Wednesday after the market closed, Morningstar Inc. (MORN) released its latest quarterly earnings report. The numbers were good, and even beat most analyst estimates. Yesterday the market used that earnings beat to drive the stock up almost 14% in a single session – a move that naturally would make anybody that follows the market sit up and pay attention. Is the surge the first indication of a larger rally for the stock to new all-time highs? Maybe – more than one analyst report seems to think that while the stock is highly valued by most standard measurements, the high price is justified by a number of impressive fundamental metrics. I’m less convinced – not because the fundamentals are bad, but because I think betting on a stock that is only a little over 5% away from its recent all-time high under current market conditions is a very dangerous gamble.
If you’ve been following the stock market for a while, either for stock trading or mutual fund investment, and you’ve spent any time doing your analysis, it’s a good bet that you’ve used MORN’s data. This is a company that was started in 1984 out of the basement of their current CEO with the mission to make stock market data, which up to that point was reserved practically exclusively for brokerages, investment banks and other institutional investors, more accessible to the average, everyday investor. Since that point, the company has grown into a $5.6 billion investment research company with operations all over the world. They operate in the same space as other, larger and perhaps more recognizable names including Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Thomson Reuters – though with an admittedly different focus than most of those companies, whose primary market is on the institutional side. It is a bit of a twist to turn the analysis lens on one of the companies that investors like you and me rely on to analyze the rest of the market, but they are a publicly traded company, and that means that they deserve as much consideration as an investment alternative as any other stock.
The Capital Markets industry is an interesting segment of the Financial sector, and the Professional Information Services segment is an area that should generally be less subject to economic cyclicality than other Financial stocks – especially those with significant interest rate exposure. The reason that is true is that the longer bull markets and economic expansion lasts, the more passive most people get about paying attention to the market; they tend to buy into the idea that the market is an easy place to make money and that all you have to do is “buy and hold.” When the economy contracts, or moves into recession, and the stock market follows suit, most of those lazy, passive investors get shaken out of the market, leaving the ones that are willing to take the time to do their homework. That is when information services like MORN’s offerings become more and more valuable to the motivated everyday investor. That is another reason I’m interested in seeing how this stock measures up – if the market is indeed at a tipping point, this might be a stock that may hold up better than most.
Fundamental and Value Profile
Morningstar, Inc. is a provider of independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The Company focuses to create products that help investors reach their financial goals. It offers a range of data, software, research, and investment management offerings for financial advisors, asset managers, sponsors, and individual investors. It provides data and research insights on a range of investment offerings, including managed investment products, listed companies, capital markets, and real-time global market data. It conducts its business operations outside of the United States through subsidiaries in countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, People’s Republic of China (both Hong Kong and the mainland), Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. MORN’s current market cap is $5.6 billion.
- Earnings and Sales Growth: Earnings and sales growth is very strong; over the last twelve months, MORN’s earnings grew 49%, while revenues increased about 10%. In the last quarter, earnings growth was nearly 35%, while sales growth was modest, at about 3.66%. Growing earnings faster than sales isn’t easy to do, and generally isn’t sustainable in the long-term; however it is also a positive mark of management’s ability to maximize its business operations. The company also operates with a very impressive margin profile, since Net Income over the last twelve months as of the end of the third quarter was almost 15.6%, and actually increased slightly in the third quarter to 16.5%.
- Free Cash Flow: MORN’s free cash flow is healthy, at more than $207 million for the last twelve months as of the third quarter of the year. This number has also increased steadily over the past year.
- Debt to Equity: MORN has a debt/equity ratio of .14. This number is very low, and reflects a conservative management philosophy about its use of leverage. The company also has excellent liquidity, with more than $351 million in cash and liquid assets against only $125 million in long-term debt.
- Dividend: MORN pays an annual dividend of $1.00 per share, which translates to a yield of only .76% at the stock’s current price.
- Price/Book Ratio: there are a lot of ways to measure how much a stock should be worth; but one of the simplest methods that I like uses the stock’s Book Value, which for MORN is $20.44 per share and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 6.39 at the stock’s current price. This is where the cracks start to show up in the argument for thinking about the stock as any kind of a bargain; the stock’s historical Price/Book ratio is only 4.82, suggesting that stock is almost 25% overvalued right now. Price/Cash Flow analysis makes the value picture look even worse, since the stock is currently trading 34% above that historical average. That means that the baseline “fair value” for the stock is anywhere from $86 to $98 per share. That’s not talking about the bargain price, mind you – that’s just the price range where most value-oriented investors would concede represents a fair value for the stock under normal market conditions.
Here’s a look at the stock’s latest technical chart.
- Current Price Action/Trends and Pivots: The chart above outlines the stock’s movement over the past year. Its upward trend until the beginning of September was very impressive – but so was the stock pullback from an all-time high price at around $144 per share leading into yesterday’s trading session. The stock actually covered more than half of the distance of that pullback in a single day on Thursday; the question that is hard to determine is what that outsized surge means. Conventional momentum analysis suggests the stock should follow that surge in momentum to keep driving towards the stock’s all time high; but such an atypical move also makes it quite like the stock could follow the same pattern that often happens when a stock gaps significantly away from its last closing price on an overnight basis. Most technical traders in that case would assume the stock would move back against that gap by at least half the size of the gap. That idea suggests the short-term momentum in this stock could easily translate to at least $7 of immediate downside risk.
- Near-term Keys: The smart approach right now if you want to work any kind of short-term trade on this stock would be to wait for a day or two to let the stock start to develop a pattern away from Thursday’s massive move. If the stock pushes above Thursday’s closing price, the chances are pretty good the stock could push up to test near-term resistance between $135 and $139 per share – which might be a workable range for a short-term bullish momentum trade using call options or buying the stock outright. If the stock retreats off of Thursday’s closing price, however, don’t be surprised to see the stock drop back down into the mid-$120 level at least – that could be an opportunity to buy options with a target between $123 and $125 per share. Short-term, momentum-based trades are really the only practical way to work with this stock right now, since the overall long-term upside is limited by the stock’s all-time high at $144 and its incredibly overvalued status right now.