"It's a shame the things you see when you ain't got a gun."
I can't remember where I read that recently -- in some Stephen King story, The Shining, I think -- but it comes to mind every time I hear about the nonsense of short-term upgrades that is the unfortunate business of Wall Street analysts.
Followers of Fool favorite and Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick Select Comfort
Consider last spring, when the stock was riding high. Everybody loved it around $25-$30 a pop, including Tom Gardner, who made it a pick back in May. The company looked well-run and was experiencing solid-looking growth, and, via its low-cost growth strategy and mindshare moat, it seemed to be poised for plenty more of the same.
Then trouble hit. First, some Minnesota TV reporter tried to make a career with a laughably amateurish mold scare. Then, more legitimate worries arose about the slowing of future sales growth. Though there was little to indicate massive failure at the company, the market pounded it, and the stock was the loneliest geek at the prom. "Yuck!" said the analysts -- most of them, anyway. "Sell! Market underweight!" or whatever their euphemism is for "get rid of it." And so, the herds followed the leaders.
How much sense did that make? Here we were, with the same company, which was growing just a bit more slowly but selling for half price. Now it was no good? Folks, that's just foolish with a very little f. Of course, some rational thoughts on the matter got through, but my Foolish colleagues ended up looking pretty much like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House -- trampled underfoot while screaming "All is well!"
Well, fourth-quarter and full-year numbers prove that the panic was unwarranted. For the year, sales were up 22%, with a 16% comps increase. Earnings climbed 16% to $0.80 per share. But let's not get too sanguine. The fourth-quarter numbers weren't so great. Compared with last year's Q4, sales increased only 17%, and earnings were flat.
For next year, management said it expects sales growth in the range of 20%, with earnings to come in at about a buck per share -- about 25% growth before accounting stock options. It's tough to for this Fool to do somersaults for the valuation. The price-to-earnings ratio of about 25 is roughly equivalent to the expected growth rate. Looking at the enterprise value-to-free cash flow ratio, we get something around 22. That looks fair.
And, irony of ironies: Now that the stock has risen off its ridiculous lows and looks fully valued, now we start getting the analyst upgrades? Let's agree to roll our eyes and move on.
I'm in wait-and-see mode with Select Comfort. I bought the stock during one of the panics, but when I saw confirmation of slowing sales, I sold on one of the recent bounces. I've got nothing against the product. In fact, I bought a mid-level bed, and it literally changed my life. But as a shareholder, or prospective re-holder, I need to see a little more action or a little better bargain.
For related Foolishness:
- Are you a market lemming? How's that working out?
- How does the product measure up to the competition?
- If you ask me, there are a few brains out there that are molding up, too.
- Want to keep up with Select Comfort news? We're your daisy.