Update: Frequently Asked Questions about Valuentum Securities, Inc.
publication date: Sep 14, 2013
author/source: Valuentum Editorial Staff
What is the Valuentum Buying Index (VBI)?
Please click the following link to learn more about our stock-selection methodology:
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What are the advantages of using Valuentum’s investment services?
1) We're completely independent – we have NO conflicts of interest
2) Integrity and systematic application of analytical process
3) Comprehensive equity research provider – from deep value through momentum investing
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6) Valuation expertise
7) Fair value estimates for all firms in our coverage universe
8) Unique and cash-flow based dividend growth process
9) Strong performance track record versus peers
What's the best way to use your process?
First and foremost, firms in our Best Ideas portfolio should be considered our best ideas at any point in time. The Best Ideas portfolio can always be found on page 8 of our monthly Best Ideas Newsletter. Firms in our Dividend Growth portfolio should be considered our best dividend growth ideas at any point in time. The Dividend Growth portfolio can always be found on page 5 of our monthly Dividend Growth Newsletter.
Let's talk about how the Valuentum Buying Index (VBI) informs which ideas we include in our actively-managed portfolios. We've noticed via our statistical backtesting that the momentum factor behind our process tends to be much more pronounced (powerful) over longer periods of time. This was one of the interesting findings of our academic white paper study. We try to replicate this dynamic with the update cycle of our reports (and the time horizon for our ideas to work out). That's why our reports are updated regularly (at least quarterly) or after material events and not daily or weekly. We don't want to whipsaw our membership, nor do we think churn is the way to generate outperformance.
Though the time frame varies depending on each idea, we expect our best ideas to work out over a 12-24 month time horizon (on average) -- any shorter than that is mostly luck, in our view. We tend to add firms to our Best Ideas portfolio when they register a 9 or 10 on our Valuentum Buying Index (VBI) and tend to remove firms from our Best Ideas portfolio when they register a 1 or 2 on our VBI. You'll notice that we have a qualitative overlay in the portfolio, which is necessary and similar in thinking as it you were to imagine a value investor not adding every undervalued stock to his/her portfolio. There are always tactical and sector weighting considerations in any portfolio construction.
As for the time horizon for ideas, we like to maximize profits on every idea, with the understanding that momentum does exist and that prices over and under shoot intrinsic value all of the time. A value strategy (10 --> 5) truncates potential profits, while a momentum strategy (4 --> 1) ignores profits generated via value assessments. We're after the entire profit potential. So, for example, if a firm is added to the Best Ideas portfolio as a 10 and is removed as a 5, we would have tuncated profit potential. Most of our highly-rated Valuentum Buying Index rated stocks have generated the vast outperformance of the Best Ideas portfolio. Please view the pricing cycle below.
Importantly, regarding our process, we don't blindly and immediately add firms to our portfolio once they score a 9 or 10 (and we do not add all firms that score a 9 or 10 to our portfolio). For example, Google (GOOG), a current Best Ideas portfolio holding, recently registered a 10 on our scale, but we remained patient and didn't add the company to our portfolio until after it reported earnings in late 2012, which provided us with an even better entry point (as new information came to light). We engage in a qualitative portfolio management overlay to maximize returns and minimize risk. The number informs our process, but the team makes the allocation decisions of the portfolio.
After adding firms to our Best Ideas portfolio, we may tactically trade around these positions when they have VBI ratings between 3 and 8 depending on the size of their weighting in our portfolio or the attractiveness of them relative to other opportunities (a score of 3 through 8 is typically equivalent to a 'we'd hold'). We tend to remove firms from our Best Ideas portfolio when they register a 1 or 2 on our process. Importantly, however, firms in our Best Ideas portfolio, which have generally registered a 9 or 10 on our scale when we added them, should be considered our best ideas at any point in time.
