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 New York Times
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.
New York Times has a negative P/E ratio and an EV/FCF ratio of 13.1 over the trailing 12 months. If we stretch and compare current valuations to the five-year averages for earnings and free cash flow, New York Times still has a negative P/E ratio and a five-year EV/FCF ratio of 17.9.
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.
New York Times has a mixed performance in hitting the ideal targets, but let's see how it compares against some competitors and industry-mates.
Company |
1-Year P/E |
1-Year EV/FCF |
5-Year P/E |
5-Year EV/FCF |
---|---|---|---|---|
New York Times | NM | 13.1 | NM | 17.9 |
Gannett | 6.3 | 7.2 | NM | 5.2 |
Media General | NM | 19.8 | NM | 10.3 |
McClatchy | 7.6 | 58.6 | NM | 14.5 |
Source: S&P Capital IQ. NM = not meaningful due to losses.
Numerically, we've seen how New York Times' 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, New York Times' net income margin has ranged from -15.1% to 5.4%. In that same time frame, unlevered free cash flow margin has ranged from -4.7% to 9.8%.
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, New York Times has tallied up one year of positive earnings and four 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, New York Times' (and Media General's) trailing growth rate wasn't meaningful due to losses; Gannett and McClatchy had negative growth rates of 15% and 30%.
And here's how it measures up with regard to the growth analysts expect over the next five years: New York Times [-1%], Gannett [6%], Media General [no analyst estimates], and McClatchy [5%].
The bottom line
The pile of numbers we've plowed through has shown us the price multiples shares of New York Times 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 a negative P/E ratio and we see that it fares better on an EV/FCF basis. Not surprisingly given the state of the newspaper industry, New York Times and its peers have struggled with profitability.
Our CAPS community isn't very enamored with New York Times' stock, rating it one star out of five. There's not much good news in these initial numbers, but all this is just a start. If you find New York Times' 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.
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