IMS Health (IMS): 4 Years Later

by Geoff Gannon


I bought shares of IMS Health (IMS) in early 2009. The company went private in 2010. That buyout (involuntarily) ended my investment in the stock. Now in 2014, IMS Health is going public again. I don’t invest in IPOs. So, I’m not interested in the stock. But, I am interested in what has happened with the company. Some things have changed. Others have not.

Here is the S-1.

While under TPG’s control, IMS Health bought a lot of stuff. In 3 years (2011 through 2013), IMS Health spent $900 million on 22 acquisitions, “internal development programs”, and “capital expenditures”.

I’m not sure if they are including “additions to computer software” in that number. I treat it as a capital expenditure when analyzing IMS Health (or any database company) but it is reported on a separate line of the cash flow statement. Additions to computer software is always a bigger number for IMS Health than other capital expenditures. Over the last 3 years, software capital spending has averaged $73 million a year while other capital expenditures have been just $38 million a year. You will notice that capital spending (which we just said was $111 million a year plus acquisitions) and depreciation are totally unrelated. This is a good place to mention that GAAP numbers are irrelevant at IMS Health. You always want to focus on your expectations of normal future free cash flow. The business is very stable, so there’s little need to “normalize” anything on the customer side.  

This quote from the S-1 sums up what interested me in the stock originally:

The average length of our relationships with our top 25 clients, as measured by 2013 revenue, is over 25 years and our retention rate for our top 1,000 clients from 2012 to 2013 was approximately 99%.

This is IMS Health’s moat. It is the one thing about the company you want never to change if you’re going to hold the stock for the long-term.

The new owners churned through the workforce astoundingly fast:

Since the Merger…we added approximately 7,600 employees…and oversaw the departure of approximately 5,200 employees…We estimate that about 60% of our approximately 9,500 employees have joined us since the Merger...

So, IMS Health – a 60-year old company with an average customer relationship of 25 years – is now mostly made up of employees who have been with the company for less than 3 years.

I can’t recommend looking at IMS Health as a possible investment. However, I do recommend reading the S-1. It offers some insight into both a company with a competitive position I really like and what a private equity owner does to a once and future public company.

Talk to Geoff about IMS Health (IMS)

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