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Archive for April, 2011

A few people commented to me that the market looks “volatile” & “dangerous” in the next few months and that we should wait and see before things get better.

Well, I understand how it might seem. The unrest in the Middle East, Libya, the Tsunami in Japan, the end of QE2 etc. The list goes on and on.

However, I would like to point out three problems with trying to predict the future.

Firstly, why didn’t you tell me this 3 months ago? Secondly, considering that you couldn’t predict the market 3 months ago, why would you be right this time round? And finally why on earth would the market be better 3 months later?

No matter what the media/newspaper/friends/books have you believe, very few people actually are able to predict the future with any degree of certainty that is useful to you or me. I would be extremely suspicious of anyone claiming to be able to do so in any capacity.

And the truth is, predicting the future is not a prerequisite of successful investing.

If your going to invest for the long term, through out the traditional definition of risk. Risk is not measured by beta, standard deviation etc.

Risk is the permanent loss of capital. 

My advice?

Take a moment to look through your analysis again if need be. Run through the calculations to make sure they make sense. Than, once your done, close your books and turn off the TV.

As Warren Buffett once said  -

Wall Street makes it money on activity. You make your money on inactivity.

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Updates Galore Ahead!

Hi Guys,

Just to keep you updated, I am currently working on a new project which will be released in due time.

First off, I am sorry to say that Buffett Investing will be shut down soon as it is draining too much of my time to work on two websites at once (This is further worsened by my programing skills.. or lack of it!)

However,  I will be setting up a newsletter dedicated to Warren Buffett. Some of things I will include are updates on his portfolio changes, notable news & even research reports like the one you read on Johnson & Johnson. This will help shave time off trying to configure webpages. It will serve as the platform for me to deliver the information to you direct.

The main reason this will be separate from Singapore Investing is because  I want to keep this blog focused on local based investments.  I am currently working out the steps to do so & hopefully the system will be up by next week.

Stay tuned readers!

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Microsoft is one of my favorite companies. It has a solid track free cash flow generation, decent growth and almost no debt on its balance on its sheets. And best of all, its trading at a ridiculously low valuation over fears that its lagging behind in the technology industry.

Look here if you want a great presentation by Whitney Tilson on Microsoft:

Whitney Tilson Presentation on Microsoft

While I agree that some of the criticism of Microsoft is valid, people seem to be forgetting that Microsoft has an incredible franchise with Offices and Windows. I won’t go into the details (you can find it in the presentation) but suffice to say, I feel that Microsoft is trading at an attractive valuation relative to its current performance.

Let’s look at the fundamentals of the company:

 

Despite all the negative flak,  Microsoft has been growing its bottom line really well over the past few years.

Its average annual growth rate in earnings per share is 13.7%.


Microsoft has done really well in this respect. It has little debt on its balance sheets and recently issued long term bonds at record low interest rates.


Returns on Invested Capital averaged 27.4% over the past few years.

Similarily, Free Cash Flow has been growing a steady rate of 9.3% on average per annum.

Conclusion

One of the criticisms I hear about Microsoft is that the stock hasn’t moved anywhere for the past 10 years (its been hovering around $20 – $30). I would like to highlight an extremely important point in investing.

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” – Warren Buffett

Prior to 2008, Microsoft was trading at an average PE of 25 i.e. it was trading at an extremely generous price relative to its intrinsic value. One of the key principles of value investing is to always demand a margin of safety.

Always remember, no investment is ever worth overpaying for – no matter how good it looks.

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I just updated my main webpage to include a financial report of Johnson & Johnson so do check it out.

Johnson & Johnson Report

Also, its come to my attention that I didn’t update the Lubrizol Corporation link properly on the right hand side of the page. I have since corrected it.

Before investing in pharmaceutical companies, its important to know the pros and cons of the industry.

Big pharmaceutical companies typically have wide moats and attractive financial strength. Most of the global pharmaceutical  companies post Returns on Invested Capital of > 20%. They also have little debt on their balance sheets and plenty of free cash flow generation.

However, developing drugs is extremely costly and time consuming. Clinical testing phases of drugs can take upwards of a decade. Whats worst is that these expenses does not guarantee the success of a drug. A company can pump in a considerable amount of money into research with no guarantee of return.

Once a drug is developed and approved by the FDA, they normally enjoy patent protection. This typically lasts about 8 – 10 years.

Armed with this knowledge, one should look for the following traits in pharmaceutical companies:

  • Companies which have a diverse range of drugs, and that have considerable patent time left.
  • Companies that are actively developing new drugs to refill their pipeline.

Due to their strong financial positions, many pharmaceutical companies are choosing to acquire smaller companies to replenish their pipeline. This really illustrates why free cash flow and low debt levels are so important. Companies that are highly leveraged and generate little free cash flow would be unable to fund such acquisition’s easily.

Conclusion:

I am bullish on healthcare companies in the long run. As we face an aging population in developed nations around the world. Furthermore, as developing countries improve their standards of living, there will also be a corresponding increase in demand for better healthcare.

However, it’s important (to me anyway) not to get too carried away with macro trends. Always ensure that the companies you invest in are trade at a reasonable valuation no matter how rosy the outlook maybe.

The author is long JNJ.

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The entire idea of valuing companies using a discounted cash flow method is based on the premise that the value of a company is the value of its future cash flows, discounted by an appropriate rate to the present.

Now, DCF models provide a very elegant solution to the valuation problem. Simply plug in your implied growth rate, your starting cash flow and tadah! You have the intrinsic value of a company.

However, what most people do not realise is that DCF faces several challenges that can potentially overvalue or undervalue a company.

The first challenge is that DCF is extremely imprecise. Put in garbage and you get garbage valuation. Its notoriously hard to predict whats going to happen the next year, much less 20 years into the future. I would be very suspicious of anyone claiming to be able to do so!

Secondly, if you look at a discounted cash flow model, it only shows results getting better year after year (entirely ridiculous!). There is never a down year. Furthermore, high growth rates are impossilbe to maintain over time due to the law of big numbers. For example, its a mathemtical impossilibty that Apple can keep growing at its current growth rate in the long run so it would be suicidal to use a DCF model here.

Finally, there is the problem of choosing an appropriate discount rate. Academics have debated it to the death and still no firm consensus has been ironed out. I have even seen people deriving a discount rate from beta (which I consider to be a ridiculous concept..) which makes no sense whatsoever to me.

That being said, I still feel that Discounted Cash Flows are still the best method in many situations to evaluate companies. It’s really a situation whereby there are a lack of better tools avaliable to do the job. In other to deal with the flaws of the DCF Model, I normally try to do the following:

1) DCF Valuation should be the last step of your entire evaluation process.
2) Look for a company with relatively stable free cash flow throughout a long number of years.
3) Be extremely conservative in your growth rates. If it looks to good to be true, it probably is. As a rule of thumb, companies that post growth rates exceeding 15% rarely meet expecations.
4) Look at the relative valuations like P/E to see if your valuation makes any sense.

The above discussion highlights why Margin of Safety is the most important aspect of investing. Valuation is really more art than science. Benjamin Graham once valued a company to be worth between $15 – 40 – reflecting how imprecise he knew it to be.

Always demand a Margin of Safety no matter what kind of valuation tool you use.

Conclusion:

In the end, DCF is only one of the methods to go about valuing a company. My advise would be to look at different valuation methods to see where yours stands before making an investment decision.

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