Southern Company (SO) Is Up 0.2% Today - Is It Still an Opportunity?

Shares of Southern Company (SO) jumped 0.2 % during today's morning session, bringing their 52 week performance to -3.8%. The stock seems to be overvalued in terms of traditional metrics, but in this day in age, we believe that a complete stock analysis should also take into account the company's growth prospects and market sentiment.

The Southern Company, through its subsidiaries, engages in the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. The large-cap Utilities company is based in Atlanta, United States and has 27,423 full time employees.

SO's P/E Ratio Is Comparable to its Sector Average

Compared to the Utilities sector's average of 22.89, Southern Company has a trailing twelve month price to earnings (P/E) ratio of 22.8 and an expected P/E ratio of 17.4. P/E ratios are calculated by dividing the company's share price by either its trailing 12 month ($3.08) or forward earnings per share ($4.03).

Earnings is another term for the net profits left over after subtracting cost of goods sold, taxes, and operating costs from the company's recorded sales revenue. One way of looking at the P/E ratio is that it represents how much investors are willing to pay for every dollar's worth of the company's earnings. Since Southern Company's P/E ratio is near its sector average of 22.89, we can deduce that the market is fairly valuing the company's earnings.

Southern Company Is Overvalued in Terms of Expected Growth

Southern Company's PEG ratio is 2.67. This metric represents the company's earnings per share divided by its expected growth ratio, and is a useful complement to the price to earnings analysis, because it factors in growth to the valuation. A PEG ratio around or below 1 implies that the market in fairly valuing the company in terms of its growth estimates. But when the PEG ratio is higher, as in Southern Company's case, it tells us the company is overvalued.

SO Has an Average P/B Ratio

Traditionally, stock pickers used to focus primarily on finding issues that were trading significantly below their tangible asset value, to guarantee themselves a margin of safety. But such an approach would screen out many valuable securities because many profitable businesses -- especially those that heavily leverage information technology -- simply do not have many tangible assets compared to more capital intensive companies.

Therefore, modern value investors tend to focus less on absolute price to book value (P/B) ratios. Instead of singling out stocks with a P/B ratio of less than 1, they will compare the target company against its peer group. For Southern Company, the P/B value is 2.51 while the average for the Utilities sector is 1.03.

SO's Weak Cash Flow Generation Is Troubling

The table below shows that Southern Company is not generating enough cash. A well run company will generally have cash flows that reflect the strength of its underlying business, and in Southern Company's case, free cash flow is growing at an average rate of 2.2% with a coefficient of variability of 36.8%. We can also see that cash flows from operations are evolving at a 2.2% rate, versus 1.2%:

Date Reported Cash Flow from Operations ($ k) Capital expenditures ($ k) Free Cashflow ($ k) YoY Growth (%)
2022-12-31 6,302,000 -7,923,000 -1,621,000 -51.35
2021-12-31 6,169,000 -7,240,000 -1,071,000 -43.76
2020-12-31 6,696,000 -7,441,000 -745,000 58.0
2019-12-31 5,781,000 -7,555,000 -1,774,000 n/a

Southern Company's Margins Are Strong

If you buy a stock for the long run, you want the underlying business model to be profitable. Gross margins tell you how much profit the company generates compared to the cost of revenue, which is the cost directly related to providing Southern Company's goods and services. Operating margins, on the other hand, tell you how much of these profits the company keeps after you take overhead into account.

Southern Company's Gross Margins

Date Reported Revenue ($ k) Cost of Revenue ($ k) Gross Margins (%) YoY Growth (%)
2022-12-31 29,279,000 18,458,000 36.96 -15.09
2021-12-31 23,113,000 13,052,000 43.53 -10.38
2020-12-31 20,375,000 10,478,000 48.57 8.05
2019-12-31 21,419,000 11,792,000 44.95 n/a

Southern Company's Operating Margins

Date Reported Total Revenue ($ k) Operating Expenses ($ k) Operating Margins (%) YoY Growth (%)
2022-12-31 29,279,000 5,257,000 19 25.0
2021-12-31 23,113,000 6,547,000 15.2 -35.76
2020-12-31 20,375,000 5,077,000 23.66 -5.02
2019-12-31 21,419,000 4,292,000 24.91 n/a

Southern Company's cost of revenue is growing at a rate of 11.9% in contrast to 5.2% for operating expenses. Sales revenues, on the other hand, have experienced a 8.1% growth rate. As a result, the average gross margins growth is -4.8 and the average operating margins growth rate is -6.5, with coefficients of variability of 11.1% and 21.5% respectively.

We See Mixed Market Signals Regarding SO

Southern Company has an average rating of buy and target prices ranging from $80.0 to $61.0. At its current price of $70.28, the company is trading -4.2% away from its target price of $73.36. 1.6% of the company's shares are linked to short positions, and 64.2% of the shares are owned by institutional investors.

Date Reported Holder Percentage Shares Value
2023-03-31 Vanguard Group, Inc. (The) 9% 98,973,933 $6,955,887,890
2023-03-31 Blackrock Inc. 7% 78,993,895 $5,551,690,844
2023-03-31 State Street Corporation 6% 63,329,188 $4,450,775,255
2023-03-31 Price (T.Rowe) Associates Inc 6% 61,472,651 $4,320,297,837
2023-03-31 FMR, LLC 3% 34,719,486 $2,440,085,433
2023-03-31 Massachusetts Financial Services Co. 3% 27,376,517 $1,924,021,581
2023-03-31 Geode Capital Management, LLC 2% 19,363,593 $1,360,873,292
2023-03-31 Franklin Resources, Inc. 1% 15,428,181 $1,084,292,541
2023-03-31 Northern Trust Corporation 1% 11,266,703 $791,823,873
2023-03-31 Capital Research Global Investors 1% 11,026,622 $774,950,980
The above analysis is intended for educational purposes only and was performed on the basis of publicly available data. It is not to be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Any buy, sell, or other recommendations mentioned in the article are direct quotations of consensus recommendations from the analysts covering the stock, and do not represent the opinions of Market Inference or its writers. Past performance, accounting data, and inferences about market position and corporate valuation are not reliable indicators of future price movements. Market Inference does not provide financial advice. Investors should conduct their own review and analysis of any company of interest before making an investment decision.