How to quickly exclude stocks from further research

Welcome to Value Investing School, article 1 – How to quickly exclude stocks from further research.

With this article I wish to show how investing is mostly a game of exclusion if you are a bottom up value investor and you know what to look for. I’ll analyse L’Occitane en Provence as an example.

Things to learn are:

  • Investing is a game of mostly exclusion.
  • Focusing on the business yield, current or future, makes things easy.
  • Don’t be a relative investor, be an absolute investor.

locicitane

Source: L’Occitane

During the week I look at lots of stocks but what makes it easy for me to separate the interesting investments from the other, is the business return or the future potential business return. I look for current or even better, future double-digit yearly business returns and if a business doesn’t show that potential it is quickly skipped.  This makes me an absolute value investor and not a relative investor, a very costly and risky mistake many investors currently make. As would Buffett say, we invest in businesses and not a stock that goes up and down during a day.

I am currently researching a stock list from an Asian Value investing fund with some very interesting names but also some strange decisions like the L’Occitane en Provence stock. On this stock, I wish to explain:

  • 1) the risks of not focusing on the business yield
  • 2) the risks of relative versus absolute investing and,
  • 3) how easy it is to say no to an investment.

The business yield

If you are an investor in businesses, not stocks, all you care about is the yield of the business, the earnings and how the same earnings are reinvested or distributed at the end of the year. The higher the return on equity, your equity, the better. When buying stocks, your equity is the price you pay for the stock and the yield is derived by comparing the price you pay with the earnings. For example, L’Occitane is a growing company with revenues (1) tripling over the last 10 years (FY (fiscal year) 2019 revenue reached 1.42 billion EUR) and net income (2) almost doubling.

2 revenue

Source: Morningstar

However, when I look at the net income, I see that the average over the last 5 years is around 100 million EUR. I compare it to the current market capitalization (the value of all the stocks outstanding) is 20.6 billion HKD or 2.6 billion EUR. This means that the business yield the company currently provides is at 3.84% given the price earnings ratio of 26 (100/26 = 3.84%).

3 stock

That is far too low for me but then I must look at the growth the company promises. I look at the growth and see that same store growth is actually very low at 2%.

4 growth

Source: L’Occitane

And that all of the growth the management hopes for comes from acquisitions and emerging markets. From reading a bit about the company there is a new management, the company is restructuring and it is something Warren Buffett despises, a turnaround. From the conference call transcript:

5 trust

Source: L’Occitane

When you find words like ‘new management, new strategy, build trust’ it could be truth, but it could be also lots of baloney. Not what a value investor gets in to. So, when I see that I am already at ohhhhh.

Just another one for the record. On top of the new management, the company that made about a billion in profits over the last decade, suddenly decides to make an acquisition of a cosmetics brand and pays $900 million for a company with $40 million in EBITDA.

6 acquisition

Source: Elemis acquisition announcement

All of the above is simply too risky, it might work, I hope it works for them, but it might also backfire as that kind of corporate actions often do. The plan is to scale the brand, a totally new brand, in China.

7 skincare

Source: Elemis acquisition announcement

It could happen it might not, too much risk and the actual business yield is below 4%. Enough for a value investor. So, let me finish this with why are other investors investing in this? Well, they do so because they are relative and not absolute investors.

Relative vs. absolute investors

This is a concept well described in Seth Klarman’s book Margin of Safety and L’Occitane is a great example. A relative investor looks at the company and says:

“I have a great global brand growing at double digit rates that just made a potentially transformational acquisition trading at a PE ratio of just 26. A fair valuation in this market should be 40, thus the stock is undervalued by 30%.”

This might be true and the market might revalue the stock, or re-rate it as the lingo goes,  in case it shows faster growth in the future and improving margins. However, as a value investor you want both future growth and good earnings or value already there, not in some future promise. Also, the fact that the stock was much higher in the past, means absolutely nothing. Actually, it confirms that it was overvalued in the past and the market is slowly but surely re-rating it.

Conclusion

That is it, this is how I mostly spend my time, looking at companies that are not that interesting but from time to time, there is something interesting. To finish with a nice quote that summarizes this:

“Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.”

That is how bottom up value investing is done. You exclude more than 99% of businesses you look at and with time it becomes a fast process. Buffett says how it takes him 5 minutes to read through a business. Therefore, the more stones you turn, the better are the investments you will find.

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To Buy or to Sell Stocks with Crash Coming? Doesn’t Matter for Value Investors – Buy Value

I received this very interesting comment from a subscriber as I bought my 5th stock for my lump sum portfolio which is now 50% invested. So, I invested 50% of my portfolio over the last 3 months that might surprise people scared of the upcoming crash or recession.

stock market crash

I have 3 points to answer this question:

  • I can’t predict the future, nobody can

Nobody knows what will happen with the market, we have the last two crashes in our mind that were close to 50%, but that doesn’t mean it will happen again. Nobody, and I mean nobody knows.

  • A recession is always around the corner

There are recession predictions for 2019 and 2020, but the same could had been said in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and especially 2010 and 2009. There are many out there that have been waiting on the side-lines since 2009 or they just got in in the last few years. No need to mention the missed opportunities.

For example, my largest position in January 2018 was Nevsun Resources.

3 nevsun

In January 2018 there were fears about China slowing down leading to a copper crisis etc., fears of a recession and market crash over the next two years with Ray Dalio saying there is a 70% chance for an U.S. recession. I would have been better in cash than investing in a copper miner, right?

Well, all depends on value, if you find it, even if a recession happens, your returns are delayed by a year to 3. The point is that if you buy value, you will survive those bad years and get ahead after the crash. So, I, as a selective investor, simply buy when I see value and when I am happy owning the business. It has rewarded me very well in the past no matter the possible crashes. And yes, I lost money in 2008, but it is not comparable to what I made from 2009 onward and from 2002 to 2008.

Index fund investors

For those who invest in index funds, just invest on a monthly basis, just dollar cost average and forget about stocks, don’t even think about it, you will get your returns whatever they will be, own your home, invest in another property, diversify and you will be well off. Your wealth doesn’t depend on the market, but mostly on you and you not doing stupid things like most did, I.e. selling in 2009 march.

3) Highest possible return long-term

I know if there is a recession my portfolio will get hit, but I also know that the highest possible return I will get is when I buy value when I see it. So, in good years I will have great returns, in a bad year, I don’t know how I will do. There is a nice passage in the book Margin of safety by Seth Klarman discussing how when you buy value, real value, it often offers downside protection as it is already depressed in price and the price can’t go much lower. All my current 5 stocks trade below book value, mostly tangible book value, have high earnings yield and potential. So whatever happens, I am a happy owner, owning assets and that gives me a margin of safety.

To explain in an easy way what margin of safety investing is, I’ll make the next video article apple.

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