Though eBay may register a lower VBI rating in a subsequent update, we would still view it as one of our best ideas, as it is a holding in our Best Ideas portfolio (it has never flashed a 'We'd Sell' signal, 1 or 2). Obviously, there have been more straight-forward opportunities in our Best Ideas portfolio, especially in the case of EDAC Tech (EDAC), which has tripled since we added it to the portfolio (never registering below a 9 along the way). The VBI ratings on our most recent 16-page reports, downloadable directly from our website, reflect our current opinion on the company.
The Valuentum Buying Index, like all methodologies, informs the investment decision process, but in constructing a portfolio, a qualitative overlay is not only necessary but has been shown to optimize performance in the white paper study. Please let us know if you have any further questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Though we'd love to continue this discussion here, we unfortunately cannot disclose our holdings in public FAQ.
Need more information on the best way to use our process? Click here.
How frequently are the (stock and dividend) reports updated and what triggers an update?
Our reports are updated at least every 3-4 months or when material results alter our estimate of a company's fair value. This update cycle is typical for investment research firms. Fair value estimates do not change much over short-term periods of time, especially if our estimate of a company's intrinsic value is spot on. Although the date, data, or text on our reports may not change daily for each company, you can assume that if the reports are live on the site, the conclusions of the company in the report are still representative of our view on the stock or its dividend.
Importantly, by using our 'Symbol' search box in our header, you can gain access to some of the most advanced charting features to augment our Valuentum Buying Index's technical/momentum assessment. The charts are equipped with real-time data. The 'Symbol' search box in our website header is also the best way to find our recent articles and analysis (as well as the 16-page equity and dividend reports) on companies of interest to you.
Pasted below is what the search box retrieves on information related to Intel (INTC), for example:
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How do I login? Where can I find Valuentum reports on my stocks? And where can I become more familiar with how to best use Valuentum’s website?
Visitors can access our new member orientation video at the following link:
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Our website works best on Internet Explorer 9, Chrome, Firefox or Safari. You can click on the links to download them for free. Since the charts we use on our website have html5, Internet Explorer 8 and previous versions of web browsers do not support them.
Where can I get an education on the methodology and technical definitions of the terms used in your service?
The following is a link to an in-depth presentation that goes into our stock-selection methodology:
The following is a link to a glossary of some common Valuentum terms found in our stock and dividend reports:
Do you have support that shows that your methodology was effective via backtesting? Do you have a white paper?
Yes. Pasted below is the link to our white paper discussing the benefits of 'Valuentum' investing.
Where can I find previous editions of Valuentum’s Best Ideas and Dividend Growth Newsletters?
Subscribers can view our newsletter archives at the following link:
Why did the Valuentum Buying Index (VBI) score change on my stock?
A stock’s Valuentum Buying Index is based on our view of the attractiveness of a company’s DCF valuation, its relative valuation versus peers, and an overall technical assessment. If our views on any of these three investment pillars change, a firm’s VBI score will change to reflect this new view.
Why does my stock have a good VBI score but a poor dividend-growth profile?
The intrinsic value of a stock (company) is independent of the size or quality of its dividend payment or its dividend growth profile. Note: dividend payments are just a portion of a firm’s total free cash flow (earnings), and intrinsic value is driven by all of the future free cash flows (earnings) that belong to shareholders.
Our DCF valuation process for firms rests on assessing the discounted future free cash flows of an entity in arriving at a fair value estimate for that entity. We then use a margin of safety to better pinpoint an entry/exit point that captures the risks inherent to the company's business model. After doing this and conducting a relative value assessment, we then evaluate the technical and momentum indicators of the firm to further reinforce our entry/exit points. This process culminates in our Valuentum Buying Index (VBI), which uses a rigorous DCF evaluation, relative value assessment, and technical and momentum indicators to derive a score between 1 and 10 (10=top pick).
