Investors need to investigate intangible assets ratios in due diligence

Rex Moore of the Motley Fool, in writing about The Altria Group, adopts Hewitt Heiserman’s intangible assets ratio of 20% of total assets as a threshold for investors (presented in It's Earnings That Count).  Heiserman views anything over 20% as worrisome, "because management might be overpaying for the acquisition or acquisitions that gave rise to the goodwill."

This is a severely conservative threshold, especially for acquisition-bent and technology companies.  In the purchase price acquisition survey to be released by BVR in early summer, the average company had Goodwill at 35% of total assets, and total intangibles at 72% of total assets. Mark-to-market surveys of the S&P 500 put the ratio still higher.