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5 Concepts To Know When Analysing Stocks

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5 Concepts To Know When Analysing Stocks

Analysing stocks is not easy. Here are five terms you should be familiar with when doing so.

1) Economic Moat

A company with a very profitable business is like a castle that is constantly under attack by competitors. Without a strong defense, competitors will soon imitate the company's products, charge lower prices, steal market share, and erode profit margins to the point where the business is merely average, at best.

An economic moat —a term coined by Warren Buffett— is what keep competitors at bay. It is a sustainable competitive advantage that allows a company to earn excess returns on capital (that is, returns on invested capital greater than the cost of capital) for a very long time.

We define a wide moat as a competitive advantage that is almost certain to last at least 10 years, and probably 20 years or more. Wide moat companies are very hard to attain and very few companies globally have a wide moat rating. The standard for a narrow moat is lower—it only needs to be more likely than not that the competitive advantage will last for 10 years. The vast majority of companies have no moat. So even if they are earning excess returns now, it is not wise to expect them to persist long into the future.

Morningstar analysts have assigned no economic moat to Reliance Industries Ltd and Larsen & Toubro, but Coal India has a Narrow moat rating.

Morningstar has identified five potential sources of an economic moat. To read about them, click here.

While it makes for an excellent investment strategy, investing in a wide or narrow moat company is no guarantee to success. Valuation does play a very critical role. So don't over pay for quality companies. Buying them when they are trading at a discount to their fair value is a really important consideration.

2) Moat Trend

Economic moats aren't stagnant over time. Rather, competitive dynamics are constantly shifting as technology develops, regulations change, competitors exit or enter a market, companies gain scale, and so on. This is where our moat trend ratings come in.

If the underlying sources (or potential sources) of a company's competitive advantage are improving over time, the company has a positive moat trend.

If the underlying sources (or potential sources) of an economic moat are weakening or a company faces a substantial competitive threat that is growing, then it has a negative moat trend.

For example, the switching costs and network effects that historically benefited Microsoft's Windows operating system are being steadily eroded by the growth in smartphones and tablets, where Google's Android and Apple's iOS dominate.

Closer home, Axis Bank has a Narrow moat rating and its moat trend is stable.

3) Stewardship

Morningstar's stewardship ratings—which can be exemplary, standard, or poor—reflect our view of the quality of management. In particular, we emphasise strategic execution (whether management has a sound strategy and is carrying it out effectively) and capital allocation (whether management uses shareholder capital appropriately, between internal reinvestment, acquisitions, share repurchases, and dividends).

HDFC Bank has an Exemplary rating while ICICI Bank has a Standard stewardship rating.

To understand what goes into evaluating stewardship, click here.

4) Fair Value Estimate

If stock prices always reflected the true intrinsic value of the underlying businesses, there would be no point to stock-picking. However, the reality is that stock prices often deviate from fair value, sometimes by a wide margin.

Value-investing pioneer Ben Graham provided our favorite analogy: In the short run, the market is a voting machine—a stock's price reflects its current popularity and the market's whims. However, in the long run the market is a weighing machine—stock prices eventually converge toward the intrinsic value of the businesses they represent.

Morningstar's analysts assign fair value estimates to every company we cover using a discounted cash flow model. This valuation technique is based on the premise that a company is worth the sum of its future free cash flows, discounted back to the present at a rate that provides an adequate return on investors' capital. Our analysts make specific forecasts about a company's future revenue, operating costs, working capital investments, capital expenditures, and other financial statement line items. Analysts must also estimate a discount rate—a weighted average of the cost of debt (which can be observed, though it changes over time) and the cost of equity (which is unobservable and requires us to make an educated guess about the returns required by stock investors).

To understand how fair value and target price differ, click here.

5) Uncertainty

That leads us to Morningstar's uncertainty ratings, which reflect how confident we are in our fair value estimates. Uncertainty can be low, medium, high, very high, or extreme.

For example, it's relatively easy to estimate the intrinsic value of a regulated utility or mature consumer staples firm—since they have fairly predictable cash flows—and these companies tend to receive low uncertainty ratings. It's much harder to pin down the intrinsic value of a single-product biotech (which could be a hit or a flop) or an oil refiner (which is highly sensitive to commodity prices), so these companies usually have high or very high uncertainty.

Wipro has a Medium rating while Cairn India is rated High on this front.

Mutual Fund investments are subject to market risks, read all scheme related documents carefully.

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