Overview: The purpose of the following is to provide an entry level foundation on how to conduct securities analysis and complete due diligence. This is not the only, nor definitive way to conduct securities (stock) analysis. This is simply the authors way of completing due diligence and securities analysis. There are in fact many ways an investor can research, assess, and analyze the underling company behind a security. As always the methods you choose are up to you, and only you. The enumerated list below are the topics covered.
- Why You Should Conduct Your Own Due Diligence
- Assessing & Analyzing the 10-K
- Assessing & Analyzing 10-Q’s & 10-K’s
- Assessing & Analyzing Presentations & Earnings Calls
- Assessing & Analyzing the Security
- Assessing & Analyzing the Competition
- Determining Fair Value
- Assessing and Analyzing Analyst Consensus
- Determining Where to Buy in
- Other Considerations
1. Why you Should Conduct your own Due Diligence: Services that offer market analysis generally do not go very far beyond the obvious when they assess a company. To the extent that they do, we must remember that their analysis is a snapshot of the time it was written. In many cases these analysts make “safe assessments,” being careful to forgo being too bold in their analysis lest they lose credibility. Some may even work for an employer that is financially influenced by the companies they assess. Some may be politically motivated. Many assessments are outright lazy due to the fact that they are assessing so many companies that they are pressured to rush their findings. It is important to remember that they have little to no interest in doing the deep dive necessary for you to trade on actionable information. Furthermore, just like you and I, they are subject to group-think, mirror imaging bias, confirmation bias, and a host of other fallacies detrimental to objective analysis. In fact most analyst predictions on market and securities analysis are flat out wrong. It isn’t necessarily their fault. All analyst predictions are wrong to a certain extent. However, for all these reasons and more they will always attach a disclaimer to their products, as I have here, that you should do your own due diligence. And you should! This is what this publication aims to enable you to do. And if you do nothing more than read the following, you will at least have a better understanding of the analytical tools, techniques, and resources at your disposal. Lets begin with assessing and analyzing the 10-K.
2. Assessing and Analyzing the SEC Form 10-K:
The 10-K is the most recent annual report that is required of all publicly traded companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges. It is generally much more detailed than the annual report given to shareholders at either the annual shareholders meeting or the quarterly 10-Q’s. For these reasons the last 10-K is perhaps the best place to start when conducting analysis on a new company. For more on the 10-K and how to easily search for 10-K’s please click HERE
- 10-K Business Section: The first item on the 10-K is usually the business section. The business section can include but is not limited to the following: An Overview/History, Key/Competitive Strengths, Business Segments, Benefits to Customers, Growth Strategy, Platforms, Sales & Marketing, Research & Development, Competitors, Intellectual Property, Corporate Information, Available Information, Suppliers/Supply Chains (Procurement), Expansion Opportunities, Information Systems, & other items. It is from this section you can determine critical strengths and develop a list of economic indicators that would generally bode well for these strengths. Conversely you can make a set of economic indicators that could chip away at these strengths. The point is to know the strengths and weaknesses of the company, and estimate what events could make the company stronger or weaker, pursuant to protecting your investment. That way you will be more inclined to act smartly on information rather than be taken by surprise.
- Simple Example: If a yogurt company is able to undercut their competition because they own their own milk cows, that would be a critical strength, or otherwise a competitive advantage. If there were a shortage in the national supply of milk driving milk prices higher, that may make them stronger still. After all, they would be unaffected because they own their own milk cows. However, if there was a sudden oversupply of milk forcing farmers to sell milk at a loss, the yogurt company would pay more in maintaining the cows than they benefit from producing their own milk. That would chip away at their competitive advantage. This example is just one of many, but by reviewing and properly assessing the strengths you can both maximize the profitability of your position and mitigate the risk to your investment.
- Other Critical Questions: Many businesses talk up their competitive advantages and critical strengths. It is up to you to assess the veracity of their claims. Pay close attention to their competitors and their 10-K’s. Ask yourself if they truly have the competitive advantages they claim to.
