Posts tagged ‘fundamental analysis’

Avoiding Cigarette Butts


Too many investors hang their hat on investments that seem “cheap”. Unfortunately, too often something that looks like a bargain turns out to be a cigarette butt from which investors are hoping to take a last puff. As the old adage states, “you get what you pay for,” and that certainly applies to the world of investments. There are endless examples of cheap stocks getting cheaper, or in other words, stocks with low price/earnings ratios going lower. Stocks that appear cheap today, in many cases turn out to be expensive tomorrow because of deteriorating or collapsing profitability.

For instance, take Haliburton Company (HAL), an energy services company. Wall Street analysts are forecasting the Houston, Texas based oil services company to achieve 2016 EPS (earnings per share) of $0.32, down -79%. The share price currently stands at $37, so this translates into an eye-popping valuation of 128x P/E ratio, based on 2016 earnings estimates. What has effectively occurred in the HAL example is earnings have declined faster than the share price, which has caused the P/E to go higher. If you were to look at the energy sector overall, the same phenomenon is occurring with the P/E ratio standing at a whopping 97x (at the end of Q1).

These inflated P/E ratios are obviously not sustainable, so two scenarios are likely to occur:

  • The price of the P/E (numerator) will decline faster than earnings (denominator)
    •                                             AND/OR
  • The earnings of the P/E (denominator) will rise faster than the price (numerator)

Under either scenario, the current nose-bleed P/E ratio should moderate. Energy companies are doing their best to preserve profitability by cutting expenses as fast as possible, but when the product you are selling plummets about -70% in 18 months (from $100 per barrel to $30), producing profits can be challenging.

The Importance of Price (or Lack Thereof)

Similarly to the variables an investor would consider in purchasing an apartment building, “price” is supreme. With that said, “price” is not the only important variable. As famed investor Warren Buffett shrewdly notes, the quality of a company can be even more important than the price paid, especially if you are a long-term investor.

“It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”


The advantage of identifying and owning a “wonderful company” is the long-term stream of growing earnings. The trajectory of future earnings growth, more than current price, is the key driver of long-term stock performance.

Growth investor extraordinaire Peter Lynch summed it up well when he stated,

People Concentrate too much on the P, but the E really makes the difference.”


Albert Einstein identified the power of “compounding” as the 8th Wonder of the World, which when applied to earnings growth of a stock can create phenomenal outperformance – if held long enough. Warren Buffett emphasized the point here:

“If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes. Put together a portfolio of companies whose aggregate earnings march upward over the years, and so also will the portfolio’s market value.”


Throw Away Cigarette Butts

I have acknowledged the importance of aforementioned price, but your investment portfolio will perform much better, if you throw away the cigarette butts and focus on identifying market leading franchise that can sustain earnings growth. The lower the growth potential, the more important price becomes in the investment question. (see also Magic Quadrant)

Here are the key factors in identifying wining stocks:

  • Market Share Leaders: If you pay peanuts, you usually get monkeys. Paying a premium for the #1 or #2 player in an industry is usually the way to go. Certainly, there is plenty of money to be made by smaller innovative companies that disrupt an industry, so for these exceptions, focus should be placed on share gains – not absolute market share numbers.
  • Proven Management Team: It’s nice to own a great horse (i.e., company), but you need a good jockey as well. There have been plenty of great companies that have been run into the ground by inept managers. Evaluating management’s financial track record along with a history of their strategic decisions will give you an idea what you’re working with. Performance doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so results should be judged relative to the industry and their competitors. There are plenty of incredible managers in the energy sector, even if the falling tide is sinking all ships.
  • Large and/or Growing Markets: Spotting great companies in niche markets may be a fun hobby, but with limited potential for growth, playing in small market sandboxes can be hazardous for your investment health. On the other hand, priority #1, #2, and #3 should be finding market leaders in growth markets or locating disruptive share gainers in large markets. Finding fertile ground on long runways of growth is how investors benefit from the power of compound earnings.
  • Capital Allocation Prowess: Learning the capital allocation skillset can be demanding for executives who climb the corporate ladder from areas like marketing, operations, or engineering. Regrettably, these experiences don’t prepare them for the ultimate responsibility of distributing millions/billions of dollars. In the current low/negative interest rate environment, allocating capital to the highest return areas is more imperative than ever. Cash sitting on the balance sheet earning 0% and losing value to inflation is pure financial destruction. Conservatism is prudent, however, excessive piles of cash and overpaying for acquisitions are big red flags. Managers with a track record of organically investing in their businesses by creating moats for long-term competitive advantage are the leaders we invest in.

