How To Research Stocks On Your Own

There are many people who are keen on investing in the stock market, but who are not necessarily confident, or comfortable about making those all-important investment decisions. No matter what level of investment, large or small, it’s important to know something about what you’re putting your money into. So, if you are an investor and are prepared to be self-reliant, then you need to think about how to research stocks and basically become your own stock analyst. This article is aimed at giving the less experienced investor a helping hand in terms of providing some useful guidance on to how to research stocks on your own.

Where Is The Information?

The first step is to begin thinking like an analyst – develop an enquiring mind. You need to find out what to buy or sell and at what price. Analysts usually focus on one particular industry or sector. If it’s a sector then they’ll focus on certain companies. An analyst’s aim is to probe into the businesses of the companies on their list. They do this by analysing financial reports and as much other available information as possible about the company. To cross-check the facts, analysts also dig into the dealings between the company and its suppliers, customers and competitors. Some analysts also visit the company, engaging with its management in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the workings of the company, and so over time they connect all the pieces of information together to get the full picture.

Before making any investment, you should do your own research. It is always better to research several stocks in the same industry so that you have a comparative analysis. However, the biggest constraint in doing your own research will probably be time. Retail investors who have many other things to do may not be able to devote as much time to research as professional analysts. However, you can surely take up just one or two firms in the beginning and test how well you can analyze them. That would help you in understanding the process and with further experience and time, you can add more stocks for analysis into your portfolio.

Can Analysts Help?

Getting your hands on anlaysts’ research reports can be a great way to start your own analysis. That way, you save a lot of time and learn much about your selected company simply by reading these reports. You may not necessarily want to follow their sell or buy recommendations, but you can get a great overview of the company, including its strengths and weaknesses, main competitors, industry outlook and future prospects. Analysts’ reports are loaded with information, and reading reports by different analysts simultaneously would help you in identifying a common thread. Opinions may differ, but basic facts in all reports are usually very common.

In addition it would be wise to take a close look at various analysts’ earnings forecasts, which ultimately determine their buy or sell recommendations. Different analysts may set different target prices for the same stock. Always look for the reasons while reading analysts’ reports. What would have been your opinion about the present stock, given the same information? No clue? Then move on to the next step.

What To Look For?

Let’s take the analysts approach in learning how to research stocks on your own. Firstly, try to understand the various steps involved in analysing a stock. Some analysts follow a “top-down” strategy, starting with an industry and then locating a well-performing company, while others take a “bottom-up” approach, starting with a particular company and then learning about the outlook for the industry. Either way is good, but try to take account to the following:

analyze the industry – there are publicly available sources of information for pretty much any industry. Often, the annual report of a company will give a good overview of the industry, along with its future growth outlook. Annual reports will often also provide information about the company’s competitors in their industry. Simultaneously reading the annual reports of two or three companies should give a clearer picture. You can also subscribe to trade magazines and websites that cater to a particular industry for monitoring the latest industry happenings;

business model – take a look at the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Is it a strong company in a weak industry, or weak company in a strong industry? The strengths of a company are often reflected in things such as its unique brand, products, customers and suppliers. You can learn about a company’s business model from its annual report, trade magazines and websites too;

financial strength – this is arguably the most important element of all when analyzing a company. You need to take a look at a company’s balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statements. Often, the numbers in the financial statements offer more information than the words in the annual report. In case you are not comfortable with numbers, no need to hesitate, just start learning as early as possible;

management – have you ever heard the expression there are no good or bad companies, only good or bad managers? Senior executives are responsible for the management and future of any company, so assess company management and board quality by doing some research on the internet;

growth outlook – it’s well-known that stock prices track earnings, the higher the earnings then, typically, the higher the stock price. Try to find out what you can about where future earnings are predicted to be. This is not too easy and analysts tend to make their own estimates by looking at past figures of sales growth and profit margins, along with profitability trends in that particular industry. It’s basically connecting what has happened in the past to what’s expected to happen in the future. Making accurate enough earnings forecasts is the ultimate test of your stock analysis capabilities, because it’s a good indication of how well you understand those industries and companies;

valuation – if you are able to establish indications about future earnings, the next step is to know about the value, or worth of a company. Analysts need to find out how much the current market price of the stocks is justified relative to the company’s value. There is no “correct” value and different analysts will use different parameters. For example, “value” investors look at intrinsic worth, whereas “growth” investors look at future earnings potential;

target price – try to establish a target price. Once you have established future earnings potential, calculate high and low target prices by multiplying estimated earnings per share (EPS) with the estimated high and low P/E Ratio. The high and low target prices represent the price band within which the future stock price is likely to move in response to the expected future earnings.

