Category Archives: Z-INVESTMENTS

Two important life lessons when investing in stocks

It must have been 20 years since I attended a remisier course leading to an examination that would enable me to become a full-fledge remisier. After all, I had just completed an MBA course and, this would enable me to skip one of the two remisier modules, thus short-cutting my way to become a remisier should I chose to be one. Just like any other school-leavers after a few years of work on the same job, I was contemplating and exploring a career change. I was no rookie in stock trading (I say trading because I was really trading) at that time. By that time, I probably had already had 6-7 years of stock investing experience as a client. My personal objective to attend the course was very simple. Even if I decided not to take the examination (in the end, I did not), I might still be able to learn a one or two things about the stock-broking industry. I believe the course fees must have been about $200-$300 and the whole course was taught over a period of about 2 or 3 days (can’t exactly remember). As I have already been working for several years, it was a small sum to pay to learn something, perhaps to help me develop another career path, just in case.  After all, I had already paid or have been paying for several high-ticket items, such as my MBA course, marriage plans, housing renovations, car loans, insurances,  etc.,  and many of those things that crossed into our path after we left school. So, in comparison, it is not going to break an arm or leg to pay for the fee to attend the course.

 

That was a long time ago, and frankly, I had forgotten most of the things that the practice remesier taught. If you ask me today, I think the lessons were pretty boring. They were just brute facts that were to be dumped into our minds and for us to re-produce them during examinations. The hand-out notes were no better. They came in the form of a ring-bind and were about one-inch thick in black/white photocopies in fading print on half-yellowish papers and were not exactly organized. These two factors would have been an ideal condition to put one into a good sleep within the first 10 minutes after sitting down especially given the nice air-conditioning environment and after a long day’s work. But still, there were at least 30-40 eager attendees listening attentively to the lessons.  Perhaps, there were one or two key reasons for this. Firstly, at that time, all the trades have to go through a broker. Whenever we buy or sell stocks, whether they are many board lots or just one board lot, they still have to be handed by a broker or remisier, who have to physically key in our trades. So, a remisier or a broker had a very important role to play in the whole transaction process if we bought or sold securities at that time. Thus, becoming a remisier was an ideal dream that many people were trying to get their hands on. The other reason, a very important one, was that stock market at that time had been enjoying about 7-8 years of boom, except for a temporary disruption due to the 1st Gulf war in 1990. (I actually have an important lesson to share for this episode as well, but I will leave it to another session in order not to digress too much from the subject matter.) It was a lucrative career if one was able to get into it. Can you imagine each transaction of about 1% commission in just 2 minutes of telephone conversation for just one counter! After all, the memories of the great boom of the 90s around 1992 to 1994 had not faded in people’s mind yet.

 

The point that I wanted to make was not because of the teacher or the notes. It could even be that I had been day-dreaming in most parts of the course. But there were two points that the teacher pointed out that still had a bearing on me in all the investing years that followed. They were actually off-the-calf sharing and were not part of the lesson proper. He shared with us some stories of people (without quoting names or mention anybody specifically, of course) who became bankrupts after losing big in the stock markets.  It was demoralizing. Here, we are trying to learn something to become a remisier, and there the teacher was telling us about bankrupt stories. Perhaps, he just wanted us to be mentally prepared when we entered this industry. But still, he ended up with a positive note. Based on his personal experience, he shared with the class that there were generally two types of people that do not do too badly in stock investing. They are:

(a)    People who do not trade on contra.

(b)   Those that are “one-lotters”.  (Yes, he really said “one-lotters”.)     

At that time, I did not think much about what he said as they were just passing mentions to inject some life into the lesson.  No offence to those who play contra or on margin, I never play contra. I pay for my trades faithfully and on time. So I cannot share very much on the experience of contra. Perhaps, he was coming from a point of view as a remisier, and that he had to take on the financial risk when clients did not pay on time. However, later checks with another one or two broker seemed to confirm this point. Frankly, the purpose of checking was not to talk down or expose those who like to play on contra. I have no authority to do that. I just wanted to know how I could develop my investing character not to be along those lines that exhibited high chance of losing money. The 2nd point was more impactful for me. Apparently, he had coined the term “one-lotter”. I could not find it in an English dictionary.  He meant to class those people who only buy or sell one lot of a counter whenever they make a transaction. Previously, one board lot refers to 1,000 shares and not 100 shares as it is now.  Basically, he was referring to the fact that some people buy or sell only 1,000 shares no matter how good or how bad the market was. It suited me right from the start. Think about it, when we first graduated from school, our salary was close to $2,000 per month for a fresh graduate. Even after some years of working, it was probably $3k to $4k per month. After deducting for our CPF, provide some pocket money to parents, monthly payments for some high-ticket items, I am not sure if I could even save $500 per month in the first year or $1,000 after some years after I graduated from school. How many board lots of a counter can we really pay per trade? At most one. Even for some high-priced stocks, we still needed to save for several months before we could even buy the first board lot. At that time, for example, Cycle and Carriage (C&C) (not yet known as Jardine C&C) was trading at slightly above $10, and OUB (a bank subsumed by UOB) was trading around $8.50. But as I look back in history, taking on one board lot at a time may not be a bad idea. Many of the stocks that I have accumulated today in many thousands of shares were the results of buying one board lot at a time. It may not be the fastest way to riches, but it certainly is a safe and conservative way. Do not underestimate its cumulative power. It enables us buy on dips and picking up opportunities that might have slipped through the fingers of many.

