STOCK SELECTIONS, MAKING WISE CHOICES
BY WADE B. COOK, AUTHOR OF FOUR NEW YORK TIMES BUSINESS BESTSELLING BOOKS, INCLUDING: WALL STREET MONEY MACHINE, SAFETY FIRST INVESTNG, AND BUSINESS BUY THE BIBLE.
BETTER CHOICES: EACH STOCK MARKET FORMULA WE USE IS LIKE A TOOL IN THE TOOLBOX. SOME ARE VERSATILE AND SOME ARE FOR A SPECIFIC USE. LIKE ANY GOOD MECHANIC, YOU MUST KNOW THE PARTICULAR OR VARIED USES, THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF EACH TOOL.
THIS ARTICLE WILL ACCOMPLISH A MONUMENTAL TASK. WE WILL CROSS-EXAMINE THE USE OF THE FORMULAS WITH A MORE TRADITIONAL LOOK AT VALUING STOCK AND MAKING SMARTER TRADES. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT FUNDAMENTAL ANALYSIS, TECHNICAL ANALYSIS, AND OTHER MOTIVATING FACTORS (OMFS).
A Fundamental Approach
For years I’ve sided with the fundamental crowd, but now I see more of my entrance and exit points based on a technical approach—though my technical buy and sell thoughts are more intuitive than pure technical analysis. Let’s cover fundamental analysis first. Fundamental analysis is a way, or several ways, to measure value. It looks at the things that are inherent to the company. It helps us see if the company is good or bad, if it is growing or not. It helps us compare companies to help determine a comparative value. Fundamental analysis lets you measure the health of a company.
Fundamental analysis has set formulas for comparison. We can compare one bank stock to other bank stocks. We can compare a high tech company to the other stocks in its sector or to the market as a whole. The most common component is the P/E, or price/earnings ratio. I could give the formula, but anyone can do that. Only I, though, can give you a cabdriver’s take on it, and make it simple. A stock may be at $125 and have a P/E of 32. Another stock may be $8 and have a P/E of 604.
The P/E shows how much money you will pay to get at $1 of the company’s earnings. In the first case $32 would buy $1 of earnings. $604 in our next example buys $1 of earnings, even though the stock is only $8. It would not be uncommon today to see a typical NYSE company with average P/Es of 12.1 to 18.2. This is not a bad benchmark. In theory, the lower the P/E number the better. Nowadays, some internet companies are trading at a 30 or a 60 P/E.
Historical Price Earnings Ratios are around 15.5 times earnings. It’s easy to find the P/E for any company, even on some of the lesser quality financial sites, these numbers are easy to find. The better sites, and every stock brokerage firm I know, will make these numbers, and many other measuring sticks, available to you free of charge.
One caution, when you get the P/E you don’t necessarily know if it’s past- tense, or trailing earnings; or future tense, or projected earnings, or a blend. Projected earnings are someone’s guess at what the company will earn over the next year. The projected earnings are usually higher than what happened last year so the P/E will be lower. You see a lot of people who like low P/Es. You are buying the future earnings if you buy the stock today, but it’s also more honest to look at what the company has done in the past. A blended P/E would give us the best of both worlds. I like it best when the company—or a news article—bases their P/E on six months back and six months forward. It is a better reflection of where the company really stands.
Each newspaper, magazine, analyst, and brokerage firm uses different time periods. It does get confusing. Just ask them or figure out what they base their P/Es on—more specifically what time periods they use. If you don’t know, you could base selling or buying decisions on erroneous or incomplete information. Say a company has a trailing P/E (12 months) of 28 and an estimated P/E of 22. They tout the 22 and while it may happen—it may be 26 next year—it’s a projection, a guess. Just be careful.
I think earnings are a key to stock movements. I’ve shouted it from the rooftops. Follow earnings, follow earnings. Is the company profitable? Are they (and the earnings) expanding or contracting? Are their sales growing? What are they doing with their money? Are earnings growing because they’ve acquired another company? Will this acquisition slow them down? Are earnings growing from cost cuttings (sometimes good, or can contraction be bad?)? Learn everything you can about a company’s earnings.
Other ways to look at a company is its debt load. Is it excessive? Can it be managed? Debt is a killer of businesses. Debt should be manageable. Debt should not cause insolvency. Benchmark ratios vary from industry to industry, but I look for 30% or less of debt. That’s 30% of the market capitalization. If the market cap is $600,000,000 then it should have less than $180,000,000 in debt. If the debt is over 50% and gets close to 70%, watch out. Debt is sometimes temporary. Look at how well the company has handled debt both large and small in the past.
Some people look at yields or dividend payouts. This is important if you’re investing for this type of income. Most companies don’t payout large dividends and sometimes dividends are paid out of savings, etc., just to keep up the dividend, even though the company is making no money. Looking at dividends or yields is becoming more and more important to many Americans. Why? Because interest rates in typical banks are lacking in excitement.
Other people measure a return on equity—divide the after-tax profits by the book value to see how well the company is performing on its assets.
Another one I like is the book value—or breakup value measurement. Simply put, this is the value of a company’s components compared to the market capitalization of the stock. Market cap is figured by taking all the outstanding shares and multiplying this number by the price of the stock.
x $23 (stock price)
$2,300,000,000 Market Capitalization
Some great companies don’t have great book values. What do you say about a Microsoft with a $250 billion market cap and a relatively small book value? It is a cash flow machine. People buy it for its earnings. Book value is a good measurement to make sure you are not overpaying for the stock. It also gives us a chance to buy undervalued stocks.
Some companies, more bread and butter types, trade at low book values. Remember when the Mexican peso was devalued? One company, which was trading at $16, dropped to $4. Its book value was $6 per share. It was undervalued. I bought at $4.50 and sold around $7 a few months later. Even today you can find companies with low book value compared to their stock price.
