Friday, February 1, 2013

Standard & Poor’s 500 Guide, 2013 Edition

It’s commonplace for authors to write revised editions of their books. But book reviewers are not supposed to serve up revised editions of their reviews. The former are billed as new and improved; the latter seem nothing more than warmed-up fare. The problem is that sometimes it’s difficult to start from scratch when reviewing a book that, while completely new, is also identical in structure. Such is the case with the 2013 edition of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Guide. So, with apologies, herewith a revised edition of last year’s review.

This is a very big paperback—8 ½” x 11”, more than 1000 pages, and weighing in at about 4.5 lbs. With so much information available online, why would anyone need this book? I can think of several compelling reasons.

First, a personal preference: I enjoy flipping through pages, making serendipitous discoveries. (The one downside this year: thanks to UPS, the bottom of the book got wet, so the pages don’t exactly flip.) I don’t have the same kind of experience online since I normally am looking for something specific, not just seeing what comes my way.

Second, the two pages devoted to each company in the S&P 500 are jam-packed with data, including ten years of company financials (per share data, income statement analysis, and balance sheet and other financial data), six years of revenue and earnings per share, and the four most recent dividend payments. The summary of the company’s business is also more analytical than the run-of-the-mill online fare.

Third, and taking up almost half of the space allocated to each company, is proprietary S&P information, ranging from analysts’ reports to the famous five-star system of investment recommendations. The analysts’ reports are not always timely; a fair number are from August, although the stock reports are from November. Other data include S&P’s qualitative risk assessment and quantitative evaluations, including each company’s relative strength rank. For each stock there is also a price chart from June 2009 through November 2012 overlaid with S&P proprietary metrics.

For the reader who cannot live without stock screens, the book provides lists of companies with five consecutive years of earnings increases, stocks with A+ rankings, rapid growth stocks, and fast-rising dividends.

The book is somewhat unwieldy to handle (it’s definitely best read on a desk, which I personally find awkward), but this is a small price to pay for the amount of information available.

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