 

Stock investing is a journey. It is not an end by itself. The stock market will outlive any of us. The investing journey may be long and arduous, but each small step that we take, we are one step nearer to where we want to be.  I am thankful to the teacher for the off-the-calf sharing.  They turned out to be more useful than the lesson proper as I looked back in history. They helped shaped my investing style in the later years. To be continued…. 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.

Walking away from a corporate bond deal

I came across an article on the newspaper yesterday morning that Ezion Holdings will be having a meeting with bondholders this coming Monday to present a debt restructuring plan. It reminded me that corporate and perpetual bonds were selling like hot cakes 4-5 years ago offering coupons between 5-7%. I had a chance to meet a relationship manager of a bank who was offering Swiber bonds at 7% at that time. A quick and dirty at-the-back of envelope calculation showed that the annual coupons would be a whopping amount of $17,500. Compare it with a dividend-paying stock like DBS, the capital of $250,000 to pay for a bond would have bought about 16,000 DBS shares around that time when it was trading at $16 per share. This would translate to an annual dividend of only $9,600. It’s a stark difference of $7,900 and this would recur yearly till the bond matures. This big difference in the yield could have tilted the balance to attract many investors into buying bonds than to invest in equities. Even I was salivated after making the comparison, but my sanity got better of me. There were a few things that made me feel uncomfortable about corporate bonds.

1.       Corporate bonds were extremely illiquid. Certainly, when the bond coupon is high with a relatively short maturity period, potential bond-holders would want to keep them till maturity. My guess was that most of the potential bond-holders were former property owners who had sold off their properties and had parked the money in the bank. Perhaps illiquidity was not really an issue to them. After all, properties are also illiquid, and they may take months to sell off. Perhaps, many people have overlooked the fact that a property could hold value better than many other types of assets. Even when the price is no good at that time, there would always be a next opportunity to sell some time in future. However, when a company is in distress, the bond value can fall very fast once the bad news goes public. The maturity date may be a further inhibition because potential buyers could calculate the number of expected coupons to maturity. On the buyer side, my inference was that there were not likely many too. Corporate bonds are mainly opened to the high net worth individuals (HNWI) and are not marketed to the mass market. That gave me some inkling that during the times of need, the sellers may have to depress the price significantly in order to attract a buyer. It is unlike a unit trust, whereby there is always a ready counter-party such as an asset management company or the bank, to buy over the financial product at the net asset value. 

2.       The second thought I had was – if the coupon offered was so good, then why the banks were not taking the first bite on the cherries. In all likelihood, the banks have made loans to these companies to the hilt and that all the company’s assets have already been pledged. This meant that bondholders had no recourse when things go wrong. How much could a company cough out to pay bondholders when there were no unencumbered assets to sell? Even secured lenders like the banks could be affected when the pledged assets could only fetch a fraction of their book value during fire-sales.

3.       Then there was another mind-boggling question. Why was the company prepared to pay bondholders at 7% when the banks were paying depositors less than one percent for their deposits? Bond issuers are not charity organizations to dangle a 6% difference in interest just to attract investors to buy their bonds. They probably could have made do with 3-4%.     

4.       Next is a personal finance question. Most of the target customers were probably HNWI who had sold their properties and parked their deposits in the banks awaiting the next investing opportunity. Or perhaps, they are business owners who had earned enough and parked their money in the bank. For a person, who was not born with a silver spoon or made from property sales and have to work hard to earn every single dollar, it would be difficult to part with a quarter of a million just for a single investment. Frankly, we do not have many quarters-of-a-million to spare to make sufficient diversifications for our portfolio. This would end up with a lob-sided risk concentration. It is really not a way to create a defensive portfolio.

5.       When I inquired about the effect on the company if the oil price tumbled, I did not seem to get the comfort that the RM was able to answer me adequately. Of course, at that time, I did not expect the oil price to tank so fast and so drastically from more than $100 per barrel to less than $30 in about a year. It was a naïve question as a time-filler during the conversation, but in hindsight, should have been a pertinent question to ask.

