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TheStreet Open House

Ben Graham Still Delivers Results

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ben Graham wins again. The father of value investing may have passed away in 1976, and his investment theories and techniques may be seen by some as antiquated, but the proof is in the pudding.

This time last year, I repeated a stock screen that I run quite often based on Graham's techniques for the "defensive investor," which appeared in The Intelligent Investor, originally published in 1949.

The screening criteria are as follows:

    1. Adequate Size -- Graham excluded smaller companies; I've set the minimum market cap at $1 billion.

    2. Strong Financial Condition -- Minimum current ratio of 2; long-term debt must be less than working capital.

    3. Earnings Stability -- Graham required positive earnings for at least 10 consecutive years: I am using seven years.

    4. Dividends -- Graham required uninterrupted dividends for at least 20 years; I am using seven years here, as well.

    5. Earnings Growth -- Graham sought a minimum increase of 33% in earnings per share during the past 10 years; I am using a minimum compounded annual growth rate in earnings of 5% over seven years.

    6. Moderate Price-to-Earnings Ratio -- Average P/E ratios should be less than 15 over the past three years.

    7. Moderate Ratio of Price to Assets -- Graham sought companies with price-to-book ratios below 1.5, but would accept a higher P/E ratio, if price to book was lower. This end result was that P/E times price-to-book ratio should be less than 22.5.

    8. Other -- U.S. companies only; I excluded foreign companies and American depository receipts (ADRs) from the results.

The screen revealed just five qualifiers, a group of stocks that has an average return of nearly 27% since that column ran, versus 17.5% for the S&P 500 Index and about 19% for the Russell 2000 Index.

The big winner was contract drilling company Helmerich & Payne (HP), which is up nearly 80%, while fertilizer company CF Industries (CF) is up about 33%. Supermarket chain Weiss Markets (WMK) (+13%), petroleum refiner Holly Frontier (HFC) (+6%) and pawn-shop chain Cash America International (CSH) (+3%) round out the list.

That just five companies met the criteria is a testament not only to Graham's high threshold, but also to the dearth of value in the current market. That's not to say that markets are extremely overvalued, but that true bargains are difficult to find.

Running the same search today reveals just two companies: holdover Cash America which seems to always make the cut, and tobacco company Universal Corp (UVV). .

>>Read More: Family Dollar Keeps Falling Short

>>Read More: The Myth of Cheap U.S. Natural Gas

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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