Let’s see what all has gone wrong and may get even worse –

–          Rupee has depreciated to 60/ dollar and may drop further
–          The drop in rupee is causing imports to become more expensive, which is keeping the inflation high.
–          High inflation is causing the RBI to keep interest rates high, which in turn is depressing growth rates
–          High current account deficit is causing the rupee depreciate and can also result in a balance of payment crisis (similar to 1991)
–          The government is running huge fiscal deficit which crowds out private investment. In addition, it does not have the same ammunition as 2008 to counter any slowdown
–          Corruption and governance issues remain and there is no will to change it in the future.

Have I missed anything negative? It is actually a surprise that markets have not dropped further. Actually, let me take that back.

The midcap and small cap index has dropped by 15% and 22% respectively and large caps have not dropped as much, because FIIs have been pumping money (which has now started reversing). So we could have another crisis if the FIIs, were to sell even more in response to the falling rupee.

I think most of you know all this and need not be reminded about it.

Panics are always around

Lets look at a graph

Capture1

This look like the index from 2008 to 2009 …right ?
No, this is the market drop from Feb 2000 to May 2003. The market dropped 38% during this period, with IT stocks dropping even more.

Capture2

My point is that market drops happen from time to time and is the risk of earning high returns. The mistake most investors commit is to extrapolate recent events into the future. An investor looking at the market in 2003 would have missed one of the biggest rallies from 2003 to 2008.

The converse also holds true – something which has done well in the recent past, can go down too.

Capture3

The above graph is not of a stock, but of the favorite investment option of Indians – Gold. Very few would have imaged gold dropping by 20% in 6 months.

Panic is a great time

If you have studied history and can keep a cool head, then panics are a great time to buy. The pre-requisite is that one should have done his or her homework in advance, and is ready to act when panic strikes and drives prices down.

Let me show you a recent mini panic in 2011 – In financials. The market became concerned about the asset quality (rightly so) and knocked down prices of companies by almost 30% in a span of 2 months

Capture4

A person buying during the panic would be up by around 50% since then.

Where is the panic now ?

I think we are in the panic territory in small caps and almost getting there is mid caps. If FIIs start pulling out, we may see a full blown crash across the market including the large caps.

Do I know if that is going to happen ? No I don’t. I do know that prices are getting cheap and it will soon be shopping time.  I may even buy gold if it drops another 20% !!!!

 
 

I wrote about two companies in January – Deccan chronicles and Zylog systems (read here).

In case of deccan chronicles, the stock had  dropped more than 90% from its peak and a debt default and other allegations were already in the newspapers.

In case of zylog, my impression from reading the annual reports was summarized as follows

1. poor operating performance resulting in cash flow problems (in addition to commoditization of the core business)
2. Cash flow problems resulting in higher debt which was taken to fund the growth
3. higher debt resulting in promoter pledges to get the funds
4. Point 3 causing the stock to drop, resulting in margin calls and forced sale of the pledged stock.
5. The forced sale, causing further steep drop in the stock price

As part of the disclosure, I indicated in the post that I had a very small speculative position in the stock and in the comments section provided the following rationale for it

zulfiqar
i am testing a hypothesis that the management will fix cash flow problems and the business is worth more than the current mcap
however it is a speculative position with a large probability of loss. it is also a very tiny, insignificant position

hi anil
i would not call such postions a mistake. i do such things actively – on very tiny amounts

these position have a large learning value which is worth more than the money lost. one could get the same by just watching it, but when you put real money, the experience is very very different. it helps one in avoiding such mistakes in the larger serious position.

A new update

On June 14th, SEBI barred the promoters (read here) from buying or selling any securities in the stock market

The key points in the news article seem to be the following

Sebi had, suo moto, carried out an examination in the scrip of Zylog Systems in view of surveillance alerts regarding variation in price. Sebi during examination of the scrip prima-facie observed that the company provided misleading information to the stock exchanges wherein it stated that its promoters have been buying and increasing their stake while actually the promoters were net sellers and their shareholding declined due to invocation of pledge by financiers. Similar misleading clarification was also given by the promoter of Zylog Systems, Sudarshan, to the media.

