F5 Networks Is Trading Above Our Fair Value Estimate

| About: F5 Networks, (FFIV)

As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In F5 Networks' (NASDAQ:FFIV) case, we think the firm is fairly valued at $118 per share, significantly lower than where it 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 (click here for an in-depth presentation on our methodology), 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. F5 Networks posts a VBI score of 5 on our scale, reflecting our 'fairly valued' DCF assessment, unattractive relative valuation versus peers, and neutral techinicals. We use Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM), Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) for our peer comparison group.

Our Report on F5 Networks

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Investment Considerations

Investment Highlights

F5 Networks earns a ValueCreation™ rating of EXCELLENT, the highest possible mark on our scale. The firm has been generating economic value for shareholders for the past few years, a track record we view very positively. We expect the firm's return on invested capital (excluding goodwill) to expand to 180% from 173.6% during the next two 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 $83, we'd take a closer look.

F5 Networks 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 25.3% in coming years, and the firm had no debt as of last quarter.

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. We expect the firm to trade within our fair value estimate range for the time being. However, if the firm's share price fell below $83, we'd take a closer look at adding it to the market-beating portfolio of our Best Ideas Newsletter.

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. F5 Networks' 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 130%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 10.8%. 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. F5 Networks' free cash flow margin has averaged about 32.1% 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 about our discounted free cash flow model, please visit our website at DCF Valuation Model. At F5 Networks, cash flow from operations more than doubled from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 192% over the same time period.

Valuation Analysis

Our discounted cash flow model indicates that F5 Networks'hares are worth between $83 and $153 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 $118 per share represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 39.8 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 24.3 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 16.6% during the next five years, a pace that is lower than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 21%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 38.5%, which is above F5 Networks' trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 6.8% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For F5 Networks, we use a 10.8% 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 $118 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 F5 Networks. We think the firm is attractive below $83 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $153 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 F5 Networks' fair value at this point in time to be about $118 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 F5 Networks' 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 $161 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $118 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. MSFT is included in the portfolio of our Dividend Growth Newsletter.