When evaluating a company’s dividend, we sum the future free flows of the firm and divide that sum by future dividend payments over a five-year period (and consider the firm's net balance sheet impact). If this relationship is below parity (1), we don't think the firm's dividend growth potential is strong. In other words, this analysis reveals the company doesn’t have a significant amount of capacity to raise the dividend. However, that doesn't mean the shares of the exact same company aren't undervalued and that investors aren't interested in other parameters that drive the company’s VBI score -- which we think captures the major factors that drive a firm's future capital appreciation potential.
All things considered, it is perfectly consistent for a firm to score high on our VBI scale and not have strong dividend growth prospects. Alternatively, it is perfectly consistent for a firm to score low on our VBI scale and have strong dividend growth prospects.
How do I find stocks that meet my investment criteria?
Valuentum’s broad focus across investment methodologies (from value through momentum) allows us to provide subscribers with tools and screeners that are unmatched by any other research provider. Subscribers can access our available stock screens in the left column of our website under the ‘Stock Screens’ category, or they can purchase our DataScreener500, which contains sortable data and information for more than 500 of the top firms in our coverage universe.
Where can I find the highest-quality stocks that Valuentum covers?
Our Ideas100 publication may be for you. Click the following link for more information:
Where can I find stocks with the best dividend-growth profiles?
Our Dividend100 publication may be for you. Click the following link for more information:
Why are there firms on your Dividend Growth Watch List that don't have attractive dividend growth profiles...yet?
Our Dividend Growth watch list and our screen of companies with 'high Valuentum Buying Index ratings and strong dividend growth prospects' include the firms that we are currently monitoring for potential inclusion into our Dividend Growth portfolio. The vast majority of companies on our Dividend Growth watch list are well-positioned and have dividends that are posied for growth. Others, however, such as PepsiCo (PEP), for example, have an elevated dividend yield but a borderline Dividend Cushion score (and safety and growth metrics), where we're waiting for fundamental improvement before we would consider adding the company to our portfolio. But even though PepsiCo isn't a slam-dunk dividend growth investment in our view (at this time), we think it is still worthy of watching. In other words, if PepsiCo's balance sheet and cash flow position improve relative to its dividend payments in the future, members can track the performance real time with the firm's metrics conveniently located in our watch list. If we didn't include this borderline firm in our watch list, we may miss the opportunity to highlight an interesting dividend growth firm when/if its fundamentals improve. That said, our Dividend Growth portfolio includes our favorite dividend growth names at any time.
What is the most important measure of return on invested capital (ROIC), in Valuentum’s opinion?
We think return on new invested capital (RONIC) is the most important measure of whether a company is generating economic value for shareholders. Though we look at ROIC with goodwill and ROIC without goodwill (and each one is informative depending on a company’s acquisition program), we view the capacity of a company to generate economic value in the future (RONIC) as the best indication of its ability to translate such business performance into equity price outperformance, all else equal.
What has been Valuentum’s best long call and best short call?
We provide the respective reports of the companies at the following link:
How often does Valuentum make changes to its actively-managed portfolios held within the Best Ideas and Dividend Growth Newsletters? What is the typical holding period for picks made?
Our Best Ideas and Dividend Growth portfolios may be fully invested at times, and it may not make sense for us to buy or sell a company each month. However, we actively provide a watch list and other ideas to consider in each monthly edition as many of our subscribers have cash to allocate to timely positions.
The holding period for stocks in our Best Ideas and Dividend Growth portfolios varies depending on the timing of when a particular stock converges to our fair value. On average, however, we'd like to see an idea work out within a 12-24 month period. To get a feel for the trading frequency and turnover of our portfolios, view the transaction log of our Best Ideas portfolio at the following link:
What does Valuentum mean when it says it helps investors avoid value traps, falling knives, and the opportunity cost of buying a great stock at the most inopportune time?
Have you ever held an undervalued stock for years, and it hasn’t yet converged to what you think it is worth? This is opportunity cost, and we think it is a real expense for investors. Because our process factors in a technical and momentum assessment after we evaluate its attractiveness via our valuation process, we’re better able to pinpoint the best entry and exit points on stocks.
