Saturday, 29 September 2018

Psychology and Investing: Mental Accounting and Framing Effect

Most of us separate our money into buckets - this money is for the kids' college education, this money is for our retirement, this money is for the house.   Heaven forbid that we spend the house money on a vacation.

Investors derive some benefits from this behaviour.

  • Earmarking money for retirement may prevent us from spending it frivolously.

Mental accounting becomes a problem, though, when we categorize our funds without looking at the big picture.

  • While we might diligently place any extra money left over from our regular income into savings, we often view tax refunds as "found money" to be spent more frivolously.  
  • Since tax refunds are in fact our earned income, they should not be considered this way.
  • For gamblers, this effect can be referred to as "house money."

We are much more likely to take risks with house money than with our own.

  • There is a perception that the money isn't really ours and wasn't earned, so it is okay to take more risks with it.  
  • This is risk we would be unlikely to take if we would spent time working for that money ourselves.

In investing, just remember that money is money, no matter whether the funds in a brokerage account are derived from hard-earned savings, an inheritance or realized capital gains.

Framing Effect

This is one other form of mental accounting.

The framing effect addresses how a reference point, oftentimes a meaningless benchmark, can affect decision.

Overcoming Mental Accounting.

The best way to avoid the negative aspects of mental accounting is to concentrate on the total return of your investments.

Take care not to think of your "budget buckets" so discretely that you fail to see how some seemingly small decisions can make a big impact.

Psychology and Investing: Confirmation Bias and Hindsight Bias

Confirmation Bias

How do we look at information?

Too often we extrapolate our own beliefs without realizing it and engage in confirmation bias, or treating information that supports what we already believe, or want to believe, more favourably.

If we have purchased a certain stock in a certain sector, we may overemphasize positive information about the sector and discount whatever negative news we hear about how these stocks are expected to perform.

Hindsight Bias

This is the tendency to re-evaluate our past behavior surrounding an event or decision knowing the actual outcome.

Our judgment of a previous decision becomes biased to accommodate the new information. 

For example, knowing the outcome of a stock's performance, we may adjust our reasoning for purchasing it in the first place. 

This type of "knowledge updating" can keep us from viewing past decisions as objectively as we should.

Psychology and Investing: Anchoring

When estimating the unknown, we cleave to what we know.

Investors often fall prey to anchoring.

They get anchored on their own estimates of a company's earnings, or on last year's earnings.

For investors, anchoring behaviour manifests itself in placing undue emphasis on recent performance since this may be what instigated the investment decision in the first place.

When an investment is lagging, we may hold on to it because we cling to the price we paid for it, or its strong performance just before its decline, in an effort to "break even" or get back to what we paid for it.

We may cling to sub-par companies for years, rather than dumping them and getting on with our investment life.

It is costly to hold on to losers, though, and we may miss out on putting those invested funds to better use.

Overcoming Anchoring

It may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions about your stocks:

Would I buy this investment again?

And if not, why do I continue to own it?

Truthfully answering these questions can help you severe the anchors that may be a drag on your rational decision making.

Psychology and Investing: Sunk Costs

Sunk cost fallacy is another factor driving loss aversion.

This theory states that we are unable to ignore the "sunk costs" of a decision, even when those costs are unlikely to be recovered.

Our inability to ignore the sunk costs of poor investments causes us to fail to evaluate the situation on its own merits.

Sunk costs may also prompt us to hold on to a stock even as the underlying business falters, rather than cutting our losses.    

[?Had the dropping stock been a gift, perhaps we wouldn't hang on quite so long.]

Psychology and Investing: Loss Aversion

Loss Aversion

Many investors will focus obsessively on one investment that is losing money, even if the rest of their portfolio is in the black.  This behaviour is called loss aversion.

Investors have been shown to be more likely to sell winning stocks in an effort to "take some profits," while at the same time not wanting to accept defeat in the case of the losers.

"More money has probably been lost by investors holding a stock they really did not want until they could 'at least come out even' than from any other since reason." (Philip Fisher, Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits).

Regret also comes into play with loss aversion.

This may lead us to be unable to distinguish between a bad decision and a bad outcome.

"We regret a bad outcome, such as a stretch of weak performance from a given stock, even if we chose the investment for all the right reasons.  In this case, regret can lead us to make a bad sell decision, such as selling a solid company at a bottom instead of buying more."

We tend to feel the pain of a loss more strongly than we do the pleasure of a gain. 

It is this unwillingness to accept the pain EARLY that might cause us to "ride losers too long" in the vain hope that they'll turn around and won't make us face the consequences of our decisions.

Psychology and Investing: Self-handicapping

Self-handicapping bias occurs when we try t o explain any possible future poor performance with a reason that may or may not be true.

This behaviour could be considered the opposite of overconfidence.

As investors, we may also succumb to self handicapping, perhaps by admitting that we didn't spend as much time researching a stock as we normally had done in the past, just in case the investment doesn't turn out quite as well as expected.

Both overconfidence and self-handicapping behaviours are common among investors, but they aren't the only negative tendencies that can impact our overall investing success.

Psychology and Investing: Selective Memory, Cognitive dissonance and Representativeness

Selective Memory

Few of us want to remember a painful event or experience in the past, particularly one that was of our own doing.

In terms of investments we certainly don't want to remember those stock calls that we missed (had I only bought eBay in 1998), much less those that proved to be mistakes which ended in losses.

Such memories threaten our self-image.

Cognitive dissonance

How can we be such good investors if we made those mistakes in the past?

Instead of remembering the past accurately, in fact, we will remember it selectively so that it suits our needs and preserves our self-image.

Incorporating information in this way is a form of correcting for cognitive dissonance, as well-known theory in psychology.

