An interesting battle between investors and analysts has erupted lately over the shares of transportation logistics company
Expeditors International of Washington
. So far, the investors appear to have won, although it's a close call.
The company, whose shares are up 35% this year, is in a simple business: It buys space on international airliners and shipping vessels cheaply in bulk, and resells it at a premium to companies that need to move goods. Business has been very good for a long time, with revenue and earnings rising 20% or better for more than a decade.
Two weeks ago, Expeditors reported that it earned 39 cents per share in the third quarter, which was terrific but merely in line with analyst estimates. Management, which is always conservative, cautioned in its conference call that the fourth quarter might not be as great as expected, due to the difficulty of passing rising fuel surcharges through to its customers. The stock gapped down $10 on the news, ending the session down $7 at $50.70.
Over the next two days, the stock traded back as high as $54.74 as analysts debated Expeditors' valuation. The analyst at brokerage Robert W. Baird urged caution and cut estimates, while analyst Jamelah Leddy, of the company's hometown brokerage McAdams Wright Ragen, said the fuel surcharge concern was overblown. In a note to clients, she said: "In the past, present, and, we expect, in the future, EXPD will pass on fuel surcharges."
Leddy said company comments were really oriented toward the volatile price of fuel, and that fellow analysts had misunderstood the company's comments as a change in its operating model.
On Friday, the company issued an 8-K essentially backing up the McAdams case, while at the same time cautioning on the fourth quarter once again. Then, like lemmings, another couple of brokerages downgraded the stock on the news. And on Monday, tramping in days after the rest, two more brokerages -- BB&T and J.P. Morgan -- downgraded the stock over the same issue. Shares sloughed 5% of their value in the morning, but were flat by the end of the day.
Why were investors and analysts at odds? Because while analysts were focused on short-term issues, investors recognize that Expeditors has proven to be what you might call a "growth value" -- one of the few reliable, premier companies in any sector. It hardly ever offers a good entry point, so they are always just waiting to come in during a soft patch.
Expeditors has $377 million in cash, no debt and its price-to-earnings multiple has expanded to a premium of 35 today from 17 to 20 a few years ago. It is one of the rare companies whose shares have not been down during a calendar year in the past decade. As I explained in a
column a year ago, Expeditors was a leader in corporate governance before it became trendy: Everyone in the company is paid a low base wage augmented by a bonus tied to individual branch offices' profits. The chief executive pays for his own parking at headquarters. Corporate documents are refreshingly candid, and Peter Rose, the colorful CEO, when asked once if he would make acquisitions, said: "Why buy what you can kill?"
Fund-management company Ruane Cunniff -- known for early and longtime ownership of Berkshire Hathaway through its Sequoia Fund, and close ties to Warren Buffett -- is the leading institutional owner with 13% of outstanding shares.
After its dosey doe on all the valuation downgrades, the stock is at its 80-day moving average, which has held in the past. I consider it a core holding with a bright future, and would use this opportunity to start or add to a stake. If the stock slips substantially from here, consider buying more at $45; Tuesday morning, the stock was recently off 58 cents, or 1.1%, to $50.18.
P.S. Don't forget -- now is a great time to get in on bargain stocks before the prices go up. Get my picks with a
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At the time of publication, Markman was long Expeditors International, although positions may change at any time.
Jon D. Markman is publisher of
StockTactics Advisor, an independent weekly investment research service, as well as senior strategist and portfolio manager at Pinnacle Investment Advisors. At the time of publication, he had no positions in stocks mentioned. He also writes a weekly column for
CNBC on MSN Money. While Markman cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes column critiques and comments at
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