The CFAInstitute blog Inside Investing has a great post on the returns to negative enterprise value stocks. Alon Bochman, CFA has investigated the performance of all negative enterprise value (“EV”) stocks trading in the United States between March 30, 1972 and September 28, 2012. He used balance sheet data from Standard & Poor’s Compustat database and merged these data with price data from the database maintained by the Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP). He then calculated historical EVs for every company every month, as well as matching forward 12-month returns. Says Alon:
I found 2,613 stocks that at one point or another traded at a negative enterprise value between 1972 and 2012 (Microsoft, unfortunately, was not among them). The list has one entry per stock-month. That is, a stock that has traded at a negative enterprise value three months in a row will appear on the list three times. Each time is a different investment opportunity with its own forward 12-month return. The average stock spent 10.17 months (not necessarily consecutive) in negative EV territory. Thus, the list shows a total of 26,569 opportunities to invest in negative EV stocks.
The average return across all 26,569 opportunities was 50.4%. That is, if you had diligently watched the market over the last 40 years and invested $1,000 into each negative EV stock each month, your average investment would be worth $1,504 after holding that investment for one year, not including trading costs, taxes, and so on. Not bad!
Most of the opportunities are in micro caps with limited liquidity:
Alon notes that these opportunities have come up with some regularity and have usually provided attractive returns but have on occasion lost a great deal as well: