Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 2012 Portfolio Review and Final Post

It is with some bittersweet feeling that I pen this last and final post, along with my portfolio review for January 2012. As mentioned in my previous portfolio review for 2011, heavier work commitments and a desire to spend more time with family and friends has resulted in my decision to stop blogging after this final post. However, please be assured that all historical posts and information will be left intact, so readers can continue to browse and access sections of my blog for information and learning.

For the month of January 2012, I added about $10,200 worth of SIA Engineering to my existing holdings, as I noted that there was quite a vicious and unexplained sell-down on one of the days of the month (I think it was January 13, 2012) which allowed me to comfortably pick up some lots. As a result of this, and interestingly, at the close of my blog today, my portfolio cost has hit the $250,000 mark (it stands at $252,000 to exact). More will be explained in the summary below the corporate summaries section.

Below please find my portfolio as well as corporate summaries for January 2012:-

1) Boustead Holdings Limited – There were a total of four announcements from Boustead for January 2012. Three were minor ones and I will not state them here, but the fourth one, on January 21, 2012, was that of an investment of S$23.3 million to purchase an 8.6% stake in an ASX-listed company called OM Holdings (“OMH”). Boustead will purchase 50 million shares of OMH at a price of A$0.35 per share, representing a discount of about 5.2% to the 30-day volume-weighted average price. The entire subscription will be satisfied in cash and funded by Boustead’s internal cash reserves.

OMH is a company dealing with metals trading which involves the sourcing and distribution of manganese ore products (which are used in the making of steel) and in processing ores into ferro-manganese intermediate products. OMH also operates commercial mining operations spanning Australia, China and Singapore and they are in advanced negotiations to kick-start an ambitious US$502 million smelting plant beside a hydro-electric power station. The rationale for the transaction was for Boustead to carve out a new business segment and to allow the Boustead Group to deploy its project management and engineering expertise to a new industry. Interestingly, Mr. FF Wong was until recently a non-executive director of OMH but had resigned on December 12, 2011.

2) Suntec REIT – On January 19, 2012, Suntec REIT announced its FY 2011 results. A DPU of 2.479 cents/share was declared for 4Q 2011, which was 7% higher year on year and 19.9% higher than forecast. The dividend will be paid on February 28, 2012.

3) MTQ Corporation Limited – There were no announcements from MTQ, other than the scrip dividend allotment of shares.

4) Kingsmen Creatives Holdings Limited – There was no news from Kingsmen Creatives for the month of January 2012. The Company should be releasing its FY 2011 results in late Feb 2012.

5) SIA Engineering Company Limited – SIA Engineering released results on January 31, 2012. Revenue was 12.6% ($33.9 million) higher as compared to the same quarter last year, but operating profit for the quarter decreased 17.7% to $28.4 million due to higher sub-contractor and staff costs. Net profit attributable to shareholders for 3Q 2012 was 5.3% higher compared to last year, and the Cash Flow Statement continues to show healthy OCF of $40.4 million for 3Q, with FCF standing at $65.2 million. However, this was considerably lower than the same period last year ($110.7 million). I guess the probability of a good dividend may be lessened due to the lower cash inflows, but we will have to wait another three months to find out.

6) VICOM Limited – There was no news from VICOM for January 2012. VICOM will be releasing its FY 2011 results on February 9, 2012.

Portfolio Review – January 2012

Realized gains have increased slightly to $69,550 due dividend from Suntec REIT.

For the month of January 2012, the portfolio has increased by +1.1% (using XIRR in MS Excel to compute) against a +9.8% rise in the STI; thus my portfolio performance has severely under-performed the STI by -8.7 percentage points. This was an eye-opener for me in terms of seeing just how damaging a rally can be for my portfolio in terms of relative performance. However, keeping in mind that the principal aim of my investment philosophy is the preservation of capital and to obtain an adequate return, this has been achieved for this month as there was a slight gain on the portfolio, and as far as I can tell, the businesses are still running along fine.

My cost of investment has increased to S$252,800 as a result of a purchase made of shares in SIA Engineering on January 13, 2012 at a price of $3.38 per share (an increase of about $10,200) and unrealized gains stood at +4.3% (Portfolio Market Value of S$263,600). By factoring in a potential cut in dividends of about 20% from 20 cents (full-year) to 16 cents, yield at my purchase price would still be about 4.73% (acceptable for me as it close to current inflation rate of 5.5% which is an elevated rate). Assuming a more drastic cut of 40% to a full-year dividend of 12 cents/share (translating to only a 6 cent final dividend), the yield would be 3.55% at purchase price, which is still decent considering the business model of the company and that the long-term prospects for the airline and MRO industry are positive.