All these thoughts made me think twice about investing in bonds. Given that I still need bonds to beef up my portfolio, I decided that perpetual bond was probably the way to go. While there is no maturity date for perpetual bonds, without the $250k requirement would help me able to apportion out the amount to buy several perpetual bonds or a mixture of perpetual bonds and stocks. After all, there were several perpetual bonds on offer around that time. Genting perpetual bond was one of them. The bonds were offered in two different tranches first to institutional investors and then to retail investors one month later.  The coupon rate of 5.125% may not be as attractive, but casino operation is a cash business and it should be less risky compared to an engineering project or service company which is purely dependent on the oil price and the up-stream oil payers.

 

It has been well and good now that things have fall in place. DBS shares price have appreciated by 25% since then. Also now that Genting has decided to redeem both the institutional perpetual bonds and retail perpetual bonds by September and October 2017 respectively.

On the other hand, many issues related to corporate bonds, especially those related to the offshore and marine sectors, have still not been resolved. To date, most of the bondholders were forced to take deep haircuts. When there is no money on the table, it is likely that all the bondholders and even shareholders may be forced to swallow some bitter pills. As I know, so far two companies namely, Nam Cheong and Ausgroup have proposed to convert the bonds to equities. Perhaps, Ezion would also do likewise in the coming meeting.       

 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.

SPH & Comfort Delgro

Since the heavy selling in the beginning of the last week following by a strong rebound towards the end of the week, SPH seemed to have stabilized and moved up a little in the last 5 trading days. It appeared to have attained a respite after dropping relentlessly in the past few months. In fact, it had gained about 5% from its low at the close yesterday. Perhaps, the worst had passed. Hopefully, this can last until at least the release of the quarter results in October. As the price of the stock fell, its value began to emerge. So it had enabled me to take a very small position after having sold down all my holdings more than1½ years ago. I did not purchase at the lowest point, but at this price, it should have discounted a lot of bad news. Fundamentally, nothing has changed. It is still a sunset industry and therefore my position should not be big. Have to trust the new management to stabilize the share price. I may consider buying more in future, but I am in no hurry to do so for now.

 

In fact, it appeared that the market attention has been shifted from SPH to Comfort-Delgro (CDG). In the last few days, CDG share price fell below $2 for the first time in 3 years. The fall was relentless especially in the first few days of the week, following the news that there could be an exodus of as many as 2,000 drivers from Comfort-Delgro to its aggressive competitor, Grab. Even the recent release of the tender results for operating the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) went to SMRT. It was one bad news after another. How long will the onslaught last? Nobody knows for sure. Hopefully it is near as well. 

Meanwhile CDG’s partner, Uber, is still grappling with several concurrent problems that happened in different parts of the world. It is unlikely that CDG and Uber are able to find solutions to arrest this price fall as yet. To date, the funding for Grab seemed endless, and this could remain a long-term threat for CDG. So, for round 1, it appeared that Grab is a clear winner for now.

SPH and CDG are both recession-proof stocks. Unfortunately, they are not technology-proof.

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.

SPH – At its lowest for now?

When a spring is hammered very hard, the spring back tends to be very sharp. This is probably the best description for SPH this week.

In the last few days, most of the news or discussions related to this stock appeared to be bad, or at best, neutral. Being a by-stander watching from the sideline, it appeared to me that nobody seemed to have anything good to say about this stock. Indeed, it was hammered very hard for the first 3 days of the week hitting a low of $2.54 per share on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the last two days, however, it seemed to have rebounded quite strongly to close at $2.68 by Friday, though it is still lower than the last week’s close at $2.74. Perhaps, these were some opportunistic purchases made by contrarians. After all, it SPH has never experienced this low except during the global financial crisis in 2008/2009.

 

For the last 5 quarters or so, most of the news related to the stock were generally not positive. Pessimism over this stock grew in every release of quarterly results. Perhaps, the sell down this week was in anticipation of the poor results for the coming quarter as well. So if the quarterly result is not as bad as expected, then maybe we can expect a small price re-bound. (I say small because SPH’s economic moat is not strong at this moment for a significant turnaround) Of course, the other way also holds true. If the result is worse than expected, then perhaps we should expect a further sell down.

    

(This was the abstract taken from a Facebook post in April 2016 for past students. At the time of writing the Facebook post, things were still not as bad. So the expectation was that it probably should stabilize at around $3.70. News turned out to be very bad for the next 5 quarters. Yesterday, the share price closed at $2.68.)

