Industry Analysis: Pharmacy Services

Industry Study: Pharmacy Services

Many of you are well acquainted with the “strong nudges” suggested by our friend Ken Kavula when it comes to the subject of “Buy The Best!” Ken is reinforcing — in his strongest professional educator voice — the importance (and path to opportunity) of studying a stock in the context of its industry or peers. This was among the strongest encouragements that a nation of investors heard from George Nicholson, Jr. CFA — widely regarded as the grandfather of the modern investment club movement. Another professional investor, David L. Babson, contributed a series of columns to Better Investing magazine, starting in 1960 and continuing for a few decades. One of his favorite industries was Specialty Chemicals and he believed that virtually every investor should have a stake in this industry … suggesting that if “chemistry is life” then it follows that industry leaders in this realm ought to be candidates for long-term portfolios. We’ll kick off this series with a look at Pharmacy Services, because we think Mr. Babson would concur that this is an area to discover, shop/study and own … for as long as it makes sense to do so.

“The Pharmacy Services Industry has historically been viewed as a safe haven for investors seeking steady growth and preservation of capital. However, things have changed a bit in recent times, owing to the aging of the American population and an altered industry landscape. These stocks now have more of a growth profile than they had in the past. There is much opportunity for expansion, with billions of dollars in business up for grabs. But there is also greater competition, coming from every direction, as even non-traditional channels are looking to get in on the act… an evolving industry…” — Value Line

The companies in this industry are generally either large drug chains — Walgreen (WAG) and CVS Health (CVS) — or pharmacy benefits managers, or PBMs — Express Scripts (ESRX) — … or some combination of the two. In many cases it’s a classic brick-and-mortar story where the corner drug store is battling the “Amazons” of online/mail-order prescriptions. And of course, those “corner drug stores” have their own web segments and/or alliances in the drug supply chain.

Pressure to stay competitive has prompted some in the industry to think outside the box and use acquisitions to gain access to a bigger scope of business.

Prescription growth rate is a indicator of a promising field of opportunity for the combatants in this industry. Demographics point to a rise in the number of Americans aged 65 and older over the next two decades. Increasingly, Baby Boomers will require medical care and pharmaceuticals, auguring well for the industry’s sales and earnings prospects. The largest pharmacy services providers are best positioned to reap the coming rewards. We repeat … field of opportunity.


As shown in the accompanying graphic, the industry growth rate is approximately 5%. The step change in industry sales between 2011 and 2012 is the acquisition of Medco by Express Scripts.


It’s a battle in progress out there. It might even be a war. The industry profitability seems capable of restoring to the 3% level, with a nod to the 3.5-4.0% contest being waged between WAG and CVS. It’s interesting to look back at Monsters Being Created and how these industry giants have fared since our September 2008 cover story.

Projected P/E Ratio

The industry average P/E ratio is approximately 15.0x for companies as they reach maturity. CVS Health and Walgreen rate a premium nod as they continue to dominate the profitability roost.

Return Forecasts and Quality Perspective

The accompanying Instant Industry Study has been sorted by Quality (Descending). We generally find it most rewarding and better sleeping conditions to shop at the top of the list. The return forecasts (Projected Annual Return, or PAR) are fairly subdued. The average return forecast is currently 6% — so these aren’t much to write home about. This is mainly due to a strong five year run where the Drug Retailers index has gained approximately 21-22% (annualized) over the last five years.

So … patience is a good idea to wait for one of these industry leaders to display an attractive return forecast — either via a stock price reduction and/or a boosting of fundamentals to strengthen the expectations.

This Week at MANIFEST (12/26/2014)

Merry Christmas! Bless Us, EVERYONE!

Holidays. We have much to be thankful for … notably the smiles on the faces of investors who have persisted through the Great Recession and experienced/realized fairly massive returns over the last few years. As we approach the end of our 10th year at Manifest Investing, all of us extend the warmest Seasons Greetings to all of you!

We’re already looking forward to celebrating our 10th birthday — and the launch of our 11th year — as Groundhog Day 2015 (2/2/2015) approaches. We’ll celebrate in a variety of ways, continuing to extoll the virtues of investment clubs and community-centered investing. The Round Tables will be part of that and we’re thankful for the contributions of Ken Kavula, Cy Lynch and Hugh McManus. We’re equally thankful for our guest damsels and knights: Kim Butcher, Herb Lemcool, Susan Maciolek, Anne Manning, Matt Spielman, Nick Stratigos … and last but certainly not least, our audiences who cast their votes monthly. You guys are the BEST.

