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On Wednesday, the same day Itron Inc. posted its 4Q and 2013 fiscal year results, the company also announced it plans to repurchase up to $50 million in common stock.
Like Apple earlier this month, the company knows it wants to protect shareholder value, and buybacks are one of the basic tools to accomplish that.
Itron's announcement was timed, appropriately, to a fairly dismal quarterly report. The company failed to hit analyst earnings targets.
Its plan is to make the purchases over the next 12 months, and will start on March 7 this year. That date marks the end of a current repurchase program.
Itron's formal release said the following:
“This new repurchase program reaffirms our commitment to returning value to shareholders,” said Philip Mezey, Itron president and chief executive officer. “We have repurchased over 2.6 million shares since the fourth quarter of 2011, representing nearly seven percent of the outstanding shares. The strength of our balance sheet provides us with the flexibility to continue repurchasing shares while investing in growth opportunities for the business.”
There won't be many more chances to write about Itronix, the tech product line that recently died a quiet death as a small business segment within the belly of defense contractor General Dynamics Corp.
See today's story for the account of how the once-proud Spokane-launched product line went into the dark.
The graphic here is compliments of Syed Khusro, who worked as VP of engineering at Itronix up through last November, including the change of location from Spokane Valley to Sunrise, Fla.
On this occasion, we'll offer up two $5 coffee cards to people who can answer the following two trivia questions correctly. Post answers here, don't send emails because we won't see them anyway.
Question 1: Name three of the companies that at one time owned Itronix. We're talking about starting in 1994 and going forward until 2013.
Question 2: Which of the following companies made a very serious effort at buying Itronix but never did (choose just one)? Asus, Dell, Gryphon, Avista, Motorola, Siemens, Fujitsu.
You need to answer both correctly to win. Extra entries not allowed. Current or past employees of Cowles Co. are not eligible.
The two earliest correct entries get the coffee cards.
The Itronix product line, at one time one of the area's chief tech products, is finished.
General Dynamics, which acquired Itronix in 2005, confirmed this week it's dropped the production of all GD Itronix “rugged” products.
Itronix was a spinoff from metering firm Itron. Its original product line was handheld meters used by utility crews. Over time it expanded into rugged, highly durable laptops and tablets.
In 2009 General Dynamics, one of the nation's largest defense contractors, announced it would move all Itronix operations from Spokane to Florida. That decision resulted in the loss of 380 Spokane jobs.
Last winter General Dynamics plugged the plug. A company spokesman sent this note this week:
“Regarding General Dynamics Itronix products, we continually assess our business and make changes to ensure efficiency in our operations.In September 2012, we determined that it is in the best interest of our customers and business to end-of-life the General Dynamics Itronix branded computing products. We will ensure that customer support for products under warranty obligations will be honored.”
You have to wonder how the phrase “end-of-life” ever became a verb.
As a blogger at RuggedPCReview Blog put it, Itronix was a company whose ownership was always in flux.
“Itronix was started in 1989 as a unit of meter-reading company Itron …It was then sold to rugged computer maker Telxon in 1993. In 1997, telecom testing gear company Dynatech Corp. bought Itronix from Telxon for about $65 million. Dynatech changed its name to Acterna in 2000, but fell on hard times and sold Itronix to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital in 2003 for just US$40 million in cash. Golden Gate held on to it for a couple of years before General Dynamics came along. — The band Jefferson Starship comes to mind here, with Grace Slick charging 'Someone always playing corporation games; Who cares they're always changing corporation names.' ”
A Seattle business magazine has added Spokane's GreenCupboards, to its 2012 Washington Green 50 list.
The list is described as Washington's top sustainable organizations and businesses.
A total of four companies from Spokane made the list. The other three are Avista Utilities, plus Itron Inc. and Demand Energy, a startup in Liberty Lake.
Tove Tupper, GreenCupboard's marketing director, noted that this listing is the first recognition for the company by Seattle Business.
The full list is available here.
GreenCupboards was also a finalist in the retail and consumer category, taking second place. Other companies in the retail and consumer category included Brooks Sports and Alaska Airlines.
The company started four years ago and recently moved into offices at the McKinstry Innovation Center, east of downtown Spokane.
