Saturday, September 24, 2011

Which half of the S&P500 is best?

People have done studies in the past of selecting stocks based on fundamental metrics like PE, price-to-sales, etc.  From what I've read, those studies show that buying the cheaper stocks is a winning strategy over the long run.  If you divide up the S&P500 into two halves by various metrics, you can aggregate the companies' sales, earnings, etc to get a view into what a holding company that held each of these companies would look like.  Below are a selection of details on these virtual companies, made up by taking the bottom or top 250 companies by various metrics.

Some results are obvious (ie. taking the lowest price-to-sales gives you a lower price-to-sales).  You may also wonder "what about growth?" - it is true that growth is not reflected in these numbers (the expectations for it are reflected through higher prices of course).  At the level of 250 companies in the S&P500, however, it seems unwise to expect a lot of value-creating growth, but I accept this nonetheless as an important caveat to the numbers below.

Here are some observations I found interesting:
  • The dividend yield is fairly similar unless you select for yield, in which case the high dividend half has a lower PE, but significantly higher ROE.  This highlights that maintaining a high ROE in companies that re-invest all their money back into the business is often difficult.
  • You can buy 65% of the earnings of the S&P500 for only 52% of the market cap (first two columns) - I was surprised to see this half has the same margins, and even slightly higher ROE.  The main downside seems to be a noticeably higher liability-to-assets ratio.

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