Cardno

Cardno is an engineering services business that has grown quickly due to acquisitions financed by a mix of debt and newly issued shares. Companies of this ilk are best bought in a recession when earnings are depressed by the dearth of new projects. Profit margins can drop dramatically as companies are forced to compete fiercely on price to win contracts and hang on to key staff. History is littered with the corpses of such services companies that were caught out carrying too much debt into the downturn. Cardno’s net debt-to-equity ratio is 15%, but we’d expect it to increase with acquisitions that have sawn the company’s return on equity in half to around 16% since 2006.

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