The most recent CPI report shows that inflation “eased” back to 8.2% in September. That’s an improvement from the 9.1% reported for June, but costs are still high. That, combined with a more competitive labor market, is compressing profit margins. Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are looking for ways to cut costs and make their operations more efficient.
Asure Software (NASDAQ: ASUR) is addressing the problem by offering a suite of cloud-based products to automate and streamline back-office operations. Their human capital management (HCM) platform cuts down the workload on employee management, human resources, accounting, tax filings, and allocating financial capital for growth.
The Dilemma: Small Businesses Surveyed See Revenues Increased, but Profits Under Pressure
Let’s examine the numbers. An American Express poll released in September revealed that revenues for 550 businesses surveyed had nearly doubled between July 2021 and July 2022. The actual number was 87%. Unfortunately, in the same period, profits dropped by 4%. Increased costs for materials, labor, and supplies were major contributors to that.
Interest rate hikes and stock market volatility also cut into profits in the first two quarters of 2022. Inflationary pressure was reported by 75% of the survey participants as the primary reason for lower profits, and the cost of debt financing increased as the Fed steadily raised interest rates. That has directly impacted growth for many SMBs in the United States.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues resulting from it are widely viewed as the main catalysts for the economic conditions currently driving down profit margins. The US government has attempted to relieve some of that pressure by offering low-cost loans and tax breaks. Many of these are packaged into the CARES Act, including the ERC program.
What is ERC and Why is it Important for SMBs?
The Employee Retention Credit under the CARES Act was created to encourage SMBs financially impacted by COVID-19 to keep employees on their payroll. Eligible businesses can receive a tax refund of up to $28,000 per W-2 employee on the payroll in 2020 and 2021. Independent contractors, sole proprietors, and LLCs are not eligible for ERC.
It’s not that simple of course. For a business to be eligible, it must have 500 or fewer employees, and have either been closed due to a government order or experienced a revenue decline of at least 20% for any quarter during the eligibility period. Asure has expanded its tax filing capabilities to help SMBs manage ERC guidelines and demand.
Tax refunds acquired through the ERC program can increase business cash flow and help offset rising costs. It’s temporary relief, but it’s timely. The Federal Reserve Bank approved several interest rate hikes this year and implemented quantitative tightening to reduce liquidity on their balance sheet. Both moves are projected to slow inflation in 2023.
Asure Software has Automated ERC Management for CPAs and Tax Professionals
Claiming the ERC refunds requires an amended filing using Form 941X (Quarterly Federal Payroll Tax Return). If the business became inoperable due to the pandemic, Form 5884-A might be required. Small business owners may not know this. CPAs should. Asure Software has built the guidelines and forms directly into its cloud accounting platform.
The new technology is an expansion of Asure’s Payroll Tax Management engine, FlexTax, which delivers cloud-based payroll tax processing, reconciliation, and reporting functionality, as well as a 24/7 online tax portal. Automating the back-office ERC work frees business owners and company accountants up to focus on high-value client work.
FlexTax works in conjunction with PrismHR’s payroll service, an Asure integration partner that services over 80,000 organizations. The roll-out of the new feature comes closely on the heels of an expansion to Asure’s 401(k) provider base. They added eighty new direct-integration partners in that space to expand retirement plan options for SMBs.
Asure Software Trades at EV/EBITDA of 8.4, Price-to-Book Value of 0.69
Based on fundamental analysis, they show the company as a serious cash flow generator. It has a price-to-book value of 0.69 and a price-to-free-cash-flow ratio of 10. This tells us that Asure is generating strong free cash flows, but trades at a discount to its book value. For growth-at-a-reasonable-price (GARP) investors, this is an opportunity worth taking a closer look at.
In addition, Asure Software trades at a steep discount compared to the overall software industry and the S&P 500, when looking at the enterprise value to EBITDA (EV/EBITDA) valuation. As of this writing, Asure has an EV/EBITDA of 8.40. This compares to the software industry average EV/EBITDA valuation of 48.70 and the S&P 500’s 15.70. The company’s free cash flow generating capabilities, combined with its undervalued state when looking at price-to-book value and EV/EBITDA makes Asure a very interesting opportunity.
Asure Software carries little debt and holds a cumulative analyst rating of “strong buy.” That’s good for investors, but the real value is in how Asure is positioned as we continue to see what the “new normal” is going to look like. Automation and cloud services are already established components of that vision. Human capital resource software will play a major part also.
Inflation is going to be with us for a while. The Fed will continue to raise interest rates until it starts to slow, so a recession is a real possibility. In many ways, our situation is unprecedented, so technical analysis of equity investments is not sufficient. Asure Software checks all the fundamental boxes, which are the real indicators of a company’s potential profitability.
Furthermore, Asure’s HCM services provide a very tangible need for SMBs right now: cost-cutting and operational streamlining. In any economic environment, SMBs will still need to manage employees, payroll, retirement offerings, tax filings, and more. Asure Software provides the framework needed for businesses to remain in a competitive stance in recruiting top talent. Overall, Asure is an enticing investment opportunity for long-term investors that are looking for good GARP investments. After all, the company is continuing to generate strong top and bottom line results and yet trades at a discount to its book value. Despite the economic environment, Asure looks to be a bright spot amidst a turbulent market.
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