The “stock of the month” email teasers from Cabot follow a bit of a formula, but they also sometimes point us to interesting stocks… so we’re going to take a quick look at this latest ad, which I started seeing about a week ago, and see what Timothy Lutts and the Cabot folks are pitching for March.
Cabot is generally a growth and momentum-focused newsletter publisher, though some of their editors also work in different niches, and this looks like it’s a tease about a growth stock… and as with most similar ads, they compare it to a big winner from years past. In previous ads, it’s almost always been a comparison to Tesla or to Apple, though this time it’s a comparison to Amazon. Here’s how the short version of the ad gets us interested:
“Here at Cabot Stock of the Month, we’ve just targeted another big doubler that’s beginning to look a lot like Amazon, which landed us a 1,290% gain.
“Like Amazon, this company is also riding a wave of unstoppable growth.
“But unlike Amazon, which now dominates the online retail sector, this company is on track to dominate the online travel services sector thanks to its online reservations software that not only the major airlines, hotels and travel agencies use but also the major travel sites do too—including Priceline and Expedia.”
Any mention of Priceline usually catches investor attention, too, since that stock is up more than 5,000% over the past decade (and, lest you get too excited, or too grouchy about missing out, was down 98% in the decade before that)… but if you’ve spent a lot of time researching travel stocks you might already know who Cabot’s referring to here.
Let’s check some of the specific clues to be sure…
“… the company has not only registered an eye-popping 179% earnings growth but also… five top analysts have revised the company’s earnings upward for both 2016 AND 2017.
“It’s no wonder. The company has a global market share of 36% and a U.S market share of 55%.”
And then we get the standard “big institutional investors own it, so you don’t have to worry” quote:
“So it’s no wonder why Goldman Sachs, FMR and The Vanguard Group—along with 18 of the top institutional and mutual fund investors in the world—have, together, invested more than $3 billion worth of shares in this travel start-up that went public in 2014.
“The reason is simple. They see the same two things we do here at Stock of the Month:
1. A near monopoly like chokehold on the travel service sector, and
2. Another game-changing Amazon that few investors have heard about and with the earnings growth to ultimately hand us another 1,290% gain.
“In fact, since the company went public it’s already handed investors a 68% gain.”
So who is it? Well, the Thinkolator gets us a quick response this time: Cabot is teasing Sabre (SABR) as their “stock of the month” for March.
Sabre’s history goes back more than 50 years, it was developed for American Airlines by IBM and was the first big computerized reservation system for airline travel — it evolved to be used by travel agents, and to include offerings from other carriers and providers over the years, and their reservations were offered up on the first consumer internet services like AOL and CompuServe. Sabre was separated from American Airlines in 2000 and was public for a while, then was taken private in a leveraged buyout by TPG in 2007 and then went public again with an IPO in 2014.
Younger folks might best remember Sabre as the parent of Travelocity, their attempt at turning their data into a consumer-facing business instead of just providing data for Expedia, Pricline, travel agents, et al, but Travelocity ended up being sold to Expedia a little over a year ago so it is now more purely a “travel technology” company.
The stock has done pretty well in the two years or so it has been public, going from $16 to the current $28 or so, and it’s not terribly expensive given the breakneck growth rate they’re expected to have. Forward PE is now about 25 but the 2016 PE is about 19 and the “next year” 2017 PE (which is what most folks use) is about 16. If they can keep up anything like that kind of earnings growth, then the valuation is easily justified — and it’s not from cost cutting or financial engineering, they’ve been growing sales by more than 20% year over year so there is some real business growth creating that huge earnings growth (though the 179% year over year earnings growth for this latest quarter is, of course, an anomaly — the rate of growth expected for earnings over the next couple years is in the 20-30% range).
There are also some pressures on the stock — the private equity backers have been selling a lot of shares, and the two main buyout firms who took the company private (and then public again) still control the majority of the shares. Silverlake and TPG together owned roughly half of the outstanding shares as of December, and still own more than a third of the company after selling 20 million shares between them in a secondary offering a couple weeks ago. As you might imagine for a leveraged buyout, they also carry a bit of debt — though it doesn’t seem terribly worrisome (I haven’t checked the expirations or what they’re paying for debt, but current net debt is about 5X trailing EBITDA).
I don’t know what the competitive landscape is for SABR, which is the first thing I’d check if I were going to buy shares — my preliminary optimism about this one relies on that market share being pretty steady. If they are really locked in with the major airlines and hotel chains and folks like Priceline, and there aren’t other competitive alternatives to their technology, then this is an easy buy. It might suffer, I imagine, if we have a recession and travel goes down… but if they have a consistent piece of the business of the travel providers and the online travel agencies, and competitive pressure doesn’t drive prices down too dramatically over time, then they should be able to thrive.
So I’ll toss it out to you, dear readers — the financials are OK and they’re growing quickly, though they also do need to grow to make sure the debt and the steady insider selling don’t pressure the stock too much. Will they be able to sustain or grow their huge market share in reservations and other supporting technology for travel? Think they’ll be squeezed out by someone else, or that the valuation is too rich? Let us know with a comment below.