In an earlier post, I discussed about a new mental construct – value trade. This is basically an investment operation where one buys a super cheap stock in the hope that it will become merely cheap (as my good friend neeraj puts it).

The idea is to buy a stock which is selling at dirt cheap price due to various short term reasons such as selling pressure, unexpected bad results or sheer neglect. The hope is that the market will get over this extreme pessimism (temporary) soon and will price it at slightly more reasonable levels (though still cheap). 

In such cases, I am out as soon as the stock recovers (as I have done with some ideas in the past – Globus spirits).

About

Infinite computers is a 1400 Cr IT services company. The main business segments of the company are application management services, infrastructure management services, Product engineering services and a new division – Mobility solutions.

The application management services involve the usual ADM and other support services. This is the bread and butter of the Indian IT industry. This segment contributed to around 68% of the revenue for the company and is characterized by repeat revenue, moderate levels of margins and high levels of competition

The infrastructure management services contributed around 16% of the revenue and is similar to the application management services in terms of profitability and competitive pressures. These two segments are being commoditized across the industry and the days of fantastic profits are gone.

The product engineering services involves some kind of IP based revenue sharing model. I could not find any revenue data for this segment, but based on the other segments would assume around 14-15% of the total revenue.

The mobility solutions segment is a new segment referred to as Infinite convergence solutions. This is a messaging platform (details here) acquired from Motorola and supports around 100 Mn+ global subscribers.

Financials

The company has grown from around 350 Crs in 2007 to around 1400 Crs for the year 2013 which translates to around 25% CAGR growth.  The net profit for the company has grown from around 3 Crs to around 120-130 Crs for the current year.  The net margins have improved from around 9% to around 11% levels, mainly due to a small reduction in the manpower cost (as % of sales)

The company has been able to deliver an ROE of 20%+ in the last five years. In addition the company been able to maintain receivables at around 25-30% of revenue which seems reasonable for a company of its size.

The company is a debt free company and has around 130 Crs cash on the books (30 % of market cap). The management has been investing capital into the business, has a 30% dividend payout ratio and the rest has been accumulated as cash on the books. In addition, the company also did a small buyback in the last one year.

Positives

The company has a very strong balance sheet and good returns ratio. The management has invested capital sensibly in the past and has a reasonable dividend policy in place. In addition, the top management is a buyer of the stock at the current levels (though one should not read too much into it)

The company has a high level of repeat business, which provides a high level of confidence to the sustainability of the revenues.

Risks

The company has been able to grow the topline and profits since 2007 and now has considerable cash on the books. At the same time, the company was not very profitable from 2005 to 2008 (average 2-4% margins) and had a very low topline growth of around 5% per annum during this period.

The company operates in a highly competitive, global and fragmented industry – IT services. The industry is facing commoditization and is very likely to have lower profitability in the future. The company is focused on the telecom industry which has its own competitive pressures with the additional risk of a very high proportion of revenue from the top 5 clients. This exposes the company to a high level of topline and profit risk, if there is any loss of  business from the top few customers.

 Finally, the company is also expanding into the product space which is a high risk, high return kind of a business. The company has invested in excess of 80 Crs on various product related businesses and these intangible assets may incur a write down if these ventures were to prove unsuccessful.

Catalyst

In case of a long term idea, a buy and hold strategy works quite well as the company is growing its intrinsic value. In case of mid cap IT companies, the economics of the industry over the long term is not very clear (atleast to me). As a result, the returns have to come over the next 9-12 months and this is usually driven by a catalyst.

In case of infinite computer solutions, the 2013 profits have been a bit suppressed by the forex losses and once this headwind dies down , we should see a better growth in the net profits. A consistent dividend payout of 30% – growing with the profits should serve as another catalyst.

What can go wrong?  A loss of any of the top 5 customers would hit the topline and profits. A sudden slowdown in north america would impact the company as this region accounts for almost 80% of the revenue. If any of this happens, the stock is likely to drop in the short term

Finally, if the management does an overpriced acquisition or has to write down the intangible assets, the market is not going to like that.

Conclusion

The company sells at a PE of around 4 and an EV/EBDITA of 1.7 (after excluding cash). At these levels, the market believes that the company will soon be out of business. The company does face multiple risks (which company doesn’t), but none of the risks appear to be fatal. In addition, as far as I can tell, the management seems to be doing a good job of managing the business and a fair job of allocating capital.

If one believes that the company is not going out of business, then one does not need any fancy calculations to realize that the stock is cheap.

Why a value trade?

I am not comfortable with the economics of the IT services industry. This industry is commoditizing and the wage arbitrage game is slowly coming to an end. The super high returns on capital are likely to trend down – as has already occurred for several mid cap companies in this space.

At the same time, I cannot resist an undervalued stock which can deliver above average returns in the medium term (9-12 months).

Note: This idea was emailed to me by chaitanyya and it is not an original idea. I have a small starter position and will add or reduce based on the price and performance of the company.  Please do your own due diligence.

Disclaimer : 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.

 
 

The midcap index is down by around 7% since the start of the year and the small cap index is down by 9% during the same period.  That is quite a drop in a span of 45 days and it still does not represent the true carnage which has occurred in a few stocks which have dropped by 20% or more in the span of a few days.

The standard prescription

The standard prescription is to follow the fortunes of your companies like a hawk and to buy and sell the stock based on short term expectations. This approach helps you jump in and out of stocks and be ahead of the market at all times.

