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Tickers in this Article: TRW
When companies are set to go public, investors are often abuzz with anticipation. But not all initial public offerings (IPOs) are greeted with enthusiasm.


A decade ago, for example, more than one analyst expressed doubt about the IPO of one well-known company. High leverage and operational inefficiency made the stock dubious at best, they warned.

The stock was volatile right off the bat, dropping 24% in its IPO year of 2004 and then rising 27% in 2005.

Then the market began consistently punishing the company for its heavy debt, cumbersome business model and faltering profits, sending shares down 2% in 2006 and 19% in 2007. With the added weight of the financial crisis, the stock sank 83% in 2008.

Just four years after debuting at about $27 per share, this stock was hitting lows in the $1.40 to $2 range.

Well, things are a whole lot different now.

The stock has staged one of the most impressive comebacks of the past half decade, soaring 1,960% since the beginning of 2009. It now trades above $70 a share.

This would have impossible if the firm, automotive parts supplier TRW Automotive (NYSE: TRW), hadn't slashed debt and stayed focused on restructuring efforts initiated before the recession. Today, TRW is one of the leanest and least indebted players in its industry, carrying $1.3 billion of total debt versus a peak of nearly $4 billion in the months before its IPO.

TRW's debt-to-equity ratio of 0.4 is below the industry average of 0.5. Its debt rating was recently raised to investment grade by Moody's and S&P.

The company also has a leg up on the industry in virtually all key measures of valuation, growth, and profitability, as the following table illustrates.

Source: Morningstar

The question now is whether TRW can keep rewarding shareholders with outsize returns. I think it can.

With the auto industry now on a firm growth track after nearly collapsing during the financial crisis, there should continue to be solid demand for the vast array of auto parts TRW provides for automakers. These products range from things like steering, braking and suspension systems to engine components, climate control systems and touch sensors for interior vehicle controls.

Importantly, TRW is a leader in fast-changing area of auto safety technologies, and the company supplies such products to at least 40 automakers, including the industry's behemoths. In addition to established safety features like airbags, seatbelts, tire pressure monitors and anti-lock brakes, the company develops many of the more advanced safety technologies that are just becoming widely available, like collision avoidance braking and computer-assisted steering.

Among TRW's latest offerings is a lane departure correction system that became available in Europe last month. The system steers a car toward the middle of its lane when an onboard camera detects the vehicle drifting toward the median. Similarly, all 2014 Jeep Cherokee models will contain a forward-looking object recognition camera that helps prevent vehicle drift. The camera assists with high-beam control and braking in the event of collision, as well.

Of TRW's $17 billion in annual revenue, safety systems currently generate around 20%. However, vehicle safety is likely to be the largest growth area for TRW because it's a key concern for most consumers. What's more, safety standards may be evolving to the point that lane departure correction and other "active" safety features may soon be required for vehicles to receive a five-star crash safety rating.

So I'm looking for safety-related products to climb to around 30% of TRW's total revenue, perhaps even more, in the coming four or five years. Sales in this area should also receive a boost from rising demand in China, Brazil and other developing countries, which are quickly devising motor vehicle safety standards similar to those in the developed world.

Risks to Consider: TRW needs to keep an eye on R&D spending in particular, since some competitors are currently putting more money into R&D. Failure to keep up could threaten TRW's leadership position in the crucial auto safety market.

Action to Take --> Although underway for years, TRW's comeback is far from over. Based on the firm's vastly improved competitive and financial positions, I agree with consensus estimates for earnings per share growth of just over 11% a year from the current $8.17 to $14 in 2019.

As more investors recognize TRW's worth, there's an excellent chance the stock's price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio could return to the historical range of 15 -- right now, shares trade for just 9 times earnings. This implies potential price appreciation of 188% to $210 a share from $73 currently. Because TRW still has very attractive growth prospects, investors should seriously consider adding it to their portfolios.

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