Note: The business section as seen in the 10-K is usually only in the annual 10-K. Quarterly 10-Q’s will usually have a short description, but nothing to the amount of detail as the 10-K. If there is a significant change in operations it may or may not be included in the 10-Q.
- 10-K Risk Section: The risk section of the 10-K is perhaps the most important for assessing the possible issues faced by the company. Not all risks are created equal in this section. You must choose which ones are the most important to your analysis. The good news is they practically give you the scenarios that can harm profitability; often in order of importance. Items covered in the risk section of the 10-K may include but are not limited to the following: Competition/Competitors, Seasonality, International Relationships, Supply Chain Issues, Expansion Issues, Contractual Issues, Taxes, Foreign Exchange Rates, Challenges to Protecting Intellectual Property, Government Regulation, Product Liability Claims, Litigation, Fraud, and other risks. By assessing the risk factors you can make economic indicators that would result in aggravating critical vulnerabilities and develop a plan that could help you mitigate the effects of these vulnerabilities should they come to fruition. Conversely you can come up with a list of economic indicators that could result in reducing the vulnerabilities and adjust your analysis accordingly. Once again the point is to enable you to act smartly on information, rather than be surprised by it, pursuant to protecting your investment.
- Simple Example: A retailer that is heavily dependent on Chinese imports is presented with a number of geopolitical risks. One of them includes international trade policy. If the U.S. ramps up tariffs on Chinese imports, or vice-versa, that would increase risk. If the U.S. and China agrees to a trade agreement that may decrease risk. Such a scenario will almost certainly lead to price action on news, rumors, or leaks regarding trade policy. This example is just one of many, but by reviewing and properly assessing the risks you can develop a plan to mitigate the risk to your investment.
- Real World Example: On February 2nd 2020 Disney reported on their 10-Q that “The recent closure of our parks in both Shanghai and Hong Kong due to the ongoing coronavirus situation will negatively impact second-quarter and full year results. The magnitude of the financial impact is highly dependent on the duration of the closures and how quickly we can resume normal operations.” Though COVID-19 was largely contained within China at the time, notice that they mentioned nothing in reference to Chinese box office revenue, office closures, supply chain issues, reduction on third party licensing, and other factors that did in fact prove to be a huge problem for Disney in China. The problem is amplified when we note that Disney likely has many analysts on payroll that produce and distribute reports to the executive staff as to various risks factors threatening the company. And yet the only statement they opted to give to their shareholders was in reference to park closures? Well the media took the bait. Everyone was looking at the shiny object and missing other important critical revenue streams. (Note: If Disney did not see the coming effects of coronavirus on revenues other than from theme parks they have some of the most incompetent analysts in the world on staff. If they did, on the other hand, they kept it from their shareholders). A good analysts looking after his or her investment would have protected his money by noticing Disney’s omission and sold his shares before the inevitable drop in share price. And selling their positions is exactly what some of the large capital management firms did. If a trader had opened a short position on February 2nd, the day of the earnings announcement, and covered on the 28th he would have netted roughly $24 a share, or $2,000+ per put option. If the trader covered on March 23rd, $55 per share, or roughly $5,000+ per put option.
- Other Critical Questions: Businesses generally do not include risk assessments based on macroeconomic conditions such as recessions, war, pandemics, natural disasters, and politics, unless they are currently experiencing one. In fact, no business can assess all the possible risks. It is up to you as the investor to foresee additional risks the company neglected or omitted. It is also up to you too asses whether they are downplaying or omitting some of the risks in their risk assessment. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and began spreading across the United States many companies flat out omitted the risks presented by the pandemic. The risk section of the 10-K is therefore a valuable resource for the investor for both what it says and what it does not.
Note: The risk section as seen in the 10-K is typically ONLY in the annual 10-K. Quarterly 10-Q’s may not include a detailed risk assessment but rather a significant change regarding an item or two from the last 10-K. Risks unforeseen in the last 10-K may or may not be included in the 10-Q.
