Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Much is $1 of Earnings Worth?

Investors often treat reported earnings as the "yield" of equities due to the wide availability of reported earnings and the ubiquitous Price-to-Earnings ratio, however this can be a misleading measure of the actual economic value created for shareholders if earnings are overstated during cyclical upturns and the subsequent adjustment during downturns is reported as one-time items or direct-to-equity adjustments. I propose an alternate measure, a sum of the change in reported book value and dividends paid out as a proxy for the economic value created in a period.

Over the last 22 years, every $1 of S&P500 reported earnings has only led to $0.76 of dividends + book-value gains. If you exclude 2008, the year in which reported earnings and the alternate measure previously described differ most, every $1.00 of earnings generates only about $0.84 of economic value to investors. The sample, admittedly limited in size, was obtained using Bloomberg. Bold red line indicates a slope of 1, lighter black line is a simple OLS regression trend-line with no intercept.

Change in BV + dividends vs reported earnings

Change in BV + dividends vs reported earnings ex-2008
EDIT: A reader helpfully pointed out that I left-out the effect of buy-backs, which accrue to the price of shares but are functionally equivalent to dividends. Lacking a time-series of total buy backs, I can't correct the post to include that. Additionally, any buy-back made at a P/B multiple of > 1 would  dilute BV per share. Assuming book value is understated is a reasonable assumption for companies where marginal investment turns out to be profitable or during inflationary periods where the nominal value of capital stock is understated as a result. My apologies for these careless omissions. I will not remove the post, but I think it is worth noting that these omissions make the prior analysis basically useless.


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  2. Thank you for the post - enjoyed it. A quick question. Wouldn't you need to adjust for share repurchases at a premium to book? For instance, isn't a company buying back shares at 2.0x book worse off (in terms of growth in Book Value Per Share) than a company who just retains the cash on the balance sheet? Or am I just over thinking the analysis?

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