Value Investing for Income and Growth
“The stock of a growing company, if purchasable at a suitable price, is obviously preferable to others.”
Last week we looked at how to find companies with consistent histories of profits and dividends. That’s a reasonable starting point, but there are many more things that we need to look for.
Thanks to inflation, unless a company can grow its earnings and dividends over time then in real terms the value of its economic output will fall. This means that in addition to consistent profits and dividend payments, I always look for consistent growth.
Growth can be broken down into two components – quality and speed – and this week we’ll look at both of these in turn.
Measuring long-term growth quality
One simple way to measure the quality of a company’s growth is to count how many times its dividend went up in the last ten years. The more often the dividend went up, the higher quality the company’s growth was.
Of course, measuring a company’s growth quality purely by looking at its dividend growth is overly simplistic, but this is just the beginning. We can also apply this idea to revenues and earnings.
Measuring revenue growth is important because revenues are the total amount of money coming into a business from its customers. This means revenues are the original source of cash from which dividends are typically paid, so if revenues aren’t going up then at some point a company’s dividend will have to stop growing as well.
As for earnings, they’re what’s left over after all expenses are deducted from revenues. Earnings are then either retained or used to fund dividend payments, so earnings should more than cover dividend payments and if a company’s dividend is going up then its earnings should be going up ahead of the dividend as well.
By combining the frequency of growth across revenues, earnings and dividends it is possible to calculate a reasonably robust measure of the quality of a company’s growth, which I call the growth quality score.
Measuring growth quality across revenues, earnings and dividends
Looking for progressive dividend growth is not unusual, but it is somewhat unusual to look for and measure the quality of a company’s revenue and earnings growth in the same way. However, there are good reasons for doing so.
For example, imagine two companies, both of which grew their revenues and earnings by 50% over the last decade. Company R increased revenues and earnings in every single year while Company U saw virtually all of its revenue and earnings growth in one year, with both either flat or declining in all other years.
Which company is likely to have the more predictable business model? Which business is more likely to have grown because of its competitive strength rather than through one lucky event? Which company is more likely to produce predictable growth in the future?
With so little information we cannot be sure, but Company R, with its consistent record of growth, seems the more likely of the two to produce consistent future growth. Company U on the other hand, seems to be a one-hit-wonder and may have just struck it lucky with that one single year of growth.
So consistent revenue, earnings and dividend growth are an indication that the company has a proven ability to grow, and to grow consistently under a range of economic conditions. This consistency can also make it easier to analyse and value these companies, and to think about what might happen to them in the future.
Calculating growth quality
To calculate growth quality you’ll need revenue per share, earnings per share and dividends per share going back over the last ten years. EPS and DPS are typically quoted in each company’s annual results, but you will probably need to calculate revenue per share:
revenue per share = revenue * 100 / average number of shares
You can find revenues and the average number of shares in each company’s annual results.
Once we have the data, we can take the following steps:
Don’t worry if that looks complicated as we’ll be working through an example shortly. And also don’t forget there are links to spreadsheets in the appendix which can do the calculations for you.
Once again I have a rule of thumb for growth quality, which should help to rule out companies whose growth is too volatile to be considered defensive.
Let’s have a look at how the growth quality score works in the real world with an example.
Burberry’s growth quality
I’ll use Burberry because it’s a good example of a company with high growth quality. Table 2.1 shows Burberry’s revenue, earnings and dividends per share up to its 2018 annual results.
|Year||Revenue per share (p)||Earnings per share (p)||Dividend per share (p)|
I don’t think it’s very easy to get a feel for the quality of Burberry’s growth just by looking at a table of numbers like this. Everything seems to be going up steadily, but earnings were negative in 2009, so there are definitely some issues lurking in the data. This confusion is precisely the sort of problem the growth quality score is designed to solve, or at least reduce.
By converting all those revenue, earnings and dividend figures into a single growth quality number it becomes much easier to understand how consistent Burberry has been; that in turn makes it much easier to compare Burberry to other companies.
I’ll calculate Burberry’s growth quality score step by step to show you how it works:
86.5% is a very high growth quality score. It reflects the fact that Burberry has produced some of the most consistent and broad-based growth of any FTSE 100 company.
Also, note that growth quality as a number is divided by 37 to turn it into a percentage. 37 is the maximum possible score (nine increases each of revenues, earnings and dividends per share, plus dividends covered ten times), so a company with a growth quality number of 37 would have a growth quality score of 100%.
Measuring the long-term growth rate
Benjamin Graham said that a growing company is preferable to others, which seems obvious enough. I would go one step further and say that a high-growth company is preferable to a low-growth company (all else being equal, of course).
