Investment Basics - Course 401 - Understanding Value
This is the twenty-first Course in a series of 38 called "Investment Basics" - created by Professor Steven Bauer, a retired university professor and still active asset manager and consultant / mentor.
Course 401 - Understanding Value
Investors often erroneously assume that a great company translates into a great investment. We discussed several ways to identify superior businesses, but we did not bring up valuation. Finding strong companies is crucial in the investment process, but it is equally important to determine what those companies' stocks are actually worth. Your goal as an investor should be to find wonderful businesses, and invest in them at reasonable prices. If you avoid confusing a great company with a great investment, you will already be ahead of many of your investing peers.
Suppose you are buying a car. Before you make a purchase, you will probably want to do some research, identify a few promising candidates, and take each for a test-drive. But throughout the process, you will also be aware of price. After all, you would not pay $50,000 for a used clunker, though you might pay that much for a new luxury car. Likewise, you would probably never spend $200,000 on a car, no matter the make.
The same thing should be true if you are thinking about buying a stock. A company's profitability, growth prospects, quality of management, and competitive advantages vis-a-vis its rivals are all important factors to consider. However, even the greatest company in the world might not be an attractive investment if its stock is priced too high. The price you pay for a stock can have a significant effect on your returns, and it can mean the difference between a good investment and a mediocre one. (Or worse!)
Prof's. Guidance: It is vitally important for you to have a clear picture of where current prices are relative to recent and longer term past history. Are they high or are they low and what is the projected short and intermediate term trend. The trend is your friend, until it isn't.
Why Valuation Matters
To illustrate the importance of valuation, consider the case of hypothetical investors Smith and Johnson. Johnson is a value investor who is always on the lookout for bargains, while Smith is of a different sort. Smith buys whatever is hot, regardless of valuation.
On April 1, 1996, Johnson bought 100 shares of Dell (DELL). At the time, lots of people had doubts about Dell's future. The stock had fallen 18% over the previous year, and it was trading relatively cheaply at a trailing P/E ratio of 13. Dell eventually turned things around, and its stock became one of the hottest in the late 1990s before falling back to earth along with the rest of the market. As of April 1, 2005, Johnson's investment was worth $38.03 a share, versus $1.19 a share on a split-adjusted basis when he bought it. That represents an annualized return of about 47% after nine years -- not too shabby at all.
On the other hand, Smith didn't care about Dell when it was cheap. He bought the stock on April 3, 2000, for $53.38 a share, when market sentiment was sky-high, and Dell had a trailing P/E of 88. That's pricey by nearly any measure, but Smith didn't care. He was excited about the stock's possibility and willing to pay any price for it. After all, who could argue with buying a stock that had tripled over the previous two years?
In retrospect, we can see that Smith was buying at the peak of a market bubble that was just about to burst. As of April 1, 2005, Smith's investment had lost about 29% of its value, representing an annualized loss of 6.5% over five years, despite the fact that Dell as a company has continued growing quite nicely. Maybe someday Dell's stock will eventually surpass what Smith originally paid for it, but Smith would have obviously been much better off had he taken a pass on Dell in April 2000.
With 20/20 hindsight, it's easy to see that Dell was cheap in 1996 and expensive in 2000. In the real world of investing, we don't have the benefit of knowing exactly what is going to happen, but we can still make our best estimate as to whether a stock is cheap, reasonably priced, or too expensive. Making such estimates is arguably the most important determination of your investment success. In the next several lessons we'll introduce you to some of the ways you could try to determine what a stock is worth.
Measuring Market Capitalization
The first step to figuring out whether a stock is cheap or expensive is measuring the market value of a company. Unfortunately, the stock price you see in the newspaper or on your computer screen doesn't say anything about how much a stock is really worth. A $100 stock is not necessarily more expensive than a $10 stock, and it may be in fact cheaper.
The most common way of measuring a company's value is market capitalization, or market cap for short. (To recap, the market cap of a company is the total market value of all the company's outstanding stock, representing the share price multiplied by the number of shares outstanding.)
Market Cap = (Number of Shares Outstanding) x (Price of Each Share)
Keeping the number of shares constant, a company's market cap will rise and fall with its share price. The market cap also represents the value the market places on the entire company. The companies with the largest market caps are all big, well-known names and by definition are among the most widely held stocks.
It's worth noting that market cap measures only the market value of a company's equity, and you may remember that companies have access to two sources of capital: equity and debt.
To get around this, investors commonly use a variant of market cap called enterprise value, which tries to measure the value of the actual business itself, stripping away purely financial elements. There are many flavors of enterprise value, but the most straightforward way to calculate it is market cap plus long-term debt, minus cash.
Enterprise Value = (Market Cap) + Debt - Cash
Enterprise value measures how much it would cost someone to buy out all the owners of a company, pay off all the company's debts, and take out any cash that is left over. For example, as of April 1, 2005, General Electric's (GE) market cap was $375.9 billion, and ExxonMobil's (XOM) was $386.6 billion. GE had $213.2 billion in long-term debt and $15.3 billion in cash and equivalents, whereas Exxon had only $5.0 billion in long-term debt but $23.1 billion in cash and equivalents. Thus, Exxon's enterprise value was about $368.5 billion, while GE's was $573.8 billion--a significant difference.
