A month has gone by since the last earnings report for Service Corp. (SCI). Shares have lost about 19.3% in that time frame, outperforming the S&P 500.
Will the recent negative trend continue leading up to its next earnings release, or is Service Corp. due for a breakout? Before we dive into how investors and analysts have reacted as of late, let's take a quick look at the most recent earnings report in order to get a better handle on the important catalysts.
Service Corporation Q4 Earnings In Line, Increase Y/Y
Service Corporation posted fourth-quarter 2019 results, wherein earnings were in line, while sales surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Further, both metrics improved year over year. Results were driven by solid performance in the funeral segment, partly offset by unfavorable timing of revenue recognition related to the cemetery sales production.
Q4 in Detail
Service Corporation reported adjusted earnings of 60 cents per share, which were in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. Further, the bottom line improved 11.1% from the year-ago quarter, driven by strength in funeral services, and lower general and administrative expenses. However, soft cemetery revenues and an elevated tax hurt the bottom line to some extent.
Total revenues of $850.8 million moved up 3.7% from $820.8 million in the year-ago quarter, backed by solid funeral revenues. Moreover, the figure beat the consensus mark of $844 million.
General and administrative costs dipped 34.4% to $25 million. The decline resulted from reduced costs in the quarter due to its long-term and short-term incentive compensation plan.
Additionally, the company’s interest costs declined 5.5% to $44.5 million in the reported quarter.
Comparable Funeral revenues grew 5.1%, backed by improved preneed revenues along with higher core revenues. Core revenues were up, owing to increased funeral services performed and higher average revenue per service conducted. Recognized pre-need revenues improved 29.7% on high non-funeral home sales production, courtesy of growth in the number of contracts sold and a hike in average revenue per contract sold.
Comparable pre-need funeral sales production rose 12.1%, driven by rise in pre-need production in non-funeral home channel and an increase in core funeral locations.
Comparable funeral gross profit advanced 10% to $100.8 million, driven by sales growth, partly offset by rise in selling compensation, owing to higher pre-need funeral sales production. Also, the gross margin expanded 100 basis points (bps) to 21.1%.
Comparable Cemetery revenues inched up 0.5% year over year on solid recognized pre-need property revenues. This was partly offset by a decline in recognized pre-need merchandise and service revenues. Comparable pre-need cemetery sales production rose 5.2%.
Comparable cemetery gross profit declined 3% to $114.6 million and the respective margin contracted 120 bps to 32.5%. The decline can be attributable to flat cemetery sales as well as cost inflation.
Other Financial Details
The company ended the quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $186.3 million, long-term debt of $3,513.5 million, and total equity of $1,823.3 million.
Net cash provided by operating activities (excluding special items) amounted to $156.6 million in the quarter compared with $163.5 million in the prior-year period.
During the fourth quarter, Service Corporation returned $110.2 million to its shareholders via dividends and share buybacks, and invested $48.2 million in land for building funeral homes and buyout purposes.
Further, it incurred capital expenditure of $62.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.
For 2020, the company projects net cash from operating activities (excluding special items) of $590-$640 million. Adjusted earnings are anticipated to be $1.96-$2.16 per share, whereas it reported $1.90 in the last year. However, rise in effective tax rate is likely to affect the bottom line to the tune of 5 cents in 2020.
Moving on, core funeral revenues are estimated to rise 1-2% and total preneed funeral sales production is likely to increase 3-5%. Moreover, funeral services performed and sales averages are anticipated to be flat to marginally up during 2020. Speaking of the cemetery segment, the company forecasts sales productions and cemetery operating revenues to grow in mid-single digits along with positive cemetery operating profit and margins. In fact, margins in the segment have been anticipated to be more than 30%.
Service Corporation plans to allocate $230 million toward capital enhancements at existing facilities and cemetery development.
How Have Estimates Been Moving Since Then?
It turns out, fresh estimates have trended upward during the past month.
At this time, Service Corp. has a nice Growth Score of B, though it is lagging a bit on the Momentum Score front with a C. Following the exact same course, the stock was allocated a grade of C on the value side, putting it in the middle 20% for this investment strategy.
Overall, the stock has an aggregate VGM Score of B. If you aren't focused on one strategy, this score is the one you should be interested in.
Estimates have been trending upward for the stock, and the magnitude of this revision has been net zero. Notably, Service Corp. has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). We expect an in-line return from the stock in the next few months.
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