Saturday, November 8, 2014

LRAD ( Nasdaq - LRAD ) -- Sounds Great

LRAD (LRAD $2.75) is a leading manufacturer of long range accoustic devices used in military and public safety applications.  The company's high tech bullhorns deliver focused beams of sound over distances up to three miles.  That allows military and public safety personnel to provide specific messages instead of warning blasts or garbled instructions.  The genesis of the technology was the near sinking of the USS Cole, a Navy vessel that Arab terrorists damaged in 1997.  LRAD was recruited by the Pentagon to develop a system that could talk over all the noise ships make on the water.  The terrorists attacking the USS Cole were able to plausibly pretend they didn't understand the Navy's order to stop.  With LRAD's technology, that excuse no longer works.  Sound is focused in a narrow beam.  Machines can be made larger or smaller, depending how much range is desired.  Operation is simple.  Turn it on - point - adjust the volume - start talking.  The components are solid state.  Reliability is high.

Military business drove sales in the company's early years.  The U.S. Navy was an especially big customer.  The Coast Guard and Army adopted the technology, as well.  Civilian demand expanded as time went on.  Police departments and other public safety groups used the systems to deliver verbal messages.  But a new application also emerged -- pure noise.  Police began using the systems for crowd control.  In the 1950s they used water hoses.  In the 1960s it was tear gas.  In the 1980s rubber bullets became popular.  LRAD's technology offered a less dangerous and more reliable solution.  Ear splitting noise makes crowds disperse, without injuries.  Demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri were broken up with the company's systems.  They weren't used in Hong Kong.  But the local police had them ready.

Applications are proliferating.  Commercial customers employ the systems to guard facility perimeters.  Those often are integrated with motion detectors.  Portable machines can be loaded on helicopters so authorities can instruct people where to go during floods, fires, and other calamities.  A new line, the "sound barrier," is built into limousines used by diplomats in foreign countries.  When locals surround the car and beat on the windows, a blast of sound sends them running.  There are no casualties on either side.

Foreign sales have propelled growth since the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in 2010.  Congress has been unable to pass a budget since that time.  Funding has been sustained exclusively under continuing resolutions.  LRAD has been able to sell systems under previously established programs.  But no additional programs have been possible without new budget authority.  Foreign navies, coast guards, and police have adopted the technology, though.  And that trend remains in an early stage of development.  The recent Republican capture of the Senate means a budget could be passed in 2015.  Several programs are in development.  Continuing resolutions meant continuing R&D.  Those include outfitting drones with LRAD systems, among a variety of other things.  Orders promise to accelerate next year if the military budget expands, the LRAD systems are included, and President Obama doesn't veto everything.

The mass notification market promises even greater long term potential.  Approximately $6 billion per year is spent around the world on public loudspeaker systems.  Authorities rely on them to warn citizens of impending danger, like an air raid.  More commonly, they're used for tornadoes, fires, or, in the Middle East, to announce it's time to pray.  The installed base generally is old and in need of repair.  An upgrade cycle is underway.  LRAD's new "360" systems offer superior sound quality, lower costs, and greater versatility.  That line employs multiple speakers to direct sound in all directions.  New markets are opening up, including universities.  Schools need a way to respond when gunmen strike.  LRAD's units provide a means for telling people what to do, rather than just send out a general warning.

LRAD is down to the wire on two particularly large "360" deals in the Middle East.  Landing one almost would certainly fuel a major sales gain in fiscal 2015 (Sept.)  It also would provide a helpful reference account, setting the stage for additional contracts.  The company expects to find out before the end of the calendar year on both proposals.  Each is in the $8-$12 million range.  U.S. military business promises to bolster performance in the year ahead, as well.  And international growth is likely to remain robust.  Competition exists.  But no other company offers comparable sound quality.

We estimate income will advance 75% in fiscal 2015 (Sept.) to $.14 a share.  Sales could advance 40% to $35 million.  Explosive gains could follow in succeeding years.  Three activist shareholders sit on LRAD's five member board.  Once the company breaks into the mass notification market a sale of the company to one of the current industry leaders is possible.  Assuming the company remains independent sales could reach $75-$100 million in 2-3 years to provide (fully taxed) earnings of $.25-$.45 a share.  Tax loss carryforwards shelter income, so cash flow would be greater.  Applying a P/E multiple of 20x to the midpoint suggests a target price of $7.00 a share, potential appreciation of 155% from the current quote.

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