4 Steps to Picking a Stock
by Tina Carleton (Contact Author Biography)
In today’s global economy, weeding through vast amounts of information to arrive at an investment conclusion is very difficult. But there are steps you can take to create a screening process to help sift through the large universe of ideas and arrive at a manageable number that merit further investigation. Here, we’ll take you through those steps.
Step 1: The Broadest ViewSome investors start their search with an industry or theme that has compelling drivers for growth but is currently out of favor. As an example, prospects for growing household formation led some investors to favor building stocks after the real estate crash of the early 1990s. Others look for industries that are strong but still have room to grow based on their positive long-term fundamentals. With the aging baby boomer population, healthcare has been such a theme in the 2000s. Choosing a theme can be a first step toward creating a smaller universe of stocks. (Learn more about how looking at the big picture can help you spot investment trends in A Top-Down Approach To Investing.)
Step 2: Company StatisticsOnce a theme is established, whittling down the potential universe of stocks is necessary. Many investors have a particular company size they are comfortable with. Market capitalization of the firm, calculated by multiplying the number of shares outstanding by the current stock price, is a common measure of company size. Generally, firms are categorized as micro-, small-, mid- and large-capitalization, depending on the outstanding value of their stock. Most investors are familiar with the large-cap companies that are household names, such as General Electric (NYSE:GE), Proctor and Gamble (NYSE:PG) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE). However, some themes focus on more obscure segments of the market where only smaller companies participate, such as ethanol or modular rental companies. After narrowing the potential list of companies by market capitalization, investors may review company characteristics, including growth prospects. If a company or industry is in the early stages of the business or product life cycle, investors generally expect very high growth in sales, earnings, or other relevant numbers. More mature companies are expected to display slower growth, but at a steadily rising rate. Growth also plays a role in dividend payments. Younger or high-growth companies usually reinvest free cash flows back into the company, while more mature companies may choose to use cash flow to pay above-average dividends. Other components of a screen focus on a company’s financial position through financial ratios, such as liquidity ratios, debt ratios and profitability ratios. Liquidity ratios generally look at a company’s cash and short-term asset position relative to its short-term liabilities and its ability to meet its short-term obligations, particularly working capital. Debt ratios generally look at a company’s ability to service its debt obligations and the size of a company’s debts relative to its equity or assets. Finally, profitability ratios provide information about the return on assets employed, dollars invested, or equity held. (Learn more about ratio analysis by reading Analyze Investments Quickly With Ratios.)Another screen includes stock valuation parameters that help investors determine whether a stock price is attractive relative to the company’s earnings, assets, book value, and other characteristics. Common valuation multiples include price-to-earnings (P/E), price-to-sales (P/S), price-to-book (P/B) and enterprise value to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EV/EBITDA).
Step 3: Constructing the ScreenThere are several professional software packages for screening, and some brokerage firms and public websites also offer much of this information. To construct a screen according to the above criteria, investors first need to determine investment goals, particularly time horizon, tax implications and risk tolerance. Once goals are determined, investors can choose the criteria parameters used in the screen. (For more on this, read
Example 1A 22-year-old investor just landed his first job out of college and wants to put some graduation gift money into some stocks. He has a long time horizon, wishes to minimize taxes, and has a high risk tolerance. He feels comfortable with an early-stage company that offers high growth potential over the long term, but also higher risk than a more mature company. His screening criteria focus should be the following:
High revenue growth
Smaller market capitalization (less than $1 billion)
Ratios: early stage companies generally have unattractive ratios as they seek capital and spend more than they have to launch the business
Valuation: generally only price-to-sales is a possible measure as earnings are typically negative
Example 2A recently retired man with no dependents other than a spouse and no long-term debt generally has a lower risk tolerance and needs to ensure his savings will last through the remainder of his life. This investor feels more comfortable with mature companies with lower growth potential. His screening criteria should focus on the following:
Low- or no-growth companies
Larger market capitalization
Ratios: strong liquidity and low debt ratios, high return ratios
Valuation: generally any ratio fits, but using P/E, P/B or EV/EBITDA are common; this investor should seek low multiples and high dividend yields
Step 4: Narrowing the OutputEven after the use of screens, many companies may still fit your criteria. Narrowing the list requires some further scrutiny about the particular companies, such as one’s comfort level with the industry, or personal or social concerns. When the field is narrowed sufficiently, it is time to perform deep analysis of the company using all publicly available information, including Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings and company or investor websites. ConclusionWhile an abundance of information and options can make investing overwhelming, understanding your investment goals and constructing a screen based on those goals will help you select stocks that meet your needs. However, it is important to remember that these screening steps, while narrowing down the list of potential investment candidates, are no replacement for in-depth fundamental analysis.
By Tina Carleton, (Contact Author Biography)
Filed under: Uncategorized
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