Rolls-Royce: a great British success story

Rolls Royce has just posted a record set of results and has an order book to match. So are its shares worth a buy, or is it time to take profits? Phil Oakley investigates.

Everything looks rosy for Rolls-Royce. The company has just posted record profits, and has a record order book to match. Small wonder shares are close to all-time highs. The big question now is: is it time for existing shareholders to sell up and take their profits or can we expect even greater things from Rolls-Royce in the future?

There's no question that the 2011 results are Rolls-Royce's best ever. Revenues grew by 4% to £11.3bn, while profits before tax jumped 21% to £1.16bn. The dividend was raised by 9% to 17.5p per share. And at the year-end, Rolls-Royce had a record order book of £62.2bn more than five years' sales at current activity levels.

Over the last decade, the company has doubled is revenues, while profits are up almost fivefold. So it's reasonable to ask: can things get any better?

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The answer is: it looks like they probably can.

Let's look at what's driving the growth first of all. The top-performing unit was civil aerospace, with profits up 27%. This is also where the bulk of Rolls-Royce's orders come from. It received £11bn of fresh orders in 2011 with strong demand from emerging markets. This saw the order book grow by 7% to £52bn nearly ten times current sales.

Notable new orders include an exclusive deal for Rolls-Royce's Trent XWB engines to power Airbus' fuel efficient A350-1000 planes. This division looks well placed to grow its profits in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, defence profits grew by 22%, while marine and energy profits declined. The outlook for the defence unit this year is more uncertain, given the weak finances of many governments. That said, profits are still expected to grow slightly in 2012. The marine and energy businesses are more subdued, but Rolls-Royce's joint ownership of German diesel-engine maker Tognum should prove helpful going forward.

A very attractive business model

One of the main reasons to like Rolls-Royce is the way it makes money. Across its four main business units, there are currently around 60,000 installed Rolls-Royce engines across the world. These engines have working lives of 30 years, but require regular servicing and maintenance.

Servicing is much more profitable than making and selling engines, as it has fewer associated overhead costs. Given the company's large order book and long-term service agreements with customers, this revenue stream looks set to grow strongly. Profits and margins should expand as well.

But should you buy the shares?

Buying close to all-time highs is rarely a good idea. And a lot of good news is already reflected in Rolls-Royce's share price. The fundamental support for the business looks very good, with management looking to double revenues again during the next decade.

However, at 750p, the shares trade on 14 times 2012 consensus earnings forecasts, and offer a dividend yield of 2.6%. Although the company is only paying out about a third of its profits, this does not look great value to us.

The shares have seen some profit taking this morning, but we'd like to see a bit more before buying the shares. Below 700p, they look a good long-term investment.

Phil spent 13 years as an investment analyst for both stockbroking and fund management companies.


After graduating with a MSc in International Banking, Economics & Finance from Liverpool Business School in 1996, Phil went to work for BWD Rensburg, a Liverpool based investment manager. In 2001, he joined ABN AMRO as a transport analyst. After a brief spell as a food retail analyst, he spent five years with ABN's very successful UK Smaller Companies team where he covered engineering, transport and support services stocks.


In 2007, Phil joined Halbis Capital Management as a European equities analyst. He began writing for Moneyweek in 2010.

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