Here is the dilemma. It has been a happy situation to have unloaded all my SPH stocks in anticipation that SPH would face hard times ahead. It has been too heavily dependent on the print business. Since then, I was on a stand-by mode, waiting to buy them back at a lower price. It should not just centres itself around the print business. It has to lay out a sustaining business proposal on the table before the share price can turn up convincingly. Now, with the bad news already significantly discounted in the share price, it may be the time to re-consider buying some back as ‘insurance’ in case it really made a turnaround or at least stabilized after more than a year of battering. Hopefully, it is at least a breather for now. It had lost one-third its value from an average price of about $4. For all we know, the share price always lead the actual company performance. So buying back may be a good idea if we believe that something magical can happen in the future. Let us see what happens in the next few weeks.

 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.

 

 

Value investing – is it wise to stay in cash or remain invested?

I read in a recent article that a value investor has now holding mostly cash. Over the past few years, he probably had made some money. He mentioned that he has already divested out of stocks and stay mainly in cash for the past two years.  In all likelihood, he is timing that there will be a market crash or at least a major correction not too far ahead perhaps in a matter of 1-2 years.  In fact, he did mention that he will pick up some good stocks when the market crashes. Now the question is – should one cash-in or should one to continue to remain invested sitting on unrealized profit even after a good run. The chart below showed that many stock markets had a good run in the last 5 years.

 

A few possible scenarios could happen in the next 1-2 years.

(a)     If the market did really crash or undergoes a huge correction

In this case, he will be very glad that he had timed the market correctly and was able to pick up some good stocks and earned a difference between his higher sale position and his lower purchase position.

(b)   If the market continue to advance

In this case, he is likely to regret his action for selling ‘too early’. He is unlikely to buy at higher price any time soon and will be stuck with cash for a total period of 3-4 years since he had already cashed out. Given that he is a ‘value investor’ probably meant that he no longer saw value in stocks and decided to get out of them. Certainly, he would not buy the stocks when the prices of those stocks went up even higher unless he has ascertained that the fundamentals of the stocks that he had sold have changed for the better.   

 

(c)    If the market moved sideways or even in a gradual decline

Initially, he is likely to continue to wait in hope to get a ‘better price’ for his stocks. There probably would come to a time when he lose his patience and start to dabble in stocks again. As one of the readers rightly pointed out, it is actually quite ‘expensive’ to stay in cash in hope time the market. The opportunity cost lost in collecting dividends for the last few years could have more than off-set the gain even though he may manage to sell at a higher price and buy them back at a lower price. In timing a market, we need to be two time right – both in the buy and sell, in order to gain from it. 

 

Of course, if one is possible to see what is ahead of us, in every boom and bust of the stock market, then market timing is the best strategy. But when things are generally uncertain, the time in the market appeared to be a better strategy than timing the market. The simple logical reason to that is that stock markets generally go up higher in the long run. Just simply by being a passive arm-chair investor could have helped us make a huge profit as the market tends to go up in the long run. That was actually endorsed by Warren Buffet who mentioned that one should buy an S&P low cost index fund consistently to gain from it in the long run.

 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.

Is a $20 stock expensive and a $2 stock cheap?

We still see and hear people talk about a stock being expensive because the share price is high. It may be true but only to a certain extent. It depends on the situation. For example, when DBS share price hit $20, there were people mentioning that the share price of DBS was too expensive. Instead, they chose to buy other company stocks instead. This can be a naïve action to take because it may mean that highly-priced stocks (or generally the blue-chips) never get into their portfolio. A lot of opportunities could have been missed! That may also implicitly means that these people are holding a lot of low price penny stocks or, at best, held some high yield stocks like REITs, which are not so ‘highly-priced’. But if we look back into the price history for the past several years, one would have found that, generally, it is the blue-chip stocks that had made significant price gains. They gained from strength to strength. On the other hand, those stocks that were left behind were the low-price penny stocks and low-performing ones. In fact, some of them have been under long-term suspension and cannot be traded at all. To summarize it all, despite the bull market in the recent years, one may not able to enjoy a significant upside if he holds on the belief that high-price stocks are expensive stocks. Moreover, the share-consolidation exercise 2-3 years ago to meet the minimum trading price (MTP) criterion could have even made the situation worse. The share price of many penny stocks gets even lower after the consolidation, ending up in extremely low price and illiquid situation. This really is value-destruction. On the other hand, we now know that DBS share price has reached more than $22 or 10% even if we had bought it at $20 per share. Of course, I do not mean to say that buying high-price blue-chip is a sure bet to being a winner in the stock market. What I meant is that by viewing high-price share as expensive purchases would unconsciously prevent us from buying into them and probably lost out some investing opportunities.

