Friday, February 26, 2010

Refining The Capital Asset Pricing Model for Practical Investment Use

The capital asset pricing model is a great display of academic prowess in financial theory. However, it does have its limitations. Mainly, the criticism it receives is that it makes a number of assumptions that do not necessarily hold true in market conditions. The biggest one I feel is is the beta coefficient, or β.

To break it down the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) is a way of determining the cost of equity for a company. This is often also referred to as the investor's expected rate of return for investing in a security. The formula is as follows:

E(R_i) = R_f + \beta_{i}(E(R_m) - R_f)\,

E (Ri) = expected rate of return of investment i
Rf = the risk free rate of return (usually the 10-year bond return)
βi = beta coefficient of investment i (the individual price volatility of the investment relative to the market as a whole).
E(Rm) = expected return of the market as a whole

The biggest concern is with β. The capital asset pricing model as it stands alone assumes that the riskiness of an investment is based upon the past price volatility of the investment. This is HUGE assumption, because future prices cannot be accurately extrapolated from the past prices. Market prices of a security are determined not only by supply and demand from investors, but also the profitability and growth prospects of a security. The beta coefficient is assuming that market prices are efficient and that all information is known to all investors.

However, we know that not all information is known to all investors, and not all information is important to all investors. Also time horizons for investors differ (another huge assumption of the model), therefore even if all information was known, some information may disregarded by short term investors if it does not serve their time horizon. The information that a trader will be looking at may affect his view of the price, while a long term value investor may see information that reflects his view of the price.

In present circumstances, the current market prices are the averages of investor perceptions. Therefore, if most investors are arguably short term oriented, the price of that stock will more favorably reflect short term prospects. For example, if Ford stock has low upwards movement prospects in the short term because Ford is taking non-cash charges (thus reducing current earnings) , the majority of investors may be uninterested in that stock, and the price of the stock will reflect there lack of demand for it.

This is why it is important to have a somewhat longer investment horizon. You want to account for short term prospects and long term prospects. Yeah, Ford may be taking short-term non-cash charges and reducing their earnings, but is a non-cash charge really a reflection of a change in business value, especially if the company is still making adequate capital expenditures to improve the business for the long term?

The market is not perfectly efficient, which gives the individual investor an edge if they are willing to resist the temptation of short term sentiments.

So how do we adapt CAPM for reliably determining the cost of equity? Simplistically, an investor can expect the market to return 11% on average over time. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that an investor should expect no more than an 11% return on average from their portfolio (this is supported by the latest indexing fad).

Even though the expected return may fall short of what an investor's actual return may be, it is fair to say that a prudent and rational investor should expect no more than what the market will return (unless of course the risk free rate were to exceed that, in which case the last thing anybody would be concerned about is their return on investment when the whole market is collapsing!).

With the cost of equity set to be at a value of 11%, the discount rate for a security can thus be figured out by the company's weighted cost of capital, utilizing the borrowing rates of a company after taxes and our constant cost of equity. Thus we have a maximum discount rate for a public company to be no more than 11%* (if the company is 100% equity financed).

This figure to me seems fair, considering Warren Buffet discounts utilizing only the risk free rate.

*This discount rate only can be comfortably applied to non-controlling shares of publicly traded companies of a reasonable size (excluding micro caps) without getting into liquidity discounts, size discounts, and control premiums.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Benjamin Graham Was Wrong

I was doing some equities research and I ran across this from Benjamin Graham's classic 1934 edition of Security Analysis:

This was one of Ben Graham's examples of calculating the Net Current Asset value for a stock, by using a discount rate to calculate the true liquidation value of various types of assets on the balance sheet. The only thing is that Ben Graham's White Motor Company example was actually incorrect.

If you look at the liquidation value of the Total Current Assets, he only subtracts Current Liabilities to arrive at the Net Current Assets Result of $16,300 when in fact he should of subtracted Total Liabilities.

In practice, if a company goes bankrupt, all creditors go to the front of the line because the assets are collateralized by debt. That would mean that ALL creditors go to the front of the line, not just the ones who are due in one year or less. If long term creditors were left out, how would they receive their repayment if the shareholders got what's left way before the creditor's debt needed to be serviced?

The answer is it would never happen. That would be the equivalent of the owners of a house in foreclosure receiving the rest of the sale price of the house after only the first year of debt had been paid for on a 30 year mortgage. What about the other 29 years worth of money the bank forked up so the owners could buy the house? The same is true for a company. The long term creditors are due their piece of the pie and will always get theirs well before the shareholder even see the leftovers.

The funny thing is that Benjamin Graham knew this and stated on the page before this example:

"The striking fact that the cash assets alone considerably exceed this figure, after deducting all liabilities, completely clinched the argument on this score."

However, its clear in the example that he only deducted current liabilities. Perhaps this was just a flub up, but the conclusions he derives are based upon the erroneous fact of subtracting current liabilities. The funny thing is that people like Buffet, Ruane, and Graham himself based the majority of their investing decisions on this calculation when it is in fact wrong. Talk about luck!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Home Depot Your Next Great Investment

Say you have to buy some paint to add some pep to your livingroom, where are you going to go?

If Home Depot even crossed your mind (just in case you said Lowes), you've just realized the hedge to this investment. Right now, Home Depot is severely undervalued in relation to its long term prospects. The reason why its down is because home improvement projects took a dive when the housing market dropped. Why do home improvement if your not planning on selling anytime soon?

The fact of the matter is that Home Depot has a huge market share, contested only by Lowes. Its brand equity serves as a great hedge against long term risk exposure, in addition to the housing market already having been through the worst. And surprisingly, even though earnings are down for HD, free cash flow is at some of its highest levels even compared to years with stronger revenue growth. Management's refocusing on merchandising also will serve to lower expenses and capital expenditures to help that free cash flow figure grow.

As I step down from my soapbox, I will be adding this holding to both my own and my girlfriend's portfolios.