The Meaning of Stock Values
At this point, it's important to remember that a stock's value is determined by the company's underlying performance. It's easy to think of Dell as just a number on a computer screen or a squiggly line on a chart, but the reason it has any value at all is that it is a business that is growing and generating profits. Thinking of a stock as a piece of a business will be particularly helpful in understanding many of the valuation methods we will be considering in the next lessons.
There are actually two parts to the value of any business. The first part is the current value of all the business's assets and liabilities, including buildings, employees, inventories, and so forth. The second part is the value of the profits the business is expected to make in the future. Some companies get most of their value from the first part. These types of companies tend to be mature, stable businesses without a lot of growth prospects, such as utilities and real estate companies. For these firms, the assets are in place, and the future cash flow is relatively predictable.
On the other hand, some companies get most of their value from expectations of future growth and profits. These types of companies tend to be younger with a lot of growth potential. Many biotechnology companies would be included in this category.
Actual assets and liabilities are a lot easier to measure than hypothetical future profits. This is one reason stocks of younger companies tend to be more volatile than their more buttoned-down brethren. When expectations are high, the market anticipates that future profits will continue to increase, and it bids up the stock. When pessimism takes over, the market expects fewer profits in the future, and the stock price falls. Ultimately, estimating what a company will do in the future is the key to all forms of stock valuation.
Two Approaches to Stock Valuation
There are two broad approaches to stock valuation. One is the ratio-based approach and the other is the intrinsic value approach. We will be looking at both of these in more detail later, focusing on the intrinsic value approach that I tend to favor. But here's a brief overview to get you oriented.
If you have ever talked about a P/E ratio, you've valued a stock using the ratio-based approach. Valuation ratios compare the company's market value with some financial aspect of its performance -- earnings, sales, book value, cash flow, and so on. The ratio-based approach is the most commonly used method for valuing stocks, because ratios are easy to calculate and readily available.
The downside is that making sense of valuation ratios requires quite a bit of context. A P/E ratio of 15 does not mean a whole lot unless you also know the P/E of the market as a whole, the P/Es of the company's main competitors, the company's historical P/Es, and similar information. A ratio that looks sky-high for one company might seem quite reasonable for another.
The other major approach to valuation tries to estimate what a stock should intrinsically be worth. A stock's intrinsic value is based on projecting the company's future cash flows along with other factors, which we'll discuss in Courses 403 and 404. You can compare this intrinsic or fair value with a stock's market price to determine whether the stock looks under-priced, fairly valued, or overpriced.
The advantage of this approach is that the result is easy to understand and does not require as much context as valuation ratios. However, the main disadvantage is that estimating future cash flows and coming up with a fair value estimate requires a lot of time and effort. We think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages when this type of valuation is done carefully.
The Bottom Line
Finding great companies is only half the equation in picking stocks. Figuring out an appropriate price to pay is just as important to your investment success. A great company might not be a great investment if its stock is too expensive. Likewise, a company of mediocre quality could be a good investment if bought cheaply enough. Either way, it's critical to be aware of the prices you are paying for your stock investments.
Thanks for attending class this week - and - don't put off doing some extra homework (using Google - for information and answers to your questions) and perhaps sharing with the Prof. your questions and concerns.
Investment Basics (a 38 Week - Comprehensive Course)
By: Professor Steven Bauer
Text: Google has the answers to most all of your questions, after exploring Google if you still have thoughts or questions my Email is open 24/7.
Each week you will receive your Course Materials. There will be two kinds of highlights: a) Prof's Guidance, and b) Italic within the text material. You should consider printing the Course Materials and making notes of those areas of questions and perhaps the highlights and go to Google to see what is available to supplement those highlights. I'm here to help.
Course 101 - Stock
Versus Other Investments
Course 102 - The Magic of Compounding
Course 103 - Investing for the Long Run
Course 104 - What Matters & What Doesn't
Course 105 - The Purpose of a Company
Course 106 - Gathering Information
Course 107 - Introduction to Financial Statements
Course 108 - Learn the Lingo & Some Basic Ratios
Course 201 - Stocks & Taxes
Course 202 - Using Financial Services Wisely
Course 203 - Understanding the News
Course 204 - Start Thinking Like an Analyst
Course 205 - Economic Moats
Course 206 - More on Competitive Positioning
Course 207 - Weighting Management Quality
Course 401 - Understanding Value
Course 402 - Using Ratios and Multiples
Course 403 - Introduction to Discounted Cash Flow
Course 404 - Putting OCF into Action
Course 405 - The Fat-Pitch Strategy
Course 406 - Using Morningstar as a Reference
Course 407 - Psychology and Investing
Course 408 - The Case for Dividends
Course 409 - The Dividend Drill
Course 501 - Constructing a Portfolio
Course 502 - Introduction to Options
Course 503 - Unconventional Equities
Course 504 - Wise Analysts: Benjamin Graham
Course 505 - Wise Analysts: Philip Fisher
Course 506 - Wise Analysts: Warren Buffett
Course 507 - Wise Analysts: Peter Lynch
Course 508 - Wise Analysts: Others
Course 509 - 20 Stock & Investing Tips
This Completes the List of Courses.
Wishing you a wonderful learning experience and the continued desire to grow your knowledge. Education is an essential part of living wisely and the experiences of life, I hope you make it fun.
Learning how to consistently profit in the Stock Market, in good times and in not so good times requires time and unfortunately mistakes which are called losses. Why not be profitable while you are learning? Let me know if I can help.