Are stocks cheap yet? That slippery, eternal question is worth a look right now because a remarkable new set of data has just become available, allowing us to analyze the market in ways we never could before. I wish I could tell you that this new trove of numbers reveals that stocks are a screaming buy. It doesn't. But it does suggest that, amid all the recent tumult, just maybe the market is being rational.
The new data are derived from the most fundamental, capital-based way of analyzing a company's finances and value. How much capital is a company using? What is its return on capital? How much does the capital cost? Those questions hold the key to corporate performance, but finding the answers in most financial statements isn't easy, and many executives don't know the answers themselves. The Stern Stewart consulting firm began popularizing these concepts more than 15 years ago with the term EVA (economic value added), and the new data come from EVA Dimensions, a firm that is now the source of Stern Stewart's EVA data.