I'm no bowling enthusiast, but I do love bowling alleys. There's just something about listening to the sharp crack of strikes and the soft thud of gutter balls while sipping a cocktail in the lounge area that I find, well, intoxicating.
On Friday, investors seemed to feel similarly about shares of Brunswick
Make no mistake: Brunswick does more than just bowling alleys. Indeed, the company's Boat and Marine Engine units are responsible for the lion's share of its revenue these days. So while a 43% increase in the operating earnings of its Bowling and Billiards division is certainly impressive, the 20% sales increase at Brunswick's Boat segment -- thanks largely to several recent acquisitions -- is more financially significant. Meanwhile, though operating earnings did ease a bit relative to 2004, investors on Friday were no doubt buoyed by the fact that net sales at Brunswick's Marine Engine segment grew by a very healthy 12% to $643.4 million.
Beyond that, Brunswick is a mid-cap cash cow. According to the company's calculations, it has generated $164.5 million in free cash flow thus far in fiscal 2005 ($95 million by the Fool's more conservative standards) and is currently sitting on a cash hoard in excess of $530 million. Among the options Brunswick is mulling for milking that moola: Additional acquisitions and a share repurchase program.
Indeed, that latter plan appears to be well under way. During the third quarter, Brunswick repurchased some 375,000 shares at an average cost of $41.90 per share. And in Friday's announcement, the firm reported that, thus far in the fourth quarter, it's bought back another million shares at an average cost of $37.80.
So, should investors follow management's lead?
I think there's a case to be made that they should. Even after Friday's run-up, after all, the company's shares trade around $38, which isn't all that far off their 52-week low of $35. Beyond that, with price multiples that fall well below the broader market's and those of the recreation industry in general -- a peer group that includes the likes of Carnival
Further Foolish frames:
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Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter service and owns none of the companies mentioned above. You can check out the Fool's disclosure policy by clicking right here.