Best Consumer Service Companies For 2015

Last December, Markel (NYSE: MKL  ) shocked the market by announcing a $3.1 billion deal to acquire fellow insurer Alterra Capital.

(NYSE: MKL  ) The deal not only unsettled investors by employing a combination of cash and stock, but it was also significantly larger than the typically small acquisitions that President and CIO Tom Gayner pursues through his Markel Ventures subsidiary. The market immediately punished shares of Markel by driving them down as much as 10% that day.

Even so, I remained optimistic in spite of the drop after speculating that the deal might also benefit Markel by giving Gayner more flexibility in the ways he invests both the company’s insurance float and shareholder equity, which is a similar perk Warren Buffett enjoys as he invests for the much larger Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B  ) (NYSE: BRK-A  ) .

Best Consumer Service Companies For 2015: FedFirst Financial Corporation(FFCO)

FedFirst Financial Corporation operates as the holding company for the First Federal Savings Bank, which provides various banking and financial services to individuals and businesses primarily in southwestern Pennsylvania. The company accepts deposit products, which include noninterest-bearing demand deposits, such as checking accounts; interest-bearing demand accounts, including NOW and money market accounts; statement savings accounts; and certificates of deposit comprising individual retirement accounts. Its loan products include residential mortgage loans, commercial and multi-family real estate loans, construction loans, commercial business loans, and consumer loans, including home equity lines of credit, home equity installment loans, loans on savings accounts, and personal lines of credit and installment loans. The company also operates as an insurance agent offering property and casualty, commercial liability, surety, and other insurance products. As of July 15, 20 11, it operated nine full-service branch locations in Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland counties, Pittsburgh. The company was founded in 1922 and is based in Monessen, Pennsylvania. FedFirst Financial Corporation is a subsidiary of FedFirst Financial Mutual Holding Company.

Advisors’ Opinion:

  • [By Wallace Witkowski]

    Shares of FedFirst Financial Corp. (FFCO)  rose 9.7% to $22 on light volume. Shares had been halted at $20.06 after the bell pending news.

Best Consumer Service Companies For 2015: Rutter Inc (RUT)

Rutter Inc. (Rutter) focuses on providing technologies and manufacturing solutions. The Company supplies technologies to improve efficiency and safety in the marine, defense, transportation, oil and gas sectors. The Company produces and globally markets enhanced radar systems, including oil spill detection, ice navigator, small target detection and wave-monitoring systems. The Company also offers a full range of outsource manufacturing services including: product engineering and design; materials management; manufacturing; sub-assembly; systems integration; project management; testing; logistics and documentation and provides full cycle customer support for all Company products and selected third party components/products that it manufactures under contract. Rutter’s sigma S6 radar signal processing products are designed to enable end users to detect and track objects which would not be visible with conventional radar equipment only. Advisors’ Opinion:

  • [By Carla Mozée]

    U.S. stocks closed Monday’s session higher, led by small-cap and tech companies. Analysts noted that Wall Street’s trading volumes were the third-lowest this year, saying an absence of ‘bad news’ helped support gains. Among key benchmarks, the Nasdaq Composite (COMP)  rose 0.9%, and the Russell 2000 (RUT) index of small stocks ended 1% higher.

  • [By Wallace Witkowski]

    Debate is still lively whether a bear market is lurking around the corner . Some argue that the meandering market is the grumbling of a bear market that will start with a whimper. Then, there’s also a historical precedence for weak markets before the midterm elections during a presidential cycle . And over the past few weeks, there’s a been a spike in worry that the selloff in small-cap stocks, reflected in the 10% pullback in the Russell 2000 (RUT)  , was the harbinger of a broader retreat.

  • [By Anora Mahmudova]

    The Russell 2000 (RUT) index of small stocks closed 11 points, or 1%, lower at 1,097.43.