3. Assessing & Analyzing 10-Q’s & 10-K’s: Aside from the Business Section and the Risk Section, there are two more sections of note in the 10-K. They are the Financial Data Section, and the Management Discussion & Analysis (MDMA) Section. However, unlike the Business Section and the Risk Section of the annual 10-K, the Financial Data Section’s and the MDMA Section will be fully updated and disseminated in the quarterly 10-Q’s. You should still reference the 10-K so as to see how the company is coming along with their targets for the fiscal year, but the most recent 10-Q will have the most up to date information UNLESS the most recent document is the 10-K itself. For these reasons we will cover the Financial Data Section and the MDMA Sections under the topic of “Assessing and Analyzing 10-Q’s & 10-K’s.” For more on the 10-Q and how to easily search for 10-Q’s please click HERE.
- Financial Data Section: The Financial Data Section of the 10-Q or 10-K and is often the most instructive and complicated section of the document. Making matters more complicated is the number of different accounting methods used by different companies. Fortunately for us these often come with footnotes that explain the accounting methods used. Perhaps the best way to complete this task if you do not understand a certain accounting rule, is to simply search for the accounting rule on your favored search engine. However at the end of the day if they’re publishing a 10-Q they are likely publishing earnings. And you will be quickly alerted to the industry standard “Earnings and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles Earnings Per Share” (GAAP EPS), Non-GAAP EPS, “total revenue,” and “year over year growth rate.” Note: [[(This Years Growth in Cash – Last Years Growth in Cash) / Last Years Growth in Cash] x 100 = YOY Growth Rate].
- The difference between GAAP EPS and Non GAAP EPS is simple. GAAP EPS is the total revenue divided by number of shares according to the standardized accounting methods approved by Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Non-GAAP EPS is the accounting method adopted by the business. While these figures are easy to find immediately during earnings, the devil is always in the details, and in many cases neither accounting method is sufficient. For example, a business might beat expected earnings but run a higher deficit in one of their poorer performing yet critical sectors. An investor may have missed this simply because he paid attention to just the overall GAAP or Non-GAAP EPS which could have been supported by one part of a business while the other part lagged behind. However large capital management firms will notice this, and it may be reflected in the subsequent post earnings share price. This is why it is important to review the financial data section of the previous 10-Q’s so that you can properly track their financial progress. Furthermore is is important to see how the security reacted to earnings for the previous three or four quarters. A solid app to look this up quickly is Seeking Alpha (Search for the ticker and click “News”), however there are many other resources at your disposal.
- Other items in the financial data section worth our attention attention include sector and product margins (the rate between business revenue and expenses) and reports of “FREE cash flow” (FCF) [the cash left over after the company pays for it’s operating expenses and capital expenditures. FCF is sometimes referred to or may encompass “operating/ investing/ financing cash flow” (Note: see if the FCF is increasing or decreasing from one quarter to the next and by how much)]. Additionally look to see if they are paying down debt or acquiring new debt, how long they can operate before incurring new debt, or if research and development/ payroll/ benefits, and other expenses are growing at a higher or lower rate than YOY revenue. Also look for surprise increases or decreases in revenue of a given product/sector as compared by previous quarters. Moreover look to see if the debt is growing faster than the company itself. In many cases these topic will be highlighted during the earnings call as well, but don’t take their word on it.
- Tip/ Free Cash Flow Per Share: Many investors want to know the annual “Free Cash Flow Per Share” (FCFPS) which is simply the sum of all annual free cash flow (FCF) divided by the total number of shares. The purpose of calculating FCFPS is to see how much of the FCFPS correlates to earnings per share (EPS). If the EPS is significantly higher than than the FCFPS then there may be some shady accounting going on, or perhaps, poor cash management (i.e. assuming profits not yet collected). By using annual Free Cash Flow Per Share we can test the veracity of annual EPS. As always we can calculate how FCFPS changes from quarter to quarter or from year to year. Additionally you can look at the previous FCFPS and the previously paid dividend and estimate from current numbers as to whether they are likely to pay the same dividend or higher in the following quarter (Other factors must be considered of course). By dividing annual FCFPS/(Annual Dividends Per Share) you can see how many times they can pay the dividend with current FCF.
