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Four signs of a competitive moat at Adobe Inc (NSQ:ADBE)

22nd May by Ben Hobson

Given that widespread uncertainty in the stock market is likely to endure for the rest of 2020 and beyond, it pays to know that you're investing in high-quality stocks, rather than speculative ones. This means safe, profitable companies with strong balance sheets.

Most investors would agree that the best quality companies in the stock market often make the best investments as well. They're the ones that seem to be able to make consistently stunning profits over the long term.

What makes these stocks so appealing is their ability to resist competitive threats and generate breathtaking profits. They compound investment returns at consistently above-average rates over the long term.

These stocks are different because they've got what billionaire investor Warren Buffett, calls economic moats. Like medieval castles, their profits are fortified by impregnable business models.

Here's a rundown on what makes these stocks so special - using Adobe Inc (NSQ:ADBE), which is active in the Software & IT Services industry, as an example...

GET MORE DATA-DRIVEN INSIGHTS INTO NSQ:ADBE »

Clues to quality

Before we get started on why Adobe Inc looks like a high quality stock, here are some of the main ways that a company can build a strong moat around itself:

  • Intangible Assets - Such as brands that customers love, valuable patents or regulatory approvals
  • Switching Costs - It might be too costly, complicated or unnecessary for customers to look elsewhere
  • Network Effects - When customers become part of a product it creates tremendously powerful businesses
  • Cost Advantages - Superior processes and unique locations and assets make it hard for others to compete
  • Great Scale - Large infrastructure and distribution networks are powerful barriers to entry in many industries

Has Adobe Inc (NSQ:ADBE) got a moat?

When it comes to searching for companies with moats, some of the biggest clues actually lie in their financial statements. By looking at a small number of important ratios you can get an idea about the competitive strength and profit power in a business.

Here's what they are and why they are important - and how Adobe Inc stacks up against them:

  1. High rates of Free Cash Flow - the measure of a thriving company.
    - A high ratio of free cash flow to sales can be a very positive sign. For Adobe Inc, the figure is an impressive 37.0%. 
  2. High Return on Capital Employed - the measure of a company growing efficiently and profitably.
    - A 5-year average ROCE of more than 12 percent is a pointer to strong efficiency. For Adobe Inc, the figure is an eye-catching 18.0%.
  3. High Return on Equity (compared to peers) - the measure of a company making good profits from its assets.
    - Adobe Inc has a 5-year average ROE of 21.5%.
  4. High Operating Margins (compared to peers) - the measure of a company with pricing power
    - Adobe Inc has a 5-year average operating margin of 26.9%.

Next steps

Some of the best quality stocks in the market have defensible models that can deliver high levels of shareholder returns over the long term. By analysing some key medium-term profitability and efficiency metrics, it's possible to start tracking them down. On this basis, it certainly appears that Adobe Inc has some of the financial traits of an economic moat.

To find out more you might want to take a look at the NSQ:ADBE StockReport from the award-winning research platform, Stockopedia. StockReports contain a goldmine of information in a single page and can help to inform your investment decisions.

To find more stocks like Adobe Inc, you'll need to equip yourself with professional-grade data and screening tools. This kind of information has traditionally been closely guarded by professional fund managers. But our team of financial analysts have carefully constructed this screen - Stockopedia’s Moats of the FTSE 350 - which gives you everything you need. So why not come and take a look?

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