Finally

A lot of what is outlined above is really useful in showing you how to research stocks on your own. Ultimately you want to make a profit, and one of the best ways to give yourself the best chance of doing that, and avoid paying someone else to do it for you, is to do your own research. It can be fun, interesting and will certainly increase your understanding not only of the stock market more generally, but also, of those particular stocks and companies that you have an interest in.

Market Researchers – Are You Interested in a Job As a Survey Researcher?

Market research analysts are responsible for determining what products people like to buy and at what price point they will purchase them. They will also gather data on the most effective means of marketing a particular product, and they will analyze past sales in order to predict the future.

Market research analysts will frequently use the Internet, the telephone, and mail, as well as personal interviews, in order to obtain information about consumers. After putting this information together, a survey researcher will then present this information in the form of charts and graphs to a company, so that they can then utilize this information in order to increase their sales.

Survey researchers will typically spend all day conducting surveys that will help corporations make positive fiscal decisions, and their methods of test taking will mirror those of the market research analyst.

The working conditions for these professionals typically involve strict deadlines and overtime may be needed. Survey researchers may also have to travel in order to conduct interviews in focus groups and face to face. A bachelors degree is usually sufficient in order to gain entry into a position in this field, although positions are fairly competitive.

It is also helpful for those hoping to enter the field to obtain internship experience working for companies and learning how to collect data, and most survey researchers are good at working with other people in order to conduct surveys and to identify the needs of potential customers.

In 2006, these professionals had over 250,000 jobs in America, with research analysts holding the overwhelming majority of these positions. Company management are the most frequent employers of these individuals, and professional firms are the entities which will usually hire survey researchers. The job outlook for these persons is expected to grow at a rapid pace over the next 10 years, as companies become increasingly competitive in order to increase market share.

In 2006, the middle 50th percentile of market research analysts made between $42,190 and $84,070, with survey researchers earning between $22,150 and $50,960.

Meet the New Software Analyst

As US equity markets closed out 2013 at new highs, the future of equity research is facing significant change. With “price targets” being reset for many soaring social, cloud and big data analytics stocks let’s meet the new software analyst. But first, a little background.

Equity research has marginally evolved with investment styles and trading strategies over the past couple of decades. The days of primary fundamental research, particularly on the sell-side, faded long ago. Most analysts don’t have the gumption or the time.

Shrinking commissions and heightened regulatory scrutiny yield lower returns on investment, continuing a cycle of reducing research resources. The sell-side analyst role now has three principal components: 1) to provide access to company managements in their existing coverage universe; 2) to provide coverage for companies that are underwriting clients; and, 3) to provide “hot data points” – particularly for handicapping quarterly results. Buy-siders compete for management access and seek to combine these data points with their own findings to feed trading decisions.

Unfortunately, individual data points legally obtained and disseminated rarely move the needle in providing an adequate sample size on which to base an investment, no less a trading decision. For buy-siders, even aggregating data points from numerous analysts covering a particular sector or company does not provide a relevant statistical sample.

Limitations of today’s analytics

For example, let’s say a mid-sized publicly-traded technology company goes to market with a blend of 100 direct sales teams (one salesperson and one systems engineer per team) and 500 channel partners (mixed 75%/25% between resellers and systems integrators). Further, assume that these teams and partners are dispersed in proportion to the company’s 65%/35% sales mix between North America and international. How many salespeople and channel partners would an analyst have to survey to get an accurate picture of the company’s business in any given quarter?

If a typical sell-side analyst covers 15-20 companies (quintuple that for buy-side analysts), the multiplier effect of data points that an analyst would have to touch makes it humanly impossible to gather sufficient information. Moreover, with 50% of most tech company deals closing in the final month of a quarter, of which half often close in the final two weeks of that month, how much visibility can an analyst have?

Further, why would a company’s sales team talk to anyone from the investment community in the final weeks of a quarter when the only people they are interested in speaking with are customers who can sign a deal? Now consider that many companies throughout the supply chain have instituted strict policies in response to recent scandals to prevent any employee from having any contact with anyone from the investment community.

Even the best-resourced analysts lack the tools to correlate the data points he/she does gather to identify meaningful patterns for either an individual company or an entire sector. Finally, with shorter-term investing horizons and high-frequency trading dominating volume, how relevant are these data points anyway?

The big data approach to research

Stocks generally tend to trade on either sector momentum or overall market momentum. Macro news or events are far more likely to impact a sector’s movement, and therefore a stock’s in that sector. This includes volatility around quarterly earnings – which can run 10%-30% for technology stocks – because the majority of “beats” or “misses” are frequently impacted by macro factors. Excuses such as “sales execution” or “product transition” or “merger integration” issues are less frequent than conference calls would suggest. “Customers postponed purchases” or “down-sized deals” or “customers released budgets” or “a few large deals closed unexpectedly” are more likely explanations.

