Thursday, August 30, 2007

Investment, Golf and Hardwork!

Let's try to relate investment with a sports like say Golf. To put some things in comparison, we have

Golf Set = Bloomberg, Excel Spreadsheet, Brokers' charting tools
Golf Swing Techniques = Fundamentals, Valuation, Technical analysis
To win the game of Golf = a lot of hardwork and luck
To beat the Market = a lot of hardwork and luck

When you first start at golf, you will suck big time. You probably bought a golf set that cost S$299 and try out on the driving ranges. In investment, this is like engaging your local broker and their cock-up systems with their technical charts and then dabbling into your first purchase.

Then you realize that you need to put in more time and effort to actually play golf meaningfully and this is when you start to engage instructors to improve your swing, you read up golf books and practice a lot. In investment, this is where you also try to learn from other investors, attend sessions, read books, buy some software and really get your hands dirty with all the financial statements and valuation analysis. Or charts and RSI and MACD for the technicians.

So after a few years of practice, you are ready to compete with other golfers. Say there is a competition for all the world's golfers from beginners like yourself to pros like Tiger, where do you think you will stand? Will you beat say 50% of all the golfers? Or 80%? Or 99%? Similarly in investment, after a few years of doing some real company analysis and trading, can you earn average market return of 8-10%pa? Or the best returns of around 25-40%pa (over the long run ie. 10yrs or more)?

The success rate of being able to beating the average will correlate with the amount of hardwork you put in to either golf or investment.

What determines why Tiger beats the average? Most golfers know the swings and techniques like Tiger does. (Most investors know all about fundamental and technical analysis). Most golfers use the same tools (golf sets) like Callaway/Mizuno/TaylorMade golf sets. (Most investors use the same Excel/Bloomberg/Brokers' charting tools.)

Tiger beats the average golfer through a lot of hardwork and beats the best of the best golfers through luck. Some might argue talent is impt but studies have shown that talent may help but ultimately it's hardwork.

I think a lot of pple know Tiger started golf at the age of 3, and trained hard everyday to win his first championship at 18. That's 15yrs of hardwork btw. But he did not stop there, he continued to work hard to perfect his swing so that he can better himself. So if you are not training that hard, is it a wonder why you cannot beat him?

Don't believe? Read this article.

But at the pros level, Tiger, Vijay, Phil etc, everybody is training as hard as everyone else. So in the end, whoever wins the championship is probably a matter of luck.

So in investment, if you are spending 1-2hrs a day reading some annual reports, doing simple brainstorming about how the world will change tomorrow and how your investment will do, can you beat the market average of 8-10%pa? Of course the market is made up of some aunties and uncles, some novices, some semi-pros, and also pple like Buffett, Lynch, Soros, Jim Rogers, Peter Lim who spent their lives thinking about how the world will change and are very good at it. If you work hard enough, probably there is a chance to beat the average even though you cannot beat the best of the best.

As a side note, passively investing in indices will give you 8-10%pa which is quite good and this is actually one of those rare free lunches in life. Minimal effort for earning an average return!

If you do put in a lot of hardwork, so much so that you think you are in the league of the best investors globally including Buffett, Lynch, Soros, Jim Rogers, Peter Lim etc, then you can only beat these pple if you have luck. Studies have shown that only 10% of all investors can actually beat the average return of 8-10%. So it's a lot of hardwork to be in this top 10%. And to stay there, give a big smile to Lady Luck and hopefully she smiles back!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Which EPS to use? (for calculating PER)

We are back to my favourite topic on PER (Lao Jiao value investors are yawning right?). But I think I need to clarify one issue on PER (which stands for Price Earnings Ratio) which I KIVed for some time. For the un-initiated on PER, pls refer to this post.

Ok in short, PER is simply stock price divided by its earnings per share and it measures the cheapness of a stock. The stock price does not tell you anything about whether the stock is cheap or not!

Now to determine Price is easy, this is the all impt Price that you get from TVs, Yahoo, Your broker's system. Singtel is $3.30, SMRT is $1.75, even grandmas know this.

But EPS? Where to find this? And which year's EPS should we use?

For the sake of newbies, we go back to Finance 101. EPS is actually the net profit for the company for the year, divided by its no. of outstanding shares. These no.s are usually inside the company's annual report.

However, things published in annual reports are dated, ie. We can only get last yr's EPS. In the stock market, nobody likes to look at the past. The market is always forward looking. So we need to know next yr's EPS.

This next yr's EPS is usually an average of all the analysts' estimates which are usually not available for most folks but are easily accessible from financial service providers like Bloomberg, Reuters and Thomson One.

