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Do Southern First Bancshares's (NASDAQ:SFST) Earnings Warrant Your Attention?

Simply Wall St

For beginners, it can seem like a good idea (and an exciting prospect) to buy a company that tells a good story to investors, even if it completely lacks a track record of revenue and profit. Unfortunately, high risk investments often have little probability of ever paying off, and many investors pay a price to learn their lesson.

In contrast to all that, I prefer to spend time on companies like Southern First Bancshares (NASDAQ:SFST), which has not only revenues, but also profits. Even if the shares are fully valued today, most capitalists would recognize its profits as the demonstration of steady value generation. Conversely, a loss-making company is yet to prove itself with profit, and eventually the sweet milk of external capital may run sour.

Check out our latest analysis for Southern First Bancshares

Southern First Bancshares's Earnings Per Share Are Growing.

The market is a voting machine in the short term, but a weighing machine in the long term, so share price follows earnings per share (EPS) eventually. Therefore, there are plenty of investors who like to buy shares in companies that are growing EPS. As a tree reaches steadily for the sky, Southern First Bancshares's EPS has grown 21% each year, compound, over three years. If the company can sustain that sort of growth, we'd expect shareholders to come away winners.

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 Southern First Bancshares's revenue from operations was lower than its revenue in the last twelve months, so that could distort my analysis of its margins. Southern First Bancshares maintained stable EBIT margins over the last year, all while growing revenue 18% to US$78m. That's progress.

In the chart below, you can see how the company has grown earnings, and revenue, over time. For finer detail, click on the image.

NasdaqGM:SFST Income Statement, January 14th 2020

While profitability drives the upside, prudent investors always check the balance sheet, too.

Are Southern First Bancshares Insiders Aligned With All Shareholders?

I like company leaders to have some skin in the game, so to speak, because it increases alignment of incentives between the people running the business, and its true owners. As a result, I'm encouraged by the fact that insiders own Southern First Bancshares shares worth a considerable sum. Indeed, they hold US$25m worth of its stock. That's a lot of money, and no small incentive to work hard. That amounts to 8.0% of the company, demonstrating a degree of high-level alignment with shareholders.

It's good to see that insiders are invested in the company, but are remuneration levels reasonable? A brief analysis of the CEO compensation suggests they are. I discovered that the median total compensation for the CEOs of companies like Southern First Bancshares with market caps between US$200m and US$800m is about US$1.7m.

The Southern First Bancshares CEO received US$1m 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.

Does Southern First Bancshares Deserve A Spot On Your Watchlist?

For growth investors like me, Southern First Bancshares's raw rate of earnings growth is a beacon in the night. If that's not enough, consider also that the CEO pay is quite reasonable, and insiders are well-invested alongside other shareholders. This may only be a fast rundown, but the takeaway for me is that Southern First Bancshares is worth keeping an eye on. If you think Southern First Bancshares 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.

Of course, you can do well (sometimes) buying stocks that are not growing earnings and do not have insiders buying shares. But as a growth investor I always like to check out companies that do have those features. You can access a free list of them here.

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

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.

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