, defense spending came under a microscope with budget sequestration and the draw down of troops in Afghanistan. In 2013 Vectrus had $1.5B in revenue with 100% of that coming from the U.S. Federal government, a full 92% from the U.S. Army, and 34% of 2013 came from Afghanistan which is quickly going away. Revenues are expected to be down 25% in the mission systems business in 2014, with additional downward pressure in 2015.
Vectrus will operate in three main business lines: base operations (majority of the revenue), logistics, and network communications.
Major contracts include (69% of 2013 revenue):
- Kuwait Base Operations and Security Support Services (K-BOSSS) contract for Camp Arifjan: Base operations contract for one of the largest bases in the U.S. Military, services include: medical services, postal and maintenance, public works, transportation, and emergency services
- Operations, Maintenance and Defense of Army Communications in Southwest Asia and Central Asia (OMDAC-SWACA) contract: Network communications contract expiring in 2018 supporting the O&M of the Army's largest network from locations in the Middle East.
- Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP): Logistics contract where Vectrus is a subcontractor for certain task orders, the subcontracting agreement ends in 2018
- Kuwait based Army Prepositioned Stocks-5: Logistics contract storing and supporting a wide range of military equipment and supplies.
Leading Vectrus will be Ken Hunzeker, he has been the president of the mission systems business going back to the ITT/XLS spin, and is in for a nice raise. Slightly more interestingly, Lou Giuliano will become the Chairman, he's the former Chairman and CEO of ITT and ran what would become Exelis at ITT for 8 years before becoming the President and COO of ITT in 1998, so he's intimately familiar with the business and the defense industry cycles.
Like many spins, Vectrus will be take out debt in order to pay a dividend back to the parent, here they're targeting 2.5-3.0x EBITDA, or approximately $130-150MM (although that's been a moving target down recently). Government services businesses generate a lot of cash, I view debt (as long as its reasonable) as a positive here, management will likely be focused on paying down the new term loan and potentially refinancing to a better rate once the company becomes more seasoned.
Exelis has identified four "Strategic Growth Platforms" in which they want to focus and invest going forward: (1) Critical Networks; (2) Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems & Analytics; (3) Electronic Warfare; (4) and Composite Aerostructures. The Vectrus spin allows Exelis to appear more attractive to investors, post-spin it will have higher margins and a diversified revenue base less focused on the Department of Defense.
When Exelis was spun off of ITT, many called it a pension plan with a defense business attached to it, and that would have been a fair assessment. Exelis has made significant progress on the pension (~$1.3 billion unfunded position as of the last 10-Q) and will retain and continue to service it after the spin. The company has also frozen the pension plan of all future benefit accruals effective December 2016 and expects it to stop needing to make additional contributions to the plan after 2017.
Continued low interest rates have plagued companies with large pension plans because it lowers the discount rate at which a defined benefit plan calculates its future liability. The lower the discount rate, the more current assets the plan needs to meet the future pension liabilities. Tucked away in a transportation and student loan bill (MAP-21) was a pension funding relief provision that is likely going to get extended, it will reduce the amount Exelis will be required to contribute to its plans in the next several years from $225MM annually to $150MM. This gives time for interest rates to normalize (bringing the discount rate up) and may reduce the overall contributions necessary by Exelis.
Post-Spin Cash and Capital Allocation
Vectrus will be paying Exelis a dividend of ~$150MM upon the spinoff giving the parent company amply liquidity when you consider the unused commercial paper program and credit facility with very little net debt. Exelis anticipates maintaining their current quarterly dividend (2.5% yield), and could return additional capital to shareholders with their share repurchase program. The flexible balance sheet also allows them additional room to invest in their Strategic Growth Programs and bolt on some smaller acquisitions like they recently did with the Orthogon airport management business.
- Greater than expected headwinds in the Vectrus mission systems business, especially in their major Afghanistan and Iraq contracts.
- Continued political pressure to reduce military and defense spending, although temporarily out of the headlines, the budget deficit is still substantial and unsustainable.
- Exelis has a large unfunded pension liability in comparison to its market cap, if interest rates stay flat or decline it could force Exelis to make additional pension contributions above current projections. Additionally, Exelis is assuming an 8.25% rate of return (down from 9.00% in 2012) which could turn out high given current elevated asset prices.
- The spinoff was guided earlier in the year for "Summer 2014", but has now slipped into summer/fall, further slippage or cancellation of the spinoff would reduce the attractiveness of Exelis, but it still remains an undervalued company in its current form.
With the defense industry near a cyclical bottom, the spinoff of the Vectrus mission systems business provides an attractive event driven investment opportunity by creating a higher growth products business and a headwinds facing services business. I'm initially going with a Joel Greenblatt like call option strategy to enter a postion, the spin will expose value in both the parent and the orphan, but I'm extending it out with a January expiration to allow Vectrus a little time to find a following in the investment community. Depending on where Vectrus trades after the spinoff, I may pickup some additional shares at that point.
Disclosure: I own XLS calls, anticipate buying VEC shares sometime after the spinoff is completed