One Neil Woodford growth stock I’d buy, and one I’d sell

Dice engraved with the words buy and sell
Dice engraved with the words buy and sell

Purplebricks (LSE: PURP) and Watkin Jones (LSE: WJG) have a number of things in common. They’re both among the biggest 25 companies on the AIM market. Both listed relatively recently at 100p a share. Purplebricks debuted in December 2015 and Watkin Jones in March 2016. Both are connected to the property market and both have high-profile fund manager Neil Woodford as a major investor. Woodford owns over 29% of Purplebricks and 13% of Watkin Jones.

The two companies also have some notable differences. Purplebricks was founded less than 10 years ago and is a disruptive ‘hybrid’ estate agency. Watkin Jones’ roots go back as far as 1791 and it’s engaged in a more traditional business of property development and construction. Purplebricks is currently loss-making, while Watkin Jones is not only profitable, but also pays a dividend.

Just over a year ago, I named Watkin Jones as a stock I’d buy for 2018, and Purplebricks as a stock I’d sell. In a year in which the AIM market fell 19.2%, the Watkin Jones share price declined 6.4% (220p to 206p), while the Purplebricks share price slumped a whopping 64.4% (416p to 148p). In view of the magnitude of the difference in the movement of their share prices over the past year, have I changed my rating of these two stocks for 2019?

Purple blues

A year ago, I was concerned about Purplebricks’ high valuation. The shares were trading at 160 times a maiden profit forecast for its financial year ending April 2019. It’s not now forecast to make a profit this year. Or next year. The maiden profit is currently pencilled in for the year to April 2021. And the current share price is 130 times that forecast profit.

Aside from the sky-high valuation and a maiden profit forecast that has continually retreated over the horizon (originally forecast for the year to April 2017), I have another big concern. I have serious doubts about the sustainability of Purplebricks’ business model.

House-sellers pay the company upfront whether the sale completes or not. This might have just about worked in the booming property market of the last few years, when houses were ‘selling themselves’, but we’re now seeing a slowing market — not only in the UK, but also in Australia, Canada and the US, where Purplebricks is aggressively expanding.

With traditional estate agents also fighting back, I can see Purplebricks’ going a similar way to another Woodford flop: ‘disruptive’ mattress seller eve Sleep. As such, I continue to rate the stock a ‘sell’.

Keep up with the Joneses

I believe Woodford is on far more solid ground with Watkin Jones, and I continue to rate this stock a ‘buy’. The company is a UK leader in multi-occupancy residential property, with a focus on the student accommodation and build-to-rent sectors. There’s good growth here, but I also think this positioning — together with the group’s accommodation management arm — could provide it with more resilience through the economic cycle than companies focused on some of the other areas of the property market.

Earlier this week, Watkin Jones posted record results for its financial year ended 30 September. Earnings increased 14% and its board upped the dividend by 15%. At the current share price, we’re looking at a valuation of 13.7 times trailing earnings, and a running dividend yield of 3.5%. I view this as an attractive investment proposition.

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G A Chester has no position in any of the 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.