Level I Review: Equity Investments

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Study session 14 in the Level I CFA Program curriculum concludes the material on equity investments with three readings (49-51).

I wanted to hit on this study session before the beginning material in SS13 because it is a little more important and will be the base of what you need for the second exam.

Most of the material is conceptual and will be repeat for students of finance.

If you are new to the industry, spend a little time to get the vocabulary and concepts.

The topic area is only worth about 10% of your first exam but is extremely important in the other two tests and through your career as an analyst.

Much like the introductory material on Financial Statements, this material will act as base knowledge you absolutely must know.

Overview of Equity Securities

The reading is all conceptual so make sure you get the general ideas and the vocabulary. Understand the characteristics of equity and what function they serve.

As always, pay special attention anytime the curriculum compares one idea with another and discusses advantages/weaknesses. This kind of list and definitional material is easily testable in a multiple choice format.

Whereas debt securities represent a liability of the issuing company, equity represents a residual ownership on the company’s assets. This implies higher risk but also potentially higher return.

There are three types of equity securities; common shares, preferred stock and other.

There is some material on preferred stock, i.e. adjusting some of the metrics and its higher status for payments, but you will spend the vast majority of your time learning about common shares.

The material on private equity investments, i.e. venture capital and buyouts is fairly interesting. Understand the objectives of these investors and the summary idea behind the investments.

Private equity generally has a lock-up period of 3-5 years, meaning the money is committed for a long-time and illiquid.

Understand the difference in exit plans for these groups, i.e. venture capital generally looking to take the company public or sell to another fund; buyouts will recapitalize the company (take on debt) and manage a turnaround to issue shares again or sell to another fund.

The Institute has scaled-back the material on foreign stocks and emerging markets over the last few years but there is still some information you should remember. Understand the reasons a foreign company would issue Depository Receipts and the three levels of sponsored ADRs.

The last section, Equity Securities and Company Value, is probably the most important since it gets you ready for valuation.

Understand the different valuation ideas, i.e. book value and market value. Return on equity and the cost of equity are two very important concepts throughout the CFA so make sure fully understand them here.

Return on equity (ROE) is a key measure of profitability and can be calculated as the net income over the book value of equity. How much income is the company able to generate on investor’s equity? You will use the DuPont formula later to look further into ROE but make sure you understand this book value formula and what it implies.

Introduction to Industry and Company Analysis

Another largely conceptual reading and more akin to an MBA course than the CFA curriculum in my opinion. The material on industry analysis revolves around the idea that different industries react differently to the macro-economic environment. Analysis of this helps to assess profitability and leads to an industry or sector rotation strategy.

Businesses can be grouped through their product or service or by the correlation of their sales to the business cycle. Grouping by products or services puts companies in a similar industry and a sector. While grouping by business cycle separates companies into cyclical and non-cyclical stocks.

Cyclical companies have a positive correlation with the business cycle. When the economy is expanding and business/consumer spending is rising, these companies see higher sales. Demand for their product/service is elastic and more discretionary.

Non-cyclical companies do not have as positive a correlation with the business cycle. They sell products/services that are necessities (non-elastic) and demand is more stable. Sales may still rise or fall with the economic cycle, just not as much as cyclical companies.

As always, remember the advantages and weaknesses of business-cycle classifications. The grouping helps to differentiate risk associated with the business cycle but is somewhat arbitrary. Since economic cycles differ across countries, international companies (even cyclical ones) may be able to smooth their revenues.

Some industries may have characteristics or products/services that makes it difficult to group them as either cyclical or non-cyclical.

The material on industry classification systems is secondary so just understand the main ideas. Make sure you understand the material on the grouping by sector, then by industry and the steps in constructing a peer group.

Spend a little extra time on the principals of strategic analysis, especially Porter’s Five Forces. The material is highly testable and you will see it again in the CFA Level II exam.

