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Lender Processing Services (LPS) is the country’s largest
processor of home mortgages. The company is trading at a discount to its intrinsic
value as analysts have struggled to understand its business in what has been extremely
hectic environment after LPS was spun-out in July. Historical financials by
segment were recently released, and in the interim, a number of regulatory and macro
fears have overshadowed fundamental economic reality. Despite a strong affiliation
with the mortgage industry, LPS’s earnings are actually positively correlated
with default activity. This has enabled LPS to deliver strong results in 2008
and the company is likely to outperform expectations in 2009 and 2010. Shares
are currently trading for 10x 2009E FCF while a more appropriate valuation would
put the stock closer to $40, offering 33% upside over the next year.
Cash Adj. Income
Cash Adj. EPS
FCF / Share
The company’s debt does not mature until 2013-2015 and has
been predominantly locked in at an interest rate of 6%. Free cash flow will be used to paydown $140MM
in debt annually, distribute a $38MM dividend, and then the excess will be used
to either buyback stock, retire debt at a discount, or make small acquisitions.
LPS did approve a small $75MM buyback in October, but this amount was only designed
to offset the non-cash compensation expense that will be incurred through 2009.
(+) Loan Facilitation
(+) Mortgage Processing
(+) Other TD&A
(-) Overhead Adjustment
Loan Facilitation: When a new
mortgage is originated, LPS provides settlement, appraisal, and other related
services. The company has roughly a 25% market share of these activities. This sales
have obviously been under pressure as lower sales have caused margins to
contract but Management expects business to stabilize by Q1 2009.
While things have been fairly dire, there is room for some
positive surprise that has largely went unnoticed on the sell-side due to Land
America (LFG) filing for bankruptcy in November. LFG generated $61MM in revenues in Q3 from its
Lender Services segment which competes directly with LPS’s Loan Facilitation
segment. LFG is in the process of being bought by FNF and since FNF no longer
has any mortgage processing business (it spun-out these businesses originally
create to LPS), many of LFG’s customers are likely to switch to LPS. LPS’s CEO
recently confirmed that the company was receiving a significant amount of calls
from LFG’s customers.
Mortgage Processing: LPS has a
mortgage servicing platform which handles all areas of the loan servicing
process including loan setup, ongoing processing, customer service, accounting,
and reporting. Of the roughly 50MM mortgages in the country, LPS processes 27MM
on its platform under long-term contracts. Revenue is approximately $1 per
month per loan and carries a near 50% margin.
Given that it can take years to transition off of a
platform, this is a highly recurring business model, evidenced by the fact that
all of the top 10 customers have had relationships with LPS for nearly 20
LPS processes the mortgages of virtually every major
mortgage originator in the country save for Bank of America, which recently
decided to attempt to use Countrywide’s platform and transition off of LPS’s
platform in 2010. Management is still trying to reverse this decision and has
pointed out that given LPs’s superior scale, it will cost Bank of America $50MM
more a year to bring these capabilities in house. Regardless of what Bank of
America ultimately decides, LPS’s management is confident that they can offset any
loss of revenue with the sale of other services to Bank of America. More
importantly, it’s unlikely that LPS loses any other customers given that none
of the other top 100 lenders have in-house mortgage processing systems.
On the positive side, the company continues to win new
business as banks look for cheaper and more effective ways of managing the
mortgage process. Chase is converting their prime portfolio over to LPS in 2009
and Wachovia is converting their HELOC platform to LPS in 2010. The 15-20MM
HELOC loan market represent a long-term growth opportunity for the company.
Traditionally, these loans were $15,000 and were treated as credit card debt by
lenders, but with sizes as high as $100,000, these loans are effectively real
estate loans and banks are finding that the internal platforms they have been
using are not robust enough to handle necessary loss mitigation activities.
Default: After a
loan defaults, LPS provides attorney referrals, title work, publishing,
posting, and inspections. If the mortgage is taken over by the bank LPS will
manage the asset sale, get the property ready for sale, or find a broker to
sell the property. The company has been taking substantial market share and still
has ample room to grow. Management currently estimates its share of these various
services at 17%. LPS is paid a fee per default based on the services used. While
some fees are paid up front, a number of fees are not collected until the home
is resold such that on average revenues are recognized over the default period
which can be as long as two years. This
can be a slight negative as LPS has had to invest considerable working capital
in order to grow the business.
Historically, the peak in foreclosure activity has
occurred after the bottom in housing prices and more importantly, heighted
foreclosure activity lasted for years after the peak in foreclosures. Management should have a pretty good sense of
the state of mortgages, given that they process half of them, and they believe
default activity will be strong through 2011.
RealtyTrac puts out a monthly foreclosure statistic. While
it’s likely that LPS has superior data, these numbers suggest a strong
correlation between quarterly default revenue and quarterly default filings.
However, if one was to assume that default filings each quarter create a 18
month revenue stream, there revenue numbers will be much higher than a number
of sell-side models leading to a $0.25-0.50/share upside in earnings depending
on how long of a lag effect one is willing to apply. Even more compelling is
that if the market starts to clear sometime in 2010, there could be substantial
origination activity while default revenues would continue to be recognized,
allowing LPS to materially outperform sell-side models in 2010.
Other Technology, Data
& Analytics: LPS sells software to customers to assists with the
property valuation, recordkeeping, and analytic services associated with loan
marketing and loss mitigation. This segment is the hardest to model of the four
as it is largely dependent on a mix of new software purchases and long-term
contracts. This business has generated $210-230MM in revenues per year since
2005 and management, which has decent visibility into the pipeline, expects it
to grow slightly next year.
