Much as I love stocks, I seem to spend more time debunking the flotsam, jetsam, also-rans, and excuse-makers in the markets than I do celebrating the companies that really do it right. Well, today I take a brief break from that and turn my attention to Fastenal
Third-quarter results for this distributor of industrial and construction supplies looked quite good. Sales climbed more than 23%, and though gross margins were basically stable, improved operating efficiency led to a good gain in the operating margin. On the bottom lines, net income rose more than 32%, and earnings per share climbed nearly 33%. Both the top-line and bottom-line numbers beat the average of Wall Street guesses.
Since initiating programs to improve working capital efficiency, good progress has been made on this front. Accounts receivable and inventory both grew slower than sales this quarter. Thus, operating cash flow through the past nine months nearly doubled from year-ago levels. While the company continues to invest a sizable percentage of that cash flow into new stores, it is, nevertheless, free cash flow positive, as well.
Speaking of those stores, it would seem that the company is just a bit behind schedule on its new openings. Year to date, the company has increased its store count by 12% -- just shy of its 13%-18% target. Honestly, though, this is a non-issue. Not only is the discrepancy insignificant, but I'm also presuming a straight-line progression of new store openings, and there's no reason Fastenal can't pick up the pace in the fourth quarter.
The only piece of data that I'd like to have would be same-store sales numbers. Sure, you can back out a rough estimate on your own, but a company-provided number would be nice. That's particularly true in my view because this is very much a store-based concept, and same-store trend analysis can be useful.
In any case, it's hard not to like a company growing at this clip, producing double-digit returns on assets, and paying a dividend. My only two hang-ups here are that I already own a stock in this general space (MSC Industrial
For more industrial takes: