Posts tagged ‘PE ratio’

P/E Binoculars, Not Foggy Rearview Mirror

Robert Shiller is best known for his correctly bearish forecasts on the housing market, which we are continually reminded of through the ubiquitous Case-Shiller housing index, and his aptly timed 2000 book entitled Irrational Exuberance. Shiller is also well known for his cyclically adjusted 10-year price-earnings tool, also known as P/E-10. This tool chooses to take a rearview mirror look at the 10-year rolling average of the S&P composite stock index to determine whether the equity market is currently a good or bad buy. Below average multiples are considered to be predictive of higher future returns, and higher than average multiples are considered to produce lower future returns (see scatterplot chart). 

Source: http://www.mebanefaber.com (June 2010)

Foggy Mirror

If you were purchasing a home, would the price 10 years ago be a major factor in your purchase decision? Probably not. Call me crazy, but I would be more interested in today’s price and even more interested in the price of the home 10 years into the future. The financial markets factor in forward looking data (not backward looking data). Conventional valuation techniques applied to various assets, take for example a bond, involve the discounting of future cash flow values back to the present – in order to determine the relative attractiveness of today’s asset price. The previous 10-years of data are irrelevant in this calculation.

Although I believe current and future expectations are much more important than stale historical data, I can appreciate the insights that can be drawn by comparing current information with historical averages. In other words, if I was purchasing a house, I would be interested in comparing today’s price to the historical 10-year average price. Currently, the P/E-10 ratio stands at a level around 22x – 38% more expensive than the 16x average value for the previous decade. That same 22x current P/E-10 ratio compares to a current forward P/E ratio of 13x. A big problem is the 22x P/E-10 is not adequately taking into account the dramatic growth in earnings that is taking place (estimated 2010 operating earnings are expected to register in at a whopping +45% growth).

Mean P/E 10 Value is 16.4x Source: http://www.multpl.com

Additional problems with P/E-10:

1)      The future 10 years might not be representative of the extreme technology and credit bubble we experienced over the last 10 years. Perhaps excluding the outlier years of 2000 and 2009 would make the ratio more relevant.

2)      The current P/E-10 ratio is being anchored down by extreme prices from a narrow sector of technology a decade ago. Value stocks significantly outperformed technology over the last 10 years, much like small cap stocks outperformed in the 1970s when the Nifty Fifty stocks dominated the index and then unraveled.

3)      Earnings are rising faster than prices are increasing, so investors waiting for the P/E-10 to come down could be missing out on the opportunity cost of price appreciation. The distorted P/E ratios earlier in the decade virtually guarantee the P/E-10 to drop, absent a current market melt-up, because P/E ratios were so high back then.

4)      The tool has been a horrible predictor over very long periods of time. For example, had you followed the tool, the red light would have caused you to miss the massive appreciation in the 1990s, and the green light in the early 1970s would have led to little to no appreciation for close to 10 years.

Shiller himself understands the shortcomings of P/E-10:

“It is also dangerous to assume that historical relations are necessarily applicable to the future. There could be fundamental structural changes occurring now that mean that the past of the stock market is no longer a guide to the future.”

 

How good an indicator was P/E-10 for the proponent himself at the bottom of the market in February 2009? Shiller said he would get back in the market after another 30% drop in the ratio (click here for video). As we know, shortly thereafter, the market went on a near +70% upwards rampage. I guess Shiller just needs another -55% drop in the ratio from here to invest in the market?

Incidentally, Shiller did not invent the cyclically adjusted P/E tool, as famed value investor Benjamin Graham also used a similar tool. The average investor loves simplicity, but what P/E-10 offers with ease-of-use, it lacks in usefulness. I agree with the P/E-10 intent of smoothing out volatile cycle data (artificially inflated in booms and falsely depressed in recessions), but I recommend investors pull out a pair of binoculars (current and forward P/Es) rather than rely on a foggy rearview mirror.

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, 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.

