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Course 304
PEG and Payback Periods

Introduction

If you own a home or a car, you are probably all too familiar with what happens when you take out a loan. A bank lends you a certain amount of money that you must pay back at a specified rate, such as one payment per month for five to 30 years. In exchange for taking a risk that you won't repay the loan, the bank earns some revenue on top of its investment, based on the interest rate it charges. As a shareholder in a company, you're a lot like a bank. When you buy stock, you're in essence lending a company your money so it can buy what it needs for its business and (hopefully) grow. You get paid back as the company's earnings grow and its stock appreciates. But whereas a bank clearly establishes its profit margin and a timetable for being repaid, shareholders aren't that lucky. (It's a different story for bondholders, who literally loan the company money and do get scheduled interest payments.) It is possible, however, to estimate what you may earn on your investment and when you'll earn it by examining a stock's payback period.

Payback Period = Double Your Money

A payback period is the amount of time it takes for a company to accumulate enough in earnings to equal the amount of your original investment. That sounds complicated, but in simple terms, it is the time it would take you to double your money based on the profits a company is generating. There are a couple of payback periods to consider, and one of the simplest can be determined by looking at the stock's P/E, or the ratio of its price to its earnings per share. P/E is one way you can estimate how many years it would take for the company to accumulate earnings equal to its share price. Imagine a $10 stock with $1 per share in earnings. Based on its P/E of 10 ($10/$1), if the company continues to earn $1 per share every year, it would take 10 years for all those dollars to add up to the original $10 stock price. So a stock with a P/E of 10 has a payback period of 10 years, assuming its earnings are the same each year. But most companies don't make the same earnings year after year. As an investor, you're hoping the earnings will grow. To account for growth, there is something called the PEG payback period, which is based on the price/earnings growth (or PEG) ratio. The PEG ratio relates a company's price/earnings ratio (P/E) to its earnings growth. It is calculated by dividing a stock's forward P/E, or its P/E based on consensus analyst earnings estimates (what Wall Street analysts expect the company to earn over the next 12 months), by its forecasted earnings-growth rate (the rate at which analysts expect the company to grow). PEG ratio = forward P/E  / expected growth rate Like P/E, the PEG ratio tells you how many years it will take for earnings to equal the stock price. But unlike P/E, it assumes earnings will grow at a certain rate. Take our $10 stock with $1 per share in earnings. If analysts' consensus estimates say the company will grow at a rate of 10%, we would increase each year's earnings by 10% before adding it up. Therefore, the first year's earnings would be $1.10 (that's $1 times 1.1), the second year's would be $1.21 ($1.10 times 1.1), and so on. Based on a 10% growth rate, it would take seven years before earnings added up to the original stock price. As you can see, the PEG payback period for any growing company will be shorter than the P/E payback period. (For a quick check of the PEG payback without all the calculations, check Morningstar's Quicktake Reports for individual stocks.)

The Longer the Payback Period, the Greater the Risk

The most useful thing about payback periods is that they give a good (albeit rough) idea of how risky an investment is. We may feel fairly confident in our assessment of a company's earnings potential over the next year or so, but that confidence usually diminishes as we peer farther into the future. Thus, the longer the payback period, the greater risk we run that we won't get the return we expect. That is especially true if the company we're looking at is a young firm without an established market position or is dependent on a rapidly changing technology. Take Qualcomm QCOM, for example. This digital-wireless-communications powerhouse was the hottest stock on Wall Street in 1999 after appreciating 12-fold in 11 months. Its PEG payback is 12.4 years--not too bad considering its $350-plus stock price. But compare that with Allstate ALL, which watched its stock drop about 30% in 1999. Its PEG payback is 6.6 years. Qualcomm may be the sexier company and certainly has had upside for its investors, but sometimes the cheaper stock looks like a better deal. After all, stocks with longer payback periods aren't just riskier, they also have lower rewards. Remember that the payback period is the amount of time it takes to double your money. If a stock has a payback period of five years, that means it doubles the amount of the original investment in five years. An investment that doubles in five years has an average rate of return of 15% per annum (on a scientific calculator, take the fifth root of 2, subtract 1, and multiply by 100). A payback period of 10 years implies a rate of return of a little more than 7%. At 20 years, the rate is less than 4%. And so on. The longer the payback period, the lower the rate of return.

Quiz 304
There is only one correct answer to each question.

1 A payback period is:
a. The amount of time a shareholder has to pay for a stock order.
b. The period of time a company has to pay off a supplier.
c. The amount of time it takes for a company to accumulate enough in earnings to equal the amount of a shareholder's original investment.
2 The following measures can be used to estimate a payback period:
a. P/E ratio.
b. PEG ratio.
c. Both A and B.
3 The estimated payback period for a stock based on its P/E ratio is:
a. Longer than the PEG ratio payback period if the company is growing.
b. Longer than the PEG ratio payback if the company is shrinking.
c. The same as the PEG ratio payback period if the company's earnings are growing.
4 The PEG ratio payback period for Qualcomm:
a. Would decrease if Qualcomm's expected earnings growth increased.
b. Is shorter than the PEG ratio payback period for Allstate.
c. Both A and B.
5 When pitting stocks with long payback periods against those with short payback periods, stocks with long payback periods:
a. Are generally riskier.
b. Often have higher yields.
c. Are frequently cheaper.
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