Why Benjamin Graham Might Have Picked First Solar (FSLR)

Many investors turn to Benjamin Graham's so-called “Graham number” to calculate the fair price of a stock. The Graham number is √(22.5 * 5 year average earnings per share * book value per share), which for First Solar gives us a fair price of $104.15. In comparison, the stock’s market price is $273.77 per share. First Solar’s current market price is 162.9% above its Graham number, which implies that there is upside potential -- even for a conservative investors who require a significant margin of safety.

The Graham number is often used in isolation, but in fact it is only one part of a check list for choosing defensive stocks that he laid out in Chapter 14 of The Intelligent Investor. The analysis requires us to look at the following fundamentals of First Solar:

Sales Revenue Should Be No Less Than $500 million

For First Solar, average sales revenue over the last 5 years has been $5.95 Billion, so in the context of the Graham analysis the stock has impressive sales revenue. Originally the threshold was $100 million, but since the book was published in the 1970s it's necessary to adjust the figure for inflation.

Current Assets Should Be at Least Twice Current Liabilities

We calculate First Solar's current ratio by dividing its total current assets of $4.63 Billion by its total current liabilities of $1.31 Billion. Current assets refer to company assets that can be transferred into cash within one year, such as accounts receivable, inventory, and liquid financial instruments. Current liabilities, on the other hand, refer to those that will come due within one year. In First Solar’s case, current assets outweigh current liabilities by a factor of 3.6.

The Company’s Long-term Debt Should Not Exceed its Net Current Assets

This means that its ratio of debt to net current assets should be 1 or less. Since First Solar’s debt ratio is 0.5, the company has healthy debt levels with a debt to net current asset of 0.5. We calculate First Solar’s debt to net current assets ratio by dividing its total long term of debt of $438.0 Million by its current assets minus total liabilities of $3.68 Billion.

The Stock Should Have a Positive Level of Retained Earnings Over Several Years

First Solar had good record of retained earnings with an average of $2.23 Billion. Retained earnings are the sum of the current and previous reporting periods' net asset amounts, minus all dividend payments. It's a similar metric to free cash flow, with the difference that retained earnings are accounted for on an accrual basis.

There Should Be a Record of Uninterrupted Dividend Payments Over the Last 20 Years

We have no record of First Solar offering a regular dividend within the last twenty years.

A Minimum Increase of at Least One-third in Earnings per Share (EPS) Over the Past 10 Years

We are going to compare First Solar's earnings per share averages from the two 'bookends' of the 17 year period for which we have data. The first bookend comprises the years 2007, 2008, and 2009, whose EPS values of $2.03, $4.24, and $7.53 average out to $4.60. Next we look at the years 2021, 2022, and 2023, whose values of $4.38, $-0.41, and $7.74 average out to $3.90. The growth rate between the two averages does not meet Graham's standard since it is -15.22%.

Based on the above analysis, we can conclude that First Solar meets most of Benjamin Graham's criteria for an undervalued stock because it is trading above its fair value and has:

  • impressive sales revenue
  • an excellent current ratio of 3.55
  • healthy debt levels with a debt to net current asset of 0.5
  • good record of retained earnings
  • no dividend record from EDGAR
  • exceptional EPS growth
The above analysis is intended for educational purposes only and was performed on the basis of publicly available data. It is not to be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Any buy, sell, or other recommendations mentioned in the article are direct quotations of consensus recommendations from the analysts covering the stock, and do not represent the opinions of Market Inference or its writers. Past performance, accounting data, and inferences about market position and corporate valuation are not reliable indicators of future price movements. Market Inference does not provide financial advice. Investors should conduct their own review and analysis of any company of interest before making an investment decision.