- Management Discussion & Analysis (MD&A): The MD&A section of the 10-K & 10-Q is an non-audited section where executives analyze the company’s performance. The MD&A includes the thoughts and opinions of management, so we’re not necessarily looking for full on accuracy here. In the MD&A management can provide a business overview, outline plans and projects, speak to both the industry and industry trends, discusses overall or segment performance, provide future guidance and goals, forecasts future operations, discuss specific risks, highlight sales, and more. With so many different variables that can be included in the MD&A they can be hard to assess. However this should not intimidate you. One method is to compare past MD&A’s with the current 10-Q and look for anomalies and inconsistencies. Look for changes and ask “why did they change that?” Read verbiage carefully and ask yourself “why did they use that phrase?” Look for changes in their plans from previous filings and ask “what happened?” You should also want to review their plans and ask yourself based upon the underlying conditions if their plans and goals are feasible, reasonable, obtainable, and if the information presented is reliable. Every business plans to be profitable. Every business wants to beat analyst expectations. And yet, not every business does. Many businesses fall short of self imposed deadlines or over promote possible results. Many businesses misread the market. Just as no analyst can perfectly assess a company, no company can perfectly asses the market. By asking yourself if their plans and goals are reasonable, feasible, obtainable, and if the information presented is reliable, you can possibly mitigate future losses on your investment.
4. Assessing & Analyzing Presentations & Earnings Calls: Read through the previous earnings calls and review any presentations presented by the company. Its a good way to see if it matches up with their 10-Q. If not ask “why?” Also pay attention to analyst questions of management. Are the analysts asking tough critical questions or are they throwing softballs (They usually throw softballs)? Look through their presentations. Graphic visualizations can be instructive and easier to understand. Question why they are highlighting the specific information they included, see if they’re leaving anything out, and ask “why?” Go back in time on the charts and see how the security reacted to previous earnings calls. Look especially for anomalies. See if a positive EPS beat was met with negative price action or if an EPS miss was met with positive price action. See if a small EPS beat or small miss was met with overly large price action. Find the news during that period to see how the media and analysts portrayed it. How the security reacts to positive and negative news can tell you a lot of what to expect from your investment.
5. Assessing & Analyzing the Security: Next you want to have a look at the chart. What is the general trend? What are the areas of resistance and support? What is the current share price and at first glance does the share price look attractive? Look for any anomalies and try to find news reports that coincide with large movements. This will not only let you know both the good and bad events that drive the security, but help you assess future possible catalysts and risks as well. There are a thousand ways to analyze a stock chart from a thousand different angles. I cannot cover them all here. But you should determine what the right methods are for you based on your investment strategy and what type of investor you are.
6. Assessing & Analyzing the Competition: Now that you have read through the 10-K and 10-Q’s you should be ready to move on to assessing and analyzing the competition. You can do this by simply reading up on the 10-Q’s & 10-K’s of the companies most predominant competitors. You do NOT need to assess every competitor. But you should identify as many near peer competitors as you can and choose two or three of the most predominant to compare to your prospective investment. In doing so you are ensuring that you are not only placing your money in a promising sector candidate for stability and growth, but also in the right company. And who knows? You may run across some exciting catalysts expected of the competition and wish to invest with them instead. Whatever the case, taking the time to analyze the competition will never be all for naught. As a result you will have an immensely better understanding of the industry as a whole, and suddenly realize that you will need to review the 10-K’s and 10-Q’s you just read from the original intended company again to see why their competitors included strengths and risks they did not.
When reviewing competitors be sure to compare growth, financial, health, seasonality, supply chains, market sentiment, EPS, and a whole host of other topics both aforementioned and yet discussed. If you find a wide disparity between your company and your competitor ask yourself “why does this disparity exist?” It may lead you to a competitive advantage or critical vulnerability. Moreover you may want to look up and analyze the competitors stock price, trends, and anomalies. By utilizing this method you may be able to find critical strengths and vulnerabilities by comparing the dramatic dips and spikes from previous news. Finally reviewing the risk factors in competitor 10-K’s may bring to light risks not covered in your companies own 10-K, which can be invaluable!
