Shares of Michaels Stores
The following bit is going to sound like a press release, but the numbers really do speak for themselves: Sales were up 11% to $726 million. Comps grew a so-so 6%, but a 120-basis-point improvement in operating margin helped fuel a 40% jump in earnings per share. The final tally was $0.42 per ticket.
Michaels is the kind of place that really ought to pique any Fool's interest. What could be more boring than an arts and crafts business? OK, maybe lots of things, but the Michaels locations near my home aren't exactly in the high-rent retail space. They inhabit the less-trafficked strip malls, where you get a few weeds trying to flourish in the asphalt. That seems to be working for the company.
It booked $40.6 million in free cash flow for the quarter, using about a fifth of it to pay dividends and another fifth to buy back shares. The balance sheets show a lot more cash than debt. The company has posted several years of solid sales growth plus earnings expansion on the bottom line. Annual sales growth has been around 15% while earnings growth has averaged almost 30% per year over the past half-decade.
Free cash flow has been a bit less reliable, but still impressive for a mid-margin business that has been regularly expanding its store base. Return on equity has been in the mid-teens, meaning those share buybacks, even at high prices, have been going to reasonably good use.
Should you consider getting in on this good thing? I think so. But don't just plunk down your hard-earning money. A management ownership culture -- the kind of thing that can make a stock a hidden gem -- may be lacking. Insiders have done a lot more selling than buying for the past year, with the tally in the millions. Michael's has the earmarks of an underwatched, solid grower, but be sure to dig a bit further to make sure that the folks running the asylum agree.
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