Rising Star Buy: Back to School With Bridgepoint Education

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series.

When I first bought shares of for-profit educator Bridgepoint Education (NYS: BPI) three months ago for my Messed-Up Expectations portfolio, worries about changes to industry regulations were weighing down the stock price. In fact, the fears and Congressional hatred of the company got to the point that priced-in expectations for growth of free cash flow were actually negative, meaning the company wouldn't do any better, ever.

A short time later, the Department of Education released its new regulations, and investors realized that they were not as onerous as feared. Shares moved up as much as 38% over my purchase price, and expectations for future growth dramatically improved as a result.

"Then depression set in"
The price has fallen rather dramatically since then. Two items seem to share culpability.

First, Warburg Pincus, owner of about two-thirds of Bridgepoint's stock, filed a shelf registration to sell up to all of its shares. "Oh, no! The majority shareholder is cashing out! They must know something we don't! Sell, sell!" Heh, typical. You may think I'm being a bit harsh in my criticism, but on the trading day after that filing was made, Bridgepoint's share price fell 11.4%.

What I believe is happening is that Warburg Pincus, the private-equity company that helped launch Bridgepoint and bring it public, is executing its exit strategy after a profitable investment, not abandoning a terrible investment. It's made a ton of money, and it's time to move on to other opportunities. That's its business model, after all.

Expecting too little
Second, on Aug. 2, Bridgepoint reported second-quarter earnings and changed its guidance for end-of-year enrollment numbers, lowering the lower end of the range given. This was a big deal to analysts, as five of the eight on the conference call asked questions about it. It's important because enrollment obviously drives revenue at these companies. Worries are that declining enrollment is an industrywide trend: DeVry (NYS: DV) reported declining enrollment, as did Strayer Education (NAS: STRA) , and enrollment at the Kaplan arm of Washington Post (NYS: WPO) came in below estimates.

This is indeed a serious issue, but I believe the market has overreacted, helped by what else is going on in the economy right now. Free cash flow, which this company pumps out by the bucket full, over the past year is actually higher than it was before Bridgepoint reported, and the price is down below when I bought shares the first time. That translates to even lower growth expectations priced in than when everyone was worried about harsher regulations. It works out to be expected declines of 7.2% annually for five years, 3.6% for another five years, and then no growth forever (discounted at my usual 15% hurdle rate), much lower than the -0.9%, -0.4%, and 0% (same time periods) expectations from earlier.

If Bridgepoint manages to never grow FCF from the current level again, the shares would be worth $30 today, about 40% higher than where they are now.

The market had a messed-up expectation over the severity of the regulations, and I believe it is just as messed up today, thanks in part to the fear many are feeling. Therefore, I'll be putting another 2% of my Rising Star portfolio into Bridgepoint come Monday.

After you add Bridgepoint to MyWatchlist, come and discuss the investment decision on my Messed Up Expectations discussion board, or follow me on Twitter.

This article is part of our Rising Star Portfolios series, where we give some of our most promising stock analysts cold, hard cash to manage on the Fool's behalf. We'd like you to track our performance and benefit from these real-money, real-time free stock picks. See all of our Rising Star analysts (and their portfolios).

At the time this article was published Fool analyst Jim Mueller doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. He's an analyst for the Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter service.The Motley Fool owns shares of Bridgepoint Education. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended writing puts on the company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is never messed up.

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