I wrote about hinduja global solutions (Now HGS) in jan 2009 (see here). The company was selling for below cash and thus the operating business was available for free.

As we know, the stock markets recovered by May 2009 and HGS was up 200% in a short span of 4 months.

first

In case you are wondering, this post is not about how I smartly exited in July and make 200% of capital.

The company performed extremely well in 2010. Net profits were up by 100%, Net margins hit 14% and this was inspite of the company carrying a large amount of cash on the balance sheet. I was feeling pretty smart about it.

The slow slide

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The price action from the peak in 2009 shows only part of the story. The company has increased its sales from around 900 Crs in 2010 to around 1550 Cr in 2012 at a CAGR of 30%+. The net profit  however dropped from 130 Crs to around 106 Crs in 2012 and may drop further to around 80 Crs in the current year.

I kept buying the stock during this period, anchored to the earlier levels of profitability.

The company has thus been able to grow through a combination of organic initiatives and acquisitions, but saw a drop in profitability due to lower margins and lower capital turns. In effect, the growth came through, but the economics of the industry has deteroriated during the same period. The company has gone from above average profitability (20%+ROE) to below average levels in the current year (single digit ROE)

The lessons

There are two key takeaways from the above loss.

The first lesson is that if the initial expectations on the economics of an industry do not play out, one should accept the reality as soon as possible and act on it. The second lesson for me is that I should give a higher weightage to the qualitative aspects of the business and not focus too much on the valuation. In case of HGS, the large amount of cash on the balance sheet (and corresponding low valuation) distracted me from the deteriorating economics of the business – A value trap.

The blind spot problem

I have looked at the various companies in the past and have wondered why others keep buying/ recommending it when it is obvious that the company does not have above average profitability and cannot be a good long term investment.

The thing with blind spot is that the same issues are not visible to yourself, where one may keep rationalizing your own decision for a long time.

It is not easy to accept a mistake, especially a slow one , resulting in the boiling frog problem. Hopefully this lesson will stay with me for a long time and prevent me from making the same mistake again (new ones will however happen)

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