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Here's Why We Think Mercury General (NYSE:MCY) Is Well Worth Watching

Simply Wall St
·5 min read

It's only natural that many investors, especially those who are new to the game, prefer to buy shares in 'sexy' stocks with a good story, even if those businesses lose money. 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.

In contrast to all that, I prefer to spend time on companies like Mercury General (NYSE:MCY), which has not only revenues, but also profits. While profit is not necessarily a social good, it's easy to admire a business that can consistently produce it. 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 Mercury General

How Quickly Is Mercury General Increasing Earnings Per Share?

If a company can keep growing earnings per share (EPS) long enough, its share price will eventually follow. Therefore, there are plenty of investors who like to buy shares in companies that are growing EPS. Impressively, Mercury General has grown EPS by 34% per year, compound, in the last three years. As a general rule, we'd say that if a company can keep up that sort of growth, shareholders will be smiling.

One way to double-check a company's growth is to look at how its revenue, and earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) margins are changing. I note that, last year, Mercury General's revenue from operations was lower than its revenue, so that could distort my analysis of its margins. While Mercury General may have maintained EBIT margins over the last year, revenue has fallen. Suffice it to say that is not a great sign of growth.

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

earnings-and-revenue-history
earnings-and-revenue-history

While it's always good to see growing profits, you should always remember that a weak balance sheet could come back to bite. So check Mercury General's balance sheet strength, before getting too excited.

Are Mercury General Insiders Aligned With All Shareholders?

Like standing at the lookout, surveying the horizon at sunrise, insider buying, for some investors, sparks joy. Because oftentimes, the purchase of stock is a sign that the buyer views it as undervalued. However, insiders are sometimes wrong, and we don't know the exact thinking behind their acquisitions.

It's a pleasure to note that insiders spent US$30m buying Mercury General shares, over the last year, without reporting any share sales whatsoever. And so I find myself almost expectant, and certainly hopeful, that this large outlay signals prescient optimism for the business. It is also worth noting that it was Executive Chairman of the Board George Joseph who made the biggest single purchase, worth US$6.0m, paying US$37.80 per share.

On top of the insider buying, we can also see that Mercury General insiders own a large chunk of the company. Indeed, with a collective holding of 51%, company insiders are in control and have plenty of capital behind the venture. To me this is a good sign because it suggests they will be incentivised to build value for shareholders over the long term. At the current share price, that insider holding is worth a whopping US$1.5b. Now that's what I call some serious skin in the game!

While insiders are apparently happy to hold and accumulate shares, that is just part of the pretty picture. The cherry on top is that the CEO, Gabe Tirador is paid comparatively modestly to CEOs at similar sized companies. For companies with market capitalizations between US$2.0b and US$6.4b, like Mercury General, the median CEO pay is around US$5.1m.

The Mercury General CEO received total compensation of just US$1.7m in the year to . That's clearly well below average, so at a glance, that arrangement seems generous to shareholders, and points to a modest remuneration culture. 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. It can also be a sign of good governance, more generally.

Should You Add Mercury General To Your Watchlist?

You can't deny that Mercury General 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 I do think this is one stock worth watching. It's still necessary to consider the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We've identified 1 warning sign with Mercury General , and understanding this should be part of your investment process.

As a growth investor I do like to see insider buying. But Mercury General isn't the only one. You can see a a free list of them here.

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

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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.