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Fascinated by Fastenal

Stocks in this article: FAST

In addition, the company's "salt of the earth" customers include farmers, truckers, railroads, mining companies, federal, state and local governmental entities, schools and retail vendors. As of Dec. 31, 2011, it operated 2,585 stores and employed 15,431 full-time employees. The company was founded in 1967 and is headquartered in Winona, Minnesota.

Now I don't want to give you the wrong impression about FAST. They sell so many other "things" -- like fleet vehicles and electronic testing devices -- and the only way to get a complete overview is to visit their picturesque Web site.

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Speaking of pictures, the chart below spans the past five years and helps us see how FAST's share price has been driven by the company's tremendous success with cash flow.

FAST Chart FAST data by YCharts

Increasing cash flow helped the stock hit its 52-week high earlier this year of $55.05. Since then the stock has corrected almost 19%. Yet it is still selling at over 32 times current earnings and almost 27 times forward (1-year) earnings.

A recent Wall Street Journal article about Fastenal addressed their rich valuation. "That premium seems justified, and not only because of Fastenal's track record. Its FAST Solutions concept has placed thousands of vending machines on-site with clients in recent years, virtually ensuring their business while cutting costs."

The Journal article made the case that the company's margins keep moving steadily upward. After all their profit margin is a positive 13.31% and, just as importantly, their operating margin is over 21%. The article also reminded that with all Fastenal's amazing growth, their "U.S. market share remains below 2% in a highly fragmented business."

Bottom line is that there's plenty of room for more growth, although that is dependent on a more robust U.S. economic climate. The analyst forecasts for same-store sales apparently factors in slower same-store growth in upcoming quarters, but that seems already baked into the share price.

The 50-day simple moving average for FAST's stock price has been below the 200-day SMA since the beginning of July. Since the intraday low on Aug. 2 of $41.48 the shares have moved in a rather narrow range between $41.75 and the Oct. 11 high of $47.17.

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