Emdeon's IPO: Putting a Price Tag on Growth

Though the dust is still settling from this week's two big IPOs, it's not too soon to get past the euphoria and look at what these stocks are actually worth. Fellow Fool Brian Orelli took care of business for Cumberland Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: CPIX  ) on Tuesday, so let me focus on Emdeon (NYSE: EM  ) .

The good
Emdeon provides medical revenue and payment-cycle solutions -- and it's good at it. The company is halfway into its third straight year of revenue and income increases. In fact, for the first half of 2009, Emdeon's income of $13.6 million doubled last year's first-half number.

While I doubt that Emdeon can keep that pace up for long, any company that can improve the efficiency of health-care industry billing is poised to do well. Emdeon competitor Cerner's (Nasdaq: CERN  ) earnings increased by 39% over the past year. MedAssets (Nasdaq: MDAS  ) has grown operating income by 65%. And with the administration's proposal to convert the U.S. health-care records framework to a digital system, there's certainly room for growth in the industry.

The bad (and the ugly)
Unfortunately, Emdeon's debt is really chewing up margins. In fact, $860 million in debt meant the company made more than $70 million worth of interest payments last year, and it's on pace to match that this year at its current rate.

Clearly, compared with Emdeon's bottom line, that interest expense is huge. Another medical payment-cycle manager, Eclipsys, is a bit smaller but made only $3.5 million in interest payments over the past 12 months. Cerner, which has about twice Emdeon's revenue, only spent $11 million on interest in the past year. Quality Systems (Nasdaq: QSII  ) , which tackles the broader area of medical records and practice management, has no long-term debt at all.

So Emdeon's debt here is more than just a bit on the high side. But Emdeon has held it under control so far. 

The call
Value-oriented investors aren't going to do backflips for Emdeon. Even projecting its outstanding earnings during the first half forward for the entire year, the stock's still trading at about 50 times earnings. On the other hand, with signs that the economy is starting to bottom, investors may start paying more attention to growth stocks again.

Yeah, it's an expensive stock. But if Emdeon can follow in the growth footsteps of Cerner -- as it appears it may -- then it could well be worth the price.

Similarly Foolish reading:

Quality Systems is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor James Brumley doesn't own any Emdeon shares, but if he did, you'd know about it in accordance with The Motley Fool's disclosure policy. The only thing James has to disclose is that he has finally accepted the fact that he'll never make the PGA Tour.


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