Travel management business owner Hogg Robinson Group(LSE: HRG) also operates a fast-growing financial technology (FinTech) business that could grow to transform the prospects for the firm and its investors.
Today's full-year results are encouraging. In constant currency exchange rate terms, underlying operating profit lifted by 2%, profit before tax rose 4% and earnings per share shot up 8%. The directors underlined this positive outcome with a 5% hike in the dividend.
Embedded within these results is the performance of Fraedom, the company's spritely FinTech operation. Within that division, in constant currency terms, revenue ballooned by 12.9% and adjusted underlying operating profit shot up 22%.
This growing business now accounts for 16.6% of overall operating profits for Hogg Robinson Group, and if the rate of growth continues, it won't be long before Fraedom becomes a significant profit and share-price driver for the company.
The directors explain in today's report that Fraedom's two routes to market are partner firms -- which are usually banks -- and direct clients. Banks use the firm's technology to build and brand payment and expense products to offer to their own business customers, and direct clients buy the technology to implement expense solutions for their businesses.
Re-energising the core business.
As exciting as growth in the Fraedom division might be, it's clear that the directors are making strong moves to boost growth in the firm's core business travel management division too.
Hogg Robinson typically delivers corporate travel arrangements for businesses, takes care of moving crews and engineers to rigs and remote locations in the oil and gas industry, and deals with travel arrangements for governments. In the full-year results statement, chief executive David Radcliffe tells us that a re-focused growth strategy is delivering to expectations with "real gains in terms of improved efficiency, lower operating costs and an enhanced service to our clients and end customers."
Things aren't easy though. The trading environment is characterised by continuing macroeconomic and geopolitical uncertainty, and aggressive competitor pricing activity keeps the firm on its toes. However, Mr Radcliffe remains confident in the ongoing growth prospects of both HRG - the travel management business -- and of Fraedom. He said in today's report: "We have a clear strategy and a defined route to accelerate and improve performance, underpinned by our technology."
In an indication of Hogg Robinson's ongoing commitment to its core operating division, the firm also announced today the acquisition of Germany-focused digital travel innovator eWings.com, which the firm describes as "a next-generation travel management company."
Is this firm too cheap?
Despite all the positives, Hogg Robinson trades on a modest-looking valuation. Today's 70p share price throws out a forward price-to-earnings ratio of just eight for the year to March 2019 and the forward dividend yield sits just above 4%. City analysts following the firm expect earnings to lift 4% for the year to March 2018 and 7% the year after that.
Those forward earnings look set to cover the dividend payout almost three times, suggesting the directors see opportunities to reinvest incoming cash for growth rather than paying it all out on the dividend.
One issue potentially pegging the valuation is the firm's large pension deficit, although payments to the pension hole remain manageable, and the firm's growth could swamp the problem over the coming years.
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Kevin Godbold has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.