Darling International Inc.
MagicDiligence really likes a lot of qualities of this business. First of all, it's disgusting. For anyone that's ever read Peter Lynch's One Up On Wall Street, you know that he loves boring and especially gross businesses. No money manager wants to recommend a renderer to his/her clients. Second, Darling is the only nationwide renderer and grease trap servicer, giving the company scale advantages over competitors. This scale allows spreading fixed costs over a bigger revenue base, and allows it to win large contracts, such as a deal with McDonalds (MCD). Third, increased environmental regulations and a move towards alternative fuels creates a very favorable growth environment. Darling is on pace to increase revenues 30% this year with these tailwinds, increasingly leveraging their fixed costs and expanding operating margins (18% last quarter vs. 11% the year before).
Darling is in reasonably good financial shape also. The net cash/debt balance is just about nil, with slightly over $40 million dollars of each. Interest coverage is a more than comfortable 32x. Darling has used the favorable conditions for business to aggressively pay down debt. Trailing 12-month MFI return on capital is 69%, not eye popping but respectable nonetheless. Free cash margin stands at about 7.6%, again solid but not outstanding. The valuation is excellent, with earnings yield at over 18% and free cash yield close to 9%. That's phenomenally cheap for a company growing revenues and improving margins like this.
Darling just does not quite make it as a MagicDiligence Top Buy, however. The good but not great return on capital and free cash margins reveal that this is a capital intensive business. Darling has to maintain and replace close to 1,000 trucks and trailers that pick up and transport the waste materials, as well as equipment-heavy rendering and processing plants. Also, the ROIC and free cash margins are by far the highest they've been in the past 5 years. 5-year averages are a much more ordinary 29% and 4.2%, respectively. This is because Darling's revenues are dependent on the commodity prices for their output products. While I believe that recent successes can be maintained going forward (the NBP purchase was brilliant and bio-fuels are here to stay), there's no question that high commodity prices in 2007 and 2008 benefitted this company. Last, management has been fairly dilutive, with share count increasing at a 5.4% per year pace since 2003.
Still, Darling is a fine choice for do-it-yourself Magic Formula investors, especially those who like to get down and dirty!
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Steve does not own DAR.
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