As the world's third-richest person and most celebrated investor, Warren Buffett attracts a lot of attention. Thousands try to glean what they can from his thinking processes and track his investments.
We can't know for sure whether Buffett is about to buy Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYS: BMY) -- he hasn't specifically mentioned anything about it to me -- but we can discover whether it's the sort of stock that might interest him. Answering that question could also reveal whether it's a stock that should interest us. In this series, we do just that.
Writing in a recent 10-K, Buffett lays out the qualities he looks for in an investment. In addition to adequate size, proven management, and a reasonable valuation, he demands:
Consistent earnings power.
Good returns on equity with limited or no debt.
Management in place.
Simple, non-techno-mumbo-jumbo businesses.
Does Bristol-Myers Squibb meet Buffett's standards?
1. Earnings power
Buffett is famous for betting on a sure thing. For that reason, he likes to see companies with demonstrated earnings stability.
Let's examine Bristol-Myers Squibb's earnings and free cash flow history:
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Over the past five years, Bristol-Myers Squibb's earnings and free cash flow have been fairly consistent. (The huge earnings spike in 2008 and 2009 was related to the company's spinoff of Mead Johnson).
2. Return on equity and debt
Return on equity is a great metric for measuring both management's effectiveness and the strength of a company's competitive advantage or disadvantage -- a classic Buffett consideration. When considering return on equity, it's important to make sure a company doesn't have an enormous debt burden, because that will skew your calculations and make the company look much more efficient than it is.
Since competitive strength is a comparison between peers, and various industries have different levels of profitability and require different levels of debt, it helps to use an industry context.
Bristol-Myers Squibb generates high returns on equity (30% over the past year, 26% on average over the past five years) while employing a modest amount of debt -- 34% of equity.
CEO Lamberto Andreotti has been at the job since 2010. Before that, he held a few other positions at the company over several years, including chief operating officer.
Large, diversified pharmaceuticals like Brystol-Myers aren't particularly susceptible to wholesale technological disruption, though they are facing pipeline concerns over the loss of major drugs.
The Foolish conclusion
So is Bristol-Myers Squibb a Buffett stock? Perhaps. Although its CEO is somewhat new to the top spot, the company exhibits some of the quintessential characteristics of a Buffett investment: consistent earnings and high returns on equity with limited debt. You can stay up to speed on Bristol-Myers Squibb's progress by adding it to your stock watchlist. If you don't have one yet, you can create a watchlist of your favorite stocks.
At the time thisarticle was published Ilan Moscovitzdoesn't own shares of any company mentioned.You can follow him on Twitter, where he goes by@TMFDada. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.
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