Tag Archives: contrarian investing

Why Value Investing? Or ‘Why not follow the rest of the herd off the cliff?’

15 Mar

Investors, like cows, sheep, zebra and other herding animals, like to do what they see everybody else doing. If the rest of the herd jumps off a cliff, many other investors will follow the herd even if they suspect a hard landing awaits. Because if everyone else is doing it, it must be the right thing to do.

A prime example of this tendency is the recent Snapchat IPO, which we’re sure you’ve heard about but we’ll revisit for illustrative purposes. Despite having access to detailed information about the company’s fundamentals and history – it has never before made a profit – investors piled in when open trading began, leading the share price to rise 44%, from an initial $17 to $24.48. The opening price of $17 was itself above the range predicted by analysts.

There are no words for what Snapchat the company represents. Literally. It cannot even categorise itself correctly. In its IPO prospectus it described itself as a ‘camera company’, which as it has never to public knowledge made and sold a camera is not strictly accurate.

Go in the Other Direction

Value investing defies this ‘herding behaviour’ by taking a contrarian bet on the stock the market undervalues. Value investors look for assets, particularly shares, whose low market price belies the underlying fundamentals. They take a 3-5 year view on the company based on factors like the general outlook for the sector, the company’s debt to equity ratio, sales and revenue history, and sales and revenue projections.

They might dig deeper, and look at how secure a hold the company has over its primary assets – for example, whether they are overhung by a fixed or floating charge. A fixed charge means the item in question is clearly put up as collateral to a single defined investor, whereas with a floating charge the hierarchy of entitlement is less clearly defined.

All of these contrarian bets will be placed within a portfolio which is risk-optimised for the desired minimum return. When we say ‘risk-optimised’, essentially we are treating risk, or volatility, as a tradable item which though we cannot exactly quantify it, we are counting on its yielding us a premium in the long-term. We like risk, when we think we can control it.

Portfolio investors will almost always diversify this risk across several sectors or regions, analysing groups of stocks or indices to see their level of correlation, and choosing those which have historically not been highly correlated. For example, automobile sales and hotel visits might be correlated, if inversely, with the price of oil, or petrol; cheap fuel encourages more travel.

Two sectors which are less likely to be correlated are consumer durables – ie. fridges, microwaves, toasters – and food and toiletries. People will always need to buy groceries, but deciding whether to buy a new microwave or pair of Jimmy Choos is a discretionary choice and likely to bear little relation to how many ready meals they choose to buy.

 

 

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