We’re planning additional festivities which you’ll be hearing about soon. And you can listen for the sound of reindeer on your roof knowing that you’re in the hands of Kurt Kowitz, our technology manager. We’ve said it before, but without Kurt, the cost to deliver Manifest Investing to you would increase by at least one digit, maybe two. We’ll be unwrapping some cool gifts soon … and the prototype tinkering with the Equity Analysis Guides is likely the tip of a features iceberg. Thanks, Kurt!

For now, we nudge you as you unwrap this week’s batch … and we share a compendium of correspondence. You are not alone.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

A Bridge To Better Understanding

We’ve shared similar letters of consternation from investors in the past … and they come in many flavors. One of our all-time favorites was our visit to Narnia and our suggestion that The Couch Is Alright. Another memorable exchange came with “Nell” as we helped her to Make It Through The Night.

Where am I going wrong? I check out a stock, like it, and check it out on Manifest Stock Research. It looks good, you like it too. For confirmation I dig deeper — and [audit and verify assumptions using MyStudy]. Next thing I know, I feel like I get shot down when you show four or more reasons why the company is not worth an investment and say the quality is not to our standards. Is one screen looking at long term and the other at short term? Are you practicing April Fool tricks five months early?

We asked for an example. Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI) was provided. CBI is actually a very compelling opportunity. There are some strong market drivers, long term. And the company is part of this week’s update batch — so let’s take a closer look.

I’m wondering where we differ. The PAR is 20-25% or so — making it somewhat speculative. The global recession has taken its toll with a fairly substantial price drop over the last several months. (From $89.20 down to $37.78 … -58%)

I don’t know but I wonder if investors and pundits are troubled over the Shaw acquisition?

Here’s a look at a Value Line data-based Equity Analysis Guide for CBI:

Be sure to account for the Shaw acquisition in your analysis. (This means you probably have to ignore anything before 2012 on a traditional SSG.) The step change in sales in 2012 was due to buying Shaw. When imagining what the future holds, be sure to emphasize the information that deals with the new, combined, company.

That could also lead to some significant differences between your study and the analyst consensus.

S&P has a fair value of $80.80 (recently adjusted downward from $87), so they think it’s significantly under priced at $41.

Thanks for the suggestion but, while I only mentioned one example when writing you, the same thing occurred over fifteen investigations. It leaves you with the feeling the entire market is overpriced so it might be better to hibernate until the pull back. I was particularly disturbed over CBI as they seemed a good candidate. Perhaps Lady Luck will lead me to a candidate where research and analysis will both agree. Thanks for your input.

Although luck is definitely involved in investing … we can look beyond Lady Luck a bit.

I think we’re seeing a symptom that’s related to the recent run in stock prices. This has been going on at the same time as an erosion of fundamentals. We’ve commented on this before — noting that in many cases, the only way to realize these return forecasts is if relatively high P/E ratios come home to roost.

I think CBI is a great candidate. The price has dropped enough to capture the attention of Hugh McManus. (grin)

Seriously, for a non-core stock (but one with relatively high quality) we need to demand a higher return forecast when considering purchase. We also must admit that a persistent or deepening recession will do things to CBI that are similar to 2008-2009. The stock price suggests, at least to me, that many people consider this to be a work already in progress.

If they’re wrong, it’s a heckuva buying opportunity. And for a long term investor with a long term perspective, CBI is probably a lot like BP (BP), Schlumberger (SLB) and others in the oil patch these days. The next year or two could be rough and represent an opportunity for accumulation. But make sure the companies are built for survival if you decide to “go there.”

We feel your frustration but we still believe that a good StockSearch, directed at high-quality companies with elevated return forecasts can do a lot to populate the area underneath just about any investing Christmas tree.

Coming Events and Attractions

Our expanded coverage of the update stocks this month continues as part of our quarter long test drive of this feature and the studies and shared ideas it delivers. Please tell us what you think and feel free to join in the Forum discussions for the deeper dives on some of the stocks.

