Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back to basics: Price to X, where X equals earnings, sales, cashflow etc

A lot of first-time readers to this blog has feedback that a lot of issues discussed here are too complicated and difficult to understand. I must stress that it is always easier to start reading from my earlier posts and then build on from there as your understanding of the concepts improve.

Nevertheless, to make it easier for new value investors wannabies, I will re-visit old topics to help illustrate the concepts (paiseh to the old-timers here, I will try to add new insights into these re-visit posts as well)

So the topic to revisit today is Price to X, where X equals earnings, sales or cashflow etc. In the earlier post, we talked about the most famous one of them all, Price Earnings Ratio or PER. Today let’s try to further understand this ratio and also try to examine the other siblings.

The price of the stock, as we know, is meaningless. SIA is $18, SMRT is $1.9, SGX is $8. It tells you it cost $18,000 to buy 1 lot of SIA but that’s as helpful as telling you that a property in Istanbul cost 200 million Lira. You have no idea whether it’s expensive or cheap right? (Unless you are a Turkish property agent who specializes in Istanbul and know the SGD Lira exchange rate.)

Everything needs to put into perspective. In the stock market, the convention is to divide the stock price by something else. This something else can be sales, earnings, cashflow etc. This is analogical to the psf used in property. Price is divided by floor size so that a common basis for comparison can be established.

So for the case of the Price Earnings Ratio or PER, Price is divided by the Earnings Per Share or EPS of the company. The lower the PER, the cheaper the stock. (same for property, the lower the psf, the cheaper.) Historically PER ranges from 10x to 40x for whole markets and 2x to 1000x or more for individual stocks. My rule of thumb is if the stock’s PER more than 18x, I think is too expensive for me and I won’t buy the stock if even has the most wonderful growth story.

In the heydays of the dot com boom, most companies don’t have earnings so the Price to Sales ratio was invented to gauge whether the dot com company is cheap or not. Analysts got so ingenious that someone even came up with Price to Eyeballs ratio i.e. Price of stock divided by no. of eyeballs viewing the website. Like that also can!

Of course after Enron and other multi-billion fraud cases, people started to realize actually earnings may not be reliable bcos co.s can always cook their books. So they look at Price to Cashflow, bcos co.s can make up earnings but cashflow is presumably harder to manipulate. Or so they thought!
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