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What are we looking for?

U.S. stocks with similar fundamentals to the Big Five tech giants of the S&P 500.

The screen

All things considered, investors should be thrilled with the performance of the S&P 500 index, which has shown a year-to-date return of 6.7 per cent despite the pandemic. Roughly 25 per cent of the index is made up of five companies: Facebook Inc., Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Google parent Alphabet Inc. (counting both share classes), each of which has done exceedingly well this year.

My starting point this week was to look at these five stocks as a portfolio to determine which fundamental characteristics – apart from size and sector – appeared attractive relative to the broad market. To do this, I compared a market-cap weighted portfolio of the five stocks with the S&P 500 (which is also market-cap weighted) across roughly 90 fundamental measures. As it turned out, there were a few core measures where the portfolio outshone the index by a large spread. I then used these same metrics to create a model that ranks the 2,170 companies in the Morningstar CPMS U.S. database by:

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  • Forward price/earnings-to-growth, or PEG, ratio (a classic growth-at-a-reasonable-price measure that compares the price of the stock with its projected earnings growth rate, lower figures preferred);
  • Five-year sales growth (on average, how much revenue has grown each year in the past five);
  • Quarterly sales momentum (the most recent four quarters of revenue compared against the same figure one quarter ago);
  • Return on equity and return on total assets (the former divides net income by shareholder equity, while the latter divides net income by both debt and equity. In both cases higher figures are preferred);

As I relied on projected earnings for the PEG ratio, only companies with estimates from at least five analysts actively covering the stock were considered to ensure a reasonable consensus. Only companies with a market cap greater than US$2.9-billion were considered (the median value among the 2,170 companies). Companies structured as limited partnerships were also excluded.

More about Morningstar

Morningstar Research Inc. is a leading provider of independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Morningstar offers an extensive line of products and services for individual investors, financial advisors, asset managers, retirement plan providers and sponsors, and institutional investors. Morningstar Direct is the firm’s multi-asset analysis platform built for asset management and financial services professionals. Morningstar Canada on Twitter: @MorningstarCDN.

What we found

I used Morningstar CPMS to backtest this strategy from April, 2004, to August, 2020, using a maximum of 20 stocks with no more than four per economic sector. Once a quarter, stocks were sold if their rank dropped below the top 25 per cent of the universe based on the factors listed above, or if any of the above metrics turned negative. Over this period the strategy produced an annualized total return of 11.2 per cent while the S&P 500 Total Return Index advanced 9.5 per cent on the same basis. On a 12-month trailing basis ended Aug. 31, the strategy produced 29.3 per cent while the index rose 21.9 per cent.

The stocks that meet the requirements to be purchased into the model today are listed in the table below. Readers may notice only one of the Big Five – Facebook – made the top 20; the other four were superseded, based on this strategy, by the stocks shown here.

This article does not constitute financial advice. It is always recommended to speak to a financial adviser or professional before investing in any of the products listed here.

Select S&P 500 stocks

RankCompanyTickerMorningstar SectorMkt. Cap. (US$ Mil.)Fwd. PEG5Y Sales Grth Rate (%)Qtly. Sales Mom. (%)ROE (%)Rtn. on Ttl. Assets (%)Div. Yld. (%)Recent Close (US$)Ttl. Rtn. from Month End, 12M Ago (%)
1Incyte Corp.INCY-QHealth care19,995.70.124.86.726.118.90.091.4323.2
2Vertex Pharma.VRTX-QHealth care69,505.71.543.711.834.520.60.0266.8557.5
3Nvidia Corp.NVDA-QTechnology320,988.91.020.810.538.618.70.1519.64198.9
4Lam Research LRCX-QTechnology44,988.00.519.96.348.315.91.7308.9335.2
5Square Inc.SQ-NTechnology57,364.91.029.415.217.63.60.0154.50149.4
6Lowe's Cos. Inc.LOW-NCons. Cyclical127,742.10.410.09.7230.911.61.4169.0355.7
7Emergent Biosol.EBS-NHealth care5,438.60.917.312.623.010.20.0102.7696.6
8Restoration Hdwr.RH-NCons. Cyclical7,303.00.524.50.4932.69.90.0374.24119.1
9Exelixis Inc.EXEL-QHealth care7,765.10.575.81.719.015.70.025.1342.1
10ASML Holding NVASML-QTechnology154,907.60.920.16.023.511.70.8370.2550.1
11Facebook Inc.FB-QComm. Services654,974.61.050.32.423.416.70.0272.4253.0
12Alibaba Group BABA-NCons. Cyclical752,058.81.470.35.924.811.00.0277.9666.2
13JD.com Inc.JD-QCons. Cyclical119,745.90.830.96.313.43.60.077.00173.0
14SBA Commun.SBAC-QReal Estate36,195.30.18.90.619,233.02.30.6323.3534.8
15Dollar General DG-NCons. Defensive50,521.50.412.16.433.58.90.7202.8728.5
16Netflix Inc.NFLX-QComm. Services218,739.21.334.85.628.25.80.0495.9985.3
17KKR & Co. Inc.KKR-NFin'l Services20,145.80.618.46.613.81.51.536.0336.1
18NetEase.comNTES-QComm. Services65,459.51.930.14.724.211.81.6477.4883.6
19Axon EnterpriseAAXN-QIndustrials5,357.31.324.55.010.95.50.084.4048.6
20Boston Beer Co.SAM-NCons. Defensive8,657.91.49.29.218.811.20.0874.38140.2

Source: Morningstar CPMS

Data as of Sept. 15. *Note that SBAC and RH show exorbitantly high ROE because of the low book value of equity. These extreme values were acounted for in the analysis.

Ian Tam, CFA, is director of investment research for Morningstar Canada.

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