My latest purchase should adjust my projected full-year 2012 dividends to about $13,600 (assuming I accept all future MTQ dividends in CASH, not scrip), which translates to about $1,130 per month).

This being the final post on this blog, I wish to take the opportunity to wish all my faithful readers a very fruitful and successful investment journey, and good luck and good health to your good selves and your families!

Readers who wish to contact me may choose to do so by emailing me at musicwhiz55@gmail.com. Adios!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Value Investing Journey

It has been about 4.5 years since I first started serious blogging about investing and investment, and since then it has been a very steep learning curve for me in terms of acquiring knowledge, improving my analysis and sharpening my focus on companies. At the same time, I had also acquired important character traits and temperament which also aided in my journey to compound and grow my money. I guess this second-last post is to summarize my journey so far, and to collate all that I had learnt. I will also be penning down my plans in the medium-term, and how I plan to grow my portfolio; along the way I will also talk a bit about personal finance and its importance in helping one achieve one’s money goals.

Acquiring the right skill set and mind set for value investment

I guess you could say that I started out on the “right” path for investing by taking a Bachelor’s degree in Accountancy, for it laid down the basic foundation for me to read, understand and interpret financial statements, which are the language of business. Along the way, I also obtained my Masters in Business Administration (MBA), which further enhanced my knowledge and understanding of businesses and how they operate. I credit my alma mater with providing me with concrete, real-life examples of companies, their corporate strategies and business models for me to analyse as part of group projects and assignments. At the same time, I also took up many modules (as an elective) on marketing such as consumer behaviour and promotional marketing, and thus understand better how companies market and sell their products, target markets, market segmentation and product positioning strategies. All these constitute my “skill set” and competency for investing, which I feel is very important if one wishes to pursue value investing.

Additionally, reading up many good books on value investing and the value philosophy such as “The Intelligent Investor” also helped me to build up and solidify my framework for prudent and conservative investing. I guess my other name for value investing would be “sustainable investing” as it can take you through economic cycles relatively unscathed. While it is not a method which can grant you instant riches, it can help you to avoid crippling losses and prevent you from becoming poor. Therefore, it is a slow and steady way to wealth, which gels very much with my psychology as well – I was never a showy person who needed to fling my wealth around or to prove that I can earn lots of money.

Acquiring the right mind set for investing took a little more time, and was noticeably tougher because after all, this is psychology and emotions we are talking about (mentioned in detail in my previous post), which is not something you can easily imbibe into your life. It was only through reading books like “Your Money and Your Brain” and going through a real-life (harrowing) experience of a full bull-bear cycle (while being fully vested all the way) did I manage to cultivate the necessary tolerance to pain, discipline, patience and calmness in order to survive the emotional ups and downs thrown out by Mr. Market. So for those who are working on the psychological aspect of investing, do not be discouraged – continue to read and learn about your own psychological and emotional make-up, while at the same time testing your reactions in real-life investing situations (by analysing and putting real money down, not phantom funds). Please understand that the process of acquiring the right mind set will take time, and one should not rush the process.

Improving savings rate and embarking on lessons in personal finance

Over the years, as I learnt and read up more on personal finance, I also began to improve my own tracking and monitoring (and control) of my own finances. Blogging about it also helps, as it crystallizes my thoughts and embeds the concepts deep within my cranium. Over the years, I can boldly declare that my income had not risen as much as I had hoped for (sadly), but as a result of living a relatively simple lifestyle, I have been able to save (on average) about 45% to 50% of my take-home salary (after deductions for CPF). The same is also done for my wife, who lets me manage her finances on her behalf. With this savings habit, it has translated into a lot of buffer and financial security, even during periods of sudden distress (such as the hospitalization of my daughter middle of last year). I am glad that this habit of “paying myself first” has afforded me the luxury of having a cash hoard with which to tap in case of emergencies, and it also acts as a good source of funds for investments into equities should juicy opportunities come by.