Cognitive dissonance posits that we are uncomfortable holding two seemingly disparate ideas, opinions, beliefs, attitudes, or in this case, behaviours, at once, and our psyche will somehow need to correct for this.

"Perhaps it really wasn't such a bad decision selling that stock?"

"Perhaps, we didn't lose as much money as we thought?"

Over time, our memory of the event will likely not be accurate but will be well integrated into a whole picture of how we need to see ourselves.


Another type of selective memory is representativeness, which is a mental shortcut that causes us to give too much weight to recent evidence - such as short-term performance numbers - and too little weight to the evidence from the more distant past.  As a result, we will give too little weight to the real odds of an event happening.

Psychology and Investing: Overconfidence

Overconfidence refers to our boundless ability as human beings to think that we are smarter or more capable than we really are.

Such optimism isn't always bad.  Certainly we would have a difficult time dealing with life's many setbacks if we were die-hard pessimists.

However, overconfidence hurts us as investors when we believe that we are better able to spot the next Microsoft than another investor is.  Odds are, we are not.

Studies show that overconfident investors trade more rapidly because they think they know more than the person on the other side of the trade.  Trading rapidly costs plenty and rarely rewards the effort.  Trading costs in the form of commissions, taxes, and losses on the bid-ask spread have been shown to be a serious damper on annualized returns.  These frictional costs will always drag returns down.

One of the things that drive rapid trading, in addition to overconfidence in our abilities, is the illusion of control.  Greater participation in our investments can make us feel more in control of our finances, but there is a degree to which too much involvement can be detrimental, as studies of rapid trading have demonstrated.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

What Matters and What Doesn't

It is very easy for new stock investors to get started on the wrong track by focusing only on

  • the mechanics of trading or 
  • the overall direction of the market.

To get yourself in the proper mind-set, tune out the noise and focus on studying individual businesses and their ability to create future profits.

Begin to build the skills you will need to become a successful buyer of businesses.

1.  Investing does not equal trading

Investing is like a chess game, where thought, patience, and the ability to peer into the future are rewarded.

Making the right moves is much more important than moving quickly.

2.  Investing means owning businesses

If you are buying businesses, it makes sense to think like a business owner

This means

  • learning how to read financial statements, 
  • considering how companies actually make money, 
  • spotting trends, and 
  • figuring out which businesses have the best competitive positions.  
It also means coming up with appropriate prices to pay for the businesses you want to buy. 

Notice that none of this requires lightning-fast reflexes.

You should also buy stocks like you would any other large purchase:  with lots of research, care and the intention to hold as long as it makes sense.

Investing is an intellectual exercise, but one that can have a large payoff.

3.   You buy stocks, not the market

One thing to remember when listening to market premonitions is that stock investing is about buying individual stocks, not the market as a whole.

If you pick the right stocks, you can make money no matter what the broader market does.

Another reason to heavily discount what the prognosticators say is that correctly predicting market movements is nearly impossible.

  • No one has done it consistently and accurately.  
  • There are just too ma y moving parts, and too many unknowns.

By limiting the field to individual businesses of interest, you can focus on what you can actually own while dramatically cutting down on the unknowns.  

You can save a lot of energy by simply tuning out market predictions.

With so many predictions about the stock market floating around, simple statistics says there are bound to be a handful of them that come true.  When thinking about this, it is helpful to remember the saying: "A broken clock is correct twice a day."

Stocks are volatile.  Why is that?  Does the value of any given business really change up to 50% year-to-year?   "Mr. Market" tends to be a bit of an extremist in the short term, overreacting to both good and bad news.

4.  Competitive Positioning is most important

Future profits drive stock prices over the long term, so it makes sense to focus on how a business is going to generate those future earnings.

Competitive positioning or the ability of a business to keep competitors at bay, is the most important determinant factor of future profits.

Competitive positioning is

  • more important than the economic outlook,
  • more important than the near-term flows of news that jostles stock prices and 
  • even more important than management quality at a company.

Time is a precious resource in investing.

Business economics trump management skill.

A company with the best competitive positioning is going to create the most value for its shareholders.


Active traders have three things working against them:  the bid/ask spread, commissions and taxes.

Stocks are not just pieces of paper to be traded; they are pieces of businesses.

The stock market as a whole is nearly impossible to predict, but predicting the outcome of individual businesses is a more manageable exercise.

Mr. Market is highly temperamental, over-reacting to both good and bad news.

Future profits drive stock prices over the long term, and the competitive positioning of a business is the most important factor in its ability to generate future earnings.

My Golden Rule of Investing

My Golden Rule of Investing: 
Companies that grow revenues and earnings will see share prices grow over time.

  • Over the long term, when companies perform well, their shares will do so too.  
  • When a company's business suffers, the stock will also suffer.

For examples:

Starbucks has had phenomenal success at turning coffee - a simple product that used to be practically given away - into a premium product that people are willing to pay up for.  Starbucks has enjoyed handsome growth in number of stores, profits and share price.  Starbucks also has a respectable return on capital of near 11% today.

Meanwhile, Sears has languished.  It has had a difficult time competing with discount stores and strip malls, and it has not enjoyed any meaningful profit growth in years.  Plus, its return on capital rarely tops 5%.  As a result, it stock has bounced around without really going anywhere in decades.

Over the long term

Over the long term, when a company does well, your interest in that company will also do well.

Stocks are ownership interests in companies.  Being a stockholder is being a partial owner of a company.

Over the long term, a company's business performance and its share price will converge.

The market rewards companies that earn high returns on capital over a long period.

Companies that earn low returns may get an occasional bounce in the short term, but their long-term performance will be just as miserable as their returns on capital.

The wealth a company creates - as measured by returns on capital - will find its way to shareholders over the long term in the form of dividends or stock appreciation.

