From Novice to Investor - Magic Formula for Beginners

Diving into stock investments? Consider the Magic Formula, a beginner-friendly strategy that values patience and strategic selection over hasty decisions. Learn to build a resilient portfolio with undervalued stocks, setting the stage for long-term investment success. Your journey to demystifying the stock market starts here.

Investing in the stock market can feel like navigating through a dense forest without a map. However, Joel Greenblatt's Magic Formula investing strategy offers a compass to those willing to embark on this journey.

It's a straightforward, disciplined approach designed to guide you to selecting high-quality, undervalued stocks.

The Magic Formula isn’t just about picking stocks; it helps you learn an investment philosophy that values patience over impulsiveness and strategic selection over speculation.

Understanding and applying this formula is a significant first step that helps you build a diversified, resilient portfolio capable of weathering market volatility and yielding high returns over time.


Understanding the Magic Formula

The Magic Formula simplifies investment decision-making by focusing on two key metrics: Earnings Yield and Return on Invested Capital (ROIC).

Earnings Yield assesses how much bang for your buck a company offers, highlighting stocks that are potentially undervalued.

ROIC evaluates how efficiently a company utilizes its capital to generate profits, a sign of operational effectiveness and competitive advantage.

These metrics work great together to help you find companies that are not only cheap but also fundamentally strong.

Why do these metrics matter?

Because they cut through the noise of the market, directing you to companies with solid fundamentals and attractive pricing.

This methodological approach helps you to mitigate the risks associated with investing in overhyped stocks or companies with weak financials, giving you a clear path to long-term growth, stability and thus investment success.


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Starting with the Magic Formula

To begin with the Magic Formula, you need to find stocks that rank highly according to Greenblatt's criteria.

Several online tools and platforms, including the Quant Investing stock screener, offer pre-calculated Magic Formula rankings, making it easy to shortlist candidates without delving into complex calculations yourself.

Start by selecting a reliable financial data provider that updates its rankings regularly and offers comprehensive coverage of the stocks you’re interested in.

Once you have your tools ready, the next step is to compile a list of potential stocks.

Look at those that appear consistently at the top of the Magic Formula rankings across different time frames (a few months for example). This consistency is a good indicator of a company's enduring value and operational efficiency, key factors that contribute to the long-term success of your investment.


Diversification: The Key to Reducing Risk

Diversification is a critical strategy for managing risk in your portfolio. By spreading your investments across a broad array of companies, you minimize the impact of any single stock's poor performance on your overall returns.

The Magic Formula, with its emphasis on selecting high-quality, undervalued stocks, provides a solid foundation for diversification. However, to make the most of this strategy, beginners should aim to include at least 20 to 30 companies in their portfolio, even if they're conducting individual company research.

This diversification strategy ensures that your investment isn't overly reliant on the fortunes of a few stocks, providing a buffer against market volatility and sector-specific downturns.

The broader your portfolio, the more you can mitigate risk and capitalize on the growth potential across different industries and market segments.


Research: Balancing Effort and Spread

While the Magic Formula offers a streamlined approach to stock selection, you still face the decision of how much research to conduct on each potential investment.

There's an inverse relationship between the depth of research on individual stocks and the number of stocks you should include in your portfolio. In other words, the more research the less stocks.

If you prefer to dive deep into company fundamentals, focusing on a smaller set of stocks may suffice, 20 for example. However, if you lean on the Magic Formula's rankings without extensive individual analysis, aiming for a wider spread of companies is advisable, 30 to 50 for example.

For a balanced approach, consider conducting a basic review of each company's financial health and market position, adding to the Magic Formula's guidance. This middle ground allows for informed decision-making without the need for exhaustive research on every stock, enabling a broader and more diversified portfolio.


Company Research Example

If a company has a good Magic Formula ranking visit the investment relations website of the company and look at all the latest company news.

Look at the latest financial results (half yearly or quarterly), as well as all the financial press releases to make sure the company has not done anything that may have changed its financial situation or its business.

Remember the Magic Formula ranking looks back in time and you want to make sure the company has not fundamentally changed since the ranking was done.


Examples of what to look for:

  • Spin-offs - After a spin-off a company may look completely different from the company that was selected by the screener based on information before the spin-off.
  • Special dividends - These may change the valuation as well as financial position of the company.
  • Large acquisitions - May change the company’s business and or its financial situation, for example a lot of new debt.


No Second Guessing

During this whole process try (this is a lot more difficult than it sounds) not to second guess the ideas the Magic Formula comes up with.

For example, excluding companies because you do not like the business or the industry.

This is important because a lot of research has shown that second guessing a high performance, time tested, investment strategy leads to lower returns.

Because the Magic Formula may recommend companies with a lot of negative news makes this hard. But it is something you must learn to live with.


Building Your Portfolio: One-time vs. Staggered Approach

You have two primary strategies for building your Magic Formula portfolio:

  • Buy all stocks at once or
  • Adopting a staggered approach, buying a few stocks each month.


Buying all at once can be simpler and time-efficient, but it may lead to including lower-ranked companies as you work your way down the Magic Formula list.

On the other hand, buying 2 to 5 top-ranked stocks monthly allows you to focus consistently on the highest-potential investments, though it requires more ongoing management.

Both approaches have merits, but the staggered method tends to align better with the principles of dollar-cost averaging, reducing the risk of market timing and potentially smoothing out volatility. Additionally, this method keeps your investment strategy active and adaptive, letting you respond to changes in company rankings and market conditions over time.


Going Global: Expanding Your Investment Horizon

Casting your net wide is crucial in finding the best Magic Formula stocks. By expanding your search globally, you access a larger pool of companies. This increases your chances of uncovering high-ranking investments outside your domestic market.

