Saturday, 22 February 2014

An Investor's lament - crap data everywhere

I've just been trying to do a quick comparison of CP Rail with CN Rail. Gather a few key financial numbers and start thinking and writing. Alas, such a simple task is frustratingly difficult with various data sources, some of them paid subscription, that don't agree with each other, or are just plain wrong, or unforgivably out of date:

  • EPS estimate dispersion (high vs low analyst estimate for next financial year), a useful measure of a stock's riskiness - Yahoo Finance Canada has 10.7% for CP but my broker BMOIL has it at 6.3%; for CNR it's much closer - 12.1% vs 11.8%, respectively. Who's right? Is it just a different set of brokers?
  • CP year-end results - the release came out on January 29th, yet more than three weeks later, these results are not yet available in BMOIL (which gets its data from GlobeInvestor Gold) or Morningstar Canada (which I happen to pay for!). Yet the free TMX Money, Yahoo Finance Canada and most curiously Globe Investor WatchList, do have year-end results.
  • CNR per share data - last November the stock split 2 for 1 and most data sources have adjusted prior years to make data comparable ... that is except for TMX Money on this table. Grrrr
  • Return on Assets - one would think that such a straightforward traditional ratio could be the same whatever data source, if one is careful to look for the same time period, like trailing twelve months or financial year and when the latest quarterly updates have been done. That thinking would be foolishly wrong, however. Here are the variations on this ratio for CNR - Yahoo Finance 8.52%, Morningstar 9.19%, BMOIL 13.89%. Just great, that's a big spread, who's right? It's back to the company 2013 year-end release: Net Income $2612M / Assets $30163 = 8.66% i.e. none of the above. I've noticed that ratios are especially problematic - none of the providers ever define how their particular version is calculated so the only hope is to use one provider for each ratio to compare across companies or through time. Or, to do the figures yourself, but that gets very time consuming.
Investors can be forgiven for giving up and buying broad index ETFs.

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