Why Analyze Securities?

Security Analysis - Does it Matter?

Wall Street has scores of analysts, strategists and portfolio managers hired to do one thing: beat the market. Analysts are hired to find undervalued stocks. Strategists are hired to predict the direction of the market and various sectors. Portfolio managers are hired to put it all together and outperform their benchmark, usually measured as the S&P 500. Granted, there are many studies and disputes raging on the performance of equity mutual funds, but it is safe to assume that about 75% of equity mutual funds underperform the S&P 500. With these kinds of stats, individual investors would surely be better off simply investing in an index fund rather than attempting to beat the market wouldn't they?

The added value of analysis is in the eye of the beholder. A fundamental analyst believes that analyzing strategy, management, product, financial statistics and many other readily and not-so-readily quantifiable numbers will help choose stocks that will outperform the market. They are also likely to believe that there is little or no value in analyzing past prices and that technical analysts would be better off stargazing. The technical analyst believes that the chart, volume, momentum and an array of mathematical indicators hold the keys to superior performance. Technicians are just as likely to believe that fundamental data is hogwash pure and simple. And then there are the Random Walkers who believe that any attempt to try and outwit the market is futile.

So whom do we believe? Is fundamental analysis worth the time and effort? Are technicians a bunch of quacks? Or is it all a lesson in random futility? Let's start to clarify things by looking at the efficient market hypothesis and see where the fundamentalists, technicians and random walkers stand on the question of market efficiency. After we have explored this area, we will then take a closer look at the random walk theory, fundamental analysis and technical analysis.

Are Markets Efficient?

The question concerning the value of analysis begins with the debate on market efficiency. Just what is represented by the current price of a security? Is a security's current price an accurate reflection of its fair value? Or, do anomalies exist that allow traders and investors the opportunity to beat the market by finding undervalued or overvalued securities?

Aswath Damara, of the Stern Business School at New York University, defines an efficient market as one in which the market price is an unbiased estimate of the true value of the investment. Fair enough, but it is not quite that simple. In an efficient market, the current price of a security fully reflects all available information and is the fair value. "All" because the price is the sum value of all views (bullish, bearish or otherwise) held by market participants. It is the fair value because the market agreed on a price to buy and sell the security. As new information becomes available, the market assimilates the information by adjusting the security's price up (buying) and down (selling). In an efficient market, deviations above and below fair value are possible, but these deviations are considered to be random. Over the long run, the price should accurately reflect fair value.

The hypothesis further asserts that if markets are efficient, then it should be virtually impossible to outperform the market on a sustained basis. Even though deviations will occur and there will be periods when securities are overvalued or undervalued, these anomalies will disappear as quickly as they appeared, thus making it almost impossible to profit from them.

From experience, most of us would agree that the market is not perfectly efficient. Anomalies do exist and there are investors and traders that outperform the market. Therefore, there are varying degrees of market efficiency, which have been broken down into three levels. These three levels also happen to correspond to the beliefs of the fundamentalists, technicians and random walkers.