Despite Strong Free Cash Flow Generation, Core Labs Remains Overvalued

Dec.10.13 | About: Core Laboratories (CLB)

As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In Core Labs' (NYSE:CLB) case, we think the firm is overvalued. We think it is fairly valued at $149 per share.

At Valuentum, we think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation and 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.

If a company is undervalued both on a DCF and on a relative valuation basis it scores high on our scale. Core Labs posts a VBI score of 4 on our scale, reflecting our 'overvalued' DCF assessment of the firm, its unattractive relative valuation versus peers, and bullish technicals. We compare Core Labs to peers Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI), Cameron International (NYSE:CAM), and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL). In the spirit of transparency, we show how the performance of our VBI has stacked up per underlying score:

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Investment Considerations

Investment Highlights

• Core Labs' business quality (an evaluation of our ValueCreation™ and ValueRisk™ ratings) ranks among the best of the firms in our coverage universe. The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders with relatively stable operating results for the past few years, a combination we view very positively.

• Core Labs is a Netherlands-based firm that is one of the world's leading providers of proprietary/patented reservoir description, production enhancement and reservoir management services to the oil and gas industry.

• Core Labs has an excellent combination of strong free cash flow generation and low financial leverage. We expect the firm's free cash flow margin to average about 25.4% in coming years. Total debt-to-EBITDA was 0.1 last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 17.7%.

• We're big fans of Core Labs' three tenets: 1) maximize free cash flow through financial discipline, 2) maximize return on invested capital, and 3) return excess capital to shareholders.

• Core Labs is in a class by itself. Revenue to free cash flow conversion has been top-notch and excess economic profit creation has been impressive (many times that of peers); its share price performance, however, already reflects this.

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 - WACC. The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. Core Labs' 3-year historical return on invested capital, (without goodwill) is 93.1%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 9.8%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of EXCELLENT. 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. Core Labs' free cash flow margin has averaged about 20.9% during the past 3 years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is relatively STRONG. 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 Core Labs, cash flow from operations increased about 15% from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 18% over the same time period.

Valuation Analysis

The estimated fair value of $149 per share represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 32.8 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 22.4 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 10.3% during the next five years, a pace that is lower than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 12.1%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 34.9%, which is above Core Labs' trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 5.8% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For Core Labs, we use a 9.8% 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 $149 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 Core Labs. We think the firm is attractive below $119 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $179 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 Core Labs' fair value at this point in time to be about $149 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 Core Labs' 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 $194 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $149 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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Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.