Yesterday, tax preparation guru H&R Block
Looking forward to the all-important tax-filing season, CEO Mark Ernst predicts a "good, but not great, tax season." Does that make H&R Block a "good, but not great, investment"?
Let's run the numbers. U.S. tax operations reported a 100% gain in third-quarter pretax earnings from last year on a 14.9% increase in revenue. That's a great start! Management expects per-client pricing in the retail tax business to improve at the high end of its 5.5%-8% estimate. With a distribution partnership with Wal-Mart
The mortgage business is also growing. New loans increased 15.8% in the third quarter and net income for the division, less one-time items, was up 4.5%. The one negative was a shift in loan originations from prime loans to more risky, more profitable non-prime loans. Non-prime loans accounted for 75% of the quarter's volume, with an average FICO (credit score) for the group of 611, representing the cream of the lower quartile of FICO scores. Although delinquency rates have decreased slightly, they do bear watching.
All other segments reported double-digit sales growth for the quarter and, except for international tax operations, improving profits. Long term, the company targets 13%-18% growth in earnings and 10%-15% growth in revenue, and likely will continue to use its strong cash flow to repurchase shares (of which it has purchased $371 million thus far this fiscal year).
The stock trades at a price-to-earnings multiple at the middle of the earnings growth range. That might appear reasonable in today's high-priced market, but if you ask me, Block is indeed a good, but not great, investment.
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W.D. Crotty does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned.