The following is a guest post for a new investment idea done by my friend Greg (from AAB and now PBG fame). We bounce a lot of ideas off each other and this is one of his favorite investments. Greg took the time to do a nice write up along with graphs and tables. Unfortunately my limited web skills don’t allow me to publish the file in a pretty format here. But you can download the full file for free here. What follows is most of the information from the report, but I highly suggest you download the word document and read that instead.
SCHS – School Specialty
Ticker NASDAQ: SCHS
Purchase Date October 26th, 2010
Price Paid $13.91
Market Price 14
Target Price $22
Description: North American Education Services Company. Operates in three main segments; consumables, furniture and curriculum plans.
Investment Thesis: In difficult economic times, strong free cash flow yields, the non-discretionary nature of the business and a sustainable competitive advantage make School Specialty attractive from a long term risk reward standpoint.
Catalysts: Using free cash flow to recapitalize, share repurchases, federal stimulus for state education, visibility and reversion of per pupil spending.
Business Environment & Competitive Advantage
School Specialty is the largest distributor of school supplies and distributes to 70% of schools in the United States and Canada. Its strong competitive advantage is derived from brand loyalty, specialty products as well as the fact that School Specialty not only offers the products that school boards need, it is the only company to also offer consultation, installation know-how and product maintenance knowledge. By offering such an integrated service, its reputation with schools and its accreditations with the DOE, SCHS has managed to carve out a strong competitive position for itself. They have a relationship and distribution network that would be nearly impossible to replicate from the ground up. This creates significant barriers to entry and economies of scale. SCHS’ brands are established, well-known, and respected in the education world. If SCHS approaches a new school with their products, the school’s decision makers will likely instantly recognize many of the company’s brands and therefore believe they are of guaranteed quality.
Macro Environment & Valuation
Given the steady nature of the market and the predictable growth, it is suitable to value SCHS based on a 5yr forward average FCF multiple. If state finances stabilize, SCHS can be expected to produce $60mln of FCF a year going forward. Even if you take a bear case scenario with no margin expansion and no growth, SCHS will have a 20% free cash flow yield , relatively high profit margins, generally low volatility of earnings and an unassailable competitive position. If SCHS reverts to an 8% FCF yield, its historical average, it has a target price of $22. Even if the P/E or FCF ratios don’t expand, SCHS can repurchase shares or institute a dividend creating total return in the absence of multiple expansion. Currently, the market is pricing in a long term decline in sales, which Margin of Safety believes to be untenable given the nature of the business.
According to the Digest of Education Statistics, the CAGR of K-12 spending in the United States has been 6.8% over the past 60 years. Further, it has increased in every recession but this one. While SCHS’ earnings were hurt in the short term, it responded by divesting of non-essential capital assets, staff and services and managed to maintain profitability despite a decline in revenues. This demonstrated the flexibility of its cost structure and management’s dedication to remaining profitable.
School expenditures are driven by two factors, per student spending and student enrolment, and both are poised to grow. Student enrolment is expected to increase every year for the next ten years due to population growth. Per student spending will eventually see a reversion to the mean as it has following every recession in the last 60 years. The only risk is how long this process will take. In the meantime, School Specialty will continue to cut non-core costs (they have just gotten rid of their mail-order catalogues in favour of an online service) operate profitability and offer a phenomenal free cash flow yield.
Total K-12 Education Expenditure ($Bn)
Why is the Market Undervaluing SCHS?
SCHS is trading at a discount due to fears over state finances. While state finances are battered, they are starting to show some signs of life. Receipts were actually better than expected in 2010. Further, education spending has increased through every recession except in 2007-2009. Margin of Safety observed that while historically some spending was put-off during recessions, those expenditures are often made as conditions start to improve. This phenomenon, largely ignored by the market, makes this an ideal entry point for SCHS.
For bottoms-up investors, the apparently large current portion of long term debt makes the company appear as though it faces imminent insolvency. This is inaccurate as both tranches mature after 2020. The reason they are classified as current liabilities is that they are convertible debt with a puttable provision which means redemption can be forced at the discretion of investors. The debt is highly unlikely to be put as the puttable price is par and the debt is trading above these levels. Additionally, this debt can be absorbed by their FCF or their $450mln revolving credit facility (L + 1.75% with a 1.75% floor). In terms of the conversation premium, the debt is convertible at $40 and $51 for the two tranches respectively which means that dilution is not an issue until well after our price target is reached.
The write-down of goodwill from a large acquisition in early 2007 created a bad earnings year and likely forced a lot of selling. The write-down was related to a recent acquisition and was being carried at 7x EBITDA. Admittedly, the acquisition of Delta in 2007, at 7x EBITDA, was at too high multiple as the markets were frothier and it did seem like a good strategic fit.
The major risks are a continued decline in house prices and the subsequent deterioration of state finances. Though primary and secondary education has been spared funding cuts to date, it has seen a widespread freeze. Should this freeze turn into actual cuts, School Specialty’s business may be materially affected in the short term. However, as we mentioned, these expenditures can be put off for up to a year but cannot be canceled indefinitely. Additionally, these concerns are more than priced into the stock meaning that only wholesale collapse of state finances could justify the current stock price.