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 the reality is that when a company loses money each year, for long enough, its investors will usually take their share of those losses.
If, on the other hand, you like companies that have revenue, and even earn profits, then you may well be interested in Luna Innovations (NASDAQ:LUNA). While that doesn't make the shares worth buying at any price, you can't deny that successful capitalism requires profit, eventually. Conversely, a loss-making company is yet to prove itself with profit, and eventually the sweet milk of external capital may run sour.
Luna Innovations's Improving Profits
In the last three years Luna Innovations's earnings per share took off like a rocket; fast, and from a low base. So the actual rate of growth doesn't tell us much. Thus, it makes sense to focus on more recent growth rates, instead. Like the last firework on New Year's Eve accelerating into the sky, Luna Innovations's EPS shot from US$0.041 to US$0.097, over the last year. Year on year growth of 137% is certainly a sight to behold. That could be a sign that the business has reached a true inflection point.
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. Luna Innovations shareholders can take confidence from the fact that EBIT margins are up from 0.03% to 5.8%, and revenue is growing. Ticking those two boxes is a good sign of growth, in my book.
The chart below shows how the company's bottom and top lines have progressed over time. To see the actual numbers, click on the chart.
In investing, as in life, the future matters more than the past. So why not check out this free interactive visualization of Luna Innovations's forecast profits?
Are Luna Innovations Insiders Aligned With All Shareholders?
It makes me feel more secure owning shares in a company if insiders also own shares, thusly more closely aligning our interests. So it is good to see that Luna Innovations insiders have a significant amount of capital invested in the stock. Indeed, they hold US$14m worth of its stock. That shows significant buy-in, and may indicate conviction in the business strategy. That amounts to 6.4% of the company, demonstrating a degree of high-level alignment with shareholders.
It means a lot to see insiders invested in the business, but I find myself wondering if remuneration policies are shareholder friendly. A brief analysis of the CEO compensation suggests they are. For companies with market capitalizations between US$100m and US$400m, like Luna Innovations, the median CEO pay is around US$1.1m.
The Luna Innovations CEO received US$997k in compensation for the year ending December 2018. That comes in below the average for similar sized companies, and seems pretty reasonable to me. While the level of CEO compensation isn't a huge factor in my view of the company, modest remuneration is a positive, because it suggests that the board keeps shareholder interests in mind. I'd also argue reasonable pay levels attest to good decision making more generally.
Is Luna Innovations Worth Keeping An Eye On?
Luna Innovations's earnings have taken off like any random crypto-currency did, back in 2017. The cherry on top is that insiders own a bucket-load of shares, and the CEO pay seems really quite reasonable. The sharp increase in earnings could signal good business momentum. Luna Innovations certainly ticks a few of my boxes, so I think it's probably well worth further consideration. One of Buffett's considerations when discussing businesses is if they are capital light or capital intensive. Generally, a company with a high return on equity is capital light, and can thus fund growth more easily. So you might want to check this graph comparing Luna Innovations's ROE with industry peers (and the market at large).
You can invest in any company you want. But if you prefer to focus on stocks that have demonstrated insider buying, here is a list of companies with insider buying in the last three months.
Please note the insider transactions discussed in this article refer to reportable transactions in the relevant jurisdiction
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