GreenCupboards has been on a growth tear lately; in the past two years it's expanded from 14 employees to 55 employees.
Is it a coincidence? A few months after Goldman Sachs announced that it's buying 13.3 percent interest in Turkey’s largest private gas utility, that utility, AKSA Energy, decides to order 745,000 Itron gas meters.
Yes indeed, Goldman Sachs is an investor in Liberty Lake-based Itron, which develops services and products for the gas, electric and water utility industry. On March 2012 Itron announced Goldman Sachs held 40,800 shares in Itron common stock.
Which, in fact, is a fairly small percentage of total Itron stock.
No, it's not a conspiracy. This is just the way the world works; especially after noting that this is not AKSA's first order from Itron.
Many utilities across Eastern Europe are focusing on expanding infrastructure to meet growing energy demands. AKSA is buying gas meters from Itron because that's probably the best choice for that product.
Itron didn't announce the dollar value of the three-year deal.
In March 2012 Itron shares were trading around $44. As of today they're trading at around $42, which is up sharply from yesterday.
Here is the boilerplate announcement by AKSA about the deal:
“As a leading gas distribution company in Turkey, we are pleased to work with Itron. We’ve used Itron meters for years and these new meters provide embedded technology for smart meter applications that we aim to implement in the near future,” said Yasar Aslan, AKSA’s CEO. “AKSA plays a key role in the Turkish market and relies on Itron for positioning us for the future.”
On Wednesday, as Itron reported mixed earnings, the Liberty Lake utility technology maker and service provider also announced it's taking part in an East Coast smart grid demonstration project.
Itron and National Grid, a northeast U.S. utitlity, announced they will be partners on a project to build and evaluate advanced smart grid systems in Massachusetts.
Here's where the geeky tech stuff shows up in the story: the two firms will field-test the multi-application capabilities of the new Itron-Cisco IPv6 based smart grid solution, including advanced metering, home area networking (HAN) and distribution automation (DA). That “stuff” is the typical and more or less standard set of tools the smart grid depends on.
OK, then, what's the key news here? The press report says the system will use Cisco technology that allows a utility to exchange information with its residential and business customers without requiring them to all use just one proprietary set of equipment or applications.
As designed, that makes the smart grid more open-standards based, sort of like the way the Web is designed.
It's a big deal because this allows an electric utility do have a grid system across a diverse set of customers, including large industrial customers, or when dealing with a dispersed group of home customers, some of whom may be using different home metering products than others across the utility map are using.
If you really want all the other details, here's the official Itron release.
Itron and Cisco not long ago announced they had a similar deal for BC Hydro, one of Canada's largest electric utilities. Here's a summary of the project being done in British Columbia.
The Exchange Club of Downtown Spokane is seeking donations and contributions for this year's 45th Annual Crab Feed and Auction, set for Dec. 2.
With less than eight weeks to go, the event sponsors are seeking donations and support for the benefit event, which raises money for three area child abuse prevention agencies.
Additional corporate sponsors are also being sought.
The Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, Children’s Home Society of Washington and SCAN share the proceeds.
This year's auction and dinner will start at 5:30 p.m. at CenterPlace, at 2426 N. Discovery Place in Spokane Valley.
Sponsors this year include Universal Funding, SCAFCO, Itron Inc., D.A. Davidson & Co., Allprint, and Luigi’s.
For information on donations, call Meri Berberet at 509-226-2448 or Dianne LaValley at 509-747-2058. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Landis+Gyr is a Swiss company that does what Itron does, except in Europe: it develops and sells advanced utility meters.
It's another company that is busy figuring out how to develop “grid” devices that can make the distribution and consumption of energy smarter and more efficient.
L+G is already a very large competitor in Europe to Itron, Spokane's own major producer of smart metering devices and other utility products and services.
A Wall Street Journal commentator noted that Toshiba has spent $2.3 billion to acquire the Swiss meter (maid?) company. The story noted global power use will grow 60 percent by 2030. The utility industry has to make major investments to keep up with that demand, and that's why you hear so much about smart grid.
Only 10 percent of European Union households have smart electricity meters. Clearly, Toshiba sees great potential by acquiring L+G, and this poses a direct threat to Itron's role in taking a share of the future market.
