I have several dilemmas in life – such as should I eat jalebis and other good stuff or go to the gym? Sleep late or go to office? But as these dilemmas are of no concern to others, I will leave them for my own thoughts

The investing related dilemma I have always faced and more so during a market crash is this – Should I invest in the high quality companies whose price has dropped a bit or the low quality cyclicals where the price has collapsed completely. I have tried both and will try to present how my thinking has changed and where it stands today.

Let’s look at two specific examples – one of a high quality and other an average company. The high quality company is one of my long term holdings – CRISIL and the other company is Denso India, which I have long exited.

The chart below is of crisil

I wrote about  this company earlier in 2009 and have held the stock since then. As you can see the company and the stock has not disappointed and have done far better than what I expected at that time.

I have had an eye on crisil for quite some time and finally took the plunge in 2009. It is easy see that the company has an enormous competitive advantage due to government mandated status of a certified credit rating agency and brand. In addition the company requires minimal capital to grow (mainly office space and some computers). The company is thus like a toll bridge which does not require any capital expense.

The second example is of denso India. I wrote about the company here. The company was a cash bargain (stock price below cash on hand).

This is the chart for denso India

I was able to buy at an average price of around 40 and exited at around 85-90 bucks. In hindsight, it turned out to be good operation. However as you can see from the chart, the stock has been sliding since then as the performance of the company went south in 2011.

Where’s the dilemma?

Some of you may be thinking – what is the dilemma here? You made money in both, so both options are great. Case closed.

I don’t think that one should reach that conclusion here. In the case of crisil, the company has been able to increase its intrinsic value at a good pace and the stock price has followed suit. I had to make a one time decision to buy the stock and since then have just sat on that decision.

The case of Denso india is more complicated. The company appeared to be a complete bargain in 2009 and in comparison to crisil was much cheaper. At the same time, the company did not have much of competitive advantage. The trick was to buy the company when it was dirt cheap and get off the bandwagon when it was merely cheap.

This is a more complicated operation than it appears on the surface. One had to time the buy pretty well. If you had bought too early, say in mid 2008, the eventual gains would have been around 30-40%. In addition the sell decision also had to be timed correctly. If you sold in 2011, the gains would have been paltry. I  was unusually lucky in this case.

Thus in the short term,  gains are much higher in Denso type stocks. However one has to make more decisions and then also find a new idea to re-invest the capital. In the case of companies such as Crisil, once you have made a buy decision, you can just wait and watch the magic of compounding take effect

So what is a good option?

If you have tendency to constantly ‘do’ something and want some action, then denso type stocks are a good option. If however, you can live with a few percentage point lower returns with the benefit of much lower effort and headache, then Crisil type of stocks should be your target.

In my case, I do have this tendency to constantly do something. As a result, I am always looking for the next new and shiny stock for my personal portfolio to get that extra return. At the same time I manage my family’s portfolio too. In that portfolio,  I have made the decision to buy high quality , fairly priced stocks and let them compound. The returns could be a bit less, but the risk is much lower and the heartburn almost non-existent.

Following is my partial list of high quality ‘wish list’ stocks

HDFC bank, Titan industries, ITC, Marico, Hero motorcorp, HDFC limited and nestle india.

Time  for some jalebis now . Gym can wait 🙂

Leave a Reply