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8 Graham Stocks for 2010

Graham's time-tested strategy for defensive investors beat the market again this year. But that shouldn't come as a big surprise because it's bested the market, often by a wide margin, in eight of the last nine years.

You can check out the yearly performance of the Graham stocks, the S&P500 (as tracked by the SPY exchange-traded fund), and the percentage point difference between the two in Table 1. If you had bought equal dollar amounts of each year's Graham stocks in your RRSP and then replaced them with the new crop of stocks in each subsequent year, you would have gained 480% (or 22% annually) over the full period. On the other hand, the unfortunate index investor who bought and held the S&P500 ETF (NYSE:SPY) would have lost 11% over the same time. That even includes quarterly dividends reinvested annually. As you might imagine, I've been very pleased with the performance of my take on Graham's defensive strategy.

TABLE 1: PERFORMANCE OF PAST GRAHAM STOCKS
YearGraham S&P500 +/-
2000 - 2001 20.4% -22.2% 42.6
2001 - 2002 28.2% -15.1% 43.3
2002 - 2003 56.8% 16.5% 40.3
2003 - 2004 32.2% 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
2007 - 2008 -6.5% -22.1% 15.6
2008 - 2009 2.2% -6.2% 8.4
Total Gain 479.5% -10.8%490.3
Annualized 22.0% -1.3%23.3

Graham first described his method for defensive investors in The Intelligent Investor. Graham, the dean of value investing, passed away in 1976 but an updated edition of The Intelligent Investor (ISBN 0060555661), with new commentary from veteran columnist Jason Zweig, was published in 2003. The original text is presented in its entirety and Zweig's commentary is thoughtfully separated into 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. Serious Graham buffs will also want to check out the sixth edition of Security Analysis (ISBN 0071592539) which includes commentary from some of today's famous value investors. But, clocking in at 700 pages, it's not for dilettantes.

Because Graham's rules for defensive investors are extraordinarily strict, I use a more moderate 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 focus on five years worth of earnings growth instead of ten years largely because the five-year figures are provided by many free internet stock screeners.

TABLE 2: GRAHAM-INSPIRED RULES
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, bottomed out at 2 stocks in 2003, and contained only 4 candidates last year. This year, the list is back up near its highs and contains 8 stocks. While that's a relatively high number of stocks, the list is tiny compared to the thousands of stocks which trade each day. As a result, even my version of Graham's approach remains quite strict.

The current crop of Graham stocks is shown in Table 3. Before diving in, you should always examine any stock in great detail and remember that ten stocks can not be said to form a well-diversified portfolio. Do your own due diligence and be on the look out for problems that might not be reflected in a company's latest numbers. Study news stories, press releases, and regulatory filings.

If you'd like more information on Graham stocks, I publish the Graham Value Stocks letter which covers several Graham-inspired strategies and highlights value stocks in both the U.S. and Canada. Just send me an email, and I'll be happy to provide an online sample.

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

Table 3: U.S. stocks that pass Graham-inspired rules
CompanyPriceP/EP/BEPS GrowthCurrent RatioD/ERevenue ($M)Dividend Growth
A.D.M. (ADM)$29.7211.21.4128.1%2.20.6169,20714.9%
Baldor (BEZ)$28.5514.91.4732.0%2.71.361,7675.1%
Cash America (CSH)$31.8312.71.4929.8%5.10.691,05216.6%
Overseas Shipholding (OSG)$41.335.90.5921.2%4.10.721,47318.2%
Reliance Steel (RS)$41.9713.41.2670.0%3.50.527,51727.2%
Skywest (SKYW) $17.1611.70.7311.1%3.01.393,04910.2%
Spartan Motors (SPAR)$5.476.10.9957.3%2.80.156242.4%
Tidewater (TDW)$46.116.51.0557.7%3.10.131,37710.8%
Source: msn.com, October 8, 2009


Additional Resources:


First published in the November/December 2009 edition of the Canadian MoneySaver.

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