Posts Tagged ‘value’

Is it time to buy stocks in times of intense fear and volatility? Part 1: Introduction

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Let’s say you are a long-term investor who is not into timing the bottom of the stock market. After having seen the market falling into intense panic and fear over the past few weeks, you may wonder whether it is now time to buy stocks for their long-term value. No doubt, in this climate of intense volatility and fear in the market, stocks of good businesses along with the bad ones are indiscriminately sold. Even if a depression is coming, not all businesses will be affected equally. Some of the better quality ones will fare better (and even thrive) in such a harsh environment. For example, during the Great Depression, some businesses’ profit even grew (see Which industry?s profitability grew as the Great Depression progressed?)!

Surely, some of these stocks are undervalued by now right? Should you buy now? Even Warren Buffett is buying.

Well, the answer will depend on your personal circumstances. More specifically, it depends on your current level of leverage. In other words, the right answer to this question for two different people can be different. In the coming articles, we will explain how to go about answering this question based on probability, reward and loss. Keep in tune!

Should value investors be ‘bullish’ in a bear market?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Some of you may have subscribed to value-oriented stock research newsletter. One thing you may notice is that as the market enters deeper into the bear market, the number of “Buy” recommendation increases. From that perspective, these value-oriented stock research are ‘bullish.’

Before we comment on the wisdom of their recommendations, we will have to explain the philosophy of value-oriented stock research. As we explained to one of our reader’s comment in Confidence back? Beware of bear market rally,

… for long-term value investors, they follow the ?bottom-up? approach. That is, they (i.e. the value investor) invest in businesses based mainly on its individual merits (i.e. is it a good solid long-term safe businesses whose stock price is undervalued? Bear Stearns is definitely ruled out in this case) and not worry about the macroeconomic big picture, the business cycle, e.t.c. … In that sense, such value investors are neither ?bullish? or ?bearish.? Rather, they have a neutral view on the business cycle and other macroeconomic big-picture.

Here, we see a potential trap for the unwary value investor. Back in February last year, as we explained in What to avoid at the peak of the business cycle?,

One of the common mistakes that novice investors often make is to extrapolate the past earnings of cyclical stocks into the indefinite future during the turning points of the business cycle. Since the stock market always anticipates the future earnings of companies, cyclical companies will look ?cheap? (i.e. low P/E ratio) during the peak of the boom.

During the turning point of the business cycle, the P/E ratios of good quality companies in a bear market may look very enticingly cheap. But as we explained in Why accumulating stocks on the ?cheap? can be deadly to your wealth?, during such a time,

… a falling average P/E ratio does not imply that stocks in general are cheap. Yes, with careful and judicious stock picking skills, you may be able to find really cheap stocks. But do not let falling average P/E ratio fool you.

Low P/E plus the “Buy” recommendations from the value-oriented stock research may make buying stocks of good quality companies look like astute contrarian moves.

But this is where the Achilles? heel of value-oriented stock research lies. Because they hold a neutral view on the macroeconomic big picture and business cycle, they can severely underestimate the effects of a protracted downturn in the earnings of businesses. This news article, Bottom-up analysts ignore the big picture, sums it well:

“You have got a set of numbers that assumes some sort of recovery,” Macquarie’s equity strategist, Tanya Branwhite, said when releasing the report. “Unfortunately, that’s premised on the cycle we have seen in the last five to 10 years. What is facing the economy at the moment is nothing like we have seen in the last five to 10 years.”

One value-oriented stock research (which we will not name) believes that this current bear market will be like any other ‘typical’ bear market in the past- the downturn will last only 12 to 18 months. In other words, their position is that this coming recession will only be a V-shape or U-shape recession (see What type of recession is coming?). If they are wrong about that (i.e. the coming recession is an L-shape one), then their current “Buy” recommendation will be very wrong.

To illustrate this point, we will give you two examples.

After the stock market crash of 1987, the world economy did not fall into a Depression as initially feared. By 1989, stock markets had more or less recovered. If you bought into the market after the crash, you would have profited greatly.

But what if you bought into the market after the stock market crash of 1929 (see The Great Crash of 1929)? Or you bought Japanese stocks just after the bursting of the bubble in the late 1980s? The outcome will be completely different if you had done so.

