Monday, January 27, 2014

Investing in Consumer Goods Earnings Growth

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Best Buy (BBY - Trend Report) did another face plant because it can't compete with Amazon (AMZN - Trend Report) "show-rooming" trends, the "little big box" from Texas that does things differently bounced hard off of a breakout level in the low $60's.

What does Conn's (CONN - Trend Report) do that's so different from the other big box electronic and appliance retailers?

3 Big Things About the Lil Big Box

1) The Conn's earnings growth story is not tethered to just big screen TVs and refrigerators. With their HomePlus concept, this "everything for the home" retailer carries everything from high- margin furniture and bedding to lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners.

2) The 75-year old company built a solid reputation throughout Texas on customer service, even before it pioneered consumer credit financing in the 1960's.

While critics talk about their credit offerings as "predatory" because they help lower income people buy durable home goods, the facts are that the company takes risks it wants to get paid on.

In other words, they build relationships with customers who seem more than likely to pay their bills and continue to be repeat customers. To put some hard numbers on this, the average FICO score for Conn's credit customers is 600 and their average monthly balance is $1600.

These are not exactly "predatory" numbers in a world of cell phone carriers that make you sign 2-year contracts where you pay for that new $600 smartphone 3-4 times over.

3) The Conn's growth story has been busting out of Texas for years and the plans to go national with 200+ stores this decade could put other big boxes on notice, if not out of business.

Conn's has been expanding west into Arizona and New Mexico, north into Oklahoma, and east into Louisiana. And the earnings growth trends of this expansion have kept the stock a Zacks #1 Rank most of the past two years. New distribution centers in Denver and Charlotte mean Colorado and the Carolinas are their next targets.

While Amazon and Walmart offer hefty competition in the durable goods arena now, when you think about how people shop and buy for their gadgets and their home necessities, they will continue to go to places where they get good and trusted advice and where they really believe they are getting the best deal, even if that revolves around the finance offering.

A Big Shareholder Adds

Speaking of Louisiana, one of the biggest investors in CONN shares is the century-old Villere family of funds from New Orleans. They added to their 7% stake this month after the company reported another strong quarter of "comps" (same store sales) that proved the critics wrong.

While this purchase tied them with Fidelity for largest single shareholder, what makes the Villere family unique is that they are "on the ground" in Louisiana Conn's stores. They know the business and they understand the marketing mechanics of durable goods first hand.

This institutional action convinced me to add to my stake in CONN shares last week in the mid-$60s. I doubled my position for the Zacks FTM portfolio and I hope to ride these shares into another great quarterly report in March.

My bet is that these shares should trade at a minimum of 20X forward earnings estimates of $4 per share. This simple math guides a lot of my growth stock picks for FTM.

But you don't have to listen to me. Just to give you a rough idea of what kind of stock-pickers the Villere are, their biggest position is in 3D Systems (DDD). Sounds incredibly speculative and risky, right?

Well, I thought I "discovered" 3D Systems for Zacks followers when I bought it at $16 in January 2012. Truth is, the Valliere boys were buying it as early as 2006 and their average cost is much lower, even as they have added 130,000 shares in Q3.

Now you know why I follow quantitative stock-pickers who's work gels with the Zacks Rank.

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