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# Back to Basics - Earnings Yield and Forward Rate of Return

April 18, 2012 | About:

GuruFocus will display an earnings yield and forward rate of return in the new summary page. This is in addition to the basic valuation ratios and the intrinsic values.

Earnings Yield

Earnings yield is the reciprocal of the P/E Ratio. Therefore it can be calculated as:

Earnings yield = Earnings per share (EPS) / Share Price

It can also be calculated from the numbers for the whole company:

Earnings yield = Net Income / Market Cap

The earnings in the calculation is the Trailing Twelve Months earnings.

Guru explains:

If the P/E ratio is an indication of how many years it takes for the company to earn back the stock price shareholders pay to buy the shares, the earnings yield is an indication of how much return shareholders’ investment in the company earned over the past 12 months. The higher the earnings yield is, the better.

If a company loses money, the earnings yield is negative. This gives a more straightforward indication that the company is losing money. This is an advantage of using earnings yield instead of the P/E ratio in valuation. For valuation purposes, the P/B Ratio and the P/S Ratio should be used for companies that are losing money.

Like the P/E ratio, the earnings yield can be used to compare investments in different industries. It can even be used to compare the attractiveness of different asset classes such as bonds and cash. Of course, the earnings yield should not be the only factor in deciding which asset classes to invest.

Also similar to the P/E ratio, the earnings yield does not consider the growth of the business. A growing company with the same earnings yield should be more attractive than a company that has the same earnings yield but does not grow.

A better indicator of the attractiveness of an investment which takes growth into account is the Forward Rate of Return.

Be aware:

Just like the P/E Ratio, non-recurring items such as selling part of the business, selling a previous investment, etc., can affect earnings yield dramatically. The earning yield is also a poor indication for cyclical companies. When a cyclical stock has a high earnings yield it is usually at the peak of its cycle.

Related: P/E ratio, Earnings Yield (Joel Greenblatt), Forward Rate of Return

Earnings Yield (Joel Greenblatt)

In his book, “The Little That Beat the Market,” hedge fund manager Joel Greenblatt defines Earnings Yield as:

Earnings Yield = Earnings before Interest & Taxes / Enterprise Value.

Guru explains:

Joel Greenblatt defines the earnings yield using the above equation because it more accurately reflects the company’s profitability relative to its stock price. Items like interest payment and tax etc. are not directly related to the company’s operational profitability.

Enterprise Value instead of market cap (share price) is used in the calculation because it is the real price stock and bond investors together pay for the company.

Be aware:

Joel Greenblatt’s definition of earnings yield has the same problems the regular earnings yield does. It does not consider the growth of the company. It only looks at one-year’s business operation. For cyclical companies, the earnings yield is usually highest at the peak of the business cycle. But these earnings are rarely sustainable.

Forward Rate of Return based on Don Yacktman’s definition is a better measure of the expected rate of return for a stock.

Forward Rate of Return

Forward Rate of Return is a concept Don Yacktman uses in his investment approach. Yacktman explained the forward rate of return concept in detail in his interview with GuruFocus. Yacktman defines forward rate of return as the normalized free cash flow yield plus real growth plus inflation. He said in the interview (March 2012, when the S&P 500 was at about 1400):

“If the business is stable, this calculation is fairly straightforward. For instance, on the S&P 500 we would normalize earnings. We would then calculate what percentage of those earnings are not reinvested in the underlying businesses and are therefore free. Historically, for the S&P 500, this has been just under 50% of earnings. Currently, we expect the S&P to earn about 70 on a normalized basis, a number which is far below reported earnings due to our adjusting for record high profit margins. \$70 X ½ / 1400 gives you a normalized free cash flow yield of approximately 2.5%.”

“The historical real growth rate of the S&P 500 (companies) is about 1.5%. Assuming an inflation rate of 2.5%, the forward rate of return on an investment in the S&P 500 is about 6.5% today (2.5% free cash flow yield plus 1.5% real growth plus 2.5% inflation).”

Therefore, forward rate of return = Normalized Free Cash Flow / Price + Growth rate

Guru explains:

Unlike the Earnings Yield, the Forward Rate of Return uses the normalized Free Cash Flow of the past seven years, and considers growth. The forward rate of return can be thought of as the return that investors buying the stock today can expect from it in the future.

For the growth part of the Forward Rate of Return calculation, GuruFocus uses the lower of total revenue growth or per share revenue growth, and the growth rate is always capped at 20%. For the Free Cash Flow we use per share data averaged over seven years. The reason we use seven years is because research shows that seven years is the length of the typical business cycle.

Be aware:

In the Forward Rate of Return calculation, the growth rate is added directly to today’s free cash flow yield. Therefore the calculation is reliable only if the company can grow at the same rate in the future as it did in the past. Investors should pay close attention to this when researching growth stocks.

### About the author:

gurufocus
Charlie Tian, Ph.D. - Founder of GuruFocus. You can now order his book Invest Like a Guru on Amazon.

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