“This Company Is Now Sitting at ‘The King’s Table!'”

Sleuthing out a teaser pick from Rudy Martin's Emerging Market Winners

I haven’t seen the original version of this ad, and somehow missed the mailing of it last week (apparently there are still a couple mailing lists that I’m not on), but several readers have sent me copy-and-pastes of the pitch, and it sounds interesting enough to at least try to ID the stock for you.

Here’s the part that catches your attention:

“One of the world’s most overlooked companies is now stepping into the big leagues — making a rare and massive leap forward in a move that could send its stock soaring by as much as 120%.

“It all started just a couple weeks ago, on June 21, when this small company made headlines by joining a massive global
alliance. And while you might not have noticed it, the invitation to join this industry-wide network was a major milestone …

“This Company Is Now Sitting at ‘The King’s Table!’

“With this new alliance in place, this company will get access to a massive global flow of business and, perhaps more
importantly, investors will start recognizing this company’s strong fundamentals!”

And then we get into a few details that will help out the ol’ Thinkolator:

“… over the last five years:

Sales have risen at a 17% compound annual rate …

“Profits have increased at an 18% compound annual rate, and …

“18% compound annual growth in earnings per share.

“Over the last year, this company expanded its operations enough to take on 20% more customers … and it’s targeting a region where business is growing nearly twice as fast as it is in North America.”

The ad is from Rudy Martin, for his Emerging Market Winners newsletter, and he thinks we should expect a “serious and sustained uptrend” that will “easily double the share price” — he also said it’s an “urgent buy” that he’s sending out on Monday morning … though since I didn’t get the original ad I don’t know if he’s talking about today or some other recent Monday. From what I can tell, it probably is today.

So what’s the pick?

Well, you might have noticed that the clues are a wee bit thin — but we toss ’em all into the Thinkolator anyway, and learn that this is probably (can’t get to our 99% certainty here) Copa Holdings (CPA).

Copa is a Panamanian company that runs a regional airline covering much of Central and South America — and they have been by far the most profitable of the major “south of the border” airlines over the past several years (just typing that pains me a bit, because many years ago I placed my bets on Brazilian low cost upstart airline Gol Linhas Aereas instead of Copa — I’ve since taken those losses, but CPA has clobbered GOL).

If you don’t like investing in airlines, you’re not alone — but CPA has been a pretty rare gem in the sector for many years, posting real revenue growth and real earnings growth. It’s still arguably a terrible business to be in, but they seem to have done much better than any airline I can think of during the last five years (I just spot-checked a half dozen airline tickers that I could remember offhand, and CPA is one of only two that has a higher share price than five years ago — the other is Alaska Air (ALK) … and there are probably others, I’m sure, but not the household names).

Why is this the match? Well, they did join the Star Alliance on June 21, which is one of the global networks that links airlines together, including players like United and US Airways as well as a couple dozen other major lines (Air China, Lufthansa, etc.). The alliance added three Latin American airlines in one go on that date, and Copa is the largest of them with their major hubs in Panama City and Colombia.

And they have generated compound returns that roughly match those clues — I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t actually do the match to calculate the compound annual returns on sales, profits and EPS, but the average return is close enough to those numbers that we should be in line, sales and profits are up roughly 80% over the last five years. It’s not been consistent, to be sure — 2009 was a great year for them, doubling earnings per share, and EPS are only up about 20% since then. But for an airline, that’s pretty hard to beat.

Analysts expect CPA to earn $8 per share in 2012 and $9.39 in 2013, so at the current share price right around $80 that’s 10X the current year’s expected earnings — which is pretty good, especially if analysts are even close to forecasting accurately … growth is forecast to come in at almost 20% per year, which is astoundingly high (and would also represent acceleration over the past five years).

It’s not a tiny company, with a market cap of about $3.5 billion, but they certainly have room to grow as the South American economy grows, and they have indeed increased capacity to allow for 20% passenger growth as teased — so the possibility is certainly there, though I have no idea what planning they might have in place to hedge oil prices or how their cost structure looks. When you hear about an airline in trouble (and they’ve pretty much all been in trouble at one point or another) it’s usually because their fares can’t keep pace with either oil prices or employee costs — so the key criteria tend to be the level of competition on their routes, the robustness of their regional economy (ie, is there a lot of business travel?), and their management of union contracts and oil prices. Beyond that, I’ve proven with my past choices that I’m not particularly expert at choosing good airline stocks, so I think I’m probably better off listening to Warren Buffett and ignoring the sector entirely (and keep in mind the old joke that’s been also attributed to Buffett, but I’m not sure if he was the first to say it: How do you become a millionaire? First, become a billionaire, then invest in an airline).

So does that sound like the kind of thing that interests you? They’re certainly looking far better on paper than their Latin American peers, and the fact that they’re consistently profitable really makes them stand out in the airline sector … but still, it is an airline.

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