I recently received a few questions on value investing via comments. I thought these questions would be best covered via a post
1.      If you buy a stock at 50% or less of instrinsic value, what makes the stock reach its intrinsic value ? if the traders are not buying, how does the undervaluation go away ?
2.      If everyone practised value investing, will the market not become efficient and will value investors not be out of business?
3.      Ashok leyland had a 50% drop in sales last month? What are your views on it ?

In addition let me add a few questions and answers of my own
1.      If value investing is so obvious, why do so few investors follow it ?
2.      You always mention about a long term view. What is long term ? 1,2 or 5 years ? should one wait indefinitely for the market to recognize the stock ?
3.      Is a macro view point inconsistent with value investing ?

If you buy a stock at 50% or less of instrinsic value, what makes the stock reach its intrinsic value ? if the traders are not buying how does the undervaluation go away ?

This question has been asked of several value investors and frankly there is no scientific explaination (yet!). The best explaination for this question comes from the dean of value investing – Benjamin graham who said ‘The market in the short term is a voting machine based on the emotions of investors. However in the long run, it is a wieghing machine driven by the underlying value of the company’

If you are new to value investing you have believe the above on faith, as I did initially, that the market eventually corrects the undervaluation,. However over a couple of years, you will see for yourself that the market does recognize the undervaluation and corrects it. However don’t expect the correction to be in a uniform straight line.

For ex: I invested in companies like concor or blue star in 2002-2003 time frame. The undervaluation in these companies was corrected by 2005-2006. This correction did not happen in a uniform fashion. On the contrary I have seen the correction happens very quickly with the major gains spread over a few weeks.

Ofcourse after the correction happens, the traders get excited as they can see volume strength and momentum and all that. They jump into the stock if the correction was swift and the stock is appearing in their filters. The stock gains further and now the analysts latch on it and start recommending it. Finally when everyone and his uncle is onto the stock, CNBC and our smart talking heads start recommending it. That’s the time to sell !! ..just joking, but you get the point.

If everyone practised value investing, will the market not become efficient and will value investors not be out of business?
And
If value investing is so obvious, why do so few investors follow it ?

Value investing is not new. The bible of value investing – security analysis by benjamin graham was published in 1934 ( I would recommend you to read it, multiple times). Most of us practise value investing in real life. If a TV is on sale, we go ahead and buy it.

However, very few do it in stocks. The reason is two fold. First, most of the investors cannot or do not want to evaluate the intrinsic value of a stock. So they really cannot be sure if a stock is a bargain or not. As a result they ‘outsource’ their thinking to others such as  analysts, CNBC etc.

The second reason is temprament. It is difficult to stand away from the crowd. Think of it – how many investors out there think that this is a good time to buy. Most of them are ready to to accept the notion that now is not good time to buy and one should wait till the future is clear.

When is the future clear ? Was it clear in Jan 2008 when everyone thought the sky was the limit? If in hindsight it was not clear then, it is not clear now and it is never going to be completely clear ever. Investing is all about probabilities and of putting your money into situations where the odds (valuation) favor you.

So value investing is intellectually easy to understand, but emotionally diffcult to practise. You have train yourself to get excited when the stock prices drop and  not get too thrilled when they shoot up.

You always mention about a long term view. What is long term ? 1,2 or 5 years ? should one wait indefinitely for the market to recognize the stock ?

I do not have a fixed holding period. As a long as the current stock price is less than the intrinsic value and I don’t need the cash to buy something cheaper, I will hold the stock. However if after 2-3 years, the stock price remains at the same level , I will analyse my thesis again to see if I am missing something. One has to be patient, but not stubborn and stupid.

Is a macro view inconsistent with value investing ?

I cannot speak for others, but I am not good at macro forecasting. I would never invest in a cement company based on the total expected cement volumes in Q3 of 2009. My approach is to look at a good company, with sustainable competitive advantage and available at an attractive price. If I find one, I will buy it irrespective of the macro forecast.

If the macro situation worsens, a strong company will do better than competition and would be available cheap (time to buy more). When the macro situation improves, this company will do well too and the investment will work out.

So I do not worry about what the exact macro, GDP etc numbers are. If one can find a good company at good valuation, good things will happen over time for the investor.

Ashok leyland had a 50% drop in sales last month? What are your views on it ?

This is an example of the macro situation worsening more than expected. However there has been no damage to the business model. Both tata motors and ALL have suffered steep drops in sales due to the macro situation. Unless one believes that Ashok leyland will go out of business due to this drop, I do not see any reason to change the investment thesis.

That said, I have underestimated the cyclicality of this business and hence have reworked to the intrinsic value from around 60-65 to around 55-60.

Side note : I must be writing interesting stuff if some of my friends come up to my wife and tell her that they enjoy reading my blog and ofcourse her reaction to it, is that this blog is a nice excuse to avoid helping her 🙂

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