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 Best Buy (NYS: BBY) 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 -- 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.
Best Buy has a P/E ratio of 7.1 and an EV/FCF ratio of 6.0 over the trailing 12 months. If we stretch and compare current valuations to the five-year averages for earnings and free cash flow, Best Buy has a P/E ratio of 7.1 and a five-year EV/FCF ratio of 6.8.
A positive one-year ratio under 10 for both metrics is ideal. For a five-year metric, under 20 is ideal.
Best Buy is a mouthwatering four for four on hitting the ideal targets, but let's see how it compares against some competitors and industry mates.
Wal-Mart (NYS: WMT)
Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN)
RadioShack (NYS: RSH)
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
Numerically, we've seen how Best Buy'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, Best Buy's net income margin has ranged from 2.1% to 3.6%. In that same time frame, unlevered free cash flow margin has ranged from 1.5% to 3.9%.
How do those figures compare with those of the company's peers? See for yourself:
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; margin ranges are combined.
Additionally, over the last five years, Best Buy has tallied up five 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, Best Buy has put up past EPS growth rates of 5.2%. Meanwhile, Wall Street's analysts expect future growth rates of 10.5%.
Here's how Best Buy compares to its peers for trailing five-year growth:
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; EPS growth shown.
And here's how it measures up with regard to the growth analysts expect over the next five years:
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; estimates for EPS growth.
The bottom line
The pile of numbers we've plowed through has shown us the price multiples shares of Best Buy 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 7.1 P/E ratio, and we see stunningly good stats all around. Best Buy and Radio Shack both look jaw-droppingly cheap to me at today's prices. If you also find Best Buy's numbers or story compelling, don't stop. Continue your due diligence process until you're confident one way or the other. As a start, add it to My Watchlist to find all of our Foolish analysis.
To see the stocks that I've researched beyond the initial numbers and bought in my public real-money portfolio, click here. Best Buy and Radio Shack already made the cut.
At the time thisarticle was published Anand Chokkaveluowns shares of Best Buy and Radio Shack.The Motley Fool owns shares of RadioShack, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart Stores.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Best Buy, Wal-Mart Stores, and Amazon.com, as well as creating a diagonal call position in Wal-Mart Stores. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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