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3 overlooked FTSE 250 growth stocks to buy now?

Public Domain.

FTSE 100 shares are usually headline news, while many in the FTSE 250 can fail to attract attention by the markets. I’ve been trawling that index, and I’ve identified three shares that I reckon are worth a closer look:

A cracking IPO?

Ascential (LSE: ASCL) shares have soared by 48% since flotation just a year ago. It’s a business-to-business media company which handles events and information services — it’s responsible for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, for example.

Results for 2016 should be with us on 27 February, and there’s a serious profit expected. At the halfway stage, we saw a 28% rise in adjusted operating profit, and a strong EBITDA margin of 33%. The cash that generated allowed the company to get its IPO-time leverage of 2.5 times down to 1.9 times, which is impressive in less than six months.

The mooted P/E multiple of 20 would imply a PEG of 0.1, although such valuations are really not so meaningful for a new growth prospect that is only just turning profitable.

But forecasts for the next two years would drop the P/E to 15 by 2018, and dividends are expected to climb sharply and provide a yield of 2.3% that year. With Ascential showing strong cash-cow potential, I see good times ahead.

ZP… who?

I don’t really understand why companies with well-known brands change their names, but that’s what Zoopla Property has done by switching to ZPG (LSE: ZPG) this month. In a way it makes sense, as the company doesn’t just run its Zoopla business, but also uSwitch which the company bought in April 2015, plus the PrimeLocation and Property Software Group brands.

Results to September 2016 included an 84% rise in revenue, leading to a 51% boost to EPS. Debt was up, but the company had a successful equity placing earlier this month which raised a gross £76m.

We’re looking at a potentially impressive growth company here that is still in its early stages, and that does show in the current share valuation — at a price of 382p, we see a forward P/E of 27 this year, though earnings growth forecasts would drop that to 23 next year.

But unlike some online offerings in their early days, ZPG is strongly cash generative, and it’s already handing out strongly progressive dividends — the yield should only be around 1.5% this year, but it’s rising way faster than inflation.

Another rename

Speaking of renamed companies, office space provider Regus has changed its name to IWG (LSE: IWG), with the new entity registered as a holding company in Jersey. Regus/IWG shares have fallen from a November 2015 peak of nearly 350p to 262p today, so does that represent an attractive buying opportunity? I think it does.

The company has been steadily growing its profits for years, and analysts have two more strong forecasts out for this year and next — EPS rise of 21% for 2017, followed by another 16% in 2018. That provides PEG ratios for the two years of 0.7 and 0.8 (where 0.7 and under is usually considered very attractive), which I think shows a tempting growth valuation for what is actually quite a mature company. IWG is paying dividends, too — yielding only around 2.3%, but that’s a nice extra for a company I’d buy specifically for growth.

Full-year results are due on 28 February. The nine months to September 2016 saw revenue rise by 8.1%, with underlying cash generation increasing 52% year-on-year, and I think that presages another good year.

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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.