Is Huntington Ingalls Overvalued?

Well, that was fast.

Three months ago, asked to suggest just one defense stock to watch in 2016, I picked Huntington Ingalls as a potential bargain. My reason? Actually, there were three.

Here's how Huntington Ingalls stock has performed since I named it my top pick for 2016. HII data by YCharts.

First off, the stock's price-to-earnings ratio of 15 was one of the cheapest in the defense industry. Weighed against projected long-term growth rates of 9% annually, though, it wasn't cheap enough to justify buying on this metric alone.

So I added two more. Looking past GAAP "net earnings" to examine the underlying cash profits being generated at the company, I found Huntington Ingalls churning out cash -- enough so to drive its price-to-free cash flow ratio down all the way to 10. (That's cheap.) Last but not least, I measured Huntington Ingalls against my favorite yardstick for valuing defense contractors: price-to-sales.

Historically, you see, moderately profitable defense contractors with decent growth prospects tend to sell for prices roughly equal to the amount of revenue they generate in a year -- so a P/S ratio of 1.0. Huntington Ingalls, however, was selling for only 0.8 times sales. That was my final clue that the stock was "cheap."

Times change. Opinions do, tooFor better or for worse (depending on your perspective), these shares are cheap no longer. The past three months have seen Huntington Ingalls shares spike 16% in value. Indeed, they recently hit an all-time high of more than $145 per share. The stock's P/E ratio has climbed past 17, and its P/S ratio is hovering just below "fair value" of 1.0.

In short, the stock is no longer a clear-cut bargain. But is it a sell?

Honestly, I'm not sure I'd go that far. According to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence, Huntington Ingalls' free cash flow at last report was $640 million produced over the past 12 months. Divided into the company's $6.8 billion market cap, that still works out to a price-to-free cash flow ratio not much above 10 (10.6, to be precise).

With analysts on Yahoo! Finance now predicting near-10% annualized earnings growth over the next five years, that still doesn't look terribly expensive to me. And Huntington is still the nation's only builder of nuclear aircraft carriers, and runs a thriving business building submarines and destroyers for the Navy, and cutters for the Coast Guard as well. And rival shipbuilders like General Dynamicsdo sell for even higher P/S ratios than Huntington currently. (By the way, General Dynamics reports earnings on Wednesday. Are you ready?)

Even if Huntington Ingalls isn't a bargain based on P/S, it may at least be a relative bargain within its industry.

The upshot for investorsLong story short, even after its impressive three-month run, I wouldn't risk shorting this stock just now. But with two out of three valuation metrics telling me it's no bargain, I wouldn't go long Huntington Ingalls, either.

The article Is Huntington Ingalls Overvalued? originally appeared on

Rich 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. 297 out of more than 75,000 rated members.The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.

Copyright 1995 - 2016 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.