Posts Tagged ‘Value Investing’

Closing in for the kill in value investing

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

In our previous two articles, Choosing the businesses with strong economics- Part 1: avoiding poor economics businesses and Choosing the businesses with strong economics- Part 2: finding durable competitive advantaged businesses, you have learnt about which businesses to avoid and which ones to look out for as your investment candidates. Once you have identified such businesses, the next question is, when do you make a move to invest in them?

First, you need to have some idea how much that business is worth. Our previous articles, Measuring the value of an investment and Effects of inflation on value of investment will give the mathematical explanations on how to value a business. But do not confuse mathematical precision with accuracy. As we said before in Confusion between precision & accuracy,

As the above-mentioned analogy shows, precisely wrong numbers are useless. If we use them, then the quality of our investing decision will degrade considerably.

For this reason, it is better to be vaguely right than to be precisely wrong.

Second, you must remember this: never ever pay for more than what the business is worth. In fact, it is advisable that the price you pay be of a certain margin (say 15%) below its worth. This is to give you a margin of safety against errors in judgement.

The next step is to wait patiently, stalking the business like a hunter. Eventually, bad news will strike the business, revealing the changes that will occur. Then the stock market will typically overreact, pulling the stock price to a level that is far below what it is worth. That will be the time to strike. The stock market overreacts because it is not rational and suffers the common mental pitfalls that ail every human. To be a successful investor, you need to be more rational than the market collectively. We recommend that you familiarise yourself with the common mental pitfalls as explained in our guide, Common mental pitfalls that leads you astray and Why are the majority so wrong at the same time and in the same ways?.

However, this step is the trickiest one and errors in judgement are most likely to be made. Bad news comes in two flavours:

  1. Changes to the business are temporary and therefore, a recovery will eventuate in due time.
  2. Changes to the business are permanent and therefore, there will be no recovery.

Thus, you have to discern the nature of the changes, understanding whether the context of the underlying trends in which the business changes occur is secular or cyclical (see Understanding secular vs cyclical). For example, as we explained before in Should value investors be ?bullish? in a bear market?,

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.

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

This is where value investors are most likely to get wrong.

Doubts over value-investing

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Warren Buffett’s latest dismal performance had many fans of value-investing taken note (see this Bloomberg article). In his latest shareholder letter, he confessed that

During 2008 I did some dumb things in investments. I made at least one major mistake of commission and several lesser ones that also hurt. I will tell you more about these later. Furthermore, I made some errors of omission, sucking my thumb when new facts came in that should have caused me to re-examine my thinking and promptly take action.

Some of his fans are even questioning the whole philosophy of value investing. One of Australia’s value-investing tip-sheet (which we will not name here) confessed that

Ben Graham began his seminal piece on value investing with that quote, and several of his disciples built impressive records over many decades using it as their guiding principal. Buy established businesses when their share prices have fallen substantially and are out of favour, the theory goes, and sell them when the world comes to its senses. It worked for the best part of 70 years. Then, in 2008, it stopped working.

I wouldn?t go that far but it?s clear this financial and economic crisis is different to anything Warren Buffett has experienced. Unless you?re an octogenarian, that makes it different to anything you or I have seen either. It?s time to tread extremely carefully.

Today’s Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is something that we warned our readers. As recent as last month, we wrote in Should you follow Buffett and be greedy now? that

Finally, take note of this: Warren Buffett has never experienced the Great Depression for himself. Neither has he experienced hyperinflation of Weimar Germany. All his life, he lives in America as an American. Today?s America is at a turning point and there?s no guarantee that it will return to the America that Buffett experienced all his life.

In December last year, we reported in Is the Warren Buffett way dead? that Marc Faber said that

I think The Warren Buffett approach is dead, and it?s been dead for ten years, and it?s going to be dead for another ten years.

In July last year, we wrote in Should value investors be ?bullish? in a bear market?,

Here, we see a potential trap for the unwary value investor.

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.

If the global economy falls into a Greater Depression, many of today’s ‘bargain’ stocks will still turn out to be value-traps. For us, we are not buying stocks yet.

