Waters Still Looks A Bit Expensive Despite Recent Drop

Sep.29.11 | About: Waters Corporation (WAT)

As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In Waters Corp.'s (NYSE:WAT) case we think the company is worth about $65 per share, roughly 15% lower than where it is currently trading. We believe that, by using a discounted cash flow model, investors are better able to focus on the long-term value generated by companies without being distracted by near-term noise.

Further, we think a comprehensive analysis of a company'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.

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. We think our methodology and broad coverage universe is largely responsible for the meaningful outperformance of the portfolio in our Best Ideas Newsletter. Waters scores a 3 on our Valuentum Buying Index, which reflects our view of its modest overvaluation relative to our point fair value estimate.

Our Report on Waters

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Investment Considerations

For every company in our coverage universe, we rate them on 13 unique measures. To get started, we show Waters' ratings below:

Investment Highlights

Waters earns a ValueCreation™ rating of EXCELLENT, the highest possible mark on our scale. The company has been generating economic value for shareholders for the past few years, a track record we view very positively. Return on invested capital (excluding goodwill) has averaged 63.4% during the past three years.

The company's current price falls within our fair value range, but is roughly 15% higher than our point fair value estimate. We expect the company to trade within our fair value estimate range for the time being. If the share price fell below $50 (the lower bound of our fair value range), we'd take a closer look.

Waters has a good combination of strong free cash flow generation and manageable financial leverage. We expect the company's free cash flow margin to average a whopping 25% in coming years. Total debt-to-EBITDA was 1.5 last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 41.8%.

The company'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.

Waters continues to post solid quarterly results. In its second quarter, revenue advanced 14% (including currency), while earnings per share jumped 16%.

The company experienced a revenue CAGR of about 3.7% during the past 3 years. We expect its revenue growth to be better than its peer median during the next five years.

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Economic Profit Analysis

The best measure of a company'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 economic profit spread. Waters' 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 63.4%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 11.1%. As such, we assign the company 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.

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Cash Flow Analysis

Valuation Analysis

We think Waters is worth $66 per share, which represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 16.3 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 11.5 times last year's EBITDA.

Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 6.4% during the next five years, a pace that is higher than the company's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 3.7%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 29.5%, which is above Waters' trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, our valuation model assumes free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 2.5% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For Waters, our model uses a 11.1% 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 company on the basis of the present value of all future free cash flows. Although we estimate the company's fair value at about $66 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 Waters. We think it is attractive below $50 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $83 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 company, in our opinion.

Future Path of Fair Value

We estimate Waters' fair value at this point to be about $66 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 company's current share price with the path of Waters' 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 shares three years hence.

This range of potential outcomes is also subject to change over time, should our views on the company's future cash flow potential change. The expected fair value of $92 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $66 increased at an annual rate of the company'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.