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Cash in with these Cash Magic shares

My Cash Magic stock screen has made a storming comeback following a gnarly ride during last year’s sell-off
Cash in with these Cash Magic shares
  • Cash Magic 30 stocks delivered a 59 per cent total return over the past 11 months vs 17 per cent from the FTSE All Share.
  • Cash Magic stocks with momentum returned 49 per cent.
  • Cumulative total returns since conceiving the Cash Magic screens eight years ago stand at 227 per cent for top 30 and 212 per cent for momentum shares versus 68 per cent from the FTSE All Share.
  • A raft of new Cash Magic stocks.

Free cash flow (FCF) has always been a vital number for investors to pay attention to, but it is becoming incrementally even more important. That’s because dubious accounting standards coupled with the corporate world’s increased focus on intangible investments have made earnings numbers ever more questionable. I won’t harp on about reasons why here, but for those interested my “Finding Hidden Value” feature from 25 February provides a fulsome explanation. 

Given the genuine accounting problems that exist when reporting earnings, companies have increasingly relied on reporting adjusted earnings numbers. But this creates issues all of its own, most notably that the adjustments companies use all too often paint their profits in an extremely favourable light.

FCF can cut through all this. It tells investors what is being earned in cash terms after all the year’s necessary expenses, from capital expenditure through to tax.  

But while this sounds straightforward enough in principle, in practice FCF is a slippery customer.  It has to be well understood to be calculated and correctly interpreted in sensible ways. What’s more, what is a sensible calculation for one company’s FCF will not always be sensible for another.

There are a few major issues when calculating FCF. Firstly, there is the question of lease liabilities. It is important to include lease payments in FCF. The improved reporting of companies lease obligations on the balance sheet has created confusion in the income and cash flow statements. Whereas we used to have rent included as an operating cost, payments associated with leases (split into a notional interest payment and a repayment of the lease obligation) now appear in counter-intuitive places. In the case of cash flows, rent is found in the third section of the statement as a financing charge. Traditionally, this section of the cash flow statement is largely ignored in conventional FCF calculations. This is a particular issue for companies in the retail, leisure and transport sectors, which tend to rent a lot of their operating assets

Another second and growing issue is companies’ every increasing enthusiasm for paying their staff in shares. Issuing shares to staff is a non-cash cost, but it has cash-consequences for shareholders because it dilutes the FCF per share (the same is true for EPS). Factoring this into FCF calculations is becoming an ever more important issue. This is especially true for high-tech companies which are big users of such schemes.

Thirdly, there is the perennial issue with FCF which is that it is lumpy and also is depressed by companies spending heavily on growth. A good way to deal with this issue is to try to separate out a company’s investment in maintaining existing operations from spending on growth. Then growth spending can be excluded from a FCF calculation. Trying to put a sensible number on growth spending is hard enough for disclosed capital expenditure, but it also runs up against run up against problems associated most intangibles investment being treated as day-to-day expenses in accounts. This means it is hard to identify all capital expenditure (tangible and intangible) in the first place, even before tackling the issue of what is for growth and what is for maintenance.  

So FCF is not an easy number. This is a problem for a stock screen. Screens have to rely on standardised data and are not nuanced about how it is interpreted. This year I am altering the valuation data relied on by my cash magic screen. Historically the screen looked at a FCF valuation measure based on a standardised treatment of historical numbers. This year I am using forecast numbers instead.

The idea is that the analysts whose consensus numbers these figures are based on should have made some of the intelligent judgements to create a more sensible FCF number. Many of the issues are likely to remain, such as those associated with lumpiness and share-based payments. However, forecast numbers should provide the screen with a slightly more rounded viewpoint. 

The old method of calculating FCF did not do the Cash Magic screens too much harm last year though (see table). The version of the screen based on the Top 30 Magic Stocks delivered a 59 per cent total return from 23 June last year compared with 17 per cent from the FTSE All-Share. The version of the screen that factors in momentum returned 49 per cent. 