We’re less likely to be involved in value traps because we demand material revenue and earnings growth for firms to earn a 10 on our VBI, and we’re less likely to be exposed to falling knives since our process requires firms to not only be undervalued but also be exhibiting bullish technicals before we would consider adding them to our portfolios. Research firms that just focus on valuation may encourage you to buy a stock all the way down (a falling knife). As such, we think our process helps investors avoid the opportunity cost of buying a great stock at the most inopportune time.
What is Valuentum’s relationship with Seeking Alpha and the Motley Fool?
Valuentum may publish an article or a re-formatted company report on Seeking Alpha or Motley Fool from time to time. Our policy is to reach out to the investment community periodically through the syndication agreements with Seeking Alpha and other partners. The quality of the content on our website, the performance of our stock calls, and the complete satisfaction of our subscribers remain our top priorities.
Where can I directly find the 16-page equity reports on Valuentum's website?
That said, we will not hesitate to swap into our portfolio a high-VBI firm on the long side should its upside potential become greater than one of our current holdings. Since some of our subscribers have cash on hand (and may not be fully invested as we may be at times), we always provide a list of the highest-rated VBI firms in our coverage universe in each edition of our Best Ideas Newsletter.
In your 16-page equity reports, why doesn't the 'percentage undervalued / overvalued' match up to the actual discount/premium to Valuentum's fair value estimate of the company?
We view the intrinsic value of a firm as a range, not a single point estimate. So instead of us saying that a company is worth exactly $55 per share, for example, instead we'd say it is worth between $50 (low end) and $60 per share (high end). This is due to the inherent difficulty of predicting with absolute precision a firm's future free cash flow stream, which determines our estimate of the company's intrinsic value. As a result, the 'percentage undervalued/overvalued' is calculated by comparing the firm's current price with the low end and high end of its fair value range (and not the single fair value point estimate), respectively. If a firm's price falls below the low end of our fair value range, we'd view it as cheap. If the price is above our fair value range, we think the company's shares are expensive.
Does a 'Very Poor' score on Valuentum's assessment of a company's dividend safety mean the firm will cut its dividend in future periods?
Not necessarily. In many cases, a 'Very Poor' dividend safety score will predict a cut, as this is what the Valuentum Dividend Cushion has been designed to do.
However, in other cases, the Valuentum Dividend Cushion may highlight significant risk related to future dividend payments (but not necessarily suggest that a cut is on the horizon). For one, the assessment of a firm's dividend safety is based on the excess cash-flow capacity the firm has for future dividend raises after considering its balance sheet structure. By extension, there will be a positive correlation between the safety of a firm's dividend and its future potential for growth.
In other words, the larger the capacity the firm has to raise its dividend based on our Valuentum Dividend Cushion, the more secure existing dividend payments are. However, just because a firm has a 'Very Poor' dividend safety score doesn't necessarily mean it will cut its dividend anytime soon. What a low safety score does mean, however, is that the board has effectively maxed out the company's annual payout and has little room for operating error.
In fact, a lot of steady-eddy utilities firms receive a 'Very Poor' safety rating. However, based on the stability of their business models (and sometimes fixed rate of returns), we're not expecting them to cut their respective dividends anytime soon. However, should an exogenous event happen, the board hasn't left much excess cash-flow capacity to absorb the impact and the dividend may be exposed to significant risk (think of the most recent example of Exelon).
What has been the "hit rate" in your Best Ideas portfolio? What percentage of the names have outperformed? I want to make sure a few winners don’t account for “all” the alpha…
Out of the 20 or so securities we have selected to include in our Best Ideas portfolio since inception (ex options), nearly all of them are outperforming the market. However, firms like EDAC Tech (EDAC) and Apple (AAPL) have been significant sources of alpha for us, more-than-tripling and nearly doubling in price, respectively.
