Is FTSE 100 Stalwart Morrison Good Value?

LONDON -- Capital appreciation is surely the goal of many investors. One method of achieving that is to buy companies with steady earnings growth. If bought when the shares are cheap, two drivers could move the share price up:

  • Growth in earnings
  • An upwards P/E rerating

Highly successful fund manager Peter Lynch classified steady growers as Stalwarts, which he typically traded for 20% to 50% share-price gains. But whether buying for gains like that or holding for the longer term, we need to know if reliable earnings growth can continue, and whether the shares are cheap.

Seeking durable growth
Not all companies achieve stable growth, as you can see by the aggregate performance of those in London's premier FTSE 100 index (UKX), where the compound annual earnings-growth rate has been just 0.7% over the last five years:

Year to June

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

FTSE 100 index

6608

5626

4249

4917

5946

5571

Aggregate earnings per share

537

503

427

397

527

557

Consistent, cash flow-backed growth in profits is a promising characteristic in today's markets, so for this series, I'm examining firms with annual earnings growth between 4% and 20%.

One contender is Morrison (WM) Supermarkets (LSE: MRW.L  ) , which owns the fourth largest supermarket chain in the U.K. This table summarizes the company's recent financial record:

Year to February

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Revenue (£m)

12,969

14,528

15,410

16,479

17,663

Adjusted earnings per share

19.7p

17.35p

20.5p

23p

25.6p

So, earnings have grown at an equivalent 6.8% compound annual growth rate, putting Morrison in the Stalwart category.

From 19th-century roots in Bradford, U.K., Morrison has grown to become Britain's fourth largest supermarket chain with around 475 stores. It took a leap forward during 2004 when it acquired the Safeway chain of supermarkets. The business is mainly food and grocery, although the company does operate fuel service stations at some of its sites, which generate around 23% of overall revenue.

The firm reckons it uniquely sources and processes most of the fresh food it sells though its own manufacturing facilities, giving it tight control of availability and quality. Morrison says it has more people preparing food in store than any other retailer to enhance its "fresh" offering.

Around 132,000 employees are working to move Morrison forward. It's all about differentiating the shopping experience at the company's stores from that of its competitors and several strategic initiatives are progressing well. For example, Fresh Format is performing well in terms of sales performance and customer feedback. The concept is on course to enhance 100 stores by the end of the fiscal year. There's also an "own brand" relaunch, which involves around 10,000 products, an online wine business has just been started, and an ongoing IT infrastructure project, which includes a supply chain management system.

Recent trading has been difficult. However, Morrison still looks good for earnings growth going forward.

Morrison's earnings growth and value score
I analyze five indicators to determine whether earnings growth can continue and if the shares offer good value:

1. Growth: revenue, earnings and cash flow have all been growing steadily. 5/5

2. Level of debt: net gearing is around 31% with borrowings about 1.8 times earnings. 4/5

3. Outlook and current trading: difficult recent trading; a cautiously positive outlook. 4/5

4. Enterprise value to free cash flow: looking high at over 30. 2/5

5. Price to earnings: a trailing 10 or so and just above historic growth rates. 3/5

Overall, I score the Morrison 18 out of 25, which encourages me to believe this stalwart can continue earnings growth that out-paces that of the wider FTSE 100, and that the shares offer reasonable value when compared to the FTSE's price to earnings ratio of around 11 and the firm's growth predictions.

Foolish summary
Although debt has recently increased, Morrison continues to enjoy robust cash flow, which will help to manage interest payments. The firm has to reinvest constantly in initiatives that keep its stores ahead of the competition. That's a drag on cash flow and shows in the scoring. The positive outlook is encouraging.

Right now, forecast earnings growth is 5% for year ending January 2014, and the forward P/E ratio is around nine with the shares at 258p. Considering that and the other factors analysed in this article, I think that looks reasonably attractive. At current levels, the shares will certainly seduce income investors.

Morrison (WM) Supermarkets is one of several steady-earnings-growing stalwarts on the London stock exchange, each with the potential to deliver significant capital appreciation when purchased at sensible prices.

If you, like me, are serious about capital gains, I recommend you now read "The One U.K. Share Warren Buffett Loves," which is a time-limited Motley Fool free report discussing the British Stalwart that has recently attracted some of the American superinvestor's billions.

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


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