Best Consumer Service Companies For 2015: Bell AG (BELL)

Bell AG is a Switzerland-based company that is primarily engaged in the production and distribution of meat. The Company has seven product groups. The Fresh Meat product group is involved in the supply of self-service meat products for the retail trade and products for the restaurant trade, as well as Vaudois specialties. The Charcuterie (own and purchased) product groups offer ready-cooked products, both under the Bell brand and under a number of customers’ own brands. The Poultry product group offers various poultry products, as well as specialty meats, such as rabbit, game, ostrich and kangaroo. The Convenience product group offers ready-cooked seasonal convenience products, such as domestic and imported fish. Within the Seafood product group, the Company offers fresh and frozen seafood. Bell AG’s brands include Abraham, Zimbo and Polette, among others. The Company operates subsidiaries in Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Hungary and other countries. Advisors’ Opinion:

  • [By Tannor Pilatzke]

    Investment ideas are scarce and hard to come by at times. People constantly ask me about companies they work for (Bell) or businesses they purchase a lot of product from (P&G or Coca-Cola), and what I think about the prospects/valuation. When it is not the blue chips in the limelight it certainly is the Netflix’s,Tesla’s, 3-D printing, and other companies I would classify as speculative. It is not that I am a Grinch, but I do not like giving out investment ideas. Rather, I attempt to give lessons. As Maimonides said, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”

Best Consumer Service Companies For 2015: MDU Resources Group Inc (MRE)

MDU Resources Group, Inc.,incorporated on March 14, 1924, is a diversified natural resource company. Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. (Montana-Dakota) is a public utility division of the Company. Montana-Dakota, through the electric and natural gas distribution segments, generates, transmits and distributes electricity and distributes natural gas in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Cascade Natural Gas Corporation (Cascade), which is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of MDU Energy Capital, distributes natural gas in Oregon and Washington. Intermountain Gas Company (Intermountain) distributes natural gas in Idaho. Great Plains Natural Gas Co. (Great Plains), which is a public utility division of the Company, distributes natural gas in western Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota. These operations also supply related value-added services. The Company’s segments include electric, pipeline and energy services, exploration and production, construction material s and contracting and construction services.

The Company, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Centennial Energy Holdings, Inc. (Centennial), owns WBI Holdings, Inc. (WBI Holdings) (consisting of the pipeline and energy services and the exploration and production segments), Knife River Corporation (Knife River) (construction materials and contracting segment), MDU Construction Services Group, Inc. (MDU Construction Services) (construction services segment), Centennial Energy Resources LLC (Centennial Resources) and Centennial Holdings Capital LLC (Centennial Capital) (both included in the Other category). The Company produces Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions primarily from its fossil fuel electric generating facilities, as well as from natural gas pipeline and storage systems, operations of equipment and fleet vehicles, and oil and natural gas exploration and development activities.

Electric

Montana-Dakota provides electric service at ret ail, serving more than 131,000 residential, commercial, indu! strial and municipal customers in 177 communities and adjacent rural areas as of December 31, 2012. The principal properties owned by Montana-Dakota for use in its electric operations include interests in 10 electric generating facilities and three small portable diesel generators, as further described under System Supply, System Demand and Competition, approximately 3,100 and 4,700 miles of transmission and distribution lines, respectively and 51 transmission and 268 distribution substations. Montana-Dakota has obtained and holds valid and existing franchises authorizing it to conduct its electric operations in all of the municipalities it serves where such franchises are required.

The Company, through the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. (Midwest ISO), Montana-Dakota has access to wholesale energy, ancillary services and capacity markets. The Midwest ISO is a regional transmission organization responsible for operational control of the tr ansmission systems of its members. The Midwest ISO provides security center operations, tariff administration and operates day-ahead and real-time energy markets, ancillary services and capacity markets. In 2012, Montana-Dakota purchased approximately 27 % of its net kilowatts-hour needs for its interconnected system through the Midwest ISO market.

Montana-Dakota serves markets in portions of western North Dakota, including Bismarck, Mandan, Dickinson and Williston; eastern Montana, including Glendive and Miles City; and northern South Dakota, including Mobridge. The maximum electric peak demand experienced to date attributable to Montana-Dakota’s sales to retail customers on the interconnected system was 573,587 kilowatts in July, 2012. The interconnected system consists of nine electric generating facilities and three small portable diesel generators, which has an aggregate nameplate rating attributable to Montana-Dakota’s interest of 488,905 kilowatts. Throug h the Sheridan System, which is a separate electric system o! wned by M! ontana-Dakota, Montana-Dakota serves Sheridan, Wyoming, and neighboring communities. The maximum peak demand attributable to Montana-Dakota sales to retail customers on that system was approximately 61,501 kilowatts in July, 2012.