In order to differentiate between the hares and the tortoises I use a measure of growth which is:
- Broadly based, reflecting the company’s overall growth as much as possible
- Long-term, measuring growth over a decade rather than growth over a year or two
Long-term revenue, capital employed and dividend growth
As with growth quality, I measure a company’s growth rate by combining the growth rate of its revenues and dividends over a ten-year period. The idea is to use the past as a guide to the company’s sustainable future growth rate, which will always be impossible to know exactly.
One difference between my growth quality and growth rate metrics is that I measure capital employed growth instead of earnings growth. Before I explain why, here’s a definition of capital employed and its component parts:
The problem with earnings is that they can be very volatile and occasionally negative. This can make measuring the earnings growth rate very hard because unusually high or low earnings at the start or end of the period being measured can have a major impact on the calculated growth rate.
To get around this problem, Benjamin Graham proposed measuring growth between the average of the oldest three years in a ten-year period and the average of the latest three years. By doing that, the earnings in any one year become less important and the general change over a number of years becomes more important.
This works to a degree, but after several years of using Graham’s technique to smooth out earnings growth, I still felt earnings were too volatile to be useful.
What I wanted was a factor that is fundamental to a company’s progress and yet, like revenues and dividends, doesn’t change dramatically from one year to the next, at least most of the time.
The factor that best fit the bill was capital employed.
Capital employed is money which has effectively been raised from shareholders and debt holders and is typically invested into productive assets such as property, factories (often called plant) and equipment. And if a company wants to double its revenues, earnings and dividends then, in most cases, it will have to double its productive assets and therefore its capital employed as well.
So if revenues are the source of all earnings and dividends, capital employed is the foundation upon which revenues are built.
To make life simple I’ll refer to this somewhat complicated growth rate metric as a company’s growth rate.
Calculating a company’s growth rate
To calculate a company’s growth rate we’ll need its revenue and dividends per share for the last ten years, which you should already have if you worked through the Profitable Dividend calculations from last week.
You’ll also need capital employed per share for each of the last ten years, which can be calculated as below (assuming equity, borrowings and number of shares are quoted in millions in the annual results, which is usually the case):
capital employed per share = (total equity + total borrowings) * 100 / average number of shares
The steps for calculating a company’s growth rate are:
If you’re wondering what the 1/7th part of the growth rate calculation is doing, it’s raising the total growth figure to the 1/7th power, which is the opposite of raising it to the seventh power.
Why do we do that?
Imagine if we started with the annual growth rate and wanted to know what total growth that growth rate would produce over seven years. To do that we’d 100% to the annual growth rate and raise the result to the seventh power (i.e. times it by itself seven times).
However, we’re actually starting with the total growth over seven years (there are seven years between the old and new three-year average periods) and we want to know the annual growth rate required to produce that total growth. In other words, we’re doing the opposite calculation, and the opposite of raising a number to the 7th power is to raise it to the 1/7th power.
This sounds more complicated than it actually is, and a spreadsheet can do this sort of calculation in an instant. But rather than get bogged down in theory, I think an example is the best way to show how this all works. But first, my growth rate rule of thumb:
Let’s see how this one works in the real world.
Burberry’s growth rate
I’ll use Burberry as an example one last time because it will allow you can see the difference between the company’s earnings (which, as you can see in Table 2.1, were negative in 2009) and its capital employed. In this case capital employed is, as I’d expect, more stable than earnings, even for a relatively steady growth company like Burberry.
|Year||Revenue per share (p)||Capital employed per share (p)||Dividend per share (p)|
Table 2.2: Burberry’s results for the ten years to 2018
You can get a sense of how fast Burberry has grown by looking at its 2018 revenues, capital employed and dividends per share compared with the values for 2009. All of them have more than doubled in that time (although capital employed took a step backwards in 2018), so the company has definitely grown quite quickly.
However, as with growth quality, it will be much easier to understand Burberry’s growth rate and compare it to other companies if the mass of figures in Table 2.2 is first converted into a single number.
Following the steps outlined previously, here is the calculation for Burberry’s growth rate:
Burberry produced total overall growth for the ten years from 2009 to 2018 of 117.7%, which is an annualised growth rate of 11.8% per year.
This is well above my 2% rule of thumb minimum and well above inflation for the period as well. On that basis I think it’s reasonable to say that Burberry has an above average record of broadly-based growth.
Next week I’ll explain how I look for companies that have above average profitability as well as above average growth, because high profitability is one of the best indicators of a company with strong competitive advantages.
Here’s a summary of the rules of thumb we’ve covered this week.