"I think I've been in the top 5% of my age cohort all my life in understanding the power of incentives, and all my life I've underestimated it," Warren Buffett's business partner, Charlie Munger, once said. "And never a year passes but I get some surprise that pushes my limit a little farther."

For corporate boards, using bad incentives for management pay can be disastrous. (Think Lehman Brothers.) Incentives based on singular metrics such as revenue growth, EBITDA, return on equity, or earnings per share are easily manipulated and gamed. Fortunately, EVA Momentum provides a better alternative.

Creator Bennett Stewart of EVA Dimensions, who also co-created EVA (Economic Value Added), calls EVA momentum "the only percent metric where more is always better than less. It always increases when managers do things that make economic sense."

So what does this mean for investors? A positive reading on EVA Momentum means a company has created value by increasing its EVA, and a negative EVA Momentum means EVA and, thus, value have decreased, signaling a destruction of value. EVA Momentum is one of the few performance measurements, if not the only one, with such a clear dividing line between good and bad performance.

The best companies, then, create value in excess of their cost of capital, as reflected by positive EVA momentum. The higher the EVA momentum, the more value management is creating.

Let's look at Aqua America (NYSE: WTR) and three of its utility-industry peers to see how effectively they create value. Here are the trailing four quarters' worth of EVA momentum figures for each company over the past three years, along with rankings by percentile in the utilities industry for the past 12 months' EVA momentum.

Related Companies




Industry Percentile

Aqua America (0.3%) 2.6% 1.9% 86
American Water Works (NYSE: AWK) 1.4% 3.5% 2.1% 90
Consolidated Water (Nasdaq: CWCO) (5.2%) 0.0% 4.9% 95
Middlesex Water (Nasdaq: MSEX) 1.4% (2.0%) 2.5% 95

Source: EVA Dimensions LLC.

Aqua America made more than its cost of capital this past year. It created shareholder value with an EVA momentum of 1.9%, enough to place it in the 86th percentile of all utility companies. Remarkably, American Water Works consistently created value the past three years, while Consolidated Water and Middlesex Water only created value two out of the past three years. Investors can only hope that all these companies can keep their positive momentum going forward.

Businesses with high EVA momentum are effectively creating value. It will be interesting to see how useful this extremely new metric proves to be for companies and investors. If it lives up to its promise, it will be an essential tool in investors' arsenals.

Another tool for better investing
Most investors don't keep tabs on their companies' fundamental value. That's a mistake. If you take the time to read past the headlines and crack a filing now and then, you're in a much better position to spot potential trouble early. Better yet, you'll improve your odds of finding the underappreciated home-run stocks that provide the market's best returns.

We can help you keep tabs on your companies with My Watchlist, our free, personalized stock-tracking service.

Dan Dzombak owns no shares of the companies mentioned. Find him on Twitter at @DanDzombak to check out his musings and see what articles he finds interesting.

Aqua America is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. We Fools don't 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.