Sebi order said that Zylog Systems disclosed incorrect and false information in the quarterly shareholding pattern for the four quarters in the year 2012 to the stock exchanges by overstating the holding of the promoters and understating the quantum of shares pledged by the promoters.

Sebi also observed various instances of non-adherences to accounting standards and listing agreement in the annual report by Zylog Systems.

In addition to the above, the latest results show that the promoters have pledged close to 95% of their holding in the company (up from 75% in the previous quarter)

What next

As I indicated in the earlier post, I created a small tracking position to follow the company and confirm my thesis that the debt/ cash flow problems are temporary and should get solved.

I am not sure if the thesis will turn out to be correct or not, but the SEBI order changes the whole picture. I am fine with poorly performing businesses and will hold the stock for the long term if the management is competent and working on fixing the issues. However, if there are corporate governance issues, then all bets are off.

Although the position was small, a loss always pinches. In this case, I walked into it with open eyes – a case of self torture 🙂

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Stocks discussed in this post are for educational purpose only and not recommendations to buy or sell. Please contact a certified investment adviser for your investment decisions. Please read disclaimer towards the end of blog.

 
 

Charlie munger (warren buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway) was recently asked about his views on macro and he said something to the following effect (in my own words)

“If thing are bad now, they will get better in time. If they are fine now, something will go wrong in due course. We don’t make money by predicting the timing. At Berkshire, we’re trying to swim well against the tide or with it, we just keep swimming.”

If you have not heard or read about Charlie munger, I would suggest that you read up anything you can find about him. He is one the smartest and wisest person you will ever come across.

Ignoring macro ?

It was fashionable among value investors to completely ignore the macro till the crisis of 2008 – they spoke about it as a badge of honor.

The pendulum has swung the other way since then. I see a lot of investors being cautious about macro, to avoid a repeat of 2008.

I think macroeconomic thinking can be broken down into two elements

– Understanding  industry dynamics and trying to evaluate the long term economics of the company

– Understanding macroeconomic variables such as inflation, interest rates etc and trying to forecast or guess so as to make investment decisions.

The first element is crucial in understanding the company and its profitability in context of its industry. One needs to be aware of the competitive situation in the industry to be able to figure out the long term outlook for the company.

The second element which is generally reported on by media and guessed by an army of pundits, soothsayers, forecasters and talking heads is a waste of time. Very few, if any can forecast any of these variables with any level of accuracy and no one gets it right in the long run (remember oil was supposed to go to 200$ / barrel in 2008 ?)

The comment by Charlie munger should be seen in context of the second aspect of macroeconomic thinking – there are variables such as interest rates, exchange rate etc which can impact your performance, but as they cannot be predicted , it is far better to concentrate your energy on understanding the company and its industry and learn to live with the other aspects of macroeconomics  (interest rates, inflation, exchange rates etc)

The capital goods industry

Lets look at an example. The capital goods industry is going through one of the worst cylical downturns in the last 10 years. The last time the industy went through such as patch was in the 2001-2003 time frame (I remember those times !).

I don’t think anyone can predict with precision when the cycle will turn  (although a lot of people claim to be able to do so), but one can be sure that the cycle will turn eventually.

If you can understand the economics of this industry and can find some high quality firms at reasonable prices, I am sure the returns over the next 2-3 years will be good. Let me give a tip – Look at a company like BHEL or blue star or thermax and ask these questions

– Are these companies likely to go out of business soon ? (current valuations seem to say so)
– Is it likely that these companies will do well once the cycle turns ? (though we don’t know the exact timing ?)
– Are these well managed companies with competitive advantages ? ( I believe they are)

The typical talking head on TV or broker needs to be right in the next 3 months. As an individual investor, I don’t have to play by the same rules. If I can find a company which will do well in the next 2- 3 years, I can ignore the near term outlook.