Shares of MWI Veterinary Supply (NAS: MWIV) hit a 52-week high on Friday. Let's look at how it got there and see ewhether clear skies are still in the forecast.
How it got here
MWI is benefitting from the fact that pet owners are more than willing to pay top dollar to ensure the health of their pets. Although health-benefit organizations boast decent pricing power with regard to human medicine and treatments, veterinary medicine is still a largely underinsured field, which allows veterinary practices to charge exorbitant fees for their services. In simpler terms: Big fees equal big margins, and that's the main reason MWI, which supplies pharmaceutical products, diagnostic testing kits, and food products to more than 25,000 veterinary clinics in the U.S. and U.K, is doing so well.
But this trend isn't just limited to MWI. Its peers are also getting in on the party, with PetSmart (NAS: PETM) notching a new 52-week high following an 18% increase in profits in its most recent quarter. PetMed Express (NAS: PETS) isn't far from a new 52-week high, either, after it boosted its dividend by 20% and reported a 12% rise in sales in its latest quarter. The trend here is very clear: Our pets are our family, and we'll pay up to keep them around us for a long time.
How it stacks up
Let's see how MWI Veterinary Supply stacks up next to its peers.
It may not be as apparent here, as this is only a one-year chart, but over the past five years, MWI is up more than 150%.
Price/ Cash Flow
MWI Veterinary Supply
VCA Antech (NAS: WOOF)
Source: Morningstar, Note: Yields are projected.
With regard to veterinary medicine and supplies, there's a stock catered to everyone. If you prefer more stable growth and a hefty dividend, PetMed Express offers the best payout of the group. If high-growth pet supplies are on your list, it could be time to dial up MWI, but you'll completely give up your chance at a dividend -- for now, at least. If you want a trade-off of growth and dividends, PetSmart provides a brand name with a reasonable valuation and about a 1% dividend. If value is on your mind, then VCA Antech, a health insurer for your pets, could be just what the doctor ordered at just under 2 times book and 11 times cash flow. Frankly, all of these companies should get Fido's tail wagging ... that is, if your dog is involved in your investing decisions.
Now for the real question: What's next for MWI Veterinary Supply? That question really depends on consumer spending habits more than anything. As long as the trend continues whereby pets become more incorporated into family life, then MWI's growth should be stopped only by its production capabilities.
Our very own CAPS community gives the company a four-star rating (out of five), with an overwhelming 95.3% of members expecting it to outperform. Although I am extremely bullish on the long-term outlook for pet-related stocks, I have yet to pull the trigger on MWI in my CAPS portfolio.
The primary reason I've held back is largely due to valuation. I missed my opportunity to make a CAPScall of outperform a few months ago, but I will not miss the next time MWI dips. The company is beginning to really ramp up Internet sales, reporting a 34% jump in online orders last quarter, and has seen a strong rise in veterinary pharmacy benefits, which are, for all intents and purposes, still in their infancy. With people willing to spend big bucks on their pets, myself included, pet product and service companies just like MWI have a very bright future ahead of them.
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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorSean Williamshas no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen nameTMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen nameTrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle@TMFUltraLong.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of VCA Antech and PetSmart, as well as writing covered calls on VCA Antech. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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