Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Giving Cash Back To Shareholders is Nice... When You Can Afford It

Over the past few weeks, I've been looking at various stocks trying to find my very first Warren Buffett-style value investing stock pick. One of my main considerations was Hasbro, Inc. Hasbro has a lot of brand power under their belts: Monopoly, Battleship, Boggle, Pictionary, Risk, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Transformers, Nerf, not to mention more targeted brands such as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. I went to Zellers the other day and took a stroll through the toy section. Many of the toys were made by Hasbro, meaning that Hasbro has a lot of retail store shelf space at stores like Wal-Mart, Zellers, Toys R Us, and so on. Hasbro has also been diversifying their brands toward movie production, such as Transformers and G.I. Joe. Upon examining the management, I found that the CEO of Hasbro personally heads the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, a task that could easily have been delegated to a sub-manager. To me, that shows that the CEO actually cares about what goes on at those committee meetings.

When considering Hasbro's financials, I found a lot that matched a checklist I've built, based on reading how value investors like Warren Buffett pick stocks. Hasbro has low capital expenditure, consistent profit margins, return on assets in the 9-10% range, growth in net income and growth in what Buffett calls "owner earnings". Owner earnings, or free cash flow, are equal to the company's net income, plus depreciation/amortization, minus capital expenditures. Since depreciation/amortization are a non-cash expense, the cost is added back in to the equation, and offsetting depreciation/amortization is taken into account by subtracting capital expenditures. The result is the amount of cash that the company can decide to re-invest in the business, use to acquire other companies, or pay out to shareholders in the form of dividends or share repurchases.

Something Buffett likes to see in a stock is good treatment of shareholders. At the time of this writing, Hasbro currently has a dividend yield of just over 4%, which is pretty good. They also have an on-going share repurchase program. Since 2008, Hasbro has repurchased about 10.6 million shares. The result has been a steady increase in earnings per share. After valuing Hasbro's future cash flows with a modest 5% growth per year, I came up with a valuation of the company that is higher than its current share price, offering a margin of safety around 25%. If I were to assume a higher growth rate, that margin of safety would be larger, but I don't want to over-estimate. In any case, I had all but convinced myself that this stock would be a good buy, according to the value investing principles I have been learning about. The only reason I haven't purchased this stock yet is that I'm still waiting on transferring my RRSP account over to a self-directed account that I can use to buy individual stocks. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise.

Buffett says that when you find a good investment, you should place a sizeable chunk of cash on it. Since I would be placing a sizeable chunk of cash on Hasbro, I want to be sure that I'm right about its prospects. After all, the whole strategy of focus investing is simply to just buy good companies, and avoid bad ones. I wanted to make sure I wasn't buying a bad one. It seemed strange to me that shareholders were being so lavishly rewarded year after year with dividend payouts and share repurchases, when news pieces on Hasbro had such a modest or grim outlook. I whipped up a quick spreadsheet, and here is what I found:

Data taken from Google Finance
From what I see in the spreadsheet, Hasbro has been paying out more than 100% of its owner earnings to shareholders! At the same time, it has been borrowing hundreds of millions each year. It looks to me like this is unsustainable. Cash should only be paid out to shareholders if it can't be better used elsewhere to grow the company and add value for shareholders. From what I can tell, at least some of the cash being borrowed and/or paid out to shareholders could probably be better used by re-investing in the business. This realization has led me to reconsider my plans to purchase shares in Hasbro for the time being.

Edit: I did some follow-up research on this topic, and wrote a blog post summarizing my findings.