3 Ways a Stock Should Pay You

Do you get a lot of useless mass emails? I know I do.

You know the type of emails I’m talking about. They have a catchy headline and a thin veneer of information, but really they’re simply advertising. Mutton dressed up as lamb.

Among the deluge of email noise, Tom Jacobs stands tall. I asked his permission to reprint the following email, as both it and Tom deserve more attention. I’ve followed, liked and learnt from him for 15 years. I recommend you do too.

3 Ways a Stock Should Pay You

Many people incorrectly think there is magic to stock gains and losses because they consider only price. Rather, what matters is whether the business creates what’s called shareholder value. If it does, the stock price will eventually follow. Very simple.

You’d think creating shareholder value would be the goal of every company, right? Sell products and services, take in more money than you spend, and reinvest the excess cash to earn more than if it sits in the checking account. This creates value for owners, whether of a lemonade stand, coffee shop, or Apple, and someone would pay more to buy the business-through our shares.

Yet many businesses are in business to create value for management, not owner-shareholders. And even those who try to be shareholder friendly aren’t often good at it. There are very few truly good CEOs, or every company would make shareholders better off. How do we find good management?

 

The Five Choices

There are five places execs can spend cash beyond what’s needed to run the business: (1) property, plant, equipment, research and development; (2) mergers and acquisitions; (3) dividends; (4) buying back the company’s own undervalued stock; and (5) paying down higher interest debt.

The first two are growth investing. Here, companies build more manufacturing and distribution facilities, hire more software developers, buy other companies and grow empires! More often than not, these fail to create a more valuable company. These investments don’t earn a sufficient return, and roughly 85% of M&A activity fails to add shareholder value. Simply, most CEOs don’t spend shareholder cash well.

 

The Virtuous Cash Cycle

The other three choices help prevent management from blowing our money on skittles and beer. They provide shareholder yield. Paying down debt saves on interest payments, freeing up more cash. If the company’s shares are selling at a price that places a very low value on the company, buying its own stock is a good investment. And when the company buys back shares, our shares own more of the company, and earnings and cash flow per share rise, usually leading to stock gains.

Plus, if a company pays dividends, every share it buys back eliminates paying the dividend on that share forever. If the dividend yield is 4% a share, the company “earns” 4% a year forever just by not having spend it anymore. Even more cash is available to increase the dividends, buybacks, and debt paydowns. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Despite this simple thinking, most investors avoid companies that pay dividends and buy back stock, believing their best days are over. Quite the opposite. The best days for management moon-shot paydays may be gone, but the sweet paydays for shareholders have just begun.

Don’t worry about our vibrant entrepreneurial culture. Venture capitalists and institutional investors will always provide capital for companies with new ideas, products and services to enhance our lives. However, let’s leave it to them to speculate.

Instead, we will buy cheaply and get paid. It’s as simple as that.

 

Tom Jacobs is the co-author of What’s Behind the Numbers? A Guide to Exposing Financial Chicanery and Avoiding Huge Losses in Your Portfolio. He is an Investment Advisor for separately managed accounts at Dallas’s Echelon Investment Management and serves clients worldwide. You may reach him at tjacobs@echelonim.com.

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