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Does Sage (LON:SGE) have an economic moat?

Ben Hobson
·3-min read

Economic uncertainty and market volatility have shown once again why it's vital to have high quality stocks in your portfolio. Safe, profitable companies with strong balance sheets can offer solid returns over the long term, even in a crisis.

The best quality companies are often some of the market's most respected names... but there are others that you might not have heard of. What makes them stand out is their ability to resist competitive threats and generate breathtaking profits. They compound investment returns at consistently above-average rates over time.

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

Here's a quick explainer on what makes these stocks so special - using Sage (LON:SGE) as an example.

GET MORE DATA-DRIVEN INSIGHTS INTO LON:SGE »

Signs of strength

First of all, here are some of the ways that companies actually establish these very profitable competitive moats:

  • 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

When it comes to finding companies with moats, some of the biggest clues actually lie in their financial statements. Here's what they are and why they are important - and how Sage 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 Sage, the figure is an impressive 20.2%.

  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 Sage, the figure is an eye-catching 17.6%.

  3. High Return on Equity (compared to peers) - the measure of a company making good profits from its assets.
    - Sage has a 5-year average ROE of 21.7%.

  4. High Operating Margins (compared to peers) - the measure of a company with pricing power
    - Sage has a 5-year average operating margin of 20.5%.

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. But it's important to do your own research and dig into the numbers yourself...

To find out more you might want to take a look at the LON:SGE 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 with moat-like characteristics, 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 - which gives you everything you need. So why not come and take a look?