Many so-called “value” investors solely use price as a crutch. Anyone can print out a list of cheap stocks based on Price-to-Earnings, Enterprise Value/EBITDA, or Price/Cash Flow, but much of the heavy lifting occurs in determining the future trajectory of earnings and cash flows. Taking that last puff from that cheap, value stock cigarette butt may seem temporarily satisfying, but investing into too many value traps may lead you gasping for air and force you to change your stock analysis habits.


Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in HAL or any 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.


April 9, 2016 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment

Winning the Stock Rock Turning Game

There are a few similarities between dieting and investing. There are no shortcuts or panaceas to achieving success in either endeavor – they both require plain old hard work.  Any winning investment process will have some sort of mechanism(s) to generate new stock ideas, whether done quantitatively through a screening process or more subjectively through other avenues (e.g., conferences, journals, investor contacts, field research, or Investing Caffeine – ha).  As many investors would agree, discovering remarkable stock picks is no effortless undertaking. A lot of meaningless rocks need to be turned before a gem can be found, especially in an age of information overload. I believe investing guru Peter Lynch said it best:

“I always thought if you looked at ten companies, you’d find one that’s interesting, if you’d look at 20, you’d find two, or if you look at hundred you’ll find ten. The person that turns over the most rocks wins the game.”


Depending on the duration of your investment time horizon, stock gems can be more abundant in certain time periods relative to others. The shorter the timeframe, the more important timing becomes. Looking at a few major turning points illustrates my point. Although hindsight is 20/20, it is clear now (and for a minority of investors 11 years ago) that the pickings were slim in March 2000 and virtually endless in March 2009 –practically anything purchased then went up in price.

Investing is not a game of certainty, because if it was certain, everyone would be sipping umbrella drinks on their personal islands. Since investing involves a great deal of uncertainty, the name of the game is stacking probabilities in your favor. If you have a repeatable process, you should be able to outperform the markets in the long-run. In the short-run, a good process can have a bad outcome, and a bad process can have a good outcome.

Macro vs. Bottom-Up

Gaining a rough sense of the macro picture can increase the probabilities of success, but more importantly I believe a bottom-up approach (i.e., flipping over lots of stock rocks) is a better approach to raising odds in your favor. The recent volatility and pullback in the market has left a sour taste in investors’ mouths, but great opportunities still abound. That’s the thing about great stocks, they never disappear in bear markets and they eventually flourish – more often when a bull market returns.

Characterizing the macro game as difficult is stating the obvious. Although there are only about two recessions every decade, if you watch CNBC or read the paper, there are probably about 20 or 30 recessions predicted every 10 years. Very few, if any, can profitably time the scarce number of actual recessions, but many lose tons of money from the dozens of false alarms. You’re much better off by following Lynch’s credo: “Assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.”

Land Mine or Gold Mine?

Not everyone believes in the painstaking process of fundamental analysis, but I in fact come from the COFC (Church of Fundamental Research), which firmly believes fundamental research is absolutely necessary in determining whether an investment is a land mine or a gold mine. Others believe that a quantitative black box (see Butter in Bangladesh), or technical analysis (see Astrology or Lob Wedge) can do the trick as a substitute. These strategies may be easier to implement, but as well-known money manager Bill Miller indicated, “This is not a business where ignorance is an asset; the more you work at it, the better you ought to be, other things equal.”

By doing your investment homework on companies, not only will you gain better knowledge of your investment, but you will better understanding of the company. Regardless of your process, I’m convinced any worthwhile strategy requires conviction. If you have loose roots of interest in a stock, the wind will blow you all over the place, and ultimately rip the roots of your flimsy thesis out of the foundation. I contend that most lazy and simplistic processes, such as buying off tips, chasing winners, or letting computers buy stocks might create short-term profits, but these methods do not engender conviction and will eventually lead speculators to the poor house. If simple short-cuts worked so well, I think the secret would have gotten out to the masses by now. Rather than trading off of tips or questionable technical indicators, Peter Lynch advises investors to do their homework and “buy what you know.”

There is no single way of making money in the stock market, but I’m convinced any worthwhile process incorporates a process of pulling weeds and watering new flowers. But to generate a continuous flow of new stock idea gems, which are necessary to win in the investment game, you will need to turn over a lot of stock rocks.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any 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.

June 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

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