The market frequently forgets the important relationship between Return on Capital and Return on Stock

Return on Capital

Return on capital is a measure of a company's profitability.

                Return on Capital = Profit / Invested Capital

Return on Stock

Return on stock represents a combination of dividends and increases in the stock price (capital gains).

                Stockholder Total Return = Capital Gains + Dividends

The important relationship between Return on Capital and Return on Stock

The market frequently forgets the important relationship between return on capital and return on stock.

A company can earn a high return on capital, but the shareholders could still suffer if the market price of the stock decreases over the same period.

Similarly, a terrible company with a low return on capital may see its stock price increase

  • if the firm performed less terribly than the market had expected, or,  
  • maybe the company is currently losing lots of money, but investors have bid up its stock in anticipation of future profits.

Short run

In the short term, there can be a disconnect between

  • how a company performs and 
  • how its stock performs.

This is because a stock's market price is a function of the market's perception of the value of the future profits a company can create.

Sometimes this perception is spot on; sometimes it is way off the mark.

Long run

But over a longer period of time, the market tends to get it right, and the performance of a company's stock will mirror the performance of the underlying business.

The Voting and Weighing Machines

The father of value investing, Benjamin Graham, explained this concept by saying that in the short run, the market is like a voting machine - tallying which firms are popular and unpopular.  But in the long run, the market is like a weighing machine - assessing the substance of a company.


What matters in the long run is a company's actual underlying business performance and not the investing public's fickle opinion about its prospects in the short run.

Why Stocks Perform the Best

Why, exactly, have stocks been the best-performing asset class?

Why should we expect those types of returns to continue?

Why should we expect history to repeat?


Quite simply, stocks allow investors to own companies that have the ability to create enormous economic value.

Stock investors have full exposure to this upside.

Because of the risk, stock investors also require the largest return compared with other types of investors before they will give their money to companies to grow their businesses.

More often than not, companies are able to generate enough value to cover this return demanded by their owners.

Bond investors do  not reap the benefit of economic expansion to nearly as large a degree. 

When you buy a bond, the interest rate on the original investment will never increase. 

Microsoft in 1985:  Buy its bonds or its stocks?

For instance, in 1985,

  • would you have rather lent Microsoft money at a 6% interest rate, or 
  • would you have rather been an owner, seeing the value of your investment grow several-hundred fold?

Your theoretical loan to Microsoft yielding 6% would have never yielded more than 6%, no matter how well the company did.

Being an owner certainly exposes you to greater risk and volatility, but the sky is also the limit on the potential return.

It is important to have a long-term investment horizon when getting started in stocks.

Time is on Your Side

Just as compound interest can dramatically grow your wealth over time, the longer you invest in stocks, the better off you will be.

With time,

  • your chances of making money increases, and 
  • the volatility of your returns decreases.

The Longer you invest, the Lower the Volatility of your Returns

The average annual return for the S&P 500 stock index for a single year has ranged from -39% to +61%, while averaging 13.2%.

After holding stocks for 5 years, average annualised returns have ranged from -4% to +30%, while averaging 11.9%.

If your holding period is 20 years, you never lost money, with 20-year returns ranging from +6.4% to +15%, with the average being 9.5%.

These returns easily surpass those you can get from any of the other major types of investments.

The Importance of having a Long-term Investment Horizon in Stocks

Again, as your holding period increases,

  • the expected return variation decreases, and 
  • the likelihood for a positive return increases.  

This is why it is important to have a long-term investment horizon when getting started in stocks.


While stocks make an attractive investment in the long run, stock returns are not guaranteed and tend to be volatile in the short term.

We do not recommend that you invest in stocks to achieve your short-term goals.

To be effective, you should invest in stocks only to meet long-term objectives that are at least 5 years away.

The longer you invest, the greater your chances of achieving the types of returns that make investing in stocks worthwhile.

Additional notes:

Though stocks typically perform best over the long term, there can be extended periods of poor performance.  

For example, the DJIA peaked in 1966 and didn't surpass its old high again until 16 years later in 1982.  But the following 20 years were great for stocks, with the Dow increasing more than tenfold (10x) by 2002.

Volatility of the Stock Market

One way of reducing the risk of investing in individual stocks is by holding a larger number of stocks in a portfolio.

However, even a portfolio of stocks containing a wide variety of companies can fluctuate wildly.

  • You may experience large losses over short periods.
  • Market dips, sometimes significant, are simply part of investing in stocks.

Yearly Market Fluctuations

The yearly returns in the stock market also fluctuate dramatically.  

The highest one-year rate of return of +67% occurred in 1933, while the lowest one-year rate of return of -53% occurred in 1931. 

It should be obvious by now that stocks are volatile, and there is significant risk if you CANNOT RIDE OUT MARKET LOSSES IN THE SHORT TERM.

The Bright Side of this Story

But don't worry; there is a bright side to this story.

Despite all the short-term risks and volatility, stocks as a group have had the highest long-term returns of any investment type.  

This is an incredibly important fact!

  • When the stock market has crashed, the market has always rebounded and gone on to new highs. 
  • Stocks have outperformed bonds on a total real return (after inflation) basis, on average.  

This holds true even after market peaks.

If you had deplorable timing and invested $100 into the stock market during any of the seven major market peaks in the 20th century, that investment, over the next 10 years, would have been worth $125 after inflation, but it would have been worth only $107 had you invested in bonds, and $99 if you had purchased government Treasury bills.

In other words, stocks have been the best-performing asset class over the long term, while government bonds, in these cases, merely kept up with inflation.

This is the whole reason to go through the effort of investing in stocks.

  • Even if you had invested in stocks at the highest peak in the market, your total after-inflation returns after 10 years would have been higher for stocks than either bonds or cash.
  • Had you invested a little at a time, not just when stocks were expensive but also when they were cheap, your returns would have been much greater.

