Investing DIY – 5 – More details about stock evaluation

I thought I should capture some economic indicators that can help you make an informed decision when buying stock. These indicators and theory can be found in many places but it’s easier if they are in the same place, eh?! None of these indicators are an ultimate factor but each gives you a picture of a company – the more positive findings, the better the investment. These are the ones I used but each investment school thinks some others are more important. It might be so but one needs to walk before running.

Indicators to identify a bargain stock

  • P/E (Price/Earnings) Ratio – I discussed it before. A good investment has a lower/much lower P/E than its competitors/sector/industry. It shows how quickly, keeping up the earnings the same, the stock will be paid off from these earnings. A company with a P/E of 30 but with a 80% annual growth for the last 3 years most probably is a much better investment than one with a P/E of 25 but with 20% annual growth. Rule of thumb is that one should be very cautious with companies with P/E over 30-40 (they might still be a very good investment but please check carefully)
  • Price-to-book Ratio – How much the company is valuated on the market compared with the declared assets. A Price-to-book below 1 seems like a real bargain (in theory, if the company would be liquidated, you would get more money than if you were to sell your share on the stock market)… but be wary! Corroborate with all the other aspects, with its competitors/industry to find out WHY it is so undervalued. Below 2 should be still be fine.
  • Price-to-sales Ratio – Share price divided by revenues per share. It is useful when evaluating how quickly the company is growing and how fast it is growing its sales/revenues. Smaller is better – useful when comparing companies in the same sector. A company might be growing very fast, becoming quickly competitive, yet it did not attract yet the attention of the analysts, investors.

Financial Strenght (debt evaluation)

  • Quick Ratio – this is a quick look at the cash flow, the power of the company to cover its short-term debts with the money it generates. Above 2 is a sign of financial strength.
  • Debt-to-Equity Ratio – Total liabilities divided by equity of the shareholders. A high ratio here means the company is financing its growth by borrowing and that the growth would not be sustainable in time. (Sort of a person taking 10K from a line of credit and then bragging “I have 10K all the time in my chequing account”). It should be checked within the industry range. Capital intensive industries might have such a ratio as high as 2, while others have a normal range of below 0.5. Should be looking for those below 0.5.
  • Dividend Payout Ratio – This is the yield (money paid out) vs earnings per share. When we chose a company for the reason it pays dividends, we want to make sure they will continue to pay those dividends. Remember – dividends can be suspended at any time. Beside the length of time the company has a solid dividend paying record. Each recommends a different threshold – some people recommend a ratio of below 50%, others like it to be a little big bigger (70-80%), because it means the management is committed to having performance of the company high. In any case, any dividend payout ratio over 80-90% is a red flag. There are companies paying over 100% but, in long term, that is not sustainable (they pay more than they earn). Mind you – some investments – like REITs – are forced, by law, to distribute more than 90% of their income to investors, so it is ok in those cases to have a payout ratio of (let’s say) 95%.

Growth

Earnings-per-share, Sales, Dividend Growth Rates – all these, when compared to the competition/industry average, show how fast the company is growing. A company with traditionally not so good indicators – which makes it stay below the analysts’ radar – but with low debt and big growth in the late 1-2 years – might allow you to be an early investor in a success story.

Emotional

Beta – discussed before. It is an indicator of price change. Not so important in economic terms but important for your risk-tolerance. The higher the Beta, the more the price of the shares fluctuates. If you are easily unnerved, avoid anything above 1.

Others

There are many other indicators for the solidity of a company. Some are composite indicators I.e. GER Analysis is another composite indicator which combines some of these indicators and some others: P/E, Debt-to-Equity, Return-to-Equity, Price-to-Earnings-vs-Growth, Growth rates, Earnings-per-share, Revenues to provide a composite number 0 (weak) – 100 (strong).

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