Actually a high-price stock is not necessary an expensive stock. By the same argument, a very low-price stock is not necessary cheap either. This has been explained in my book “Building wealth together through stocks” from page 110 to page 114. In fact a high price stock of say $20 per share can be a lot cheaper than another very affordable stock trading at $2 per share. Instead of looking at the share price alone, we should look at a company’s market capitalization (or MktCap in short). It is the product of the shares outstanding and the share price. In a very practical sense, it is the dollar value of the company of how the market, as a whole, evaluates it. In other words, it is the ‘market price-tag’ of the company. DBS, for example, has 2,562,052,009 shares outstanding on July 2017. Given the share trading price closing today, 7 Aug, at $21.15, the MktCap is S$54.19 billion. This is the market value of the bank. This means if you have $54.19billion, you can theoretically buy up all the outstanding shares. However, this only exists in theory because once you start to buy the shares in the open market, the float gets smaller and the price will shoot up due to its market liquidity. Of course, this is also barring the need to carry out a general takeover exercise once we held beyond a certain threshold.

Let’s say for some reasons DBS wanted to make the share price affordable to around $2 instead of the current price of around $21.15. (Note: making the share price affordable does not mean making it cheap) The management simply cannot depress the share price by a stroke of the magic wand without doing something else. To bring it down to a share price of $2 from about $20, the bank has to introduce a lot of shares into the market. This, essentially, involves a share split of breaking down one share into 10 shares in order to bring the share price to that level. This means that shares outstanding would be magnified by 10 times to 25,620,520,090. The market-value of the DBS simply cannot evaporate overnight. The market, as a whole, still recognizes that DBS has a market value of a $54.19 billion unless the bank performed so badly that shareholders started to sell out the shares over time. Apart from the arduous administrative work involving existing shareholders, there is absolutely not much incentive for the directors to do share splits just to make shares affordable. If affordability is really an issue, then investors should instead buy smaller lot size instead of 1000 shares. By doing so, that should reduce the outlay from paying $21,190 to buy 1000 shares to $2,119 to buy 100 shares or the multiples of it. That essentially, was the purpose of smaller trading board lots of 100 shares instead of 1000 shares introduced by SGX about 2 years ago. In fact, in more sophisticated stock exchange like the NYSE, we can even trade just one share instead of a board lot of 100 shares.

Essentially, the above also helps explain why OCBC is trading at around $11 per share and is almost 50% of that of DBS on per share basis. Otherwise, in no time OCBC share price would play catch up and go higher to reach to $21 or it could be DBS share price sinks to $11.21 to match with OCBC trading price. Certainly, that is unthinkable. For that, we shall leave to the next post.

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.

Technology destroyed some traditional businesses (1): SPH

By now, many would have noted that SPH share price has been on a decline from $4, slightly more than a year ago.  It has not been this low since the global financial crisis when it touched $2.32 on 12 March 2009, which coincided with the low of the Straits Times lndex (STI). Following the crisis, it had been oscillating at around $4 for a long, long time before the recent decline to its current price at around $3.25. In fact, since the share split of 1:5 in 2004, the share price has not really enjoyed any strong upside although investors had been lavished with generally good dividends in the past.

In fact, SPH is not the only victim of the technology onslaught. Newsweek, Washington Post, Financial Times, Reader’s Digest and many national newspapers suffered declining sales volume as well.  Technology, in particular the internet, had swept across the globe at such a huge pace that it wiped out many traditional news and printed media businesses. Readers are no longer happy to receive news 1-2 days after it happened, not even hours. We are now talking about minutes or even seconds. Financial market for one is very unforgiving as far as the speed of news is concerned. The news that appeared in print today was already a history that had already moved the market. Certainly, the financial market players are too impatient to wait for the print to reach them before they reacted. Look at US presidency election, the BREXIT, British election, the market had already reacted even before the news were casted in print. By the time the news appeared on the dailies, many snippets would have already splashed all over the internet. Just a simple search through a search engine, one would be able to pick up at least 10 pieces of news stories on the first page of the engine search.

Personally, I think that the management saw it coming at that time, and that was why they decided to sell several properties into SPH REIT in mid-2013. By so doing, it hoped that it can earn a ‘passive income’ as a sponsor and a major shareholder of this REIT. Unfortunately, the rental income is not sufficient to offset the decline in the print business. And this could continue to be so for a long time to come. To be straight to the point, the internet is not going to go away any time soon. In fact, it will definitely not go away unless it is displaced by another faster and more convenient transmission means. That said, it is a long-term threat unless SPH is able to side-step it by finding another growth business.