Volatility of Single Stocks

Volatility of Single Stocks

Individual stocks tend to have highly volatile prices.

The returns you might receive on any single stock may vary wildly.

Best Performing Stocks

If you invest in the right stock, you could make bundles of money.

  • For instance, Eaton Vance, an investment-management company, has had the best-performing stock for almost 25 years.  If you had invested $10,000 in 1979 in Eaton Vance, assuming you had reinvested all dividends, your investment would have been worth $10.6 million by December 2004.

Worst Performing Stocks

On the downside, since the returns on stock investments are not guaranteed, you risk losing everything on any given investment.

  • There are hundreds of dot-com investments that went bankrupt or are trading for a fraction of their former highs in early 2000.

  • Even established, well-known companies such as Enron, WorldCom and Kmart filed for bankruptcy and investors in these companies lost everything.

All Stocks in Between these two Extremes

Between these two extremes is the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly fluctuation of any given company's stock price.

  • Most stocks won't double in the coming year, nor will many go to zero.

  • But the average difference between the yearly high and low stock prices of the typical stock on the NYSE is nearly 40%.

Stocks that don't perform over Long Time

In addition to being volatile, there is the risk that a single company's stock price may not increase significantly over time. 

  • In 1965, you could have purchased General Motors' stock for $50 per share (split adjusted).  By May 2005 (4 decades later), your shares of General Motors would be worth only about $30 each.  Though dividends would have provided some ease to the pain, General Motors' return has been terrible.  
  • You would have been better off if you had invested your money in a bank savings account instead of General Motors' stock.

All your Eggs in a Single Basket

Clearly, if you put all of your eggs in a single basket, sometimes that basket may fail, breaking all the eggs.

Other times, that basket will hold the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.

With compound interest, the last few years of compounding make the most difference.

The 3 components that determine how much money you will have in the future are:

1.  the amount of money invested,
2.  the length of time invested, and
3.  the rate of return.

The earlier you invest, the more you invest, and the higher the rate of return, the more money you will have in the future.

The primary attraction to investing in stocks is that the long-run rate of return is higher than the interest earned in bank accounts or bonds.

With compound interest, the last few years of compounding make the most difference.

Additional notes:

The rule of 72 is an easy rule of thumb that tells you how often your money doubles.  Divide 72 by the percentage rate of return to determine the number of years required for your money to double at that rate of return.

Why Invest in Stocks?

Why stocks?

Stocks are but one of many possible ways to invest your hard-earned money.

Why choose stocks instead of other options, such as bonds, real estates, bank savings accounts, rare coins, or antique sports cars?

The reason that savvy investors invest in stocks is that they provide the highest potential returns.

Over the long term, no other type of investment tends to perform better.


On the downside, stocks tend to be the most volatile investments.

This means that the value of stocks can drop in the short term.

Sometimes stock prices may fall for a protracted period.

Bad luck or bad timing can easily sink your returns, but you can minimise this by taking a long-term investing approach.


There is also no guarantee you will actually realize any sort of positive return.

If you have the misfortune of consistently picking stocks that decline in value, you can lose money, even over the long term!


By educating yourself, you can make the risk acceptable relative to your expected reward.

With knowledge, you can pick the right businesses to own and to spot the ones to avoid.

This effort is well worth it, because over the long haul, your money can work harder for you in equities than in just about any other investments.

Additional notes:

A slightly higher return in your investments can lead to dramatically larger dollar sums for whatever your financial goals in life may be,

Investing in stocks is an intellectual exercise and requires effort, but it is an effort that can bear many fruits.

Among the potential investments one can make, stocks provide the largest long-term returns, but they also have the largest volatility.

Stocks are ownership interests in companies.  They are not simply pieces of paper to be traded.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Understanding Your Circle of Competence

If Buffett cannot understand a company's business, then it lies beyond his circle of competence and he won't attempt to value it.

He famously avoided technology stocks in the late 1990s in part because he had no expertise in technology.

On the other hand, Buffett continued to buy and hold what he knew.

Although it might seem obvious that investors should stick to what they know, the temptation to step outside one's circle of competence can be strong.

Buffett has written that he isn't bothered when he misses out on big returns in areas he doesn't understand, because investors can do very well (as he has) buy simply avoiding big mistakes.

He believes that what counts most for investors is not so much what they know but how realistically they can define what they don't know.

Concentrating on Your Best Ideas

Buffett has difficulty finding understandable businesses with sustainable competitive advantages and excellent managers that also sell at discount to their estimated fair values.

Therefore, his investment portfolio has often been concentrated in relatively few companies.

Buffett rejects the idea that diversification is helpful for the INFORMED investors.

On the contrary, he thinks the addition of an investor's 20th favourite holding is likely to lower returns and increase risk compared with simply adding the same amount of money to the investor's top choices.

Successful investing requires the rare ability to identify and overcome one's own psychological weaknesses.

Successful investing is hard, but it doesn't require genius.

Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.

Successful investing requires the rare ability to identify and overcome one's own psychological weaknesses.

Behavioural finance attempts to explain why people make financial decisions that are contrary to their own interests.

Behavioural finance has a lot to offer in terms of understanding psychology and the behaviour of investors, particularly the mistakes that they make.  

Much of the field attempts to extrapolate larger, macro trends of influence, such as how human behaviour might move the market.

We can also focus on how the insights from the field of behavioural finance can benefit individual investors.  Primarily, we are interested in how we can learn to spot and correct investing mistakes in order to yield greater profits.

Some insights one can focus on in behaviour finance are:

  • Overconfidence
  • Selective Memory
  • Self-Handicapping
  • Loss Aversion
  • Sunk Costs
  • Anchoring
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Mental Accounting
  • Framing Effect
  • Herding

Non-Market Risk and a Concentrated Portfolio

Holding a concentrated portfolio is not as risky as one may think.

