Is Steel Dynamics' Stock Cheap by the Numbers?

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Numbers can lie -- but they're the best first step in determining whether a stock is a buy. In this series, we use some carefully chosen metrics to size up a stock's true value based on the following clues:

  • The current price multiples.
  • The consistency of past earnings and cash flow.
  • How much growth we can expect.

Let's see what those numbers can tell us about how expensive or cheap Steel Dynamics (NAS: STLD) might be.

The current price multiples
First, we'll look at most investors' favorite metric: the P/E ratio. It divides the company's share price by its earnings per share, or EPS -- the lower, the better.

Then, we'll take things up a notch with a more advanced metric: enterprise value to unlevered free cash flow. This divides the company's enterprise value (basically, its market cap plus its debt, minus its cash) by its unlevered free cash flow (its free cash flow, adding back the interest payments on its debt). Like the P/E, the lower this number is, the better.

Analysts argue about which is more important -- earnings or cash flow. Who cares? A good buy ideally has low multiples on both.

Steel Dynamics has a P/E ratio of 10.7 and an EV/FCF ratio of 13.0 over the trailing 12 months. If we stretch and compare current valuations to the five-year averages for earnings and free cash flow, Steel Dynamics has a P/E ratio of 10.2 and a five-year EV/FCF ratio of 18.0.

A positive one-year ratio under 10 for both metrics is ideal (at least in my opinion). For a five-year metric, under 20 is ideal.

Steel Dynamics has a mixed performance in hitting the ideal targets, but let's see how it compares against some competitors and industry mates. 

Steel Dynamics10.713.010.218.0
Nucor (NYS: NUE) 19.614.214.713.3
AK Steel Holding (NYS: AKS) NMNM23.4NM
United States Steel (NYS: X) NMNM11.970.5

Source: S&P Capital IQ; NM = not meaningful due to losses.

Numerically, we've seen how Steel Dynamics's valuation rates on both an absolute and relative basis. Next, let's examine...

The consistency of past earnings and cash flow
An ideal company will be consistently strong in its earnings and cash flow generation.

In the past five years, Steel Dynamics' net income margin has ranged from -2.9% to 10.6%. In that same time frame, unlevered free cash flow margin has ranged from 0.7% to 14.9%.

How do those figures compare with those of the company's peers? See for yourself:

anImage

Source: S&P Capital IQ; margin ranges are combined.

Additionally, over the last five years, Steel Dynamics has tallied up four years of positive earnings and five years of positive free cash flow.

Next, let's figure out...

How much growth we can expect
Analysts tend to comically overstate their five-year growth estimates. If you accept them at face value, you willoverpay for stocks. But while you should definitely take the analysts' prognostications with a grain of salt, they can still provide a useful starting point when compared to similar numbers from a company's closest rivals.

Let's start by seeing what this company's done over the past five years. In that time period, Steel Dynamics has put up past EPS growth rates of -8%. Meanwhile, Wall Street's analysts expect future growth rates of 14.5%.

Here's how Steel Dynamics compares to its peers for trailing five-year growth (due to losses, the trailing growth rates of AK Steel and US Steel aren't meaningful):

anImage

Source: S&P Capital IQ; EPS growth shown.

And here's how it measures up with regard to the growth analysts expect over the next five years:

anImage

Source: S&P Capital IQ; estimates for EPS growth.

The bottom line
The pile of numbers we've plowed through has shown us the price multiples shares of Steel Dynamics are trading at, the volatility of its operational performance, and what kind of growth profile it has -- both on an absolute and a relative basis.

The more consistent a company's performance has been and the more growth we can expect, the more we should be willing to pay. We've gone well beyond looking at a 10.7 P/E ratio. Steel Dynamics' one-year price multiples are pretty low, and its five-year multiples are as well, despite some margin volatility and lower earnings now compared to five years ago.

Steel prices are highly affected by the greater economy, which is something to keep in mind. If you find Steel Dynamics' numbers or story compelling, don't stop. Continue your due diligence process until you're confident one way or the other.

For a stock that The Motley Fool's chief investment officer believes has a long, prosperous future ahead of it, check out our brand-new free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." I invite you to take a copy, free for a limited time. Access the report to find out the name of this legendary company.

At the time this article was published Anand Chokkavelu doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Nucor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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