Online brokers are a fortunate lot. They get to charge $5 or $10 for every trade they complete for clients, but since it's all done by computers, they don't really need to spend very much on personnel to complete all of those transactions.
That's a lesson that should have been heeded by
(ETFC - Get Report)
, which foolishly ventured into the mortgage underwriting business in the past decade -- with disastrous consequences.
These days, E*Trade has returned to its roots, wisely focusing only on online trading. And the company again proves what a good business that is. Over the past three years, free cash flow has steadily risen, moving just above $1 billion in 2011. (2012 free cash flow figures won't be revealed until the company files its 10-K).
The $3 billion market value is quite low for such strong free cash flow. The fact that shares trade right at tangible book value makes this a true value investor's delight.
Like many other technology-focused retailers, video game vendor
(GME - Get Report)
is struggling to find ways to grow. Sales were flat in fiscal 2012 at around $9.5 billion and are expected to settle in just under $9 billion in the current fiscal year that ended in January and the fiscal year that began in February.
Still, management has shown a remarkable knack for squeezing cash out of this business. Free cash flow hit a record $460 million in fiscal 2012 and was likely in a similar range in the most recent fiscal year as well.
That shouldn't be a surprise. Any time a company runs out of new business segments to invest in, it ends up returning more of its cash to shareholders. Management has been using all of that free cash flow to buy back stock. The share count has fallen from 164 million in fiscal 2010 and likely finished fiscal 2013 under 120 million.
That helps explain why earnings per share, as well as free cash flow per share, keep rising at a steady pace. The current free cash flow yield of around 16% may climb even higher if free cash flow stays constant and the share count (and therefore market value) continues to shrink.