Now, major sell-side and buy-side institutions are trialing new software that leverages cloud infrastructure and big data analytics to model markets and stocks. Massive data sets can include macro news from anywhere in the world, such as economic variables, political events, seasonal and cyclical factors. These can be blended with company-specific events, including earnings, financings or M&A activity. Newer data sources, including social media, GPS and spatial can also be layered into models. Users can input thousands of variables to build specific models for an entire market or an individual security.

As with any predictive analytics model the key is to ask the right questions. However, the machine learning capabilities of the software will allow the system to not only answer queries but to also determine what questions to ask.

The advantages to both sell-side and buy side firms are significant. They include:

  • Lower costs. Firms can avoid major technology investments by leveraging the scale and processing power of cloud-based infrastructure and analytics software. They can collect, correlate and analyze huge, complex data sets and built models in a fraction of the time and cost that it takes in-house analysts to do.
  • Accuracy. Machine learning and advanced predictive analytics techniques are far more reliable and scalable than models built in Excel spreadsheets. Patterns can be detected to capture small nuances in markets and/or between securities that high-frequency trading platforms have been exploiting for years.
  • Competitiveness. The software can make both sell-side and buy-side firms more competitive with the largest, most technologically advanced hedge funds that have custom-built platforms to perform analytics on this scale in real time. In addition to enhancing performance, the software can be leveraged to improve client services by making select tools available to individual investors.

Analysts become data scientists

The analyst skill set must evolve. They will still have to perform fundamental analysis to understand the markets they follow and each company’s management, strategy, products/services and distribution channels. And they will still have to judge whether a company can execute on these factors.

But to increase their value, analysts will have do statistical modeling and use analytics tools to gain a deeper understanding of what drivers move markets, sectors or particular stocks. Data discovery and visualization tools will replace spreadsheets for identifying dependencies, patterns and trends, valuation analysis, and investment decision making. Analysts will also need a deeper understand client strategies and trading styles in order to tailor their “research” to individual clients.

These technologies may well continue to shrink the ranks of analysts because of their inherent advantages. But those analysts who can master these techniques to complement their traditional roles may not only survive, but lift their value – at least until the playing field levels – because of their new alpha-generating capabilities.

Sprott Analyst Has Zero Doubt on Higher Natural Gas Prices

Introduction: We talked with Sprott Asset Management Research Analyst Eric Nuttall about the natural gas situation in Canada and the fate of many CBM gas producers and developers. Since our last conversation spot natural gas prices have dropped by 15 percent. Natural gas storage levels are about 2.5 trillion cubic feet, some 423 billion cubic feet higher than a year ago.

Eric Nuttall told us, “Nearly all small-cap natural gas producers have taken it in the teeth this year. The price decreases in their stocks have been absolutely brutal. There are now companies whose stocks are down 40 percent year-to-date, and yet are still strongly growing production on an adjusted share basis.” How will the CBM and natural gas sector pan out through the end of this year? He believes the gas storage surplus will correct itself.

StockInterview: How are the lower natural gas prices impacting Coalbed Methane producers?

Eric Nuttall: For many CBM or shallow gas producers, this means their current drilling program is likely uneconomic, suggesting deferrals in drilling programs until natural gas prices strengthen. It is this very supply response that we need to balance storage levels, so it should not come as a complete surprise.

StockInterview: What, then, should investors do while storage levels are rebalancing?

Eric Nuttall: I would view this period as an opportunity for medium to long-term minded individuals to start building positions in not just unconventional gas producers, but conventional ones as well. The long-term fundamentals are still extremely bullish for natural gas. Many quality names are down 20 to 40 percent year-to-date.

StockInterview: How do you view the long-term fundamentals for gas?

Eric Nuttall: North American natural gas production has been in decline for several years. Most incremental production is coming from smaller, more expensive-to-drill, thinner economic, higher decline pools and reservoirs. Over the past five years first-year decline rates on natural gas wells have doubled to 50 percent. The base decline rate has also doubled to approximately 25 to 30 percent. Pool size has also decreased materially over that time frame. The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and much of the US producing basins are mature. Consequently, higher and higher natural gas prices are required to create incentive for producers to drill increasingly marginal wells.

StockInterview: And you expect a continuation of declining natural gas production? And that is that your premise for higher natural gas pricing?

Eric Nuttall: Conventional gas production has been in decline for many years, and the growth areas have largely been unconventional, such as the Piceance Basin (tight gas), the Barnett Shale (shale gas), and the Jonah Field (tight, deep gas). Also, many of the growth assets, such as the Barnett Shale, are already a few years into development, and because the wells have such a steep decline rate in the first few years, it is only adding to the depleting base that we have to make up. It is unlikely that over the next three years, the increase in unconventional gas can offset the decline in conventional, because the depleting base is so much larger. The major natural gas basins in North America are mature. Decline rates are increasing. Pool size is decreasing. Rig count is increasing yet production is at best flat. Until LNG imports increase in a material way, which is not expected for at least four or five more years, I think the case for healthy natural gas prices is intact.

