Sunday, April 3

Week 248 - A-rated S&P 500 Growth Companies That Are Dividend Achievers And Have A Durable Competitive Advantage

Situation: Stocks are tricky investments to own, particularly “growth” stocks. How should you get started? You know by now that we believe the investor with less than a million dollars in net worth should focus on owning stock in S&P 500 companies. We particularly like those in the annual Barron’s 500 List of US and Canadian companies with the highest revenues. Stock prices reflect expected earnings growth. An easy way to find companies with steady earnings growth is to look for S&P’s Dividend Achievers, i.e., companies that have been increasing their dividend annually for at least the past 10 yrs. S&P also helps us by assigning each company in the S&P 500 Index to one of 10 industries, 6 of which are “growth” industries: Energy, Basic Materials, Financials, Industrials, Consumer Discretionary, and Information Technology

It helps to know how a company is capitalized. Does it mainly depend on selling common stock to attract investors, or does it prefer to float bond issues and sell preferred stock? If the answer is bonds and preferred stock, then the company’s book value will mainly reflect its brand value. (Accountants call that an “intangible” asset.) But if the answer is common stock, “tangible” assets may have more value than all the company’s liabilities. In other words, the company has what accountants call Tangible Book Value (TBV). If its stock price is no more than ~15 times TBV, it is undeniably solvent.

Mission: Develop a spreadsheet of growth companies in the Barron’s 500 List that are both Dividend Achievers and undeniably solvent. Focus on those with at least a 15 year trading history, taking care to exclude any with an S&P Bond Rating lower than A- or an S&P Stock Rating lower than A-/M. Then check to be sure TBV growth has at least doubled over the past decade and there haven’t been any more than 3 down years for TBV. In other words, the company meets Warren Buffett’s requirements for having a Durable Competitive Advantage (see Week 238).

Execution: There are only 5 companies that meet our criteria (see Table). In the aggregate, they’re no riskier than our key benchmark, VBINX at Line 12 in the Table. VBINX is essentially an S&P 500 Index fund that is 40% hedged with high quality bonds. Note in Column C of the Table that Total Returns over the past 2+ market cycles have been more than 3 times higher than the benchmark’s.

Bottom Line: If you’re new to stock picking, you’ve probably been confining your attention to “defensive” stocks, which are those issued by companies in the HealthCare, Utilities, Consumer Staples, and Communication Services industries. Your next step is to think about owning shares in “growth” stocks issued by companies in the Information Technology, Financial Services, Industrial, Consumer Discretionary, Basic Materials, and Energy industries. Those are riskier but have greater long-term returns. You can get help deciding which to own by screening for companies that a) grow their dividend reliably, b) have large revenues, c) have a Tangible Book Value (TBV), and d) meet Warren Buffett’s requirements for having a Durable Competitive Advantage (DCA): steady TBV growth that has at least doubled TBV over the past decade (i.e., growth of more than 7.1%/yr). We’ve run that screen and find that only 5 companies meet our requirements (see Table).

Risk Rating: 6

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into NKE, MSFT and XOM, and also own shares of ROST and TJX.

NOTE: Metrics in the Table are current for the Sunday of publication; metrics highlighted in red denote underperformance vs. VBINX. Total Returns in Column C date to 9/1/2000, a peak of the S&P 500 Index.

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1 comment:

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