Metrics Mix-Up: Stocks and Real Estate Valuation
When it comes to making money, investors choose from a broad menu of investment categories, ranging all the way from baseball cards and wines to collectible cars and art. Two of the larger and more popular investment categories are stocks and real estate. Unfortunately for those poor souls (such as me) analyzing these two classes of assets, the stock and real estate investor bigwigs have not come together to create an integrated metric system. Much the same way the United States has chosen to go it alone on a proprietary customary unit measurement system with Burma and Liberia – choosing inches and feet over centimeters and meters. On the subject of stock and real estate valuation, investors and industry professionals have been stubbornly defiant in designing unique and cryptic terminology, despite sharing the exact same financial principles.
Who Cares About Real Estate?
Well, apparently everyone. Southern California doesn’t have a monopoly on real estate, but through my practice in Orange County, I find it difficult to not trip over real estate investors on a daily basis. I work in effectively what was “ground zero” of the subprime debacle and the commercial real estate pains continue to ripple through “the OC.”
Ramping up the real estate learning curve reminds me of my high school Spanish class – I understood enough Spanish to work my way through a Taco Bell menu but little else. In order to actually learn Spanish I had to completely immerse myself in the language, even if it meant continually speaking to my classmates in Spanish through my alias (Paco).
Real Estate Foundational Terms
Despite being a relative new resident in the Orange County area, engrossing myself in real estate hasn’t been much of a challenge. Over a brief period, my interactions and conversations taught me my financial degrees and credentials were just as applicable in the realty world as they were in the stock market world. While evaluating real estate valuation techniques, I discovered two new key terms:
1) NOI (Net Operating Income): Unlike stock analysis, which uses “Net Income” as a core driver in determining an asset’s value, real estate relies on NOI. Net operating income is generally derived by calculating income before depreciation and interest expense. In finance, there are many versions of income. I’m sure there are more explanations, but two reasons behind the selection of NOI in real estate valuation over other metrics is due to the following: a) NOI may be used as a proxy for cash flow, which can be integral in many valuation techniques; and b) NOI is “capital structure neutral” if comparing multiple properties. Therefore, NOI allows an investor to compare varying properties on an apples-to-apples basis regardless of whether a property is massively leveraged or debt-free.
2) Cap Rate (Capitalization Rate): This ratio is computed by taking the NOI and dividing it by a property’s initial cost (or value). In stock market language, you can think of a “cap rate” as an inverted P/E (Price – Earnings) ratio – an inverted P/E ratio has also been called the “earnings yield.” Complicating terminology matters is the interchangeable use of income and earnings in the investment world. In the case of the P/E ratio, the denominator generally used is “Net Income.”
A shortcoming to the cap rate ratio, in my view, is the failure to deduct taxes. Although comparability across properties may get muddied, if determining profit availability to investors is the main goal, then I think an adjusted NOI (subtracting taxes) would be a more useful proxy for valuation purposes. Tax benefits associated with REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) complicates the metric usage issue further.
The simplistic beauty of marrying NOI and a cap rate is that a crude valuation estimate can be constructed by merely blending these two metrics together. For example, a commercial real estate property generating $500,000 in NOI that applies a 5% cap rate to the property can arrive at a valuation estimate of $10,000,000 ($500,000/.05).
Similarities between Stocks & Real Estate
At the end of the day, the theoretical value of ANY asset can be calculated by taking the projected after-tax cash flows and discounting that stream back into today’s dollars – whether we are talking about a stock, bond, derivative, real estate property, or other asset. Both stock and real estate analysis use readily available income numbers and price ratios to estimate cash flows and valuations. Regrettably, since real estate and equity investors generally play in different leagues, the rules and language are different.
The lingo used for analyzing separate asset classes may be unique, but the math and fundamental examination are the same. The formula for learning real estate is similar to that of Spanish – you need to dive in and immerse yourself into the new language. If you don’t believe me, just ask Paco.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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