Bank stocks sometimes are down around their book value or loan portfolio value, and become takeover or merger candidates. Oil stocks and paper product stocks sometimes give one a chance to buy the assets at a discount.
All of these ways to value companies are important. They should be kept in perspective and be the tools we use for comparison purposes. They are good as a group to help us make decisions based on contrasting opinions.
Technical analysis uses numbers to help us determine movements. These technical measurements help show when a stock will turn up, or go higher, when a stock will decline, die or turn around.
This type of analysis uses moving averages to show when a stock gets in a buy or sell range. Other technical viewpoints use call and put volume increases. Some technical analysts like gaps, when a stock price gaps up or down—to show the direction it will go thereafter. Others use money flows to see if money is entering the stock or leaving. The most popular technical measurement is the MACDs. This stands for Moving Average Convergence/Divergence. IO realize these are big words, but just focus on those two words: Convergence and Divergence. Things like stock prices, money-flows converge at a specific price. Days later, after moving below or above a 18 day or 50 moving average, the stock diverges, and moves the others way. Two thoughts to give you some comfort.
1. Technical people are right about 22 percent of the time. This is based on their own reckoning. They post these things.
2. Many brokers love this stuff. They thrive on numbers. I like numbers also but I rely on a broker or educator who can understand and explain them.
3. These people are usually anal-retentive to the nth degree. It’s most difficult to talk to them. They live in another world—where the 22% hangout.
4. There is one technical style or figures and those are the “stochastics”—pronounced stow-cast-ics. There are many people who understand these calculations. I don’t care to warp my brain like that, but my brokers are really good at it. All I do is ask: “What do the stochastics say? They then say things like: “Well it’s slightly bullish (meaning that there is a likelihood the stock will go up), but it’s turning negative and will go down soon.” These way of figuring stock movements has helped me many times. And I don’t have to know the inner workings of the formulas.
There are many more ways, including some way-out planetary models. A fun technical is when the NFC or AFC wins the super bowl. The market goes up or down, so they say.
Many people, like me, are busy. I know of these measuring sticks and I have two good stockbrokers who love the technical aspects of all this. I listen and use their advice sometimes. I’ll say, “I want to buy 200 shares of Microsoft.” They’ll say, “Wait one or two days, it should drop a dollar or two.” I question and get an ear full. I wait. They are often right.
Now when it comes to option trading—especially quick turn trades—every dollar is important. Technical analysis tells us when to get in and when to get out. Let’s spell it “technEEcal” analysis. The “EE” are for Entrance and Exit points.
Other Motivating Factors
Now the fun begins. Once we start to use fundamental aspects and technical entrance and exit points, then we realize that newsy items or other motivating factors also drive the stock or option.
Let’s look at a “news announcement game” many companies play. For example, before the earnings announcement many companies downplay their earnings forecast. Many analysts say the earnings will be 92¢ per share. A week or two before June 30. (Note: We have four quarters a year, actually three plus the year-end report to drive the stock up or down. This gives us four newsy-type reporting periods.) A company spokesman says that the earnings probably won’t be that high. They adjust their forecasts, to say 78¢. Then the stock price sometimes goes down—from $68 to $61. Then, voila, a few weeks later the actual earnings are reported at 87¢, a good 10% above forecasts.
This process is almost comical. If this game weren’t so common I wouldn’t bring it up. We need to temper the news the company puts out with a dose of reality. And then after these adjusted reports are given they say we probably won’t make that much next quarter, or next year. And with each announcement, or right before it, there’s a whole lot of buying and selling going on. We as the little guy are always getting the short end of the stick. We jump in too late, and react after the play is over. Here’s a thought: Watch for these pre-earnings announcements, wait for the dip, and then get in with stock or options. Practice this first.
In short, earnings reports drive stocks up and down. So do anticipation of good or bad news. Watch for patterns. Look for good buying opportunities. Those buying opportunities are not when a stock peaks out or when it‘s on a new high. Let’s look at this three-month cycle; June 30th, a quarter end. A lot of newsy-type announcements or projections come out around the 15th or so. Watch for these. Now, remember the company has 45 days, or until August 15th to file its 10Qs, or SEC filings.
In July the talk starts the whisper numbers, and such. Rumors, surmisings, pre-announcements of splits, share buy backs, etc. News abounds. We buy on rumors and sell on news (facts). I can’t say how many times the actual filings are even better than expected and the stock falls from $82 to $78 and everyone scratches their heads. Why are we amazed when so many people know what the numbers will actually be? The stock went from $82 to $92 in the two to three weeks before the filing. The players are in and out when the filings are done. Knowing this, we won’t get caught in the quarterly trap and go down in flames.
Now here’s another problem, or opportunity, depending on how you look at it. Sometimes, crazily, a company has a great announcement but the stock goes down. A share buyback announcement is usually a good thing for the stock. The company is entering the market place to boost its stock, to dry up the supply or just to acquire the stock because they feel it’s a good value.
Spin-offs and IPOs are news events. So are mergers, takeovers, and stock splits. Lawsuits—either instituted or ended—play into the picture, as does a management change.
All of these and more are called OMFs or the Other Motivating Factors. Most good news plays out in hours or a few days. Bad news seems to linger for months. Remember, get in the way of progress. Now, let’s put this all together.
Fundamental analysis helps us know WHAT to buy or sell.
Technical analysis helps us know WHEN to buy or sell.
OMFs help us know WHY NOW to buy or sell.
That’s it. Use all three. Don’t ignore any of this. With the use of all three methods, you’ll make better and quicker decisions. Your cash profits should take off.
© 2017 Wade B. Cook. All Rights Reserved. http://pwc2.com/wadecook