From a mathematical perspective, those in Finance can clearly show you how not being diversified -- in an economy that allows for diversification -- is not prudent. Why isn't it prudent? Because, for most investors, not having all of their eggs in one basket will prevent them from devastating loss should some baskets break. Baskets break all the time.
Although diversification is an ancient concept, the modern idea of financial diversification in the context of creating an effective investment portfolio can be attributed to Harry Markowitz. Markowitz published his seminal paper titled Portfolio Selection in 1952. Check it out here, and other places online.
Some investors, however, feel that they don't need this rule. Some investors think the rule, or more precisely, the nature of the world in the investing space, doesn't apply to them. They feel that they know more than the typical investor or investing firm knows - they think they're somehow better at picking stocks or making investment decisions. These people -- and they are everywhere -- believe that they're just different. It's a common thing in humanity, and it might not change.
Bill Miller is another excellent, but not someone as widely known as Benjamin Graham outside of financial circles. Miller spent 35 years at Legg Mason Capital - his last role at the asset management firm was as Chairman and Chief Investment Office (CIO).
During his time there, Miller was able to beat the S&P 500 (in after-fee returns) for 15 consecutive years (from 1991 to 2005). This spectacularly consistent and exceptional performance is considered highly improbable per well-known financially theory that says the market is efficient and that above-market returns will most likely arise to do chance.
If there is a 50-50 chance of beating the market (the S&P 500) on any given year (as the Efficient Market Hypothesis would lead us to believe), the chance of beating the market for 15 consecutive (eg. flipping heads 15 times in a row) is 0.0031%. Miller's approach, therefore, seems to be more than just pure luck and many investors believe that his deep value-oriented approach to picking stocks can consistently produce market-beating returns if applied in a disciplined and knowledgeable way.
Market Cap Less than 3X Free Cash Flow (FCF) for Next 5 Years
The first screen wants us to only allow those firms whose market capitalization is less than three times the total estimated free cash flow (FCF) over the next 5 years. Here we are clearly looking for undervalued firms in terms of earnings, but we're not looking at the typical price to earnings (P/E) ratio that most investors look at - Bill Miller is concerned not with profits but with free cash flow (FCF), an important measure that is much harder to manipulate than is profit by the firm's bookkeeper.
A firm can make a profit but lose cash. A firm can lose money but be raking in cash (this is the case with Amazon). The reason for this has to do with accounting principles and how they have to be applied for publicly-traded firms reporting their quarterly earnings. Without getting into the weeds here, the nature of financial reporting leads to quite unintuitive representations of things - profit on the books might not translate into real cash every quarter and losses might not really be as bad as they might sound if cash if rolling into the firm's bank accounts.
By eschewing profit nad focusing gon cash, Miller moves toward a more realistic and intuitive measure. By looking at those firms that have a market cap less than three times the esteemed free cash flow (FCF) over the next 5 years, we are effectively putting a maximum multiple over free cash flow (FCF) on the firm. This means that we expect the full market cap to be repaid within the next 5 years in free cash (not in profit). This is a powerful criterion that will leave relatively solid value plays in terms of free cash flow (FCF).
Price Earnings to Growth (PEG) Ratio Under 1.5
As with Peter Lynch and Phillip Fisher, Miller also focused on the P/E to Growth (PEG) ratio. However, unlike Lynch whose screen includes a filter to eliminate PEG ratios greater than 1 and Fisher whose screen only seeks to include PEG ratios between 0.1 and 0.5, Miller is more aggressive in terms of accepting a higher PEG ratio of 1.5.
In this screen, although a PEG of 1.5 still is reasonable, the PEG filter can best be understood as eliminating overly expensive items rather than being a hard screen for deep value plays. If that was the case, the PEG ratio would likely be lower - around 1 or less.
Long-Term Debt Ratio Below Industry Average
Finally, if we're looking at value plays in terms of market cap to free cash flow, we want to make sure that the deep value present isn't because the firm is over-levered - we want to make sure the firm isn't burdened by excessive debt as debt can be a killer both to the ability to effectively use the cash the firm generates and because it creates a lot of risks.
By looking at firms with debt ratios below the industry average, we can be sure that we are being conservative in our stock pick. Combined with a reasonable PEG ratio and a low market cap relative to estimate future free cash flow (FCF) over the next 5 years, we can paint a full picture of the firm as a reasonably conservative value play.
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