Just holding 2 stocks instead of 1, eliminates 46% of your unsystemic risk.

Holding only 8 stocks will eliminate about 81% of your diversifiable risk.

What about the range of returns?

Average return of the stock market during one period examined was about 10%.

Statistically, the one-year range of returns for a market portfolio (holding scores of stocks) in this period was between -8% and +28% about two-thirds of the time.  One-third of the time, the returns fell outside this 36-point range.

If your portfolio is limited to only 5 stocks, the expected return remains 10%, but your one-year range expands to between -11% and +31% about two-thirds of the time.

If there are 8 stocks, the range is between -10% and +30%.


It takes fewer stocks to diversify a portfolio than one might intuitively think.

Circle of Competence and Sector Concentration.

If you are investing within your cicle of competence, your stock selections will gravitate toward certain sectors and investment styles.

Following the fat-pitch strategy, you will naturally be overweight in some areas you know well and have found an abundance of good businesses.

Likewise, you may avoid other areas where you don't know much or find it difficult to locate good businesses.

However, if all your stocks are in one sector, you may want to think about the effects that could have on your portfolio.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Portfolio Weighting

It is important to know:

1.  how many stocks to own in your portfolio, and also,
2.  the percentage of your portfolio occupied by each stock.

A good investor has a knack for having a greater percentage of their money in stocks that do well and a lesser amount in their bad picks.

How does he do it?

Essentially, a portfolio should be weighted in direct proportion to how much confidence you have in each pick.

If you have a lot of confidence in the long term outlook and the valuation of a stock, it should be weighted more heavily than a stock than a stock you may be taking a flier on.

Weight your portfolio wisely.

Don't be too afraid to have some big weightings, but be certain that the highest-weighted stocks are the ones you feel the most confident about.

Of course, do not go off the deep end by having, for example, 50% of your portfolio in a single stock.

Additional notes:

If a stock has a 10% weighting in your portfolio, then a 20% change in price will move your overall portfolio 2%.

If a stock has only a 3% weighting, a 20% price change has only a 0.6% effect on your portfolio.

The Appropriate Attitude towards Market Prices

Once Mr. Buffett has decided that he is competent to evaluate a company, that the company has sustainable advantages and that it is run by commendable managers, then he still has to decide whether or not to buy it.

To buy or not to buy:  This step is the most crucial part of the process.

The decision process seems simple enough:  If the market price is below the discounted cash flow calculation of fair value, then the security is a candidate for purchase.

The available securities that offer the greatest discounts to fair value estimates are the ones to buy.

However, what seems simple in theory is difficult in practice.

  • A company's stock price typically drops when investors shun it because of bad news.  So a buyer of cheap securities is constantly swimming against the tide of popular sentiment.
  • Even investments that generate excellent long-term returns can perform poorly for years.  [In fact, Buffett wrote an article in 1979 explaining that stocks were undervalued, yet the undervaluation only worsened for another three years.]
  • Most investors find it difficult to buy when it seems that everyone is selling and difficult to remain steadfast when returns are poor for several consecutive years.

The appropriate attitude toward market price

Buffett credits his late friend and mentor, Benjamin Graham, with teaching him the appropriate attitude toward market prices.

Graham's parable:  "Imagine the daily quotations as coming from Mr. Market, your very temperamental partner in a private business.  Each day he offers you a price for which he will buy your share of the business or for which you can buy his share of the business.  On some days he is euphoric and offers you a very high price for your share.  On other days he is despondent and offers a very low price.  Mr. Market doesn't mind if you abuse or ignore him - he will be back with another price tomorrow."

The most important thing to remember about Mr. Market.

He offers you the potential to make a profit, but he does not offer useful guidance.

If an investor cannot evaluate his business better than Mr. Market, then the investor doesn't belong in that business.

Thus, Buffett invests only in predictable businesses that he understands, and he ignores the judgement of Mr. market (the daily market price) except to take advantage of Mr. Market.

Wide Moat Companies: Fat Pitch Approach and Low Turnover of Portfolio.

Fat Pitch method.

Great companies (wide-moat) selling at a discount are rare. So when you find one, you should pounce.

Over the years, a wide-moat company will generate returns on capital higher than its cost of capital, creating value for shareholders.

 This shareholder value translates into a higher stock price over time.

Move In and Out of Wide-Moat Stocks

IF YOU SELL AFTER MAKING A SMALL PROFIT, you might not get another chance to buy the stock, or a similar high-quality stock, for a long time.

For this reason, it is irrational to quickly move in and out of wide-moat stocks and incur transactions costs ( and also capital gain taxes in some countries).

 Your results after trading expenses (and taxes), likely won't be any better and may be worse.

Low Turnover

That is why many of the great long-term investors display low turnover in their portfolios.


Stocks are ownership interests in companies.

Being a stockholder is being a partial owner of a company.

Over the long term, a company's business performance and its stock price will converge.

The market rewards companies that earn high returns on capital over a long period.

Companies that earn low returns may get an occasional bounce in the short term, but their long-term performance will be just as miserable as their returns on capital.

The wealth a company creates - as measured by returns on capital - will find its way to shareholders over the long term in the form of dividends or stock appreciation.

My favourite financial ratios: ROA, ROE and ROIC.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Using Earnings Power Value (EPV) to weigh up the value of a share

Earnings Power Value (EPV) is another way to weigh up the value of a share.

EPV gives you an estimated value of a share if its current cash profits stay the same forever.

Calculating EPV

This is how you calculate it.