Is it time to buy stocks in times of intense fear and volatility? Part 3: Stock picking approaches

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Today, we will continue from Is it time to buy stocks in times of intense fear and volatility? Part 2: Leverage position,

What if you are one of these contrarian investors seeking to increase your risk in the stock market? Which stocks to pick?

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to stock-picking: (1) top-down and (2) bottom-up.

The bottom-up approach is, as we explained in Confidence back? Beware of bear market rally,

… invest in businesses based mainly on its individual merits 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.

The last few articles of our guide, Value investing for dummies, will elaborate more on the basics of the bottom-up approach. If you want to utilise the bottom-up approach, please understand that it has a major weak point, as we explained in Should value investors be ?bullish? in a bear market?:

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.

The top-down approach is to start off by looking at the broad macroeconomic themes and then zoom into individual businesses that may benefit from those themes. An example of such approach is to look at the broad macroeconomic implications of rising long-term energy prices (see How to profit from rising energy prices?) and then study the merits of investing in oil companies and alternative energy developers.

This approach has intuitive appeal because of human tendency to seek out a story. Macroeconomic themes are always expressed in the form of stories. But you must be aware that due to your human weaknesses, the appeal of stories can cause you to fall into narrative fallacies (see Mental pitfall: Narrative Fallacy). In addition, a superficial understanding of stories tend to lead one to oversimplify the thought process of picking stocks based on macroeconomic themes. For example, just because commodity prices is in a very long-run secular up-trend does not mean that any mining stocks will be good long-term investments (see Rising metals price=rising mining profits? Think again!)- there are much more subtleties involved.

In the next article, we will talk about the bottom-up approach by continuing on the incomplete series at Value investing for dummies.

What is the meaning of ?oversold?? Part 2: Value perspective

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Continuing from our previous article, What is the meaning of ?oversold?? Part 1: Technical analysis perspective, we will explain the meaning of “oversold” from the value-investing perspective.

In Are some Aussie resource stocks oversold?, Pete, our regular reader commented that,

So on one hand, if demand is the same, then they are oversold, but on the other hand, if demand is decreasing, then even though they are currently oversold, the current oversold price may become a nominal price in the near future?
Eg: BHP shares may be worth $40 now, but trade at $35 or so. But due to lack of demand, by December, they may only be ‘worth’ $35. Although by then my guess is that they would be oversold even more to $30, etc.

On that note, when we say the resource stocks might be oversold, is it perhaps a bit like real-estate, where they are in fact not oversold at their current prices, but were in fact ‘over-bought’ in the first place, and are now returning to more normal levels? Perhaps they are still overbought now, just less so?

Before you read on further, please make sure that you understand the concept of value investing in our guide, Value investing for dummies. Particularly, pay attention to the first 4 articles. What follows will assume the pre-requisite understanding of these articles in the guide.

The important things to understand about the mining business is this:

  1. It’s revenue is very much dependent on the price of the commodities it sells (this is a very obvious point).
  2. It’s a price taker in general. In other words, most mining businesses do not have the market power to affect prices. The exception will be BHP and Rio Tinto as they have enough market power to affect the price of iron.
  3. It’s products (e.g. copper, zinc) is relatively very much un-differentiable from those of their competitors unlike the more traditional businesses.
  4. A mining business do not have an theoretical infinite life as some other traditional businesses. That is because ALL mines have a finite amount of the commodity that can be economically extracted. In other words, there is a finite life to every mine/oil/gas field at a specific rate of extraction.

The problem is, the future earnings of a mining company is notoriously difficult to predict. For example, these factors will affect the future earnings:

  1. Commodity prices (that’s obvious point).
  2. Cost of its input (energy is one of the major inputs and that in itself is a commodity whose prices are at the mercy of the markets).
  3. Exchange rate. Since commodity prices are denominated in US dollars, an Australian mining business’s earnings will be dependent on the exchange rate.
  4. The future quantity of the commodities it will produce. Obviously, profits rise when the sale price increases or the quantity of the produce increases. That will depend on the outcome of the development and exploration projects of the mining business.