Save the Date: The December Round Table will be held on December 30 at 8:30 PM ET. Register via:

Round Table Tracking Portfolio

Stocks Likely To Be Covered:

  • Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI)
  • Copa Holdings (CPA)
  • Qualcomm (QCOM)

Companies of Interest: Value Line

The average Value Line low total return forecast for the companies in this week’s update batch is 4.7%.

The number of companies with slightly reduced fundamentals combines with the price increases over the past month to produce some fairly low return forecasts.

Trex (TREX) has been a personal favorite since my Better Investing days … and it leads a lonely group of companies with bolstered fundamentals. As a reminder, we monitor changes in the long term forecasts by Value Line and share those that have been adjusted 20-25% or more (up or down) as “Materially Stronger” (Up) or “Materially Weaker” (Down). We consider this a best practice and a nudge for stock watchers or shareholders to update/audit existing analyses. In some cases, it may trigger a study of opportunity.

Materially Stronger: Trex (TREX)

Materially Weaker: Owens Corning (OC), Layne Christensen (LAYN), Tile Shop Holdings (TTS), Enernoc (ENOC), Rayonier (RYN)

Standard Coverage Initiated:

Discontinued: Kimball (KBALB), Foster Wheeler (FWLT), TIBCO Software (TIBX), Concur Technologies (CNQR), Conversant (CNVR), Compuware (CPWR), URS (URS)

Companies of Interest: Morningstar

The average price-to-fair value (P/FV) ratio at Morningstar for the companies in this week’s update batch is 106%.

Companies of Interest: S&P

The average price-to-fair value for the companies in this week’s update batch is 105% — according to S&P.

Market Barometers

The median Value Line Low Total Return (VLLTR) Forecast is at 3.4%, plummeting from 4.2% last week as the Thanksgiving Swoon gives way to a Christmas Rush of multiple 1-2% daily gains in the overall market.

Stocks to Study

The following update stocks are ranked in the top 10th percentile of all companies we follow (MANIFEST Rank > 90):

Manifest Investing is a subscription site (ONLY $79/year for individual investors).  Contact us (via if you would like to explore our resources as an investment club.  We offer group discounts to clubs.  Discover and explore our research on stocks and funds, our seminars and tools for portfolio design & management.  Experience the demonstrations of a 7-decade old time-honored philosophy and method that has supported legions of long-term investors.  Go to and create a trial account today.  Send us an email if you’d like to access a FREE fully-functional test drive through 2/28/2015 without providing a credit card.  Merry Christmas!

C’mon Christmas! 2014 Buy List

C’mon Christmas Miracle for the 2014 Buy List

Eddy Elfenbein of Crossing Wall Street is widely regarded as one of the best buy-and-hold bloggers on the Internets. Every year in mid-December, he selects (20) stocks to hold for the next calendar year in a tracking portfolio known as his Buy List.

He has outperformed the S&P 500 for the last seven years.

As of 12/17/2014, the 2014 Buy List lags the S&P 500 during 2014 by a little bit … but we’re hopeful for a Christmas miracle. Anybody around here have Carl Icahn on speed dial so we can get some M&A rumors swirling on some of Eddy’s 2014 collection?

Context: You will find that Eddy thinks a lot like “us”. His weekly updates on the Buy List stocks are a worthy addition to the reading list for stock watchers and shareholders. Even if his 2014 Buy List doesn’t break the tape in a photo finish this year, we know better than to gauge anything based on a single year — and it’s here that we see the all-time performance of the Buy List (8 years) is an annualized rate of return of 10.7% vs. 7.3% for the S&P 500 — for a rarified +3.4% relative return.

Here’s a snapshot of the standings going into the stretch:

Crossing Wall Street Challenge

We play along with a couple of dashboards alongside Eddy’s 2014 Buy List with our own entries.

The 2014 Walking Main Street dashboard is quite simply drawn from our (40) most widely-followed stocks (MANIFEST 40), selecting the (20) with the best combination of PAR and quality back on 1/1/2014.

The Expecting Alpha 20 entry is sourced from the universe of ~2400 stocks that we cover — and seeks the (20) with the best combination of Value Line low total return forecast, suitable quality and better-than-average sentiment. It needs a dash of Christmas miracle, too … as 2014 winds down.

2015 Shopping … Auditing … Deciding

Eddy shared a couple of weeks ago that he’s making a list and checking it twice. His usual practice is to drop five of the (20) 2014 Buy List and to select five replacements for them.

