Against The Top Down Approach To Picking Stocks

If you have heard fund managers talk about the way they invest, you know a great many employ a top down approach. First, they decide how much of their portfolio to allocate to stocks and how much to allocate to bonds. At this point, they may also decide upon the relative mix of foreign and domestic securities. Next, they decide upon the industries to invest in. It is not until all these decisions have been made that they actually get down to analyzing any particular securities. If you think logically about this approach for but a moment, you will recognize how truly foolish it is.

A stock’s earnings yield is the inverse of its P/E ratio. So, a stock with a P/E ratio of 25 has an earnings yield of 4%, while a stock with a P/E ratio of 8 has an earnings yield of 12.5%. In this way, a low P/E stock is comparable to a high – yield bond.

Now, if these low P/E stocks had very unstable earnings or carried a great deal of debt, the spread between the long bond yield and the earnings yield of these stocks might be justified. However, many low P/E stocks actually have more stable earnings than their high multiple kin. Some do employ a great deal of debt. Still, within recent memory, one could find a stock with an earnings yield of 8 – 12%, a dividend yield of 3- 5%, and literally no debt, despite some of the lowest bond yields in half a century. This situation could only come about if investors shopped for their bonds without also considering stocks. This makes about as much sense as shopping for a van without also considering a car or truck.

All investments are ultimately cash to cash operations. As such, they should be judged by a single measure: the discounted value of their future cash flows. For this reason, a top down approach to investing is nonsensical. Starting your search by first deciding upon the form of security or the industry is like a general manager deciding upon a left handed or right handed pitcher before evaluating each individual player. In both cases, the choice is not merely hasty; it’s false. Even if pitching left handed is inherently more effective, the general manager is not comparing apples and oranges; he’s comparing pitchers. Whatever inherent advantage or disadvantage exists in a pitcher’s handedness can be reduced to an ultimate value (e.g., run value). For this reason, a pitcher’s handedness is merely one factor (among many) to be considered, not a binding choice to be made. The same is true of the form of security. It is neither more necessary nor more logical for an investor to prefer all bonds over all stocks (or all retailers over all banks) than it is for a general manager to prefer all lefties over all righties. You needn’t determine whether stocks or bonds are attractive; you need only determine whether a particular stock or bond is attractive. Likewise, you needn’t determine whether “the market” is undervalued or overvalued; you need only determine that a particular stock is undervalued. If you’re convinced it is, buy it – the market be damned!

Clearly, the most prudent approach to investing is to evaluate each individual security in relation to all others, and only to consider the form of security insofar as it affects each individual evaluation. A top down approach to investing is an unnecessary hindrance. Some very smart investors have imposed it upon themselves and overcome it; but, there is no need for you to do the same.

3 Steps To Profitable Stock Picking

Stock picking is a very complicated process and investors have different approaches. However, it is wise to follow general steps to minimize the risk of the investments. This article will outline these basic steps for picking high performance stocks.


Step 1. Decide on the time frame and the general strategy of the investment. This step is very important because it will dictate the type of stocks you buy.

Suppose you decide to be a long term investor, you would want to find stocks that have sustainable competitive advantages along with stable growth. The key for finding these stocks is by looking at the historical performance of each stock over the past decades and do a simple business S.W.O.T. (Strength-weakness-opportunity-threat) analysis on the company.

If you decide to be a short term investor, you would like to adhere to one of the following strategies:

a. Momentum Trading. This strategy is to look for stocks that increase in both price and volume over the recent past. Most technical analyses support this trading strategy. My advice on this strategy is to look for stocks that have demonstrated stable and smooth rises in their prices. The idea is that when the stocks are not volatile, you can simply ride the up-trend until the trend breaks.

b. Contrarian Strategy. This strategy is to look for over-reactions in the stock market. Researches show that stock market is not always efficient, which means prices do not always accurately represent the values of the stocks. When a company announces a bad news, people panic and price often drops below the stock’s fair value. To decide whether a stock over-reacted to a news, you should look at the possibility of recovery from the impact of the bad news. For example, if the stock drops 20% after the company loses a legal case that has no permanent damage to the business’s brand and product, you can be confident that the market over-reacted. My advice on this strategy is to find a list of stocks that have recent drops in prices, analyze the potential for a reversal (through candlestick analysis). If the stocks demonstrate candlestick reversal patterns, I will go through the recent news to analyze the causes of the recent price drops to determine the existence of over-sold opportunities.

Step 2. Conduct researches that give you a selection of stocks that is consistent to your investment time frame and strategy. There are numerous stock screeners on the web that can help you find stocks according to your needs.

Step 3. Once you have a list of stocks to buy, you would need to diversify them in a way that gives the greatest reward/risk ratio. One way to do this is conduct a Markowitz analysis for your portfolio. The analysis will give you the proportions of money you should allocate to each stock. This step is crucial because diversification is one of the free-lunches in the investment world.

These three steps should get you started in your quest to consistently make money in the stock market. They will deepen your knowledge about the financial markets, and would provide a sense of confidence that helps you to make better trading decisions.

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