Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Be patient. Patience is sometimes the hardest part of using the value approach.

The patient exercise of value investing principles works and works well.

Value investing requires more effort than brains, and a lot of patience.

Over time, investors should continue to be rewarded for buying stocks on the cheap.

Through the years, there have been changes in the methods of finding value stocks and in the criteria that define value.

Changes in the method of finding value stocks and trading

In Ben Graham's time, the search for undervalued stocks meant poring through the Moody's and Standard & Poor's tomes for stocks that fit the value criteria.  Now, you can accomplish this with the click of a mouse.  You can access almost all the data off your Bloomberg terminals.  The 10k reports or annual shareholder letters are all right there on the Internet for you to access for stocks all over the world.

Trading has changed as well.  For the most part, trading is now done electronically with no effort at all.  You can trade stocks in New York, Tokyo or London just as easily as you can in your own country.

Criteria that define value has changed over time

Just as the access to information and the methods of trading stocks have changed in the past two decades, so have the criteria for value changed.

1.  Net current assets
In 1969, the investors were looking through the Standard & Poor's monthly stock guide for stocks selling below net current assets.  This was the primary source of cheap stocks in those days.  The method had been pioneered by Graham and was very successful.  Generally, they were buying stocks that sold for less than their liquidation value.  Back then, manufacturing companies dominated the US economy.

2.  Earnings
As the US economy grew in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, it began to move away from the heavy industrial manufacturing companies such as steel and textiles.  Consumer product companies n service companies became more a part of the landscape.   These companies needed less physical assets to produce profits, and their tangible book values were less meaningful as a measure of value.  Many value investors had to adopt and began to look more closely at earnings--based models of valuation.  Radio and television stations and newspapers were examples of businesses that could generate enormous earnings with little in the way of physical assets and thus had fairly low tangible book value.  The ability to learn new ways to look at value allows you to make some profitable investments that you might well have overlooked had you not adopted wit the times.

3.  Earnings growth 
There was a great deal of money to be made buying companies that could grow their earnings at a faster rate than the old industrial type companies.  Warren Buffett said that growth and value are joined at the hip.  The difference between growth and value was mostly a question of price.  Paying a little more than just buying stocks based on book value and the investors found great bargains like American Express, Johnson & Johnson, and Capital Cities Broadcasting.  Companies like these were able, and in many cases still are able, to grow at rates significantly greater than the economy overall and were worth a higher multiple of earnings than a basic manufacturing business..

4.  Leveraged buyout business
In the mid-1980s, the leveraged buyout business (LBO) was born.  The US economy was emerging from a period of high inflation and high interest rates.  Inflation had increased the value of the assets of many companies.  For example, if ABC Ice Cream had built a new factory 5 years ago for $10 million and was depreciating it over  10 year period, it would have been written down to $5 million on ABC's books.  However, after  years of inflation, it might cost $15 million to replace that factory.  Its value is understated on the company's books.  Using the factory as collateral, the company might have been able to borrow 60% of its current value or $9 million.  This is what LBO firms did with all sorts of assets in the 1980s.  They would borrow against  company's assets to finance the purchase of the company.

The record high interest rates of the late 1970s and early 1980s drove stock prices to their lowest levels in decades.  The price-to-earnings ratio of the Standard & Poor's 500 was in the single digits.  With long-term Treasury bonds yielding 14%, who needed to own stocks?  The combination of significant undervalued collateral and low PE ratios made many companies ripe for acquisition at very low prices.  

A typical deal in the mid-1980s might be done at only 4.5 or 5 times pretax earnings.  Today, that number is more in the range of 9 to 12 times pretax earnings.  This period was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy companies at record cheap prices in terms of both assets and earnings.

By using this model to screen for companies that are selling in the stock market at a significant discount to what an LBO group might pay, this  LBO model gave one more way of defining "cheap"

{Summary:  Price to Book Value, Price to Earnings and Leveraged Buyout Appraisal Value]

Value Investing

The basic idea of buying stocks for less than they are worth and selling them as they approach their true worth is at the heart of value investing.

The methods and criteria have changed over the years and they will evolve further with the march of time and inevitable change.  What is important is that the principles have not changed.

On balance, value investing is easier than other forms of investing.  It is not necessary to spend eight hours a day glued to a screen trading frenetically in and out of stocks.  By paying attention to the basic principle of buying below intrinsic value with a margin of safety and exercising patience, investors will find that the value approach continues to offer investors the best way to beat the stock market indexes and increase wealth over time.

Patience is sometimes the hardest part of using the value approach 

When you find a stock that sells for 50% of what you determined it is worth , your job is basically done.  Now it is up to the stock. 

  • It may move up toward its real worth today, next week, or next year.  
  • It may trade sideways for 5 years and then quadruple in price.  
  • There is simply no way to know when a particular stock will appreciate, or if, in fact, it will.   
There will be periods when the value approach will under-perform other strategies, and that can be frustrating.

Perhaps even more frustrating are those times when the overall market has risen to such high levels that we are unable to find many stocks that meet our criterion for sound investing.

It is sometimes tempting to give in and perhaps relax one criterion just a bit, or chase down some for the hot money stocks that seem to go up forever.  But, just about the time that value investors throw in the towel and begin to chase performance is when the hot stocks get ice cold.

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