  • Threat of substitutes – the more substitues a product has then the more elastic its demand will be and the lower the company’s ability to increase prices
  • Bargaining power of buyers – when there are fewer buyers that control a large part of the product’s demand then those buyers will be better positioned to bargain for lower prices and concessions
  • Bargaining power of suppliers – similarly if there are only a few suppliers of raw materials, they can more easily demand higher prices or restrict supply. Conversely, if there are many suppliers or it is a commondity material then they will have lower bargaining power
  • Threat of new entrants – this depends on barriers to entry like the cost to start a business, any regulations or laws around the product. If there are high barriers to entry then the existing companies are better protected and face less competition
  • Rivalry among existing firms – the more competitive the industry then the less ability the company will have to raise prices and profits. This tends to happen when the industry is fragmented (many small companies), has high fixed costs and sells an undifferentiated product

Remember the five stages of the industry life-cycle; embryonic, growth, shakeout, mature and decline as well as the basic forces within each stage.

Equity Valuation: Concepts and Basic Tools

Understand the differences and advantages/limitations of each of the three major categories of valuation models:
1)      Present value or DCF models provide an intrinsic value estimate of the shares as the sum of future cash flows.

  1. Understand the Gordon growth model and its assumptions, i.e. growth remains constant indefinitely, dividends grow at a constant rate, and the growth rate is less than the required rate of return. A multi-stage DDM is necessary when growth is not constant.
  2. Pay attention to the FCFE model and how it can be used on non-dividend paying stocks

2)      Market multiple models estimate value through a multiplier with earnings, sales, enterprise value or asset-values. These can be applied on a trailing or forward basis.

  1. These are fairly easy to understand but you need to know the limitations, i.e. the multiples are based on trailing (past) data and may not be a good predictor of the future, the multiples reflect relative valuation compared to peers or the index but not intrinsic value.
  2. Understand the difference between the trailing multiple (past data) and the justified (forward) multiple which is based on forecasted data.

Price-to-Cash Flow Ratios

There are several of these ratios listed in the curriculum but the most attention is given to Free Cash Flow-to-Equity (FCFE). You should already be familiar with FCFE and FCFF from the corporate finance material as well as in other parts of the equity curriculum.

For the other P/Cash Flow ratios, just remember some of the adjustments that are typically made like non-cash charges and financing. Cash Flow metrics are preferred because it is not as easily manipulated by management as earnings numbers.

Free Cash Flow-to-Equity (FCFE)

The calculation for FCFE is fairly easy but you need to make sure not to get the components confused with FCFF. FCFE is CFO minus investments in fixed capital plus net borrowing, or the cash flow available to common equity holders without placing a burden on operations.

FCFE can be more volatile than other cash flow measures because of the capital expenditures spending, so you might have to use a multi-year average if the test question mentions it.

Though you will probably not be asked to do so on the test, some analysts adjust CFA for nonrecurring expenses before calculating FCFE.

A big focus in the CFA curriculum is conservative practices, almost always favored when a choice is given. Adjusting items for non-recurring events and taking the average of volatile accounts over a period of time are more conservative and provide a more stable estimate.
Make sure you can go from FCFF to FCFE or can get there from multiple routes.

Thinking through the various accounts and why they are included will help get these concepts down. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

FCFF = CFO + interest(1-tax rate) – Fixed Capital Investment
FCFF = EBITDA(1-tax rate)+depreciation expense(tax rate) + (increase in deferred tax) – (investments in fixed and working capital)
FCFE = FCFF – interest(1-tax rate) + net borrowing

Enterprice Value-to-EBITDA

EV is the total value of firm in excess of cash and investments. This is the market value of debt plus common and preferred equity, minus cash and investments.

We use the market value of debt because it is a more realistic amount that someone would pay for the firm, when combined with equity.

Earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) measures the potential cash flow to all providers of capital, so by taking a ratio of the two we find a market driven valuation of the firm.

The advantages of the metric are that it is more appropriate when valuing capital-intensive companies or those with differing amounts of leverage (because it is a pre-interest and depreciation measure).

The metric is also useful when earnings are negative and P/E cannot be used.

The main disadvantage is that it does not account for several adjustments that should be made for good measures of operational cash flows. Different revenue recognition practices will change results as well as trends in working capital.

We’ll hit study session 13 next week with a review of market structure, indices and efficiency. It is completely conceptual and of secondary importance compared to SS14 so should be a pretty easy week.

You might want to plan on reading through SS13 quickly to leave time to review the important material from this week’s SS14 readings.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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