StockInterview: Earlier, you noted drilling was more expensive.

Eric Nuttall: Over the past year, onshore drillings costs are up over 15 percent while operating costs are up over 10 percent. A recent Wall Street Journal article commented on how rig rates for the Gulf of Mexico, on very deep drilling platforms, are as high as $520,000 per day, up from $185,000 a few years ago. And the drilling platforms are still leaving the Gulf of Mexico! Although many are leaving the Gulf of Mexico to go to more prospective areas such as the West African Coast, the current rig situation is still somewhat tight in the Gulf. We have only begun to see signs of moderating rig rate pricing.

StockInterview: How would bad weather, such as a hurricane, impact natural gas prices?

Eric Nuttall: Short term, you would see both natural gas and related stocks surge. If a hurricane strikes the producing area of the Gulf, and we almost need one to – to correct the surplus supply situation. Initially, you’ll have an emotional upward response. Only after assessing the status of production platforms and sub-sea infrastructure would we know the longer-term impact.

StockInterview: Should investors be watching the Weather Channel and ready to phone their stockbrokers?

Eric Nuttall: Timing on any natural gas investment right now is tricky. You need to have a medium- to longer-term focus. We probably have another two months of volatility. There are two camps right now on natural gas. One camp is saying that due to bloated storage levels companies are going to increasingly lay down their drilling rigs, cut production guidance, and stress their balance sheets. Then in the fall, when companies set their 2007 budgets, they will be using low gas prices and presenting moderating production growth profiles to their investors.

StockInterview: What does the other camp say?

Eric Nuttall: Another camp says that the current natural gas strip already discounts the present and forecasted storage levels. Also, stocks are cheap on a price-to-cash flow and price-to-net asset value ratios, and now is the time to load up on the stocks. I lean towards this viewpoint. But I am also admitting that until the fall, barring a severe hurricane, it is likely that the stocks are going to trade sideways, as opposed to in any clear direction.

StockInterview: One equities strategist, whom we interviewed, suggested some time in August we might start to see the natural gas stocks moving higher.

Eric Nuttall: There is the potential that we might endure another month or two of flat trading in small cap natural gas stocks. By the end of August, it is likely that we will have had both a supply and demand response – worries of massive laying down of rigs, forced well shut-in’s, and overleveraged balance sheets should have subsided. Investors will begin to focus on the natural gas strip rather than spot prices, which currently are around $9.00 for the upcoming winter and $8.00 for next summer.

StockInterview: And until then?

Eric Nuttall: Until that time comes, I think it likely, as a group, the large caps will outperform. They are more weighted towards oil, and have recently been catching a bid on the heel of a huge $22 billion all-cash takeover by Anadarko of Western Gas and Kerr-McGee. Importantly for unconventional gas investors, Anadarko paid around $2.00 for 3P (Possible) Mcf, which is very healthy (Western Gas was predominantly tight gas in Wyoming and coalbed methane in the Powder River Basin). It speaks to Anadarko’s view of strong long-term natural gas fundamentals. These all-cash transactions likely set the bottom in the large caps.

StockInterview: What do you see for the near-term?

Eric Nuttall: Many people have been hoping that warm weather or hurricanes would assist in working off the excess supply, but Mother Nature hasn’t been terribly helpful so far this summer. It appears that we will exit the natural gas injection season at least 10% over last year. Barring any incredible heat waves or significant hurricanes, natural gas prices are likely to remain sub-$6.50 until the fall. Unless we have a serious hot spell or a significant hurricane, it is likely that natural gas stocks will be very volatile without clear direction over the summer into the fall. I would think not until the fall, probably September – October, when people begin to focus not on natural gas spot prices, but on the strip pricing for the winter, which is still over C$10. Until that time comes, I wouldn’t see any clear direction in the stocks. The market is now providing opportunities to buy companies with high quality management for below-average multiples, commonly measured on a price-to-cash flow metric.

StockInterview: Have you given up on the CBM sector or is it coming back?

Eric Nuttall: There is zero doubt in my mind that natural gas is an excellent long-term investment. We’ve peaked in our ability to increase production meaningfully, just as we have with light oil. I think for there to be an increase in long-term natural gas supply, you have to provide incentive to producers to go drill wells that increasingly have lower economic rates of return. And to do that, you need higher natural gas prices. One of the few remaining growth prospects in Canada for natural gas production is coalbed methane. At current gas prices, the economics are very challenging. So to get a supply response from coalbed methane producers, you again need higher gas prices. The current surplus in gas storage will correct itself, and investors should position themselves ahead of natural gas stocks reacting to this inevitability.

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