1.  Take a company's normalised or underlying trading profits or EBIT.

2.  Add back depreciation and amortization.

3.  Take away stay in business capex.

4.  Tax this cash profit number by the company's tax rate.

5.  Divide by a required interest rate# to get an estimate of total company or enterprise value.

6.  Take away debt, pension fund deficit, preferred equity and minority intersts to get a value of equity.  Add any surplus cash.

7.  Divide by the number of shares in issue to get an estimate of EPV per share.

#What interest rate should you use when valuing a business?

All you need to know is that the higher the interest rate you use, the more conservative your estimate of value will be.

Here are some rough and ready guidelines of the interest rates you might want to use when valuing different companies:

  • Large and less risky companies:  7% to 9%
  • Smaller and more risky (lots of debt or volatile profits):  10% to 12%
  • Very small and very risky:  15% or more.

Compare your estimate of EPV per share with the current share price.  

1.   Current Share Price > EPV

For example:
                      EPV per share                    151.4
                      Current Share Price            320 

We can see that the estimate of EPV accounts for less than half of the existing share price.

  • A large chunk of the current 320 price is based on the expectation of future profit growth.  

2.   Current Share Price < EPV

EPV can be a great way of spotting very cheap shares. 

Sometimes it is possible to find shares which are selling at a significant discount to their EPV.
  • When you come across a share like this, you need to spend time considering whether its current profits can stay the same, or whether they are likely to fall.  
  • If profits are likely to fall, it might be best to move on and start looking at other shares.

To minimise the risk of overpaying for a company's shares, you should try to buy when its current profits - its EPV - can explain as much of the current share price as possible.

  • As a rough rule of thumb, even if profits and cash flows have been growing rapidly, do not buy a share where more than half its share price is reliant on future profits growth.  

An example of how to calculate EPV

Company ABC  Earnings Power Value ($m)

Underlying EBIT                                      73.6
Dep & Amort                                              6.6
Stay in business CAPEX                           -8.9
Cash trading profit                                    71.3
Tax @ 20%                                              -14.3
After tax cash profits (A)                       57.0
Interest rate (B)                                        8%
EPV = A/B                                                713

Net debt/net cash                                      40.4
Preference Equity                                          0
Minority interests                                          0
Pension fund deficit                                       0
Equity value                                          753.4
Shares in issue (m)                                497.55
EPV per share (cents)                           151.4

Current share price (cents)                         320
EPV as % of current share price                47.3%
Future growth as % of current share price 52.7%

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Buying a home? Be financially mindful.

Excellent podcast.
Click here:

Desmond Chong, Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK)

06-Sep-18 10:37

Desmond points out some financial and non-financial factors that have to be taken into consideration when purchasing property.

Presented by: Tan Chung Han

Tags: Mortgage, Debt, Home, House, Rent, Freehold, Leasehold, Property, Financial Services, Personal Finance

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

How to be successful in using technical analysis

To be successful, the technical approach involves taking a  position contrary to the expectation of the crowd.

This requires the patience, objectivity and discipline to acquire a financial asset at a time of depression and gloom, and liquidate it in an environment of euphoria and excessive optimism.

The level of pessimism or optimism will depend on the turning point.

Short-term peaks and trough are associated with more moderate extremes in sentiment than long-term ones.

Knowing the technical characteristics to be expected at all of these market turning points, particularly the major ones, allow you to assess them objectively.

Technical analysis in Practice

In practice, it is impossible to buy and sell consistently at exactly the turning points, but the enormous potential of this approach still leaves plenty of room for error, even when commission costs and taxes are included in the calculation. 

The rewards for identifying major market junctures and taking the appropriate action can be substantial.

In the days of the old market, participants had a fairly long time horizon, stretching over months or years.  There have always been short-term traders and scalpers, but the technological revolution in communications has shortened the time horizon of just about everyone involved in markets.

When holding periods are lengthy, it is possible to indulge in the luxury of fundamental analysis, but when time is short, timing is everything.  In such an environment, technical analysis really comes into its own.

Originally, technical analysis was applied principally in the equity market, but its popularity has gradually expanded to embrace commodities, debt instruments, currencies, and other international markets.

Technical Analysis Defined

The technical approach to investment is essentially a reflection of the idea that prices move in trends that are determined by the changing attitudes of investors toward a variety of economic, monetary, political and psychological forces.

The art of technical analysis, for it is an art, is to identify a trend reversal at a relatively early stage and ride on that trend until the weight of the evidence shows or proves that the trend has reversed.  The evidence in this case is represented by the numerous scientifically derived indicators.

Human nature remains more of less constant and tends to react to similar situations in consistent ways.  By studying the nature of previous market turning pints, it is possible to develop some characteristics that can help to identify market tops and bottoms.  

Therefore, technical analysis is based on the assumption that people will continue to make the same mistakes they have made in the past.  

Human relationships are extremely complex and never repeat in identical combinations.  The market,s which are a reflection of people in action, never duplicate their performance exactly, but the recurrence of similar characteristics is sufficient to enable technicians to identify juncture points.  

Since no single indicator has signaled, or indeed could signal, every top or bottom, technical analysis have developed an arsenal of tools to help isolate these points.

A study of the market can also reveal much about human nature, both from observing other people in action and from the aspect of self-development.

There is no reason why anyone cannot make a substantial amount of money in the financial markets, but there are many reasons why many people will not.

The key to success is knowledge and action.  

  • Knowledge of the internal working of the markets and of investing is important.  
  • Action is dependent on the patience, discipline and objectivity of the individual investor. 

Today, numerous charting sites have sprung up on the Internet, so virtually anyone now has the ability to practice technical analysis.  As a consequence of the technological revolution, time horizons have been greatly shortened.

  • This may not be a good thing because short-term trends experience more random noise than longer-term ones.  
  • This means that the technical indicators are not as effective.

Nothing has really changed in the last 100 years.  The same true and tried principles in technical analysis are as relevant today as they always were.  There is no doubt whatsoever that this will continue to be so in the future.