We’ll use the dashboard-based sandbox “what if” portfolio design feature to take a look at the five that Eddy has singled out and the (10) replacement candidates that he’s kicking around.

The top 3-4 are pretty much slam dunks and we hope Eddy chooses them. SEIC is a formidable company, a long-time community favorite and has better-than-average potential. The release of IBM (IBM) can’t be easy but there’s not enough dividend there to offset the low growth prospects. Not a cardinal sin, simply a symptom of maturity facing the same global economic challenges as most of the consulting stocks.

We’ll do our 2015 shopping during the final days of 2014, but for now… let’s hope for a strong close for Eddy’s 2014 Buy List and our own Expecting Alpha 20.

Energy Patch: Black Gold or Minefield?

The recent swoon in the energy sector has prompted some to suggest that it’s time to back up the tanker truck — what could possibly go wrong? “All of these companies are on sale.”

Not so fast. As we pointed out in last week’s update, we expected reductions in forecasts from the likes of Morningstar and others and it’s gently underway. As a case in point, Morningstar’s fair value for Schlumberger (SLB) has been recently reduced from $145 to $124. Other companies seem to be following suit. S&P already had suppressed expectations (relative to Value Line and Morningstar) and they have actually trimmed a number of estimates.

As the following graphic shows … after an extended trading range, the price of $BRENT has been pummeled, now down some -42.5% for the trailing 52-weeks:

The S&P energy sector fund (XLE) has been punished also — with some lag — and with less damage, at least so far, as the sector leaders are down -15% over the trailing 52-weeks:

There are 44 companies in XLE and we’ve listed the top 16 here (with one exception … BP is not part of XLE … but we listed BP here in response to the Forum discussions) and you’ll see a number of industry leaders and stalwarts. The majority of companies in XLE are components of the S&P 500. Note that these 16 companies account for 75% of the index performance and the top three: Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and Schlumberger (SLB) account for 40% all by themselves.

Energy Sector Sample. Projected Annual Return (PAR) is the consensus forecast via MANIFEST. Quality ranking is the percentile ranking of our quality characteristic based on financial strength, EPS stability and relative growth and profitability. VL Low Tot Ret is Value Line’s 3-5 year low total return forecast, adjusted for change in price and/or time horizon. Morningstar P/FV is the ratio of current price to Morningstar fair value.

The Morningstar P/FV cells that are highlighted are at least one standard deviation from the median P/FV ratio. These can be thought of as potentially “on sale” or worthy of study. The same highlighting applies to the S&P entries. The solo entry highlighted in red, Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) has a P/FV at least one standard deviation greater than the median — potentially a selling candidate.

Our overall average forecast for the group matches the Value Line low total return forecast. The fair value reductions and continued slide in stock prices deliver an average Morningstar P/FV ratio of 77% but we’d expect further moderation of fundamentals (continued reduction in fair values). S&P is still much less optimistic (91%) with relatively few triggering the highlighted status.

Companies deemed most worthy: Exxon Mobil (XOM), Schlumberger (SLB), National Oilwell Varco (NOV), Halliburton (HAL) and BP (BP).

Sources: Value Line Investment Survey,, Standard & Poor’s

Is it time for some Christmas shopping?

Based on a multi-year chronicle for XLE, the return forecast has now reached a multi-year high — suggestive of one of the better buying opportunities over the last 7-8 years.

As always, quality matters … and the $/bbl trends are not supportive of higher cost producers, like the offshore drillers (yet).

Xle chronicle 20141212

“Oil Patch” Screening Results

… because it’s not just oil. In fact, there may be some opportunity in companies that are less directly affected by the OPEC smoldering. In any case, here’s a quick shop until you drop for the energy sector:

Oil patch screen 20141212

Invest With Your Friends

Happy Birthday, bivio!

Expected Returns Cover Story … first posted on September 1st, 2009.  We revisit this feature today as we celebrate bivio’s 15th birthday and honor their service to legions of investment clubs and individual investors with the best service and most cost-effective record keeping software and support network for investment partnerships.  We’ve known you since day one. You’re simply the best!

In his own words, Nicholson talked of investment clubs as his “Grand Experiment.” Their purpose? Education. Period.

