Humans love to use labels. From low carb to bridezilla, labels are used in almost every walk of life. It comes out of a need to identify and place something within a group. I myself have fallen victim to this very affliction, I purposefully called myself the GARP investor. Investors don’t stray from this norm, in fact they typically embrace it. Investors generally fall into one of two overarching categories: value or growth. Of course there are hundreds of subcategories ranging from deep value to angel investing but ultimately these are just derivatives of the main two categories with a slight spin. These two frequently find themselves at odds with one another. Members of one group can never seem to grasp the thinking of their counterparts. I personally find these arguments to be all for naught. In my opinion growth is just a factor used in determining a company’s value. They are two sides of the same coin and inextricably linked
Let’s examine what Warren Buffett had to say on the matter. In his 1992 letter to his shareholders(which you should all go ahead and read in its entirety), he tackled this very issue.
Most analysts feel they must choose between two approaches customarily thought to be in opposition: “value” and “growth.” Indeed, many investment professionals see any mixing of the two terms as a form of intellectual cross-dressing.
We view that as fuzzy thinking (in which, it must be confessed, I myself engaged some years ago). In our opinion, the two approaches are joined at the hip: Growth is always a component in the calculation of value, constituting a variable whose importance can range from negligible to enormous and whose impact can be negative as well as positive.
In addition, we think the very term “value investing” is redundant. What is “investing” if it is not the act of seeking value at least sufficient to justify the amount paid?
I don’t understand why an investor can’t be both a growth and a value investor, or rather just a regular plain vanilla investor. When making an investment, the goal should always be to find value. Growth is merely a factor in determining whether there is value in the investment or not. In fact, there can be investments of incredible value with no growth and even no value with incredible growth. This is why the price paid is so important. Let’s look at some examples to demonstrate:
Value With No Growth
Imagine a company that earns 1 million dollars a year in profit manufacturing toasters, whose fixed assets equal all of their liabilities. This company then needs to spend 1 million on capital expenditures in order to fix their machinery to sell the exact same amount of toasters. In year 2 they will make that same 1 million and spend that 1 million on fixing their machinery. There is never any cash leftover in the business. In years prior however, they were more profitable and were able to save up 5 million in the bank. Because they are unable to grow their earnings the P/E ratio has fallen to a pittance of 3. This means the whole business is only selling for 3 million. A classic value investor would buy what Buffett would call a “cigar butt” for 3 million. He would close the business, sell off the fixed assets to pay off the liabilities and walk away with the 5 million in cash. He bought it for 3, walked away with 5 and made a quick 2 million dollars, a 66% return. Unfortunately, the market is more efficient these days and such easy money is no longer there for the taking. Had you paid above 5 million for the same business, it wouldn’t be nearly as enticing. Price paid is what ultimately determines the success of an investment, even if there is no growth in the business.
Growth With No Value
First let’s look at another Buffett quote from the same letter.
Growth benefits investors only when the business in point can invest at incremental returns that are enticing - in other words, only when each dollar used to finance the growth creates over a dollar of long-term market value. In the case of a low-return business requiring incremental funds, growth hurts the investor.
Let’s now imagine a successful company with a decision on their hands. This company has no debt, earns 200 million dollars in profit and has a billion dollars of equity. They therefore have a Return on Equity(ROE) of 20% and have a market cap of 2 billion(a 10 P/E). The company generates lots of free cash with no maintenance CapEx and doesn’t know how to spend it. They can either pay out this money for a 10% dividend, buy back 1/10 of the shares outstanding for a 10% return(buying shares back at a 10 P/E) or invest internally to try and grow the business. If we ignore the effect of taxes, paying out a dividend and buying back stock should have the same result. The question is what kind of return can the company generate by growing internally. Should the company invest that 200 million back into the business but grow earnings by any less than 20 million, it will generate less than a 10% return. Even if sales and earnings grow, this would be a poor allocation decision. While ROE is currently high at 20%, each dollar reinvested will have a Return on Incremental Capital far lower. Why dilute a great business by investing in low returns?
In this example, growing the business could actually hurt the investor. While they could maintain the status quo as a high ROE business paying a generous dividend or buying back stock, plowing money back into the business at lackluster rates of return actually loses value for an investor. Unless you can invest each dollar back into the business at high rates of return, it is best for a company to look elsewhere for allocation decisions. Just because a business is growing, doesn’t mean it is the best way to provide value to its shareholders.
In conclusion, the difference between value and growth is really just semantics. As investors we are all looking for the same thing, finding value and making a good return on our investments. There are any number of ways to do so, but ultimately it all comes down to the price paid being less than intrinsic value.
As always thanks for reading! Please subscribe on the side and you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @thegarpinvestor