Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wal-Mart vs. Target (Rule #1)

Last week I wrote that I would be running a few companies through Phil Town’s criteria for Rule #1 investing. To recap,

Town suggests that the way to adhere to Buffett’s first rule is to look at five different things about a company. They are:

  • return on invested capital (ROIC),
  • revenue (sales) growth,
  • earnings per share (EPS) growth,
  • equity (or book value) growth, and
  • free-cash-flow (FCF) growth.
He says that we should be looking for companies with at least 10 years of history, and except no less than 10% per year in each of the growth figures. We should also look for companies with an ROIC of at least 10%.

I decided that the first two companies I’d look at would be Wal-Mart (WMT) and Target (TGT). These are two of the major players in the retail industry.

Unless you’re Paris Hilton, you’ve heard of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart interests me because so much of the value investing community has become enamored with the company. Wal-Mart concentrates its products for very price sensitive consumers, usually in rural and “non-urban” areas. Although recently, the company has made great efforts to expand its operations into more “city-fied” areas. Target on the other hand, caters to a more urban, fashion conscious consumer. Usually, their consumers are a little higher up on the disposable income scale and are less price sensitive.

Full disclosure: Although I (and the clients of Brick Financial) do not own either company, both are on my watch list. My current outfit however consists of socks, underwear and a belt from Wal-Mart and jeans, a shirt and a watch from Target.

Each seeing the other as a threat, they have recently (in the last few years) found themselves competing more and more with one another. Selling products and services designed to poach the others customer base. Will either be successful? Of course, only time will tell.

Here’s how the stocks of the two companies have performed over the last 5 years. [Click on the image for a larger view.]

As we can see, over the last 5 years, Target has returned over 40% while Wal-Mart has lost market value. To peer into the reasons why this happened, we need to look at how each company has performed operationally over the last few years. Here is where Town’s Rule #1 criteria may help us. For each company, we collected the figures using MSN Money and listed them in the table below. [For most of the multi-year figures, we used a geometric growth rather than an average growth.]

You should note that if I were doing this analysis for actual investment, I would use each company’s actual financial statements. But in order to keep it simple, and to try and follow Town’s book as closely as possible, I just used MSN.

You should take note of two more things. For the free-cash-flow (FCF) figures, I used the more traditional calculation of cash from operations minus capital expenditures. MSN also subtracts out dividends. Additionally, I included Warren Buffett’s calculation of “owner earnings” which is net income plus depreciation and amortization minus capital expenditures. This is his definition of free-cash-flow. These figures are from the latest annual financials statements. [Click on the image for a larger view.]

After looking at these figures, and grading them against Town’s criteria, I would say that each company probably gets a passing grade on the level of a B- or C+.

Wal-Mart averages over 10% in growth for most of the figures except for FCF and owner earnings. These two figures have declined over the last few years. And nearly all of the growth figures have trended downward.

On the plus side, Target’s EPS an equity growth are much higher than Wal-Mart’s and far exceeds Town’s minimums. But its sales growth and ROIC haven’t consistently beaten Town’s 10% floor. Whereas Wal-Mart’s FCF has been declining ever so slightly, Target’s FCF took an astronomical leap in the last year. But I wouldn’t get too excited about that since the previous year’s FCF was so low. (Gotta watch those base year figures.) For the 5 year period, Target only had one year where the company had a positive FCF or owner earnings figure. But the trend in FCF and owner earnings is good, as Target is growing its cash at a faster rate than its capital expenditures are increasing.

From the operational figures, neither Wal-Mart nor Target distinguishes itself from the other (using Rule #1) criteria. Thus, I don’t think these figures give us any insight into why Target’s stock may have performed better over the last 5 years. My guess, without the benefit of looking back, would be that Wal-Mart’s stock was richly valued 5 years ago relative to Target. Or it could be that investors think that Target has a brighter future. Or perhaps, everyone is crazy.

What I also want to know is, at this point, which would be the better investment. I want to know the value investors I admires are raving about Wal-Mart and Target...not so much. This is where the ever important valuation of the companies comes in.

I will explore these points in a future post.


At 10:52 PM, Anonymous said...

You got your watch from target too???


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