Here’s Why Sunrun (RUN) Remains the “Most Expensive Business in the Table” for Horizon Kinetics

Horizon Kinetics, an investment management firm, published its second quarter 2021 investor letter – a copy of which can be downloaded here. In its second-quarter letter, the fund talked about money supply, and inflation, debt vs GDP, ESG investing, and other related topics. You can view the fund’s top 5 holdings to have an idea about their top bets for 2021.

In the Q2 2021 investor letter of Horizon Kinetics, the fund mentioned Sunrun Inc. (NASDAQ: RUN), and discussed its stance on the firm. Sunrun Inc. is a San Francisco, California-based solar company, that currently has a $9.8 billion market capitalization. RUN delivered a -30.57% return since the beginning of the year, while its 12-month returns are up by 19.06%. The stock closed at $50.09 per share on July 26, 2021.

Here is what Horizon Kinetics has to say about Sunrun Inc. in its Q2 2021 investor letter:

“What this table did not cover is valuation. What’s expensive, what’s cheap? A good business that is too expensive is not a good investment. The most expensive business in the table is Sunrun. Sunrun is the nation’s largest residential rooftop solar panel system seller/installer. Sunrun’s valuation might also shed Thumbnail valuation.

To start at the top of the income statement, Sunrun shares trade at 10.3x revenues. The most profitable company in the S&P 500, Microsoft, trades at 13x revenues. Sunrun operates at a loss. Obviously, not only is tremendous growth anticipated, but tremendous profitability, too.

Let’s simply accept that investors have correctly anticipated Sunrun’s future success and make that the starting point for a valuation exercise.

If, 10 years from now, Sunrun is ultimately valued at 25x net income, and if today’s $9.5 billion valuation is appropriate, that would require $380 million of net income ($9,500 million ÷ 25).

Let’s say Sunrun will have the same net profit margin as the average S&P 500 company, which is 10%. That means it would need $3,800 million of sales to generate that level of earnings ($380 mill ÷ 10%).

Since sales are now $920 million, they would have to rise by 4.1x in the next 10 years. That would require annual sales growth of 15.2%.

You see how neatly that all works: investors accept the company’s 10-year, 15% annual sales growth projections, and if a 10% net profit margin and a P/E of 25x earnings are reasonable, then the company will have a $9.5 billion market cap at that time. Except that is the current price. That means a 10-year
return of zero.

In order to get a 10% annualized return from the stock, Sunrun would need to be priced at a P/E of 65x its earnings 10 years from now, if at a 10% net margin. Or it would have to have some combination of lower P/E and higher growth and/or higher profit margin.

In the meantime, this is Sunrun’s recent pattern of revenue growth and profitability (the company did recently increase its estimate of installed-capacity growth in 2021 from 20-25% to a new estimate of 25% to 30%).

For the time being, Sunrun loses an extraordinary amount of money, an amount that has been getting larger. Perhaps there are scale economies that will manifest in the future,so that it will attain profitability. Perhaps from the roughly one-half of Sunrun’s revenues that are from long-term customer service
agreements that run up to 25 years. For now, though, the company would seem to require a lot of external financing, and that is one of the greatest of business risks.”

top 10 energy sector stocks for 2021

Based on our calculations, Sunrun Inc. (NASDAQ: RUN) was not able to clinch a spot in our list of the 30 Most Popular Stocks Among Hedge Funds. RUN was in 41 hedge fund portfolios at the end of the first quarter of 2021, compared to 48 funds in the fourth quarter of 2020. Sunrun Inc. (NASDAQ: RUN) delivered a  -14.15% return in the past 3 months.

Hedge funds’ reputation as shrewd investors has been tarnished in the last decade as their hedged returns couldn’t keep up with the unhedged returns of the market indices. Our research has shown that hedge funds’ small-cap stock picks managed to beat the market by double digits annually between 1999 and 2016, but the margin of outperformance has been declining in recent years. Nevertheless, we were still able to identify in advance a select group of hedge fund holdings that outperformed the S&P 500 ETFs by 115 percentage points since March 2017 (see the details here). We were also able to identify in advance a select group of hedge fund holdings that underperformed the market by 10 percentage points annually between 2006 and 2017. Interestingly the margin of underperformance of these stocks has been increasing in recent years. Investors who are long the market and short these stocks would have returned more than 27% annually between 2015 and 2017. We have been tracking and sharing the list of these stocks since February 2017 in our quarterly newsletter.

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Disclosure: None. This article is originally published at Insider Monkey.