To be fair, I would think that the management has been doing their best to maintain shareholder’s value. The share price could have declined even more steeply had it not been for the high dividends that were distributed in the last few years. Unfortunately, this is an encroaching external threat that is difficult to defend against, unless they do not want to be in the business at all or to lessen the blow by finding another lucrative business. The final consequence, unfortunately, is an ever-declining share prices, a deep cut in future dividends or both.

 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy. Analyses of some individual stocks can be found in bpwlc.usefedora.com. Registration is free.

 

 

 

Averaging down

Abstract: A post by a pseudonym Luminac in the InvestingNote on 29 April 2017 mentioned that a close friend of him had invested in stocks like Cosco(F83), Noble(CGP), Hyflux(600) and had been accumulating them for over the past 10 years. She realized that the loss was too big and was on a crossroad of what to do next. I herewith share a similar life experience when I was in that situation some twenty years ago. No mention of the stock name shall be made in this post.

 

The share price was around $1.90 to $2.00 when the desire to re-own this stock became extremely burning. After all, I had owned the stock before and had sold them for a reasonably good profit. So, it cannot be very wrong to buy back this stock at around $2 when the highest price that it reached after a share split was $5. The company had made several mistakes and took extreme risks that on hindsight would have made me stayed far, far away from this stock. Unfortunately, my focus then was on the stock price. To me, the $2 price tag was a 60% discount against the $5 level that the stock had once reached.

Big mistake…the company was taking on so much risks and making so many bad business decisions that it had to make a rights issue at a huge discount. I cannot remember the exact ratio, but I think it was in the ball-park of ten rights for every one share owned. Certainly, it was forcing the minority shareholders to take on the rights to assume part of the huge risk. The share price tanked from about $1 just before the rights issue to around 10 cents. From then on, I started to follow more closely on the company developments and not on the stock price alone. A check on the past financial reports showed that the top man was still being paid in the region of either more than $750k or even more than $1m when the company was either earning insignificant profits or even suffering losses. Furthermore, the huge part (close to 90%) of the total remuneration was in the form of fixed salary and was even entitled to a few percent of ‘other benefits’. The percentage allocated to the bonus was far too little. So basically, the management is bleeding the company through their fixed salaries at the expense of the minority shareholders. In fact, the top man drew such a huge salary that he need not have to care much about the prospects of the company going forward. I believe all that was in his mind was he hoped to find a white knight who was stupid enough so that he could sell off the company lock, stock and barrel after bleeding it for so many years. A further check showed that at least one independent director was there for more than 10 years. As we know, independent directors are usually the ones that form part of the remuneration committee. Furthermore, during annual meetings, motions were almost always seconded by the same few persons as in the past meetings and so were comments quickly shot down by the management. The way I see it was that all these years, the company was simply wayang, wayang moving from one business type to another while waiting for a white knight to come along. After all, the people forming the management are getting old and they have no energy to turn the company around. Meanwhile, they continue to draw good salaries. I realized that I had bought a confirmed ticket to disaster. Are the minority shareholder interest protected at all? Surely not.

Certainly, I need not have to say much about the stock price with a company like that. It was $5 during the good times, and was $2 was I re-purchased it, and then it tanked to around 10 cents after the huge rights issue. If only I had read into the fundamentals, I would have painfully cut loss or simply just not do anything. My loss would have been, at most, a few thousand dollars. My big mistake was that I keep on averaging down while praying that the stock price would turn around. Just like many gamblers did, I did not simply average down, I bought more than our original holdings in hope to quickly breakeven, but somehow the tide was always against me. The descent was steeper than what I could average down. I also found it got more and more difficult to average down because of the increasing stake when it was on its way down. I did manage to sell some when the stock price blipped up temporarily, but the realized gain was simply too insignificant to offset the unrealized loss. It went on a long time when I suddenly realized that the hole was just too big to patch. It had already lost 90% to 95% of the value that I initially bought. Selling off at this time would not lead me anywhere and averaging down is not the answer for such a stock. Furthermore, I was too focused on this loser that I missed out many winners out there. I had lost a lot in terms of opportunity cost.

So, for many years, I had been sailing on a pirate ship without realizing it. Summarizing the whole episode, the management took the company as an ATM to draw their huge salaries. The minority shareholders were bearing the business risks all because they made bad and lousy business decisions. And, yet as a minority shareholder, I have no say in the company affairs. Do you think one should continue to be vested in the company stock? After all, the company founders have recovered all their capital from the IPO and could have even profited greatly from it. What incentives do they have to bring the company to the next level? It all boiled down to the responsibility of the management.

