By its very nature, value investing is dangerous. Usually, companies that are labelled a value investment are cheaper than their peers because the market is worried about their future and ability to survive. As a result, value investing is a speculative style of investing.
The godfather of value investing, Benjamin Graham, always stated that value investing was fraught with risks, even when using his very strict criteria. Graham realized that with value investing there will always be losses, so the best way to remove much of this risk is for investors to use a well-diversified portfolio of 30 or more stocks that met his strict investing criteria.
Many value investors have sought to construct a method of removing some of the risks associated with value investing, and in my opinion one of the best methods by far comes from, University of Chicago Accounting Professor Joseph Piotroski.
Joseph Piotroski believed that it was possible to improve the performance of a value-focused portfolio if the stocks with the weakest finances were removed first. From this initial thought, Piotroski established a set of nine-criteria for scoring a stock based on its financial data. For every criteria that the company met, it received one point–stocks with eight or nine points were the strongest and possibly the best investments.
The criteria are as follows:
1. Net income; one point if net income for the previous year is positive
2. Operating cash flow; one point if operating cash flow is positive for the previous year
3. Return on assets; one point if the company’s ROA’s is greater than the previous year
4. Quality of earnings; one point if operating cash flow exceeds operating income – warns of accounting tricks
5. Long-term debt vs. assets; one point if the company’s debt to asset ratio has fallen from the previous year
6. Current Ratio; one point if the company’s current ratio has improved from the previous year
7. Shares outstanding; one point if the number of shares in issue is the same as the year before
8. Gross margin; one point if the gross margin exceeds that of the previous year
9. Asset Turnover; one point if the percentage increase in sales exceeds the percentage increase in total assets
So with these strict criteria in place, are there any stocks out there worth buying?
Genworth Financial Inc (NYSE:GNW)
|2.Operating Cash Flow||$962M||1|
|3.Return on Assets||1%||2.7%||1|
|5.Long-term debt Vs. assets||7%||6%||1|
|8.Gross Margin(Net in this case)||3%||7%||1|
First up is mortgage insurer Genworth Financial Inc (NYSE:GNW). Genworth’s income and cash flow are both positive, scoring the company two points. Genworth achieved a higher return on its assets in 2011 than it did in 2012 and its ratio of long-term debt to assets also declined, scoring anther two points. Genworth Financial Inc (NYSE:GNW) has almost no current liabilities, so by default, the company scores 1. Shares outstanding have not fallen or risen by a significant amount and Genworth Financial Inc (NYSE:GNW)’s gross margin has expanded from 3% to 7%.
|Metric||Operating income||Operating cash flow||Score|
|4.Quality of Earnings||606||962||1|
The quality of Genworth’s earnings scores the company one point as operating cash flow exceeds operating income.
|Metric||Sales Growth||Asset Growth||Score|
However, Genworth Financial Inc (NYSE:GNW) fails the last test, as the company’s sales during 2012 fell faster than the value of its assets.
Total Score: 8
Overall, Genworth Financial Inc (NYSE:GNW) scores 8, one point away from the maximum of 9, indicating that the company is a financially sound value investment.
CenturyLink, Inc. (NYSE:CTL)
|2.Operating Cash Flow||$6,070M||1|
|3.Return on Assets||0.9%||1.3%||1|
|5.Long-term debt Vs. assets||38%||36%||1|
Next up is beaten down telecoms company CenturyLink, Inc. (NYSE:CTL). CentruryLink had a positive cash flow and net income during 2012 and achieved a strong return on assets in 2011 that in 2012, all of which scores the company 3 points.
Year-over-year CenturyLink, Inc. (NYSE:CTL)’s ratio of long term debt to assets has improved and so has the company’s current ratio – scoring a further two points and taking the company’s total score to 5 out of a possible 9.