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Even though you can easily find real equity research reports via the magical tool known as “Google,” we’ve continued to get questions on this topic.
Whenever I see the same question over and over again, you know what I do: I bash my head in repeatedly and contemplate jumping off a building…
…and then I write an article to answer the question.
To understand an equity research report, you must understand what goes into a stock pitch first.
The idea is similar, but an ER report is a “watered-down” version of a stock pitch.
But banks have some very solid reasons for publishing equity research reports:
Wait, Why Does This Topic Matter?
You might remember from previous articles that equity research teams do not spend that much time writing these reports.
Most of their time is spent speaking with management teams and institutional investors and sharing their views on sectors and companies.
However, equity research reports are still important because:
- You do still spend some time doing the required modeling work (~15%) and writing the reports (~20%).
- You might have to write a research report as part of the interview process.
For example, if you apply to an equity research role, especially in an off-cycle process, you might be asked to draft a short report on a company.
And then in roles outside of ER, you need to know how to interpret reports quickly and extract the key information.
Equity Research Reports: Myth vs. Reality
If you want to understand equity research reports, you have to understand first why banks publish them: To earn higher commissions from trading activity.
A bank wants to encourage institutional investors to buy more shares of the companies it covers.
Doing so generates more trading volume and higher commissions for the bank.
This is why you rarely, if ever, see “Sell” ratings, and why “Hold” ratings are far less common than “Buy” ratings.
Different Types of Reports
One last point before getting into the tutorial: There are many different types of research reports.
“Initiating Coverage” reports tend to be long – 50-100 pages or more – and have tons of industry research and data.
“Sector Reports” on entire industries are also very long. And there are other types, which you can read about here.
In this tutorial, we’re focusing on the “Company Update” or “Company Note”-type reports, which are the most common ones.
The Full Tutorial, Video, and Sample Reports
For our full walk-through of equity research reports, please see the video below:
Table of Contents:
- 1:43: Part 1: Stock Pitches vs. Equity Research Reports
- 6:00: Part 2: The 4 Main Differences in Research Reports
- 12:46: Part 3: Sample Reports and the Typical Sections
- 20:53: Recap and Summary
You can get the reports and documents referenced in the video here:
If you want the text version instead, keep reading:
Watered-Down Stock Pitches
You should think of equity research reports as “watered-down stock pitches.”
If you’ve forgotten, a hedge fund or asset management stock pitch (see a sample healthcare/pharmaceutical pitch here) has the following components:
- Part 1: Recommendation
- Part 2: Company Background
- Part 3: Investment Thesis
- Part 4: Catalysts
- Part 5: Valuation
- Part 6: Investment Risks and How to Mitigate Them
- Part 7: The Worst-Case Scenario and How to Avoid It
In a stock pitch, you’ll spend most of your time and energy on the Catalysts, Valuation, and Investment Risks because you want to express a VERY different view of the company.
For example, the company’s stock price is $100, but you believe it’s worth only $50 because it’s about to report earnings 80% lower than expectations.
Therefore, you recommend shorting the stock. You also recommend purchasing call options at an exercise price of $125 to limit your losses to 25% if the stock moves in the opposite direction.
In an equity research report, you’ll still express a view of the company that’s different from the consensus, but your view won’t be dramatically different.
You’ll spend more time on the Company Background and Valuation sections, and far less time and space on the Catalysts and Risk Factors. And you won’t even write a Worst-Case Scenario section.
If a company seems overvalued by 50%, a research analyst would probably write a “Hold” recommendation, say that there’s “uncertainty around several customers,” and claim that the company’s current market value is appropriate.
Oh, and by the way, one risk factor is that the company might report lower-than-expected earnings.
The Four Main Differences in Equity Research
The main differences are as follows:
1) There’s More Emphasis on Recent Results and Announcements
For example, how does a recent product announcement, clinical trial result, or earnings report impact the company?
You’ll almost always see recent news and updates on the first page of a research report:
These factors may play a role in hedge fund stock pitches as well, but more so in short recommendations since timing is more important there.
2) Far-Outside-the-Mainstream Views Are Less Common
One comical example of this trend is how all 15 equity research analysts covering Enron rated it a “buy” right before it collapsed:
Sell-side analysts are far less likely to point out that the emperor has no clothes than buy-side analysts.
