Industrial materials are divided into commodity producers (steel, chemicals) and producers of noncommodity value-added goods and services (machinery, some specialty chemicals).
Buyers of commodities choose their produce on price - otherwise, commodities are the same product, regardless of who makes them.
The sales and profits of companies in this sector are very sensitive to the business cycle.
Very few industrial materials companies have any competitive advantages; the exceptions are those in concentrated industries (e.g., defense), those with a specialized niche product (e.g., Alcoa, some chemicals makers), and, above all, those that can produce their goods at the lowest cost (e.g., Nucor).
Only the most efficient producers will survive the downturn: The best bet is to be the low-cost producer and owe little debt.
Asset turnover (total asset turnover [TATO] and fixed asset turnover [FATO] measure a manufacturing firm's efficiency.
Watch out for industrial firms with too much debt, large underfunded pension plans, and big acquisitions that distract management.
Ref: The Five Rules for Successful Stock Investing by Pat Dorsey
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