The talking heads are obsessing over Septembers nearly ten years ago or one year ago when massive upheaval in the financial markets was ramping up. In the end, the demise of household names like Lehman, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch would go on to prove that this was no ‘speed bump’ in history. My thoughts drift to other foundations as autumn approaches, to nearly 70 years ago when a small group of young men wandered into the office of a professional investor in Detroit. “We want to learn how to invest.” “OK, but we’re gonna have some rules of engagement: we’ll operate professionally in a business-like manner, we’ll invest regularly and we’ll stay invested as long as it makes sense to do so in leadership growth companies …”

bivio: “where two roads meet” We first met the key players at MANIFEST business partner, bivio, over ten years ago. Their mission then and their mission now is to create an environment of success for groups of investors. As their tenth birthday approaches, we look forward to what the future holds for investors.

bivio is a web-delivered application, enabling groups of individual investors to create and manage their own investment clubs – it’s like creating your own personal mutual fund. By making the administrative tasks easier, bivio has succeeded in widening the learning window. We look forward to working with them, building on that foundation and resources.

All the things I remember, Summers never looked the same …
Years go by and time just seems to fly, but the memories remain.
In the middle of September, We still play out in the rain. — Daughtry.

That autumn day in 1941 in Detroit was a critical moment in the modern investment club moment. The professional investor was George Nicholson, Jr. CFA and the principals went on to form the National Association of Investors ten years later. Some of you may wonder why our attention focuses so much on investment clubs. We clearly appreciate that some of you are not clubbers. That said, the vast majority of our subscribers are either active or have been active in an investing partnership.

Shortly after joining the Better Investing staff as senior contributing editor back in 1997, I worked with the Motley Fool founders on an article that proclaimed that was the world’s largest investment club. My Foolish friends were wrong. I followed shortly thereafter with an article that hailed technological advances and declared that the umbrella organization had become one big investment club. I, too, was wrong.

The heart and spirit are in the right place … and the power of Community is incredibly important. Look no further than our discussion of the “Wisdom of Communities” (Expected Returns, June 2008) or our back-to-school features and tributes to tradition like Muskrat Pageantry (ER, March 2008.)

In his own words, Nicholson talked of investment clubs as his “Grand Experiment.” Their purpose? Education. Period.

Building Better Futures

Let me be clear. We know that people engage learning opportunities in a variety of ways. Whether from reading books, attending classes, poking around online, observing best practices from successful individuals … it’s a long list. The genesis of investment clubs was clearly centered on a learn-by-doing experience by leaning on friends.

And that’s what wrong with the previous articles. Our family attends a church where 28,000 people can show up for worship on Christmas and Easter. I can’t imagine learning-by-doing with a group that large. Hence, we form small groups where “we” comes to life. Clubs (We) cultivate patience and discipline while seeking the opportunities achieved by incrementally better returns. It’s quite literally the stuff that dreams are made of.

The Genesis of Clubs

Nicholson shared in later years that the motivation for Fred Russell and the other young men was quite literally, freedom. Russell dreamed of the day when he could walk away from his day job to operate his own business. This ultimately became reality as he went on to a Howard Johnson franchise in years ahead.

Here is the core of the modern investment club movement:

1. Provide a way for many people to start an investment program in a small way, without too much experience, and build their investment knowledge to the point where they have the ability to acquire a sizable investment portfolio and manage it profitably.

2. Broaden the awareness and interest of individuals in the ownership of equities … in many cases, this takes shape as members/practitioners have as great an interest in helping others to learn about [effective] investing.

Most clubs form as a general partnership and suggest that their partners invest relatively small amounts ($20-50, usually) on a monthly basis into the club portfolio. In fact, if you’re visiting and considering joining a club and the figure is much higher than that — caveat emptor. It’s not about the total assets, it’s always been about growing the unit value at superior rate.

In the early days of investment clubs, think about the environment. The participants were still using slide rules and doing multiplication and division by hand. (Gasp) It was difficult to buy stocks in “odd lots” and commissions were substantial on these 100-share increments.

One of the earliest drivers was the pooling of the finances, enabling a lower cost ratio than individuals could achieve on their own. The intent was to spread out expenses.

But the “pooling” didn’t stop there. Think about access to information. Company reports were hard to obtain and clubs divided up the odyssey and the analysis for survival.

The Mutual Club of Detroit provides one of the standards of excellence. One member has donated $20/month since February 1948 building an account that reached seven digits (despite a fair number of significant withdrawals to fund life experiences) and a rate of return of approximately 13% since inception.

