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Should You Liquidate Lumber Liquidators?

FAST Graphs - Thursday, September 06, 2012

Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc (LL) is a leading retailer of hardwood flooring with an excellent operating history.  The company has no debt, and a historical growth rate of 20% per annum.  Moreover, they are expected to have an exceptional year in fiscal 2012 as earnings accelerate off of a flat base in 2011.  However, we believe that short-term optimism has driven the stock to an unjustified high valuation.  Business is good, and should continue to be good, but nowhere near as good as today’s valuation indicates.

Growth stocks are defined as companies with high rates of change of earnings growth of 15% to 20% or better.  Growth stocks offer the potential for share prices to rise in lockstep with their profit growth in the long run.  Therefore, the PEG ratio formula (price equals growth rate) tends to be the most appropriate formula used to value growth stocks. However, due to the exponential nature of compounding large numbers, PEG ratio forecasts are capped at 40%.

Because of the higher valuation typically awarded to fast growth, growth stocks offer the potential for greater capital appreciation.  On the other hand, they also offer higher risk.  First of all, they tend to command much higher than average PE ratios, and second, achieving very high levels of growth is very difficult to sustain. Consequently, forecasting future earnings growth is more important with high growth stocks than any other class of stock. Also, the average growth stock typically ploughs all of its profits back into the company to fund its future growth, instead of paying dividends.

About Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc:  Directly from their website

“With over 280 locations, Lumber Liquidators is North America’s largest specialty retailer of hardwood flooring. The Company features more than 340 first quality flooring varieties, including solid and engineered hardwood, bamboo, cork, laminate and resilient vinyl. Every location is staffed with flooring experts who can provide advice and useful information about Lumber Liquidators’ low priced product, much of which is in-stock and ready for delivery.”

Earnings Determine Market Price:  The following earnings and price correlated F.A.S.T. Graphs™ clearly illustrates the importance of earnings. The Earnings Growth Rate Line or True Worth™ Line (orange line with white triangles) is correlated with the historical stock price line. On graph after graph the lines will move in tandem. If the stock price strays away from the earnings line (over or under), inevitably it will come back to earnings.

Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc:  Historical Earnings, Price, Dividends and Normal PE Since 2007

Performance Table Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc

The Two Keys to Long-Term Performance

Years of research and experience have taught us that there are two critically important keys to achieving above-average, long-term shareholder returns at reasonably controlled levels of risk. The first key is earnings growth, or what we like to call the rate of change of earnings growth. The faster a company can grow its business (i.e. earnings), the larger the income stream it can produce with which to reward shareholders. This is because of the power of compounding, which Albert Einstein was alleged to have called "the most powerful force on earth." Ultimately, both capital appreciation and dividend income will be a function of a company's ability to grow its profits.

The second key is valuation. When a company can be purchased at its intrinsic value based on earnings and cash flow generation, the shareholders' rate of return or long-term capital appreciation will inevitably correlate to and/or equal its earnings growth rate. Overvaluation will lower that rate of return and conversely, undervaluation will increase it. Consequently, paying strict attention to the valuation you pay to buy a stock is a critical component of both greater return and taking lower risk to achieve it. Because, ironically, when you overpay for even the best business, you simultaneously lower your return potential while increasing your risk of achieving the lower return.

The associated performance results with the earnings and price correlated graph, validates the above discussion regarding the two keys to long-term performance.  Notice the impact that valuation (black line above or below orange earnings justified valuation line) had on the following performance results. 

The following graph plots the historically normal PE ratio (the dark blue line) in conjunction with 10-year Treasury note interest.  Notice that the current price earnings ratio on this quality company is as high as it has been since 2007.

A further indication of valuation can be seen by examining a company’s current price to sales ratio relative to its historical price to sales ratio.  The current price to sales ratio for Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc is 1.78 which is historically high.

Looking to the Future

Extensive research has provided a preponderance of conclusive evidence that future long-term returns are a function of two critical determinants:

1.         The rate of change (growth rate) of the company’s earnings

2.         The price or valuation you pay to buy those earnings

Forecasting future earnings growth, bought at sound valuations, is the key to safe, sound, and profitable performance.

Therefore, it logically follows that measuring performance without simultaneously measuring valuation is a job half done. Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc is clearly an industry leading superior business, which based on the consensus estimates from leading analysts, appears to be capable of growing earnings at an above-average rate for the foreseeable future.  At its current price, Lumber Liquidators is significantly overvalued relative to their past, present and future fundamentals.  They currently offer a meager 3% earnings yield which hardly compensates investors for the risk they are taking. 

With most stocks trading at very modest valuations, it seems hard to justify today’s lofty PE ratio of 37.9.  We believe this is more than likely driven by the high expectations for 2012 earnings growth of 50%.  However, logic would dictate that this growth rate is unsustainable, and this view is corroborated by the consensus of leading analysts’ forecast for long-term growth of 20%.  Consequently, we believe that Lumber Liquidators’ price is poised to come back to earth as earnings growth rates normalize.  

