Friday, November 04, 2022

Lessons Learnt from 4 Biggest Losses - Part 2

This is a continuation of the previous post lessons learnt from my 4 Biggest Losses. To recap they are: 

1. Overseas Education, negative c.30%, operator of one of the largest international schools in Singapore. Student enrollment and revenue fell continuously for almost 10 years. It was exacerbated by the pandemic but even if the world normalizes, it is unclear if the stock will rebound. Management are owners and exemplified small cap risks.

2. SIA Engineering, negative c.20%, aircraft maintenance arm of our national carrier. I overpaid for this and am now suffering. It is unclear if I can breakeven. Oversizing the position also caused outsized absolute losses. This is the ultimate reminder for me not to overpay and to size my bets well.

3. Under Armor, negative c.70%, this was a stock that got into the portfolio because of a structured product went wrong. I sold puts and it got exercised. After holding the stock, it continued to drop and was hit by the pandemic. While there is a chance it can go up 100% or more from here (the 40x gap between Under Armor's and Nike's market cap seemed too big), I am not betting on it. This is another lesson about valuation - never overpay!

4. Cinema related small cap name, negative c.80%, this is a Chinese cinema technology provider that was badly hit by the pandemic. It is also another small cap name which comes with it small cap risks, like Overseas Education. The lesson is therefore not to invest in too many small caps and/or if we must, demand a much higher valuation discount.

In a nutshell, the lessons learnt here are: sizing, small cap risk, understanding unknown risks and over-valuation. I have discussed about sizing and hence we shall touch upon the rest today.

Small cap: I would refer to stocks trading at lower than USD2bn market cap and this was the case with #1 and #4 above. Small caps are usually run by owners, less experienced management teams and the business revenue also tend to be more volatile and as such deserves lower valuations. But we tend to forget that and ascribe just a 10-20% valuation discount to a similar business which is much bigger. 

Courtesy of CME Group

Looking at the four names, we can also argue whether Under Armor (market cap USD3.9bn) truly has an investment case. It is small cap looking through the eyes of Nike (market cap USD147bn) and Adidas (market cap USD28bn). One is much better off buying Nike or Adidas. Why bother with the third smallish player? The chart above says it all - it shows returns between large cap and small cap are not really different yet small cap investors take on a lot more risks. As such, the lesson here is that perhaps we should just avoid small caps. 

Understanding the risks: This brings us to the second lesson. We think we have uncovered everything. We have done our homework well. But it is actually very difficult, especially with small caps and inherently volatile industries. I think there are no good advice (to myself and readers) here, it takes years of experience to understand some of these industries and I urge everyone to always have robust discussions with other smart thinkers. 

The case-in-point here is the cinema technology provider that I bought which has gone down 80%. We all go to cinemas and we think we know the industry well. But with Netflix and streaming disrupting the industry, let alone all the faster changes in China, the writings were on the wall that risks are mounting. When the pandemic hits such small cap names, it was game over. 

It was a similar story with SIA Engineering. I thought I got the investment thesis right. There will be a lot more middle income tourists in the world, Changi will build T4 and T5 and SIA Engineering will benefit. I discussed with smart friends and even though they said it is not water-tight, I refused to listen. Lo-and-behold the pandemic came and turned everything upside down. Looking back, the airline industry is just inherently volatile and it doesn't pay to put too much money into one name and let alone related names (yes, I have other related names!).

Over-paying: There are multiple mistakes with SIA Engineering. Not only did I read the industry wrongly, I overpaid for it at more than 20x PER at the time of buying. I did the same with the cinema name (25-30x PER), believing in the growth story. I also overpaid for Under Armor at more than 30x PER. So much so for proclaiming to be a value investor. But this is also portfolio-manager-wanting-action error. 

Swing you bum! - Courtesy of MyTrade PH

Sometimes, we are compelled do to things even when there is nothing that we should do. From 2016-2020, the market was overvalued and as such most stocks are over-valued. I thought I was getting bargains for getting these high growth names at 25-30x PER. After all, Amazon and Tesla did so well trading at even higher valuations right? Well, unfortunately, I didn't have those but had these! The related lesson is that not all sexy stocks are the same. So perhaps it was best to avoid high valuations, esp after triangulation, they are still high. Again it's easier said than done. The inner voice is constantly shouting "Swing you bum!"

To sum up this last lesson:

1. When everything is expensive, it pays to do nothing.

2. Don't think your growth stock is Tesla.

3. Do not overpay. 

Huat ah!

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