Finegan & Company LLC

Home Page

Company Profile



Representative Engagements

Research and Publications

Career Opportunities

Obtain Information

Research & Publications
Research Publications

What's Become of Wal-Mart? What's Become of Wal-Mart?
GM at the Bottom ... Again? Is GM at the Bottom ... Again?
Methodology Methodology

Measuring Corporate Excellence

Architects of ValueTired of the same old ranking bias — large companies perennially at the top or bottom of the list because of investment decisions made decades ago?  And the ranking dictated by industry group rather than management?  So are we. We want to know what each company delivered recently — and how much was attributable to management, rather than business cycles or industry. In short, we want a measure of shareholder value that strips out the true opportunity cost of foregone investments elsewhere. We want… XVA.

XVA is the market value premium or discount to economic book value that cannot be explained by the competition.  It’s the dollar amount of MVA created over a period of time which would not have been created from a like sum of capital invested in a peer group.  Unlike MVA, XVA can be measured within industries and across industries — without an embedded performance bias. And it differentiates good management from good luck, in both good times and bad.

Only by outperforming the actual competition for capital, not a theoretical fixed-rate of return, can a company register positive XVA. For it is only then that the company has surpassed the actual opportunity of foregone investments.

The same holds true for EVA . That’s why we created XEP, or indexed economic profit. Stated simply, XEP is the economic profit produced during a period that would not have been produced by a peer group which was equivalently capitalized at the beginning of that period. XEP is the internal analog to XVA.

It so happens we’ve tracked XVA and XEP extensively — for the 1703 largest companies on any domestic exchange.  Why 1703?  We’ve included any company whose market capitalization exceeded the smallest company in the S&P 500. That means 103 IPO’s plus 1600 seasoned equities.  It means insurance companies, electric utilities and banks — not just industrial companies.  And it means internal performance data dating back at least five years, even for the IPO’s.  More important, it means the same attention to economic accuracy and detail that you would expect from a shareholder value authority on its company-specific engagements.  We’ve invested considerable effort to restate financials historically, to convert performance measures to an economic, cash-flow basis, and to research all the hidden investments and charges (e.g., unrecorded goodwill during pooling-of-interest acquisitions) that don’t appear in the footnotes.  In short, we’ve conducted the largest, broadest and economically most intense survey of market and operating performance anywhere.

So do XVA and XEP make a difference?

Consider this. Wal-Mart placed 13th in our 1996 analysis of MVA. It placed 1560 in our analysis of XVA. Pepsi ranked 1507 in XVA, 19th in MVA. Coke, by contrast, ranked fourth and first, respectively. The top two slots weren’t surprising: Intel and Microsoft at first and second in XVA, first and third in MVA. But what about GE? Perennially on top in terms of MVA (18th in 1996), GE sank to 1578 in XVA. And General Motors, always at the bottom in terms of MVA, was…at the bottom in terms of XVA.

If you believe opportunity cost matters, then you’ll want to see how your management team stacks up against the real competition for capital. You’ll want to see whether investing long in your company while shorting the competition would have paid off. You’ll want to see whether management’s pay reflected its distinctive contribution to share value, not just the contribution of the industry and embedded capital. Most important, you’ll want to know whether your stock is regarded as an investment in good management, or a dime-a-dozen investment in a good industry. You’ll be surprised and stimulated by the findings.

The Ranking

We’ve made several of our compilations available for download in the research section of our website. We’ve also begun mining the data ourselves, separating gold from pyrite. What follows are just a few of the nuggets from our research. Look for more in the coming weeks, as we feature each of our 102 industries. Chances are, we’ll examine whether your company withstands the test of total management differentiation.

Top of PageWhat's Become of Wal-Mart?

Wal-MartIf ever there was a poster boy for EVA during the 1980’s, it was Wal-Mart. From its modest beginnings in Bentonville, Arkansas, the company was the archetypal Company Z, perennially investing more than it earned, but earning so much more than its cost of capital that its MVA soared.  By 1992, the year of Sam Walton’s death, the retailer’s market value exceeded its book value by $46 billion — an MVA record.

Fast forward to 1996 … and a Wal-Mart on every corner. The orthodoxy is that Wal-Mart is cruising along comfortably. Its MVA ranking for 1996 was 13 out of 1703.  Its EVA ranking was a respectable 606. Among broad line retailers, Wal-Mart was still ensconced at the apex, ranked first in MVA, fifth in EVA.

XVA Ranking


Southern Company



St Pauls Cos.









Wal-Mart Stores









Digital Equipment






Imagine our surprise when Wal-Mart showed up 1560 out of 1600 in our indexed ranking of XVA.  And 1630 out of 1700 in our survey of XEP.  Well, maybe we weren’t surprised.  Between 1991 and 1996, Wal-Mart’s average annual return to stockholders was negative 0.5 percent, versus 14 percent for other broad line retailers.  Its five-year TSR rank was 1538 for the 1600 companies in our XVA sample.