Name (Rank)TIDMTotal Return (23 Jun 2020 - 20 May 2021)NameTIDMTotal Return (23 Jun 2020 - 20 May 2021)
Ferrexpo (29)FXPO209%FerrexpoFXPO209%
Reach (25)RCH195%888888157%
Smiths News (14)SNWS162%Halfords GroupHFD132%
888 Holdings (20)888157%Cmc MarketsCMCX77%
Halfords Group (24)HFD132%Tullow OilTLW56%
Evraz (3)EVR131%PlaytechPTEC44%
Aggreko (30)AGK96%Rio TintoRIO41%
DP Eurasia N V (26)DPEU89%BHPBHP35%
Norcros (22)NXR74%DevroDVO34%
Vistry Group (12)VTY70%HastingsHSTG31%
ITV (17)ITV66%Plus500PLUS28%
Robert Walters (13)RWA66%KellerKLR27%
Tullow Oil (8)TLW56%Ninety OneN9122%
Apax Global Alpha (11)APAX52%SchrodersSDR21%
SThree (19)STEM48%Balfour BeattyBBY15%
Stagecoach Group (16)SGC35%IGIGG12%
Go-Ahead Group (5)GOG32%ContourglobalGLO7.3%
Photo-Me Intl. (18)PHTM29%Hochschild MiningHOC-4.7%
Rathbone Brothers (28)RAT29%Moneysupermarket.comMONY-18%
Vivo Energy (10)VVO28%---
Keller (21)KLR27%---
Ninety One (1)N9122%---
Schroders (23)SDR21%---
Balfour Beatty (27)BBY15%---
Jupiter Fund Management (9)JUP12%---
Enquest (4)ENQ11%---
Rolls-Royce Holdings (2)RR.-5.2%---
Paypoint (15)PAY-13%---
Beazley (6)BEZ-30%---
Harbour Energy (7)HBR-62%---
FTSE All ShareFTALLSH17%FTSE All Share-17%
Cash Magic-58%Cash Magic & Momentum-49%

Since I started following this screen eight years ago, the cumulative total return for the top-30 stock version of the screen is 227 per cent and 212 per cent for a version of the screen that combines Cash Magic and momentum. The FTSE All Share has returned 68 per cent over the same period. 

While the screens are meant as ideas for further research rather than off-the-shelf portfolios, if I inject a sense of realism into the numbers by assuming a 1.5 per cent annual charge the total return for the top 30 screen drops to 189 per cent and 177 per cent for the momentum version.

Here’s how the screen works:

All FTSE All Share constituents are ranked by forecast next 12 month FCF yield (FCF per share as a percentage of share price). They are separately ranked by cash return on capital invested (CROCI). This measures how much FCF a company produced for every pound of capital employed. The two ranking are added together and a final ranking is created from this. 

For the ranked version of the screen, the top 30 stocks are selected. For the momentum version of the screen, any stock ranked among the top fifth of those screened is selected if it shows better than average (median average) three month momentum. 

The stocks selected by this year’s screen can be found below. Tables with far more detail on fundamentals are available to download online.


RANKNameTIDMMkt CapNet Cash / Debt(-)*PriceFwd PE (+12mths)Fwd DY (+12mths)FCF yld (+12mths)Net Debt / EbitdaOp Cash/ EbitdaCROCIFwd EPS grth NTMFwd EPS grth STM3-mth Mom3-mth Fwd EPS change%
1Evraz PLCEVR£9,654m-£2,348m662p89.2%14.8%1.4 x121%29.3%74%-12%18.9%12.0%
2Dixons Carphone PLCDC£1,554m-£1,129m133p112.7%12.3%5.4 x174%23.5%-34%21.9%-4.5%
3STV Group plcSTVG£159m-£28m341p103.1%5.6%1.2 x43%210.8%95%13%7.1%-2.8%
4Halfords Group PlcHFD£762m-£272m383p152.3%6.1%2.6 x98%35.9%26%13%42.5%12.5%
5Keller Group plcKLR£597m-£193m826p114.5%12.2%1.0 x126%18.7%26%19%9.4%7.8%
6888 Holdings Plc888£1,434m£117m385p202.7%4.8%-1.0 x134%95.0%712%7%30.6%24.8% Group plcMONY£1,405m-£9m262p184.5%5.6%0.1 x95%33.4%10%16%-8.3%-3.2%
8Avast PlcAVST£4,589m-£529m446p172.7%6.9%1.6 x136%22.7%104%7%-8.1%2.7%
9ContourGlobal PlcGLO£1,281m-£2,536m195p276.7%20.3%5.0 x128%15.4%286%6%-5.8%-31.5%
10Rio Tinto plcRIO£75,352m-£565m6,039p89.9%10.1%0.0 x100%18.1%70%-26%-4.9%19.9%
11Polymetal International PlcPOLY£8,022m-£1,012m1,694p106.6%8.7%0.8 x90%18.8%-5%7%10.1%-7.2%
12ITV PLCITV£5,189m-£522m129p113.8%6.5%0.9 x106%22.0%64%8%17.8%8.8%
13Diversified Energy Company PLCDEC£856m-£537m121p129.3%17.7%4.8 x77%14.8%--16%-5.9%-13.2%
14BHP Group PlcBHP£45,156m-£9,815m2,138p98.1%10.3%0.6 x93%17.0%114%-18%-6.1%22.5%
15XPS Pensions Group PlcXPS£267m-£63m130p135.4%11.1%2.4 x97%15.7%237%7%3.6%1.7%
16Spirent Communications plcSPT£1,487m£156m243p211.9%5.1%-1.6 x110%23.6%8%6%1.7%7.2%
17PZ Cussons PlcPZC£1,093m-£30m255p202.3%4.9%0.7 x136%24.8%260%7%0.8%4.0%
18Persimmon PlcPSN£9,720m£872m3,046p127.8%6.6%-1.1 x116%19.4%25%4%9.8%3.0%
19J Sainsbury plcSBRY£5,877m-£5,521m263p134.2%8.5%2.9 x130%17.1%-7%13.8%8.5%
20RELX PLCREL£35,551m-£7,035m1,839p202.8%7.7%3.0 x89%17.7%42%11%4.5%-3.0%
21GlaxoSmithKline plcGSK£68,770m-£21,402m1,367p135.2%9.3%2.0 x85%15.5%-4%10%12.5%-2.4%
22Mears Group PLCMER£208m-£152m188p114.3%9.9%2.7 x172%15.0%-11%23.3%-3.4%
23Rightmove plcRMV£4,994m£84m579p281.3%3.8%-0.6 x87%68.3%66%10%-9.4%3.7%
24Computacenter PlcCCC£3,034m£51m2,658p202.0%5.9%-0.2 x97%19.8%-2%3%20.6%9.4%
25Auto Trader Group PLCAUTO£5,365m-£64m555p251.4%4.1%1.1 x94%32.6%36%13%-8.7%8.2%
26Games Workshop Group PLCGAW£3,615m£51m11,030p292.0%3.8%-0.2 x124%58.8%29%8%11.4%4.0%
27Card Factory PlcCARD£286m-£289m84p171.7%20.9%2.3 x97%12.6%20%115%154.4%-15.7%
28FDM Group (Holdings) plcFDM£1,047m£45m959p303.2%3.6%-0.9 x135%46.2%15%11%-5.4%1.8%
29Unilever PLCULVR£112,339m-£18,270m4,282p193.5%5.1%1.8 x94%19.2%17%6%9.6%2.2%
30Watches of Switzerland Group PLCWOSG£1,844m-£331m770p25-4.2%3.5 x66%23.4%99%17%23.2%-0.3%


