4 Tips for Analyzing Stocks
If you’re ready to invest in individual stocks, then you need to know how to analyze stocks. Thinking that a company is going to do well is no reason to blindly invest in that company’s stock. Once you’ve decided that you want to invest in a company, you need to take a look at how the company is doing, how it has done in the past, and most importantly, what it is planning to do in the future. You then need to decide if the stock is a good purchase based on the current price. Even if the company is going to grow at 25% a year for the foreseeable future, the stock price won’t be a good purchase if it’s valued like it will grow 50% a year!
The four steps to analyzing a stock are:
- Determine how the company makes its money
- Figure out the company’s finances
- Analyze the future growth of the company
- Determine whether or not the current price is a good one
Actually, before you start analyzing a stock, you have to do is figure out which stock you want to research! Let’s say that I am interested in the (imaginary) company Bill’s Brews (BBREWS) after trying their signature Bill’s Acorn Ale. I go to a finance website, such as Yahoo! Finance or CNN Money, and type their ticker symbol (in this case, BBREWS) into their stock price widget, and start to do research.
The first thing I want to find out is what all the company is all about. Many companies are diversified and do more than you may know. For example, people know that General Electric makes light bulbs, but they may not know that they also make airplane engines and have a powerful finance arm. In this case, BBREWS makes not only beer, but also a wide range of soda pop. In fact, 60% of revenue comes from soda pop, but only 10% of earnings come from soda pop. In other words, 60% of total sales money comes from sales of soda pop, but only 10% of profits. BBREWS makes much more money for every beer it sells than for every bottle of soda. This may make you more likely to invest in BBREWS, because you see that the product you like – the beer – is the one making money.
Secondly, now that you have a relatively qualitative idea of how the company makes money, you need to get a more quantitative idea. You should find out the price/earnings ratio (the ratio of the stock price to the annual earnings of a stock), the price/sales (the ratio of the stock price to the annual sales), the profit ratio of the company, and comparison numbers for other businesses in this industry. You will also want to get any other financial data from this company that you can get your hands on, but these are the most important numbers for proper analysis of a stock. Average values for these numbers will vary tremendously from industry to industry and depending on which stock sectors are hot, so to tell if the number is low or high, you really need to check out related companies in the same industry. For example, you should compare Bill’s Brews numbers to Budweiser, Boston Brewing, and Molson Coors.
Third, you should find out what analysts are thinking about this stock and read their opinions. You should also find out what recent growth rates in profits and sales have been. Check if company insiders or institutional investors, who may have a better idea of how the stock will perform, are buying shares of the stock. If a CEO thinks that the stock of his company is undervalued, he will be more likely to buy it, and if he thinks that it is overvalued, to sell it. Since the CEO probably knows more about the stock than most people, this is a good indicator that it may be undervalued. Analysts also spend long periods of time studying individual firms and finding out if they are overvalued or undervalued. You should also read news reports about the company to see if there are any catalysts for higher than anticipated growth. For example, let’s say that Bill’s Brews just won an award for “Best American Ale” this year. This may lead sales of Bill’s Brews to increase in the coming year.
Finally, now that you have determined all of this, you need to synthesize all of the data to decide whether or not the stock is a good buy. This is definitely more than an art than a science, but you should determine that the numbers you have found make a good investment. One rule of thumb is that the PEG ratio (price/earnings to growth) should be less than 1. In other words, the P/E ratio (found in step 2) should be the same or less than the annual percentage earnings growth rate. For instance, if the P/E ratio is 10 (the stock price is 10 times annual earnings) and the expected growth rate is 15% annually, the stock may be a good buy. If the P/E ratio is 25 and the expected growth rate is 10% annually, it may not be a good buy. However, this is only a rule of thumb and there are many exceptions to the rule.
Now you are ready to analyze stocks on your own. There is nothing like knowing that your investing future is in your hands, and that you will be able to determine when a stock is a good buy and when it isn’t. Good luck finding the right stock investment for you!