How To

Use past-performance to unearth tomorrow’s outperforming stocks

Thu 10 Feb 22, 6:26pm (AEST)

Share article

Key Points

  • Look for stocks that can continually deliver above-average returns based on defendable points of difference
  • Companies enjoying strong competitive advantage typically either have a structural cost advantage, a capital advantage or attributes that foster pricing power

While past performance isn’t necessarily a meaningful insight into how a company will perform into the future, it is possible to build a profile of companies that - everything else being equal - have the capacity to continue outperforming based on strong fundamentals, none the least being the quality of their underlying earnings.

What we’re ultimately looking for is stocks with the ability to continue delivering above average returns based on defendable points of difference that come from having a sustainable competitive advantage.

Defining sustainable competitive advantage

Companies enjoying strong competitive advantage typically either have a structural cost advantage, a capital advantage or attributes that foster pricing power, while the best companies, exhibit a combination of all three.

The more difficult or costly it is for competitors to recreate a stock’s business - aka as barriers to entry - the stronger its competitive advantage is likely to be.

Two key sources of competitive advantage include scale or size, government protection and/or regulatory barriers discouraging other players from entering the market.

A third source of competitive advantage is what’s called customer captivity and relates to the difficulty with which customers can move to another supplier.

These stocks benefit from the ‘network effect’ where the greater the number of people joining, the more valuable and bigger it becomes in scale, which only adds to pricing power.

Stocks that have a truly sustainable competitive advantage are rare, and what ultimately separates them from lesser quality stocks is their ability to continue growing.

In other words, for every $1 invested back into the business, they can continually achieve a $1.10 or more in return.

Filtering for sustainable competitive advantage

To unearth stocks trading with varying degrees of sustainable competitive advantage Market Index filters on the following key criteria.

Historical return on equity >10%: Demonstrates a track-record of growth, and rising shareholder value. Only one in every five stocks listed on the ASX has historically managed to deliver an historical ROE in excess of 10%.

Forecast return on equity >15%: Measures the forecast profitability of a company, and while quality companies deliver 10%-plus, typically less than 20% of listed companies ever achieve this.

Forecast earnings per share growth >10%: Measures the percentage change from the most recent historical EPS to forecast EPS, and while stocks should be able to deliver a minimum 5% EPS growth, only one in five stocks historically manage to do so.

Premium to intrinsic value< 40%: This measures the difference between an intrinsic value (IV) and the market price. It’s rare for good quality stocks to trade at a discount to IV.

Net-debt to equity <70%: The represents debt (less cash on balance sheet) as a percentage of total equity in the business. It’s desirable for stocks to keep net-debt to equity low.

Forecast change in value >5%: While it’s desirable that stocks increase their value over a forecast period by at least 5%, only one in five stocks managed to do so.

Cash flow ratio >0.80: Measures the quality of a company’s earnings by comparing earnings to cash flow. Companies with a higher proportion of cash earnings produce a higher cash flow ratio. While quality companies will have a cash flow ratio well above a desired 0.8, typically less than a third (30%) of listed stocks manage to do so.

Ten attributes used to assess competitive advantage

1. IP that’s difficult to replicate.

2. Scalable business models.

3. Experienced management with a successful track record.

4. Recurring revenue models.

5. Brand value.

6. Market leadership position.

7. First-mover advantage.

8. Appropriately capitalised balance sheet with financial flexibility.

9. Strength of sales capability and distribution networks.

10.Degree of customer lock-in/switching costs.


Written By

Mark Story


Mark is an investigative financial journalist and editor who started his career working for Marathon Oil in London. He has a degree in politics/economics and a diploma in journalism. Mark has worked on 70-plus newspapers and financial publications across Australia, NZ, the US, and Asia including: The Australian Financial Review, Money Magazine, Australian Property Investor and Finance Asia. Mark is passionate about improving the financial literacy of all Australians through the highest quality content. Email Mark at [email protected].

Get the latest news and media direct to your inbox

Sign up FREE