What You Were Buying Last Week: FirstGroup plc (FGP)

LONDON — One of Warren Buffett‘s famous investing sayings is “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful” — or, in other words, sell when others are buying and buy when they’re selling.

But we might expect Foolish investors to know that, and looking at what Fools have been buying recently might well provide us with some ideas for good investments.

So, in this series of articles, we’re going to look at what customers of The Motley Fool ShareDealing Service have been buying in the past week or so, and what might have made them decide to do so.

The share price of FirstGroup plc (LON:FGP) — the bus and rail operator — has plunged over 40% in the past couple of weeks, following a triple-whammy announcement of a rights issue, a dividend cut and a profit warning in its preliminary final results, and the loss of chairman Martin Gilbert, who agreed to stand down once a successor has been found.

The cash-call was necessary to avert a potential downgrading of debt-laden FirstGroup plc (LON:FGP)’s credit rating to “junk status”, which could have forced up interest rates on its existing debt, and also caused serious problems, or even disqualification, when bidding for things like rail franchises.

FirstGroup plc (FGP)£215 million of the £615 million that FirstGroup plc (LON:FGP) aims to raise in its “3 for 2” rights issue will be used to pay off a small proportion of the £2.2 billion of debt that the company is currently saddled with, much of which resulted from its £2.3 billion purchase of U.S. transport group Laidlaw in 2007. The rest will go toward the estimated £1.6 billion that FirstGroup intends to invest groupwide over the next four years.

In the preliminary results issued on May 20, Tim O’Toole, FirstGroup plc (LON:FGP)’s chief executive, was upbeat about both the rights issue and the prospects for the long-term investment program: “Through these actions, combined with our scale and expertise, we are positioning the business for improved growth and returning it to a profile of consistent returns and cash generation.”

Some investors clearly share his optimism, and think the fall has been overdone, which helped put FirstGroup plc (LON:FGP) in the number eight spot in our latest “Top Ten Buys” list*.

If things go well over the next few years — if the company’s investment and transformation program proves fruitful, if its recovery programs for its First Student and U.K. Bus operations work out, if it can turnaround the performance of its Greyhound division in the U.S., if it can extend existing U.K. rail contracts and win new ones, and if its new dividend policy really proves to be “progressive and sustainable” when dividends recommence with 2014’s final payment — people buying FirstGroup plc (LON:FGP)’s shares now could be making a very profitable investment.

But that’s a lot of “ifs” standing between FirstGroup and the long term success of its share price.

The article What You Were Buying Last Week: FirstGroup originally appeared on Fool.com and is written by Jon Wallis.

Jon Wallis has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

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