Montana-Dakota’s four principal generating stations are steam-turbine generating units, which uses coal for fuel. The nameplate rating for Montana-Dakota’s ownership interest in these four stations , including interests in the Big Stone Station and the Coyote Station, aggregating 22.7 % and 25%, respectively is 327,758 kilowatts. Two combustion turbine peaking stations, two wind electric generating facilities, a heat recovery electric generating facility and three small portable diesel generators supply the balance of Montana-Dakota’s interconnected system electric generating capability.

The Coyote coal supply agreement provides for the purchase of coal necessary to supply the coal requirements of the Coyote Station or 30, 000 tons per week, whichever may be the greater quantity at contracted pricing. The Heskett and Lewis & Clark coal supply agreements provide for the purchase of coal necessary to supply the coal requirements of these stations at contracted pricing. Montana-Dakota estimates the Heskett and Lewis & Clark coal requirement to be in the range of 450,000 to 550,000 tons and 250,000 to 350,000 tons per contract year, respectively

Natural Gas Distribution

The Company’s natural gas distribution operations consist of Montana-Dakota, Great Plains, Cascade and Intermountain, which sell natural gas at retail, serving over 859,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in 334 communities and adjacent rural areas across eight states as of December 31, 2012, and provide natural gas transportation services to certain customers on their systems. These services are provided through distribution systems aggregating approximately 18,200 miles.

The Company’s purchased natural gas is supplied by a po! rtfolio o! f contracts specifying market-based pricing and is transported under transportation agreements with WBI Energy Transmission, Northwest Pipeline GP, Northern Natural Gas, Gas Transmission Northwest LLC, Northwestern Energy, Viking Gas Transmission Company and Ruby Pipeline LLC. The natural gas distribution operations have contracts for storage services to provide gas supply during the winter heating season and to meet peak day demand with various storage providers, including WBI Energy Transmission, Questar Pipeline Company, Northwest Pipeline GP and Northern Natural Gas. In addition, certain of the operations have entered into natural gas supply management agreements with various parties.

Pipeline and Energy Services

WBI Energy Transmission, the regulated business of this segment, owns and operates approximately 3,800 miles of transmission, gathering and storage lines in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. WBI Energy Midstream ow ns a 50% undivided interest in certain midstream assets located in western North Dakota. Three underground storage fields in Montana and Wyoming provide storage services to local distribution companies, producers, natural gas marketers and others, and serve to enhance system deliverability. WBI Energy Transmission’s system is located near five natural gas producing basins, making natural gas supplies available to WBI Energy Transmission’s transportation and storage customers. The system has 13 interconnecting points with other pipeline facilities allowing for the receipt and/or delivery of natural gas to and from other regions of the country and from Canada.

WBI Energy Midstream, the non-regulated pipeline business of this segment, owns and operates gathering facilities in Colorado, Kansas, Montana and Wyoming. It also owns a 50% undivided interest in certain midstream assets located in western North Dakota that were acquired in 2012, which include a natural gas processing plant, both oil and gas gathering pipelines, an ! oil stora! ge terminal and an oil pipeline. Prairielands is an energy services business,which provides natural gas purchase and sales services to local distribution companies, producers, other marketers and a limited number of end-users, primarily using natural gas produced by the Company’s exploration and production segment. WBI Energy Transmission’s underground natural gas storage facilities has a storage capacity of approximately 353 billion cubic feet, including 193 billion cubic feet of working gas capacity, 85 billion cubic feet of cushion gas and 75 billion cubic feet of native gas.

Exploration and Production

Fidelity is involved in the acquisition, exploration, development and production of oil and natural gas resources. Fidelity continues to seek additional reserve and production growth opportunities through these activities. Fidelity’s business is focused primarily in two core regions: Rocky Mountain and Mid-Continent/Gulf States.

Fideli ty’s Rocky Mountain region includes Bakken areas , which includes oil targets in which Fidelity holds approximately 16,000 net acres in Mountrail County, North Dakota, approximately 51,000 net acres in Stark County, North Dakota, and approximately 60,000 net acres in Richland County, Montana; Cedar Creek Anticline, which is in primarily in eastern Montana, the Company has a long-held net profits interest in this oil play. Paradox Basin holds approximately 83,000 net acres located in Grand and San Juan Counties, Utah, targeting oil; Big Horn Basin includes approximately 33,000 net acres in Wyoming, targeting oil and Natural gas liquids (NGL); Green River Basin properties primarily includes natural gas targets in Wyoming in which the Company holds approximately 36,000 net acres; Baker Field is a long-held natural gas properties in which Fidelity holds approximately 99,000 net acres in southeastern Montana and southwestern North Dakota; Bowdoin Field is a long-held natural gas properties in which Fidelity holds approximately 127,000 net! acres in! north-central Montana, and Other includes other exploratory oil projects in the Niobrara play in Wyoming and the Heath Shale in Montana; along with the Powder River Basin natural gas properties, which Fidelity is pursuing divestment of and various non-operated positions.

