Warren Buffett's partner, Charlie Munger, once said, "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. And never a year passes but I get some surprise that pushes my limit a little farther."

When corporate boards use bad incentives for management's pay, disaster often ensues. (Think Lehman Brothers.) Incentives based on singular metrics such as revenue growth, EBITDA, ROE, or earning per share are easily manipulated and gamed. Fortunately, there is a better way: EVA momentum.

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, a negative EVA momentum means that EVA and thus value have decreased, signaling a destruction of value. EVA momentum is one of the few, if not the only, performance measure 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's creating.

Let's look at Human Genome Sciences and three of its biotechnology 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, and rankings by percentile in the biotechnology industry for the past 12 months' EVA momentum.

Related Companies




Industry Percentile

Human Genome Sciences (Nasdaq: HGSI) (62.4%) 217.4% (32.8%) 30
Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD) 5.6% 10.6% 7.5% 69
Celgene (Nasdaq: CELG) (2%) 11.3% 1.1% 52
Seattle Genetics (Nasdaq: SGEN) 11.6% (35.3%) 78.5% 88

Source: EVA Dimensions LLC.

Of the four biotech companies, only Gilead Sciences' management has consistently created value over the past three years. Celgene's management, besides a minor negative performance in 2008, also has performed consistently. HGSI and Seattle Genetics' numbers are all over the place, reflecting the company's investments in research and dearth of sales. An extreme example of this is Dendreon (Nasdaq: DNDN), whose sales of $101,000 in 2009 compared with its $118 million drop in EVA in 2010, giving the company a ridiculous EVA momentum of negative 109,429%.

Businesses with high EVA momentum are effectively creating value. It will be interesting to see how useful this extremely new metric proves for companies and investors. If it lives up to its promise, EVA momentum 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 recommends you read The Best Investment Advice You Will Ever Get If You Have Under $100k. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. His musings and articles he finds interesting can be found on his Twitter account: @DanDzombak.

Gilead Sciences is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. 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.