What XVA delineates, in a single measure, is the rise or fall in MVA that cannot be explained by a comparably capitalized index of competitors.  For Wal-Mart, that fall was precipitous.  In absolute terms, Wal-Mart’s MVA fell from a peak of $64 billion in 1992 to $33 million at year-end 1996.  That’s 50 percent further, in dollar terms, than MVA’s black sheep of the 1980’s, IBM (1985-1989).

To be sure, Wal-Mart’s market capitalization is still double its economic book value.  But just think what others in the industry could have done with a like amount of capital.  Or did in fact do.  Wal-Mart’s 1997 XVA ranking versus other broad line retailers was 24 — dead last.  We estimate that of the $31 billion decline in MVA, all of it (actually $33 billion) was attributable to Wal-Mart’s distinctive woes — not those of the industry.  In fact, many members flourished, including those with large embedded levels of capital.

XVA Industry Ranking
Retailers - Broadline


Dayton Hudson


May Department Stores


Dollar General






Consolidated Stores




Dollar Tree Stores


Meyer (Fred)


Family Dollar Stores




Bed Bath & Beyond


Macfrugals Bargains


Pier 1 Imports/De




Carson Pirie Scott


Mercantile Stores




Dillard Dept Stores


Federated Dept Stores


Sears Roebuck


K Mart


Penney (J C)


Wal-Mart Stores


Sears, Roebuck ended 1996 with $7 billion in MVA on $27 billion of capital — close to Wal-Mart’s $31 billion in capital but a far cry from its $33 billion in MVA.  Still, relative performance matters.  It is what distinguishes management excellence from mere industry fortune or embedded momentum.  Under Arthur Martinez’s expert stewardship, Sears delivered roughly $86 billion in MVA from 1991-96 that could not be explained by a comparably capitalized index of broad line retailers.  Wal-Mart, by contrast, delivered negative $33 billion — a differential of almost $120 billion.  Put differently, Sears erased a $46 billion XEP deficit; Wal-Mart erased a $4.5 billion XEP surplus.

More significantly, Sears posted its MVA and EVA improvements on a rapidly growing capital base.  Sure, it disposed of Dean Witter/Discover, and queued up AllState, but it also invested (on net) $23 billion in plant, property and working capital during 1987-96, nearly as much as the $27 billion invested by Wal-Mart.  Sears may be a lesson in focus, but it is only partially a lesson in downsizing.

By the same token, it’s not that the discounters have been squeezed.  Newcomer Costco, with $4.6 billion in capital, ranked fourth in our XVA ranking of broad line retailers.  Woolworth’s and Dollar General were also near the top.

Among large department stores, May’s and Dayton Hudson topped our list.  Both invested nearly $10 billion in capital.  Of those, May’s had the higher MVA — $8.2 billion versus $3.9 billion for Dayton Hudson.  But over the last three years, Dayton Hudson delivered $3.5 billion in MVA that could not be explained by industry performance.  May delivered $2.8 billion — enough to make second on our 1 and 3-year rankings — but not enough to win the award for distinctive management excellence.  That award belongs, for at least three years running, to Dayton Hudson.

Top of PageIs GM at the Bottom ... Again?

Ask almost anyone who the worst managed company was during the last twenty years and they will tell you, General Motors.  Over the years, GM has destroyed $52 billion more than the $188 billion it invested.  More sobering, GM’s economic losses are not merely the legacy of Roger Smith.  Under Robert Stempel and Jack Smith (no relation to Roger), GM continued to pour good money after bad, registering MVA declines of $27 billion from 1991-96 on $35 billion of newly invested capital.  Not a record to be proud of, considering Chrysler erased a $2.8 billion MVA deficit during that same period with $6.3 billion in MVA on a mere $1.2 billion of investment.  Chrysler’s XVA during the five-year period was $9.6 billion more than what Ford or General Motors together would deliver on comparable amounts of capital.  GM’s five-year XVA, by contrast, was negative $27 billion.  Now that’s opportunity cost.

So where’s the news? The news is, the all-time bottom feeder is not GM, but ITT and its progeny, ITT Hartford, ITT Educational Services and ITT Industries.  Rand Araskog’s once-proud empire destroyed $74 billion on $84 billion invested, leaving investors with a combined market capitalization of less than $10 billion.  GM’s combined MVA loss (adding EDS and Hughes) was a comparatively minor negative $46 billion on $213 billion invested. Of course, ITT’s investors will see some of their foregone income returned in the form of stock from Starwood Lodging, but even a 30 percent premium would, on ITT’s equity, recoup only $2.5 billion of the $74 billion lost.

More interesting, perhaps, is how much of the $74 billion was squandered recently, despite open pressure from Hilton and shareholder activists. ITT’s 1996 XVA was negative $24 billion, its 3-year sum negative $27 billion. So GM shareholders, rejoice, there is still plenty of room in the cellar for company.

EVA is a registered trademark of Stern Stewart & Co.

Illustrations: Warren Gebert
Photography: Wayne Takenaka

All text and illustrations on this page are the property of Finegan & Company LLC and may not be reproduced without prior written consent.

Home | Company Profile | Services | Philosophy | Representative Engagements | Research and Publications | Career Opportunities | Obtain Information | Refer A Friend | Site Map

Copyright 1997-2004, Finegan & Company LLC
All Rights Reserved.