This global perspective not only diversifies your portfolio geographically but also exposes you to opportunities in other markets and industries experiencing rapid growth.

Investing internationally requires some additional thinking, such as currency risk and varying regulatory environments. However, the rewards in tapping into a broader array of Magic Formula stocks can significantly outweigh these challenges.

Platforms that offer global Magic Formula market data like the Quant Investing stock screener, can be invaluable, enabling you to find top-ranked companies worldwide.


Portfolio Management and Rebalancing

Effective portfolio management is important to realizing the long-term benefits of the Magic Formula strategy. This involves regular monitoring of your stocks' performance and their adherence to the Magic Formula criteria.

Rebalancing your portfolio annually, selling off underperformers (using a trailing stop loss strategy), and replacing them with higher-ranked stocks, keeps your investments aligned with the strategy's core principles.

Patience plays a crucial role in this process. The true value of Magic Formula investments often materializes over several years, underscoring the importance of a long-term investment horizon.


Risk Management: Balancing Stability with Growth

In navigating your Magic Formula investment journey, effective risk management is crucial to safeguarding your portfolio's health while pursuing growth.

There are two primary schools of thought when it comes to managing risk within your Magic Formula portfolio:

  • Strict adherence to the strategy with annual rebalancing, or a
  • More dynamic approach by cutting your losers and letting your winners run, utilizing a trailing stop-loss strategy.


Opting for yearly rebalancing aligns closely with Greenblatt's original guidance, allowing the fundamental strength and valuation of companies to dictate your portfolio's composition over time. This method is grounded in the belief that quality companies, when purchased at undervalued prices, will yield solid returns over the long haul.

On the other hand, implementing a trailing stop-loss strategy introduces a mechanism to reduce volatility in your returns. While not directly aimed at increasing returns—though it may—the primary benefit of a stop-loss approach is to mitigate downside risk.

By automatically selling stocks that fall a certain percentage from their highest price since purchase, you can protect your portfolio from significant losses during downturns. This strategy allows you to "cut your losers" and "let your winners run," potentially smoothing out the ride without deviating from the core principles of the Magic Formula.

However, it's important to recognize that employing stop-loss orders requires more active portfolio management and a clear understanding of how to set and adjust stop loss thresholds (15% to 20% works best) to fit with your risk tolerance and investment goals.


Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

If you are a beginning investor you may encounter several pitfalls when managing a Magic Formula portfolio, such as reacting impulsively to short-term market fluctuations or straying from the disciplined approach the strategy requires.

To avoid these traps, stay focused on the long-term rationale behind each investment, resisting the urge to sell based on temporary setbacks or media noise.

Educating yourself on the fundamentals of stock market investing, alongside the specifics of the Magic Formula strategy, can also help navigate these challenges. Rereading the book yearly may help you with this.

Embrace continuous learning and seek out resources that enhance your understanding and confidence as an investor.


Click here to start finding your own Magic Formula ideas NOW!


Summary and Conclusion

Setting up your first Magic Formula portfolio is an exciting step toward disciplined, value-focused investing.

By using:

  • diversification,
  • adopting a staggered approach to buying stocks, and
  • looking beyond domestic markets,

you can enhance your portfolio's resilience and growth potential.

Remember, your journey to investment success is a marathon, not a sprint. Patience, ongoing education, and adherence to the Magic Formula's principles can help you navigate the complexities of the stock market and achieve your long-term financial goals.

Good Luck and Profitable Investing!



Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Magic Formula Investing Strategy?

The Magic Formula is an investment strategy developed by Joel Greenblatt that guides you to selecting high-quality, undervalued stocks. It relies on two key metrics: Earnings Yield and Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) to find companies that are not only cheap but also fundamentally strong. This strategy emphasizes patience, a long-term perspective, and a disciplined approach to investing.


How do I start with the Magic Formula Investing?

Start by utilizing online tools and platforms that offer pre-calculated Magic Formula rankings, such as the Quant Investing stock screener. These tools help you shortlist potential stocks by providing regular updates and comprehensive coverage. Compile a list of stocks that rank highly. Research and start buying from the top ranked companies down the list.


Why is diversification important in the Magic Formula Investing?

Diversification spreads your investments across a broad array of companies, minimizing the impact of any single stock's poor performance on your overall returns. The Magic Formula provides a foundation for diversification by selecting high-quality, undervalued stocks. Beginners are advised to include at least 20 to 40 companies in their portfolio to mitigate risk and capitalize on growth potential across different industries.


Should I conduct individual research on each stock in the Magic Formula Portfolio?

While the Magic Formula offers a streamlined approach to stock selection, balancing the depth of research with the number of stocks in your portfolio is crucial. For those diving deep into company fundamentals, a smaller set of stocks may suffice. Alternatively, relying more on the Magic Formula's rankings allows for a wider spread of companies. A basic review of each company's financial health and market position is recommended for a balanced approach.


How should I manage and rebalance my Magic Formula Portfolio?

Effective portfolio management involves regular monitoring of your stocks' performance and adherence to the Magic Formula criteria. Annually rebalancing your portfolio by selling off underperformers and replacing them with higher-ranked stocks keeps your investments aligned with the strategy's core principles. Employing a trailing stop-loss strategy can also help reduce volatility and mitigate downside risk, although it requires more active management.


Click here to start finding your own Magic Formula ideas NOW!


Please note:  This website is not associated with Joel Greenblatt and in any way. Neither Mr Greenblatt nor has endorsed this website's investment advice, strategy, or products. Investment recommendations on this website are not chosen by Mr. Greenblatt, nor are they based on Mr Greenblatt's proprietary investment model and are not chosen by Magic Formula® is a registered trademark of, which has no connection to this website.