Archive for the ‘Behavioral finance’ Category.

 

I have often ‘preached’ on this blog – when facts change, one should consider them rationally and change one’s mind if required. Well, as always, it is easier to preach than practice.

Let me tell you a recent story.

I spoke very briefly about a company in this post. The company was Ricoh (I) ltd. You can download my detailed analysis of the company here.

So after doing this detailed analysis in late 2010, I built a decent position at an average price of around 35-37 Rs/ share.  The company continued to perform poorly (as I expected) as it had done an acquisition and was also investing heavily into sales and marketing.

The topline grew by 40%, but the net profit dropped from around 15 Crs to a loss of 5 Crs in 2012. The price continued to stagnate in the range of 37-40 rs during this period.

I have been consolidating my portfolio and weeding out the weaker ideas for the last 2 years. As a result, I exited Ricoh in the feb-march time frame. I think it was a rational thing to do based on the information I had as of March 2012

The change

The company declared the Q4 2011 results in April 2012 and reported the following

Q4 sales growth, YOY – 60%

Net profit growth, YOY – 73% (12 Crs profit in Q4 versus 11 crs loss in Q3)

The price action can be seen below

As you can see, the market did not react immediately to the turnaround in the performance and there was a 1-2 month window for an intelligent investor to digest this information and purchase the stock.

So that proves my level of intelligence 🙂

The explanation

It is easy to call the decision, stupid and move on. The true reason for my failure to capitalize on the change in performance (which I was expecting) is due to a behavioral bias.

The bias is called the commitment and consistency bias. In simple words, once one makes a decision, the tendency is to ‘commit’ to the decision and be consistent with it. This results in ignoring positive information as in the above case or holding on to a losing position (inspite of consistent negative news) and hoping that the price will rise in the future.

Not a one off case

The above incident was not a one off in my case. I have made the same mistake twice earlier – in the case of VST industries and Mayur uniquoters. I sold the stocks and then saw the fundamental performance improve, after the sale. Instead to getting back into the stocks (as I already knew about the companies), I just ignored them and lost out on pretty decent gains.

I have become alert to this bias now and am paying more attention to sudden turning points in the performance of the stocks I hold or have held in the past.

It is better to look foolish (in my own eyes), than miss out on a good idea

Added note – The above example does not mean Ricoh India is a good buy and should be purchased at the current price. It is quite possible that the performance may regress and so would the stock price. The example is only for illustrative purposes.

Stocks discussed in this post are for educational purpose only and not recommendations to buy or sell. Please read disclaimer towards the end of blog.

 
 

One of the least discussed topics on investing is emotions. I have rarely found any discussion on this topic. Behavioral finance does take up this topic and there is a lot of academic analysis on the various pitfalls and mistakes of investors. However there is still a lack of discussion on emotions and how one should handle them while investing.

Are emotions important?
If you are Mr. Spock, then emotions do not matter. For the rest of us, emotions play a very important role in our lives and definitely in investing.

As an investor, one is faced with feelings of joy, confidence, euphoria or despair, frustration, fear and similar other emotions. I can’t speak for others, but I have had all these emotions and more.

Should feelings be ignored?
One school of thought is that one should be a completely rational investor and should take emotions completely out of investing. I find this as the stupidest advice.

Do you think that is possible? Can you invest without ‘feeling anything?

The only time one does not ‘feel’ anything is when one does not care about it. If you are dealing with your hard earned money, how will not feel anything?

Understand and manage feeling
I have found that it is far more important to acknowledge your feelings and then try to think rationally about them. In some instances, you may be able to realize that your feelings are leading you down the wrong path and you will be able to correct yourself. In other instances, your gut or feelings are telling you something and you are better off listening to them

My own experiences
During the start of my investing life, I rarely thought about how I felt and just went with the flow. For example, if I started analyzing a stock and ‘felt’ confident, then my tendency would be to rush through the analysis and just build a position.

Once I had created a position, a confirmation and consistency bias would set in and I would avoid negative information on the stock if it went against my view. If you think you and others are immune to it, think of the time you and your friends have tried to ‘defend’ your stock (as if your stock needs defending!) and have discounted someone who is giving you contrary information. This tendency sometimes gets vicious on public stock forums (which is one reason I avoid criticizing other’s stock picks)

The converse of the above situation occurred when the stock market was down and everyone was bearish. I found myself overly pessimistic like others and would constantly keep questioning myself. As a result I did not build as big a position as I should have – case in point: I bought concor in 2002-2003 at a PE of 5. I should have built a big position, but never did. Same with blue star and several others

My current approach
I did not get hit by lighting or have achieved any enlightenment like Gautama Buddha. I tend to feel the same emotions as earlier. The difference is that I try to acknowledge them when they happen and to understand what they are conveying.

