Should I Invest in Compass Group?


LONDON -- To me, capital growth and dividend income are equally important. Together, they provide the total return from any share investment and, as you might expect, my aim is to invest in companies that can beat the total return delivered by the wider market.

To put that aim into perspective, the FTSE 100 has provided investors with a total return of around 3% per annum since January 2008.

Quality and value
If my investments are to outperform, I need to back companies that score well on several quality indicators, and buy at prices that offer decent value.

This series aims to identify appealing FTSE 100 investment opportunities, and today, I'm looking at Compass Group , which provides contract catering and support services in several sectors.

With the shares at 810 pence, Compass Group's market cap is 14,850 million pounds.

This table summarizes the firm's recent financial record:

Year to September






Revenue (million pounds)






Net cash from operations (million pounds)






Adjusted earnings per share (pence)






Dividend per share (pence)






In a recent update, Compass said that business is positive in North America, which delivered 45% of the company's revenue last year, negative in Europe and Japan, which contributed 37%, and strong in fast-growing and emerging markets, which accounted for about 18% of revenue. That means that around 63% of the firm's business is growing strongly: North America showing growth between 5% and 10% annually, and emerging markets with growth well into double figures.

With over 508,000 employees in around 50 countries, Compass has grown both organically and through acquisition. The firm focuses on food service, but also provides related services like cleaning and accommodation management, for example. Emerging markets, which includes countries such as Brazil, Turkey, and South Africa, are increasingly important to forward growth expectations, and if such growth can continue to generate free cash flow, the firm's total return prospects look encouraging.

Compass Group's total-return potential
Let's examine five indicators to help judge the quality of the company's total-return potential:

  1. Dividend cover: Adjusted earnings covered the last dividend twice. 4/5

  2. Borrowings: Net gearing of 33%, with net debt around 1.3 times earnings. 4/5

  3. Growth: Revenue and earnings have been growing against flatter cash flow. 4/5

  4. Price to earnings: A forward 16 looks full compared to growth and yield forecasts. 2/5

  5. Outlook: Good recent trading, and a positive outlook. 5/5

Overall, I score Compass 19 out of 25, which encourages me to believe the firm has some potential to outpace the wider market's total return going forward.

Foolish summary
With borrowings under control, good recent trading, and a positive outlook, growth looks set to continue. But a lot of expectation seems built into the share price, and that shows up in the price-to-earnings score. The twice-covered dividend has a forward yield of about 3.2%. That's not bad, but it's not enough to tempt me into investing in Compass right now.

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Kevin Godbold does not own shares in Compass Group. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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