Besides the afore-mentioned savings habit and prudent spending, I had also, over the years, begun to meticulously track various aspects of my finances, which was detailed in a previous post. Whether it be my mortgage loan, equity portfolio, passive income, cash flow or CPF Balances, I have spreadsheets for them and can monitor the balances at any time, instead of waiting for the official statement to arrive from the relevant Government bodies (HDB, CPF, MND). These have helped me to gain a better grasp of various financial aspects of my life and made it easier for me and my wife to understand our financial situation at any point in time.

In keeping with a prudent (and healthy) lifestyle, I have avoided purchasing a car during my entire adult working life; and instead choose to take public transport, walk or cycle to my destinations. This is not only a good method of conserving the environment (greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise globally), but it also allows me to enjoy more of Singapore. Cycling allows you to go to places seldom accessible by car, while public transport allows one to see a microcosm of life in our hectic and frenetic little Red Dot. Of course, most times I see people absorbed in their iPhones and Blackberrys, but observing people has been one of my little hobbies and public transport allows me to do so, while cutting costs as well.

Along the way, I have also avoided being trapped by materialism – I have no branded items myself.

Gaining a better understanding of behavioural finance

From my very first bad trade and mistake made in Yellow Pages (panicking and selling at a loss), to my current situation in handling potential bad news coming from my companies, I have realized and been aware of the importance of emotional control and psychology in investing. This is why I had starting reading up fervently on a new branch of economics and finance called Behavioural Finance as early as 2008, and picked up books such as Your Money and Your Brain by Jason Zweig, and also wrote many posts on aspects of behaviour, emotions and psychology. Value investing is not complete without the proper temperament and emotional framework, no matter how expert an analyst you are. There are people around me who I would proclaim to be much better at analysis, discounted cash flow and other arcane methods of valuing companies; but they love the thrill of speculation and therefore may be ill-suited for the value investing process.

Behavioural Finance also exposes our weaknesses and frailties when it comes to making decisions involving money, and how humans love to sabotage themselves when it comes to financial decision-making. A thorough understanding of heuristics, biases, fallacies and illusions can help us to better control our base instincts in order to make more rational choices which would benefit us in the long-run (though it may cause severe pain in the short-term). Humans also prefer certainty and this is why we read about so many “predictions” and “forecasts” once the Year of the Water Dragon arrives. I also read about many people flocking to fortune-tellers to find out what they should do in the coming year. Ultimately, the choices you make will influence the outcome of your investments, and uncertainty is actually the friend of the rational buyer because it creates situations in which pricing of the security is below intrinsic value (discounted for an unknown future).

Thus, I am glad to have been endowed with knowledge on behavioural finance and feel that as a result of this knowledge, I have also become a more calm and objective investor.

Acquiring knowledge on alternative investments – Bonds and RCPS

Through the years, and after countless conversations on value forums regarding investments, I had also picked up considerable knowledge on other forms of investments such as RCPS (Redeemable Convertible Preference Shares) and bonds (fixed income instruments). Healthy and constructive debates over the months and years have provided me with a good foundation of knowledge which I am actively and rapidly building on. Knowing about such investments gives greater breadth to my own portfolio and allows me to include other asset classes in order to buffer the portfolio in case of any extreme and adverse events. Also, as one ages, one should shift their portfolio towards a mix of equity and bonds as an old investor may not have the luxury of time to sit out a protracted and prolonged bear market. Therefore, knowledge of alternative investments is important to have in our arsenal should we decide to deploy our monies. (I do not consider Gold and Silver as investments as they do not generate cash flows for the investor – it is essential a buy higher, sell higher mentality which I classify as speculation).

Learning about portfolio management, asset allocation and portfolio rebalancing

The important aspects of portfolio management (monitoring my companies, and adding shares to more promising ones), asset allocation (to equity and fixed income components, in the future perhaps) and portfolio rebalancing (switching out of a lousy investment in favour of a better one) are all essential skills which an investor needs to have in order to ensure a consistent decent long-term return on his portfolio.

Investing for Growth and Yield – A Potent Combination

Over the years, I have learnt the power of investing for both growth and yield; and the combination can grow one’s wealth over time above the rate of inflation. Of course, the balance between growth and yield is a delicate one, but the companies within my portfolio all have some measure of growth even as they pay half-yearly dividends. The key to sustainable growth is to ensure the Company has a competitive edge, honed either through years of experience in serving customers or else through the build up of strong customer relationships or a wide network of branches and client locations. Not to be forgotten is also the concept that growth should not be too fast and furious, but should be steady and well-paced. An organization which focuses too much on top-line growth, for example, may end up being too aggressive and would fizzle out over time, destroying shareholder value in the process.

