Is Fastenal Company (FAST) A Smart Long-Term Buy?

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Ensemble Capital, an investment management firm, published its “Ensemble Fund” first quarter 2021 investor letter – a copy of which can be seen here. A return of 3.80% was delivered by the fund in the Q1 of 2021, below its S&P 500 benchmark that delivered a 6.17% return in the same period. You can view the fund’s top 5 holdings to have a peek at their top bets for 2021.

Ensemble Capital, in their Q1 2021 investor letter, mentioned Fastenal Company (NASDAQ: FAST) and shared their insights on the company. Fastenal Company is a Winona, Minnesota, California-based industrial supplies company that currently has a $29.9 billion market capitalization. Since the beginning of the year, FAST delivered a 6.61% return, extending its 12-month to 49.43%. As of April 21, 2021, the stock closed at $52.06 per share.

Here is what Ensemble Capital has to say about Fastenal Company in their Q1 2021 investor letter:

Fastenal (2.5% weight in the Fund): Fastenal is a distributor of supplies to industrial manufacturing, non-residential, and other companies in the US. They make it possible to economically and efficiently move lots of daily consumable, high volume products used by employees, manufacturing facilities, and construction sites across vast distances from Asia to the US and from coast to coast.

These include heavy, low value parts like $0.02 screws and rivets (ie, the original “fasteners” business) to supplies employees use to get their jobs done like gloves, masks, safety goggles, and janitorial supplies. Its network of 2,000 free-standing company stores dotted across the country, nearly 1,300 dedicated mini-“stores” on site at customer factories, and nearly 100,000 vending machines at customer facilities create a vast embedded distribution network that physically maintain the company’s relationship with its customers on a daily basis as a critical and integral part of their manufacturing operations.

In effect, a partnership with Fastenal ensures that the supplies needed by customers, are stocked on a timely and capital efficient basis. And in order to do that job well, Fastenal has to ensure it can be a reliable, efficient, (and what’s now become very clear in the past year) agile procurement and inventory management partner to its customers.

That is at the heart of its value proposition; that it can get supplies customers need to keep their factories running and employees productive every day without missing a beat, at a cost that is significantly lower than the customer can do in-house while sourcing from a broad and reliable global supplier base.

If the materials needed by factories and their employees to build things aren’t sufficiently stocked in the right distribution outlet, then work stops. This is obviously very disruptive and costly for the customer and would undo the customer’s trust in the Fastenal partnership. Of course, the key to building and delivering on the promise of such an entrusted relationship are the employees that comprise the company’s daily operations and interactions with customers, whom Fastenal constantly talks about and celebrates to show its value and commitment towards them. This is also demonstrated by the importance it places on employee safety, development, decentralized local decision making, and internal promotion and compensation policies.

That combination of dedication to its customers’ mission-critical operational needs, empowering its employees, and sourcing and working with a distributed base of quality suppliers around the world has resulted in a business that has grown above industry growth rates and generated durable returns on capital for shareholders over decades.

One thing the pandemic did in the past year was test not just people’s resilience around the world, but also that of companies providing essential products and services. From the start, it tested the distributed global supply chain, especially as it relates to safety supplies like disinfectants, masks, wipes, etc. Every company has been challenged to restructure its safety and health practices to ensure the safety of its employees and customers. A big part of this challenge has been to procure supplies needed to meet these goals to safely continue operations. Fastenal’s globally distributed workforce was able to adapt very quickly to source and deliver needed supplies to both existing customers and many new customers.. In retrospect, the pandemic highlighted and tested Fastenal’s expertise and value proposition – and the company and its employees came through with flying colors. While much of its normal business was obviously disrupted in 2020, its safety supplies business thrived and brought in new customers in new market segments to boot like healthcare, government, and education.

It’s instructive to see how Fastenal was able to procure safety supplies to accommodate such a huge spike in growth of over 100% in the second quarter of 2020 when everyone else was also scrambling to source materials in short supply. In its latest annual report, the company published an interesting chart that really speaks to its sourcing agility, scale, and expertise: while 80% of safety supplies were provided by existing primary suppliers in 2019, they only accounted for 40% of the total in 2020. Since safety supplies sales grew 50% y/y in 2020, Fastenal was not only able to source new suppliers for the incremental growth but also backfill shortfalls its primary suppliers had during the year.

That resulted in a year of sales that was near the average “benchmark” year, despite disruptions in the 80% of its main line of work for industrial customers whose factories were severely impacted during the year.

Also interesting is that Fastenal has been able to continue to grow faster than the industrial market over the past decade, probably the most challenging for the industry in recent times. US industrial production has basically been in a recession since the 2009 Great Financial Crisis, having barely grown since its last peak in 2007.

Yet Fastenal grew its revenues 2.6 times from $2 billion to $5.3 billion in 2019 while maintaining operating margins of roughly 20% and returns on invested capital in the mid 20%. This comes from a combination of growing its customer base, expanding beyond its traditional industrial segment, and increasing the value it provides customers by deepening its relationships and value-added procurement services (onsite stores and factory placed vending machines and bin stocking technologies), thereby taking greater share of customers’ cost wallet. Yet, $5 billion is still a small share of the $100+ billion sourcing opportunity available ahead to grow into for decades to come.

Looking forward, the industrial economy looks poised to accelerate. The combination of unprecedented direct stimulus to consumers, untapped cash in the form of an atypically high savings rate over the last year, a strong pick up in GDP growth, strong growth in the housing economy, and strategic reshoring of manufacturing could all serve to accelerate the industrial economy from its decade long torpor. That would be a big tailwind to Fastenal’s base of existing businesses, even as it continues to grow its share of customers.”

Our calculations show that Fastenal Company (NASDAQ: FAST) does not belong in our list of the 30 Most Popular Stocks Among Hedge Funds. As of the end of the fourth quarter of 2020, Fastenal Company was in 30 hedge fund portfolios, compared to 38 funds in the third quarter. FAST delivered a 6.90% return in the past 3 months.

The top 10 stocks among hedge funds returned 231.2% between 2015 and 2020, and outperformed the S&P 500 Index ETFs by more than 126 percentage points. We know it sounds unbelievable. You have been dismissing our articles about top hedge fund stocks mostly because you were fed biased information by other media outlets about hedge funds’ poor performance. You could have doubled the size of your nest egg by investing in the top hedge fund stocks instead of dumb S&P 500 ETFs. Here you can watch our video about the top 5 hedge fund stocks right now. All of these stocks had positive returns in 2020.

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Disclosure: None. This article is originally published at Insider Monkey.