November 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm 11 comments

Marathon Investing: Genesis of Cheap Stocks

It was Mark Twain who famously stated, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” So too has the death of equities been overstated.  Long-term stock bulls don’t have a lot to point to since the market, as measured by the S&P 500 index, has done absolutely nothing over the last 12 years (see Lost Decade). Over the last 10 years, the market is actually down about -20% without dividends (and about flat if you account for reinvested dividends).  So if equities belong at the morgue, why not just short the market, burn your dollars, and hang out in a cave with a pile of gold? Well, behind the scenes, and off the radar of nanosecond, high frequency, day-trading CNBC junkies, there has been a quiet but deliberate strengthening in the earnings foundation of the market. In the investing world it’s difficult to move forward through sand. Even without a sturdy running foundation, sprinters can race to the front of the pack, but those disciplined runners who systematically train for marathons are the ones who successfully make it to the finish line.

Prices Chopped in Half

What many pundits and media mavens fail to recognize is S&P corporate profits have virtually doubled since 1998 (a historically elevated base), despite market prices stuck in quicksand for a dozen years. What does this say about the valuation of the market when prices go nowhere and profits double? Simple math tells us that all stock market inventory is selling for -50% off (the market multiple has been chopped in half). That’s exactly what we have seen – the June 1998 market multiple (valuation) stood around 27x’s earnings and today’s 2010 earnings estimates imply a multiple of about 13.5 x’s  projected profits. With the rear-view mirror assisting us, it’s easy to understand why pre-2000 (tech bubble) valuations were expensive. By coupling more reasonable valuations with a 10-Year Treasury Note trading at 3.19% and lofty bond prices, I would expect stocks to be poised for a much better decade of relative performance versus bonds. The case becomes even stronger if you believe 2011 S&P 500 estimates are achievable (12x’s earnings).

In order to make the decade long valuation contraction more apparent, I wanted include a random group of stocks (mixture of healthcare, media, retailer, consumer non-discretionary, and financial services) to liven up my argument:

Data sources: S&P, ADVFN & Yahoo! Finance

 

What Next?

From a stock market standpoint, there are certainly plenty of believable “double dip” scenarios out there along with thoughtful observers who question the attainability of next year’s earnings forecasts. With that said, I do have problems  with those bears like John Mauldin (read The Man Who Cries Wolf)  who just last year pointed to a market trading at a “(negative)  -467” P/E ratio, only to subsequently watch stocks advance some 80%+ over the following months.

Regardless of disparate economic views, I contend objective market observers (even bearish ones) have trouble indicating the market is ridiculously expensive with a straight face – based on current corporate profit expectations. At the end of the day, sustainable earnings and cash flow growth are what ultimately drive durable, long-term price appreciation. As Peter Lynch stated with technical precision, “People may bet on hourly wiggles of the market but it’s the earnings that waggle the wiggle long term.”

Running a marathon is always challenging, but with a sturdy foundation in which prices have been chopped in half (see also Market Dipstick article), reaching the goal and finish line for long-term investors will be much more achievable.

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, WMT, and PAYX, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in ABT, CI, DIS, FRX, KO, KSS, MDT or 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.

June 18, 2010 at 1:06 am 7 comments

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. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing had no direct positions in YUM or any other security mentioned. 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.

January 27, 2010 at 1:34 am 3 comments

Taking Facebook and Twitter Public

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Valuing high growth companies is similar to answering a typical open-ended question posed to me during business school interviews: “Wade, how many ping pong balls can you fit in an empty 747 airplane?” Obviously, the estimation process is not an exact science, but rather an artistic exercise in which various techniques and strategies may be implemented to form a more educated guess. The same estimation principles apply to the tricky challenge of valuing high growth companies like Facebook and Twitter.

Cash is King

Where does one start? Conceptually, one method used to determine a company’s value is by taking the present value of all future cash flows. For growth companies, earnings and cash flows can vary dramatically and small changes in assumptions (i.e., revenue growth rates, profit margins, discount rates, taxes, etc.) can lead to drastically different valuations.  As I have mentioned in the past, cash flow analysis is a great way to value companies across a broad array of industries – excluding financial companies (see previous article on cash flow investing).

Mature companies operating in stable industries may be piling up cash because of limited revenue growth opportunities. Such companies may choose to pay out dividends, buyback stock, or possibly make acquisitions of target competitors. However, for hyper-growth companies earlier in their business life-cycles, (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), discretionary cash flow may be directly reinvested back into the company,  and/or allocated towards numerous growth projects. If these growth companies are not generating a lot of excess free cash flow (cash flow from operations minus capital expenditures), then how does one value such companies? Typically, under a traditional DCF (discounted cash flow model), modest early year cash flows are forecasted  until more substantial cash flows are generated in the future, at which point all cash flows are discounted back to today. This process is philosophically pure, but very imprecise and subject to the manipulation and bias of many inputs.

