We were reminded recently of how Warren Buffett allocated a total of $100 million in roughly 20-25 Korean companies in 2004 by simply leafing through a reference book that dedicated a single page to each listed company -- a book much like those that Valuentum makes available to financial advisors. Mr. Buffett understands simplicity -- knowing which metrics matter and which metrics don't. He picked those companies in roughly 6 hours. In this article, let's talk about what metrics matter at Republic Services (NYSE:RSG).
At Valuentum, we think a comprehensive analysis of a firm's discounted cash-flow valuation, relative valuation versus industry peers, as well as an assessment of technical and momentum indicators 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, 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). To a large extent, we apply Seeking Alpha's 'wisdom of crowds' premise (in the context of investment methodologies) on a systematic basis across our coverage universe.
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. Republic Services posts a VBI score of 6 on our scale, reflecting our 'fairly valued' DCF assessment of the firm, its neutral relative valuation versus peers, and very bullish technicals. We compare Republic Services to peers Clean Harbors (NYSE:CLH), Waste Connections (NYSE:WCN), and Waste Management (NYSE:WM). In the spirit of transparency, we show how the Best Ideas portfolio has performed since inception. The Best Ideas portfolio makes use of the Valuentum Buying Index rating system:
Our Report on Republic Services
- Republic Services' 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.
- Republic's enormous Apex regional landfill in Clark County, Nevada, is the busiest facility in the country and should enjoy years of strong cash flow generation from one of the fastest-growing areas in the country.
- Republic Services has a good combination of strong free cash flow generation and manageable financial leverage. We expect the firm's free cash flow margin to average about 11.9% in coming years. Total debt-to-EBITDA was 3 last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 47.9%.
- The firm's share price performance has trailed that of the market during the past quarter. However, it is trading within our fair value estimate range, so we don't view such activity as alarming.
- Republic's disposal assets represent a long-term strategic benefit that will only become more valuable over time due to an increasingly onerous regulatory environment and continued citizens' group opposition to greenfield sites.
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 (NASDAQ: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. Republic Services' 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 22%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 8.9%. 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. Republic Services' free cash flow margin has averaged about 9.2% 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 Valuentum.com. At Republic Services, cash flow from operations increased about 11% from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 14% over the same time period.
Our discounted cash flow model indicates that Republic Services' shares are worth between $28.00 - $42.00 each. The margin of safety around our fair value estimate is driven by the firm's LOW ValueRisk™ rating, which is derived from the historical volatility of key valuation drivers. The estimated fair value of $35 per share represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 22.5 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 8.3 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 3.3% during the next five years, a pace that is higher than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of -0.3%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 16.9%, which is below Republic Services's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 1.8% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For Republic Services, we use a 8.9% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.
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 $35 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 Republic Services. We think the firm is attractive below $28 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $42 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 Republic Services' fair value at this point in time to be about $35 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 Republic Services' 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 $44 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $35 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
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.
Additional disclosure: RSG is included in the Best Ideas portfolio.