A “magic formula” for stock market success – The Little Book That Still Beats the Market

May 5, 2022

“Choosing individual stocks without any idea of what you’re looking for is like running through a dynamite factory with a burning match. You may live, but you’re still an idiot.”

So writes Joel Greenblatt in The Little Book That Still Beats the Market, billed as “one of the best, clearest guides to value investing out there.”

There’s a lot of ground covered in this interesting and well-written (and quite short) book.

The book sets out a way to view the stock market and learn “how to find good companies at bargain prices” to accomplish market-beating returns.

An interesting case history provides the example of fictional business that sells sticks of gum. While it is easy to figure out how much gum gets sold, the profit per stick, and projected income, the tricky part (and key to the book) is figuring out what the overall business is worth.

Owning part of a business, Goldblatt explains, can be accomplished by owning shares in it. “Buying a share in a business means you are purchasing a portion (or percentage interest) of that business. You are then entitled to a portion of that business’s future earnings,” Goldblatt notes.

While businesses may go along without big changes in their value, their stock prices can swing wildly, he explains. There are many theories as to why stock price swings happen, but the takeaway is to realize that a low price on a good company is a buying opportunity.

“If you just stick to buying good companies (ones that have a high return on capital) and to buying those companies only at bargain prices (at prices that give you a high earnings yield) you can end up systematically buying many of the good companies that crazy `Mr. Market’ has decided to give away,” Goldblatt says.

Here’s where he introduces his “magic formula.”

He ranks the 3,500 largest traded U.S. companies on the major exchanges by “return on capital,” with the company with the best return getting number one spot, and the one with the worst, 3,500. He does the same thing with earnings yield. You then add the two numbers together – companies with a low combined rating are considered good performers, and if you can catch them when their price is down, you may have a bargain on your hand.

In a chart, Goldblatt shows that from 1988 to 2004, a portfolio of the top 30 “magic formula” companies had average returns of 30.8 per cent, more than double the market and S&P 500 average.

He points out that the “magic formula” doesn’t always beat the markets in the short term. Investors need to “believe it will work and maintain a long-term investment horizon.”

The book mentions online resources to help you set up your own screening to create a list.

This is an interesting book, and is simple enough for even non-math heads (hand raised here) to grasp, at least in theory.

Do-it-yourself can be satisfying, but leaving the heavy lifting to professionals is also an option for those of us lacking the time or expertise. That’s where the Saskatchewan Pension Plan comes in. They’ll invest your retirement savings professionally, at a low cost, and when it’s time to retire, will help you convert those savings into income. Check out SPP today!

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Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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