Is EZCORP's Stock a Bargain by the Numbers?

Numbers can lie -- but they're the best first step in determining whether a stock is a buy. In this series, we use some carefully chosen metrics to size up a stock's true value based on the following clues:

  • The current price multiples.
  • The consistency of past earnings and cash flow.
  • How much growth we can expect.

Let's see what those numbers can tell us about how expensive or cheap EZCORP (Nasdaq: EZPW  ) might be.

We'll look at the numbers against some competitors and industry mates: Advance America, Cash Advance Centers (NYSE: AEA  ) , Cash America International (NYSE: CSH  ) , and First Cash Financial Services (Nasdaq: FCFS  ) .

The current price multiples
First, we'll look at most investors' favorite metric: the P/E ratio. It divides the company's share price by its earnings per share -- the lower, the better.

Then, we'll take things up a notch with a more advanced metric: enterprise value to unlevered free cash flow. This divides the company's enterprise value (basically, its market cap plus its debt, minus its cash) by its unlevered free cash flow (its free cash flow, adding back the interest payments on its debt). Like the P/E, the lower this number is, the better.

Analysts argue about which is more important -- earnings or cash flow. Who cares? A good buy ideally has low multiples on both.

EZCORP has a P/E ratio of 11.2 and an EV/FCF ratio of 11.9 over the trailing 12 months. If we stretch and compare current valuations to the five-year averages for earnings and free cash flow, EZCORP has a P/E ratio of 18.1 and a five-year EV/FCF ratio of 18.9.

A positive one-year ratio under 10 for both metrics is ideal (at least in my opinion). For a five-year metric, under 20 is ideal.

EZCORP has a mixed performance in hitting the ideal targets, but let's see it in context: 

Company

1-Year P/E

1-Year EV/FCF

5-Year P/E

5-Year EV/FCF

EZCORP 11.2 11.9 18.1 18.9
Advance America, Cash Advance Centers 10.1 3.8 11.8 3.6
Cash America International 10.5 4.9 14.1 7.3
First Cash Financial Services 13.9 19.3 28.1 25.4

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Numerically, we've seen how EZCORP's valuation rates on both an absolute and relative basis. Next, let's examine...

The consistency of past earnings and cash flow
An ideal company will be consistently strong in its earnings and cash flow generation.

In the past five years, EZCORP's net income margin has ranged from 10.2% to 14.1%. In that same time frame, unlevered free cash flow margin has ranged from 9.7% to 13.6%.

How do those figures compare with those of the company's peers? See for yourself:

Source: S&P Capital IQ; margin ranges are combined.

Additionally, over the last five years, EZCORP has tallied up five years of positive earnings and five years of positive free cash flow.

Next, let's figure out...

How much growth we can expect
Analysts tend to comically overstate their five-year growth estimates. If you accept them at face value, you will overpay for stocks. But while you should definitely take the analysts' prognostications with a grain of salt, they can still provide a useful starting point when compared to similar numbers from a company's closest rivals.

Let's start by seeing what this company's done over the past five years. In that time period, EZCORP has put up past EPS growth rates of 28.6%. Meanwhile, Wall Street's analysts expect future growth rates of 15.5%.

Here's how EZCORP compares to its peers for trailing five-year growth:

Source: S&P Capital IQ; EPS growth shown.

And here's how it measures up with regard to the growth analysts expect over the next five years:

Source: S&P Capital IQ; estimates for EPS growth.

The bottom line
The pile of numbers we've plowed through has shown us the price multiples shares of EZCORP are trading at, the volatility of its operational performance, and what kind of growth profile it has -- both on an absolute and a relative basis.

The more consistent a company's performance has been and the more growth we can expect, the more we should be willing to pay. We've gone well beyond looking at an 11.2 P/E ratio, and we see some reasonable-to-cheap price multiples all around. The same is generally true for its peers Advance America, Cash America, and First Cash. All but First Cash have shown consistent profitability on both earnings and cash flow over the last five years. And all have positive past growth and analyst expectations for future growth.

Beyond the numbers, what worries investors is possible regulation that could crimp profits of any company involved in payday lending. If you find EZCORP's numbers or story compelling, don't stop. Continue your due diligence process until you're confident one way or the other. As a start, add it to My Watchlist to find all of our Foolish analysis.

I wrote about a stock that's flying under the radar in our brand new free report: "The Stocks Only the Smartest Investors Are Buying." I invite you to take a free copy to find out the name of the company I believe Warren Buffett would be interested in if he could still invest in small companies.

Anand Chokkavelu doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2012, at 10:46 PM, motleylorenzo wrote:

    Sorry, Anand, but you cannot make apples-to-apples comparisons on these stocks. For starters, Advance America is a monoline operation that only offers payday loans. All the others have a significant pawnshop business in theirs, and in differing percentages.

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