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number cruncher

What are we looking for?

Lower-risk stocks in the CPMS Canadian universe.

The screen

With rising concern around a second wave of the coronavirus, the future of the economy over the next several months is uncertain. Governments have begun tightening restrictions among individuals and businesses as a response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. From an investor’s perspective, such actions and uncertainty may cause anxiety regarding investments. Earlier this year, most investors would have experienced fairly hefty declines in their portfolios, which naturally must be top of mind as they consider the impact of a second wave.

Today, my strategy is searching for low volatility companies that can help reduce portfolio risk. The strategy will consider stocks in the CPMS Canadian universe, which currently holds 698 names.

This strategy ranks stocks based on:

  • Five-year and three-year beta (this measures a company’s sensitivity relative to historical changes in the benchmark – here we use the S&P/TSX Composite Index. In trending markets, a stock with beta of less than one has historically moved less than the index);
  • Cash flow-to-debt ratio (higher values preferred);
  • Industry-relative earnings per share variability (compares the variability in a company’s EPS with that same measure for the company’s industry median, low or negative values preferred – note that a negative value means the company’s EPS variability is less than that of its industry median);
  • Five-year average return on equity (higher values preferred).

In order to qualify, stocks must have the following:

  • Five-year and three-year beta of less than or equal to one (to reduce market sensitivity);
  • Cash flow-to-debt ratio in the top third of peers (today this value is 0.3 or higher);
  • Five-year average return on equity (a measure of profitability) in the top third of peers (today this value is 8.4 per cent or higher);
  • Positive five-year annualized sales growth;
  • Market capitalization in the top half of peers (today this value is $389.3-million or higher).

More about Morningstar

Morningstar Research Inc. provides independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Its research tool, Morningstar CPMS, provides quantitative North American equity research and portfolio analysis to institutional clients and financial advisers. CPMS data cover more than 95 per cent of the investable North American stock market.

What we found

I used Morningstar CPMS to back-test this strategy from December, 1990, to August, 2020. During this process, a maximum of 15 stocks were purchased. Stocks were sold if their five-year beta rose to 1.2 or higher, or if their five-year average ROE fell into the bottom third of peers. When sold, the positions were replaced with the highest-ranked stock not already owned in the portfolio. Over this period, the strategy produced an annualized total return of 12.8 per cent while the S&P/TSX Composite Total Return Index returned 8.3 per cent on the same basis.

It’s also worth noting the model outperformed in 84 per cent of down markets (classified as quarters where the benchmark produced negative returns). Stocks that qualify for purchase into the strategy today are listed in the accompanying table. As always, investors are encouraged to conduct their own independent research before purchasing any of the investments listed here.

Select TSX-listed low-volatility stocks

RankCompanyTickerMkt. Cap. ($ Mil.)5Y Beta3Y BetaCF/DebtIndust. Rel. Earns. Var.5Y ROE (%)5Y Sales Grth. (%)Div. Yld. (%)12M Price Chg. (%)Recent Close ($)
1Constellation Sftwre.CSU-T32,862.,550.75
2Evertz TechnologiesET-T917.
3Corby Spirit & WineCSW-A-T443.50.30.311.5-5.914.43.15.1-9.415.58
4Winpak Ltd.WPK-T2,927.00.10.1n/c-
5Royal Bank of CanadaRY-T134,383.
6Bank of Nova ScotiaBNS-T65,974.
7TD BankTD-T111,
8Cdn. National RailwayCNR-T100,883.
9Centamin PLCCEE-T3,964.90.90.8n/c-
10North West Co. Inc.NWC-T1,765.
11Loblaw Cos. Ltd.L-T25,295.5-0.1-0.20.3-7.412.94.21.8-6.370.70
12Lassonde IndustriesLAS-A-T492.9-0.1-0.30.6-4.712.54.41.7-14.6154.96
13Kirkland Lake GoldKL-T17,934.
14Great-West LifecoGWO-T24,
15CGI Inc.GIB-A-T20,696.

Source: Morningstar CPMS. 

Note: Under cash flow-to-debt ratio, n/c stands for non-calculable, and occurs where a company has no debt (denominator is zero).

Emily Halverson-Duncan, CFA, is a director, CPMS sales at Morningstar Research Inc.

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