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Baron Funds Comments on Ascent Capital Group

March 05, 2014 | About:
Holly LaFon

Ascent Capital Group, Inc. (ASCMA) is the second largest residential alarm monitoring company in the U.S. behind ADT. It has over 1 million subscribers in all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and Canada. Accounts are 95% residential and 5% small business. Ascent has a monitoring center in Dallas (which has won Five Diamond Certified status, which fewer than 5% of central stations achieve) with a backup in McKinney, TX. It features cellular transmission options, as well as technology to provide some next- generation services, such as remote arm/disarm. The company runs on an "asset light" model, which means that it only does monitoring, not installation or customer service. For the latter, it relies on its pre-qualified nationwide network of dealers from which Ascent buys new accounts (using its free cash flow). Its customers are of very high quality with FICO scores averaging 720. The industry is incredibly fragmented, and we believe that Ascent has only 4% of overall subscribers in an industry which itself is only 20% penetrated into U.S. households. The long customer life (8-9 years), combined with a high return on investment provides a significant stream of free cash flow to the company (and its investors).

We like these types of businesses as they exhibit excellent stable free cash flow characteristics (subscribers are growing, retention is nearly 90%, and cash flow margins are nearly 70%). We believe that over the next five years the company can grow its revenues by 50%, and its cash flow by nearly 70%. Therefore, the current multiple of under 7x is too cheap given the company's prospects. We think that a business like this could trade at a 10x multiple in the right circumstances. Therefore, we believe that shares could at least double over their current $82 price over the next five years. Upside could come from additional accretive acquisitions or the return of excess free cash flow to shareholders

From Ron Baron (Trades, Portfolio)'s Baron Funds fourth quarter 2013 commentary.


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