Investment Portfolio Management

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It’s actually a very simple quantitative stock ranking scheme. It uses return on capital and earnings yield as inputs. Return on capital is the metric that shows whether a business is a good one or not. Earnings yield is the metric that shows whether a company is cheap or not. Greenblatt suggests using these measures to identify good but cheap businesses, and buy them. That’s the secret behind the ‘magic formula’. In “The Little Book That Beats The Market,” Greenblatt calculated hypothetical returns for the 1988-2004 period. The magic formula returned an average 30.8% per year, while the market return was 12.3% and the S&P 500 returned an average 12.4%. So this formula beats the market by 18% per year.

The two things he looks at are earnings yield, which is how cheap the company is. A simple earnings yield would be the inverse of the P/E ratio or earnings to price. So, in other words, if something earned $2 and it cost you $10 a share, you’d have a 20% earnings yield.

It uses a more sophisticated metric than just earnings, than just price. But the concept is the same. It uses EBIT–earnings before interest and taxes and compares that to enterprise value, which is the market value of a company’s stock plus the long-term debt that a company has. That adjusts for companies that have
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