To get out of such disaster, I need to change my mind-set. It is no point in buying and selling stocks that make us can’t eat or sleep at peace. After all, we invest for our retirement or for times that we become incapacitated. Stocks must withstand a passage of time. Why should we be in the situation that we invest our money in exchange for more problems? Don’t we already have been facing a lot of challenges in our daily lives? To date, all these going back to basic thoughts have been a big blessing in my investing journey. I managed to benefit from the GFC in 2008/2009, averted the penny stocks clash in 2013 and the high yield bonds that still plaque many investors even today and many nonsense investing scams that mushroomed over the past years. Several good stocks have become multi-baggers, and two of them have been bought out and privatized. Sure, good stocks can also tank during financial disasters, but history has shown that they come back stronger when the crisis got past us.

Now, let me add a last paragraph to the mentioned stock in this post. If the above episode on that single stock had not been painful enough, here comes the salt on the wound. Just 2 years ago, the SGX introduced the minimum trading price (MTO) rule of $0.20. All stocks below 20 cents have to be consolidated. I did not know the exact trading price then because it was no longer important to me. It was probably less than 1 cent at that time. Doing a 10 to 1 consolidation had no meaning as it would still be below 20 cents. So, it ended up with consolidating 100 shares into 1 share, which theoretically meant that the stock should be trading at $1 after the consolidation. With the consolidation, the stock became extremely illiquid. The trading volume was low and the buy-sell spread was far in between. Perhaps a lot of investors would have realized by now that for fundamentally lousy companies, consolidation equates to value destruction. The stock price fell to around 60 cents after the consolidation and, by today, it is around 30-40 cents. By this time, my loss is 10 times that of the original loss. However, all these no longer matter because the final value on paper is a very tiny black dot on my portfolio.

So, if you ask me should we average down, my answer is if it is fundamentally lousy stock is …never. Never catch a falling knife. But if it has good fundamentals that can possibly translate to a price upside in future, then perhaps, it may worth a second shot.

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy. Analyses of some individual stocks can be found in bpwlc.usefedora.com. Registration is free.

Capital reduction

We all know that for a company to operate, there is always a need for capital. Capital can come in the form of cash input from the owners of the company and, if the company has been profit-making, funds can also be re-channeled into the business instead of distributing to the owners. If the business is a public-listed company, then additional capital can be raised through IPOs and rights issues. All these form the equity capital for the business. There is also another type of capital known as debt capital. This involves borrowing from financial institutions such as a bank or through unsecured borrowing such as raising bonds and notes. Then, there is also preferential share, which depending on how one looks at it, can be seen as equity capital or debt capital. All these form the various avenues for the directors to tap upon to enable the company to operate as an on-going concern and, of course, to optimize shareholders’ value.

 

When a business is in need of funds, the directors would have to look into what channels can be tapped to inject funds into the business before the business run into cash-flow problems. In the past one to two years, we have seen several offshore and marine related companies and business trusts running into cash-flow problems because the business were deprived of capital injections. Swiber Holdings, Erza Holdings and Rickmers Maritime are just few eye-catching examples that cropped up recently due to difficulty in seeking additional funds for their businesses.

 

 At the other extreme, there are also companies that have ‘extra’ capital in the form of cash that it becomes necessary to carry out a capital reduction in order to optimize the capital structure of the business.  Capital reduction can come in several forms, and this usually ends positively for shareholders. It can be carried out through share-buyback program in which a company buys back its own shares and then cancels them out at the treasury. This, in the way, reduces the number of shares in the market and thus increases share price per share. OSIM as well as several American companies had previously done this after emerging from the global financial crisis in year 2009.

 

Another form of capital reduction can be in the form of returning capital back to shareholders. A good example is IPC. IPC had been a penny stock before its consolidation of 10:1 in 2015. Its share was around 3 cents in year 2004 and around 6 cents during the global financial crisis. During the normal times, the stock price had been oscillating between 9 cents and 17 cents. The business had undergone a significant transformation changing from a PC manufacturing company in the 90s to a hotel operator today. With the sale of 7 hotels in Japan followed by a share consolidation of 10 shares into 1, the company returned a total of about $136.5m to the shareholders. Hence on the balance sheet of the FY 2016 financial report, the share capital was reduced from $169,658,000 to 33,190,000. Each shareholder got cash return of $1.60 per share after consolidation even though the number of shares that one holds remains unchanged. This means that those investors who had purchased the share at an average price of 16 cents or below before the shares consolidation would have recouped and profited for investing in IPC. Of course, the share capital on the balance sheet of IPC’s financial statement is set back by $136.5m, meaning that the scale of the business has been down-sized, but who really cares if we are in a business with no money down and had enjoyed the dividends that had been distributed previously. Hopefully, going forward, the management continues to deliver and help increase shareholders value. This would help maintain the stock price and possibility of future dividends in the currently scaled-down business. Perhaps, the cash return had been partly due some pressure from the substantial shareholder, Mr Ooi Hong Leong, who owns 30% of the business. But, again as an investor, is it not what we are looking for – an investment that provides us a solid return somewhere in the future with consistent income along the way?

