How to Apply Valuation, Moat Analysis and Uncertainty Checks to Your Investing Like Morningstar

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Jae Jun

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I love Morningstar.

I hope that Old School Value will be a better version of Morningstar for value investors one of these days, but until then, I always find myself using their tools.

Previously, I showed you 15 of the best sites to collect ideas, but I was looking through Morningstar’s database the other day and found a list of stocks that got my interest.

Instead of just screening for the regular low PE and low PB, you can use their internal ratings to screen for stocks based on things like moat rating.

You have to pay to use this service though.

But if you’re short on time and want to a low hassle way of keeping up with large cap Buffett style businesses, it’s a great place to get ideas.

So that’s what I was doing and I added an additional filter to look for stocks with 4 stars or above in addition to having a wide moat.

And then it got me thinking about how Morningstar looks at stocks.

After all, if I want this site to be like Morningstar one day, I need to have an idea of how they value and analyze stocks.

So let’s examine how you can apply a fair value rating, moat analysis and uncertainty rating to your investing, just like how it’s shown at the Morningstar website.

Here’s what I saw for AAPL and what got me curious.

Morningstar Stats for AAPL

Morningstar Stats for AAPL

Since my intrinsic value for AAPL is much higher at $140 and I believe their economic moat is wider, I want to know how these values came up.

And by reverse engineering a process, it really forces you to dig deep and ask questions on the hows and whys.

Inverted thinking really is a powerful way of learning.

Getting the Valuation Correct

Morningstar’s Fair Value Method

Starting with fair value, according to its glossary;

It is the Morningstar analyst’s estimate of what the stock is worth. The Fair Value Estimate should be used in conjunction with our Economic Moat rating and our Business Risk rating.

Doesn’t tell you much.

But from what I can gather based on testing various inputs and the results I’m getting, it looks to be an internal DCF model with growth estimates based on analyst numbers.

I could be completely wrong but as I try to reverse engineer their fair values, it does feel very close.

Since a DCF is industry standard, I’m just starting with the DCF calculator, starting off with an assumed FCF, using a 9% discount rate and then playing around with the growth rates to get a value that matches their fair value.

Then I compare the final growth rate I’m seeing with the consensus analyst growth rate.

The results are fairly close. You’d be surprised that despite how firms say that they have a proprietary model, it’s doesn’t differ much from a 2 or 3 stage DCF.

After writing all this, I found an article which explains Morningstar’s method of valuing stocks which is exactly I expected.

An internal DCF with analyst inputs.

But before I continue, click on the image below to be a VIP and get all the hidden content and exclusive resources we don’t publish anywhere else.

Old School Value’s Fair Value Method

I have two philosophies when it comes to valuing stocks.

  1. Keep it transparent
  2. Master multiple valuation methods and use the correct one for the situation

Sure, there’s no need to disclose what stocks you hold and how much you own, but when it comes to valuing stocks and performing analysis, there’s no reason to hide behind a black veil of secrecy.

No matter how good a valuation technique is, it’s never 100% accurate.

And if it’s not 100% accurate, why bother trying to keep something that doesn’t work all the time a secret?

Since I want to compare my estimates with that of Morningstar’s on 5 stocks that caught my eye, my fair value estimates are the averages of the DCF, Graham’s Formula, EBIT Mulitples and Absolute PE valuation method.

I keep all models transparent so that you can see everything from how it’s built, what the inputs are and even adjust the formulas yourself.

How to Apply a Moat Rating To Your Thesis

I’ve always liked how Morningstar displays their information, and their moat system is just one of them.

It’s simple and to the point.

Too bad it’s another “proprietary Morningstar data point.”

At least you can go to their glossary and read their well summarized take on the different moats and get an idea of how they rate a stock.

I have a couple of articles on measuring moats which you can read for later too.

One quick way I measure moats is by comparing the Net Reproduction Value with the Earnings Power Value that Bruce Greenwald teaches in his value investing class at Colombia University.

Using EPV to Determine Moat | Enlarge

I do the same thing in the OSV analyzer.

Book value, the net reproduction value and the EPV are compared to determine whether the company has a moat or not.

  • A wide moat is a company where the EPV is much higher than the net reproduction value.
  • A narrow moat is where the EPV is only slightly higher than the net reproduction value.
  • No moat is where the EPV and net reproduction value are equal.
  • A value destroyer is where the EPV is less than the net reproduction value.

In this example, a moat clearly exists, but it’s not as high as it used to be.