Within point (1) i.e. the commodity price, there are many factors that will have impact on it:

  1. Underlying demand- this is the real physical demand of the commodity needed by people and nations.
  2. Investment demand or hoarding- This is the second type of demand in which the buyers and sellers do not have interests in the physical commodity. Instead, they trade the commodity in the context of money shuffling.
  3. Physical supply of the commodity- for example, as commodity prices collapses, some mines become uneconomical and close down as a result. This will reduce the supply of commodity produced. Other supply disruptions include strikes, natural disasters and so on. Or there may be new mining projects that start to produce and increase the supply to the market.

Now, let us look at point (1) and (2) that affects the price of commodities. As we explained before in Analysing recent falls in oil prices?real vs investment demand,

Now, let?s go back to oil. What makes up the demand for oil? There are basically two types of demand for oil: (1) The physical demand where the real side of the economy uses for its everyday needs and (2) The investment demand where the financial side of the economy shifts the money here and there from one asset class to the other. We need to ask ourselves the following question: Has the physical demand for oil changed? Will it change in the long run?

In today’s globalised financial system, the investment demand (we like to call it “hoarding” instead) has increasingly significant impact on prices. To complicate the issue, it is very difficult (or impossible, depending on your theoretical inclination) to sift between investment demand and physical demand as the commodity trades are made through complex web of intermediaries and relationships. As we questioned in Price fluctuations and hoarding

In today?s context, does a sudden fall in the price of a commodity (e.g. oil, iron, grain, wheat) mean that its underlying demand has suddenly fallen or its supply has suddenly increased? Obviously, the answer is no.

Let’s say that prices were originally too high because of the artificial demand from investment (or rather, hoarding). Now that the de-leveraging process (see Is the credit crisis the end of the beginning?) is under way, forced liquidation and flight from commodities from these investors/hoarders will send prices down very rapidly. As the change in physical demand/supply of commodities tend to move very much slower (relatively) than the change in investment demand/supply, we believe that this forced selling will tend to cause prices to undershoot (i.e. drop to too low) in the short term.

Now, consider this: as price falls by a lot all of a sudden (due to the sell-off by investors/hoarders), guess what will happen to the physical demand? Obviously, physical demand will increase. To a certain extent, this sell-off will result in a change in the composition of demand (between physical and investment demands). If the miners can increase production in response to increased demand, this will counteract the negative effects of falling prices on profits.

Next, as we mentioned before in Are some Aussie resource stocks oversold?, although commodity prices are falling in US dollars, it has not fallen as much in Aussie dollars.

Another consideration: as investors/hoarders sell commodities indiscriminately, the prices get undershoot. The stock market tends to overreact and price the business as if the prices of commodities will fall even further as rapidly as before. That is, it extrapolates the direction and speed of further commodity price falls too far out. It also tends to ignore the positive counteracting effects on profits as well (e.g. increased physical demand and falling Aussie exchange rate). Now, we will have a second ‘layer’ of price undershooting.

Finally, we will provide a qualifier: it is still possible for commodity prices to fall further in say, 2009 and 2010. But assuming that:

  1. Central bankers will eventually resort to money printing (see Understanding the big picture in the inflation-deflation debate) in the context of…
  2. long-run growth in Chinese and Indian demand (see Are we in a long-term inflationary environment?) and
  3. Physical demand will not collapse as much and as suddenly in the longer term as the short-term prices seem to suggests, …

… we believe that the long-run earnings of some mining businesses may not be as devastating as what their stock prices suggests. If these resource stock prices continue to plunge further, it will come to a point that it will be priced as if there will be a devastating world-wide Greater Deflationary Depression along with perpetual Chinese/Indian anarchy/revolution/chaos.

