Why 3M Is Ridiculously Overpriced

| About: 3M Company (MMM)
This article is now exclusive for PRO subscribers.


There is little doubt in our team's view that 3M's shares are overpriced.

3M posts a Valuentum Buying Index score of 4, reflecting our "overvalued" DCF assessment of the firm, its unattractive relative valuation versus peers, and bullish technicals.

We think there are better ideas in the Best Ideas portfolio and Dividend Growth portfolio.

3M (NYSE:MMM) is a fantastic company on a fundamental level, but it won't be a fantastic stock in coming years, in our view. Let's take a look at its valuation through the lens of a DCF and apply the Valuentum method to its shares. We think you might be surprised at the findings.

But first, a little background to help with the understanding of some of the terminology in this piece. At our boutique research firm, 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. We think stocks that are cheap (undervalued) and just starting to go up (momentum) are some of the best ones to evaluate for addition to the portfolios. These stocks have both strong valuation and pricing support. 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.

Most stocks that are cheap and just starting to go up are also adored by value, growth, GARP, and momentum investors, all the same and across the board. Though we are purely fundamentally-based investors, we find that the stocks we like (underpriced stocks with strong momentum) are the ones that are soon to be liked by a large variety of money managers. We think this characteristic is partly responsible for the outperformance of our ideas -- as they are soon to experience heavy buying interest. Regardless of a money manager's focus, the Valuentum process covers the bases.

We liken stock selection to a modern-day beauty contest. In order to pick the winner of a beauty contest, one must know the preferences of the judges of a beauty contest. The contestant that is liked by the most judges will win, and in a similar respect, the stock that is liked by the most money managers will win. We may have our own views on which companies we like or which contestant we like, but it doesn't matter much if the money managers or judges disagree. That's why we focus on the DCF -- that's why we focus on relative value -- and that's why we use technical and momentum indicators. We think a comprehensive and systematic analysis applied across a coverage universe is the key to outperformance. We are tuned into what drives stocks higher and lower. Some investors know no other way to invest than the Valuentum process. They call this way of thinking common sense.

3M's Investment Considerations

Investment Highlights

  • 3M's 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.
  • 3M is fundamentally a science-based company. The company makes imaginative products, and it is a leader in many markets--from health care and highway safety to office products and abrasives and adhesives. The company is perhaps among the most innovative firms in our coverage universe.
  • 3M 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 15.9% in coming years. Total debt-to-EBITDA was 0.8 last year, while debt-to-book capitalization stood at 25.6%.
  • 3M has ambitious goals for the period 2013-2017. The firm expects annual organic sales growth of 4-6%, annual earnings per share expansion of 9-11%, and 100% free cash flow conversion of net income. Our revenue and earnings expectations are in line with management's during this period, and our future forecasts reveal a nice pace of further growth. Shares are overpriced under this scenario.
  • The firm sports a very nice dividend yield of 2.5%. We expect the firm to pay out about 45% of next year's earnings to shareholders as dividends. Though we like its dividend, we think dividend growth investors have bid shares too high.
  • At the Valuentum methodology's core, if a company is undervalued both on a discounted cash flow basis and on a relative valuation basis, and is showing improvement in technical and momentum indicators, it scores high on our scale. 3M posts a Valuentum Buying Index score of 4, reflecting our "overvalued" DCF assessment of the firm, its unattractive relative valuation versus peers, and bullish technicals. A score of 4 isn't terrible, but it is rather poor. We generally prefer ideas that register a 9 or 10 (a "we'd consider buying" rating) on the Valuentum Buying Index, and generally hold them until they register a 1 or 2 (a "we'd consider selling" rating) on the index.

Business Quality

Heard from the Team

There's little doubt across the team at Valuentum that shares of 3M are overpriced. 3M is a perfect example of the saying that a good company doesn't always make a good stock. We think the odds are long that 3M will outperform the market in the years ahead, as dividend growth investors have bid the firm to levels far beyond what we would consider to be an acceptable fair value range. The company's first-quarter results weren't poor, and its outlook calling for organic local-currency sales growth of 3%-6% wasn't bad, but investors are just too enamored by the company's recent 35% dividend increase. Further advancement at this pace is just unlikely, in our view, and we think investors will have a better time to enter 3M's shares in the next few years.

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 with its weighted average cost of capital. The gap or difference between ROIC and WACC is called the firm's economic profit spread. 3M's 3-year historical return on invested capital (without goodwill) is 31.7%, which is above the estimate of its cost of capital of 9.5%. 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. 3M's free cash flow margin has averaged about 13% 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 3M, cash flow from operations increased about 9% from levels registered two years ago, while capital expenditures expanded about 21% over the same time period.

Valuation Analysis

Our discounted cash flow model indicates that 3M's shares are worth between $93-$133 each. The company is trading north of $140 per share at the time of this writing. There is a significant price to fair value disconnect, and it is not in investors' favor. 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. On a fundamental level, we view 3M as a low-risk operation. This gives us even greater confidence in saying shares are overpriced.

3M's fair value of $113 per share represents a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 16.8 times last year's earnings and an implied EV/EBITDA multiple of about 10.3 times last year's EBITDA. Our model reflects a compound annual revenue growth rate of 4.2% during the next five years, a pace that is lower than the firm's 3-year historical compound annual growth rate of 5%, but in line with the company's expectations.

Our model reflects a 5-year projected average operating margin of 23.9%, which is above 3M's trailing 3-year average. This drives some nice earnings leverage in the model, resulting in bottom line expectations in the high single-digit growth range over the future five-year period. Beyond year 5, we assume free cash flow will grow at an annual rate of 2.2% for the next 15 years and 3% in perpetuity. We think these growth rates are reasonable for a large firm such as 3M, and by definition, they cannot be much larger (a firm cannot grow faster than global GDP forever--it would take over the world). For 3M, we use a 9.5% weighted average cost of capital to discount future free cash flows.

Our discounted cash-flow process allows us to arrive at an absolute view of the firm's intrinsic value. However, we also understand the critical importance of assessing firms on a relative value basis, versus both their industry and peers. Many institutional money-managers--those that drive stock prices--pay attention to a company's price-to-earnings ratio and price-earning-to-growth ratio in making buy/sell decisions. With this in mind, we have included a forward-looking relative value assessment in our process to further augment our rigorous discounted cash-flow process. If a company is undervalued on both a price-to-earnings ratio and a price-earnings-to-growth ratio versus industry peers, we would consider the firm to be attractive from a relative value standpoint. We compare 3M to peers Danaher (NYSE:DHR), Honeywell (NYSE:HON), and Tyco Intl. (TYC). On every normalized valuation metric, 3M trades at a loftier multiple than both its industry and its peers.

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 $113 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 3M. We think the firm is attractive below $93 per share (the green line), but quite expensive above $133 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 3M's fair value at this point in time to be about $113 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 3M'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 $140 per share in Year 3 represents our existing fair value per share of $113 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

In the spirit of transparency, we show how the performance of the Valuentum Buying Index has stacked up per underlying score as it relates to firms in the Best Ideas portfolio. Past results are not a guarantee of future performance.

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.