I have downloaded your last Best Ideas Newsletter and didn’t quite understand where to find your best ideas? There are several articles about firms not in your portfolio. Are these your ideas for buying or should I refer to the Best Ideas portfolio itself?
In our Best Ideas Newsletter, we provide a wealth of current information as it relates to our opinion of stocks in the news as well as an actively-managed portfolio of best ideas and a watch list of firms that score high on our Valuentum Buying Index. We use our Valuentum Buying Index as the primary criteria for adding or removing firms to or from our Best Ideas portfolio, respectively. Because our actively-managed portfolios have stringent oversight and a portfolio-management overlay, we may not add all firms that have high scores on our Valuentum Buying Index to our portfolios due to diversification, cost, or broader-market considerations.
The goals of our Best Ideas portfolio are to outperform the market benchmark and to generate positive returns regardless of the broader market environment. To achieve these goals, we may limit turnover and transaction costs, pursue diversification benefits, and engage in option strategies to capture our view on broader market trends or on individual securities. However, we include a watch list of firms to supplement our best ideas portfolio in each edition of our Best Ideas Newsletter, as we understand that subscribers and clients may have different goals and varying investment mandates.
Our best ideas are the names included in our portfolios (best ideas and dividend growth), as well as the names that score high on our Valuentum Buying Index. However, you should always consult your financial advisor to determine whether any investment in any security is suitable for you. At no time should any content on our website or in any transaction-alert email be viewed as a solicitation to buy or sell any security.
Why don't your VBI ratings change on a daily basis?
Investors can sell a stock for reasons unrelated to a company's fundamentals, and at times, make poor decisions on the basis of misinformation, driving a firm's shares lower. In our view, it simply takes time to get an accurate read on any fundamental or technical changes of a company's stock. We want to deliver ideas with conviction and confidence and not alter our views on a firm on a daily or even weekly basis.
Why do you use a risk free rate assumption of 4.25% when the current spot rate of the 10-year Treasury is about 2%?
In our discounted cash-flow models that we use to value every non-financial operating company in our coverage universe, we match the duration of future free cash flows (from year 1 to perpetuity) with expectations of the average discount rate over this forecast horizon (from year 1 to perpetuity). We think the best way to achieve expectations of the long-term future average rate of the 10-year Treasury (risk free rate) is to use the weighted average of the historical 10-year Treasury and the current spot rate. The goal of using a weighted average risk free rate in our DCF process is to achieve balance with respect to the duration of future cash flows. For example, discounting a cash flow in Year 20 at the current spot rate doesn’t make much sense to us. Other methods consider the yield curve in discounting future free cash flows, or use a long-term average of the risk free rate without considering near-term changes in the 10-year Treasury rate. We think the use of the spot rate on the 10-year Treasury as the risk free rate in any valuation model would not only cause significant fair-value volatility but also result in a systematic overvaluation of companies relative to their true long-term intrinsic worth.
Why do you use such a wide fair value range for certain companies?
One of the most important concepts of the Valuentum methodology (and valuation in general) is the understanding that the value of a company is a range of probable valuation outcomes, not a single point estimate. Even well-seasoned stock analysts are guilty of saying that a company’s shares are worth exactly $25 or a firm’s stock is worth exactly $100. The reality is that, in the first case, the company’s shares are probably worth somewhere between $20 and $30, and in the latter case, the stock is worth somewhere between $75 and $125.
Why? Because all of the value of a company is generated in the future (future earnings and free cash flow), and the future is inherently unpredictable (unknowable). If the future could be predicted with absolute certainly (knowable), then a stock analyst could say a company’s shares are worth precisely this, or that a firm’s stock is worth precisely that. Not because he or she would know where the stock would be trading at, but because he or she would know precisely what future free cash flows would be (and all other modeling facts—not assumptions in this case) and arrive at the exact and non-debatable value of the firm.
