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5 Graham Stocks for 2008
[Graham Stocks for 2009]

Over the past seven years I've used my take on Benjamin Graham's time-tested strategy for defensive investors to uncover undervalued U.S. stocks. I'm pleased to say that the overall results have been stellar and last year's numbers were outstanding.

The performance of each year's Graham stocks, the performance of the S&P500 (as tracked by the SPY exchange-traded fund), and the difference between the two is shown in Table 1. You can see that the Graham stocks have beaten the S&P500 in six of the last seven years and often by a substantial margin. An investor who bought each year's Graham stocks, sold, and then bought the next crop of stocks would have gained 507% (or 32% annually**) whereas a buy and hold investment in SPY units would have gained only 22%.

Year*Graham S&P500 +/-
2000 - 200120.4%-22.2%42.6
2001 - 200228.2%-15.1%43.3
2002 - 200356.8%16.5%40.3
2003 - 200432.2%9.4% 22.8
2004 - 2005 46.6% 12.8% 33.8
2005 - 2006 -3.8% 10.7% -14.5
2006 - 2007 34.4% 16.1% 18.3
Overall 506.6% 22.0%
* Indicates the time between articles and not calendar years.

Graham described his method for defensive investors in his book The Intelligent Investor, which has been in bookstores for more than fifty years. While Graham passed away in 1976, an updated edition of The Intelligent Investor (ISBN 0060555661) with new commentary from veteran Money Magazine columnist Jason Zweig is now in bookstores. The original text is thankfully presented in its entirety. Zweig's commentary is thoughtfully separated from Graham's work and is placed in copious footnotes at the end of each chapter. If you don't already have a copy of The Intelligent Investor then this is the version to get.

Because Graham's original rules for defensive investors are very strict, I've used a slightly looser version. My Graham-inspired rules are shown in Table 2. For example, I require some dividend growth over the last five years whereas Graham demanded a twenty-year record of uninterrupted dividend payments. Similarly I decided to focus on five-year earnings growth instead of ten-year earnings growth largely because five-year growth is easily found in many free internet stock screeners.

1. P/E Ratio less than 15
2. P/Book Ratio less than 1.5
3. Book Value more than 0.01
4. Current Ratio more than 2
5. Annual EPS Growth (5-Yr Avg) more than 3%
6. 5-Year Dividend Growth more than 0%
7. 5-Year P/E Low more than 0.01
8. 1-Year Revenue more than $400 Million

Even with my less-stringent version of Graham's rules, very few U.S. stocks usually pass the test. Indeed, the list peaked at 10 stocks in 2002 and then bottomed out at 2 stocks in 2003. This year there are 5 stocks to choose from down from 8 stocks last year. That's out of thousands of potential candidates.

The current crop of Graham stocks is shown in Table 3. It is a good idea to look for some indication that the situation has remained largely unchanged before investing because of the time lag between my analysis and the article's publication. Similarly, be on the look out for problems that might not be reflected in a company's latest numbers by studying news stories, press releases, and regulatory filings.

TABLE 3: U.S. stocks that pass Graham-inspired rules
CompanyPrice ($)P/EP/E 5-Yr LowP/BAnnual EPS Growth (%)Current RatioD/E1-Yr Revenue ($M)5-Yr Dividend Growth (%)
Leggett & Platt (LEG)$19.1612.811.91.389.92.50.485,335 6.9
Watts Water (WTS)$30.7014.511.41.3623.83.40.531,3528.5
Universal Forest (UFPI)$29.9012.27.71.0516.22.50.462,4945.3
Skywest (SKYW)$25.1711.16.61.3023.62.71.563,2258.5
Oxford (OXM)$36.1212.311.71.4337.72.30.441,1299.5
Source:, September 28, 2007

You should examine any stock in great detail before investing and remember that five stocks can't be said to form a well-diversified portfolio. Always be cautious before jumping into any investment and talk over potential purchases with your investment advisor. If you need assistance in this regard don't hesitate to give Dan and myself a call. (For the sake of full disclosure, these Graham stocks may be in our personal and client portfolios.)

Remember that value stocks can be psychologically difficult to hold and some beaten-up stocks will fail entirely. Graham's method has avoided running into any serious trouble so far but it can't be expected to outperform all of the time. Indeed, significant periods of underperformance are likely. I'm particularly concerned that some readers might dive right in based on past performance alone. Don't. Be sure that you understand what you're investing in and focus at least as much on what can go wrong as on what might go right.

Additional Resources:
Notes: ** Annualized based on the total number of days since the first article was written.

First published in the November 2007 edition of the Canadian MoneySaver.

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