How Fast Can This Indian Powerhouse Grow?

I'm a believer in growth stocks. As an analyst for our Motley Fool Rule Breakers service, I think you should be a believer, too. But even I have to admit some growth stories are bogus -- hence this regular series. We'll be taking a closer look at many of the market's great growth stocks to see which of them show real, numerically relevant signs of sustainability.

Up today is Tata Motors (NYSE: TTM  ) , a fast-growing Indian automaker that acquired luxury brands Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford (NYSE: F  ) two-and-a-half years ago. Ever since, Tata has struggled to turn top-line growth into consistent free cash flow.

Foolish facts

Metric

Tata Motors

CAPS stars (out of 5)

****

Total ratings

2,586

Percent bulls

96.6%

Percent bears

3.4%

Bullish pitches

458 out of 473

Highest rated peers

Komatsu Ltd., John Bean Technologies, IDEX Corp.

Data current as of Sept. 15.

Regardless, Fools believe Tata Motors will grow as India's infrastructure matures and gives rise to a wealthier, more mobile middle class. "I may be a little late on this bandwagon, but there's still room for growth especially if they start selling vehicles outside India, and if India's infrastructure improves enough to handle traffic," wrote Foolish investor BikeTheMtn recently.

Statistics support this argument. By volume, India is the world's seventh-largest automobile producer. Output increased 25% in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to data from the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. And earlier today, The Wall Street Journal reported that Tata Motors' August sales rose 29% worldwide.

The elements of growth

Metric

Last 12 Months

2009

2008

Normalized net income growth

Not material

Not material

Not material

Revenue growth

41.5%

30.5%

98.8%

Gross margin

36.2%

35.2%

35.6%

Receivables growth

Not available

50%

132.6%

Shares outstanding

570.6 million

570.6 million

514 million

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Despite these favorable trends, the data in this table worries me. Let's review:

  • Revenue growth looks good, even if there's a lack of consistency. (Which, to be fair, may be due to integrating the Jaguar and Land Rover acquisitions.)
  • I'm much more concerned with receivables growth. When coupled with outsized inventory growth, it can signal trouble. Here, inventory growth far outpaced both receivables and revenue growth in fiscal 2009 before moderating in fiscal 2010, which ended in March. I'd like to see more progress when the next round of financial data is made available.
  • You'd think I would be concerned about the big spike in shares outstanding. And I would be, if this weren't explained by Tata's purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover.

Competitor and peer checkup

Competitor

Normalized Net Income Growth (3 yrs.)

Ford Motor

Not material

Honda Motor (NYSE: HMC  )

(8.6%)

Nissan (Nasdaq: NSANY  )

(20.7%)

Tata Motors

19.9%

Toyota Motor (NYSE: TM  )

(34%)

Sources: Capital IQ. Data current as of Sept. 15.

Finally, some encouraging data. Tata is the lone grower in an automobile industry that's been wrecked by the global economic crisis. I'd still like to see more consistent cash flows, but return on capital, at 11.7% over the past year, is back to 2008 levels. That's a good sign.

Grade = unsustainable
And yet I remain unconvinced. Tata Motors has the makings of what could one day become a Rule Breaker, but without consistent growth in cash flow and a numerically demonstrable competitive advantage, I don't see enough to bet on. This one's better suited for my CAPS watch list.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you like Tata Motors at these levels? Would you make it one of our 11 o'clock stocks? Let the debate begin in the comments box below, and when you're done, click here to get today's 11 o'clock portfolio pick.

You can also ask Tim to evaluate a favorite growth story by sending him an email, or replying to him on Twitter.

For further Foolishness featuring Tata Motors:

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy thinks Monty Python is sustainably funny.


Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (5)

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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 September 22, 2010, at 11:39 AM, bleubill wrote:

    I like TTM. In 30 years, India will be a bigger country than China, given China's one son rule, and India's youthful population. Tata Motors has experience in the India market and a good brand name there. And Tata has made profits out of Jaguar and Land Rover that Ford couldn't.

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