In short, not all bear market purchase will turn out to be astute if the timing is way too early.

Should you liquidate your asset?

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Back in How do we prepare for a possible economic crisis?, one of our readers asked,

A lot of us, simply do not have free floating (saved) money to worry about. What we have, instead, are huge debts that are closely tied to the so-called, and as yet unrealised, ?equity? we are supposed to have in the assets that we borrowed against.

But for the rest, all I see is a sea of debt with an island in the hazy distance that is supposed to be my ?equity? in assets held hostage by banks as security. So, to simplify it to the bare bones, the first question for many is, not whether one should buy gold or silver, but whether one should liquidate assets in which one supposedly has some equity.

Now, armed with a new understanding of value-investing and what assets truly are (see Value investing for dummies), you may see this problem in a different light. Let’s suppose you bought a property with a market price of $900,000 and an outstanding debt of $600,000 to go with it, leaving you with an ‘equity’ of $300,000.

Your mortgage debt is an asset to the bank because you are ‘selling’ yourself to it by committing part of your future earnings as money to be put into the bank’s pocket. Let’s suppose your mortgage rate is 10%. At that rate, you will be paying $63,185.16 per year to the bank for the next 30 years. Now, let’s calculate the value of you as an asset. Using a discount rate of 10%, the value of $63,185.16 of cash flow per year for 30 years is $595,641.10. This figure is the present value of your debt to the bank.

Now, look at your property as an income-producing asset. Let’s suppose you can rent it out forever and ever at $600 per week ($31,200 per year) initially. Let’s assume thatt income from that asset can grow at an annual rate of 5% forever and ever (i.e. property income more than keep up with the RBA’s upper band of inflation targeting). Again, we apply the same discount rate of 9% (i.e. your employment income is higher risk than the income derived from your asset). Guess what the intrinsic value of your asset is? In this case, given such generous assumption, it works out to only $780,000!

Now, let’s suppose that instead of borrowing to buy a property, you borrow $600,000, plus your $300,000 equity, buy $900,000 worth of risk-free government bond at a rate of return of 6.50%. For this risk-free investment, you will receive $58,500 of yearly income which you re-invest into the government bond immediately. By definition, the value of that $58,500 of yearly re-invested income is $900,000.

In other words, it is simply not rational to invest in property because you are better off putting that money in risk-free government bonds (or better still, term deposits that currently pays as high as 8%). Some ‘investors’ may use the prospect of capital appreciations as a reason for ‘investing’ in property. But this will only work if there is the next fool willing to pay over-inflated and irrational price for your property. As we said before in Difference between ?assets? and real assets,

That is why there are property speculators ?investing? in houses that are far overvalued and getting caught out in a property price bubble when the business cycle turns. In essence, the property price bubble is a Ponzi scheme that collapses when the economy runs out of money through a credit contraction brought about by the credit crisis or rising interest rates.

Once credit deflation sets in the economy, the economy starts to run out of fools. Many ‘investors’ turn out to be the last fool. In times of deflation, many people will find that the ‘value’ (market price) of their property turns out to be illusionary. You may want to read our other article, Aussie household debt not as bad as it seems? for more details on that.

The lesson here is this: if you purchase the property below its intrinsic present value, you need not worry about its market price.

Effects of inflation on value of investment

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Continuing from Measuring the value of an investment, we learnt about measuring the value of an investment relative to the risk-free returns of long-term government bonds. But that does not take into account the effects of inflation on your investment. This is a factor that is often forgotten, which in this age of rampant monetary debasement will seriously undermine your investment returns in real terms. As we said back in February 2007 in Have we escaped from the dangers of inflation?,

Today, the global spigot of liquidity (see Liquidity?Global Markets Face `Severe Correction,? Faber Says on the concept of ?liquidity?) is wide open, spewing out huge amounts of money and money substitutes into the [global] financial system.

The world was lulled in to a false sense of seemingly low price inflation through the rise of Chinese manufacturing power. Consequently, this gives investors a false confidence of fiat money being a reliable store of value. Today’s climate of rampant global price inflation is payback time for such economic folly. If we are right, the world is marching towards stagflation (low/negative economic growth, rising unemployment and rising prices) along with a deflation in asset prices. This is the worst environment for investors.

