When Jeremy Grantham speaks, I listen. He's not afraid to have a contrarian mind-set lead him in a different direction from the crowd. Recently, Grantham believed some high-quality companies traded at attractive prices. Grantham wasn't sure why the high-quality names were on sale, but he thought they offered the best returns for the next seven years. He has a pretty good long-term track record of sniffing out where the best returns are, so let's see what companies Grantham is rooting out.

What do "high-quality" and "on sale" mean? Certainly they will represent different things to different people. For our purposes, let's say high-quality companies have a strong balance sheet and generate excellent returns on invested capital. We'll use free cash flow yield (free cash flow / market cap) compared to the 10-year Treasury yield as a proxy for value.

So a Grantham-like opportunity would have:

  1. Net cash position > 0
    More cash than debt can indicate a strong balance sheet.
  2. ROIC > 15%
    Earning a 15% return should be more than a company's cost of capital.
  3. FCF / Price > 4%
    10-year treasuries are yielding about 3%. We want more return than that.

With the definitions out of the way, let's see if ADTRAN (Nasdaq: ADTN) can pass our sniff test.

As you can see from the table below, ADTRAN has a positive net cash position on its balance sheet. What's more, the company currently earns a return on invested capital that is higher than its cost of capital. Fools love companies that take shareholder capital and create value with it.

Company

Net Cash

ROIC

FCF/P

ADTRAN

132.2

20%

4.4%

Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO)

23,860.0

22.2%

5.9%

Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR)

2,223.4

4.2%

4.3%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Cash figures in millions.

How does it stack up to the competition? Both competitors listed in the table above have a solid net cash position on their balance sheets. That's a good sign. However, Juniper Network's ROIC is too low for this test. Big, bad Cisco Systems sports the best metrics in the table.

Foolish conclusion
Would Jeremy Grantham buy ADTRAN? That's really hard to say. After all, he's his own investor. While it certainly has quality numbers, I would have to think Grantham might prefer Cisco Systems in this case. But that does mean he wouldn't look at ADTRAN, too. And we should do the same.

Million Dollar Portfolio associate advisor David Meier does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a healthy disclosure policy.