One of my favorite reasons to reinvest in stocks I already own is when an uncertain, but favorable catalyst occurs, but the stock does little. So my Special Situations portfolio is adding $1,000 to each of the following three stocks: Cincinnati Bell (CBB), Bridgepoint Education (ZVO 4.48%), and First Financial Northwest (FFNW 0.18%). Read on to see why.
I was on Boston's WRKO radio station earlier this week pitching the virtues of Cincinnati Bell. (You can listen here.) I continued to like the stock for all the reasons I noted in my first buy recommendation last month.
To recap, Cincinnati Bell owns a 69% stake in CyrusOne (CONE), which is worth over $1 billion now. It intends to monetize this asset some time following a lock-up period that ends in January. CyrusOne is growing quickly, and revenue could easily climb 20% this year. This is Cincinnati Bell's best asset and the rapid deleveraging – I expect debt could be slashed by 70% in the next year or two -- should help boost free cash flow markedly.
The market was really upset by management's decision to reinvest in its wireline business and not pay a dividend. But that huge drop in the share price resets the market's expectations for CinBell, even as CyrusOne now has public pricing and a firm valuation. Depending on the timing of deleveraging, I think CinBell has the chance to double in the next two years, perhaps sooner. Listen to the radio broadcast for more.
First Financial Northwest
First Financial is no longer considered a troubled bank. Last week, First Financial announced that its bank had cleared the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with regulators, and that the company had cleared two conditions of its own MOU with the Feds. However, the company is still subject to conditions under that latter MOU, and must receive federal approval for any buybacks or dividends, meaning they're effectively off the table for now.
These are all steps in the right direction and, with Joseph Stilwell minding the shop here, I'm confident that the bank will actually begin to take steps to create value for shareholders. Recall that one of Stilwell's typical exit strategies for his bank investment is by an outright sale. And with the average demutualized thrift going for 1.6 times tangible book value, there's a lot of upside from First Financial's 0.76 multiple. You can read why I first bought the stock here.
This for-profit educator has been under a lot of pressure in the last year, but accreditors really seem to be working with the company, and I'm confident that Bridgepoint will be able to survive. The company has a market cap of $561 million, but cash and investments of $515 million, so any type of profitable survival is likely to be highly lucrative to shareholders. The company generated $118 million in free cash flow last year, and would be a bargain at twice the price if its key university survives. Smart capital allocation (for example, a tender offer or a special dividend), could really boost shares, too.
Bridgepoint is working on getting higher-quality students into the ranks of Ashford University. The company limits admissions to students older than 22, and has a two-week orientation for those who aren't transferring credits. That orientation weeds out about 28% of students. Its marketing campaign for Ashford has also been able to attract a better-quality student.
Ashford's current accreditor, HLC, has given the university time to achieve accreditation with WASC. If the university does not meet WASC's accreditation standards later this year, it will undertake its already-accepted plan for coming into compliance with HLC's substantial presence requirements.
One positive: As part of HLC's recent evaluation of Ashford, reviewers noted that the university has met the minimum standards for accreditation. However, reviewers had concerns with its ability to meet revised standards that came into effect on January 1, after their visit. Ashford will submit ongoing reports on these noted issues.
With an actionable exit strategy if WASC accreditation fails, Bridgepoint looks to be a very cheap stock with multiple catalysts that could move it higher this year.
Foolish bottom line
So, my Special Situations portfolio will be buying $1,000 more of each of these three companies. Interested in these three companies, or have another stock to share? Join me on my discussion board, and follow me on Twitter (@TMFRoyal).