But the truth of the matter is that nobody knows the future, and analysts can only estimate what a company’s future free cash flow stream will look like. Certain unexpected factors will hurt that free cash flow stream relative to forecasts, while other unexpected factors will boost performance. That’s how a downside fair value estimate and an upside fair value estimate is generated, or in the words of Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham how a “margin of safety” is generated. Only the most likely scenario represents the point fair value estimate. Any stock analyst that says a company is worth a precise figure—whether it’s $1 or $100—falls short of understanding one of the most important factors behind valuation.
But why the large range in many cases? Well, there are many firms in our coverage universe that have a very large range of outcomes in their future free cash flow growth. And because discounting free cash flows is an integral part of calculating the fair value estimate of a company, the range of fair values will also be large. To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the difference between the levels of free cash flows in Year 20 under three different future growth rates: 10%, 15%, and 20%. Though the growth rate between each scenario is but 5 percentage points, the magnitude of the free cash flow difference is astounding many years into the future, and our discounted cash-flow process considers the long-term intrinsic value of firms.
Under these future free-cash-flow scenarios, if we assume an 8% discount rate and 100,000 shares outstanding (and no debt), the difference in the fair value estimate between the upside case (green line) and downside case (blue line) is $68 per share ($82 per share less $14 per share)—all because of just a 10 percentage point difference in a future free cash flow growth assumption. For firms that are growing cash flows at 200% or 300% per annum, a large range of fair value outcomes is not only inevitable but also very reasonable.
In other words, the Valuentum framework provides an avenue to quantify the upside and downside risks investors are taking in high uncertainty and fast-growing enterprises--think Green Mountain (GMCR), LinkedIn (LNKD), Questcor Pharma (QCOR), and Groupon (GRPN), which all boast very high ValueRisk ratings.
To really hit this point home, here’s a quick slide of LinkedIn’s revenue. The green line (mapped to the right axis) shows LinkedIn’s revenue growth rate. Let’s assume revenue expansion translates into similar free cash flow growth expectations (not exactly a precise assumption, given the leverage in LinkedIn’s business model), but bear with us for simplistic illustrative purposes. Will LinkedIn’s revenue/cash flows expand at a 20% rate, a 40% rate, or a 60% rate (or an even greater pace) through year 20? It’s a very, very difficult question to answer. Remember how significant that 10 percentage point spread was in the hypothetical example above? Well, it’s even more significant for LinkedIn. We know LinkedIn’s free cash flows will expand, and expand fast, but just how fast is certainly debatable. To a very large extent, that’s why LinkedIn’s range of probable outcomes (fair value range) is so large: $45 through $133 per share (at the time of this writing). To look at our actual assumptions for LinkedIn, the firm’s report can be downloaded here.
Image Source: LinkedIn
All things considered, we're looking for firms that are trading outside of their respective fair value ranges. A firm trading below the low end of its fair value range is undervalued, while a firm trading above its fair value range is overvalued. The fair value range for each company captures the inherent uncertainty of the trajectory of that firm's unique future free cash flow stream.
In your probability distribution of fair values, how can a company actually have a non-zero probability of a negative fair value?
This is a great question because it hits on the myriad uses of Valuentum’s methodology. The non-zero probability is encircled in red below.
The way to interpret the area to the left of the $0 line (y-axis) is that it represents the probability of bankruptcy of the firm based on the uncertainty of future free cash flows. Though there are specific values assigned to the area to the left of the $0 line (y-axis), they are arbitrary as any equity value below $0 is actually an event of default if liquidity dries up (eating into bondholders). So the small area underneath the green curve to left of the $0 line (y-axis) and down to the x-axis (which is a mapping of fair values) represents the probability of bankruptcy (default) given the firm's fundamental future cash flow profile and balance sheet leverage. We disclose the probability of bankruptcy/default of each company in our reports. Valuentum plans to eventually use these probability-of-default estimates to calculate a corporate credit rating for each entity.
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