Benjamin Graham on stock selection for the defensive investor

The Intelligent Investor Chapter 14 – Stock Selection for the Defensive Investor

1.  Adequate Size of the Enterprise

The idea is to exclude small companies which may be subject to more than average vicissitudes especially in the industrial field.

(I) Not less than S$100 million of annual sales for an industrial company and, not less than $50 million of total assets for a public utility.

(Note:  These figures in 2015 are approximately $600 million and $300 million respectively. Veteran investment writer Jason Zweig in his accompanying commentary for Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, Chapter 14 said: “Nowadays, “to exclude small companies,” most defensive investors should steer clear of stocks with a total market value of less than $2 billion.” Jason Zweig  also said: “However, today’s defensive investors – unlike those in Graham’s days – can conveniently own small companies by buying a mutual fund specializing in small stocks.”).

2. A Sufficiently Strong Financial Condition
According to Benjamin Graham, for industrial companies, current assets should be at least twice current liabilities – a so-called two-to-one current ratio. Also, long-term debt should not exceed the net current assets (or working capital). For public utilities, the debt should not exceed twice the stock equity (at book value).

3. Earnings Stability
Some earnings for the common stock in each of the past ten years.

4. Dividend Record
Uninterrupted payments for at least the past 20 years.

5. Earnings Growth
A minimum increase of at least one-third in per-share earnings in the past ten years using three-year averages at the beginning and end.

6. Moderate Price/Earnings Ratio
Current price should not be more than 15 times average earnings of the past three years.

7. Moderate Ratio of Price to Assets
Benjamin Graham said that current price should not be more than 1.5 times the book value last reported. However, a multiplier of earnings below 15 could justify a correspondingly higher multiplier of assets. “As a rule of thumb,” he said, ” we suggest that the product of the multiplier times the ratio of price to book value should not exceed 22.5 (this figure corresponds to 15 times earnings and 1.5  times book value. It would admit an issue selling at only 9 times earnings and 2.5 times asset value, etc.).”

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