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Here's Why Hold is an Apt Strategy for Murphy USA (MUSA) Now

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Murphy USA Inc. (MUSA - Free Report) rides on solid volumes and strong liquidity. However, its debt burden is a downside. The company has seen northward estimate revisions for 2021 earnings in the past 60 days.

It currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) and a VGM Score of A. Our research shows that stocks with a VGM Score of A or B combined with a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) 2 (Buy) or 3 offer the best investment opportunities. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

This leading independent retailer of motor fuel and convenience merchandise in the United States has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 18.66%, on average.

Courtesy of its robust prospects, the stock is worth holding onto at the moment.

What’s Favoring the Stock?

A glance at the company’s price trend shows that the stock has had an impressive run on the bourses in the year-to-date period. Shares of Murphy USA have rallied 18.2% compared with the 15.6% increase of its industry.

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Murphy USA’s unique high-volume, low-cost business model helps it retain solid profitability despite a fiercely competitive retail environment. The company, which sells more than 4 billion gallons of retail fuel, annually, owns above 90% of its gasoline stations. This enables it to contain its operating expenses. The proximity of Murphy USA’s fuel stations to Walmart (WMT - Free Report) supercenters aids the company to gain traction from the steady flow of traffic that these stores attract, thereby driving its above-average fuel sales volume.

The company’s outsourcing of raw materials is another key catalyst. With its access to pipelines and product distribution terminals, Murphy USA is able to avail of fuel at a cheaper cost than most can buy. This, in turn, allows the company to sell retail gasoline at a discount.

Through its shareholder-friendly capital allocations, Murphy USA is committed to return a portion of its free cash flow to its shareholders through continued and ongoing share repurchases. As an evidence, the company spent 48% of its capital budget from 2015 to 2019 on stock buybacks.

The company is currently building up to 50 larger-format stores, annually, since the start of this year as well as 25 raze-and-rebuilds. Further, in the last reported quarter, Murphy USA’s 2021 guidance included 34-38 new stores and up to 31 raze-and-rebuilds for 2021. The motor fuel retailer added that it is open to grow inorganically as well.

Management believes that the company’s strong operational performance and positive trends will allow its stock to achieve a sustainable EBITDA of more than $500 million in 2021, two years earlier than expected.

Factors Deterring the Stock’s Growth

However, there are a few factors, which might impede the stock’s progress.

Being in the convenience store business, Murphy USA is highly dependent on tobacco sales. With smoking rates falling, the company’s tobacco comps face persistent pressure. The tepid tobacco sales not only affect its top-line performance but also limit margin growth.

Moreover, Murphy USA's high-debt levels remain a concern, which make it vulnerable to any volatility in commodity prices. Its total debt is currently more than $1.8 billion with only $165 million in cash & cash equivalents. Its debt-to-capitalization as of the end of second-quarter 2021 was 70.5%, deteriorating from the sequential quarter's 69.9%.

Stocks to Consider

Better-ranked players in the energy space include Matador Resources Company (MTDR - Free Report) and Continental Resources, Inc. (CLR - Free Report) , each presently flaunting a Zacks Rank of 1.