Value Investing / Main Index / previous / next

November, 2012


Assuming the investor acquires a diversified portfolio, a mere handful of screening criteria may be sufficient for picking good equities. One of these measures is the current ratio (CR), defined as a company's current assets divided by its current debts. The higher the ratio, the more easily an enterprise can meet its short-term obligations, the more liquid it is, and the more funds are at its disposal for new investments, paying dividends, research and development, and so forth.

There has been a bit of controversy about the utility of higher current ratio securities selection in recent years, since in the run-up to some of our more dramatic bear markets executives have not infrequently used bigger reserves for unfortunate ends, such as paying fat upper echelon bonuses at the expense of the shareholders, buying back stock at inflated valuations, or swallowing up costly smaller companies whose operations may provide little or no synergies, efficiency, or profitability once combined with the purchasing corporation's activities. For the value enthusiast, a remedy for this hazard is apparent: choose assets which have both sufficiently high current ratios and low enough price to value that a collection of such investments is more likely to prove lucrative than to succumb to the natural tendencies of dumb managements.

Value investing pioneer, Benjamin Graham, whose firm demonstrated average returns of about 15% annually over several decades, advocated purchasing shares in companies with current ratios of 2 or more, in other words with at least twice as much in current reserves as its current liabilities. To this minimum CR criterion he would combine such other value factors as reasonably low price to book value, low debt to equity, low price to earnings, high dividends, and/or positive net income.

According to Janet Lowe, in her book, Value Investing Made Easy, these tried and true principles, first explained during the Great Depression in Graham and Dodd's Security Analysis, remain effective means of finding moneymaking investments today.

Thanks to the rules of supply and demand and the value investing approach now being better known, as a percentage of the market fewer companies' shares meet the original standards Ben Graham advocated. However, these opportunities are as yet not rare. Further, the internet makes screening for them far easier than when Graham and his partners would send for and read the prospectuses of hundreds of companies to locate the gems they were seeking. While I certainly cannot claim the investment genius of a Ben Graham or of a Graham disciple, Warren Buffett, the following companies' shares do look appealing to me, based on their having reasonably high current ratios and other promising value factors:

Higher Current Ratio Assets*

Company NameStock
Price to
Price to
Debt to
Gulfmark Offshore, Inc.GLF4.34$27.610.7215.200.370.00%
Hardinge, Inc.HDNG2.33$8.770.657.700.140.90%
Harmony Gold Mining Co., Ltd.HMY2.28$7.730.8411.110.051.50%
Sasol, Ltd.SSL2.12$41.651.859.410.136.50%
Zoltek Companies, Inc.ZOLT4.75$6.240.749.600.100.00%
(*All stats are effective close of trading 11/16/12)

The above presented companies and their ratios are intended only as a first view of potential purchase candidates. It is hoped that investors will rely on trusted financial consultants and/or do their own due diligence before buying any securities.

An even better indicator of good prospects exists for a stock for which the value of the current ratio is rising relative to the average CR reported over the previous four quarters. Among the above cited stocks, this is true for GLF, HMY, and ZOLT. Though it does not meet all the criteria I use for the stocks in the table, another interesting candidate with a rising current ratio is Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (REGI) ($5.12).

One can find different recommendations concerning how many value stocks to keep in one's portfolio. A Warren Buffett may acquire substantial holdings in only a few, benefiting from the higher returns likely from a more concentrated basket of successful assets. However, Buffett has the means to determine just when best to "swing," and he can and does wait for years till the "pitches" are exactly what he is seeking. For people willing to sift through equity opportunities yet possessing more average skills and resources for the game, a gradually built up portfolio of around 30 or more stocks makes sense in my view. As a maturing collection of stocks provides good gains, so that some no longer are at bargain levels, they may be sold and replaced in turn with new assets meeting one's value criteria, including perhaps a high current ratio.

Meanwhile, in this season of Thanksgiving, it is not inappropriate to be appreciative for the banquet of mentoring which has come down to us over the years from a host of value investing specialists: Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, Charles Munger, John Templeton, Jason Zweig, David Dodd, Walter Schloss, Tweedy Browne, Inc., Bill Ruane, John Train, and Stan Perlmeter, to but suggest a sample.


Larry is not a professional. Don't take him seriously!

Actually, the investment article provided here is for general information only and should not be considered as professional advice, a solicitation to buy or sell any security, or the Word of God. Investors are encouraged to do their own research while considering their personal goals and circumstances, or consult their own professional financial advisors, before making investment decisions. Neither Larry nor LARVALBUG will be liable for any losses sustained by any visitor to this site.

(Disclosure statement: Larry and Val have holdings in some of the suggested assets but do not "make a market" in any of them and do not derive any direct benefit from recommending them, except perhaps for a bit of smug self-satisfaction.)

Value Investing / Main Index / previous / next