3) Research Reports Give “Target Prices” Rather Than Target Price Ranges
For example, the company is trading at $50.00 right now, but we expect its price to increase to exactly $75.00 in the next twelve months.
This idea is completely ridiculous because valuation is always about the range of possible outcomes, not a specific outcome.
Despite horrendously low accuracy, this practice continues.
To be fair, many analysts do give target prices in different cases, which is an improvement:
4) The Investment Thesis, Catalysts, and Risk Factors Are “Looser”
These sections tend to be “afterthoughts” in most reports.
For example, the bank might give a few reasons why it expects the company’s share price to rise: the company will capture more market share than expected, it will be able to increase its product prices more rapidly than expected, and a competitor is about to go bankrupt.
However, the sell-side analyst will not tie these factors to specific share-price impacts as a buy-side analyst would.
Similarly, the report might mention catalysts and investment risks, but there won’t be a link to a specific valuation impact from each factor.
So the typical stock pitch logic (“We think there’s a 50% chance of gaining 80% and a 50% chance of losing 20%”) won’t be spelled out explicitly:
Your Sample Equity Research Reports
To illustrate these concepts, I’m sharing two equity research reports from our financial modeling courses:
The first one is from the valuation case study in the Financial Modeling Fundamentals course, and the second one is from the main case study in the Bank Modeling course.
We started by creating traditional HF/AM stock pitches and valuations and then made our views weaker in the research reports.
The Typical Sections
So let’s briefly go through the main sections of these reports, using the two examples above:
Page 1: Update, Rating, Price Target, and Recent Results
The first page of an “Update” report states the bank’s recommendation (Buy, Hold, or Sell, sometimes with slightly different terminology), and gives recent updates on the company.
For example, in both these reports we reference recent earnings results from the companies and expectations for the next fiscal year:
We also give a “target price,” explain where it comes from, and give our estimates for the company’s key financial metrics.
We mention catalysts in both reports, but we don’t link anything to a specific valuation impact.
One problem with providing a specific “target price” is that it must be based on specific multiples and specific assumptions in a DCF or DDM.
So with Jazz, we explain that the $170.00 target is based on 20.7x and 15.3x EV/EBITDA multiples for the comps, and a discount rate of 8.07% and Terminal FCF growth rate of 0.3% in the DCF.
Next: Operations and Financial Summary
Next, you’ll see a section with lots of graphs and charts detailing the company’s financial performance, market share, and important metrics and ratios.
For a pharmaceutical company like Jazz, you might see revenue by product, pricing and # of patients per product per year, and EBITDA margins.
For a commercial bank like Shawbrook, you might see loan growth, interest rates, interest income and net income, and regulatory capital figures such as the Common Equity Tier 1 (CET 1) and Tangible Common Equity (TCE) ratios:
This section of the report explains how the research analyst/associate forecast the company’s performance and came up with the numbers used in the valuation.
The valuation section is the one that’s most similar in a research report and a stock pitch.
In both fields, you explain how you arrived at the company’s implied value, which usually involves pasting in a DCF or DDM analysis and comparable companies and transactions.
The methodologies are the same, but the assumptions might differ substantially.
In research, you’re also more likely to point to specific multiples, such as the 75th percentile EV/EBITDA multiple, and explain why they are the most meaningful ones.
For example, you might argue that since the company’s growth rates and margins exceed the medians of the set, it deserves to be valued at the 75th percentile multiples rather than the median multiples:
Investment Thesis, Catalysts, and Risks
This section is short, and it is more of an afterthought than anything else.
We do give reasons for why these companies might be mis-priced, but the reasoning isn’t that detailed.
For example, in the Shawbrook report we state that the U.K. mortgage market might slow down and that regulatory changes might reduce the market size and the company’s market share:
Those are legitimate catalysts, but the report doesn’t explain their share-price impact in the same way that a stock pitch would.
Finally, banks present Investment Risks mostly so they can say, “Well, we warned you there were risks and that our recommendation might be wrong.”
By contrast, buy-side analysts present Investment Risks so they can say, “There is a legitimate chance we could lose 50% – let’s hedge against that risk with options or other investments so that our fund does not collapse.”
