As investors, we always want our investments to generate a healthy return. However, investors often forget that returns stem from two, not one, extremely important factors:
- The business' ability to generate profits.
- The price you pay for one share of those profits.
This idea of price versus returns provides the bedrock for the approach known as value investing. In this series, I'll examine a specific business from both a quality and pricing standpoint. In doing so, I hope to provide a better sense of its potential as an investment right now.
Where should we start to find value?
As we all know, the quality of businesses varies widely. A company that has the ability to grow its bottom line faster (or much faster) than the market, especially with any consistency, gives its owner greater value than a stagnant or declining business (duh!). However, many investors also fail to understand that any business becomes a buy at a low enough price. Figuring out this price-to-value equation drives all intelligent investment research.
To do so today, I selected several metrics that will evaluate returns, profitability, growth, and leverage. These make for some of the most important aspects to consider when researching a potential investment.
- Return on equity divides net income by shareholder equity, highlighting the return a company generates for its equity base.
- The EBIT (short for earnings before interest and taxes) margin provides a rough measurement of the percentage of cash a company keeps from its operations. I prefer using EBIT over other measurements because it focuses more exclusively on the performance of a company's core business. Stripping out interest and taxes makes these figures less susceptible to dubious accounting distortions.
- The EBIT growth rate demonstrates whether a company can expand its business.
- Finally, the debt-to-equity ratio reveals how much leverage a company employs to fund its operations. Some companies have a track record of wisely managing high debt levels. Generally speaking, though, the lower the better for this figure. I chose to use five-year averages to help smooth away one-year irregularities that can easily distort regular business results.
Keeping all that in mind, let's take a look at Wyndham (NYSE: WYN ) and some of its closest peers.
Return on Equity (5-Year Average)
EBIT Margin (5-Year Average)
EBIT Growth (5-Year Average)
Total Debt / Equity
|Marriott International (NYSE: MAR )||17.64%||7.23%||11.03%||206.13%|
|Starwood Hotels & Resorts (NYSE: HOT )||15.02%||12.26%||(5.10%)||126.41%|
|Choice Hotels International (NYSE: CHH )||0.00%||29.06%||3.32%||N/A*|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. *N/A denotes negative equity value.
This chart depicts a mixed bag in terms of business performances. Wyndham's meager ROE seems somewhat strange, given its fairly strong margin. Its growth looks anemic. Furthermore, its debt-to-equity seems a little higher than desired for me. It also had the weakest margin and highest debt burden among these competitors.
But Marriott generates the strongest returns for its equity base and grew its operating earnings better than any other company shown here over the past five years.
Starwood Hotels also generated a decent ROE during this period. Its margin appeared satisfactory, but it was still lower than ideal, and its negative growth counts as a strike against the company. Its debt burden seems manageable for an industry that is typically high, but being in excess of 100%, it becomes slightly worrisome.
Choice Hotels produced no returns for its ownership base on average. I don't like that, even though Choice had the fattest margin during the same period. Its paltry growth concerns me as well. And it has a negative equity figure because of its high levels of treasury stock.
How cheap does Wyndham look?
To look at pricing, I chose to look at two important multiples: price-to-earnings and enterprise value-to-free cash flow. Similar to a P/E ratio, enterprise value (essentially debt, preferred stock, and equity holders combined minus cash) to unlevered free cash flow conveys how expensive the entire company is versus the cash it can generate. The resulting figure gives investors another measurement of cheapness when analyzing a stock. For both metrics, the lower the multiple, the better.
Let's check this performance against the price we'll need to pay to get our hands on some of the company's stock.
Enterprise Value / FCF
P / LTM Diluted EPS Before Extra Items
|Starwood Hotels & Resorts||30.48||37.73|
|Choice Hotels International||20.90||19.86|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
As I am generally a conservative investor, these companies all seem too expensive for my blood. Stocks that cost in excess of 15 times their respective metric need to deserve it in my mind, and these companies simply don't.
Given the disproportionate risk-reward characteristics of these stocks, they all look like clear passes to me.
Although Wyndham stock doesn't look like a stock for your portfolio right now, the search doesn't end here. To really get to know a company, you need to keep digging. If any of the companies I've mentioned here today piques your interest, further examining quality of earnings, management track records, or analyst estimates all make for great ways to continue your search. You can also stop by The Motley Fool's CAPS page, where our users come to share their ideas and chat about their favorite stocks. Or you can add the stocks mentioned here to My Watchlist.