Saturday, June 23, 2007

If you had $10,000 to invest ? Which stock ?

If you had $10,000 to invest—but you had to invest the money in a single
common stock—which company’s stock would you choose, and why?
While equity research analysts and equity sales professionals recommend specific stocks on a
daily basis, professionals in other areas of the bank—including corporate finance and
M&A—do not. Nonetheless, recruiters report that this question helps them evaluate
candidates on a number of criteria: the candidate’s general level of interest in the financial
markets, grasp of basic valuation concepts, and ability to speak intelligently on fundamental
investing principles. MBA associate candidates in particular will be expected to have a pretty
good answer for this question.
Bad Answers
Candidate 1: Probably Microsoft—they’re just completely dominant. Can you
seriously imagine every business in the country switching to a new operating
system? Bill Gates is the richest man in the world for a reason: huge barriers to
entry. The company has a complete monopoly on software that no one could
ever hope to replicate. They totally don’t seem to be hurt by all of the lawsuits
either, and in any case they have something like $100 billion in cash on the
books for a rainy day. I wish I had gotten in on that company from the
It’s not necessarily the company you choose, but the rationale and detail that substantiate your
answer. In this case, Microsoft may be a perfectly legitimate investment choice, but the
candidate’s reasoning is almost wholly qualitative, and general and anecdotal at that. This
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candidate doesn’t know the first thing about how Microsoft is valued today, and this will be
painfully obvious to the interviewer.
Candidate 2: I would never invest $10,000 in a single common stock today.
Maybe someday, when I’m a managing director at this firm and I have $10,000
to just throw around, maybe then I would. The key to successful investing is
diversification! I would take the $10,000 and invest in a collection of mutual
funds—you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Right now, I don’t have the
time to do the research necessary to get comfortable with just one stock.
This candidate takes the approach of candor. She demonstrates that she understands a bit
about personal investing and isn’t a gambler. While diversification is an important investing
principle, this candidate has chosen the wrong opportunity to demonstrate her mastery of the
concept. Though you may certainly acknowledge that single-stock investing may not be your
preferred strategy, don’t evade the question that the interviewer asks. You can always lead with
this, but then answer the question.
Good Answer
Candidate: Well, I must admit that I don’t have a lot of practice choosing
single stocks to invest in. I’m still a novice investor, and so far, I’ve stuck with a
diversified portfolio of mutual funds that limit my risk exposure and provide a
decent return. But if I were fortunate enough to have $10,000 to invest in one
company, I would choose Target Corporation.
Here, the candidate takes a moment to acknowledge that single-stock investing is not an area
of expertise for the everyday investor. But by mentioning his own investing experience, he
demonstrates a basic level of interest in (and experience with) the fundamentals of investing
and the tradeoff between risk and return. He also offers an answer at the very beginning,
providing the interviewer an opportunity to shape the dialogue.
Interviewer: Fine. Why Target?
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Candidate: Well, you hear a lot about Wal-Mart, and it is a great company. But
as I see it, Target has largely the same business model but comes at a lower
valuation. But let’s start at the beginning: First thing’s first, I like the business. I
believe Wal-Mart and Target will continue to succeed because they offer the
customer a significant price savings on both everyday goods and smaller-ticket
consumer luxuries. I think specialty, niche retailers may be able to succeed selling
at a higher price point, but for the basics, I think the customer will continue to
gravitate toward the savings. Wal-Mart and Target have a sustainable competitive
advantage over smaller retailers and grocers through sheer scale; they’re able to
procure their inventory at a significant discount to competitors and can pass
much of this directly onto the consumer. This will translate into earnings growth
potential; I see the existing stores gaining market share and new stores opening
up across the country—and perhaps internationally, although I’m not that close to
their business model.
Interviewer: Let’s say that your assumptions about growth prospects are fairly
accurate. You mentioned valuation—how do you put a value on that growth?
Candidate: Well, first I would look at where Target trades today, relative to
Wal-Mart as well as the market as a whole. Target’s trading at 20x trailing
earnings today versus Wal-Mart at 24x. So on actual, “in the bag” earnings,
Target trades at more than a 15 percent discount to Wal-Mart today. But getting
back to growth, and looking forward, Target’s trading at 16x forward earnings,
versus Wal-Mart at 19x to 20x forward earnings—again, at a 20 percent
discount. Moreover, Target is actually projected to grow faster than Wal-Mart: 15
percent annual growth over the next 5 years, versus 14 percent for Wal-Mart
and 10 to 11 percent for the S&P 500. So when you asked about valuing
growth, you can look at the P/E multiples relative to the growth rate—the
PEG ratio—and see that Target’s trading at just over 1x its expected growth
rate, versus Wal-Mart at 1.4x and the S&P at 1.6x. So, for that money, you’re
getting growth at a good price.
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Interviewer: Warren Buffett has made a career of that. What else would you
consider before investing your money, other than the price/earnings multiple
and the growth rate, and the basic company strategy?
Candidate: Well, I would look at the company’s management.
Interviewer: What about management? As a small investor, how can you
accurately assess whether Target’s management is effective?
Candidate: Well, one measure would be the extent to which the company has
consistently hit its earnings estimates. I imagine Wall Street research analysts
base their earnings estimates on their discussions with top management at the
companies they cover; if management isn’t realistic about the sustainability of its
business plan or its future growth prospects, or if management doesn’t make
effective decisions, it’s not likely to meet its quarterly earnings. If there had been
a lot of change in the executive ranks recently, or if the company announced
that significant leadership changes were imminent, I might be concerned about
management’s ability to meet estimates. To be totally honest, I don’t know how
Target’s done relative to its earnings projections. If they’ve underperformed, I
guess that could be one reason they’re trading at a discount to Wal-Mart. If I
actually had $10,000 to invest, I’d probably want to look into that!
This candidate has clearly taken the time to develop a well-researched, well-articulated investment
thesis for a single stock. Our guess is that you may never have thought in any great
detail about PEG ratios, or where any one company traded versus the S&P 500. But as you
consider how to prepare for interviews, keep in mind that after all, this is Wall Street. Think
about how much better this candidate sounds (if a bit too bookish) than the loosey-goosey
would-be Microsoft buyer above. There are numerous free financial and investing websites out
there offering all the quantitative and qualitative information you’d need to develop a viewpoint
on any publicly traded stock. Regardless of your background, you can certainly learn
enough to be dangerous in an interview (and by dangerous, we mean armed with actual
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valuation metrics and numbers to back up your great stock picking idea). As a general rule,
when confronted with quantitative questions, try to ground your response in numbers and
analysis, and let the qualitative data add in color around the edges.

1 comment:

Alltimewealth said...

If I had $10,000 to invest, I'd follow a proven winner, I'd use Warren Buffett stock basic and follow his lead! Warren Buffett Stock Basics