Checklist for Assessing Capital Allocation Skills

Capital Allocation: Evidence, Analytical Methods, and Assessment Guidance

Capital Allocation: Evidence, Analytical Methods, and Assessment Guidance is another great paper written by Michael J. Mauboussin and Dan Callahan, both currently at Credit Suisse. See here for yesterday’s post.

CA1Capital Allocation: The Problem

Let’s us start with an excerpt from the paper and a quote from Warren Buffett about the problem of capital allocation, i.e., that the heads of many companies are not skilled in capital allocation.

“…our focus here is on how companies spend money.

The problem is that many CEOs, while almost universally well intentioned, don’t know how to allocate capital effectively. Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, describes this reality in his 1987 letter to shareholders. He discusses the point of why it is beneficial for Berkshire Hathaway’s corporate office to allocate the capital of the companies it controls. Buffett is worth quoting at length:

‘This point can be important because the heads of many companies are not skilled in capital allocation. Their inadequacy is not surprising. Most bosses rise to the top because they have excelled in an area such as marketing, production, engineering, administration or, sometimes, institutional politics.

Once they become CEOs, they face new responsibilities. They now must make capital allocation decisions, a critical job that they may have never tackled and that is not easily mastered. To stretch the point, it’s as if the final step for a highly-talented musician was not to perform at Carnegie Hall but, instead, to be named Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The lack of skill that many CEOs have at capital allocation is no small matter: After ten years on the job, a CEO whose company annually retains earnings equal to 10% of net worth will have been responsible for the deployment of more than 60% of all the capital at work in the business.

CEOs who recognize their lack of capital-allocation skills (which not all do) will often try to compensate by turning to their staffs, management consultants, or investment bankers. Charlie [Munger] and I have frequently observed the consequences of such “help.” On balance, we feel it is more likely to accentuate the capital-allocation problem than to solve it.

In the end, plenty of unintelligent capital allocation takes place in corporate America. (That’s why you hear so much about “restructuring.”)'”

Checklist for Assessing Capital Allocation Skills

In the end of the paper the authors share a Checklist for Assessing Capital Allocation Skills. This checklist is reproduced below.

Past Spending Patterns

  • Have you analyzed how companies have spent money in the past, separating operating uses from return of capital to claimholders?
  • How has the company funded its investments?
  • Identify the prime use of capital. Do you know if management thinks about that use of capital properly?
  • Have there been shifts in the pattern of spending?
  • If there is new management, has spending changed?
  • Who makes which capital allocation decision?
  • How does the company conduct its budgeting process?

Calculate ROIC and ROIIC

  • Have you calculated ROIC over time and observed a trend?
  • Examine composition of ROIC through a DuPont analysis—does this suggest a consumer or production advantage?
  • Have you compared the company’s results to those of its peers?
  • Have you calculated ROIIC for one year and rolling three- and five-year periods?

Incentives and Governance

  • How is the company’s incentive compensation structured?
  • How much stock does senior management own?
  • Is total shareholder return calculated on a relative basis?
  • Have you examined the company’s incentive score?
  • Are the measures in place to encourage management to think for the long term?

Five Principles of Capital Allocation

  • Does the company use zero-based capital allocation or is it dominated by spending inertia?
  • Is the company focused on funding strategies or projects?
  • Does the company have a “scarce but free” attitude about capital, or “abundant but costly?”
  • Does the company prune businesses with poor prospects for creating value?
  • Does the company know how to calculate the value of its assets and does it act accordingly?
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