Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Beware! We Overvalue Growth

Earlier this year, Michael J. Schill, Associate Professor of business administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, wrote a terrific column for the Washington Post.  He offered a simple example of two mining companies. One had embarked on a growth strategy that involved expanding its balance sheet through major asset investments.  The other had embarked on a contraction strategy, spinning off certain parts of its business and shrinking its balance sheet.  Schill asked the question:   In which firm are people likely to invest?

Schill explains that many investors tend to flock toward the growth company.  They are attracted by the prospects of expansion and the new opportunities that those recent investments may bring.  However, that tendency to prefer the growth company may be a mistake.  Here's Schill explaining the potential bias that may be hampering investors' efforts to maximize returns:

Do investors have a good track record in pricing rapidly expanding or contracting companies? History tells us that investors tend to overprice expanding firms and underprice contracting firms. As an example, take a person who systematically invested over 35 years an equal amount of money in the stocks of firms whose balance sheet growth put them in the top 10 percent each year of U.S. public firms. That investor would find that the average annual performance of that portfolio would barely match the returns achieved by U.S. Treasury bills over the same period: about 4 percent. On the other hand, an investor who systematically bought the stocks each year of firms in the bottom 10 percent of balance sheet growth would be delighted to find average portfolio performance over the same period to be more than 22 percentage points above the returns achieved by Treasury bills: about 26 percent. The pattern suggests that expanding firms tend to be overpriced and contracting firms are systematically underpriced.

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