For several years already, the global industry of electronic circuit production has been in a mergers and acquisitions process, as big companies swallow up the smaller companies which have not succeeded in taking off. Last week it reached us here in Israel.
Since the collapse of the telecom sector in the crisis at the beginning of the decade, mass production of printed circuits moved to the East, beginning with Taiwan and later to China. For example, Nokia (NOK) buys circuits for 400 million telephones in one year, and only giant factories in China-- under its tight quality control-- are able to produce such giant quantities at competitive prices.
The circuit makers that remain in the West have been forced, as such, to abandon mass production in favor of more unique and profitable smaller niches, in sectors such as industry, healthcare, and primarily the defense industries. The latter, for secrecy reasons, don't send the East the sensitive work of producing circuits for fighter jets, missiles, or combat vehicles.
Since circuit maker Cidav recently closed its doors due to difficulties, there are only three significant circuit makers left in Israel, who provide services for the defense and communications industries: PCB Technologies Ltd. (TASE:PCBT), Eltek Ltd. (Nasdaq:ELTK) - which I own in my portfolio tracked at "Globes", and Melta-Inter Industries Ltd. (TASE: MALT) subsidiary Melta Circuits Ltd.
By the way, Israel has a much larger presence in machines that inspect and produce the circuits themselves, including those of the giant producers in China, through Orbotech Ltd. (Nasdaq:ORBK), whose annual sales in this sector are double those of all the circuit makers together.
Last week, the largest in the field, PCB, bought the smallest, Melta. The two are located not far from each other in northern Israel.
Eltek, located in Petah-Tikva, has annual sales of $35-40 million, a bottom line of around break-even, and a market cap of only $8 million. The controlling shareholder of Eltek is gas and media tycoon Yosef Maiman, with a minority stake of 24%, and the rest is held by the public. It seems logical to assume that Maiman is also seeking a way out of this tiny investment, and as a first step he left Eltek's board this year, and left his people there.
In a conversation with Maiman at the beginning of the year, he explained to me that he arrived at ownership of Eltek completely by chance. On a trip to Yugoslavia, where he traveled for business related to agricultural farms, he was asked to set up a printed circuit facility there.
Maiman bought Eltek here, with the goal of gradually transferring the machines and know-how to Yugoslavia, but the civil war that broke out there in the beginning of the 1990s knocked off his plans. Instead of landing in Yugoslavia, Eltek listed on Nasdaq in January, 1997, and since then has struggled to take off, despite the fact that it underwent a business transformation-- from a company that sold only to the crashing telecommunications sector a decade ago to unique niches today.
With two facilities, in Germany and in Petah Tikva, Eltek produces primarily special rigid-flexible circuits for the medical and defense industries here and overseas. For example, it makes the tiny circuits for Given Imaging Ltd.'s (Nasdaq:GIVN) pill camera, or those that need to work in conditions of tremendous heat and pressure inside various types of missiles for Israel's defense industry.
Despite the special technologies that Eltek has, and despite the fact that this year it received special authorization to manufacture in Israel for the US defense industry, its liquidity situation is "at the edge", and it does not currently have the funds needed in order to invest in equipment necessary for strong growth in the US market, which opened up for it.
For Maiman, investing several million dollars in Eltek through a rights offering or private placement is like a walk in the park, similar to how Zohar Zisapel saved Radcom Ltd. (Nasdaq:RDCM) in the latest crisis, and today it is valued at more than 20 times of its value in the summer of 2009.
Since there are no signs that Eltek is going to soon raise money from the owners, I assume that it is on the shelf to be sold. Investors who follow the trading of shares in recent months won't find it hard to see that there is a major accumulation.
In recent months, around 2 million Eltek shares have changed hands, which is 30% of the company's shares, and more than 40% of its float (not including shares held by Maiman and company managers). However, no new party has reported that it has a holding above 5%.
Despite the fact that it is tiny in its field, Eltek can definitely be an interesting target for US companies in the circuit field, because of the uniqueness of its technologies, because it is close to the Israeli defense industries which are considered a big target market for US manufacturers, and also because it has a European presence through a subsidiary in Germany.
In the US, the circuit sector is led by TTM Technologies (TTMI), with expected sales of $1.5 billion in 2011, after it closed a giant acquisition in Hong Kong this year - and little Eltek probably does not interest it. In contrast, the second biggest player in the field, DDi (DDIC), with expected sales of $300 million in 2011, built itself in recent years through small acquisitions, but only in North America. In my opinion, not too much time will pass before we know why there has been such high turnover recently in Eltek shares, and I assume the reason is not a huge business transformation.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 21, 2010© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2010. Republished on SeekingAlpha with full permission.