The secret to being able to sustain a decent yield yet offer growth is in the cash flow statement. As they say, the devil is in the details and it pays for the investor to closely study the cash flow statement in detail; not just for two consecutive years in comparison but to do a ten-year historical study if possible. This is to glean information about the Company’s ability to generate strong, consistent and healthy FCF and if they are more than sufficient to cover average capex required to keep the Company up to speed in terms of technology and knowledge acquisition. For companies which can generate excess cash flow, this means that they have sufficient resources to plough some of that cash back to grow the operations and ROE, while also afford to pay out some of the cash as dividends as a reward to shareholders. It is my job to search for more of such companies which are being sold by Mr. Market at a decent discount to intrinsic value.

Imbibing good lessons and practices from other esteemed value investors

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many value investors and bloggers over the years who have contributed to my knowledge base and also injected in me a healthy scepticism regarding companies and corporate announcements. There are also people who provided constructive criticism and allowed me to rethink on my choices and decisions, and have ultimately steered me towards the correct path in terms of thinking about investing. Some of these people have also advised on aspects of personal finance which have helped to guide me to build up my savings and war chest.

These people are (in no particular order of merit): d.o.g., dydx, donmihaihai, Nick, Drizzt, cookieguy, la Papillion, tvf, dantzig, notti_boi and Munger (nicknames). For those I had inadvertently left out, please be assured that all of you had some part to play in making me a better investor, and ultimately a better person as well. Thank you very much.

Plans and Strategies for the Future (three to five years later)

With portfolio rebalancing and management already explained in a previous section, I guess the question would be – what will I be doing with my portfolio and how do I intend to grow it and nurture it to achieve my personal goals? My current portfolio stands at about $250,000 in cost and $259,000 in market value. Assuming a 5% yield (conservative), that would generate an average of $12,500 a year in dividends, meaning around $1,000 monthly. My target and goal would be to increase this to $2,000 per month of passive income, which translates to about $24,000 per annum. For this to happen, either yield has to increase or else if yield remains constant, then the portfolio size has to at least double to $500,000.

I plan to go about this in two ways – organic growth of the portfolio through an increase in the share prices of the underlying securities; as well as additions to the portfolio from time to time through savings and bonuses obtained from my profession (i.e. day job). The organic growth aspect will come about through time as my companies grow their business operations and also their top and bottom line. As for regular additions to the portfolio, these will be made at opportune times when Mr. Market is absolutely manic and pessimistic, in order to achieve an adequate margin of safety. The plan is to add at least $50,000 on average to the portfolio per year, to scale up the portfolio to a cost of $500,000 within 5 years (when I hit age 40). By then, I anticipate that the market value of the portfolio could see a 10% gain over cost, or be about $550,000. Assuming a constant yield of 5%, annual passive income would then hit my target of $25,000 per year.

The reason for this rather lofty target is to ensure that as I grow older and am faced with more responsibilities (e.g. kids’ education) and more chances of being laid off, I also grow my asset base and passive income source so as to reduce reliance on my active income from my day job. This also will eventually free me up to do what I really want in my life- whether it be starting my own business (dealing with music and CDs no doubt!) or travel around the world. Financial Freedom can be achieved in my lifetime with discipline and patience, and for myself, without the use of leverage.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Value Investing Recap Part 2 – Psychology and Temperament

Part 2 of my investing recap will focus on the psychological, mental and emotional aspects of investing, which are arguably just as important (if not more) than the quantitative and qualitative aspects of analysis into a Company and its business model. This is because having the wrong psychology can often scuttle an investor’s best intentions, even if he is a certified expert in analysis. The inability to control and master destructive emotions can cause significant losses for an investor and result in him not being able to preserve capital. Behavioural Finance is a very new field which combines finance theories with psychology to come up with models of investor behaviour which deviate from the rational and logical “standard” model. I will be touching on aspects of behavioural finance research with quotes and simple examples from the book “Investing and the Irrational Mind” by Robert Koppel. At the same time, I will also elaborate on some of the emotional and psychological attributes necessary for an investor to be successful in achieving a decent long-run return.

