Why do you buy stocks?” Unfortunately, many people do not truly understand how to answer that particular question. If they were honest with themselves, many stockholders would respond by saying, “Because they are going up in price,” or maybe, “My neighbor told me to buy stock XYZ.” However, if somebody asked the same question regarding the purchase of a real estate property or an apartment building, would the answer be the same? The short answer is…probably not. There certainly could be some people who answer the stock versus real estate valuation question in the same way, but in general, real estate investors understand the tangibility and relevant factors of a property better than equity investors understand the jargon and abstract nature of most stocks.
There are many ways to value an asset, but in many cases, the value of an asset is spontaneously left in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, there is one common approach, applicable across asset classes, which is the net present value or discounted cash flow approach. This valuation methodology basically states any asset is worth the cumulative value of cash inflows minus the value of cash outflows, after adjusting that netted figure for time and interest rates.
In the case of an apartment building, a layman generally understands the basic valuation concept behind adding up the relevant cash inflows and cash outflows. For example, being a landlord of an apartment building involves simple rent collection (cash inflows) in addition to maintenance, repairs, construction costs, employee wages, taxes, and other payments (cash outflows). After making additional assumptions about future rent increases, occupancy levels, wage inflation, and a few other variables, many outside observers could probably come up with a decent estimated value of the property.
Warren Buffett’s 2018 Activist Investment
The variables relating to an apartment building may be more stable, predictable, and understandable, if compared with the variables of a stock, but the same exact principles apply to both asset classes. Wal-Mart may not collect stable rent checks, but it does collect money from product sales in its 11,500 stores around the world (cash inflows). Wal-Mart’s cash inflows are much less predictable than real estate rent check inflows due to the many retail-specific variables, such as store openings/closings, online competition, promotions, seasonality, inventory levels, and geographic economics. Expenses (cash outflows) are challenging to predict as well due to wage fluctuations, energy cost variability, capital project timing, erratic raw material prices, and other factors. In the end, stock variables may be more volatile and less predictable, but the valuation process should be the same. Valuing stocks requires estimating the cumulative value of cash inflows minus the value of cash outflows, and then adjusting those results for time and interest rates.
Real estate has its own industry language, but the language of stocks has an endless number of acronyms, which can be quite challenging if you consider the dozens of industries and thousands of stocks. Here are a few of my favorite obscure acronyms used across the technology, healthcare, energy, and retail sectors:
Technology: 4G, CDMA, DSLAM, LTE, MPLS, SaaS, SRAM
Energy: BCF, BOE, BTU, EIA, Gwh, kWh, LNG, MWh, WTI
Healthcare: AARP, CRM, DRG, EENT, FDA, HIPAA, MI, SARS
Retail: B2B, EDI, EDLP, GMROI, POS, RFID, SCM, SKU, UPC
As noted earlier, the language and complexity for valuing stocks may be more complicated than valuing other more straightforward asset classes, but the methodology is essentially the same.
The opportunities and rewards stemming from stock ownership are almost endless. While it’s true that successful long-term stock investing is rarely easy, anything worthwhile in life is never simple. If you are able to understand the principal concepts of how to become an effective landlord of real estate, then applying the same principles on how to become an effective landlord of your stock portfolio is highly achievable.