Sunday, September 30

Week 378 - Which “Dow Jones Industrial Average” Stocks Are Not Overpriced?

Situation: Is the US stock market overpriced? We need to know because Warren Buffett keeps reminding us how important it is to avoid overpaying for a stock. Buffet says: “No matter how successful a company is, don’t overpay for its stock. Wait until Wall Street sours on a company you like and drives the price down into bargain territory. By making a watch list of interesting stocks, and waiting for their prices to drop, you increase the potential for future capital gains.
The author of this link suggests that none of us “mere mortals” are as smart as Warren Buffett at getting the price right. It’s perhaps better to either dollar-average your investment, or leave it to professionals to do the stock-picking for you. We suggest that there is a third option, which is to use a couple of simple mathematical formulas to guide your stock-picking. Those formulas can be found in the book that Warren Buffett calls “by far the best book on investing every written.” The book is entitled: The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, Revised Edition, Harper, New York, 1973. There, you will find the value of calculating the 7-year P/E instead of the usual 12-month P/E, and also learn how to calculate the “Graham Number.” The Graham Number is what the stock would sell for if it were priced at 1.5 times Book Value and 15 times trailing 12-month (TTM) earnings. Calculating and using the Graham Number is important because it allows for variation in Book Value and earnings. Multiplying the two values just has to be ~22.5 (15 X 1.5) for the stock to be optimally priced.

Mission: To test both methods on stocks issued by the 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). See columns X, Y and Z on our Standard Spreadsheet (Table).

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Here’s how to calculate the Graham Number, as shown on p. 349 in the book cited above). [Clicking this link will take you to the Amazon website and the book).] Start by multiplying 1.5 (ideal ratio of Book Value/share) by 15 (ideal ratio of TTM Earnings/share) = 22.5. By multiplying two numbers you have created a Power Function. So, you’ll have to take the Square Root of the Final Number to arrive at the Graham Number. Final Number = 22.5 X actual Book Value/share for the most recent quarter (new) X actual TTM Earnings/share. To access Earnings/share, go to any company’s page at Yahoo Finance, e.g. Apple’s. In the right column find EPS (TTM) of $11.038. To access Book Value/share, click on “statistics” at the top of that page and scroll down the left column to “Balance Sheet.” Book Value/share for the most recent quarter (mrq) is the last entry: $23.74. Graham Number = square root of 22.5 X $11.038 X $23.74 = $76.79. This is the true value (Graham Number) for a single share of Apple stock. If it sells for less, that’s a bargain. Right now, it’s selling for almost 3 times as much. If you own some shares, either think about selling those or think about the company’s ability to scale-up the “Apple ecosystem”. Perhaps you’ll decide that those prospects make holding onto the shares for a while longer a worthwhile risk.

Calculating the 7-Yr P/E (p. 159 in the book cited above). You’ll need a website that provides the past 7 years of TTM earnings, or a library with S&P stock reports. Simply add the most recent 7 years’ earnings and divide by 7 to arrive at the denominator. Look up the current price of the stock (or its 50 Day Moving Average price found in the right column of the statistics page under “Stock Price History”) to arrive at the numerator. Divide numerator by denominator to calculate the 7-Yr P/E, which must be 25 or less to reflect “normative” earnings growth over 7 years for a stock with a 12-month P/E of ~20 during most years. By using the 7-yr P/E you avoid being mislead by a year of blowout earnings or negligible earnings.

Bottom Line: As a group, these 30 stocks are overpriced. Nonetheless, 12 companies have stocks that are priced within reason vs. their Graham Numbers and 7-Yr P/Es (see Columns X-Z in the Table): TRV, DIS, WBA, INTC, VZ, JPM, PFE, PG, GS, UTX, CVX, XOM. But only one company, Goldman Sachs (GS), can be called a bargain with respect to both values (those values being highlighted in green in the Table). Note that Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B at Line 35 in the Table) is an even better bargain. Perhaps Warren Buffett noticed these markers of high intrinsic value when he recently spent part of Berkshire Hathaway’s cash hoard to buy back the stock

Risk Rating: 5 where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into 3 stocks on the “not overpriced list” -- JPM, PG and XOM, and also own shares in two others: INTC and TRV. Additionally, I dollar-average into MSFT, KO, JNJ, WMT, CAT and IBM, and own shares in MCD, MMM and CSCO. 

Comment: I focus on Dow Stocks because each is covered by dozens of analysts and business journalists, and its stock options are actively traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The result of this microscopic attention is that price discovery is efficient, and surprise earnings are rare. In addition, all 30 companies have a long record of business experience, and are large enough to have multiple product lines that provide internal lines of support during a crisis. DJIA companies are famously able to weather almost any storm: Seven DJIA companies went through a near death experience during The Great Recession of 2008-2009 (General Electric, Citigroup, General Motors, Pfizer, Home Depot, Caterpillar, and American Express) but only 3 had to be removed in the aftermath of that “Lehman Panic” (General Electric, Citigroup, and General Motors).

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