During 2008, I too had feelings of uncertainty and some amount of doubt. However based on past experience and based on the valuations I could see, I decided to ignore them and went ahead with my positions.

Conversely, I have been feeling fairly smug and happy with my positions and optimistic (atleast till last month) in general. This matched with the feeling,  others have about the market. I think this itself is a red flag for me. The time when I start feeling confident and on top of the world is the time to start getting worried. In response to this, I have started reducing my fully valued positions and have not really been buying much (though have been tempted several times).

I don’t go against my feelings always. On analyzing my past positions, I have realized that my position size is driven a lot by my feelings. I maintain a few major and some minor positions (see my portfolio here). I have found that the stocks in my minor holding are cheap and at a higher discount to fair value than major positions.

However for some reason which I cannot articulate, my ‘feel’ for the minor positions is not as good as the major ones. For example, I always felt that a grindwell Norton is a better position than a VST. As a result my position size has been larger in the former than the latter. On analyzing my past results I have found the major positions have done far better than the smaller positions (though I did not realize that at the time of making these investments).

I don’t claim to infallible. Far from it ! I have done enough silly things and confident that I will continue to do so (options may be one 🙂 ). However I think listening to your gut is important, even if you do not always follow it.

As an aside – I think if you feel a little bit apprehensive and scared when trying something new, it’s a good thing. It means that you are pushing the boundary of your learning. I feel the same with arbitrage and options and think that it is the right thing to do.

 
 

The last one week has seen one of the biggest spikes in stock prices. Almost every kind of stock, has recorded a big jump in prices. Those of us who were lucky or had the foresight or both in buying stocks in the last 6 months, are now sitting on decent gains and must be feeling pretty smart and good about themselves.
 
I would hold my horses on that.
 
There is no harm in feeling good about it, but I would not let this feeling stop me from thinking rationally on what to do next.
 
Planning based on market forecasts !
One cannot be sure whether these price levels will sustain themselves or not. You will find every tom dick and harry trying to forecast or predict on what is going to happen. Well, if you are basing your strategy on these kind of predictions, then good luck with that.
 
I, for one have no clue and will not plan based on anyone’s predicitions or my ‘feel’ of what is going to happen. I did not have a clue in march, that the market would go up so soon and I don’t have a clue about the future market direction now.
 
During the period october 08 to March 09, I was a net buyer and commited a decent amount of money on a simple logic – The prices of the stocks I liked were attractive and way below intrinsic value and when they dropped below 50% of the intrinsic value, I bought.
 
Plan going forward
I have been analysing the annual results of all the companies I hold and re-evaluating the intrinsic value. If the price after the runup is still below instrinsic value and I expect the company to continue to do well and accordingly increase the intrinsic value at a decent rate, I will continue to hold. It would be stupid of me to sell a stock which still sells below instrinsic value, just because it has gone up by x%.
 
So what to sell ?
Now may also be a good time do some portfolio clean up. There are some holdings, especially in my graham style portfolio which are not doing too well in terms of business performance.
 
These companies have a stagnant or decreasing intrinsic value and hence holding them longer is of no benefit. I plan to take advantage of the recent runup to sell such holding and re-invest the cash elsewhere.
 
Finally, if the stock price has exceeded the instrinsic value and I don’t expect the increase in intrinsic value to be above a certain threshold, I will start liquidating the holding.
 
Let me explain: Suppose my estimate of intrinsic value is 100 and stock sells at 120. Now lets assume for simplicity sake that I think the company will increase the instrinsic value at 10% per year. So by the end of year two, the intrinsic value of the stock would be 121. Now for sake of an argument, lets say that the stock will contine to sell at a 20% premium to instrinsic value – 141.
 
On the other hand I can liquidate the stock at 120 and invest the capital in another company which is selling at say, 40% discount to intrinsic value. If this company also increases its intrinsic value by 10% per year and at the end of year two sells at intrinsic value, then the value of my holding would be 242.
 
The above is ofcourse a simplistic sceanrio and there are several other factors involved, but the thought process should be clear.
 
It is important to try to remain rational at all times as far as possible. Being overly giddy and happy now will hurt as much as being fearful did in the last six months.