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Does First Foundation (NASDAQ:FFWM) Deserve A Spot On Your Watchlist?

Simply Wall St

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Like a puppy chasing its tail, some new investors often chase 'the next big thing', even if that means buying 'story stocks' without revenue, let alone profit. But as Warren Buffett has mused, 'If you've been playing poker for half an hour and you still don't know who the patsy is, you're the patsy.' When they buy such story stocks, investors are all too often the patsy.

In the age of tech-stock blue-sky investing, my choice may seem old fashioned; I still prefer profitable companies like First Foundation (NASDAQ:FFWM). Now, I'm not saying that the stock is necessarily undervalued today; but I can't shake an appreciation for the profitability of the business itself. In comparison, loss making companies act like a sponge for capital - but unlike such a sponge they do not always produce something when squeezed.

View our latest analysis for First Foundation

First Foundation's Earnings Per Share Are Growing.

If you believe that markets are even vaguely efficient, then over the long term you'd expect a company's share price to follow its earnings per share (EPS). That means EPS growth is considered a real positive by most successful long-term investors. As a tree reaches steadily for the sky, First Foundation's EPS has grown 24% each year, compound, over three years. As a general rule, we'd say that if a company can keep up that sort of growth, shareholders will be smiling.

Careful consideration of revenue growth and earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) margins can help inform a view on the sustainability of the recent profit growth. I note that First Foundation's revenue from operations was lower than its revenue in the last twelve months, so that could distort my analysis of its margins. First Foundation maintained stable EBIT margins over the last year, all while growing revenue 24% to US$195m. That's a real positive.

The chart below shows how the company's bottom and top lines have progressed over time. For finer detail, click on the image.

NasdaqGM:FFWM Income Statement, June 6th 2019

Of course the knack is to find stocks that have their best days in the future, not in the past. You could base your opinion on past performance, of course, but you may also want to check this interactive graph of professional analyst EPS forecasts for First Foundation.

Are First Foundation Insiders Aligned With All Shareholders?

Like standing at the lookout, surveying the horizon at sunrise, insider buying, for some investors, sparks joy. This view is based on the possibility that stock purchases signal bullishness on behalf of the buyer. Of course, we can never be sure what insiders are thinking, we can only judge their actions.

It's good to see First Foundation insiders walking the walk, by spending US$296k on shares in just twelve months. When you contrast that with the complete lack of sales, it's easy for shareholders to brim with joyful expectancy. Zooming in, we can see that the biggest insider purchase was by Director Max Briggs for US$121k worth of shares, at about US$16.38 per share.

Along with the insider buying, another encouraging sign for First Foundation is that insiders, as a group, have a considerable shareholding. Given insiders own a small fortune of shares, currently valued at US$80m, they have plenty of motivation to push the business to succeed. At 13% of the company, the co-investment by insiders gives me confidence that management will make long-term focussed decisions.

Should You Add First Foundation To Your Watchlist?

You can't deny that First Foundation has grown its earnings per share at a very impressive rate. That's attractive. On top of that, insiders own a significant stake in the company and have been buying more shares. So it's fair to say I think this stock may well deserve a spot on your watchlist. If you think First Foundation might suit your style as an investor, you could go straight to its annual report, or you could first check our discounted cash flow (DCF) valuation for the company.

There are plenty of other companies that have insiders buying up shares. So if you like the sound of First Foundation, you'll probably love this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

Please note the insider transactions discussed in this article refer to reportable transactions in the relevant jurisdiction

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.