What Would Ben Graham Buy?

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- One of my early Street.com columns focused on identifying companies that the father of value investing and one of my investment heroes, Ben Graham, might be looking at if he were still alive and managing money.

The criteria for this search were based Graham's technique of identifying stocks for the "Defensive Investor," which he described in the his must-read book, "Intelligent Investor."

While I have modified Graham's criteria slightly, the principles and objectives are still the same:

1. Adequate Size: Graham excluded smaller companies; I've set the minimum market cap at $1 billion.

2. Strong Financial Condition: Minimum current ratio of 2; long-term debt must be less than working capital.

3. Earnings Stability: Graham required positive earnings for at least 10 consecutive years: I am using seven years.


4. Dividends: Graham required "uninterrupted" dividends for at least 20 years; I am using seven years here as well.

5. Earnings Growth: Graham sought a minimum increase of 33% in earnings per share in the past 10 years; I am using a minimum compounded annual growth rate in earnings of 5% over seven years.

6. Moderate Price Earnings Ratio: Average PE ratios should be less than 15 over the past three years

7. Moderate Ratio of Price to Assets: Graham sought companies with price to book ratios below 1.5 but would accept a higher PE ratio, if price to book was lower. This end result was that PE times Price to Book ratio should be less than 22.5.

8. Other: U.S. companies only; I excluded foreign companies and American Depository Receipts from the results.

The last time I ran this search in February there were just two names, Intel andCash America . Now there are five. While Intel does not make the cut this time, Cash America is a holdover.


The oil and gas industries are well represented with petroleum refiner HollyFrontier and contract driller Helmerich & Payne . The latter is a name that I've seen on several different value-related screens in recent years, and it currently trades for 10.5 times trailing earnings. Back in December, the company recently increased its quarterly dividend more than 100% from 7 cents to 15 cents. There is also CF Industries .

Grocery store chain Weis Markets , which operates 163 stores primarily in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, also made the cut. This company has a great balance sheet, with $104 million or nearly $4 per share in cash and short-term investments, and no debt.

What makes this even more intriguing is the fact that the company owns 82 of its locations, unsecured by debt. Weis currently trades for about 13.5 times trailing earnings, and 1.41 times price to book value. The company's also yields a solid 2.9%.

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Finally, I'd urge any investor who has not yet read Graham's "Intelligent Investor" to grab a copy. Far from antiquated, the book is filled with investment wisdom that stands the test of time.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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