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Screening Strategies

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Benjamin Graham Defensive Investor Screen

Benjamin Graham Defensive Investor is a demanding, deep value 'bargain' investing strategy based on rules suggested by legendary investor, Benjamin Graham, who wrote The Intelligent Investor. The strategy focuses on value stocks with good quality financial characteristics. It uses price-to-earnings as a valuation measure and looks for larger companies with a consistent track record of earnings and dividend growth, manageable debt and a high current ratio. Ben Graham wrote: "An investment operation is one which, upon thorough analysis, promises safety of principal and an adequate return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative." Defensive Investor is a stricter approach than Ben Graham's enterprising strategy, which look for unpopular companies, special situations and 'bargain' issues. more »

Bargain Stocks
5 Year Return: -20.7%
Altman Z-Score Screen

The Altman Z-Score is a checklist for identifying stocks that might be at risk of bankruptcy. It was created by US finance Professor Edward Altman and detailed in a book he co-authored, called Managing Credit Risk. The Z-Score is a red flag indicator that can be used as a short selling strategy. It analyses five weighted business ratios to estimate the likelihood of financial distress. Broadly, these checks examine a company's asset, strength, profitability, solvency, efficiency and ability to generate earnings. Altman wrote: "The detection of company operating and financial difficulties is a subject which has been particularly amenable to analysis with financial ratios." Tests over 31 years to 1999 found the Z-Score to be 80-90% accurate in predicting bankruptcy one year prior to the event. The Z-Score is one of the components used in another short selling strategy: James Montier Trinity of Risk. more »

Short Selling
5 Year Return: -23.2%
Kenneth Fisher Price to Sales Screen

Kenneth Fisher Value is a value investing strategy based on the approach of US investor Kenneth Fisher, who wrote Super Stocks. The strategy aims to find value stocks but also considers some of the growth factors that were suggested by Ken Fisher's father, Philip Fisher. It looks specifically for stocks that appear undervalued based on the price-to-sales ratio. It also looks for low gearing, a history of earning growth, strong net margins and positive free cash flow. Ken Fisher wrote: "Very few investors have a rational basis for valuing growth stocks in the face of a lack of earnings. The stock loses supporters and falls, in time, much too far. The best managements react to difficulties and overcome them. In time, sales pick up. Later, profits begin to pick up. Simultaneously with the profit resurgence, the stock price begins to rebound." Latterly, Ken Fisher has suggested that the price-to-sales ratio has become less effective for identifying undervalued shares, however it continues to be widely used by investors. more »

Value Investing
5 Year Return: -30.8%
Beneish M-Score Screen

The Beneish M-Score is a checklist for identifying stocks that might be manipulating their earning figures. It was created by US finance Professor Messod Daniel Beneish and presented in a paper called The Predictable Cost of Earnings Manipulation. The M-Score is a red flag indicator that is often used as part of a short selling strategy. It calculates and distils eight different accounting variables into a single score. Generally, a score greater than -1.78 (i.e. a less negative or positive number) indicates an increased likelihood of a firm being an earnings manipulator. Beneish wrote: "We show that firms with a high probability of overstated earnings have lower future earnings, less persistent income-increasing accruals, and lower future returns." The M-score strategy apparently generated a hedged return of nearly 14% per year, mostly from the short positions. more »

Short Selling
5 Year Return: -33.6%
Earnings Downgrade Momentum Screen

Earnings Forecast Downgrades is a short selling and red flag strategy identified in a research paper by academics Philipp McKnight and Steven Todd, called Analyst Forecasts and the Cross Section of European Stock Returns. It looks for stocks experiencing earnings forecast downgrades by analysts as a potential trigger of negative momentum. They found that the positive returns from an earnings upgrade portfolio were large and persistent, whereas the sell portfolio generated a near zero return because bad news was quickly 'priced-in'. While the strategy on its own may be difficult to profit from, it still highlights stocks that should perhaps be avoided, or warrant careful additional research. McKnight and Todd wrote: "We find differences in the return continuation patterns of stocks with upward versus downward revisions, namely, bad news travels quickly, but good news travels slowly." more »

Short Selling
5 Year Return: -38.5%
James Montier 'Unholy Trinity' Screen

James Montier Unholy Trinity is a three point short selling strategy inspired by research by economist and equity strategist James Montier called Joining The Dark Side: Pirates, Spies and Short Sellers The approach uses three risk factors to identify stocks that might be overvalued, financially weak and poorly managed. It uses the price-to-sales ratio to find companies that appear to be overvalued based on their revenues. It looks for signs of low quality by finding stocks that score less than 3 out of 9 on the Piotroski F-Score of financial health. Finally, Montier looks for companies where asset growth could be excessive, based on the theory that management tend to be wasteful allocators of capital. James Montier wrote: "It never ceases to amaze me that whenever a major corporate declines the short sellers are suddenly painted as financial equivalents of psychopaths. This is madness, rather than examining the exceptionally poor (and sometimes criminal) decisions that the corporate itself took, the short sellers are hauled over the coals." Montier found that between 1985 and 2007 a portfolio of Unholy Trinity stocks rebalanced annually would have declined over 6% p.a. compared to a market that was rising at the rate of 13% p.a. in Europe. Short selling shares can be very risky but the Unholy Trinity can still be used as an indicator of which stocks should be avoided. more »

Short Selling
5 Year Return: -46.8%
Charles Kirkpatrick Value Screen

Charles Kirkpatrick Value is a strategy loosely based on the approach of US investment strategist & technician Charles Kirkpatrick, who wrote Beat the Market. It combines relative value, growth and momentum factors and is derived from Kirkpatrick's successful Growth Model. Concerned that growth strategies are susceptible to market downturns, Kirkpatrick devised a value approach that uses the price-to-sales ratio as a risk filter. This interpretation of the screen looks for the cheapest 30% of stocks based on price-to-sales, together with the top 20% of shares with the strongest 130-day Moving Average and then the top 10% with the strongest growth in operating profit. Kirkpatrick wrote: "When I read O'Shaughnessy's book What Works on Wall Street, I discovered from his tests that one way to potentially screen for risks initially was to use the price-to-sales ratio. Unlike O'Shaughnessy, who used the raw figure and set a limit, I used a relative calculation." Can we dig up any performance figures from his book? more »

Value Investing
5 Year Return: -53.9%
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