Benjamin Graham’s seven time-tested criteria to identify strong value stocks
Value investing, perhaps more than any other type of investing, is more concerned with the fundamentals of a company’s business than its stock price or market factors affecting its price. One of the earliest proponents of this fundamentals-based value investing strategy was Benjamin Graham in the 1920s.
The details of this value strategy are spelled out clearly in his book, “The Intelligent Investor,” published 71 years ago. The objective of Graham’s strategy is to identify unappreciated stocks and show you how to find undervalued stocks that meet certain criteria for quality and quantity … stocks that are poised for stellar price appreciation.
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Benjamin Graham Value Stock Criteria List:
Value Criteria #1: Quality Rating
Look for a quality rating that is average or better. You don’t need to find the best quality companies–average or better is fine. Benjamin Graham recommended using Standard & Poor’s rating system and required companies to have an S&P Earnings and Dividend Rating of B or better. The S&P rating system ranges from D to A+. Stick to stocks with ratings of B+ or better, just to be on the safe side.
Value Criteria #2: Debt to Current Asset Ratio
Benjamin Graham advised buying companies with Total Debt to Current Asset ratios of less than 1.10. In value investing it is important at all times to invest in companies with a low debt load. Total Debt to Current Asset ratios can be found in data supplied by Standard & Poor’s, Value Line, and many other services.
Value Criteria #3: Current Ratio
Check the Current Ratio (current assets divided by current liabilities) to find companies with ratios over 1.50. This is a common ratio provided by many investment services.
Value Criteria #4: Positive earnings per share growth
Criteria four is simple: Find companies with positive earnings per share growth during the past five years with no earnings deficits. Earnings need to be higher in the most recent year than five years ago. Avoiding companies with earnings deficits during the past five years will help you stay clear of high-risk companies.
Value Criteria #5: Price to earnings per share (P/E) ratio
Invest in companies with price to earnings per share (P/E) ratios of 9.0 or less. Look for companies that are selling at bargain prices. Finding companies with low P/Es usually eliminates high growth companies, which should be evaluated using growth investing techniques.
Value Criteria #6: Price to book value (P/BV)
Find companies with price to book value (P/BV) ratios less than 1.20. P/E ratios, mentioned in rule 5, can sometimes be misleading. P/BV ratios are calculated by dividing the current price by the most recent book value per share for a company. Book value provides a good indication of the underlying value of a company. Investing in stocks selling near or below their book value makes sense.
Value Criteria #7: Dividends
Invest in companies that are currently paying dividends. Investing in undervalued companies requires waiting for other investors to discover the bargains you have already found. Sometimes your wait period will be long and tedious, but if the company pays a decent dividend, you can sit back and collect dividends while you wait patiently for your stock to go from undervalued to overvalued.
One last thought. We like to find out why a stock is selling at a bargain price. Is the company competing in an industry that is dying? Is the company suffering from a setback caused by an unforeseen problem? The most important question, though, is whether the company’s problem is short-term or long-term and whether management is aware of the problem and taking action to correct it. You can put your business acumen to work to determine if management has an adequate plan to solve the company’s current problems.
Follow these seven value investing principles, and you’ll invest like Benjamin Graham. With luck, perhaps you’ll have the same kind of success he enjoyed!
How have you used Benjamin Graham’s criteria to pick stocks and succeed? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.
Timothy Lutts heads one of America’s most respected independent investment advisory services. Each week, Tim personally picks the single best stock in his exclusive Cabot Stock of the Week advisory. Build your wealth and reduce your risk with the top stock each week for current market conditionsLearn More
*This post was originally published in 2016 and is periodically updated.