When Jeremy Grantham speaks, I listen. He's not afraid to have a contrarian mind-set lead him in a different direction than 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 now.

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 / P > 4%
Ten-year treasuries are yielding about 3%. We want more return than that.

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

As you can see from the table below, Apple has a positive net cash position on its balance sheet. What's more, the company 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.


Net Cash







Motorola (NYSE: MOT)




Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI)




Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, and author calculations. Dollars in millions.

How does it stack up to the competition? Competitors Motorola and Sirius XM don't quite make the grade on this test. Neither company generates enough returns on invested capital, and Sirius XM carries more debt than cash.

Foolish conclusion
Would Jeremy Grantham buy Apple? That's really hard to say. After all, he's his own investor. But with quality numbers like the ones above, I have to believe Grantham would certainly give Apple a good, hard look. And you and I should, too.