One of my favorite television series growing up was “The Jetsons.” The storyline was to imagine what life would be like a century later, in 2062.
Here we are a bit more than half a century later, and many of the gadgets in the show still seem fanciful—consider the Jetson space car folding neatly into a briefcase, or the pill you could take for dinner.
On the other hand, the Jetsons’ robot maid “Rosie” highlights an area where we seem to be well ahead of the game.
Take Boston-based iRobot’s “Ava,” a 5-foot-plus robot with an iPad tablet for a brain and Xbox motion sensors to help it navigate around a kitchen or living room.
iRobot (IRBT) is a volatile stock but the company has already sold millions of disc-shaped Roomba vacuum cleaners, and has robots that will clean your pool or cut your lawn.
The military is a key player in the growth of robotics and its bomb disposal robots have protected soldiers in Iraq.
The robot market for the health sector also looks promising. iRobot recently expanded a partnership with InTouch Health, a small company that enables doctors at computer screens to remotely treat stroke victims and other patients.
And if you’ve seen an Amazon distribution warehouse of late, you’ve seen thousands of robots moving around like ants filling orders and managing inventory.
Another player in this market is ABB Ltd (ABB), which is a familiar European multinational that manufactures electrification, industrial automation, and robotics and motion products worldwide.
But one you may not be aware of is Fanuc (FANUY), a Japanese blue-chip stock with zero debt, a sterling reputation, and a storied past.
Who is Fanuc, and Why MIght They Be the Next Big Robot Stock?
Headquartered in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Fanuc is the world’s leading manufacturer of computerized numerical control (CNC) devices that are used in machine tools and also serve as the “brains” of industrial robots.
Fanuc, whose name is an acronym for Fuji Automatic Numerical Control, has been a world leader in robotics since the early 1970s. It was founded as a wholly owned subsidiary of Fujitsu in 1955 after that electronics giant decided to enter the factory automation business. Here’s why we like them:
- Fanuc offers investors a pristine balance sheet with zero debt and a whopping $7 billion in cash. Profit margins are impressive.
- Fanuc should benefit from robust demand from developed markets as well as China as its manufacturing wages continue to increase and manufacturers look to robots to increase productivity.
- Fanuc does most of its manufacturing in Japan. Fanuc is building a new factory near Tokyo to double its domestic output capacity of machine tools to produce parts of smartphones.
- Much of the company’s sales are channeled through GE Fanuc, a 50-50 automated machinery joint venture with General Electric Company (GE).
- Industrial robot manufacturer Shanghai-Fanuc Robotics Co. Ltd. has a plant in Shanghai’s Baoshan district. Fanuc claims to be the only company that uses robots to make robots.
As for Fanuc’s stock, its conservative management and penchant for maintaining high margin and quality products makes it a fine core holding. In short, Fanuc is a high quality play on what seems to be an unstoppable trend.