Valuation Metrics: A Short Primer

 

From a reader:

I only recently stumbled upon your blog, but I’m hooked.  I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share your financial insight, experience and wisdom.

I’m a new entrant to the financial services industry (3 weeks on the job) and feeling ill-equipped without a finance degree. I’m struggling with the application of equity valuation. I’ve read several DCF valuation books and can recite all the valuation ratios, but I still have trouble looking at a companies financial statements and using them to make a judgement on a companies stock price.

Do you have any book recommendations for mastering fundamental equity valuation? 

Any help would be greatly appreciated. 

Any book by Aswath Damodaran on valuation, or Michael Mauboussin’s book on Expectations Investing will give you the theoretically correct view on how to value any sort of company.  Also, this book by James Valentine is very useful.

But I want to make your life easier.  Typically, by industry there is one simple metric that drives valuation at any point in time.  That typically gears off of the maturity of the industry, and its need for additional capital.  For those that are math nerds, there is the true model, but us lesser mortals can’t run it.  But each industry faces constraints that others don’t, and so the true model in a given industry becomes simpler to a first approximation: focus on price-to-sales, price-to-book, price-to-earnings, or the PEG ratio, among other ideas.

These simpler valuation measures focus on what is tough to do.  Can we sell more?  Can we increase our profit margin?  Can we grow our business more rapidly?

This is why sell side analysts in a given industry do not use the full valuation models listed above, but use a partial version of them, as is appropriate to their industry.

It’s useful to know the overarching model, as the above books will give you. But practically, every industry is valued differently, because each one faces different constraints, and that drives their valuations.

By David Merkel, CFA of Aleph Blog



About the Author

David Merkel
David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.