Fidelity’s Mid-Continent/Gulf States region includes South Texas area includes approximately 9,000 net acres in the Tabasco, Texan Gardens and Flores fields, this area has NGL content associated with the natural gas. East/Central Texas holds approximately 27,000 net acres, primarily natural gas and associated NGL. Other includes various non-operated onshore interests, as well as offshore interests in the shallow waters off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. At December 31, 2012, there were 44 gross (17 net) wells in the process of drilling or under evaluation, 39 of which were development wells and 5 of which were exploratory wells.

Construction Materials and Contracting

Knife River operates construction materials and contracting businesses. These operations mine, process and sell construction aggregates (crushed stone, sand and gravel); produce and sell asphalt mix and supply ready-mixed concrete for construction, including roads, freeways and bridges, as well as homes, schools, shopping centers, office buildings and industrial parks. Although not common to all locations, other products include the sale of cement, liquid asphalt for various commercial and roadway applications, various finished concrete products and other building materials and related contracting services.

Construction Services

MDU Construction Services specializes in constructing and maintaining electric and communication lines, gas pipelines, fire suppression systems, and external lighting and traffic signalization equipment. This segment also provides utility excavation services and inside electrical wiring, cabling and mechanical services, s ells and distributes electrical materials, and manufactures ! and distr! ibutes specialty equipment. These services are provided to utilities and manufacturing, commercial, industrial, institutional and government customers. MDU Construction Services operates a fleet of owned and leased trucks and trailers, support vehicles and specialty construction equipment, such as backhoes, excavators, trenchers, generators, boring machines and cranes. In addition, as of December 31, 2012, MDU Construction Services owned or leased facilities in 17 states. This space is used for offices, equipment yards, warehousing, storage and vehicle shops.

Advisors’ Opinion:

  • [By Eric Lam]

    Martinrea International Inc. (MRE), a metal auto-parts maker, slumped 10 percent to C$10.96 after the company said it received a press release discussing a claim from Nat Rea, former vice chairman of the company. Martinrea has not received the claim or reviewed the allegations and will “respond appropriately in due course.”

Best Consumer Service Companies For 2015: Dynamic Materials Corporation(BOOM)

Dynamic Materials Corporation, together with its subsidiaries, provides explosion-welded clad metal plates, oil field perforating equipment and explosives, and welding services worldwide. It operates in three segments: Explosive Metalworking, Oilfield Products, and AMK Welding. The Explosive Metalworking segment primarily manufactures explosion-welded clad metal plates that are used in the construction of heavy and corrosion resistant pressure vessels, and heat exchangers for oil and gas, alternative energy, chemical and petrochemical, hydrometallurgy, aluminum production, shipbuilding, power generation, and industrial refrigeration industries. This segment sells its products through senior management, direct sales personnel, program managers, and independent sales representatives. The Oilfield Products segment engages in the manufacture, marketing, and sale of perforating explosives and associated hardware, as well as seismic explosives for the oil and gas industry. Its p roducts include shaped charges, detonators, detonating cords, bidirectional boosters, and perforating guns for the perforation of oil and gas wells. This segment offers its products through direct selling, licensed distributors, independent sales representatives, and international distribution centers. The AMK Welding segment provides welding, heat treatment, and inspection services primarily to power turbine manufacturers, and commercial and military aircraft engine manufacturers. The company was formerly known as Explosive Fabricators, Inc. and changed its name to Dynamic Materials Corporation in 1994. Dynamic Materials Corporation was founded in 1965 and is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.

Advisors’ Opinion:

  • [By Chris Hill]

    In this installment of Motley Fool Money, our analysts talk about why they’re watching Dynamic Materials (NASDAQ: BOOM  ) , Gentex (NASDAQ: GNTX  ) , and Western Union (NYSE: WU  ) .