  • Thus, technical analysis could be applied in New York in 1850, in Tokyo in 1950 and in Moscow in 2150.  
  • This is true because price action in financial markets is a reflection of human nature, and human nature remains more or less constant.  
  • Technical principles can also be applied to any freely traded entity in any time frame.  
  • A trend reversal signal on a 5-minute bar chart is based on the same indicators as one on a monthly chart; only the significance is different.  Shorter time frames reflect shorter trends and are therefore less significant.   

Since the 1970s, the time horizon of virtually all market participants has shrunk considerably.

  • As a result, technical analysis has become very popular for implementing short-term timing strategies.  
  • This use may lead to great disappointment.

There is a rough correlation between the reliability of the technical indicators and the time span being monitored.

  • Even short-term traders with a 1- to 3-week time horizon need to have some understanding of the direction and maturity of the main or primary trend.  
  • This is because mistakes are usually made by taking on positions that go against the direction of the main trend.  
  • If a whipsaw is going to develop, it will usually arise from a contra-trend signal.

To be successful, technical analysis should be regarded as the art of assessing the technical position of a particular security with the aid of several scientifically researched indicators. 

  • Although many of the mechanistic techniques offer reliable indications of changing market conditions, all suffer from the common characteristic that they can, and often do, fail to operate satisfactorily.  
  • This attribute present no problem to the consciously disciplined investor or trader, since a good working knowledge of the principles underlying major price movements in financial markets and a balanced view of the overall technical position offer a superior framework within which to operate.  

There is no substitute for independent thought.

  • The action of the technical indicators illustrates the underlying characteristics of any market and it is up to the analyst to put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together and develop a working hypothesis.
  • The task is by no means easy, as initial success can lead to overconfidence and arrogance.  
"Pride of opinion caused the downfall of more men on Wall Street than all the other opinions put together."  Charles H. Dow, the father of technical analysis.

This is true because markets are essentially a reflection of people in action.

  • Normally, such activity develops on a reasonably predictable path.  
  • Since people can and do change their minds, price trends in the market can deviate unexpectedly from their anticipated course.  
  • To avoid serious trouble, investors, and especially traders, must adjust their attitudes as changes in the technical position emerge.

A study of the market can also reveal much about human nature, both from observing other people in action and from the aspect of self-development.  
  • As investors react to the constant struggle through which the market will undoubtedly put them, they will also learn a little about their own makeup.  

"Little minds are taxed and subdued by misfortune but great minds rise above it."  Washington Irving.

Martin J. Pring
Technical Analysis Explained

Investing basics: Key constituents of an annual report

An annual report is probably among the most viewed company publications. It is the most comprehensive means of communication between a company and its shareholders. It is a report that each company must provide to each of its shareholder at the end of the financial year. To put it differently, it is a report that each shareholder must read.

But what is its use if one does not understand or refer to it?

As a shareholder of a company, you need to know its performance over the past financial year and the management's view on the same. You also need to know what is the company's future plan and strategies. As a shareholder, you need to know what does the management intends to do to attain those targets.

We present to you a brief on what the key constituents of an annual report are.

Key constituents of an Annual Report

Director's report: The director's report comprises the events that take place in the reporting period. This includes a summary of financials, analysis of operational performance, details of new ventures and business, performance of subsidiaries, details of change in share capital, and details of dividends. In short, shareholders can get a gist of the fiscal year from this section.

Management discussion and analysis (MD&A): More often than not, the MD&A starts off with the management giving its view on the economy. It is then followed by a perspective on the sector in which the company is present. Any major changes like inflation, government policies, competition, tax structures, amongst others are highlighted and discussed in this report. It also includes the business strategy the management intends to follow. Details regarding different segments are provided in this section. The company also gives a brief SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat) analysis and business outlook for the coming fiscal.

This can aid the shareholder to understand what major changes are likely to affect the company going forward. However, as mentioned earlier, an investor should not blindly believe what the management has to say. While it tends to paint a rosy picture, one needs to judge the sanity behind the rationale.

Report on corporate governance: The report on corporate governance covers all aspects that are essential to the shareholder of a company and are not part of the daily operations of the company. It includes details regarding the directors and management of a company. These include details such as their background and their remuneration. This report also provides data regarding board meetings - how many directors attended the how many meetings. It also provides general shareholder information such as correspondence details, details of annual general meetings, dividend payment details, stock performance, details of registrar and transfer agents and the shareholding pattern.

Financial statements and schedules: Finally, we arrive at the crux of the annual report, the financial statements. Financial statements, as you are aware, provide details regarding the operational performance of a company during the reporting period. In addition, it also depicts the financial strength of a company. The key constituents of the financial statement include the profit and loss account, the balance sheet, the cash flow statement and the schedules.

This article is authored by, India’s leading independent equity research initiative

Monday, 3 September 2018

Managing Risks and Benefiting from Risks


There are numerous risks involved in investing in the stock market.
- Knowing that these risks exist should be one of the things an investor is constantly aware of.
- The money you invest in the stock market is not guaranteed.

For instance, you might buy a stock expecting a certain dividend or rate of share price increase.
- If the company experiences financial problems it may not live up to your dividend or price growth expectations.
- If the company goes out of business you will probably lose everything you invested in it.
- Due to the uncertainty of the outcome, you bear a certain amount of risk when you purchase a stock.

Stocks differ in the amount of risks they present.
- For instance, Internet stocks in 2000 have demonstrated themselves to be much more risky than utility stocks.

One risk is the stocks reaction to news items about the company.
- Depending on how the investors interpret the new item, they may be influenced to buy or sell the stock.
- If enough of these investors begin to buy or sell at the same time it will cause the price to rise or fall.

