IHS Inc. (NYSE:IHS) recently announced that it is buying privately held R.L. Polk for $1.4 billion. Polk's Carfax service is a mainstay in the auto industry and materially bolsters IHS' auto offerings. The price tag shows just how valuable information can be. Investors should also look at Nielsen Hldg NV (NYSE:NLSN) and DigitalGlobe Inc (NYSE:DGI).
The most expensive part of creating a research-based business is creating the systems to collect, analyze, and distribute the research. Once that's done, however, a single information product can be sold to multiple customers. And, if done well, the information can be sliced and diced into new products.
So it isn't surprising to see a company like IHS Inc. (NYSE:IHS), which offers research-based services to industries as diverse as coal and electronics, step in and pay big bucks to buy the company behind Carfax. That brand is established and has a solid infrastructure in place. Although the deal was the result of an auction, which could mean IHS Inc. (NYSE:IHS) paid more than it otherwise might have liked, the service fits right in with IHS' broader business.
And IHS Inc. (NYSE:IHS) has been performing well for a decade, with the top line going from about $350 million in 2003 to about $1.5 billion last year. In fact, sales advanced right through the recession. Earnings have been a bit more volatile, but have been over $1.50 a share since 2008 and were nearly $2.40 in 2012. The shares have been on a fairly steady ascent since late 2009, so IHS Inc. (NYSE:IHS) is probably most appropriate for growth investors.
That said, the billion dollar purchase just goes to show the value that information services have hidden beneath the seemingly simple offering of information. For example, Nielsen Hldg NV (NYSE:NLSN) is another research specialist best known for its industry standard television ratings. That business makes up about a third of the top line. The company's bigger business is monitoring what people buy, which accounts for around two thirds of revenues.
The company operates in both developed and developing markets, with exposure to over 100 countries. The most valuable part of what Nielsen Hldg NV (NYSE:NLSN) offers is a trusted brand and the infrastructure needed to accurately monitor consumer behavior. This allows customers to outsource the important market research step with confidence.
Nielsen Hldg NV (NYSE:NLSN), however, ran into financial troubles in the mid-2000s and was taken private in 2006. It came public again in mid-2011, so it has a short trading history. That said, it had more than $5.6 billion in revenue in 2012 and looks to be on a much more solid footing today. It might be a good time to get aboard while the market is still trying to assess Nielsen Hldg NV (NYSE:NLSN)'s business prospects.