Model Behavior. Demonstration investment clubs, like the Brighton (Michigan) group meet monthly to explore and learn together. The club dashboard is one of the published portfolios available at MANIFEST. The club is education-centered and led by a group of volunteers from the southeastern Michigan region.

Fast forward to today. Transaction costs have plummeted and access to investment information has literally exploded. A couple of the original drivers of the “Grand Experiment” have changed pretty dramatically.

At The Crossroads

What hasn’t changed is (1) the business-like approach and (2) the incredible learning power of collaboration within the Community.

Enter bivio. One of the treasures delivered is effective accounting support. Keeping the club and individual records and generating a tax return with a couple clicks means that a very special resource is redistributed to club partners … TIME.

With administrative tasks reduced to background music, time is liberated to explore and seek better investing opportunities. The record-keeping is still crucial but the emphasis shifts to learning-by-doing, together with friends. Investing better.

And dancing in the September rain, with our friends, is what our investing journey is really all about.

At bivio, “Bags Fly Free” there are no hidden annual charges to file annual tax reporting.  Explore the resources at and experience investing with some new friends.

This Week at MANIFEST (12/12/2014)

Just One Thing

We took a few moments during the red carpet session during the February 2011 Round Table to celebrate Jack Palance and Billy Crystal. Specifically, we focused on the scene from City Slickers where Jack shares secrets of life with Billy Crystal — focusing on that ONE THING. In that spirit we encouraged the knights and damsels for their one thing in the realm of long-term investing.

1. Anne Manning shared that it’s SHARING. “The longer I do this, the more I learn. And this group of long-term investors is so helpful, so warm that it makes a challenge less challenging.”

2. Mark Robertson shared that it’s simply the power of TIME. “TIME is not a 4-letter word. TIMING is a 4-letter word.” “The longer I do this, the more I’m able to put speed bumps and bubbles into context and remain focused on the long-term perspective.”

3. Cy Lynch would single out PATIENT DISCIPLINE. He shared his story of being patient with a promising home improvement in the Atlanta area back when the enterprise had 4-8 locations. The company bought a group of stores in the New Orleans area to expand geographically and the stock price tanked. The rest of the story is that Cy still owns many shares of Home Depot — AFTER distributing many shares along the way to his favorite philanthropic causes. (Cy is apparently the Susan Lucci of these award programs. He doesn’t have the highest or lowest performing selections … he’s a rock near the middle of the pack — although he’d admit that he’s ready for Bio-Reference Labs to take off.)

4. Ken Kavula centered on the small company philosophy, reinforcing that there’s powerful motivation behind the recipe to include a blend of small, faster-growing companies in the mix with blue chip, slower-growing stalwarts. It’s also possible — and very, very highly recommended — to be stubborn about quality when dealing with the promising companies. During the program, Ken shared that his purchase of PRAA dates back to 2003-2004 and was probably inspired by the Forbes Best Small Company list at that time.

5. Hugh McManus: “Patience is genius in disguise.”

Coming Events and Attractions

We’ll continue our expanded coverage of the update stocks this month as part of our quarter long test drive of this feature and the studies and shared ideas it delivers. Please tell us what you think and feel free to join in the Forum discussions for the deeper dives on some of the stocks.

Save the Date: The December Round Table will be held on December 30 at 8:30 PM ET. Register via:

Companies of Interest: Value Line

The average Value Line low total return forecast for the companies in this week’s update batch is 3.0%.

Materially Stronger: None.

Materially Weaker: Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF), Seattle Genetics (SGEN), Allscripts Healthcare (MDRX), Huntington Ingalls (HII)

Coverage Initiated:


Name Change: Wellpoint (WLP) is now Anthem (ANTM)

Companies of Interest: Morningstar

The average price-to-fair value (P/FV) ratio at Morningstar for the companies in this week’s update batch is 107%.

It’s clearly not Black Friday … and we left a few of the significantly overpriced (by virtue of nosebleed P/FV ratios) on the list.

Companies of Interest: S&P

The average price-to-fair value for the companies in this week’s update batch is 96% — according to S&P. That’s a significantly different opinion than Morningstar, in general … and again.

Market Barometers

The median Value Line Low Total Return (VLLTR) Forecast is at 3.7% — unchanged from 3.7% last week.

Stocks to Study

The following update stocks are ranked in the top 10th percentile of all companies we follow (MANIFEST Rank > 90) and this display provides a wide berth of dueling opinions, as usual.