As convention, the PER that is usually quoted is the 1-yr forward PER (ie. Next yr's PER using analysts' estimates of 1-yr forward EPS). But for growth stocks, ie. the company is growing its profits really fast, then the 1-yr forward PER is usually too ex. Then you need to look at 3-yr forward or even 5-yr forward PER so that it gets reasonably cheap.

But it's always very dangerous to use such futuristic PER bcos the probability of error will be very very big. You may think that you are buying a 10x 5-yr forward PER stock but if the company fails to grow in its 3rd and 4th year, then Ha Base, 10x become 30x PER and the stock plunge 60%!

As for value investors (or rather any prudent investors), we should be determining what is the long-term sustainable EPS and hence what is the PER of the stock today.

There is no magic formula here to help you predict the long-term sustainable EPS. For the professional investment analysts, they talk the company's management, study their markets, do some research and analysis and try to come up with a sustainable EPS, and still usually get them wrong. So for the simple folks, what's the chance that you can get it right? Not much higher than winning Toto.

Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try though. Bcos when you can get an estimate for this EPS, and apply a margin of safety, if the stock is still reasonably cheap after that, then probably it's safe to buy. But with investment, nothing is for certain, so you may still be wrong. Well at least, you learn from your mistakes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Emotions, Emotions, Emotions

Market participants, or rather human beings, are really suckers when it comes to investing in the markets. In almost all kinds of transaction, people look to buy cheap and sell expensive. When you buy a fridge, you look to buy it during some sale or discount. When you sell your car, you ask for S$5,000 above COE valuation.

But when it comes to the market, people look to buy when the prices are high, the higher the better, like now. And when prices nosedive for 2-3yrs, people become totally not interested, like in 2003.

This is the result of two powderful emotions at work: Fear and Greed.

Fear is a much forgotten emotion nowadays except during 1-2 weeks when the markets stumble a bit (like last week). During 2000-02, when the markets entered a full-fledged bear cycle, it was a sight for sorrow. Finance stories made headlines like only when the editors need to choose whether it's "Dead Kitten on Toa Payoh Road" or "NOL stock price made new low". IPOs that came out almost always nosedive. Soon pple got so disappointed, nobody participated anymore, which made it worse. There was a general fear of the stock market bcos many pple got burnt.

As the bleeding continues, fear spreads even further. At gatherings, none of your friends, colleagues, acquaintances talk about stocks, or investment anymore. It simply hurt too much. If you said your job was an investment analyst, they go “Oh ok.” And move on to another topic. You can smell the fear of words like “stock” or “investment”.

Only value investors were very active. They were buying up all the cheap and good stuff, like during the Great Singapore Sale! But somehow, most pple really become suckers during those times. i.e. they fail to buy when it’s cheap.

In today’s market, Gordon Gekko’s good friend has taken over. Well, Gordon Gekko is the guy who quoted, “Greed is Good” in that hit movie and then won an Oscar! I heard he is coming back for a sequel to the 1987 blockbuster Wall Street.

So greed has taken over today’s market. The guys who got burnt in 2000? Well most of them shunned the markets until maybe yesterday, then decided to join the party bcos everybody around them is talking about it. But entrance tickets are not cheap now. What about the grandmas? Maybe they will join tomorrow.

Of course, there are also lots of newbies who have not seen the bloodshed the last round. And they have the all important role of Ra-Ra-ing this whole party. Haven’t we all heard how that young punk made a ton of money buying some stock and bought himself a Ferrari? So greed is all around now but maybe we have not seen it grown full blown just yet.

During these times, it’s always hard for the value investors. Some wished that they had bought more during the good old days of 2003. Some are thinking whether to sell now, but if the market keeps going up, then they lose out again. So as you can see, Greed spares no one, not even value investors. The same goes for Fear by the way.

It is an art to be able to judge the greed barometer of the market and decide if the peak is reached (vice versa: to judge if the market has reached maximum fear which will mark the bottom of the bear market). If you can do this, you are on your way to great success. But most old timers would advise against that. Hence they advocate the good old buy-and-hold strategy. As they say, it is futile to try to time the market.

As for me, I suspect the market hasn’t reach maximum bullishness just yet, so there may still be some upside from here. Forward PER of the STI is still ok at 15-16x, but it’s hard to buy anything now. The margin of safety is not there anymore. In this game, it’s only worthwhile to buy during the Great Singapore Sale. But somehow, most pple buy AFTER the Great “GST” price hike (of 200%). GST here stands for: the Great stock market Surge of 200% rally Tax!

