Magic Formula Stocks for July

It’s hard to take something called a “Magic Formula” seriously.  But you should.  It’s beaten the market by a wide margin over the past two decades and with less volatility.

The Magic Formula—a stock screener designed by hedge fund guru Joel Greenblatt –ranks stocks by two factors:

  1. Profitability (based on Greenblatt’s chosen metric, Return on Capital)
  2. Earnings yield (the inverse of the P/E ratio, defined here by Greenblatt as EBIT / Enterprise Value)

Buying good, profitable companies at cheap prices is not exactly a revolutionary idea; this is what Warren Buffett has successfully done for decades.   But Greenblatt has created a systematic way to do it, and most of the heavily lifting of number crunching is done by the screener.

By Greenblatt’s analysis, the Magic Formula generates annual returns in excess of 30% per year.  Independent back tests have generally come up with smaller returns, though the general consensus is that the Magic Formula does indeed beat the market, even after taxes and transactions costs are taken into effect.

For the casual investor, Greenblatt recommends buying a portfolio of 20-30 Magic Formula stocks, holding for one year, and then re-running the process annually.  That’s one way to do it.  But I prefer to use Greenblatt’s screener as a starting point for ideas.  I like to see which sectors are overweighted on the screen.  And while I am not a big fan of technical analysis and charting, I do take a quick look at a chart to see what the stock price is doing.  It’s usually a bad idea to try to catch the proverbial falling knife; all else equal, I like to see a stock in the early stages of a new uptrend.

So with all of this said, let’s take a peek at which stocks make the Magic Formula cut as of July.  I ran a screen of for the top 30 Magic Formula stocks with market caps over $1 billion, and here are the results:

Company

Ticker

Abbott Laboratories

$ABT

Activision Blizzard Inc

$ATVI

Apollo Group Inc

$APOL

Apple Inc

$AAPL

Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp

$BAH

CACI International Inc.

$CACI

CF Industries Holdings Inc

$CF

Chemed Corp

$CHE

Cirrus Logic Inc.

$CRUS

Cisco Systems Inc

$CSCO

Dell Inc

$DELL

Deluxe Corp

$DLX

Fluor Corp.

$FLR

GameStop Corp.

$GME

Herbalife Ltd

$HLF

InterDigital Inc

$IDCC

Lender Processing Services Inc

$LPS

Lorillard Inc

$LO

Microsoft Corp

$MSFT

Northrop Grumman Corp

$NOC

PDL BioPharma Inc

$PDLI

Pitney Bowes Inc.

$PBI

Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc.

$QCOR

Raytheon Co.

$RTN

SAIC Inc

$SAI

Seagate Technology Plc

$STX

Unisys Corp

$UIS

United Therapeutics Corp

$UTHR

Valassis Communications Inc.

$VCI

Weight Watchers International Inc.

$WTW

 

A few names jump off the list, such as former market darling Apple (AAPL).  It’s a strange world  in which the second-largest company in the world by market cap appears in a value stock screen with a strong bias towards small caps.  But Apple is cheap enough—and profitable enough—to make the cut.

After spending most of the fourth quarter of last year in free fall, Apple has traded in a range of 400-450 for most of this year.  Could the stock have further to fall?  Absolutely. But it fits the Magic Formula criteria, and the price seems to have a fairly hard floor just below $400.

Apple’s old PC nemesis Microsoft (MSFT) also made the list, as did Cisco Systems (CSCO)—both of which I own in my dividend-focused portfolios.

Technology companies make up a full third of the screen.  In addition to the three I already noted, video game maker Activision Blizzard (ATVI), enterprise IT solutions companies CACI (CACI) and Unisys Corporation (UIS), semiconductor maker Cirrus Logic (CRUS), computer manufacturer  Dell (DELL), cyber security firm SAIC (SAI) and hard drive manufacturer Seagate Technologies (STX) made the screen.

Health and nutritionals company Abbott Labs (ABT)—a Sizemore Capital holding—also made the cut, as did Big Tobacco firm Lorillard (LO) and defense giant Northrop Grumman (NOC).

There are a couple points to note here.  First, cheap companies—even those with high returns on capital—can stay cheap for a long time.  Microsoft and Lorillard have both been regular fixtures on the Magic Formula screen for several years.  (Of course, both have also beaten the S&P by a healthy margin over the past five years, so duration of time on the list is not necesarily a bad thing.)

Second, some companies are not really investable at this point, or at least shouldn’t be.  I’ll use Dell as an example.  Given that Dell is currently in the midst of heated dispute over whether to take the company private, this is probably a company you should avoid.

I might also add that you don’t have to use my screen.  Greenblatt allows you to set a much lower market cap minimum (as low as $50 million), though you’ll want to be careful when trading in small, illiquid stocks.  And you can also expand the list from 30 to 50 stocks to give yourself a larger pool to research.

One final note: the math behind the Magic Formula is explained in Greenblatt’s book, The Little Book that Beats the Market

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Disclaimer: This material is provided for informational purposes only, as of the date hereof, and is subject to change without notice. This material may not be suitable for all investors and is not intended to be an offer, or the solicitation of any offer, to buy or sell any securities nor is it intended to be investment advice. You should speak to a financial advisor before attempting to implement any of the strategies discussed in this material. There is risk in any investment in traded securities, and all investment strategies discussed in this material have the possibility of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The author of the material or a related party will often have an interest in the securities discussed. Please see Full Disclaimer for a full disclaimer.

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