Data analytics specialist IHS (IHS) will report fourth-quarter fiscal 2015 earnings results before the opening bell Tuesday. Although IHS stock -- down 6.5% on the year -- is much cheaper today than is was six months ago, the company's operational challenges persist. So, even as the stock -- which has fallen as much as 17%, from around $125 to a low of $104 since we advised staying away -- does appear less risky today, investors should look elsewhere for profits.
For the quarter that ended in November, analysts expect IHS to earn $1.56 a share on revenue of $599.7 million, compared to the year-ago quarter when it earned $1.68 a share on $582.32 million in revenue. For the full year, earnings are projected to climb 1.35% to $5.98 a share, while full-year revenue of $2.32 billion would mark a 4% rise from last year.
Headquartered in Colorado, IHS provides information and data mining services to government agencies and private businesses. It competes with the likes of IBM (IBM) - Get Report and Accenture (ACN) - Get Report -- two larger firms that are growing share in this market, adding pressure to IHS' revenue and profit margins.
In that vein, it doesn't make sense to pay a forward P/E of 19 for IHS shares when fiscal 2015 projected earnings of $5.97 a share translate to earning growth of just 1.35% -- not when the forward P/E of the S&P 500 (SPX) index is two points lower. At the same time, at around $110 today, IHS stock is priced at 36 times trailing earnings, compared with a P/E of 21 for the S&P 500 index.
IHS' P/E is five points above the iShares North American Tech-Software ETF (IGV) - Get Report -- home to stocks like Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report and Oracle (ORCL) - Get Report -- two stocks with not only much cheaper valuations, they also pay decent yields.
And beyond IHS' pricey valuation, the company is also highly leveraged. At the end of its fiscal third quarter, the company had more than $2 billion worth of debt, while its cash on hand registered at around $263 million. Indeed, with some $582 million in operating cash flow, IHS can more than service its obligations. Still, there's the question of value and to what extent IHS can operate in a way that returns value to shareholders in 2016, given its shares are already expensive.
Complicating matters, the abrupt June resignation of the company's former CEO Scott Key, makes it tough to look beyond these deficits and assume IHS -- despite its significant stock corrections -- should be owned. To that end, investors should wait until these earnings are announced and hear what management has to say about its business outlook for fiscal 2016 and beyond. But if the shares should fall to, say, $100, which would put IHS' P/E inline with the S&P 500, then all bets are off.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.