You may think "Mr. Price" is a cheesy name for a company, and the fact that it operates halfway around the globe might make you wonder. But what would you say to annual growth rates like these for the last 20 years?
Sales: 23% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR)
Earnings: 24% CAGR
Dividends: 25% CAGR
Since 1986, South African discount retailer Mr. Price (OTCBB: MRPZF.PK) has grown from 118 stores to 761 today, with 14,000 employees. Its four retail storefronts (Mr. Price, Mr. Price Home, Milady's, and Sheet Street) offer clothing, accessories, shoes, and housewares of all kinds. Even though it's a low-price, high-volume discounter, you'll find Mr. Price outlets in all the top shopping malls in South Africa.
The company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 1953 under its previous trading name, John Orr. It was only in 1986 that management decided to change their focus from a credit card-oriented department store to a cash-focused discounter. With the end of apartheid in 1994 and the emergence of a new black working class with disposable income, Mr. Price was positioned to take off.
Mr. Price's earnings report through September showed that the growth engine is still perking along. Sales were up 24% year over year, net profit margins increased from 8.7% to 10.7%, net profit soared 53%, and the dividend was raised again by 35%.
The company's emergence as a mass national retailer allowed Mr. Price to increase its buying power, deploy in-house design teams that tailor each season's merchandise to local consumer tastes, and upgrade its supply chain to make sure each store has the merchandise that will move best in its market.
Mr. Price reminds me of Target
Mr. Price aims to do even better. Its 2010 sales goal is 10 billion South African rands (about U.S. $1.5 billion), double the 2006 rate. Profitability won't suffer, however; management plans to maintain the 10%-plus net margins. Growth will have to continue at a blistering 20% pace to meet the 2010 goals. Management believes 7% will come from same-store sales increases (average store floor space will increase 50%) and the rest from new stores and acquisitions. Employee head count will grow by another 4,000 associates.
Put simply, Mr. Price aims to become the top retailer in South Africa. If you had looked at Target or JC Penney
Mr. Price is not absurdly cheap after a strong run-up the last few years; the 2006 P/E is 20, with a forward P/E in the mid-teens based on its expected growth. But it's a sizzling growth story with a proven track record that you might consider today as a long-term investment.
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Fool contributor Dale Baker, a private client portfolio manager and former U.S. diplomat, worked and lived in southern Africa for many years. He owns shares of Mr. Price, and welcomes your questions or comments. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.