Shares in veterinary services provider CVS Group (LSE: CVSG) were rising again this morning following its latest update on trading. Had I bought this growth stock when last writing about it in September, I’d be sitting on a gain of 30%. As much as I’m focused on long-term returns, that’s hardly a bad result over just four months!
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Its total sales grew by 9.4% to a little under £246m over the six months to the end of December. Like-for-like sales also increased by 7.8%. The latter may be slightly lower than over the same period in 2019 but I need to take into account just how bad 2020 was for most businesses.
According to CVS, this resilient performance was the result of growth in its main Practices division, coupled with higher demand at its online pharmacy and retail arm (Animed). As one might expect given the clamour for animal companions in 2020, the AIM-listed company saw an increase in new client registrations over the period. Membership numbers of its Healthy Pet Club preventative medicine scheme also grew by 3.6% to hit 430,000.
In other news, the company’s not-insignificant employment costs fell slightly, from 51% of total sales to 48.9%. The vet vacancy rate also declined.
To round things off, CVS Group was active on the acquisition front, purchasing four practices over the six-month period. I think this should only help to further cement its status as one of the leading veterinary services providers around. It now has more than 480 surgeries in the UK, Netherlands and Republic of Ireland.
As far as trading is concerned, I suspect recent momentum will be sustained. All of CVS’s practices remain open, in line with guidance issued at the beginning of the third UK lockdown. Importantly, the company is now able to provide essential services relating to animal welfare rather than just emergency work.
Perhaps the biggest reason for continuing to be bullish on this growth stock, however, is that I simply can’t see the trend for pet ownership reversing. I also feel we’re unlikely to curtail spending on our furry friends, regardless of how the UK economy is performing.
All told, the long-term prospects seem too good to me to bank profits this early. Even so, I have to be aware of the risks involved.
One thing that might lead the share price to lose steam is a good, old-fashioned bout of profit-taking. This wouldn’t feel unreasonable. After all, the value of CVS has more than doubled since the dark days of March. A forecast price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 27 suggests a lot of good news is already priced in.
CVS certainly has form when it comes to violent, and protracted, share price swings. Between November 2017 and January 2019, the valuation of the company plunged as it struggled to recruit vets in light of the Brexit referendum outcome. While our departure from the EU might be one-off event, this doesn’t negate the fact that such falls are possible.
So, I wouldn’t sell had I bought a few months back. But while I do still think the shares could reward those with long investing horizons, I wouldn’t buy this growth stock today. I’m cautious over how much further the price could go in 2021 alone. As always, being sufficiently diversified elsewhere is key, regardless of how encouraging the outlook may be.
Paul Summers 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.