 

At the moment, unfortunately, the stock has been quite illiquid due to the mandatory stock consolidation. Even though there is a trading price of between 50 and 60 cents per share, it is still not worth trading the stock as it is difficult for one to buy or sell the shares optimally due to its trading liquidity, which resulted in steep share price changes.   With the only hotel business left in China, it is hoped that company delivers another magic to maintain the share price that come with future dividends. Of course, it does not preclude the fact that it may have to raise funds for expansion in the future. But at the moment, it’s a nice feeling of enjoying a significant profit and, at the same time, participating in a business with no money down due to its capital reduction exercise. 

 

 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy. Analyses of some individual stocks can be found in bpwlc.usefedora.com. Registration is free.

   

 

Striking the football with two legs, not one

Several days ago, The Straits Times published an article entitled “Singapore stocks pay best dividends across Asia”. Indeed it is true. Even with the current market run-up, many blue chips companies have been paying a nominal dividend of about 3-4% at today’s market price. Should one had bothered to explore further and bought into an undervalue stock some time ago, the return could have been much higher offering both capital gains and good dividends such that one would not even bother to sell them. A lot of these shares could even displace high-yield instruments like REITs and perpetual bonds that offer a yield of around 5%-6% on average. While REITs and perpetual bonds offer comparatively good yields for investors, they do not have much buffer in terms of liquidity. REITs, for example, have to distribute 90% of their income to avoid the corporate tax. When there is a credit crunch or when there is a need for funds, they either have to sell off the properties or to raise funds by issuing rights.

 

As pointed out in the last post, many investors got into stocks were partly because the interest offered by banks had been too low for too long. So, buying into REITs and perpetual bonds appeared to be no-brainer due to their high payout. Hopefully somewhere in the future, they are able to recover their investments through the dividends they received…..the higher the better. (See Figure 1) The setback is that when the interest rates start to perk up, these investments are likely to be beaten down more drastically. This could result in capital loss, thus offsetting the higher dividend payout.

  

Stocks tend to have more leeway when comes to dividend distribution. Usually the payout is in the region of around 35-60%, depending on the discretion of the directors. There is usually more room for paying out higher dividends when the company has no urgent need for funds. They could even tap into their cash hoard should there be a need for expansion. In fact, I was a little surprise that 15-18 months ago, many blue-chips counters at their lows against the declared dividends in the previous year. For example, DBS was trading between $13 and $15 per share, resulting in a dividend yield of more than 4% based on the declared dividend of $0.60 per share in the previous year. By the same token, OCBC was trading between $8 and $8.50 per share when the declared dividends in the previous few years had been $0.36 per share. The dividend yield would have been more than 4.2%. The gap between the blue-chips had been too close, and it would be either that blue-chip trading price to increase or REITs price to fall going forward. Today, the share price of DBS and OCBC is around $19 and $9.60, and still offering a relatively good yield of 3.15% and 3.75% respectively.

 

For both capital appreciation and dividends, I never forget about how this stock darling – Cerebos Pacific. It is a company that sells the Brands of Chicken. The stock is relatively illiquid with the main shareholder being the parent company Suntory Ltd. The free float was only 15%. (Note: it is important to note that holding illiquid stock is not necessary a good thing. If we wish to hold illiquid stock, our mindset should be to hold as long as it needs.) My purchase price averaged around $2.50 per share by 2003 after consolidation. The dividends had been 9 cents standard dividend and 16 cents special dividend. That went on for a total of 9 years from 2003 to 2012, providing a yield of 10% over an uninterrupted period of 9 years. The special dividend was given every year so much so that shareholders think that the 16 cents special dividend was considered to be a new normal. Needless to say, by the 6-7 years down the road, existing shareholders were collecting dividends and laughing all the way to the bank. At the same time, the share price has been creeping upwards. All these happened in the midst of the global financial crisis in 2008/2009 and also when the company was setting up a new plant in Thailand also around that time. By the time, Suntory took the company private, it had already paid out 9 nominal and 9 special dividends over the 9 years. That would have enough to cover 90% of the initial investment. The buyout price in 2012 was $6.60 per share, offering yet another 6-digit return with little money down. It was like a 10-year bond paying a coupon of 10% and paying the 260% of the capital invested. David Clark in the book “Warren Buffet and the interpretation of financial statements” would have called this equity-bond. It is a form of equity, but it works like a bond from investors’ perspective.

Happy investing!   

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 27 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy. Analyses of some individual stocks can be found in bpwlc.usefedora.com. Registration is free.