Why Nelnet, Inc. Shares Popped

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of Nelnet (NYSE: NNI  ) , a financial services company that provides education services such as student loan and guaranty servicing, as well as tuition payment processing, jumped as much as 15% after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings results after the closing bell last night.

So what: For the quarter, Nelnet reported adjusted EPS of $1.51 per share, excluding derivative market value and foreign currency adjustments, which was $0.12 better than the Street was expecting. Nelnet added $1.9 billion in student loan purchases during the quarter, and now possesses $25.9 billion in net student loan assets, which it believes could generate undiscounted future cash flow of roughly $2.17 billion. Fee-based revenue for the quarter rose a more modest 5%, but was propped up by a 16% increase in its student loan and guaranty servicing operations.

Now what: Nelnet may be held back in the near term by the perception that student enrollment in colleges, especially online colleges, isn't growing nearly at the pace it was a decade ago. However, it should continue to benefit from historically low lending rates, which are encouraging on-the-fence citizens to make the jump to college and finance their educations through a loan. Nelnet has years upon years of cash flow coming its way and, as long as it remains prudent about its capital deployment this year, I see no reason why its shares couldn't head higher.

Nelnet may have surged today, but it'll likely be tough for it to keep up with this top stock in 2014
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