If you're a busy investor with more than just stock-picking on your plate, you might want to consider a mechanical investing strategy. And if you're interested in stocks, one of the most intriguing of these strategies is Joel Greenblatt's Magic Formula.
Greenblatt details this approach in his enriching, funny The Little Book That Beats the Market. His strategy revolves around two factors:
- How cheap is the stock?
- How profitable is the company?
This simplified approach really boils down "value investing" to its essence. When you find a company with a price that fails to reflect its high profits, you might have a winner.
A cheap business and a profitable company
To find cheap companies, the Magic Formula looks for a high earnings yield -- basically, a company's EBIT divided by its enterprise value. EBIT is earnings before interest and taxes, otherwise known as operating earnings. Enterprise value includes the company's market capitalization, then adds its net debt. In general, the higher the earnings yield, the better. The Magic Formula looks for a yield higher than 10%.
To find profitable companies, Greenblatt's Magic Formula seeks businesses that generate pre-tax returns on assets (ROA) greater than 25%. In other words, for every $100 in assets it holds, the company would produce at least $25 in net profit. In general, the higher the ROA, the better the business. Greenblatt looks for companies with an ROA higher than 25%.
So how do some of the biggest companies in the biotech sector fare?
|Human Genome Sciences||$1,860||($338)||(18.2%)||(30.8%)|
Source: S&P's Capital IQ.
Going by the Magic Formula criteria, only Myriad meets both standards, while all the other companies are hardly even close. This can largely be explained by the fact that drug companies need to front a lot of capital in the beginning to make money in the long term. When investors buy shares, they are paying for the chance to cash in on gains from developmental drugs that have a chance to become blockbusters. In this case, the Magic Formula demonstrates the risk involved in biotech stocks and the fact that most biotech companies in the early stages of development will not stand up well against common methods for stock analysis.
While biotech and pharma stocks can be strong performers, they are not the types of investments that you can just buy and ignore. Their success relies on strong performance from year to year, and the rapidly-changing nature of the industry does not allow any of these companies to rest on their laurels.
Foolish bottom line
The key advantage of the Magic Formula is speedy decision-making. You can run a screen and mechanically buy the stocks, then spend your free time doing the activities you love. However, such an approach means that you need to pick a lot of stocks (say, 25 or 30), since you haven't performed any strategic analysis of your investments. According to the formula, you should hold the stocks for one year in order to receive favorable tax treatment, sell all of them, and then run the screen again to find your new picks.
While this approach sounds easy, Greenblatt cautions that it can be tough to stick with during hard times. In some years, this mechanical strategy simply won't work. However, Greenblatt's extensive backtesting suggests that over the long haul, his Magic Formula can significantly outperform the market.
With high-risk propositions on sometimes unproven drugs, biotech investing is not for everyone. And that's OK. If you'd like to invest in lower-risk companies with more certainty of success, check out our special free report, 3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World. It's available free for a limited time. Just click here to get your copy.
Jim Royal, Ph.D., does not own shares of any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Dendreon and Exelixis. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of GlaxoSmithKline, Exelixis, and Pfizer. 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.