Management has guided towards strong growth in sales and
margins over the next few years but the street has remained skeptical. As an
example, Morgan Stanley valued LPS at $32 in a reported dated November 3. The
analyst’s bull case values the shares at $50, but he was careful to warn
investors not to overpay for what would likely be peak earnings:
long-term annual growth outlook for 6-9% total company revenue growth and 50
basis points of operating margin expansion assume default volumes will continue
to rise through late 2010/early 2011, which we do not. If LPS’s internal
forecast is correct, our 2010 and 2011 estimates may be conservative.”
On July 10th Goldman had run a DCF analysis on
LPS an arrived at a $53 stock price yet Morgan Stanley’s DCF yielded a value of
$32. It’s interesting to note that a key difference diving Morgan Stanley’s
model is the analyst’s disbelief in guidance:
to 2012, revenue and EBITDA CAGR of -3% and -4% (versus the company’s long-term
revenue forecast of 6-9% annual growth)”
While Goldman had modeled default revenues in line with
what we believe to be closer to economic reality, a number of other sell-side
analyst have failed to realize that default activity creates a stream of
revenues for LPS that can last as long as the home remains in default rather
than a one-time fee. Management has indicated multiple times that this tends to
be 18 months and that revenue is spread roughly equally over this period.
Given that LPS has an incredibly resilient and balanced model,
very healthy margins, was able to grow throughout 2008 with considerable room
for future growth, a management team filled with executives who have all been
with the company for nearly two decades, and earnings that are now (thanks to
the large growth in default) inversely related to the economy, by the end of
2009 the stock could easily trade for $40/share or 13x the more than $3/share
in FCF that the company will generate in 2010.
LPS gets paid every time a loan originates or defaults and
so a wave of defaults would likely be followed by a wave of originations. Unless
those properties sit on the market indefinitely or are purchased with cash, new
mortgages will have to be created, which also benefits LPS through origination
volumes. Despite the fact that it would probably be best for the economy to let
this market clearing process occur, a number of proposals have caught a lot of
attention in the press. These issues have caused investors to doubt whether or
not the mortgage market will clear through defaults and new loans to qualified
homeowners (positive impact to EPS) or through direct government intervention that
prevents any foreclosure and origination activity (negative impact to EPS). These
headlines have sidelined a number of investors who would decided that it would
be safer to sell their shares in 2008 and buy them back in 2009 in order to
avoid the headline risk. The major news items that have dominated sell-side
research are below:
Home Valuation Code of
Conduct: In March 2008, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae agreed only to buy loans from
banks that follow new appraisal standards set by the New York Attorney General.
The new standards appear to prohibit lenders from using internal appraisers or
appraisers that are employed by a settlement service provider. A considerable
amount of sell-side research has been dedicated to the risk embedded in LPS’s
ownership of a settlement services provider. A lot of the fear here is
misplaced as LPS uses independent contracts for appraisal and in the event that
the law required all appraisals to be performed by a completely independent
third-party. In a worst case senario, a spin-off of this division would result
in the only national and fully independent provider of appraisals with massive
scale and a strong competitive advantage due to its relationship with LPS’s
FDIC Loan Guarantee
Proposal: In October the FDIC stated that it was working on a plan
to help banks renegotiate mortgages rather than foreclose on a home. Under this
proposal, loans modified would qualify for government guarantees. The FDIC
proposal is not going to save the bulk of loans with negative equity, but it
might save a few good ones. Unfortunately, whenever a government guarantee is
involved, adverse selection is soon to follow. Fortunately, the Treasury has
shown far more willingness to support the lending process by purchasing groups
of MBS rather than individual loans. More importantly, any guarantee activity
on behalf of the government would require a large third-party to provide valuation
services, and LPS is one of the few likely candidates. As an example, the
company is the current provider of mortgage information to the Hope Now
Foreclosure Moratorium: In late
October, JP Morgan said that it would not foreclose on any mortgages for 90
days. Banning foreclosure is a rosy concept with one big problem, it does not
work. In Massachusetts a 90 day moratorium in June was followed by a huge jump
in foreclosure activity when it expired in September. Historically, moratoriums
of defaults have only caused a significant ramp up in the number of defaults
after the moratorium expires. If everyone who can afford a $200,000 house
bought a $400,000 house it may seem like a simple solution to force banks to
write the mortgage down to $200,000 and have the bank (read government) take
the hit. However, what about the people with $400,000 homes who CAN afford to pay
their mortgages…won’t they want to lower their mortgage by $200,000 as well? When
a moratorium occurs, virtually anyone with negative equity in their home based
on market prices stops paying their mortgage with the hope of renegotiating.
The end result is that the problem only really gets worse.
seen aggressive loan modification programs implemented by the FDIC on financial
institutions that have gone into conservatorship. As the processor for these
financial institutions, we did not see a material change in the foreclosure
volumes once the more aggressive programs were put in place. Similarly, when
top level financial institutions implemented a principal balance reduction focused
program, the success rate was very low.” – Q3 Conference
While the government can certainly delay it, it is highly
unlikely that they can prevent the market from ultimately clearing as home
prices decline and homeowners filter back into homes that they can afford.
A final risk that has been mentioned is that LPS has a
rapidly consolidating customer base which usually leads to pricing pressure.
Much of this is mitigated by the fact that there really isn’t an effective alternative
provider for mortgage processing and that the company has renewed over half of
its MSP revenue without having to lower prices. Most banks are currently
focused on large recapitalizations and survival rather than saving a few pennies
on lower processing fees.
market development I would like to discuss is customer consolidation. As we
have stated in the past, customer consolidation generally is neutral to
positive to our business. Recent acquisition activity provides good examples as
the transactions between Wells Fargo and Wachovia and between Chase and
Washington Mutual were probably the most favorable outcomes for our business
going forward. All four of these financial institutions are major customers who
already use or are in the process of converting to our MSP platform.” – Q3 Conference Call
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