Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Price To Cash Flow: A Useful Measure?

We discussed here the study undertaken by Bauman, Conover, and Miller that demonstrated superior returns of stocks of the lowest P/B quartile. In the same study, the trio studied relative returns of stock quartiles separated by Price to Cash Flow (P/CF). Cash flow is quite a volatile number, as it can be affected by a number of accounts including working capital, investments, loans, dividends etc. For the purposes of this study, Bauman et al. defined cash flow as simply earnings with depreciation (a non-cash charge included in earnings) added back.

Despite the simplicity of the concept, the value group (those defined as having the lowest P/CF) outperformed the other three quartiles as depicted below:

Unlike what we saw in the P/B study, the highest standard deviations actually belong to the companies with the highest P/CF. Changing predictions of expected future cash flows for this group may be causing relatively wild gyrations in its stock prices.

One of the conclusions drawn from this study is that investors are far too willing to overpay for "growth" companies. The median P/CF for the value quartile was 4.4 while it was a whopping 34.2 for the high P/CF group! This is why as value investors we prefer buying companies with stable cash flows and prices to those cash flows which are at reasonable multiples.

1 comment:

Epic Ahab said...

Something else that can be used to analyze a stock is Market Cap divided by Unlevered Free Cash Flow.

This subtracts servicing of loans from cash flow and gives a nice, small number to analyze. Anything with a Cap/UFCF of 10 or less starts to look attractive.