Checklist for Buying Good Companies at Reasonable Prices

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Here is a summary of the questions an investor should ask for investing in good companies at fair prices.

Questions 1 – 19:  Focus on the areas of the business.

Business Nature
1.  Do I understand the business?
2.  What is the economic moat that protects the company so it can sell the same or a similar product five or ten years from today?
3.  Is this a fast-changing industry?
4.  Does the company have a diversified customer base?
5.  Is this an asset-light business?
6.  Is it a cyclical business?
7.  Does the company still have room to grow?

Business Performance
8.  Has the company been consistently profitable over the past ten years, through good times and bad?
9.  Does the company have a stable double-digit operating margin?
10. Does the company have a higher margin than competitors?
11. Does the company have a return on investment capital of 15% or higher over the past decade?
12. Has the company been consistently growing its revenue and earnings at double digits?

Business Financial Strength
13. Does the company have a strong balance sheet?

Business Management
14. Do company executives own decent shares of stock of the company?
15. How are the executives paid compared with other similarly sized companies?
16. Are insiders buying?

Business Valuation
17. Is the stock valuation reasonable as measured by intrinsic value, or P/E ratio?
18. How is the current valuation relative to historical range?
19. How did the company’s stock price fare during the previous recessions?

Question 20:  Confidence in Your Business Analysis or Research

20. How much confidence do I have in my research?

The final question centers on how you feel about your research.  Though it is not directly related to the company, your own analysis is a vital consideration.  It determines your action once the stock suddenly drops 50% after you buy.

That same 50% drop can trigger opposing actions depending on your level of confidence.

  • If you are assured in your research, the 50% drop in price is a great opportunity to buy more of the stock at half the price.  
  • If you don’t have confidence, you will likely be scared into selling at a 50% loss.

It will happen after you buy the stock and, paradoxically, it happens only after you buy.  So, get prepared!

The checkup questions are based on the company’s financial data.  None of them should replace your work of understanding the business and learning about its products, its customers, its suppliers, its competitors, and the people who work in the company.  The warning signs serve as reminders of where you are.  They are not meant to substitute for understanding.  If we paid attention only to the numbers and signs and ignore the business itself, understanding of the company business is incomplete.

If we gain a solid understanding of the business, these numbers and signs will help us to appreciate where we are and where we are probably going.  If business understanding is qualitative and the numbers are quantitative, both are needed to gain the confidence we need for our research.

The checklist is a useful tool for investors to maintain discipline in their stock picking.

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