PS: STI in 2003 was 1200, it rallied roughly 200% to 3600 today!

See also: Fear and Greed

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Global industries and product market sizes and their implications

This is the 3rd installment of facts and figures around the world. (Don't we just love trilogies!) Not so useful for a lot of people, even value investors. Value investors just need to know enough about the companies they invest in order to do well. But hopefully, information here can help to widen your circle of competence.

We shall talk about a few industries and markets here: Steel, Automobile, PC, TV, Game console, Mobile phone.

The global steel industry is an estimated USD 600bn industry with global annual shipment of 1.2bn ton of steel. The No.1 leader in this industry is Mittal Steel with close to 10% market share. Interestingly, our hero, Warren Buffett has a stake in POSCO, a Korean Steel co. which is also one of the lowest cost producers of steel in the world.

To a layman looking at this 1.2bn ton for the first time, this may be just another no. and may not seem impressive at all so let’s translate this to something more powderful. 1.2bn ton of steel translates to 200kg of NEW steel being produced and used every yr for every person on Earth. This means enough steel to make 1 washing machine + 1 fridge + 1 aircon + 1 full set of stainless steel cutlery and 1 Ipod for every person on Earth EVERY YEAR! And this amt has been going up since humans walked this Earth (well it went up a lot more during the last 100 yrs as compared to the past 1000 yrs.)

Btw, consumption of all kinds of natural resources have only gone in one direction since, well, humans walked this Earth, and that is up. Environment fanatics talk about recycling and conservation but the way I see it: it’s a lost cause. Primarily bcos recycling comes at a price and it’s too high. Eg. it cost USD300-400 to produce 1 ton of steel and the truth is scrap steel (i.e. recycled steel) cost almost as much too! Anyways, that’s a topic for another day.

Ok, next. The global automobile industry is an estimated USD 2trn industry (Woah that’s huge! Remember global GDP is only 40trn!) with annual shipment of 70mn cars. Needless to say, the Japanese dominates this industry. 1 in 3 cars on global roads now are Japanese cars and Toyota now produces close to 10mn cars every year ie 1 in 7 cars is a Toyota. With China joining in the 5C’s race, we can expect even more cars and seems like the Japanese will win hands down bcos they are cheap and reliable, just what the masses want.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the rest of the industries/markets are all tech-related and most value investors hate tech bcos tech has never really created much value. No tech product ever stood the test of time, remember Polaroid? Or Walkman? Discman? SegaSaturn? So we may not see these products mention here 20yrs from now.

Anyways, the global PC market is USD 250bn market with annual shipment of 250mn units. This 250mn is an interesting no. bcos the global TV market is an estimated 220mn unit shipment. Hence it probably suggests the maximum ceiling for household products is around 200-300mn global unit shipment per year. This means that when analyzing the next killer household application, this may be a good no. to use as the maximum ceiling for unit shipment. Incidentally, the no. of households in the developed world is roughly 300mn as well.

The global game console market is a small one with a market size of USD 8bn and annual shipment of roughly 30mn units. Of course, if you include the revenue of the software (ie, the games), this market is already bigger than Hollywood. Most pple like to look at the market over its lifecycle though which is roughly cumulative shipment of 150mn units over 5-6yrs. During the last cycle, PlayStation 2 made by Sony shipped an incredible 120mn units over 5 yrs. But this time round, it’s Nintendo stealing the limelight with its Wii console. If you are not familiar with Wii, go google it up and be amazed! Sadly the PlayStation 3 has shipped only a miserable few million consoles to date.

The global mobile phone market is a USD 200bn market with annual shipment of 1bn mobile phones. If you are missing the impact of this, it’s 1,000,000,000 mobile phones! This means that 1 in 6 people globally buys a mobile phone every yr! If you take out the children and the old folks and those in not-so-privileged countries, we can even say that EVERYONE buys a mobile phone EVERY YEAR! If you think Ipod is big, think again! Ipod shipped a mere 100mn units over 4-5 yrs!

The mobile phone is definitely the most impactful killer application in the history of humankind although it may be at the tail-end of its growth. Wish you had bought a Finnish co. with a funny name some 15yrs ago huh!

So what’s the use of knowing all this? Well actually not very useful. It helps you to think about your co. (i.e. the co. you are investing in or planning to invest) in the global scheme of things. What is the market that your co. is competing in. How big is the market? Does your co. have a huge share of the market? These questions and more. With these no.s at the back of your mind, hopefully it will make the analysis easier. Doesn’t mean that you can make money though!