But having said that, remember that as we said before, all mines/oil/gas fields have a finite life. In the absence of potential new production from future exploration and mining development projects, a mining business will cease after an estimated number of years, after the supply of commodities are being exhausted. The implication is that if the downturn is severe and long enough, some mining businesses may not last long enough to be able to realise the value of the long-term inflationary trend of commodities. On the other hand, a mining business may choose to ‘extend’ the life of its mines by hibernating (e.g. laying off workers, entering maintenance mode and doing nothing) and waking up when commodity prices are more favourable for production.

A warning though: we are not suggesting that you go out and throw all your entire life-savings into any resource stocks now. Not all resource stocks are undervalued right now. And there is still scope for further commodity price deflation in 2009 and 2010. You have to do your homework and look at each company on a case-by-case basis. Even then, after you have decided which stock to buy, you still have to decide at what price you think it is a bargain. Even then, you still have to decide when to buy. And yet even then, this does not mean that stock prices will not fall further.

We will finish this article with an interesting quote on Jimmy Rogers (see Jim Rogers Talks About Latest Investment Activity) for you to think about:

The bull market [in oil] will not end until somebody finds a lot of oil, or unless we have worldwide economic collapse, perpetual economic collapse…

I will tell you I’ve not sold any oil. Even if it goes to $75, I don’t plan to sell any oil.

Do NOT see it as a recommendation for oil or oil stocks (note that Jimmy Rogers has an interest in oil). Rather, see it as window to his line of thinking.

Measuring the value of an investment

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

If you have not realised already, our previous article, Is the value of an asset its price?, is the beginning of a series explaining the concept of value investing. If you understand value investing, you will then be able to understand the investment philosophy of Warren Buffett, the famous investor who is currently the richest man on earth.

Mind you, value investing is counter-intuitive. It requires that you truly understand the difference between price and value- price is what you pay for and value is what you get. The problem is, the financial market/industry often uses these two words interchangeably, which means that their meaning gets merged in our sub-consciousness. To be an outstanding investor, it is important for you to de-merge the meaning of these two words in your mind. What we are trying to do here is to expand on what Rich Dad, Poor Dad taught about what an asset truly is.

Now, back to the crux of this article…

In the context of investing, when you pay a price for an asset, you are sacrificing current consumption in order to receive the asset’s future cash flow for future consumption.

For example, if you pay $100 for a newly issued 10-year government bond that pays 6% per annum, you are sacrificing $100 of today’s consumption in order to receive $6 per year for the next 10 years. That 6% is your rate of return on your investment. Now, let’s say you decide to sell your government bond to Tom at $90. The rate of return for Tom is 6/90 = 6.67%. Let’s say Tom sells the bond to Dick at $110, the rate of return for him will be 6/110 = 5.45%. Thus, the rate of return of the bond is inverse to the price paid for it.

Next, let’s suppose you pay $100 for a rate of return of 10% per annum. When you receive that $10 at the end of the year, you re-invest it into another asset that also pays 10% rate of return. At the end of the second year, you will receive $11, for which you re-invest it into yet another asset that pays the same rate of return. You do that for all the money that you receive at the end of the year for the next 8 years. What will you have in 10 years time? The answer is $259. In Excel, the formula is “=FV(10%,10,0,-100)”. That $259 is the future value of the $100 at 10% compounding (i.e. you re-invest all returns in the intermediate years) rate of return. The $100 is the present value of the $259.

Now, let’s say you have a business enterprise that is as risk-free as long-term government bonds. Let’s say your business can earn $200 of cash per year for the next 10 years. How much should you sell your business to someone else? The way to calculate it is to add up all the present value of each of the $200 of future cash inflow per year. But which interest rate should you use in your present value calculation? Since your business is as risk-free as government bonds, it should be the rate of return of a long-term government bond based on its current market price. Let’s say that the current market price of 6% government bond is $110 (the price that Dick paid). Then the current rate of return (yield) for that bond is 5.45%. That 5.45% that we use in our present value calculate is called the discount rate (we will explain what discount rate means later). We will put all that calculation on a table:

Discount Rate: 5.45%

Year Cash-flow Present value of cash flow
1 $200.00 $189.66
2 $200.00 $179.86
3 $200.00 $170.57
4 $200.00 $161.75
5 $200.00 $153.39
6 $200.00 $145.46
7 $200.00 $137.94
8 $200.00 $130.81
9 $200.00 $124.05
10 $200.00 $117.64

Total present values=$1511.15.

