Monday, October 13, 2008

Evaluating Management: Inventory

One of the most important factors in determining whether a company is worth an investment is the quality of its management. Unfortunately, this assessment can at times be highly subjective. Reading interviews or comments from management can often be of little value. After all, management may have great communication or oratory skills, but that doesn't necessarily translate into good business execution. In fact, many value investors even prefer not to meet managements to avoid being influenced by factors unrelated to execution.

So how then to evaluate management? One way is to simply evaluate the financial results of their companies. Unfortunately, certain factors which manifest themselves in the financials may be out of management control. For example, competition in an industry and/or time period might be fierce, or a company may be at a brand disadvantage - not necessarily the fault of current management, so how do we differentiate across managements?

One method analysts like to use is to evaluate the number of days inventory a company has on hand. The lower the number, the more efficient management is (as cash is freed for other purposes, like paying shareholders) long as there are no stock-outs hurting revenues! The number of days of inventory a company has on hand can be estimated with the following formula:

inventory * 365 / COGS = days of inventory on hand

This number can be compared to that of competitors or the industry, with the caveat that differences in product mix must be taken into account. Below are average days of inventory for several industries as per the IRS:

A high days inventory doesn't necessarily mean bad management, however. But this concept can be extended to a company's days receivable and days payable. This can offer a clue as to how effective management is at running an efficient operation, which can translate into other facets of the business.

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