In the previous post, I described my investment journey till 2003. By mid of 2003, I had spent close to 6-7 years on reading and studying about the topic. I had read dozens of books on warren buffett and other value investors. In addition I had been analying companies for the past 5 years. So I understood the basics of investing, valuation and other aspects of investing.

What was missing was the experience and the softer aspects of investing. I had allowed myself to be swayed by the surrounding euphoria (partly though) in 2000. In addition by 2002-2003 when there were values all around (companies like L&T, blue star etc were available at a bargain), I was still not confident enough to go the whole hog.

If you have gone through this phase or are going through it, you will understand. If you have not seen a lot of success (mine was relative, I had done well compared to the market) and even if you feel that your are doing the right thing, it is not easy to jump in again completely. So during this phase, I increased my holdings, but I was very cautious (maybe overcautious) about it.

The market had gone nowhere for the last 10 years and so unlike today, no one was interested in stocks.

So what were the key learnings for me till 2003 ?

  1. Do not over pay for a stock. I learnt this from SSI. Yes, sky is the limit for these hot companies. However for every Infosys or PRIL or L&T, there are 10 pretenders. In addition this kind of early stage investing requires a different mindset. I do not have that kind of mindset.
  2. focus on companies with sustainable competitive advantage which have a profitable growing business and are available at a reasonable price. I have made the best returns from this group. Ignore the long shots ..companies which will be the next HDFC, next infosys, next L&T etc. Buy HDFC if it is available at a reasonable price otherwise find something else.
  3. Valuation and price matters. Promise is all great, but if a company does not meet the promise then the stock price gets killed. I learnt it from SSI and a lot of other investors are learning that lesson now via other companies.
  4. Be honest and brutual about your mistakes. Do blame others like analysts, media, friends etc. If you have made a mistake, accept it and move on. In short – don’t whine !!

2003 – 2006 (Beating the market and making some money)
By the end of 2003, the market was up 73% and I beat the market by a few points. As I had beaten the market during the bear phase too, I had gained in absolute terms by the end of the year.

The portfolio mix was roughly the same, with a new addition by end of the year of kothari products which was a small position (I started experimenting with a few graham type stocks)

By 2004 year end, my portfolio was doing fairly well. I had done better than the market with good gains in asian paints, concor, blue star etc. In addition I created a new position in BayerABS and Balmer lawrie by the end of the year.

I did no major additions or sale during 2005. Most of the stocks did well and the valuation gaps closed for several of my earlier picks as the market started recognizing these companies. I was able to do better than the market and was now fairly confident of my approach, which was now working well.

2006 was also a year with almost no activity in terms of buying or selling. To certain extent, I was still riding my earlier picks and to a certain extent I was finding it diffcult to find ideas which were as attractive as my exisiting one. I had done most of my picks during the bear market of 2001-2003 when good companies were available at throwaway prices. I was still searching for similar opportunities in 2006. That ofcourse was a foolish thing to do then. I was not going to get those kind of opportunities in a bull market.

By end of 2006, most of the companies I held, seemed to be fully valued. I liquidated almost 60-70% of my portfolio and ended the year with small holdings in asian paints, reliance (which I got through my RPL holdings), Bayer ABS and balmer lawrie. In addition I started building a small position in Merck and KOEL.

As an aside, in 2004, I discovered blogging and created my blog. This was my first post.

2007 (rethinking the approach)
I began 2007, with a fairly liquidated portfolio and few holdings.The really good companies seemed to be fairly valued and so I was not interested in them. As this time I started exploring graham kind of opportunities.

Till 2007, my approach was always to buy good companies and hold them for a long time. However I was always split between the idea of buying and holding even after the company was selling at or above my estimate of intrinsic value.

In 2007, I read a book by Mohnish pabrai (Dhando investor) and also a few other books and comments by warren buffett. I kind of realised that if one is interested in making higher returns then you have to look at buying undervalued companies and selling at intrsinsic value. The portfolio churn is more and you have work harder at finding new ideas, but the returns are higher. So I had a slight change in approach in 2007.

I built a position in KOEL (kirloskar oil) and sold when it hit intrinsic value. I created new positions in cheviot, India nippon, novartis, VST, manugraph, HPCL, grindwell norton etc. In addition I bought and sold IGL (after I felt I was wrong in my analysis), and did the same with MRO tek when it reached intrinsic value.

2007 was a crazy year. Anyone could have made money. I did well too (maybe too well). However I did not go whole hog as I was not comfortable with the valuation for most companies. I had not forgotten my earlier lessons. Frankly I don’t care how well others are doing or what they are recommending. Maybe some people can trade profitably by looking at the tides, but that’s not for me. Real estate companies, Capital goods companies looked like IT companies of 2000 and so I stayed away from them. 

2008 (Doing more of the same)
Jan started with a major high in terms of the market and low activity from my end. I have been analysing companies since then and looking for new ideas constantly.

2008 has seen the market tumble from the all time highs. As I was not comfortable with the valuations by the end of 2007, I did not add much to my holdings. I try not time the market, but time the price (this is a quote by warren buffett). What that means is that my buy and sell decisions are based on the discount at which good companies are selling to their intrinsic value. If there is a big discount I will buy irrespective of the market level. Ofcourse, most of the times this approach takes you out of the market at highs and makes you more active when the market is tanking.

My activity levels in terms of buying or selling are higher this year. My portfolio was in a semi-coma state for a long period as there was not much to do. However with a slight change in approach and better values, there is more activity now.

Future ?
I don’t know how things will work out. What I know for sure is that I plan to keep reading and learning. I plan to add arbitrage to my portfolio and make it a higher percentage. However overall, I plan to develop my approach further and deepen my understanding of various areas such as accounting, options pricing, and economics etc . The focus is to learn topics which would improve me as an investor.

If you have been with me for these two posts, you can see why I have a strong preference for value investing. This approach has worked for me and allows me get a good night sleep. It fits my temprament of slow and delibrate thinking. I do not like fast paced action and thrills (in my portfolio, movies are a different matter).

Even among valueinvestors, there are varying styles and each one selects a different set of companies for his or her portfolio. I think it is driven a lot by one’s experiences. In my case, I have stayed away from high growth, hot sexy companies due to my bad experience with SSI and other IT companies. On the other hand the boring, dull but solidly profitable companies have given me great returns. Hence my preference for those kind of companies.

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