To combat the multi-year wiggle room of a subjective DCF, I choose to calculate what I call “adjusted free cash flow” (cash flow from operations minus depreciation and amortization). The adjusted free cash flow approach provides a perspective on how much cash a growth company theoretically can generate if it decides to not pursue incremental growth projects in excess of maintenance capital expenditures. In other words, I use depreciation and amortization as a proxy for maintenance CAPEX. I believe cash flow figures are much more reliable in valuing growth companies because such cash-based metrics are less subject to manipulation compared to traditional measures like earnings per share (EPS) and net income from the income statement.

Rationalizing Ratios

Other valuation methods to consider for growth companies*:

  • PE Ratio: The price-earnings ratio indicates how expensive a stock is by comparing its share price to the company’s earnings.
  • PEG Ratio (PE-to-Growth): This metric compares the PE ratio to the earnings growth rate percentage. As a rule of thumb, PEG ratios less than one are considered attractive to some investors, regardless of the absolute PE level.
  • Price-to-Sales: This ratio is less precise in my mind because companies can’t pay investors dividends, buy back stock, or make acquisitions with “sales” – discretionary capital comes from earnings and cash flows.
  • Price-to-Book: Compares the market capitalization (price) of the company with the book value (or equity) component on the balance sheet.
  • EV/EBITDA: Enterprise value (EV) is the total value of the market capitalization plus the value of the debt, divided by EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization). Some investors use EBITDA as an income-based surrogate of cash flow.
  • FCF Yield: One of my personal favorites – you can think of this percentage as an inverted PE ratio that substitutes free cash flow for earnings. Rather than a yield on a bond, this ratio effectively provides investors with a discretionary cash yield on a stock.

*All The ratios above should be reviewed both on an absolute basis and relative basis in conjunction with comparable companies in an industry. Faster growing industries, in general, should carry higher ratio metrics.

Taking Facebook and Twitter Public

Before we can even take a stab at some of these growth company valuations, we need to look at the historical financial statements (income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement). In the case of Facebook and Twitter, since these companies are private, there are no publically available financial statements to peruse. Private investors are generally left in the dark, limited to public news related to what other early investors have paid for ownership stakes. For example, in July, a Russian internet company paid $100 million for a stake in Facebook, implying a $6.5 billion valuation for the total company.  Twitter recently obtained a $100 million investment from T. Rowe Price and Insight Venture Partners thereby valuing the total company at $1 billion.

Valuing growth companies is quite different than assessing traditional value companies. Because of the earnings and cash flow volatility in growth companies, the short-term financial results can be distorted. I choose to find market leading franchises that can sustain above average growth for longer periods of time (i.e., companies with “long runways”). For a minority of companies that can grow earnings and cash flows sustainably at above-average rates, I will take advantage of the perception surrounding current short-term “expensive” metrics, because eventually growth will convert valuation perception to “cheap.” Google Inc. (GOOG) is a perfect example – what many investors thought was ridiculously expensive, at the $85 per share Initial Public Offering (IPO) price, ended up skyrocketing to over $700 per share and continues to trade near a very respectable level of $500 per share.

The IPO market is heating up and A123 Systems Inc (AONE) is a fresh example. Often these companies are volatile growth companies that require a deep dive into the financial statements. There is no silver bullet, so different valuation metrics and techniques need to be reviewed in order to come up with more reasonable valuation estimates. Valuation measuring is no cakewalk, but I’ll take this challenge over estimating the number of ping pong balls I can fit in an airplane, any day. Valuing growth companies just requires an understanding of how the essential earnings and cash flow metrics integrate with the fundamental dynamics surrounding a particular company and industry. Now that you have graduated with a degree in Growth Company Valuation 101, you are ready to open your boutique investment bank and advise Facebook and Twitter on their IPO price (the fees can be lucrative if you are not under TARP regulations).

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts do not have direct long positions AONE, however some Sidoxia client accounts do hold GOOG securities at the time this article was published. 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.

September 29, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

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