EPV Moat Chart

Determine the Moat with the EPV Chart

The chart is for IBM by the way. A year ago, the EPV was much higher, so it’s an indication that IBM’s moat is eroding slowly.

Compare it to this chart.

Wide Moat Shown Through EPV

Wide Moat Shown Through EPV

The EPV is shooting through the roof here.

This is what you call a moat.

The company is Western Union (WU).

Now this is just one way of coming up with a moat. You could follow a more qualitative process of reading through reports, books, newspapers and getting a better understanding of the entire company and industry.

Then either grading it an A to F or draw up a neat spider chart, which happens to be my method of choice.

IBM Moat Spider Chart

IBM Moat Spider Chart

The bigger the surface area, the bigger the moat, and better the investment.

Compare it to the many companies that look like this.

Fast Growing Companies with No Moat Look like This

Get creative with how you want to represent your moat.

But try to keep it simple so that a single glance can tell the entire story.

Using an Uncertainty Rating

I first saw this in 2008 and here’s the original article that discusses the introduction of Morningstar’s uncertainty rating.

Basically, instead of just putting out a single number out there as a fair value, the uncertainty rating is supposed to act as a guide to how tight the the range of fair values are.

Since companies are non linear and there is always uncertainty about the future, my take is to simply provide a range of values.

An easy way is to consider bearish and aggressive scenarios to cover your bases.

Then take the average to get the estimate fair value if you just want a single number to remember.

Or in the case I show you below, I’ve take multiple valuation estimates and taken the average.

This also ties in with the discussion of probabilities.

By trying to understand how uncertain you are about a particular outcome, you can assign probabilities to different events occurring and calculate the expected returns that way.

But calculating probabilities is HARD.

The ability to think and get probabilities right is what makes Buffett the best investor in the world.

I’m not the best at this, but I do try and I’ve discussed how to apply it to position sizing. Here’s a past article on calculating the expected value for an investment.

The easiest method for me is to calculate intrinsic value ranges, instead of a single number. This helps me to think about the downside without worrying too much about the upside.

5 Stocks That Are Undervalued with Wide Moats According to Morningstar

Here are 5 stocks rated as 4 stars with wide moats based on the Morningstar figures.

I don’t agree with the moat or uncertainty for all 5 stocks, but that’s what makes it fun. I can try to come up with my own values and then compare it.

The 5 stocks are:

  1. Western Union
  2. IBM
  3. eBay
  4. Qualcomm
  5. VF Corp

Here are the numbers I pulled.

Morningstar Rating System

And here are my estimates of fair value using the old school value analyzer and fine tuning the models one by one.

Let’s see if you can figure out how I’m getting my numbers 🙂

Old School Value Fair Values | Enlarge

For the most part, I tried to figure out a quick normal case scenario for each of forward looking methods. The average was then taken as the final fair value to compare with Morningstar’s.

Since I’m looking at companies that aren’t in any financial risk, looking at the NCAV, NNWC or other balance sheet valuation isn’t going to be helpful.

Here’s a cleaner view of the fair value comparisons.

Morningstar vs Old School Value Intrinsic Values

Whether you use the OSV analyzer or not, try to value these stocks and see what you come up with.

This is Just One Side of the Story

I do want to point out that these numbers are just one side of the story.

The easy part.

The difficult part is learning about the companies and gaining insight that others may be missing.

Western Union has been around since 1851 and they are instantly recognizable with a huge moat for international money transfer.

However, litigation issues, increasing regulations and new technologies competing for the money service space has kept WU down for a while.

But ask yourself, why is it cheap? What is the market missing? Or am I the one that’s missing something.

What about IBM?

It’s one of Buffett’s biggest picks but it’s taken a tumble recently.

Revenues have been falling and the bears have been saying that IBM is more focused on financial engineering to provide good numbers instead of being innovative and growing.

Previously, I’ve valued IBM at $200 but I’ve had to scale it back because the financials do show a slowdown.

IBM is still has cash cow and buying back shares is never a bad thing.

After all, look at what PRLS did. The CEO practically bought back ALL the shares of the company. I don’t consider buying back shares financial engineering to inflate EPS because the market isn’t that stupid.

Maybe it would have passed 30 years ago, but not today.

Again, the question with these stocks is, why are they cheap?

Try this Exercise if You Want to Get Better

With all the information you have about calculating intrinsic value, moats and uncertainty ratings, I recommend that you try this as a case study.

Value these stocks on your own and come up with your own moat rating.

Then see how it unfolds a year or two later and scrutinize what you did right/wrong.


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