The Estimated Earnings and Return Calculator Tool is a simple yet powerful resource that empowers the user to calculate and run various investing scenarios that generate precise rate of return potentialities. Thinking the investment through to its logical conclusion is an important component towards making sound and prudent commonsense investing decisions.

The consensus of 11 leading analysts reporting to Capital IQ forecast Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc’s long-term earnings growth at 20% (orange circle).  Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc has no debt of capital (red circle). Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc is currently trading at a P/E of 37.9 (blue circle), which is above the value corridor (defined by the five orange lines) of a maximum P/E of 24. If the earnings materialize as forecast, Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc’s True Worth™ valuation would be $72.58 (Brown circle on EYE chart below) at the end of 2017, which would be a 7.7% (yellow highlighting) annual rate of return from the current price.

 

Earnings Yield Estimates

Discounted Future Cash Flows:  All companies derive their value from the future cash flows (earnings) they are capable of generating for their stake holders over time. Therefore, because Earnings Determine Market Price in the long run, we expect the future earnings of a company to justify the price we pay.

Since all investments potentially compete with all other investments, it is useful to compare investing in any perspective company to that of a comparable investment in low risk Treasury bonds. Comparing an investment in Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc to an equal investment in 10 year Treasury bonds, illustrates that Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc’s expected earnings would be 4.8 times (purple circle) that of the 10 Year T-Bond Interest. (See EYE chart below). This is the essence of the importance of proper valuation as a critical investing component.

Summary & Conclusions

This report presented essential “fundamentals at a glance” illustrating the past and present valuation based on earnings achievements as reported.  Future forecasts for earnings growth are based on the consensus of leading analysts.  Although, with just a quick glance you can know a lot about the company, it’s imperative that the reader conducts their own due diligence in order to validate whether the consensus estimates seem reasonable or not.

We think Lumber Liquidators is an exceptional retailer that through no fault of its own the market has driven their shares to nose-bleed valuations.  Consequently, we believe it would be a good time to take some profits or even close out the position entirely.  Even though housing is expected to rebound, it appears that Lumber Liquidators already has.  Prospective short sellers may want to take a look as well, however, momentum could continue to carry their shares higher in the short run.  On the other hand, we believe the long-term risk is high at these levels.

Disclosure:  No position at the time of writing.

Disclaimer: The opinions in this document are for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell the stocks mentioned or to solicit transactions or clients. Past performance of the companies discussed may not continue and the companies may not achieve the earnings growth as predicted. The information in this document is believed to be accurate, but under no circumstances should a person act upon the information contained within. We do not recommend that anyone act upon any investment information without first consulting an investment advisor as to the suitability of such investments for his specific situation. A comprehensive due diligence effort is recommended.

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    “I appreciate your work, Chuck. As a subscriber to FAST Graphs™, I use the tool to decide on whether to purchase additional shares of what I currently hold or to add a new holding. Your articles help me make full use of the tool and give other readers valuable information, if they take the time to learn. One of the biggest enhancements that I use is the FFO data added for MLPs and REITs.”


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    (Wish I could be) Long FAST Graphs!!!”


    “One more vote for the value of FAST Graphs™; just started a subscription to Chuck's great service (premium), and am having a ball analyzing so many stocks quickly.”


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    “Yesterday, I signed up for your F.A.S.T. Graphs™. It's a really amazing, valuable tool for checking over/undervaluation of stocks. Wish I had it years and years ago!!”


    “Love the F.A.S.T. Graphs™: One glance and you know a whole lot.”


    “About Chuck's F.A.S.T. Graphs™: They are invaluable to me in making decisions about the stocks I own (in addition to what you are saying about doing other research) and the ones I hope to own in the future.”


    "Chuck -- Your proprietary F.A.S.T. Graphs™ are a VERY impressive tool!"


    “If there were an Investor Hall of Fame for people who have helped others with their investing, and sharing valuable information, you and your F.A.S.T. Graphs™ would get one of my selections.”


    “I love Chuck's F.A.S.T. Graphs™! Well worth the price of admission for what he gives you.”


    "Chuck - Thank you for your well thought out articles. I tend to be a visual type of person so I really appreciate the F.A.S.T. Graphs™ approach."


    "Great article, as always! I always look forward to your articles, and am especially eagerly awaiting your next in this series. I find the F.A.S.T. Graphs™ extremely helpful."


    “Your F.A.S.T. Graphs™ put all of this in a single artful picture and the accompanying spreadsheets hammer home the point.”


    “I use the F.A.S.T. Graphs™ method to evaluate all of my ideas. I recommend it for individual investors, since it helps them focus on data and get past the many emotional arguments.”


    “I recently subscribed to the F.A.S.T. Graphs™, and these articles are helping me learn how to better use them. They really do give you a good quick look at the valuations picture. A much needed tool!”


    “I also always appreciate the clear-cut information provided through your F.A.S.T. Graphs™ and articles.”


    “Thanks, Chuck, for your F.A.S.T. Graphs™. Each of these graphs is worth 1,000 words in describing a company's growth, consistency and valuation. Thanks for sharing your graphs.”


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