Empire Company Limited (TSX:EMP.A), one of the largest owners and operators of grocery stores in Canada, announced its fiscal 2018 first-quarter earnings results before the market opened on Thursday, and its stock responded by soaring 14.48% in the day’s trading session. Let’s break down the quarterly results and the fundamentals of its stock to determine if this could be the start of a sustained rally higher and if we should be long-term buyers today.
The results that ignited the rally
Here’s a quick breakdown of 10 of the most notable financial statistics from Empire’s 13-week period ended on August 5, 2017, compared with its 13-week period ended on August 6, 2016:
|Metric||Q1 2018||Q1 2017||Change|
|Sales||$6,273.2 million||$6,186.6 million||1.4%|
|Gross profit||$1,531.0 million||$1,490.8 million||2.7%|
|Adjusted EBITDA||$278.8 million||$243.1 million||14.7%|
|Operating income||$125.2 million||$126.6 million||(1.1%)|
|Adjusted net earnings||$87.5 million||$73.6 million||18.9%|
|Adjusted earnings per share (EPS) – fully diluted||$0.32||$0.27||18.5%|
|Book value per common share||$13.57||$13.49||0.6%|
|Free cash flow||$119.7 million||$455.6 million||(73.7%)|
|Same-store sales growth (decline)||0.5%||(1.8%)||230 basis points|
|Same-store sales growth (decline) excluding fuel||0.5%||(1.2%)||170 basis points|
What should you do now?
Empire kicked off fiscal 2018 with a very strong first-quarter performance, and the results crushed the consensus estimates of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, which called for EPS of $0.22 on revenue of $6.18 billion, so I think the large pop in its stock was warranted. I also think the stock still represents an attractive long-term investment opportunity for three fundamental reasons.
First, it’s back on the path of growth. Empire’s adjusted EPS dropped 18.5% to $1.50 in fiscal 2016 and it plummeted 53.3% to $0.70 in fiscal 2017 as the company faced numerous challenges, including a “softening sales trend,” but it achieved 18.5% growth to $0.32 in the first quarter of fiscal 2018, and analysts currently expect it to achieve 22.9% growth to $0.86 in the full year of fiscal 2018. The growth is expected to continue in fiscal 2019, with current estimates calling for 51.2% growth to $1.30, and even though it would still be well below the $1.50 it earned in fiscal 2016, it does appear that the company’s days of negative growth are over.
Second, it’s undervalued based on its growth. Even after the +14% pop, Empire’s stock trades at 26.3 times fiscal 2018’s estimated EPS of $0.86 and just 17.4 times fiscal 2019’s estimated EPS of $1.30; these multiples may seem high at first glance, but I think they are actually very attractive given its current high-double-digit percentage earnings-growth rate.
Third, it’s a dividend-growth superstar. Empire currently pays a quarterly dividend of $0.105 per share, equal to $0.42 per share annually, which gives it a yield of about 1.9%. A 1.9% yield is far from high, but what Empire lacks in yield it makes up for in growth; it has raised its annual dividend payment for 22 consecutive fiscal years, and its 2.4% hike in June has it positioned for fiscal 2018 to mark the 23rd consecutive fiscal year with an increase.
With all of the information provided above in mind, I think Foolish investors should consider initiating long-term positions in Empire today with the intention of adding to those positions on any significant pullback in the future.
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Fool contributor Joseph Solitro has no position in any stock mentioned.