Patience, Discipline and Fortitude

The above attributes relate to the mental state of the investor as he observes Mr. Market’s erratic price fluctuations. It also embodies the attitude an investor should have when confronting investments which may look attractive from an analytical standpoint, but unattractive from a valuation standpoint. Patience is a key trait which investors should have, as there is always the temptation to swing for the fences even though one may not be prepared. Impetuous behaviour often leads to grief, and the ability to stand still while others are moving like whirling dervishes shows the strength of one’s conviction.

Discipline is needed to ensure that one stays true to investment principles and philosophies, and does not stray off the well-trodden path. Often, Mr. Market’s exciting gyrations will entice the unwary investor to cross over to the gilded path of speculation, wherein he may feel that it is harmless enough to commit a small portion of his wealth to speculative activities; all in the name of feeling the pulse of the market and to experience the adrenaline rush which comes from placing a gamble. In order to cultivate discipline, one must shut out the noise and “advice” which comes daily in the form of recommendations, exhortations and forecasts. To be disciplined also means strictly following your original plan for investment and not deviating from it, as this may mean an erosion of capital.

Fortitude is defined as the “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger or temptation”. This is probably the hardest mental and emotional quality to have as a paper loss can feel extremely painful due to the human tendency for loss aversion. Having fortitude means being able to overcome the mental anguish that you may have made a bad decision and to soldier on even though the odds seem against you. It is a character trait which is honed through many years of being in the market and getting used to Mr. Market’s manic mood swings. By focusing on the business of the Company, one can build up fortitude and be more emotionally resistant to such adversities and difficulties.

Calm, Rational and Realistic

An investor needs to maintain a calm attitude when approaching investing, and not get unduly excited, panicky or exuberant. Calmness helps one to think more objectively and to evaluate possible courses of action in a rational manner. This trait also means that one should logically think through all potential outcomes, including the so-called “Black Swan” ones, and be mentally prepared for significant losses should these events come to pass. If one is certain of committing capital, then the calm investor should proceed to do so only after considering all the possibilities.

A rational investor is more likely to react more calmly should any unexpected events occur, as he can maintain his sense of balance amid turbulence and uncertainty. In order to remain rational and objective, it is necessary to cultivate a mindset which does not react adversely to sporadic and unexpected events which most certainly will crop up in an investor’s lifetime, be they a sudden terror attack, a large drop in earnings or a natural disaster just to name a few.

Finally, an investor must learn to be realistic about companies. In the world of business, nothing is certain and sometimes the best laid plans and strategies may be fruitless if a new competitor or complementary technology/product is introduced. Hence, an investor must learn not to be too optimistic – according higher valuations to a company which is supposedly the next big growth engine or with the next new groundbreaking product or technology. Neither should the investor be unduly pessimistic and see only dark clouds ahead, which may cause him to unnecessarily divest of his holdings when the setback may just be temporary or transitional. These extreme emotions should be tempered by realism and business sense, which would allow an investor to logically and rationally assess the business prospects of the companies within his portfolio.

Behavioural Finance – Heuristics, Biases, Fallacies and Illusions

Now we come to the area of behavioural finance, which in recent years has been the subject of extensive and groundbreaking research. This is because it is a new field which can determine investors’ behaviour outside of the standard economic model of rational behaviour and profit maximization. Apparently, a lot of what we do actually runs counter to common sense and some of it even actively destroys our wealth! I shall not go in depth into the above four aspects but will just touch briefly on them. My reference is Robert Koppel’s book “Investing and The Irrational Mind”.

Heuristics simply refers to rules of thumb – shortcuts which our mind uses to arrive at conclusions. In any activity (investing included), our brains are hardwired to look for shortcuts which would make like easier and make decision-making quicker (though not necessarily more efficient!). For investing, we need to ensure that we rely on the correct and accurate heuristics in order to support our conclusions, and must actively avoid shortcuts which may results in flawed decisions.

Biases are cognitive and psychological in nature, and refer to a particular form of behaviour which arises due to personality traits inherent in human beings. Examples are over-reaction bias, endowment effects, hindsight bias and anchoring bias just to name a few. Over-reaction bias exaggerates the effects of bad news and makes us over-react to events, thus bad news is magnified in terms of emotional impact while the effects of positive news is muted. Endowment effects make it seem like what we own is more valuable than what we do not own, and is usually used to describe the fact that once one owns shares in a company, they would seem more valuable to him than an outsider viewing the same shares. Hindsight bias is one of the most pernicious and common biases and relates to people thinking that they would know what was going to happen, after the fact! This fools people into believing that they could predict what was going to occur. Finally, anchoring bias causes our minds to anchor on a specific price or event and we tend to use this as a benchmark even after it is long obsolete or irrelevant. For more info, please borrow or buy Robert Koppel’s book.

