I gotta admit, I don't much care for surprises. While you occasionally get a good one, it seems surprises are more often of the "bad" variety. Of course, that just might be because we all remember the bad a little more easily than the good.
In any event, logistics maven Expeditors International
As fellow Fool Bill Mann has often pointed out, Expeditors is a jewel of a company in terms of how management interacts with shareholders. Sparing us all from the cascade of "great quarter, guys" from the barking seals of Wall Street (that's sell-side analysts, if you didn't know), Expeditors doesn't have a conference call for earnings.
Nor does it indulge in "record quarter" puffery, "pro forma" skullduggery, or "boo-hoo, we can't sell our TVs because gasoline is too expensive" whining.
What Expeditors does have is a monthly 8-K that not only gives a good overview of the business (as well as management's evaluation of its own performance) but also answers questions that investors or analysts took the time to submit. So, by and large, it's difficult for Expeditors to surprise anyone (positively or negatively) when it comes time to report quarterly earnings.
By most accounts, Expeditors had a good fourth quarter. Net revenue grew 17% from the year-ago period, and net income was up 20% in its own right. More important to me, though, is that free cash flow grew 35% (from $94 million to $127 million), despite a rather large increase in capital expenditures.
While strong growth in 2004 will make this year's comparisons tougher, this company has an incredible record of growth and profitability. What's more, it has a higher-than-average exposure to Asia (including China), and less than 2% market share. What that spells to this Fool is long-term opportunity for profitable growth.
Expeditors is a great lesson in valuation -- when it does, and doesn't, work for you. Yours truly has watched the stock for years and always thought it was just "a little bit" too expensive. Back in 2000, I thought a P/E of about 35 was just a little too much. Since then, revenue has grown about 24% per year, and the stock price has been up a similar amount. Good call, huh?
Consequently, in this space that I normally reserve for discussing valuation, I will defer.
Investors wishing to claim that these shares are "too expensive" are welcome to do so, but I've learned my lesson. Nothing succeeds like success, and Expeditors has had plenty of that over its history.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.