I was skeptical about Agilent's (NYSE:A) prospects for outperforming its peers back in the summer of 2015, but since then, Agilent shares have comfortably outperformed peers like Waters (NYSE:WAT), Thermo Fisher (NYSE:TMO), PerkinElmer (NYSE:PKI), Bruker (NASDAQ:BRKR), and Shimadzu with a 30% run that has also handily beaten the S&P 500. Management has done a better job than I'd expected of improving margins and streamlining/refocusing the business, and Agilent has also done better than I'd expected in the pharma space on the back of a strong liquid chromatography product cycle.
At the risk of sounding like a broken clock, the valuation on the shares still concerns me. The new (and improved) Agilent has been generating FCF margins in the mid-teens and while I think management can deliver upside on operating margins and asset efficiency, I'm not sure that meaningfully exceeding 20% FCF margins is highly likely. So while I do think Agilent is a good company in the life sciences tools space (and performing well), it's hard for me to get comfortable with a valuation that already assumes double-digit long-term annualized free cash flow and/or a forward EV/EBITDA multiple more than twice the likely growth rate over the next three to five years.
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While Performing Well, The Expectations Around Agilent Are High