Managing risks

One effective strategy to cope with risk is diversification.
- This means spreading out your investments over several stocks in different market sectors.
- Remember the saying: “Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket”.

As investors we need to find our “Risk Tolerance”.
- Risk tolerance is our emotional and financial ability to ride out a decline in the market without panicking and selling at a loss.
- When we define that point we make sure not to extend our investments beyond it.

Benefiting from risks

The same forces that bring risk into investing in the stock market also make possible the large gains many investors enjoy.
- It’s true that the fluctuations in the market make for losses as well as gains but if you have a proven strategy and stick with it over the long term you will be a winner!

The Internet has make investing in the stock market a possibility for almost everybody.
- The wealth of online information, articles, and stock quotes gives the average person the same abilities that were once available to only stock brokers.
- No longer does the investor need to contact a broker for this information or to place orders to buy or sell.
- We now have almost instant access to our accounts and the ability to place on-line orders in seconds.
- This new freedom has ushered in new masses of hopeful investors.

Still this in not a random process of buying and selling stock. We need a strategy for selecting a suitable stock as well as timing to buy and sell in order to make a profit.

Bull Market – Bear Market

1.  Bull Market and Bear Market. What do they mean?

(a)  What is a bull market?

A bull market is defined by steadily rising prices. 

The economy is thriving and companies are generally making a profit.

Most investors feel that this trend will continue for some time.

(b)  What is a bear market?

By contrast a bear market is one where prices are dropping. 

The economy is probably in a decline and many companies are experiencing difficulties.

Now the investors are pessimistic about the future profitability of the stock market.

Since investors’ attitudes tend to drive their willingness to buy or sell these trends normally perpetuate themselves until significant outside events intervene to cause a reversal of opinion.

2.  Investing in a bull market

In a bull market the investor hopes to buy early and hold the stock until it has reached it’s high.

Obviously predicting the low and high is impossible. 

Since most investors are “bullish” they make more money in the rising bull market.

They are willing to invest more money as the stock is rising and realize more profit.

3.  Investing in a bear market

Investing in a bear market incurs the greatest possibility of losses because the trend in downward and there is no end in sight.

An investment strategy in this case might be short selling. 

Short selling is selling a stock that you don’t own.

You can make arrangements with your broker to do this.

You will in effect be borrowing shares from your broker to sell in the hope of buying them back later when the price has dropped.

You will profit from the difference in the two prices. 

Another strategy for a bear market would be buying defensive stocks. 

These are stocks like utility companies that are not affected by the market downturn or companies that sell their products during all economic conditions.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Investments and Risk Reward Ratio

It is always interesting that there are so many different types of investments around us, ranging from regulated investments such as bonds and stocks, all the way to unregulated investment vehicles such as collectibles, antiques and many others. In this post, I’m slightly more inclined to talk about some common investments, mainly money markets, bonds, stocks and derivatives as well as their risk-reward relationships. To illustrate this, let’s start with a picture.

Risk Return
I do hope that the picture is pretty clearcut. Basically, it says that the higher the return, the higher the risk. Note that in the picture, derivatives has lower return, but higher risk and I will explain why it is so in the picture. I am actually taking into account expected rewards, which is different from potential rewards. Potential rewards mean the high end spectrum of what is achievable, whereas expected rewards basically mean the aggregate returns of all investors who participate in the investing of the instrument.

Now, after having explained my definition, let’s look at the investments and their risk rewards ratio. It is seen from the diagram that for taking more risk, the expected rewards is greater, with the exception of derivatives. The explanation is that derivatives are theoretically zero sum games, which means that when someone makes money, another has to lose it. After commissions, spreads and other charges, they are practically negative sum games.

I have friends who said that stock markets are negative sum games too, because the same principle applies. However, they missed an important point, which is the fact that wealth is created through the stock market and the evidence is in the issuance of dividends. For example, I bought a stock at $10 and sell it for $9.50. I may seem to have lost money, but what if I got a dividend payout of $1.00 while holding the stock? From this example, we can see that the purchase of stocks is not a zero sum game and that the general direction of the stock market in the long run is an uptrend. Of course, I am assuming that there is no large scale war or natural disaster that will destroy a significant amount of wealth. Even if there is though, wealth will be recreated as long as humans survived.

Just like stocks, bonds and money markets are also both not zero sum games, since there is an effective yield that you can get. While some of them may default their payments, we are looking at the aggregate of all investments in the instrument, which makes it a positive sum game.

For derivatives though, it is a clear cut zero sum game, because there is absolutely no payouts linked to the instrument. You don’t get dividends for holding options or futures. However, I would like to argue from another standpoint that perhaps it is not really that much of a zero sum game. The reason I would like to input this perspective is the prevalence of people who like to hedge their investments. Therefore, they may have holdings of stocks and buying options to offset the downside. Hedging in such a way often gives them an effective yield almost equilvalent to the risk-free rate. Therefore, they may not care if their derivative products lose money, since their overall portfolio gives them the desired return that they want.

This seems to get quite complicated, but I am suggesting that if there are really quite a number of hedgers out there in the financial world, it is possible that they are all holding the derivatives that lose money. Consequently, this may mean that it may be slightly easier to profit from derivatives than a strict zero sum game, since some people participate in the game without the intention of winning. Of course, if we aggregate all the positions, we are still back to a strict zero sum game. :)

However, my purpose in this post is only to bring about another perspective that perhaps not everybody wants to make money from every market. Some people may participate in some markets and lose constantly but still persist because they satisfy them in some other way. Therefore, it may mean that for those who are serious about making money in the markets, the chances are slightly higher. After all, it is easier to win in a race against leisure runners than national runners who are committed to getting that next medal.

Of course, with everything said, it’s just my hypothesis and it may or may not be right. :)

This article was first posted on 24.11.2011.