7. Determining Fair Value: There are many ways of determining the fair value of a company and not all of them will be discussed here. But at minimum you could save yourself a lot of trouble if you know the value of all of the company’s assets minus liabilities (Book Value), know both their annual GAAP & NON GAAP EPS, and their Profit to Earnings Ratio. In fact much of the data you’re looking for can easily be found in Yahoo Finance by looking up your preferred ticker and clicking on the statistics tab. Remember there are many free resources that will give you both this information and the information below.
- PE Ratio: The Price to Earnings Ratio (Sometimes referred to as the “P/E Multiple”) is simply the share price divided by the annual earnings per share (EPS). The PE Ratio measures investor demand for a security by indicating how much investors are willing to pay per dollar of annual profit. For example if a security is trading at $10.00 per share and the annual EPS is $1 per share, you are paying 10x the P/E multiple for each share. However, if the annual EPS on the same $10.00 security is $2.50 per share, you are paying 4x the P/E multiple. The lower the P/E multiple the more of a bargain you’re getting in share price. However we must be careful and also consider why the P/E multiple is so low in some instances. It could be because of an negative event or an expected negative event is degrading the value of the security. So be careful when searching for bargains.
- Book Value: Book Value is important because it gives you an exact in the moment value of a company. You can calculate book value by adding up all of the company’s assets minus all of their liabilities. In fact the company should have already done this for you in the 10-K or 10-Q. If you want to know Book Value Per Share (BVPS) you simply divide the total book value by the number of shares available.
- Price to Book Ratio: Now that you have the book value per share you can determine the “price to book ratio,” otherwise known as the P/B Ratio. To determine the P/B ratio simply divide the the current share price by the BVPS. There are a number of ways to assess and analyze P/B ratio. If the ratio is less than “one” it can mean the company is undervalued or investors are expecting bad news. If the ratio is many times above “one” it could mean that investors are optimistic about the companies future. If the ratio is negative it means the company is not turning a profit yet and you should see how quickly they are closing the gap to profitability. In many cases you will find that securities are trading many times higher than their P/B ratio.
- Note that if you are choosing to invest in a company based on P/B ratio you are ignoring cash flow, dividends, earnings and expected earnings. As the P/B Ratio is calculating the total value of the company’s current assets it is best used for companies where assets are the primary driver of the security. Examples of this include capital management firms, utilities, and property investment companies. Indeed if a capital management firm is trading where the P/B < 1, your stake in the company is worth more than the share you bought it for. In the heavily regulated utilities sector we expect but a limited amount of growth and profit. So they too are a good candidate for the P/B formula. Finally, property investment companies are a good candidate for the P/B ratio for similar reasons to capital management firms.
- Free Cash Flow Yield: FCF Yield (FCFY) is yet another metric you can use to find bargain securities. Earlier we learned how to calculate FCFPS or “Free Cash Flow Per Share.” You can find the FCFY simply by dividing the current FCFPS by the current share price and multiplying by 100 [(FCFPS/SP) x 100= FCF Yield %]. The higher the yield the better for the investor as it implies more free cash flow generated per share. And FCF is the ultimate measurement of cash on hand away from the fluff of all the complex and odd earnings accounting methods. Add it to your tool box.
