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As part of our process, we like to perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In USG Corp's (NYSE:USG) case, we think the firm is significantly undervalued, and we're mighty impressed with its earnings potential next year.

Before we dig in, how about a little background on our process? We think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation and its relative valuation versus industry peers is the best way to identify the most attractive stocks at the best time to buy.

This process culminates in what we call our Valuentum Buying Index (click here for an in-depth presentation about our methodology), which ranks stocks on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Essentially, we're looking for firms that overlap investment methodologies, thereby revealing the greatest interest by investors (we like firms that fall in the center of the diagram below). The higher the score on our VBI system the better.

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If a company is undervalued both on a DCF and on a relative valuation basis and is showing improvement in technical and momentum indicators, it scores high on our scale. USG Corp posts a VBI score of 9 on our scale (10=best), reflecting our 'undervalued' DCF assessment of the firm, its attractive relative valuation versus peers, and very bullish technicals. We compare USG Corp to peers Deltic Timber (NYSE:DEL), Koppers (NYSE:KOP), and Masco (NYSE:MAS). In the spirit of transparency, we show how our strategy has outperformed that of peers:

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Investment Considerations

Investment Highlights

• USG Corp's average return on invested capital has trailed its cost of capital during the past few years, indicating weakness in business fundamentals and an inability to earn economic profits through the course of the economic cycle. We think there are better quality firms out there.

• USG makes wall, ceiling, flooring and roofing products for the residential/nonresidential construction markets and repair/remodel construction markets. The firm boasts the well-recognized SHEETROCK wallboard brand name.

• The firm is number 1 in the North American gypsum (wallboard) market. USG has a world class logistics model, a modern network of plants, and has partnered with channel leaders such as L&W Supply and The Home Depot. Still, end market demand is cyclical, and pricing can be volatile.

• The firm's technicals look very attractive. If current prices hold, the firm's moving averages could create a golden cross, a very bullish technical pattern.

Business Quality

Economic Profit Analysis

The best measure of a firm's ability to create value for shareholders is expressed by comparing its return on invested capital (ROIC) with its weighted average cost of capital (OTC:WACC). The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. USG Corp's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 0.3%, which is below the estimate of its cost of capital of 9.5%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of POOR. In the chart below, we show the probable path of ROIC in the years ahead based on the estimated volatility of key drivers behind the measure. The solid grey line reflects the most likely outcome, in our opinion, and represents the scenario that results in our fair value estimate.

Cash Flow Analysis

Firms that generate a free cash flow margin (free cash flow divided by total revenue) above 5% are usually considered cash cows. USG Corp's free cash flow margin has averaged about -4.2% during the past 3 years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is relatively WEAK. The free cash flow measure shown above is derived by taking cash flow from operations less capital expenditures and differs from enterprise free cash flow (FCFF), which we use in deriving our fair value estimate for the company. For more information on the differences between these two measures, please visit our website at At USG Corp, cash flow from operations moved into positive territory from levels two years ago, as capital expenditures fell about 59% during this time period.

Valuation Analysis

Our discounted cash flow model indicates that USG Corp's shares are worth between $33.00 - $55.00 each. The margin of safety around our fair value estimate is driven by the firm's MEDIUM ValueRisk™ rating, which is derived from the historical volatility of key valuation drivers. The estimated fair value of $44 per share represents an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 24.5 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 8% during the next five years, a pace that is higher than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of -0.1%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 11.1%, which is above USG Corp's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 3.6% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For USG Corp, we use a 9.5% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.

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Margin of Safety Analysis

Our discounted cash flow process values each firm on the basis of the present value of all future free cash flows. Although we estimate the firm's fair value at about $44 per share, every company has a range of probable fair values that's created by the uncertainty of key valuation drivers (like future revenue or earnings, for example). After all, if the future was known with certainty, we wouldn't see much volatility in the markets as stocks would trade precisely at their known fair values. Our ValueRisk™ rating sets the margin of safety or the fair value range we assign to each stock. In the graph below, we show this probable range of fair values for USG Corp. We think the firm is attractive below $33 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $55 per share (the red line). The prices that fall along the yellow line, which includes our fair value estimate, represent a reasonable valuation for the firm, in our opinion.

Future Path of Fair Value

We estimate USG Corp's fair value at this point in time to be about $44 per share. As time passes, however, companies generate cash flow and pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends. The chart below compares the firm's current share price with the path of USG Corp's expected equity value per share over the next three years, assuming our long-term projections prove accurate. The range between the resulting downside fair value and upside fair value in Year 3 represents our best estimate of the value of the firm's shares three years hence. This range of potential outcomes is also subject to change over time, should our views on the firm's future cash flow potential change. The expected fair value of $61 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $44 increased at an annual rate of the firm's cost of equity less its dividend yield. The upside and downside ranges are derived in the same way, but from the upper and lower bounds of our fair value estimate range.

Pro Forma Financial Statements

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Source: USG Corp's Earnings Potential Speaks To A Significantly Undervalued Stock