As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In PPL's (NYSE:PPL) case, we think the firm is fairly valued at $34 per share, which is slightly higher than where the firm is currently trading.
For some background, 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. 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. PPL scores a mediocre 5 on our scale (reflecting its a middle-of-the-road valuation and technical assessment). We consider adding PPL to our Dividend Growth Newsletter, upon valuation and technical improvement.
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PPL's scores fairly well on our business quality matrix. The firm has put up solid economic returns for shareholders during the past few years with relatively low volatility in its operating results. Return on invested capital (excluding goodwill) has averaged 9.9% during the past three years.
The company looks fairly valued at this time. We expect the firm to trade within our fair value estimate range for the time being. If the firm's share price fell below $26, we'd take a closer look.
PPL's cash flow generation is about what we'd expect from an average company in our coverage universe. However, the firm's financial leverage is on the high side. If cash flows begin to falter, we'd grow more cautious on the firm's overall financial health.
Although we think there may be a better time to dabble in the firm's shares based on our DCF process, the firm's stock has outperformed the market benchmark during the past quarter, indicating increased investor interest in the company.
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. PPL's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 9.9%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 9%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of GOOD. 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.
Firms that generate a free cash flow margin (free cash flow divided by total revenue) above 5% are usually considered cash cows. PPL's free cash flow margin has averaged about 3.3% during the past 3 years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is MEDIUM on our scale. 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 www.valuentum.com. At PPL, cash flow from operations increased about 28%
from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures fell about 3% over the same time period.
We think PPL is worth $34 per share, which represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 15.4 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 10.2 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 8.5% during the next five years, a pace that is lower than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 9.5%. We project an average operating margin of 21.5% during the next five years, which is above PPL's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, our valuation model assumes free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 2% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For PPL, our model uses a 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 $34 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 PPL. We think the firm is attractive below $26 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $43 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 PPL's fair value at this point in time to be about $34 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 PPL'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 $40 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $34 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.