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It's Time to Follow Chris Davis and Buy Laboratory Corp
Posted by: Vanina Egea (IP Logged)
Date: January 15, 2014 03:18PM

On Dec.31, Chris Davis (Trades, Portfolio), the portfolio manager of Davis Financial Fund, reported to adding Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings (LH). So let's take a look at this company and try to explain to investors the reasons this is an apparently appealing investment opportunity.

Strategic Acquisitions

Laboratory Corp. is an independent clinical laboratory company. As of Dec. 31, 2012, the company had a national network of 50 primary laboratories and about 1,800 patient service centers, along with a network of branches and STAT laboratories (laboratories that perform certain routine tests quickly).

A key driver for growth in the industry and also for the firm has been expanding through acquisitions. Acquiring other laboratories and trying to reduce the high fixed-cost component of operating them is crucial to remain profitable in the long term. For this reason, LabCorp acquired MuirLabs, focusing on adjacent fields such as central lab testing for clinical trials. Moreover, the acquisition of Medtox Scientific will strengthen the expertise in specialized toxicology testing. Other acquisitions include Orchid Cellmark, Westcliff Medical Laboratories and Genzyme Genetics. We think there is much space for these operations because there are plenty of clinical labs remaining to be acquired.

Other Areas

The firm plans to expand its esoteric testing capabilities because they are more profitable than routine tests. As a matter of fact, it will be crucial to enter into various agreements with diagnostic companies that develop esoteric diagnostic tests. This will be extremely important for obtaining higher revenues from specialized testing.

Valuation

In terms of valuation, the stock sells at a trailing P/E of 14.8x, trading at a discount compared to an average of 27.3x for the industry. To use another metric, its price-to-book ratio of 3.1 indicates a discount versus the industry average of 3.61 and the price-to-sales ratio of 1.47 is below the industry average of 3.46. All these metrics indicate that the stock is undervalued relative to its peers.

Earnings per share (EPS) increased by 6.5% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. Also, it has demonstrated an upward trend over the past 10 years which is a good signal. We include in the next graph the stock price because EPS often lead the stock price movement.

 

Looking at the financials, the company has a strong balance sheet as well as good cash that allow the company to buy back shares. During third quarter 2013, it repurchased 2.9 million shares for $288 million and $304.1 million are pending until authorization. Also, an additional $1 billion share repurchase program was authorized.

Finally, I always like to see one of the most important financial ratios applying to stockholders, the best measure of performance for a firm's management: the return on equity. The ratio has slightly increased when compared to its ROE from the same quarter one year prior. This is a signal of strength and could be attractive for investors. Furthermore, it is higher than competitors such as Quest Diagnostics Inc. (DGX), Omnicare Inc. (OCR) and Express Scripts Holding Co. (ESRX).

Final Comment

For a long-term perspective, I would advise fundamental investors to consider adding Laboratory Corp. to their portfolios as its acquisitions and development of new areas have the potential to expand LabCorp´s customer base.

Hedge fund managers have also been active in the company. Gurus like Steven Cohen (Trades, Portfolio), Jim Simons (Trades, Portfolio), Ray Dalio (Trades, Portfolio), Wallace Weitz (Trades, Portfolio), Joel Greenblatt (Trades, Portfolio), Charles Brandes (Trades, Portfolio), Richard Pzena (Trades, Portfolio) and Scott Black (Trades, Portfolio) have invested in it.

 

Disclosure: Vanina Egea holds no position in any stocks mentioned.

 




Guru Discussed: Charles Brandes: Current Portfolio, Stock Picks
Joel Greenblatt: Current Portfolio, Stock Picks
Stocks Discussed: LH, DGX, OCR, ESRX,
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Rating: 3.6/5 (9 votes)



Re: It's Time to Follow Chris Davis and Buy Laboratory Corp
Posted by: rlp66@yahoo.com (IP Logged)
Date: February 11, 2014 02:10PM

It bothers me that earnings have risen faster than cash flow. Adjusted earnings per share have increased 15%, 7% and 2% in 2011, 12 and 13 respectively while at the same time cash flow growth per share was 0%, 3%, and 1%.

The days are numbered for companies with bloated fixed costs like Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics as new technologies take hold in the industry. Tests that used to require a trip to the lab and several days to process can now be done in minutes in a doctor's office. The costs of testing are coming down and so are these stocks.




Guru Discussed: Charles Brandes: Current Portfolio, Stock Picks
Joel Greenblatt: Current Portfolio, Stock Picks
Stocks Discussed: LH, DGX, OCR, ESRX,
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