Jul

17

VitaliyIn the long run, the performance of a stock in isolation (ignoring the external environment, i.e. interest rates, risk, inflation) is the product of fundamentals (i.e. earnings and cash flow growth) and valuation ( i.e. P/E, P/CF).

Google and Apple may have great fundamentals: their innovation has led and may continue to lead to high earnings and cash flow growth. But are they good stocks? They may or may not be. But, more importantly, will they be good stocks at any price? No! If I were to follow the above conclusion, that since Google and Apple are great companies they are great stocks at any price, at any valuation – at 50, 500, 5000 times earnings, then I'd walk into an overvaluation trap.

Take a look at eBay in the late 90s: it was a great company (it still is), but it was grossly overvalued. So, if you bought it in the late 90s and held it until today, despite its earnings going up 100-fold, the stock is roughly at the same level it was then. I'd argue few would have the patience and conviction to hold it through the downturn the stock took in the early '00s. Most investing in the stock in the late 90s lost money on it.

One of the biggest mistakes investors make in investing is failing to separate a good company and a good stock. A great company's (fundamental) performance is wiped out by valuation compression. This is the battle of two winds: the tailwind of earnings growth and the headwind of P/E compression.

Also, with a high growth priced appropriately (even to perfection) there is no room for even a small mistake (no margin of safety) left in the valuation - a small disappointment (it doesn't have to be much) will lead to a substantial decline in price. The latest performance of Starbucks and Whole Foods stocks is a great example of being priced for perfection and delivering slightly less-than-perfect results.

This myopia in differentiating between good companies and good stocks is not just limited to wonderful, exciting, larger-than-life (Google comes to mind here), fast-growing internet companies. The bluest of the blue chip stocks, like GE, Coca Cola, Home Depot, Amgen, Johnson and Johnson (and the list goes on) were all great companies that one "had to own" but were terrible (overvalued) stocks in the late 90s. Their earnings have doubled or tripled since but the stocks have not gone anywhere.

I think it was Benjamin Graham who said that "price is what you pay, value is what you get."

Kim Zussman adds:

What are the parameters which make a good company or stock? Here are some good stock categories from the literature:

1. Large five year decline in price (DeBondt and Thaler)
2. Large one year price gain (-large 1 year price decline.) Momentum (Jegadeesh)
3. Small cap stocks (Lakonishok and others)
4. Valuation: Low P/E, P/B, P/cash flow, high dividend yield, and
various concatenations thereof
5. High (low?) short interest
6. Put/call ratio (especially when options orders are placed by grandmas in Serbia)
7. Value line timliness (used to be more timely)
8. Double tops and wiggle bottoms above and below 10 minute panting average

The problem is that they all work sometimes; actually, just often enough to keep people interested in them.

Vitaliy Katsenelson adds:

I spent a good portion of my soon to be published book called, Active Value Investing: Making Money in Range Bound Markets, discussing what constitutes a good company and a good stock. I created the QVG framework (Quality, Valuation, and Growth).

A good company should get high scores on Quality and Growth dimensions. For instance a high quality company will have high return on capital, strong balance sheet, a sustainable competitive advantage, competent, shareholder friendly management, significant free cash flows. A Growth dimension encompasses predictable (high recurring) revenue growth, multiple sources of growth, a nice dividend, etc.

If a company received high scores on Quality and Growth dimensions, for it to be a good a good stock it should pass get a passing grade on Valuation dimension - be undervalued (have a appropriate margin of safety).

As anything in investing this analysis is very subjective, but I find this framework is very beneficial to maintaining a rational head and helps me to stick to an analytical process. 

Steve Leslie comments: 

On June 28th (post number ?p=1834) I mentioned that one year ago, when Google was $350, Vic and Laurel went all-in on the search engine provider. I also remarked that Apple and Garmin were both $50 then. Today GOOG is $550, AAPL $137, GRMN $80.

When one finds a great company with a great product line and great prospects, selling at a reasonable price, it is time to buy. Strike when the iron is hot! And eschew the short-term gain for the much larger pot o' gold that lies at the end of the rainbow.

Charles Pennington responds:

I can find nothing in the original post of Mr. Leslie stating any requirement that the stock be bought at a reasonable price (let alone any definition of what a "reasonable price" would be). The concluding quote was:

".. most importantly the speculator should be willing to hold onto the companies eschewing the quick buck in search of the really big gains that can be achieved through diligence and patience."

I'm sure it was an oversight not to have included some kind of requirement of "reasonable price" in the original message. The vehemence of the reaction is because, I think, the post's assertions were untested, apart from anecdote, and Daily Speculations is supposed to be reserved for ideas that are tested.

An example among many of the way the assertions could be tested is to go back to old issues of magazines, newspapers, etc., and find the companies that were rated at the time as highly admired, and then look at their performance afterwards. If you do this exercise, you might find that highly admired companies do well.

However, it is not at all obvious. Many companies which were once highly admired are not so highly admired now, and their stocks have not done well. Enron, for example, was once highly admired.

Barry Gitarts comments:

Haven’t many value experts said Google has been overvalued since its IPO, and Apple for several years now, however both stocks have significantly outperformed the market.

Driving looking out the rearview vs. the windshield could also be the difference between over and under valued perception.


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