This Week at MANIFEST (12/5/2014)

Wild Rides, Cyber Monday!

That dull thud we all heard over the Thanksgiving holiday was the energy sector turkey. As shown above, the energy sector took it on the chin to the tune of an 11% swoon as OPEC maintained production levels providing some hefty turbulence. As the following two charts illustrate, few companies in the group were immune from the carnage. Exxon Mobil (XOM) is actually one of the tamer examples from the sessions as these 5-day charts show the disruption.

But it appears that Monday is already bringing some relief … or at least a frozen turkey bounce for some of the higher quality companies in the group …

This week’s update batch (Issue 3 in the Value Line Investment Survey for those keeping score) includes a number of the affected companies. We note several things. First of all, the forecast fundamentals for a number of these companies were already being trimmed by the Value Line analysts. It will be interesting to watch over the next quarter to see if expectations continue to be reduced. We’ve often noted a bifurcation between Morningstar and S&P when it comes to the cyclical stocks — particularly in the energy industry. In this case, Friday’s swoon delivers a price-to-fair value ratio of 91% at Morningstar, essentially screaming something on the order of a Black Friday rush. S&P says “not so fast.” The S&P price-to-fair value ratio is actually greater than 100% (101%) and S&P has been steadily and materially reducing their fair value estimates for the energy stocks over the last few weeks and months. We tend to favor the S&P cyclical expertise in a tiebreaker … so we’d urge caution and an insistence on high-quality during opportunity shopping.

As Hugh has pointed out, BP (BP) was among the tumblers and probably rates fairly well as a long-term opportunity. Exxon Mobil (XOM) is among the study candidates also along with some of the other integrated blue chippers. Keep in mind that Hugh normalizes versus the 52-week low, seeking opportunities when stock prices are near their trailing 52-week lows. Hugh’s spreadsheets compare current prices to their 52-week lows. The accompanying charts for S&P and Morningstar do the same thing — but the comparison is between the current price and the fair value. Less than 100% is potentially attractive, unless it gets “too low.” Stocks in the sweet spot would likely fall into a P/FV ratio of 80-90% representing a discount to fair value of 10-20%.

Coming Events and Attractions

We will catch up on the final November columns and we’ll be out with the December issue of Expected Returns this week.

We’ll continue our expanded coverage of the update stocks this month as part of our quarter long test drive of this feature and the studies and shared ideas it delivers. Please tell us what you think and feel free to join in the Forum discussions for the deeper dives on some of the stocks.

Save the Date: The December Round Table will be held on December 30 at 8:30 PM ET. Register via:

Companies of Interest: Value Line

The average Value Line low total return forecast for the companies in this week’s update batch is 2.8%.

Materially Stronger: Zebra Technologies (ZBRA)

Materially Weaker: Rhino Resource Partners (RNO), Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE), Gulfmark Offshore (GLF), UGI (UGI), Kronos World (KRO), Marathon Oil (MRO)

Coverage Initiated: Methanex (MEOH), Concho Resources (CXO)

Discontinued: Walter Energy (WLT)

Companies of Interest: Morningstar

The average price-to-fair value (P/FV) ratio at Morningstar for the companies in this week’s update batch is 91%!

It will be interesting to see if the Morningstar analysts make any downward adjustments in fair value for the energy stocks during this turbulent ride.

Southwestern Energy (SWN) checks in at 55% — a stock that Morningstar apparently believes is significantly undervalued.

Companies of Interest: S&P

The average price-to-fair value for the companies in this week’s update batch is 101% — according to S&P.

There are always a couple of things to check during a swoon. One is whether the perceived opportunity is too good to be true. Companies with P/FV ratios less than 70% … or PAR values greater than 16% come to mind. The other is when companies are guilty by association when they don’t deserve it. Is it possible that Imperial Oil (IMO) should be less affected?

Ecolab (ECL) makes the S&P short list at a P/FV of 89% and a quality ranking of 86 — suggesting that it may be worthy of further study.

Market Barometers

The median Value Line Low Total Return (VLLTR) Forecast is at 3.7% — unchanged from 3.7% last week.

Stocks to Study

The following update stocks are ranked in the top 10th percentile of all companies we follow (MANIFEST Rank > 90) and this display provides a wide berth of dueling opinions, as usual.