This prescription works well for highly cyclical stocks such as cement or steel where one needs to time the buy and sell decision to get above average results. The same approach is a disaster if applied to companies with above average economics (high return on capital with good growth prospects) at the hint of the slightest slowdown

I have personally paid the price for jumping in and out of stocks based on short expectations – such as with asian paints and marico (and more). I purchased these stocks in 2000 and sold them off in bits and pieces from 2006 and onwards.  The opportunity loss in all such cases has far exceeded the actual losses from all my failed stock picks

I won the battle (short term), but lost the war (long term).

How to handle such times

It is easy to preach rationality and follow it during times of rising markets. It is however a different ball game to be rational at a time such as now, when stocks can suddenly drop by 20% or more in a matter of a few days.

One way to prevent knee jerk reactions is to avoid checking your portfolio everyday.  One needs to turn off the financial channels and stop tracking the portfolio on a minute by minute basis. I really doubt the long term returns of one’s portfolio are dependent on any breaking news, which by the way is generally some useless piece of information

In addition to the above, one needs to have an appropriate level of diversification in the portfolio. I  general limit each position to around 5-7% in the portfolio to dampen the volatility. A higher level of concentration and the associated returns are thrilling when the market is rising. However during market swoons such as now, the momentum can suddenly turn and make a lot of individuals nervous. A focused portfolio is of no use, if you exit your positions at such times.

Finally, it is important to analyze the fundamentals of the company and try to look at it with a fresh mind after each quarterly result. It is important to avoid anchoring the thought process to the buy price and the original thesis and one should  look at the company based on the current price and its future prospects

What if I am wrong ?

One certainty about investing is that you will be wrong occasionally. The super investors are wrong less often than the less successful ones, but still make wrong bets.

In my case, if one of my picks crashes or the company comes out with a really bad set of numbers, the first thing I do is to avoid looking at the company for a few days – no I am not joking. The reason I avoid looking at the company is to prevent myself from reacting emotionally and taking a hasty decision. It is quite possible that I may lose 10-15% more on the position, but overtime I have realized that a calmer mind helps me in taking a more rational decision.

Once the panic dies down, I generally try to look at the results and key indicators of the business and try to see what I am missing (which the market sees). In several cases, I may conclude that the market is over-reacting and may decided either to do nothing or even add more to the position. Sometimes though, I have realized belatedly that I have messed up and  that the best course of action is to exit (and feeling like a fool at the same time).

A few months later, I will come back to the mistake again and analyse it further to avoid making the same mistake again (new ones will still happen!)

What next?

It is quite likely that things could get ugly before they get better. I personally have no way of knowing the future and my investment approach is not based on getting the short term right. I prefer to look at the 2-3 year prospects of the company and if the company is moving in the right direction, I would rather just buy and hold the stock (or buy more if the stock gets cheaper).

 
 

We are deep into the quarterly result season and most of the channels and papers are talking about the X% growth or drop in the profits of companies. It almost feels like a fashion parade J

A few years back, the stock market reaction to quarterly numbers was not too high and stocks would rarely move by a few percentage points. Now a days, it is quite common to see a 5-10% swing in the stock price, based on whether the company has beaten or fallen short of expectations. Most of the times, the expectation is around the net profit with minimal analysis beyond the reported numbers.

If you can keep your emotions in check and look beyond the headlines, you can make some sensible investments during such emotional reactions

Homework

For starters, one needs to have done his or her homework before hand. You have to constantly look for new ideas and analyze them in detail on a regular basis. A lot of times, the company could be performing well, but priced for perfection (high valuations).

In other cases, the company could be going through a cyclical downturn and the stock price would be reflecting the near term bleak prospects (though the long term could still be good)

In all such cases, one should do a detailed analysis before hand and have a trigger price in mind. If you are lucky, a excessive reaction to the result could give you an opportunity to act.

Digging through the results

Once the annual / quarterly results are announced, it is important to analyze the results in detail and look beyond the obvious numbers.

For starters, look at the lead indicators. For example, in case of banks and financial institutions, disbursements / approvals start rising before the topline and profits pick up. If you keep a track of this indicator and see it rising, it is a good indicator that the performance of the company is likely to turn around soon.

If the price is right and the lead indicators point in the right direction, it may make sense to start a new position in the stock.

Have a sense of the business cycle

In addition to the obvious indicators, one needs to have sense of the business cycle too. You don’t have to predict the exact timing of the turn, but a general sense will help. This is relevant for the cyclical industries such as capital goods or materials (cement, steel etc) and banking too.

The quarterly results could give you a sense of the drop from peak to trough (drop from the peak profit levels) and can be used as a rough guide to plan your purchase.

Read /listen to the conference call

The conference call is unique source of information which is not available through any other channel. One should read the transcript or better yet, listen to the conference to gauge the thought process of the management and the direction of the business.

All the above suggestions may sound fuzzy to you and do not provide a clear buy signal at any point of time. The problem is that by the time the signals are clear and loud, it obvious to everyone that the company is doing well and the price starts reflecting the same.

If one wants to generate above average returns, then it is crucial to keep your emotions in check and look for the faint signal in all the noise. One needs to look at the results holistically and digest both the quantitative and qualitative information to arrive at a conclusion (which often means doing nothing). It is not as difficult as it sounds, but requires a different mindset and practice to have some success at it.

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.