Fallacies are misconceptions resulting from incorrect reasoning that often triggers an emotional response (Koppel, 2011). Some of those discussed in the book include the Fallacy of Accident (Black Swan Theory), Gambler’s Fallacy and Psychologist’s Fallacy. The Fallacy of Accident is a fallacy based on the faulty logic of a generalization that disregards exceptions, thus this applies to assessment of companies without considering scenarios which seem too “impossible” to occur, even though there may be a reasonable chance of it occurring. Gambler’s Fallacy was discussed before in one of my posts, and I shall not dwell on this further. Psychologists Fallacy is interesting because it is the case where the observer assumes that others have the same information and perceptions of the world as he does, and thus he bases his assumptions and logic based on this.

Illusions are pretty interesting phenomena, and this was the first time I had stumbled upon such an extensive array of illusions which can play tricks on our minds. Basically, an illusion is defined as perceptions which differ from objective reality. There are several discussed in the book, but the two worth mentioning (in my opinion) are “jumping to conclusions” and “clustering illusion”. Jumping to conclusions is a case where one believes they possess superior knowledge, therefore they take shortcuts with respect to decision-making, which may end up costing them an arm and a leg. Clustering illusion is the belief in the existence of patterns where none exist, and can usually be found among chart readers who swear by a certain pattern, though nothing may actually exist. I liken this to seeing picture of animals or familiar shapes in clouds, whereas everyone knows clouds are just random collections of water droplets.


The above is a very summarized list of the psychological and mental attributes which an investor should strive to possess in order to manage the “softer” aspects of investing. While having a firm foundation for analysis is important, it is also equally important that the investor does not neglect the emotional aspect of investing. This is because as humans, we do not always behave rationally and with cold logic (like a computer), therefore it is important to understand these emotions and harness them to make better investment decisions.

My next post (my second-last post) will focus on my four and a half year investment journey, and what I had learnt along the way, mistakes made and lessons learnt. I will also pay tribute to value investors who had inspired me as well as people (including bloggers) who had taught me about life, personal finance, wealth building and money management.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Value Investing Recap Part 1 – Research and Analysis

As part of my concluding posts for this month, I shall be doing two major recaps on value investing and will be focusing on two major aspects which I feel are equally important if an investor wishes to obtain a successful, consistent and decent return on investment. These two sections shall be split into “Research and Analysis” which gives a revision on what one should focus on with regards to the numbers, financials and operating statistics; and “Behavioural Finance and Temperament” which sums up the emotional fortitude and attitude an investor should have when he approaches investing and the stock market. I guess readers can take these two posts as a final culmination of my 4.5 years of blogging and intensive thinking and analysis on various companies. I shall give my best attempt to distil my current knowledge and understanding of the proper concepts of investing into these two posts.

Note that following these two posts, there will be another final post on my investment journey and (this) journal, which will essentially sum up my personal thoughts and feelings on my investment journey through these years, and how I have grown and matured as an investor. No doubt the input of many other esteemed value investors was also taken into consideration in making me who I am today, as well as a list of very established authors and articles which I had read (and absorbed) over the years. I wish to thank these people in advance for enriching my life and journey and making it more meaningful and fruitful.

The Research Process

This involves preliminary research and gathering relevant and useful information about a potential investment opportunity. The research process is often rather time-consuming and tedious as multiple sources of information would have to be found in order to move on to the next stage – the Compilation Stage. An investor can usually start out with the most basic source – the Company’s Annual Reports for the last ten years. This should be followed up by recent corporate announcements, and then any industry reports if applicable.

Research should attempt to be as broad-based as possible, and to include all pertinent and relevant sources of information which may assist in the decision-making process. Most of the information obtained will be from public sources, but it does not hurt to go direct to the source if possible and set up and interview with either the Operations Manager, CFO or even CEO. This is truly a case of Phil Fisher’s “Scuttlebutt” technique, where the investor “gets his hands dirty” in gathering information directly from the Management themselves. Of course, such information is necessarily biased, and the investor should objectively assess the information to ensure he is not unduly influenced by Management’s expected optimism.

