XPO’s Deeper Slide Spurs Investor Clamor for More Acquisitions

(Bloomberg) -- XPO Logistics Inc. Chief Executive Officer Brad Jacobs is feeling more heat from investors to make acquisitions after the short-haul trucker and warehouse service provider lost $3 billion of value in October.

The CEO’s knack for building companies through deals is why many investors bought the shares, said Bascome Majors, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group. XPO, which spent about $5 billion buying two large trucking companies in 2015, fueled anticipation that acquisitions would resume after raising $665 million in a 2017 equity offering.

“New-money investment in XPO today remains more about faith in Brad Jacobs as a capital allocator than a cyclical call on logistics,” Majors said in a note. “It does feel like patience is running thinner against a cloudier midterm macro backdrop and rising yields in debt capital markets.”

Rising worries about the economic landscape contributed to XPO’s 22 percent drop in October, its worst month in three years. That was just after the shares rose to a record in late September, as investors bet that Jacobs would replicate his success at building and selling four other businesses. He bought control of what is now XPO for $150 million in 2011 and took sales from $175 million to an estimated $17.5 billion this year.

Profit Squeeze

The shares fell further on Thursday, a day after XPO reported third-quarter profit that trailed analysts’ estimates. The company also cut its $1.6 billion target for 2018 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization by $15 million because of a charge related to the bankruptcy of U.K. retailer House of Fraser.

XPO slid 5.9 percent to $84.15 at 1:58 p.m. in New York after dropping 11 percent for the biggest intraday decline since June 2016.

Analysts raised concerns over the departure next month of strategy chief Scott Malat, so soon after Chief Financial Officer John Hardig stepped down in August. Malat had been with XPO since 2011 and was involved in deals.

“The recent management changes are likely to raise questions whether XPO’s acquisition strategy is on track,” Jefferies analyst David Kerstens said in a note to clients.

‘Motivated’ Sellers

But Jacobs said buying companies is likely to be easier as stocks continue to decline from record highs and valuations cool off. XPO is focusing on targets with long-term customer contracts that provide steady revenue, he said. His previous companies include United Rentals Inc. and United Waste Systems.

“The sellers have just been generally more reasonable, generally more motivated and flexible,” he said. “So I’m more optimistic about the timing of M&A than I have been in the past.”

XPO has invested heavily in technology, including purchasing 5,000 mobile warehouse robots, and has hired more sales people to take market share from competitors. The Greenwich, Connecticut-based company posted 12 percent sales growth in the third quarter as adjusted net income jumped 58 percent to $121.3 million.

“We like the core organic growth story, margin improvement potential, strong management team, and technology leadership at XPO,” said Ravi Shanker, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “But also see it as defensive in a downturn, given the asset-light business, operating improvements, e-commerce exposure and improving balance sheet.”

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