Performant Companies Can Sometimes Be Uninvestable

Prior to the censorship of my stock analysis on this website, long-time readers will have often seen me refer to my PE graph which I use to justify higher PEs for growth companies. The idea behind this is that if you’re investing based on an expected 5% ROI, you might be willing to accept a lower ROI in the earlier years of an investment that’s growing in exchange for a higher ROI in later years.

But what if a company has growth that is affecting the share price, but that growth is driven from external sources (such as market forces) or otherwise is not annually repeatable?

I would argue that some types of growth should not be represented by valuations that rely on multiples, such as a straight PE calculation. This is because the growth isn’t due to an underlying, repeatable improvement in the business, such as an increase in the number of stores.

Along that line, I would argue that growth of this type should be added to the overall share price (or tucked into a DCF as a one-off), rather than be multiplied out in a PE or DCF valuation where consistent growth is assumed.

Sometimes the market doesn’t always consider reasons for growth and the same old formulae are used with the new numbers. As a result, companies can be overpriced, even though they are selling at prices on the same metrics. This can only result in a drop of ROI when conditions fall back to normal in future years. This is how performant companies can sometimes become uninvestable (during or directly after a period of one-off growth).

I advise watching out for this when doing valuations, particularly at times like these where we are seeing changes in market forces which may be temporary (such as industries that have benefited from altering consumer patterns during lockdown).

If you do have your heart set on doing a PE valuation of a company that has grown in a manor that is not sustainable growth, perhaps you could consider altering your valuation to match this theoretical company valuation:

Company earnings: $100m.
Typical annual growth 5% (affording a PE of 22, based on expected ROI of 5% in 2 years).
Annual growth in the last year 10% (affording a PE of 24.5, based on expected ROI of 5% in 2 years).
Assuming the next year will follow former years, we multiple $100m by 21 (PE of 22, minus 1), then add $111m (which is a ratio of the higher PE, divided by the lower PE and multiplied by earnings to account for one year of growth at the higher value of 10%), giving a valuation of $2,211m.

If you’re struggling with this logic behind this, consider that this is approximately (but not) the same as considering PE as the number of years you expect to get your money back, but considering one of those years as being at the abnormally higher rate earnings.

That said, you might just consider a PE of 22, then add the value of cash on hand, which will account for the boom year and distributable/reinvestable funds in the company as well. Long-time readers will know that I usually like to add net cash and equivalents to my valuations.

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