It may just be the best little company you've never heard of.
On Thursday, little travel coordinator Ambassadors Group
Quarterly revenues grew 42% against the year-ago quarter, while earnings per diluted share rushed out ahead, growing 58% to reach $0.68. If at first glance that doesn't impress when compared with the $0.85 per share that Ambassadors pulled down one year ago, consider that on Sept. 15, 2005, the company split its stock (by issuing a 100% stock dividend). So a more accurate comparison to last year's actual results would show Ambassadors earning $1.26 per diluted share in the quarter just ended.
These results look even better when you view them against the background of year-to-date earnings. So far in 2005, Ambassadors has grown revenues by 37% versus the first three quarters of 2004, but profits growth has lagged sales growth, increasing "only" 35%. Thus, the quarter just ended showed a marked increase in growth over the first half of this year.
Turning from the company's income statement to its balance sheet and cash flow statements, we see the above story backed up solidly by the underlying numbers. For instance, Ambassadors' store of cash and equivalents (including short-term securities) grew by $27.2 million over the past year, and the company continues to carry no long-term debt other than a small capital lease. On the cash flow front, Ambassadors generated $16.8 million worth of free cash flow over the past nine months, an 81% increase over last year's $9.3 million.
Honestly, after reviewing Ambassadors' earnings release thoroughly, I can find only one point with which to take issue. Company CEO Jeff Thomas boasted that his company aims to "enhance [its] returns to shareowners" by, among other things, having spent $2.9 million to buy back stock. However, the weighted average number of shares outstanding, both basic and diluted, actually increased over the past year (by 1.2% and 2.4%, respectively).
Neither of those numbers is shockingly large, especially in light of the company's success in growing earnings and cash flow. Still, it seems a bit disingenuous to point out shares repurchased on one hand and then to, on the other hand, fail to explain that these share buybacks only mitigated the effects of the company's stock dilution -- and "enhanced shareholder returns" not at all.
Former hill-sitting Fool Whitney Tilson clued Fools in to the Ambassadors twins as far back as 2002. Read his initial thoughts in "An Interesting Spinoff Investment."
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of either company named above.