Prices fell but value intact
Presently stock prices have fallen sharply.
- Banks are trading at 1x book value,
- property stocks sold at 50% discount from net asset value,
- utility stocks trading at single-digit price-earnings ratio providing an earnings yield of more than 10% net of tax and
- there are many good stocks trading at dividend yield of 2x bank interest rates.
Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the world who makes his fortune from stock investment, is busy buying undervalued companies. He sees the value and he also sees prices detaching away from the intrinsic values. He said: “I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turn up.”
Catching a falling knife
Some may argue that buying now is like catching a falling knife. If you are not careful, you may be hurt and suffer more losses from falling stock prices. There is no doubt that we may incur short-term losses as long as we do not buy at the bottom. On the other hand, who can determine where and when is the bottom. As long as there are still unknown events or hidden problems, an apparent bottom now may not be the eventual bottom. Since we do not have all the information in the market, it is almost impossible to guess where the bottom will be.
In most cases, we only realise the bottom after it is over and by that time stock prices are running high with much improved market confidence. Market bottom could be there only for a short period. In most cases, market did not stay at the bottom waiting for investors. It will just move on.
Since market moves ahead of the economy by about six months, the market bottoms out when the economy is still gloomy, news are still negative, analysts are still calling underweights and most investors are staying at the sidelines.
Handling something we know is definitely much easier than dealing with the unknown risks, something which hits from behind without warning. When we invest during a crisis we actually go in with our eyes open. We know it is definitely risky but we also know it could also be very profitable. If we can handle the risk, the risk-reward trade-off will be very rewarding.
What we need is to buy near the bottom, not right at the bottom. Investors’ frequent question now is when to buy, that is where is the bottom? Perhaps it is more intelligent to ask how much to buy now since nobody will be able to guess where is the market bottom.
Staggered buying is preferred over bullet purchase which is taking the risk of timing the market bottom. In staggered buying, a pre-determined amount will be set aside for investment over time, say in 10 equal portions.
One common method of staggered investment is dollar cost averaging, an investment scheme made in equal portions periodically, either by a small amount monthly or larger amount quarterly. There are also several variations of staggered investment.
Anyway, staggered purchase is a preferred method to avoid the anxiety of market timing and the mixed feeling of fear of further downside and worry of missing the market rebound. As long as the market is undervalued, the strategy of staggered investment ensures that investors are in and are benefiting from the undervalued market.