ASX bank shares make up over one-third of the Aussie stock market, measured by the market cap and the All Ordinaries Index.
We will step through the absolute basics of valuing a stock like Commonwealth Bank of Australia. If you’re truly interested in understanding more about how to value a bank share, you should consider watching this tutorial from the analyst team at Rask Australia.
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How to use comps in valuations
If you have been investing in direct shares for more than a few years you will have heard about the PE ratio. The price-earnings ratio or ‘PER’ compares a company’s share price (P) to its most recent full-year earnings per share (E). If you bought a coffee shop for $100,000 and it made $10,000 of profit last year, that’s a price-earnings ratio of 10x ($100,000 / $10,000). ‘Earnings’ is just another word for profit. So, the PE ratio is basically saying ‘price-to-yearly-profit multiple’.
The PE ratio is a very simple tool but it’s not perfect so it should only be used with other techniques (see below) to back it up. That said, one of the simple ratio strategies even professional analysts will use to value a share is to compare the company’s PE ratio with its competitors to try to determine if the share is overvalued or undervalued. It’s akin to saying: ‘if all of the other banking sector stocks are priced at a PE of X, this one should be too’. We’ll go one step further than that in this article. We’ll apply the principle of mean reversion and multiply the profits per share (E) by the sector average PE ratio (E x sector PE) to calculate what an average company would be worth.
Using CBA’s share price today, together with the earnings per share data from its 2020 financial year, we can calculate the company’s PE ratio to be 23.3x. That compares to the banking sector average PE of 24x.
Reversing the logic here, we can take the profits per share (EPS) ($3.68) and multiply it by the ‘mean average’ valuation for CBA. This results in a ‘sector-adjusted’ share valuation of $88.25.
Why dividends matter to bank investors
A DDM or dividend discount model is quite different from ratio valuations like PER because it makes you forecast cash flows into the future (it uses dividends as ‘cash flow’). Because the banking sector has proven to be relatively stable with regards to share dividends, the DDM approach can be used. However, we would not use this model for, say, technology shares.
Basically, we need only one input into a DDM model: dividends per share. Then, we make some assumptions about the yearly growth of the dividend (e.g. 2%) and the risk level of the dividend payment (e.g. 7%). We’ve used the most recent full year dividends (e.g. from last 12 months or LTM) then assumed the dividends remain consistent but grow slightly.
For simplicity, let’s assume last year’s dividend payments are consistent. Important warning: last year’s dividends are not always a good input to a DDM because dividends are not guaranteed since things can change quickly inside a business. So far in 2020, Australia’s Big Banks have been cutting or deferring their dividends.
To make this easy to understand, using our DDM we will assume the dividend payment grows at a consistent rate in perpetuity (i.e. forever) at a yearly rate between 2% and 3%.
Next, we have to pick a yearly ‘risk’ rate to discount the dividend payments back into today’s dollars. The higher the ‘risk’ rate, the lower the share price valuation.
We’ve used an average rate for dividend growth and a risk rate between 6% and 11%.
This simple DDM valuation of CBA shares is $47.28. However, using an ‘adjusted’ dividend payment of $3.37 per share, the valuation goes to $60.41. The valuation compares to Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s share price of $85.57.
Key insights & where to from here
Feel free to use these two models as the starting point for your process for analysing and valuing a bank share like CBA. However, please remember that these are just tools used by analysts and in reality a good analyst and investor will likely conduct 100+ hours of qualitative research before diving into their spreadsheet and starting their modelling.
For example, we spend a lot of our time looking at bank shares and writing about them, but if we were thinking about investing in a bank today we would want to get a handle on its growth strategy, economic indicators like unemployment, and then study house prices and consumer sentiment.