That is, if you pay $1511.15 for a long term government bond today with a rate of return of 5.45% and re-invest all the cash inflow each year, you will end up with $2569.06 in 10 years time. On the other hand, if you re-invest all the $200 that your business earns each year in the same bond, you will also end up with $2559.06 in 10 years time too. Since your business is as risk-free as long-term government bonds, you are indifferent between the two options. Therefore, the present value of your business is $1511.15. If you can sell your business above the present value of your business, then you are better off doing so.

Now, what if your business is much riskier (as all businesses are) than the government bond? Then the investor who is about to pay for your business will have to demand a higher rate of return. To do so, he has to pay a lower price than $1511.15 (remember, we said above that the “rate of return of the bond is inverse to the price paid for it.”). The lower price reflects the higher rate of return that the investor demands for taking the risk of your business failing. To reflect the higher risk of the business, we turn up the discount rate from 5.45% to, say, 10%. This time, the table will look like this:

Discount Rate: 10%

Year Cash-flow Present value of cash flow
1 $200.00 $181.82
2 $200.00 $165.29
3 $200.00 $150.26
4 $200.00 $136.60
5 $200.00 $124.18
6 $200.00 $112.89
7 $200.00 $102.63
8 $200.00 $93.30
9 $200.00 $84.82
10 $200.00 $77.11

Total present values=$1228.91.

Say, if the investor believes that a higher return of 10% is sufficient to compensate him for the additional risk, then he will be willing to pay not more than $1228.91.

So far, this is the theory behind value investing. In practice, in a world of uncertainty and Black Swans, it is not possible to know the exact amount of future cash flow of any business. Also, risk is not something that we can easily quantify nicely in order to derive a value for the discount rate. That is the ‘art’ of investing.

In the next article, we will explain how inflation is related to the value of your investment.

Why are fantastic stocks sold off in a bear market?

Friday, March 28th, 2008

We are now officially in a bear market for stocks. As of yesterday, the Australian All Ordinaries Index had fallen 21% from its 1 November 2007 high. At its lowest point in 18 March 2008, the index was down by 25%. Right now, the All Ordinaries Index is even lower than what it was 12 months ago. Not only that, the market is getting more volatile, with stock prices falling very rapidly (e.g. the infamous Black Tuesday happened in January 2008 when the Australian market fell by 7% in one day). For investors, there seem to be no place to hide in the market as it seems that almost every stocks are affected.

Contrarians such as value investors would love such a bear market because it is a great time for bargain hunting for good quality stocks. For this reason, they are often inaccurately misunderstood as ‘bullish’ as they get excited and greedy when the market as a whole is getting fearful. But this leads to another question. In a bear market, especially during times of panic selling, why would stocks of good quality businesses fall along with the bad ones? If good quality stocks are really that good, why would they fall in the first place?

The most common cited general answer to this question is that in a panic, animal spirits of fear takes over and the market as a whole becomes irrational. In other words, it is negative sentiment that drives such absurdity.

But we are not satisfied with this answer, for it sounds like a cliché to us. So, for those who are as dissatisfied as us, we will provide one of the many pragmatic reasons for such absurdity. One word sums up this reason: leverage. Today, there are so much leverage in the financial system and by extension, the market. Both retail and institutional market participants borrow and employ leveraged derivates (e.g. options, CFDs, futures, etc). The problem with leverage is that, when the market goes against you, your losses are magnified and you find that you are suddenly short of cash (to repay the debts, obligation, margin calls, collateral, etc). Sometimes, the only way to increase your cash level is to liquidate whatever you have- the good investments along with the bad. If enough people are in the same situation as you, this will result in widespread indiscriminate selling in the market.

Thus, weak hands’ forced liquidation due to de-leveraging results in indiscriminate selling. For those who are in a strong cash position, this can be an opportunity to exploit.