Inflation is a relatively new phenomenon in the latter half of the 20th century. As we quoted the late Professor Murray Rothbard in A brief history of money and its breakdown- Part 2,

Since the U.S. went completely off gold in August 1971 and established the Friedmanite fluctuating fiat system in March 1973, the United States and the world have suffered the most intense and most sustained bout of peacetime inflation in the history of the world. It should be clear by now that this is scarcely a coincidence.

Under the good old days (prior to the First World War) of the gold standard, there was no such thing as inflation (except for periods of war). Prices were relatively stable over the centuries. In fact, they tended to fall because of economic growth (similar to why the prices of computers and technology products fall because of increased productivity). For more information, you may want to refer to our guide, What is inflation and deflation?.

Therefore, as investors, you have to understand the relation between the value of your investments and inflation.

First, how are long-term government bonds priced? As you may already know, the free market sets the prices of long-term government bonds. As we explained before in Measuring the value of an investment, the price is inversely related to the rate of return (yield).

In theory, the price of long-term government bonds reflects the market’s expectation of long-term price inflation. Assuming that the market is right about long-term inflation in its pricing of the bonds, the value of your investments will automatically factor in inflation. Hence, as we said before in Is the value of an asset its price?, since the value of an asset is relative to the long-term government bond, the value of a long-term government bond is relative to price inflation.

Now, what happens if you believe that the market is severely underestimating long-term price inflation (i.e. the price of long-term government bond is way too high)? This is the situation that we reported in Marc Faber: Bernanke Policy Will ?Destroy? U.S. Dollar, where Marc Faber said that the 10-year and 30-year US Treasury bond market was (and still is today) a “disaster waiting to happen.” Notice what he said:

The arguments for stocks is frequently that you take the earnings yield of the stock market and compare it with the bond yield and people compare it to Treasury bonds. I think you should take the earnings yield of equities and compare it with, say, a typical S&P company, and that is a yield that correspond to, say, a triple-B, and so, basically as of today, some bonds are more attractive than equity.

What do you think will happen to stock prices if one day, the US Treasury market correctly reflects price inflation?

Is the value of an asset its price?

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Continuing from our previous article, Difference between ?assets? and real assets, we will discuss two concepts that are often confused with each other- price and value.

Everyone knows about price. So, we will not talk more about it. But the trick question is: is the value of an asset based on its price? In accounting, the value of an accounting asset (as opposed to the definition of an asset that we mentioned in Difference between ?assets? and real assets) is based on price, whether historical price of some kind of derivative of market price. In today’s speculative mindset, the quality of our investing endeavours is often judged according to the price it can fetch on the market. For example, the 2007-2008 financial year was marked by abysmal ‘performance’ of the stock market, which implies abysmal performance of our superannuation funds. Basically, this means that the price of stocks have fallen. In this kind of herd mentality, it is often easy to associate price with value.

But as investors, we have to understand that there is a difference between price and value. The former is just an easily understood nominal number. Value, on the other hand, is a relative concept. The value of something implies its worth relative to something else. So, what is the value of an asset? As we explained before in Difference between ?assets? and real assets, an asset is something that

… puts money into your pocket periodically.

Therefore, the value of an asset is a measure of the worth of its cash flow relative to the cash flow of something else. What is the “something else” that an asset’s value is compared against? Well, it is the cash flow fetched by a long-term government bond. In other words, the cash flow of the long-term government bond is used as a yardstick for which we measure the value of an asset’s cash flow.

Government bonds are theoretically zero risk in nominal terms (not in real terms though) because it cannot default on its loan (well, not if the government happens to the Russian government in 1998) as it has the power of the monetary printing press.

The cash flow of an asset, on the other hand is full of risks compared to the long-term government bond. Behind an asset is always a business enterprise, which can fail in its ability to earn cash to its owners’ satisfaction- the business may even fail completely. Therefore, to compensate its owners of that higher risk, it has to earn a return higher than the risk-free government bond. The riskier the business enterprise is, the higher the rate of return should be demanded.

In the next article, we will explain what the return on an investment is. That will involve more mathematics.