The Compilation Process

Compilation is a process which collates and aggregates the information, either on a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet. This enables the investor to better make sense of the huge influx of information which he must have obtained from the previous process of research, and also to summarize and make sense of the information in a meaningful manner. Compilation may take quite some time as the facts need to be arranged in a logical sequence, which could includes (but is not limited to) chronological sequence of events, arrangement of inter-connected facts and figures (examples, setup of new business divisions and their associated operating margins) and year-on-year comparisons of key ratios and metrics (like ROE, margins etc).

At this juncture, perhaps I should mention that the way the information and data is compiled has quite a heavy bearing on the next process, which is analysis. If the information is not compiled in a logical manner which makes it easy for the investor to trace the fortunes of the Company over the years, then he is likely to be either unable to make a conclusion on the investment worthiness of the Company, or worse still, may make an erroneous conclusion which may result in permanent loss of capital. Generally, the “proper” and sound way of compiling information is to ensure that one moves through the Company logically, from quantitative to qualitative; from business divisions to strategy, and so on. It can be argued that the substance of what is compiled is more important than the form, but I would insist that the presentation of the information also be coherent to an outside reader such that the investor and him would be able to glean the same insights using the same sets of data.

The Analysis Process

The analysis process can be described as the most difficult aspect of investing as everyone may look at the same data or information, yet come up with completely different conclusions. This is where the “skill set” of the investor comes into play, as he must draw on multiple disciplines (as mentioned by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner) in order to form a mental model of whether an investment looks attractive. Numerical and quantitative data must be assessed and analyzed to identify trends or spots of competitive advantage which differentiate one company from another; and the same investor must also be alert to potential danger signals or “red flags” within the numbers (e.g. inventory levels, receivables days, declining gross margins) in order to identify potential weaknesses. Suffice to say that the investor requires a very keen eye and an even sharper mind in order to make sense of the voluminous amount of information and draw meaningful and logical conclusions.

Numbers aside, analysis also involves areas of business analysis (as shares are, after all, part-ownership of a business) such as marketing, corporate strategy, management, human resource (staffing), operations and administration. Obviously, one cannot be knowledgeable in all aspects of a business, but it is important to at least have some awareness of how major decisions in these key areas influence a company and affect its competitive advantage, growth prospects and stakeholders. Porter’s Five Forces come in handy and some investors also take it upon themselves to do a SWOT analysis to enhance their understanding of where a Company stands. Other types of analysis which may be employed would also include (but is not limited to) a PEST analysis.

The final and possibly most important (yet somewhat nebulous) aspect of analysis is that of the integrity and character of key Management personnel and Directors. This aspect can only be independently assessed if the investor undertakes to personally visit and interview the Management and/or Directors. A very good opportunity usually arises by attending the AGM or EGM of the Company, whether as a minor shareholder (e.g. buy 1 lot to be invited to the AGM) or as an observer. Subtle cues can be picked up to see if Management is evasive, upfront, candid or simply cannot resist the so-called “institutional imperative”.

The Decision Process

The decision process would immediately follow the analysis phase, and is a validation of the analysis process. Once the all-clear is given in terms of the analysis portion, meaning there is green light to go ahead, the only “hurdle” left would be to determine a suitable valuation to purchase. This is the tricky part where one has to assess metrics such as P/B, PER or use a rudimentary form of DCF analysis with assumptions in order to “model” a fair value for the Company. While Buffett uses “intrinsic value” to encompass the entire business and its characteristics (including intangibles such as goodwill, patents and trademarks), this concept would imply a value which is in excess of the sum total of the net assets on the Balance Sheet, and therefore is difficult to pinpoint with precision. Hence, being approximately right in obtaining a value and purchasing at a margin of safety is much better than being precisely wrong.


The above pointers are just a brief summary of the research, compilation, analysis and decision-making process which has now become an integral part of my stock selection process. My criteria has been mentioned before in previous posts and I will not repeat them here again, but this post is just to collate my final thoughts on this topic and to provide a summary of how to go about the often tedious, but ultimately rewarding process of finding and purchasing an excellent company.

In my next post (third-last post), I shall weigh in on the psychological, mental and emotional aspects of investing, which I feel are as important as the business analysis portion.