Posts tagged ‘quality of earnings’

Sports & Investing: Why Strong Earnings Can Hurt Stock Prices

There are many similarities between investing in stocks and handicapping in sports betting. For example, investors (bettors) have opposing views on whether a particular stock (team) will go up or down (win or lose), and determine if the valuation (point spread) is reflective of the proper equilibrium (supply & demand).  And just like the stock market, virtually anybody off the street can place a sports bet – assuming one is of legal age and in a legal betting jurisdiction.

Right now investors are poring over data as part of the critical, quarterly earnings ritual. Thus far, roughly 20% of the companies in S&P 500 index have reported their results and 78% of those companies have beaten Wall Street expectations (CNBC). Unfortunately for the bulls, this trend has not been strong enough to push market prices higher in 2010.

So how and why can market prices go down on good news? There are many reasons that short-term price trends can diverge from short-run fundamentals. One major reason for the price-fundamental gap is the following factor: expectations.  Just last week, the market had climbed over +70% in a ten month period, before issues surrounding the Massachusetts Senatorial election, President Obama’s banking reform proposals, and Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke’s re-appointment surfaced. With such a large run-up in the equity markets come loftier expectations for both the economy and individual companies. So when corporate earnings unveiled from companies like Google (GOOG), J.P. Morgan (JPM), and Intel (INTC) outperform relative to forecasts, one explanation for an interim price correction is due to a significant group of investors not being surprised by the robust profit reports. In sports betting lingo, the sports team may have won the game this week, but they did not win by enough points (“cover the spread”).

Some other reasons stock prices move lower on good news:

  • Market Direction: Regardless of the underlying trends, if the market is moving lower, in many instances the market dip can overwhelm any positive, stock- specific factors.
  • Profit Taking: Many times investors holding a long position will have price targets or levels, if achieved, that will trigger selling whether positive elements are in place or not.
  • Interest Rates: Certain valuation techniques (e.g. Discounted Cash Flow and Dividend Discount Model) integrate interest rates into the value calculation. Therefore, a climb in interest rates has the potential of lowering stock prices – even if the dynamics surrounding a particular security are excellent.
  • Quality of Earnings: Sometimes producing winning results is not enough (see also Tricks of the Trade article). On occasion, items such as one-time gains, aggressive revenue recognition, and lower than average tax rates assist a company in getting over a profit hurdle. Investors value quality in addition to quantity.
  • Outlook: Even if current period results may be strong, on some occasions a company’s outlook regarding future prospects may be worse than expected. A dark or worsening outlook can pressure security prices.
  • Politics & Taxes: These factors may prove especially important to the market this year, since this is a mid-term election year. Political and tax policy changes today may have negative impacts on future profits, thereby impacting stock prices.
  • Other Exogenous Items: Natural disasters and security attacks are examples of negative shocks that could damage price values, irrespective of fundamentals.

Certainly these previously mentioned issues do not cover the full gamut of explanations for temporary price-fundamental gaps. Moreover, many of these factors could be used in reverse to explain market price increases in the face of weaker than anticipated results.

For those individuals traveling to Las Vegas to place a wager on the NFL Super Bowl, betting on the hot team may not be enough. If expectations are not met and the hot team wins by less than the point spread, don’t be surprised to see a decline in the value of the bet.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and GOOG, but at the time of publishing had no direct positions in JPM and INTC. 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 26, 2010 at 12:15 am Leave a comment

How to Make Money in Stocks Using Cash Flows

Cash RegisterThere you are in front of your computer screen, and lo and behold you notice one of your top 10 positions is down -11% (let’s call it ticker: ABC). With sweaty palms and blood rushing from your head, you manage to click with trembling hands on the ticker symbol that will imminently deliver the dreadful news. A competitor (ticker: XYZ) just pre-announced negative quarterly earnings results, and an investment bank, Silverman Sax, has decided to downgrade ABC on fears of a negative spill-over effect. What do you do now? Sell immediately on the cockroach theory – seeing one piece of bad news may mean there are many more dreadful pieces of information lurking behind the scenes? Or, should you back up the truck to take advantage of a massive buying opportunity?

Thank goodness to our good friend, cash flow, which can help supply answers to these crucial questions. Without an ability to value the shares of stock, any decision to buy or sell will be purely based on gut-based emotions. Many Wall Street analysts follow this lemming based analysis when whipping around their ratings (see The Yuppie Bounce & the Lemming Leap). As I talk about in my book, How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32, I strongly believe successful investing requires a healthy balance between the art and the science. Using instinct to tap into critical experience acknowledges the importance of the artistic aspects of investing. Unfortunately, I know few (actually zero) investors that have successfully invested over the long-run by solely relying on their gut.

A winning investment strategy, I argue, includes a systematic, disciplined approach with objective quantitative measures to help guide decision making. For me, the science I depend on includes a substantial reliance on cash flow analysis (See Cash Flow Components Here). What I also like to call this tool is my cash register. Any business you look at will have cash coming into the register, and cash going out of it. Based on the capital needs, cash availability, and growth projects, money will furthermore be flowing in and out of the cash register. By studying these cash flow components, we gain a much clearer lens into the vitality of a business and can quickly identify the choke points.

ACCOUNTING GAMES

The other financial statements definitely shed additional light on the fitness of a company as well, but the income statement, in particular, is subject to a lot more potential manipulation. Since the management teams have more discretion in how GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) is applied to the income statement, multiple levers can be pulled by the executives to make results look shinier than reality. For example, simply extending the useful life of an asset (e.g., a factory, building, computer, etc.) will have no impact on a company’s cash flow, yet it will instantaneously and magically raise a companies’ earnings out of thin air…voila!

“Stuffing the channel” is another manipulation strategy that can accelerate revenue recognition for a company. For example, let’s assume Company X ships goods to a distributor, Company Y, for the exclusive purpose of recognizing sales. Company X wins because they just increased their sales, Company Y wins because they have more inventory on hand (even if there is no immediate plan for the distributor to pay for that inventory), and the investor gets “hoodwinked” because they are presented artificially inflated sales and income results.

JOINT STRATEGY

These are but just a few examples of why it’s important to use the cash flow statement in conjunction with the income statement to get a truer picture of a company’s valuation and “quality of earnings.” If you don’t believe me, then check out the work done by reputable academics (Konan Chan, Narasimhan Jegadeesh, Louis Chan, and Josef Lakonishok) that show negative differentials between accounting earnings and cash flow are significantly predictive of future stock price performance (Read more).

So the next time a holding craters (or sky-rockets), take an accounting on the state of the company’s cash flows before making any rash decisions to buy or sell. By doing a thorough cash flow analysis, you’ll be well on your way to racking up gains into your cash register.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

September 24, 2009 at 3:45 am 8 comments


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