When looking for promising candidates for your stock portfolio, it's easy to just think about the prominent names of the day, such as Facebook, Ford, or Bank of America. But there are plenty of other possibilities, many of which have been under our nose for quite some time.
Permit me to introduce you to Automatic Data Processing (NASDAQ: ADP ) , often referred to as ADP. Here are a bunch of interesting things about ADP the company and ADP stock.
- Here's a key reason you may want to keep reading -- ADP stock's performance: It's up about 33% over the past year, and has averaged annual gains of 13.6% over the past 30 years. Great performances are never guaranteed, but this company's management clearly knows a thing or two about executing well.
- The basics: The company began in 1949 as Automatic Payrolls, based in New Jersey. It aimed to assist companies with some of their payroll and related processes by applying technology. Today, still based in New Jersey, it's an outsourcing powerhouse, with a market capitalization near $35 billion. (One of its closest competitors is Paychex (NASDAQ: PAYX ) , with a market cap of just $14 billion.) It serves some 600,000 customers in more than 125 nations and rakes in more than $11 billion annually, keeping about 13% of that, more than $1.4 billion, as net profit.
- ADP is of interest to many more people than just holders (or would-be holders) of ADP stock. That's because, since it serves such a significant chunk of American employers, cutting many millions of paychecks, it has its finger on the pulse of our economy. Thus, the company regularly issues national employment reports. (In early July, it reported private-sector employment rising by 188,000 jobs in June.)
- As a business, ADP has grown both in size and depth. In its own history, it notes that in the 1990s, "clients that once were content to outsource applications to a service provider looked to outsource entire functions. They no longer wanted ADP to provide services to their HR department...they wanted ADP to be their HR department."
- Here are some impressive numbers that those interested in ADP stock will enjoy: The company cuts paychecks for one out of six workers in the U.S., or about 24 million people. And you can add 10 million more outside the U.S. It is one of only four American companies to earn an AAA rating, from both Standard & Poor's and Moody's. And it's the largest human-resources service provider in North America, Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim.
- ADP stock offers a nice dividend, too, recently yielding 2.4%. Better still, that payout has increased by about 14% annually, on average, over the past decade, and its payout ratio is close to 60%, reflecting an ample margin of safety and plenty of room for further growth. And if that's not enough security, consider that the company has been increasing its dividend annually for nearly 40 years.
- A peek at some of the characteristics of ADP stock via the company's financial statements offers reasons to smile, such as negligible debt and its return on invested capital above 20%. On the other hand, gross margin and free cash flow have been declining in recent years (though thanks to a gradual decline in the number of shares, free cash flow per share has been holding up).
- ADP stock is not without risks, though, such as from Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU ) . It already offers businesses helpful software for accounting and taxes, and it's not a huge stretch to see it expanding its offerings to those customers and others. It's also looking to offer apps to businesses, such as ones helping banks with mobile banking. (Of course, ADP has apps, too, with more than a million workers using them.) Paychex, focusing in general on smaller companies, is also a threat, but ADP has recently been posting more robust growth numbers. Even if both companies were to grow slowly, though, they offer rather reliable and therefore attractive income streams via their dividends.
- One of the few downsides of ADP stock is that it doesn't appear to be bargain-priced right now. Its recent P/E is around 25, and its forward P/E near 22, both considerably ahead of its five-year average of 18.5. Its five-year average annual growth rates for revenue and earnings are both below 5%, but they've been picking up the pace in recent years, clocking in near 9% and 11%, respectively, over the past year.
- Factors in favor of a promising future for ADP stock include our recovering economy. More people employed means more business for ADP. It's growing internationally, too, in part organically and in part via acquisition. Some have even waxed hopeful about ADP stock because the fall of DOMA leading to more people being added to company benefit rolls in the form of same-sex spouses. A rise in interest rates can help, too.
ADP stock is worth considering if you're looking for a solid long-term performer as well as dividend income. You could buy some now -- or, if you see it as overvalued at the moment, add it your watch list and hope that the price drops some, offering an entry point with greater margin of safety.
ADP stock is well worth considering, but it's not alone -- and plenty of others are more undervalued. If you're interested in another compelling candidate for your portfolio, The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for this year. Find out which stock it is in the special free report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2013." I encourage you to click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.