- Enterprise Multiple, or, “EV to EBITDA”: The Enterprise Multiple, otherwise known as “Enterprise Value (EV) to Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization” (EBITDA) is yet another popular way to value a company. While the P/E Ratio demonstrates the relationship of share price to after tax earnings, the Enterprise Value maintains the consideration of debt and forgoes the distortion of taxes when measuring the value of the company. The Enterprise Multiple asks the question “If I were going to buy this business how much would I pay?’ For our purposes it is not only a good way to measure the value of a company but a good metric to compare against similar companies as well. To calculate Enterprise Value (EV) simply add (Market Capitalization + Debt + Minority Interest + Preferred Shares – Total Cash & Cash Equivalents). More simply put (EV = Market Cap + Net Debt), or rather, captures the money the company owes. EBITDA is exactly what it says it is, “Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, & Amortization.” To calculate EBITDA simply take the profit after tax and add back interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. If you don’t feel likely calculating these yourself that’s fine, there are plenty of resources that will give you these figures. However it is important that you understand how this works. By dividing EV/EBITDA you get the Enterprise Multiple or the “EV to EBITDA.” Like the P/E multiple, the lower the Enterprise Multiple the more of a bargain you’re getting in share price. However we must be careful and also consider why the Enterprise Multiple is so low in some instances. It could be because of an negative event or expected negative event is depreciating the value of the security. Generally an Enterprise Multiple of 10 or less is considered good but you want to compare this with the Enterprise Multiple of other companies or perhaps the greater sector. Quite often comparison is the best way to go in overvalued bull markets, as it can sometimes be hard to find a bargain in these economic conditions.
- Other Valuation Methods: There are a number of other ways to calculate a company’s value that are way more complicated and require more math than should be added into this tutorial. Nevertheless, you should be aware of them and understand what they mean. One such method is the PEG Ratio, whereas the P/E Ratio is divided by the expected growth over the next five years. If the PEG Ratio is 1 it is fairly valued. If below 1 it is a buy. If below 0.5 the company is a strong buy. Conversely if above 1 a sell, or 1.5-2 a strong sell, respectively. Another method is the Discount Cash Flow (DCF) that measures the value of an investment by its estimated future cash flows (Usually out to 5 years). If the DCF is less than the share price the security is overvalued. If the DCF is equal to the share price it is fairly valued. If the DCF is above the share price it is undervalued. The same careful considerations as before on undervalued bargains apply. Once again there are plenty of tools and resources that will give you these values for free.
8. Reading and Analyzing Analyst Consensus: Now that you have come up with your own assessment it is time to read the assessments of others. If, that is, you have access to them (many are paid services). Analyzing the work of analysts is purposely placed near the end of our journey for a reason; so we are not affected by group think or confirmation bias. Sure, it would be easy to read their work combined with the 10-K’s and 10-Q’s, but we risk cognitive bias when doing so. We want to first see the security through our own filter before we learn from the filers of others. In finally doing so we want to see how our analysis differs from theirs. Are you more bullish, more bearish, or roughly the same? If more bullish or bearish ask yourself “why” and see if they’re taking into account something you missed. Perhaps they missed something you were tracking? I find that the analysts are usually missing the information that I’m tracking simply for the fact that if I am reading someone else’s analysis then chances are it is older than the information I am working with. Like the aforementioned Disney example, no analyst was advertising that information before traders began to sell on it.
9. Determining Where to Buy in: Now you’ve done almost all of your due diligence and you are still content with investing in your chosen company. Now all that is left is to determine where to buy in. Sure you could have simply used the PEG Ratio, DCF, Enterprise Multiple, P/B Ratio, or the P/E Multiple, but you also want to account for the unknown. In fact the security may be trading in the sweet spot of all those valuation methods, but the security may also have a habit of dipping down well below fair value. In this case you will want to look at the chart, assess trends, and set a price to enter. Remember to account for the unknown. Negative macroeconomic events could send your share price for a tailspin so always have an emergency cash position to average down just in case.
10. Other Considerations: Simply Investing has a rather awesome list of 12 rules to live by before investing long term in a company. I highly recommend checking this list out and answering the questions with the company you’re thinking about investing in mind.
11. Conclusion: Researching, assessing, analyzing, and completing securities (stock) analysis may seem like a lot of work. Do not let this intimidate you! Of course there are a number of shortcuts you could take if pressed for time. However the more you do this, the easier it becomes, and the better analyst you become. Once you begin looking up terms and phraseology unknown to you, and thereby beginning your journey to self education, there will be no SEC Form written in a foreign language as far as you are concerned. You will know what events affect your company, you will be able to complete securities analysis, and you will expand your toolbox well beyond the very limited confines of what you have read here. I wish you the very best of luck, trade safely, and if you have enjoyed what you’ve read here please consider supporting me by opening a Webull account and depositing $100 to begin your trading journey.