What We Think Of Lear's Valuation

Jun.18.12 | About: Lear Corporation (LEA)

As part of our process, we perform a rigorous discounted cash-flow methodology that dives into the true intrinsic worth of companies. In Lear Corp's (NYSE:LEA) case, we think the firm is fairly valued at $58, meaningfully above where it is currently trading. In fact, after its recent fall, it is barely trading above the lower bound of our fair value range.

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 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 (we like firms that fall in the center of the diagram below):

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. Astronics posts a VBI score of 3 on our scale, reflecting our 'fairly valued' DCF assessment of the firm, its neutral relative valuation versus peers, and bearish techinicals. We compare Lear Corp's to peers Cooper Tire & Rubber (NYSE:CTB), Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI), Magna International (NYSE:MGA), and Tenneco (NYSE:TEN). In the spirit of transparency, we show how the performance of our VBI has stacked up per underlying score:

Our Report on Lear Corp

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Investment Considerations

Investment Highlights

• Lear Corp's average return on invested capital has trailed its cost of capital during the past few years, indicating weakness in business fundamentals and an inability to earn economic profits through the course of the economic cycle. We think there are better quality firms out there.

• 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 $35, we'd take a closer look

• Lear Corp's cash flow generation and financial leverage aren't much to speak of. The firm's free cash flow margin has averaged about 1.3% during the past three years, lower than the mid-single-digit range we'd
expect for cash cows. However, the firm's cash flow should be sufficient to handle its low financial leverage.

• 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

• The firm experienced a revenue CAGR of about 1.4% during the past 3 years. We expect its revenue growth to be below that of its peer median during the next five years.

Business Quality

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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. Lear Corp's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is -23.4%, which is below the estimate of its cost of capital of 11.6%. As such, we assign the firm a ValueCreation™ rating of VERY POOR. In the chart to the right, 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

Firms that generate a free cash flow margin (free cash flow divided by total revenue) above 5% are usually considered cash cows. Lear Corp's free cash flow margin has averaged about 1.3% during the past 3 years. As such, we think the firm's cash flow generation is relatively MEDIUM. 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 Lear Corp, cash flow from operations moved into positive territory from levels two years ago, as capital expenditures expanded about 177% during this time period.

Valuation Analysis

Our discounted cash flow model indicates that Lear Corp's shares are worth between $35.00 - $81.00 each (large margin of safety, but one that we think is justified). The margin of safety around our fair value estimate is driven by the firm's HIGH ValueRisk™ rating, which is derived from the historical volatility of key valuation drivers. The estimated fair value of $58 per share represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 11.4 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 6.3 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 3.4% during the next five years, a pace that is higher than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 1.4%. Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 5.8%, which is above Lear Corp's trailing 3-year average. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 1.5% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. For Lear Corp, we use a 11.6% 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 $58 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 above, we show this probable range of fair values for Lear Corp. We think the firm is attractive below $35 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $81 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.

We strive to answer a few questions that investors often ask: 1) What are the chances of a total loss of investment in this company? and 2) What is the chance that the company is really worth twice what I paid for it? The probability (fair value < 0) strives to answer the first question. It indicates the chance that the firm may encounter insolvency based on the characteristics of its cash flow stream, capital structure, and risk profile. The probability (fair value > 2x current share price) strives to answer the second question. It is our best estimate of whether investors are participating in a half-off sale by buying the company's shares at current prices.

Future Path of Fair Value

We estimate Lear Corp's fair value at this point in time to be about $58 per share. As time passes, however, companies generate cash flow and pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends. The chart to the right compares the firm's current share price with the path of Lear Corp'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 $80 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $58 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.