Is 3M a Buffett Stock?

Warren Buffett attracts a lot of attention. As the world's third-richest person and most celebrated investor, thousands try to glean what they can from his thinking processes and track his investments.

While we can't know for sure whether Buffett is about to buy 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) – he hasn't specifically mentioned anything about it to me -- he's left us some clues as to whether it's the sort of stock that might interest him. Answering that question could also inform whether it's a stock that should interest us.

In his 10-K filings, Buffett lays out the qualities he looks for in an investment. In addition to adequate size and a reasonable valuation, he demands:

  1. Consistent earnings power.
  2. Good returns on equity with limited or no debt.
  3. Management in place.
  4. Simple, non-techno mumbo jumbo businesses.

Does 3M meet Buffett's standards?

1. Earnings power
Buffett is famous for betting on a sure thing. For that reason, he likes to see companies with demonstrated earnings stability.

Let's examine 3M's earnings and free cash flow history:

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Free cash flow is adjusted based on author's calculations.

3M generates fairly stable earnings and free cash flow.

2. Return on equity and debt
Return on equity is a great metric for measuring both management's effectiveness and the strength of a company's competitive advantage or disadvantage -- a classic Buffett consideration. When considering return on equity, it's important to make sure a company doesn't have an enormous debt burden, because that will skew your calculations and make the company look much more efficient than it actually is.

Since competitive strength is a comparison between peers, and various industries have different levels of profitability and require different levels of debt, it helps to put them in context:

Company

Debt-to-Equity Ratio

Return on Equity (LTM)

Return on Equity
(5-Year Average)

3M 35% 28% 32%
General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) 385% 11% 14%
Tyco (NYSE: TYC  ) 29% 10% (1%)
Honeywell (NYSE: HON  ) 62% 21% 19%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

3M generates high returns on equity with a fairly minimal amount of debt.

3. Management
CEO George Buckley has been at the job since 2005.

 4. Business
Many of 3M's business lines, like commercial graphics and health care, could be susceptible to technological disruption, but the company is diversified and maintains dominant positions in many industries.

The Foolish conclusion
Whether or not Buffett would ever invest in 3M, we've learned that it exhibits several of the characteristics of a quintessential Buffett investment: consistent earnings, high returns on equity with limited debt, tenured management, and straightforward business lines.

To stay up-to-date on the top news and analysis on 3M or any other stock, simply click here to add it to your stock watchlist. If you don't have one yet, you can create a watchlist of your favorite stocks by clicking here.

Ilan Moscovitz doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 1467894, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 12/20/2014 11:59:41 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement