A Mechanical Check for Investment in Common Stocks. The First in a Series.

In this blog post I’m going discuss some aspects of the mechanical tests your should apply to common stocks you are considering to buy and at what price.

On March 16th, 2011 I wrote about not buying a common stock generally above 20 times average earnings in this post: http://bit.ly/MaxAvgPE .  I have to admit that I was a little lazy.  Like most people I used 20 times the current annual earnings to complete the table in that blog post because it the info was readily available, but a five or ten year average is more through and enlightening.  It takes a while to find all the earnings data for the past ten years and then to make adjustments for changes in capitalization, warrants, and convertible preferred stocks.

The excerpt below from Benjamin Graham’s Security Analysis 2nd edition is a devastating indictment on how speculative so-called investors are both in 1940 and today.

Over the next couple of days I’m going to calculate many values for testing common stocks for investment basis that I’ve already written about on this blog.  The goal is separate the speculative stocks from the investment stocks.  The list includes: GoldCorp (GG), Proctor & Gamble (PG), American Capital Agency Corp. (AGNC), SeaDrill (SDRL), Safe Bulkers (SB), and AT&T (T).

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Higher Prices May Prevail for Speculative Commitments.  The intent of this distinction must be clearly understood.  We do not imply that it is a mistake to pay more than 20 times average earnings for any common stock.  We do suggest that such a price would be speculative.  The purchase may easily turn out to be highly profitable, but in that case it will have proved a wise or fortunate speculation.  It is proper to remark, moreover, that very few people are consistently wise or fortunate in their speculative operations.  Hence we may submit, as a corollary of no small practical importance, that people who habitually purchase common stocks at more than about 20 times their average earnings are likely to lose considerable money in the long run.  This is the more probable because, in the absence of such a mechanical check, they are prone to succumb recurrently to the lure of bull markets, which always find some specious argument to justify paying extravagant prices for common stocks.

            Other Requisites for Common Stocks of Investment Grade and a Corollary Therefrom.  It should be pointed out that if 20 times average earnings is taken as the upper limit of price for an investment purchase, then ordinarily the price paid should be substantially less than this maximum.  This suggests that about 12 or 12.5 times earnings may be suitable for the typical case of a company with neutral prospects.  We must emphasize also that a reasonable ratio of market price to average earnings is not the only requisite for a common-stock investment.  It is a necessary but not sufficient condition.  The company must be satisfactory also in its financial set-up and management, and not unsatisfactory in its prospects.

            From this principle there follows another important corollary, viz.: An attractive common-stock investment is an attractive speculation.  This is true because, if a common stock can meet the demand of a conservative investor that he get full value for his money plus not unsatisfactory future prospects, then such an issue must also have a fair chance of appreciating in market value.

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Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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