Let this be a lesson to those who thought (and those who still think) that the Internet was going to kill bricks-and-mortar companies. Barnes & Noble
Granted, the bookseller isn't too likely to ever again grow at a breathtaking clip. In the fourth quarter, sales were up 5% overall, and comp-store sales at the core Barnes & Noble chain were up better than 3%. Gross margins also improved slightly, and the company posted 10% earnings growth. Because of a fairly consequential share buyback program, though, earnings per share were actually able to grow at a 16% clip.
While the company unfortunately does not include a cash flow statement with its earnings, it has been producing pretty solid amounts of cash flow in recent periods, and its self-reported "operating free cash flow" metric looked reasonable relative to past cash-flow reporting.
As the company boosted its guidance for the next year, it's certainly possible that decent earnings growth is not yet completely off the table. Still, I look at this company more as a source of cash flow than a prolonged earnings growth story. And that's OK -- cash flow can be used to pay nice dividends or fund further buybacks, and there's nothing really wrong with that.
The stock has done well over the past year or so, but I think this could still yet prove to be a worthwhile core holding for many investors. It might be worth waiting for the stock to ease a bit off of its new highs, but even up here it doesn't seem all that expensive.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).