How do I use a stock screen?

After Hours is an editorial column more loosely covering our opinions on a variety of topics in finance.

The ugly truth is that it is impossible to go through the financial statements of all available companies in the world’s stock exchanges. There is just not enough time. And although the potential for reward could be higher if you sift through each and every one, that would still mean sifting through a lot of dirt.

This is where stock screening comes in. It’s just easier and more straightforward. You pick a few criteria, making sure none are too restrictive, and then you exclude any stocks that do not meet this criteria. It is neither the most graceful practice nor the most thorough, but it quickly cuts down your universe of stocks to a smaller, more manageable group.

We have adapted some criteria borrowed from Chapter 14 (“Stock Selection for the Defensive Investor”) of Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor to serve as a starting point for any who wish to employ stock screening into their investment research process.

  1. Debt-to-Equity Ratio must be less than 1.0.
  2. Total Debt-to-Net Working Capital Ratio must be less than 1.0.
  3. Current Ratio must be more than 2.0.
  4. Company must have consistently paid out annual dividends over the last ten (10) years.
  5. Net Income must have grown by at least 33% compared to ten (10) years prior.
  6. Price-to-Earnings Ratio must be less than 15.0.
  7. Price-to-Book Ratio must be less than 1.5.