The stock market's performance over the past two years has made
me feel a bit like a poker player in a high-stakes game. I'm
satisfied with my hand, but there's enough money on the table to
give me pause.
Being jittery about the market is normal. But if you want to
invest wisely, you need to determine whether your concerns are
grounded in reality before you react to them. For me, that means
pulling out a calculator and doing a little math.
What's making me nervous? Despite the market's early-2014 swoon,
my portfolio, which has been fully invested for less
than two years, is up a solid 41%
. That's not because I did anything brilliant. My
benchmark--Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (symbol
), adjusted for when I made purchases--is up almost the same
amount, so the Practical Investing portfolio is simply tracking the
market. Still, the stock market has returned about 10% annualized
over the long run, according to Morningstar's Ibbotson unit, so the
gains we've enjoyed for the past two years are exceptionally
Those outsize returns make me wonder whether my stocks, and
stocks in general, have become overvalued. If that were the case,
I'd want to sell some of my positions and build up cash. So I
decided to do a quick analysis of each of the 18 stocks in the
portfolio. With most, that meant taking a look at the share price,
the stock's dividend yield, the company's earnings and the expected
growth rate for those profits.
My analysis is based on the simple premise that returns come
from two factors: a stock's dividends and a company's earnings
growth. Thus, my quick-and-dirty approach for determining whether a
stock is reasonably valued is to look at its price-earnings ratio
and compare it with the sum of a company's earnings-growth rate and
its dividend yield. What I want is a P/E that's near or less than
earnings growth plus yield. It's only when the P/E far exceeds the
growth rate plus yield that I seriously start to consider selling.
(The analysis for the real estate investment trusts and the
business development company in my portfolio is a little different.
But that's a story for another day.)
To see my system in action, let's take a look at Seagate
), the portfolio's second-biggest winner, with a 144% return since
I bought it a bit shy of two years ago. Despite the surging share
price, Seagate still sells for just 10 times estimated earnings for
the fiscal year that ends in June (all data are as of January 31).
Analysts, on average, expect earnings in the following fiscal year
to rise by 11.2%, and the stock boasts a 3.3% dividend yield. The
sum of those two figures is 14.5, which is way more than the P/E of
10. So I conclude that Seagate is, at worst, fairly priced, and may
even be a bargain.
Sticking with big tech. After reviewing every stock in the
portfolio, I felt mostly comforted. A few stocks didn't quite meet
my criteria, but they weren't wildly out of line. And where the
numbers didn't hold up, I thought I had a compelling reason to hold
the shares anyway. Intel (
, $25), for example, is retooling to become less dependent on the
moribund personal computer business. I have great faith in the
company's long-term future. Microsoft (
) has found a new chief executive to replace Steve Ballmer (his
departure is a good thing, in my view), and it has a boatload of
cash. In fact, when I factor the cash into the analysis, Microsoft
looks really cheap.
Of course, this is a simple analysis, but it deals nicely with
the problem of market jitters. It tells me I can be comfortable
with my holdings and allows me to go back to living a life that, if
not entirely free of jitters, isn't consumed by them.