Sifting Through the Earnings Rubble

July 29, 2012 at 12:32 am Leave a comment

An earthquake of second quarter earnings results have rocked the markets (better than expected earnings but sluggish revenues), and now investors are left to sift through the rubble. With thousands of these earnings reports rolling in (and many more in the coming weeks), identifying the key investment trends across sectors, industries, and geographies can be a challenging responsibility. If this was an easy duty, I wouldn’t have a job! Fortunately, having a disciplined process to sort through the avalanche of quarterly results can assist you in discovering both potential threats and opportunities.

But first things first: You will need some type of reliable screening tool in order to filter find exceptional stocks. According to Reuters, there are currently more than 46,000 stocks in existence globally. Manually going through this universe one stock at a time is not physically or mentally feasible for any human to accomplish, over any reasonable amount of time. I use several paid-service screening tools, but there are plenty of adequate free services available online as well.

Investing with the 2-Sided Coin

 

As Warren Buffett says, “Value and growth are two sides of the same coin.” Having a disciplined screening process in place is the first step in finding those companies that reflect the optimal mix between growth and value. I am willing to pay an elevated price (i.e., higher P/E ratio) for a company with a superior growth profile, but I want a more attractive value (i.e., cheaper price) for slower growth companies. I am fairly agnostic between the mix of the growth/value weighting dynamics, as long as the risk-reward ratio is in my favor.

Since I firmly believe that stock prices follow the long-term trajectory of earnings and cash flows, I fully understand the outsized appreciation opportunities that can arise from the “earnings elite” – the cream of the crop companies that are able to sustain abnormally high earnings growth. Or put in baseball terms, you can realize plenty of singles and doubles by finding attractively priced growth companies, but as Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver says, “You win many more games by hitting a three-run homer than you do with sacrifice bunts.” The same principles apply in stock picking. Legendary growth investor Peter Lynch (see also Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius) is famous for saying, “You don’t need a lot of good hits every day. All you need is two to three goods stocks a decade.”

Some past successful Sidoxia Capital Management examples that highlight the tradeoff between growth and value include Wal-Mart stores (WMT) and Amazon.com (AMZN). Significant returns can be achieved from slower, mature growth companies like Wal-Mart if purchased at the right prices, but multi-bagger home-run returns (i.e., more than doubling) require high octane growth from the likes of global internet platform companies. Multi-bagger returns from companies like Amazon, Apple Inc. (AAPL), and others are difficult to find and hold in a portfolio for years, but if you can find a few, these winners can cure a lot of your underperforming sins.

Defining Growth

Fancy software may allow you to isolate those companies registering superior growth in sales, earnings, and cash flows, but finding the fastest growing companies can be the most straightforward part. The analytical heavy-lifting goes into effect once an investor is forced to determine how sustainable that growth actually is, while simultaneously determining which valuation metrics are most appropriate in determining fair value. Some companies will experience short-term bursts of growth from a single large contract; from acquisitions; and/or from one-time asset sale gains. Generally speaking, this type of growth is less valuable than growth achieved by innovative products, service, and marketing.

The sustainability of growth will also be shaped by the type of industry a company operates in along with the level of financial leverage carried. For instance, in certain volatile, cyclical industries, sequential growth (e.g. the change in results over the last three months) is the more relevant metric. However for most companies that I screen, I am looking to spot the unique companies that are growing at the healthiest clip on a year-over-year basis. These recent three month results are weighed against the comparable numbers a year ago. This approach to analyzing growth removes seasonality from the equation and helps identify those unique companies capable of growing irrespective of economic cycles.

Given that we are a little more than half way through Q2 earnings results, there is still plenty of time to find those companies reporting upside fundamental earnings surprises, while also locating those quality companies unfairly punished for transitory events. Now’s the time to sift through the earnings rubble to find the remaining buried stock gems.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and WMT, AMZN, AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

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