Sleepy Amerco Is Packing In the Profits

by James Brumley | June 5, 2013 9:04 am

A year ago, if you’d asked 100 investors to each name 10 stocks that had a shot at doubling in 12 months, odds are you wouldn’t have heard the name Amerco (UHAL[1]) once. Heck, odds are that most investors wouldn’t even know that Amerco was the publicly traded corporate name for truck-rental company U-Haul. Yet, there it is — UHAL shares are up 118% for the past year.

But that huge rise is in the rearview mirror — does this truck-rental outfit have the right stuff to keep driving at this pace, or was Amerco lucky to make it this far?


Amerco may be one of the market’s best-kept secrets in terms of unappreciated value — a characteristic that may make Wednesday’s earnings announcement that much sweeter.

After a revenue lull whittled the top line down to fiscal 2010’s $1.91 billion, a real estate recovery amid a broader economic rebound led to revenue of $2.36 billion last year. That’s a solid annualized sales improvement of 12%, yet it’s the least impressive of Amerco’s metrics.

During the same timeframe, the truck rental (and self-storage) outfit pumped up the bottom line from $2.74 per share in 2010 to $10.09 last fiscal year; the few analysts that are following the company believe earnings will increase by 10% — to $12.85 a share — for the fiscal year that ended in March. The projected per-share earnings of $14.00 for the current fiscal year (ending in March 2014) would translate into 9% increase.

Net margins have recovered from 2008’s ultra-weak figure of 0.7% to 2012’s net margins of 8.2%, which happens to be a multiyear high level of profitability. Yet, despite the rocket ride the stock’s taken over the past 12 months, newcomers can still step into this stock at a mere trailing P/E of 13.4, and a forward-looking one of 12.3. Oh, and Amerco has topped estimates in 13 of the past 14 quarters, giving it one of the market’s best-performing stocks on the beat/miss front for the past three years.

Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find any fault with Amerco. That’s why current and/or prospective shareholders should feel pretty good heading into Wednesday’s post-close earnings announcement.

Earnings Spotlight

As of the latest look, the tiny analyst following keeping tabs on Amerco is only looking for a profit of $1.23 per share; fiscal Q4 (calendar Q1) is generally the weakest for the company.

That target income level is actually 6 cents less than the year-ago earnings figure of $1.29, and if the company actually pulls in the projected bottom line, it would be the first quarter in at least the past 12 that Amerco didn’t post stronger year-over-year income. Just as a reminder, though: The truck rental and storage facility name has beaten estimates in all but one quarter for the past 3½ years.

Translation: You can probably rely on the company boasting a bullish surprise this afternoon.

All of that being said, one earnings announcement can certainly be a catalytic event, but the earnings afterglow is just a fleeting moment. To get the most out of UHAL, shareholders may be best served by getting in, and staying in for the long haul. Fortunately, Amerco can provide plenty of reason to do exactly that.

Looking Ahead

And beyond the balance sheet, U-Haul offers plenty of qualities that would tempt an investor. One of those reasons is the way the company gives cash back to shareholders; it doesn’t need to retain a great deal of earnings to finance strong growth.

Those familiar with Amerco may point out that the stock doesn’t pay a regular dividend. True — but the stock does pay big special dividends from time to time. Shareholders pocketed $1 per share at the end of 2011 when the stock was trading around $88, and they took home a $5-per-share special dividend at the end of 2012, with shares around $120. Some analysts believe more special dividends on top of impressive growth are in the cards.

The most compelling reason of all to own some UHAL, however lies in the advantage of size.

While U-Haul competes with Penske and Budget in the truck rental arena, U-Haul is the undisputed category leader, controlling about 50% of the U.S. market. It’s leveraging that size too, cutting its variable costs more than its competition can, and outright manhandling Budget and Penske in some markets.

It’s not just a matter of forcing other truck rental companies to backpedal, though. Amerco is also leveraging its wide reach to funnel customers into its expansive — and more lucrative — self-storage network. For perspective, almost 30% of the storage division’s revenue is turned into free cash flow, fueling a big chunk of those special dividends.

The bottom line is good news on Wednesday will only be part of a very bullish story for Amerco. The only real risk here is a “buy the rumor, sell the news” scenario — but even if we see it happen, it’s likely to be a short-lived phenomenon.

James Brumley does not have a position in Amerco. 

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