How These Reports Both Differ from the Corresponding Stock Pitches
The Jazz equity research report corresponds to a “Long” pitch that’s much stronger:
- We estimate its intrinsic value as $180 – $220 / share, up from $170 in the report.
- We estimate the per-share impact of each catalyst: price increases add 15% to the share price, more patients from marketing efforts add 10%, and later-than-expected generics competition adds 15%.
- We also estimate the per-share impact from the risk factors and conclude that in the worst case, the company’s share price might decline from $130 to $75-$80. But in all likelihood, even if we’re wrong, the company is simply valued appropriately at $130.
- And then we explain how to hedge against these risks with put options.
The same differences apply to the Shawbrook research report vs. the stock pitch, but the stock pitch there is a “Short” recommendation where we claim that the company is overvalued by 30-50%.
And that sums up the differences perfectly: A Short recommendation with 30-50% downside in a stock pitch turns into a “Hold” recommendation with roughly equal upside and downside in a sell-side research report.
What’s in an Equity Research Report?
I’ve been harsh on equity research here, but I don’t want to disparage it too much.
There are many positives: You do get more creativity than in IB, it might be better for hedge fund or asset management exits, and it’s more fun to follow companies than to grind through grunt work on deals.
But no matter how you slice it, most equity research reports are watered-down stock pitches.
So, make sure you understand the “strong stuff” first before you downgrade – even if your long-term goal is equity research.
About the Author
Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.
Why I Wrote This Guide
Equity Research is a rewarding career.
To keep up, you need a strong foundation with the judgment to think critically, act independently, and be relentlessly analytical.
That’s why I wrote this guide — to empower you with the equity research report writing skills to stay ahead in equity research career.
There is almost NO guide available that teaches you how to write equity research report. From textbooks to online video tutorials, you can check and let me know if you find one.
And, I felt that I should write a detailed and step-by-step guide— a guide that really starts at the beginning to equip already-intelligent analysts with a healthy balance of conceptual and practical advice.
The Advanced Guide to Equity Research Report Writing takes your writing to the next level.
Who This Guide Is for?
I wrote this guide for an audience of equity research analysts, investment banking professionals, industry analysts, market research professionals, business management students, and freelance writers.
Most of all, I want you to walk away from this guide feeling confident about your equity report writing skill.
How Much of This Guide Should You Read?
This guide is designed for you to read from the beginning to the end.
Each new chapter builds upon the previous one.
A core idea that I want to reinforce is that you need to know the framework to write the reports.
Reading this guide from start to finish will help you connect the many moving parts of report writing to your big-picture goal, which is equity research report writing skill.
Chapter 1. What Is an Equity Research Report
This chapter explains what exactly an equity research report is.
The questions like—Who makes it? Who reads and uses it? What are the different types of equity research reports?—are answered clearly and elaborately.
It briefly talks about the various key contents of an equity research report.
And lastly it explains the need to provide a disclaimer at the end of an equity research report.
So before understanding how to write an equity research report, let’s try to understand what exactly an equity research report is.
FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, defines an equity research report, in Rule 2711 (a)(8) as,
“A written or electronic communication that includes an analysis of equity securities of individual companies or industries, and that provides information reasonably sufficient upon which to base an investment decision.”
Readers of Equity Research, more so than anything else, identify trends that make investment decisions easier to justify.
In simpler words, an equity research is a document written and published by a brokerage house or securities firm for its clients to help them to take better decisions regarding which stocks to choose for profitable investment.
The report should be such that it should convince the client to take a decision.
The report should be crisp; the point of view should be clearly structured and articulated concisely.
In the investment industry, equity reports usually refer to ‘sell side’ research, or investment research created by brokerage houses.
Such research is circulated to the corporate and retail clients of the brokerage house that publishes it.
Research produced by the ‘buy side’, which includes mutual funds, pension funds and portfolio managers, is usually for internal use and is not distributed to outside parties.
a. Different types of equity reports
In the above paragraph we saw terms such as ‘sell-side’ and ‘buy-side’.
Let’s quickly understand what these terms mean:
There are two main types of equity research reports:
i. Sell-Side reports
Sell-side reports are the most common type of equity research reports in circulation.
They are normally produced by investment banks, typically for their clients to guide their investment decisions.
