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Geoff Gannon July 7, 2012

Why We Can’t Use Owner Earnings to Talk about Stocks

Geoff here.

Someone sent me an email asking about a post I did a while back called One Ratio to Rule Them All: EV/EBITDA.

If I had to use an off the shelf ratio – EV/EBITDA is the one I’d use. Owner earnings matter more. But owner earnings is a tough number to agree on. It’s not something you can screen for.

All price measures are flawed. None approximates the actual returns a business earns. What we are always interested in is the value a company delivers over a year. That is the company’s real earnings regardless of what is reported in terms of net income, EBITDA, free cash flow, book value growth, etc.


It’s Not That EV/EBITDA is So Good – It’s that P/E is so Bad

My point about using EV/EBITDA is that no price measure actually works well in individual cases. But if you are eliminating some stocks on the basis of a price ratio – for example, you are saying a price-to-earnings ratio of 22 is too high so you won’t even start researching such a stock, you can never actually calculate the value ratios that matter.

Let’s look at Carnival (CCL).

How Should Investors Define Earnings

What does this company earn?

For me, Carnival’s earnings are neither EBITDA nor net income. They are:

Cash Flow From Operations

– Maintenance Capital Spending

= Cash available to add passenger capacity, acquire other companies, pay down debt, buy back stock, and pay dividends

That’s earnings. It’s the cash you collected in excess of what you need to spend in cash to collect the same amount of cash next year. It’s a sustainable level of cash flowing through the business.

How is this different from EBITDA?

Carnival’s depreciation expense does not match its capital spending requirements. By my estimates, about 20 years ago, the company was charging off less in depreciation than was actually needed to maintain its competitive position in the industry, have the same number of passenger nights, etc. In its most recent year, this was perhaps no longer true.

It’s a complicated issue. A lot of different facts go into deciding just how much CCL needs to spend to maintain its competitive position and its passenger capacity.

But how do we know what Carnival’s maintenance cap-ex needs are?

We can’t know that until we start researching the company. In fact, it’s not that easy to know until we read about current shipbuilding contracts from CCL, RCL, and NCL. Until we look at what the average real cost per new berth (think of it as 2 cruise berths = 1 hotel room) for CCL, RCL, etc.

Maintenance Cap-Ex is a Complicated Issue

At most companies, it’s very hard to determine maintenance cap-ex. I’m actually cheating by talking about Carnival. Cruise ships are easily identifiable long-lived assets that change hands in control transactions, etc. I’m pretty close to analyzing buildings here.

I mean, they give these ships names. I can trace their history from company …

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Geoff Gannon July 3, 2012

Blind Stock Valuation #3 – Corticeira Amorim

Geoff here.

About a week ago I posted a blind stock valuation. That’s where I give you some financial data from a public company without revealing the company’s name. Then you try to value it.

Here are the numbers I provided:

The company is Corticeira Amorim. It’s a public company. It trades in Portugal.

Nate Tobik of Oddball Stocks did a great 2 part series about Corticeira Amorim.


Corticeira Amorim

It’s a cork company. Amorim is the name of the family that runs the company. Corticeira is Portuguese for cork. Corticeira Amorim was briefly mentioned in my favorite business book: Hidden Champions of the 21st Century.

Amorim has 25% of the worldwide cork stopper market. Cork stoppers are used to bottle wine. Amorim’s share of other cork products is even bigger. It has 55% of the composite cork market, 65% of the cork floor market, and 80% of the cork insulation business.

As I mentioned when I posted this blind stock valuation – the company uses debt. It has bank debt and commercial paper.


Your Thoughts

I got a lot of emails from readers giving their intrinsic value estimates for the company based solely on the financial data.

Here are my 3 favorite responses.


Response #1: Low Quality Business – Probably Using 1 to 1 Leverage

(Estimated Market Cap: 163 million Euros; Enterprise Value: 327 million Euros)

This is a low quality business: assume a 30% tax rate and it is earning an average of just 5.4% on its operating capital.

Its only strengths, such as they are, seem to be an (i) an ability to avoid significant gross profit erosion in the 2007-2009 cycle; and (ii) either a reluctance, or an inability, to grow.

I suspect it is the latter, because the very large swings in EBIT/GP ratio for an otherwise stable business indicates managers with very little discipline. And undisciplined managers generally want to grow, if they can.

(I assume that these swings are either related to marketing and/or SGA bloat in good times, and retrenchment in bad times; foresighted, intelligent managers generally do it the other way around).

So why can’t it grow? Niche market played out? Local market saturated? Or it’s a supplier to one or two big clients who have these problems?

In any case, the managers of this business will want to take on significant debt to (a) make its ROE look better and (b) to reduce its cost of capital. How much debt? Probably 1:1 with equity – in order to get the ROE above 10%.

So, estimating the EV and market cap should be logical and straightforward:

ROC = 5.4%,

  • average operating capital = $429m
  • cost of capital (assuming half the capital is debt) = 7%

And, following from that, market cap = ½  x 327 = $163

Or, put another way: $163m in debt will generate $5m in after-tax interest expense which implies equity earnings of approx $20m which, in turn, implies a yield

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