Bankrate Stock Downgraded: 3 Things You Need to Know

By Markets Fool.com

Bankrate investors are having a bad day.

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A very bad day.

In the wake of an earnings report that showed Bankrate losing $13.3 million on $370.5 million in revenue last year, Bankrate shares lost nearly half their value Thursday morning. Adding to the pain is the fact that one analyst, looking at the news, sees worse things ahead for Bankrate, and has decided to downgrade the stock.

The news
Canadian stock picker RBC Capital announced this morning that it is pulling its outperform rating on Bankrate stock, and downgrading the shares to sector perform. According to the analyst, a price target of $16 that looked reasonable before the earnings news came out, no longer does -- and so RBC is cutting its price target to $9 a share.

How bad is this news? Here's one clue: According to our data here at Motley Fool CAPS, RBC Capital Markets is one of the best investors on the planet, outperforming better than 85% of investors we track on our service. In short, when RBC downgrades a stock like it did today -- you'd be well advised to listen up.


This is a bank. How would you rate it? Image source: New York Public Library.

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Here are three more things you need to know about today's downgrade.

Thing 1: Bankrate actually didn't miss its guidance by all that much
How does a near-50% loss in market cap not convince RBC to abandon all hope, and drop the stock all the way to sell? As the analyst sees it, Bankrate's news last night really wasn't as bad as some people seem to think.

Although Bankrate reported revenue of only $93 million for its fiscal fourth quarter (analysts had been predicting $134 million), the company still managed to earn $4.8 million for the quarter, and $13.8 million in "adjusted" net income. That works out to about $0.09 per share in GAAP profits, or $0.26 per share pro forma -- versus analyst estimates of $0.19. Depending on how you read those numbers, Bankrate could be said to have beat estimates, or missed them badly.

As reported on StreetInsider.com today, though, RBC Capital is hedging its bets, and calling the quarter "a Small Miss."

Thing 2: Those earnings may not matter
What really worries RBC about Bankrate's report last night, however, isn't the earnings miss at all. Rather, RBC focuses on how Bankrate gave "Q1 guidance materially below Street ests, citing changes in Google's products & policies leading to significantly lower traffic & reduced revenue visibility."

As Bankrate explained in its report, Google (the subsidiary ofAlphabet ) "testing of more prominent placement of its soon-to-be terminated Compare Credit Cards service adversely affected Credit Cards segment growth and profitability" at Bankrate itself. And while Compare Credit Cards may no longer be a factor affecting Bankrate, the company's feeling once burned, twice shy about Alphabet's ability to hurt its business.

Warns Bankrate: "We believe Google's announcement is a positive development for Bankrate. However, we are still assessing the impact of this announcement along with other recent changes we are seeing, including Google displaying additional paid ads on the top of many search results." Factoring Google into the picture, Bankrate warned investors that in the first quarter of 2016, it's expecting to collect only revenue "greater than $80 million" -- and giving no guidance on GAAP profits at all.

Thing 3: This is bad
How bad is this for Bankrate? Well, according to analysts quoted on S&P Global Market Intelligence, Bankrate is supposed to book $82 million in revenue this current quarter. New guidance suggests Bankrate thinks that target is at least potentially achievable.

On the other hand, analysts still expect Bankrate to report a $0.03-per-share loss this quarter -- but lacking guidance from management, investors now face the prospect that Bankrate won't even meet that incredibly unoptimistic target.

This throws into further question Bankrate's ability to meet analyst expectations of returning to profitability this year, for 2016 as a whole, after losing money in 2015. (And indeed, losing money in four of its past six years for that matter.)

And one more thing...
All this being said, not all hope is lost for Bankrate investors. Sure, the GAAP numbers are looking pretty awful -- but Bankrate is still generating plenty of cash where it counts.

Over the past five years, Bankrate has churned out an average of $51 million in positive free cash flow annually, despite reporting a cumulative GAAP net loss for the period. If it can keep this up, Bankrate could theoretically pay down its net debt of $153 million in three years flat.

And bad as the Q4 news appears to have been, the last we saw, Bankrate was still doing well on the cash flow front. While complete Q4 numbers haven't yet been released, we know that Bankrate remained strongly free-cash-flow positive in each of the three 2015 quarters for which data is available. Chances are good that when the final data for the year come out, we'll see that Bankrate also generated plenty of cash for the year as a whole.

The upshot for investors
At a valuation of roughly 16.4 times its average annual free cash flow from the past five years, Bankrate stock looks bargain priced for the 18% long-term annual profits growth that analysts (still) predict it will achieve.

That being said, if you decide you'd rather wait for Bankrate to release its 10-K for the year, and get a look at the complete cash flow picture before deciding whether to buy Bankrate stock...I wouldn't blame you for that a bit.

In fact, that's precisely what I plan to do, myself.

The article Bankrate Stock Downgraded: 3 Things You Need to Know originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributorRich Smithdoes not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him onMotley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handleTMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 260 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors.The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Alphabet (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.