A sell-side analyst works for a brokerage firm or bank which manages individual clients and makes investment recommendations to them.
Sell-side analysts issue the often-heard recommendations of “buy”, “hold”, “neutral”, or “sell”.
These recommendations help clients take decisions to buy or sell stocks.
This is favorable for the brokerage firm as each time a client takes a decision to trade; the brokerage firm gets a commission on the transactions.
Click here to see some examples of sell-side reports
ii. Buy-Side reports
The ‘buy side’ reports are internal reports, produced for the bank itself, and are guided by differing perspectives and motivations.
A buy-side analyst generally works for a mutual fund or a pension fund company.
They perform research and make recommendations to the money managers of the fund that hires them.
Buy-side analysts will verify how promising an investment seems and how well it fits with the fund’s investment strategy. These recommendations are made exclusively for the benefit of the fund that employs them and are not available to anyone outside the fund.
Within the buy/sell group, there are other types of reports like initiating coverage reports, standard reports, Issue reports, Investor notes and sector reports.
iii. Initiating coverage reports
The initiating coverage reports are conducted on firms that the bank has begun following and are typically more comprehensive in nature.
Initiating coverage reports analyze a company’s historical financial information, order books, efficiency, SWOT, cash-flows and future earning potential, basis which it estimates the future earnings of the company and its P/E multiples.
Click here to see some examples of initiating coverage reports
iv. Standard reports
After an initiating report is produced standard reports will follow for as long as the brokerage house continues to track the stock.
Stocks that are tracked are typically part of an index like the SENSEX, or are amongst the top stocks in an industry as these are the stocks that investors care about and are traded in larger volumes.
v. Issue reports
These reports are issued when generally companies announce earnings each quarter (Quarterly earnings reports).
vi. Investor notes
These reports are published a few times in between for incremental information and news.
For example – an investor conference companies hold, a big M&A deal, or a major new product announcement from a competitor.
These are usually short-run updates and are typically just quantitative in nature.
vii. Sector reports
A sector report is a document which evaluates a given industry and the companies involved in it.
It is often included as part of a business plan, and typically seeks to establish how one company can gain an advantage in an industry through detailed research on competition, products and customers.
Click here to see the sector report
b. Contents of an equity research report
Now that we have understood the different types of equity research reports, let’s try to see the contents of an equity research report.
An equity research report should not be more than 10 to 15 pages long and should be very crisp and concise.
It should give the reader a clear understanding of the opinion of the analyst writing the report.
An equity research report typically has the following contents:
1. Analyst opinion and summary
2. Key highlights of the company
3. A snap shot of the industry
4. Financial ratio analysis
5. Valuation analysis
6. Risk factors
7. Disclosure and rationale of rating
Usually most of the equity research reports have this information; however there is no hard and fast rule in which an equity research report should be written.
We will study in detail (with examples) how to write each of these segments of an equity research report in the forthcoming chapters.
c. Importance of Disclaimers in equity research report
As every equity research report is an investment document, and investors use it to take decisions for buying or selling securities based on it, it is important for the report to have certain disclaimers to show un-biasness of the analyst writing the report.
Some typical disclaimers are as follows:
· Every equity research report entirely reflects views and personal opinions of the analyst as on the date of publication
· The analyst does not have interest in the shares of the company
· Compensation of the analyst is not linked directly to any specific research recommendations contained in the report
Click here to see an example of disclaimers
- Equity research report writing is a skill. You need to build this skill to go to the next level in your career. Top notch careers in finance–equity research, investment banking, asset management, financial research, Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) units value this skill in high regard.
- There are different types of research reports–sell-side, buy-side, initiating coverage, standard, issue, investor notes, and sector reports. As an analyst, you should know all these reports.
- Contents of an equity research report include Analyst opinion and summary, Key highlights of the company, A snap shot of the industry,Financial and ratio analysis, Valuation analysis, Risk factors, and Disclosure and rationale of rating. I’m going to cover all these sections in detail with examples in coming chapters.
Now You Try It
I hope you can see the potential of equity research report writing skill for your career.
Yes, it takes hard work to create something great.
But with this skill you already know ahead of time that your hard work is going to pay off.
I want you to give the skill a try and let me know how it works for you.
If you have a question or thought, leave a comment below and I’ll get right to it.
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