The WSJ story also notes Toshiba paid a premium for the company, by spending 11 times historic earnings for L+G. The other main Euro electricity meter competitor is Germany's Elster Group.
The commentary noted Toshiba, with yearly revenue of $77 billion, sees this purchase as its way to catch up Elster and Itron.
Russ Vanos, who is Itron's vp for marketing, said Itron's reaction is a positive take-away.
“The bottom line is Toshiba is a large, deep-pocketed strategic investor who paid top dollar for L+G which should give some indication of the level of strategic interest in this space,” Vanos said.
Itron Inc. will license an Internet protocol developed by Cisco to create what the companies said today will be a more reliable and secure smart grid.
Itron, the Liberty Lake-based company that has developed and sold automated metering systems for more than 30 years, will incorporate Cisco technology into its Open Way meters. Itron will also distribute Cisco networking equipment and software.
The new partnership will give utilities a better way to access more energy resources, and respond to customer demand for more control over their energy use, a joint news release says.
“The alliance between Cisco and Itron represents a major step forward in the realization of a modern, more intelligent energy infrastructure,” Cisco Senior Vice President Laura Ipsen said.
Itron shares climbed $3.65 to $57.65, an increase of almost seven percent, after the alliance was disclosed. Cisco shares climbed 27 cents to $20.26.
Liberty Lake-based Itron Inc. said this week that they’ve just helped install their millionth OpenWay smart meter at Southern California Edison (SCE), one of the nation’s largest electric utilities.
What is striking is that the media folks at Itron went out and even found who the lucky customer is.
And it is …. drumroll … an unidentified customer who lives in Redondo Beach. Several dignitaries were on hand to commemorate the event, including U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), 36th Congressional District; Theodore F. Craver Jr., president, chairman and CEO of Edison International; Lynda Ziegler, senior vice president of customer service for SCE; and Malcolm Unsworth, president and CEO of Itron. The photo above, with two dignitaries and an unindentified technician, came by way of Earthtimes.com.
Does it seem odd that we get the full list of the honchos who showed up, but not the name of the customer? (We have a feeling he or he is not running for office.)
Now you will want to ask, what is an OpenWay meter? One way to think of it is, it’s like an HTC Droid Incredible or iPhone 3GS meter compared with your grandma’s cell phone. The OpenWay is Itron’s answer for utilities needing lots of ways to deliver data down the grid to the homes and businesses and customers, and to eventually allow demand-response control of a customer’s energy use.
Installation of the one millionth meter took place July 12. Southern California Edison”s crews began installing the first bunch of OpenWay meters in September 2009, and installations will continue
This goes into the Smart Grid file, in the subfolder on home monitors that track residential power consumption.
Cisco has unveiled a new home device. It’s the Cisco Home Energy Management Solution. Like other devices coming to the market, it provides a network hub to manage and track one’s home energy system and tracks consumption. The emphasis, over time, as more “smart” systems go into the home, will be on MANAGING energy, not just tracking use.
Cisco is such a giant that once it focuses on a business niche, it usually makes its presence known.
The device pictured is supposed to become available this summer, and the official list price is $900 per home. List price, we hope, is way different from what it will cost consumers.
It’s unlikely anyone within 300 miles of Spokane or Coeur d’Alene will be able to use it.
Aside from Wi-Fi, the controller can communicate with smart meters and appliances via Zigbee and also via a proprietary protocol (Encoder Receiver Technology, or ERT) used by well-established home-automation player Itron, based in Liberty Lake.
It will also interact with so-called smart plugs — peripherals that you can plug your existing appliances into that will send data to the Home Energy Management device.
Itron CEO Malcolm Unsworth, along with other representatives of U.S. energy companies, met with President Barack Obama today (April 30) at the White House. (Associated Press photo found on www.whitehouse.gov)
Unsworth, who became CEO last year of metering-system powerhouse Itron last year, stands to the left of the president in this shot from a meeting in the Rose Garden. With Unsworth were two Itron manufacturing workers at the event, James Morris and Carla Reysack (far left).
The event saluted companies using federal stimulus money to help improve the country’s energy infrastructure. A transcript of the proceedings is here.