NameTIDMMkt CapNet Cash / Debt(-)*PriceFwd PE (+12mths)Fwd DY (+12mths)FCF yld (+12mths)Net Debt / EbitdaOp Cash/ EbitdaCROCIFwd EPS grth NTMFwd EPS grth STM3-mth Mom3-mth Fwd EPS change%
Evraz PLCEVR£9,654m-£2,348m662p89.2%14.8%1.4 x121%29.3%74%-12%18.9%12.0%
Dixons Carphone PLCDC£1,554m-£1,129m133p112.7%12.3%5.4 x174%23.5%-34%21.9%-4.5%
Halfords Group PlcHFD£762m-£272m383p152.3%6.1%2.6 x98%35.9%26%13%42.5%12.5%
Keller Group plcKLR£597m-£193m826p114.5%12.2%1.0 x126%18.7%26%19%9.4%7.8%
888 Holdings Plc888£1,434m£117m385p202.7%4.8%-1.0 x134%95.0%712%7%30.6%24.8%
ITV PLCITV£5,189m-£522m129p113.8%6.5%0.9 x106%22.0%64%8%17.8%8.8%
Persimmon PlcPSN£9,720m£872m3,046p127.8%6.6%-1.1 x116%19.4%25%4%9.8%3.0%
Mears Group PLCMER£208m-£152m188p114.3%9.9%2.7 x172%15.0%-11%23.3%-3.4%
Computacenter PlcCCC£3,034m£51m2,658p202.0%5.9%-0.2 x97%19.8%-2%3%20.6%9.4%
Card Factory PlcCARD£286m-£289m84p171.7%20.9%2.3 x97%12.6%20%115%154.4%-15.7%
Watches of Switzerland Group PLCWOSG£1,844m-£331m770p25-4.2%3.5 x66%23.4%99%17%23.2%-0.3%
Dunelm Group plcDNLM£3,141m-£182m1,550p252.2%3.6%1.4 x136%38.8%16%9%24.1%10.6%
JD Sports Fashion PlcJD£9,241m-£1,134m896p230.3%4.3%1.2 x122%22.1%66%18%5.4%5.7%
Luceco PLCLUCE£546m-£14m340p182.1%4.7%0.4 x83%19.9%3%8%32.9%14.5%
Serco Group plcSRP£1,601m-£456m133p141.8%6.2%1.4 x93%16.6%-13%5%9.0%11.4%
Tate & Lyle PLCTATE£3,738m-£358m798p143.9%15.6%0.9 x104%11.8%6%5%7.0%-0.5%

source: FactSet

*foreign FX converted to £

NTM = next 12 months

STM = second 12 months (i.e. 12 months starting in a year's time)