Category Archives: DBS

Ten years after the fall of Lehman Brother

Today marks the 10th anniversary when Lehman Brothers fell into bankruptcy on 15 September 2008. Despite the on-going tariff war between the US and China, there is a general sea of calmness in the major stock exchanges all over the world.  Back then, scene was very different. For several weeks before 15 September and several months after that, the front few pages of our daily newspapers were full of bad news.

Lehman Brother’s downfall also pulled along with it several big banks and financial institutions. AIG, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac were all at risks, and were awaiting government bailout. With the crisis hitting the big financial institutions in the world’s largest economy at that time, it is almost certain that small and open economies, like Singapore, was going to feel the onslaught as well. The STI fell from the high at close of 3,875.77 made on 11 October 2007 to 2,486.55 on 15 September 2008, retreating 35.8%. It did not stop there. As bad news, continued to flush all over the news media, the STI fell further. DBS, a good proxy of the Singapore economy, and a heavy weight on the STI certainly cannot escape from this avalanche. Its share price fell from more than $20 to less than $10 by the end December 2008, retreating more than 50%. Everywhere is fear, and we did not know which blue-chip stock, in particular which financial stock, was going to go under. Fund managers were all selling as redemptions picked up speed.

Perhaps, the stubborn side of me helped. I decided to swim against this tide, buy a few shares, close my eyes, close my ears, go for a long haul, do not sell irrespective of whatever happened, and see how it would turn out after 10 years. In the worst-case situation, I would lose some savings. If I have been wanting to own DBS, this would have been a good opportunity. In a financial crisis of such a scale, huge wealth is transferred one person’s pocket to another’s pocket. Debtors will be punished, creditors will be rewarded. Spenders will become poor, and savers will feel rich. Cash is king. However, cash is still only cash if it remains in the bank. So, this should be the time to put our cash into good use. Splurge and buy up assets that had never been put on such discounts, was the key.

A few weeks after purchasing the stock, came the next bombshell. DBS decided to raise rights, 1 for 2 shares, with a whopping 45% discount at $5.42 based on the last day trading price at $9.85. It literally forced existing shareholders to take up the rights. So, no choice, I dipped further into my pocket to pick up the rights. (I remember, I tried to buy extra rights, but I believe I only managed to get a few shares to round off the lots due to over subscription of the rights.)

In the midst of such a crisis and with a much bigger market float after the rights issue, the share price continued to fall. In fact, the share price went even below $7. It certainly, took some grits and guts to continue to hold the shares. Even at $7, it was still a long way to fall if it was really going to be very bad. My intuition impressed upon me that if DBS were to fail at that time, we would all be in real serious trouble. Our property price would plunge, our car value would be decimated and our Singapore dollars would be very unstable in the forex market. So, whether we are on shares, on property or on cash, it was not going to matter. And, with the US dollars also plunging at that time, the only shelter is probably gold. After all, it was only 10 years ago then that DBS gobbled up POSB. In the minds of those people on the street, POSB was still the people’s bank. It is unlikely that it would be allowed to fail. The epicenter of this financial crisis was in the US. We are only feeling the effects of this financial tsunami. The question was how low could DBS touch, and not whether it would fail. It turned up well, and the fear was quite short-lived. The stock came up back again after March 2009, when STI temporarily went below 1,500.

Was it plain sailing after that? Not quite. I should ask, were there anything along the way to de-rail holding the stock? Certainly yes. When I purchased the stocks, my objective was to go long, and very long and to disregard the share price. So, the only ‘financial benefit’ was the dividend from the stock. At that time, this ‘giam-siap’ (stingy) bank, gave only $0.60 per share as dividend.  When a reliable source, told me that the bond coupon rate of Swiber was at 7%, I felt stupid again. If we invest in the bond at the cost of $250k, the yearly coupon would have been $17,500. A back-of-envelope calculations of the equivalent amount, would have been about 15,000 DBS shares at the prevailing price of between $16.50 and $17.00.  For 15,000 DBS shares, the dividend would only be $9,000. And this stark difference would carry on yearly, for probably 4-5 years, until the bond matured. If one were to chase for the last dollar, it would make sense to sell DBS shares and buy Swiber. So, would it make sense to sell off the shares and buy bond instead? Nobody knows what was going to happen. But, I do believe when the bond yields were high at that time, many people actually switched out of equities and buy bonds as well as other high yield instruments. It was lucky. I chose to remain in equities. The reason was that there was literally no secondary market. If we really wanted to sell, nobody was going to buy from our hands, unless we depress our price significantly. Precisely, at that time, due to liquidity, the corporate bond of Genting was trading at a discount, while the perpetual bonds were trading at a premium. So, if we want to get into it, the only choice was to hold corporate bonds to maturity. It turned out that the decision was right. Swiber defaulted and remain suspended today.  And, DBS was no longer a ‘giap-siap’ bank as it used to be. It doubled its dividend.  And, right now the yield based on the average purchased price would have enjoyed an even higher yield compared to Swiber or the any REITs. In fact, this stock would have become an equity-bond situation mentioned in the book “Warren Buffet and the Interpretation of Financial Statements”, by Mary Buffet and David Clark, 2008. It left me scratching my head what was the term ‘equity-bond’ really mean at that time when I was reading that book. Now, I understand. In a few words, it means to buy an equity, let the share price move up to its intrinsic value. As the dividend starts to move up back-on-the-heels of the equity price, we would have, in effect, enjoyed the yields of bonds.

Then again, were there any more scares along the way? Certainly yes. When China suddenly devalued the RMB in 2016, it was envisaged that China was not doing well on the economic front. That again pushed down the STI. In particular, the bank stocks were hit. All the three banks stocks were trading about 10% below book value. DBS, once again, fell below $14 for the first time in the few years. It had been languishing around $16-$17 per share almost throughout the year 2016. Only in 2017 did DBS share price climb up slowly and steadily, following of several quarters of good financial results. With the announcement of its new dividend benchmark, it has arbitrarily created a floor for the share price. If the bank continues maintain its dividend payout of $1.20 per share, it should help maintain the share price north of $24 per share, giving a yield of about close to 5% per share.

It has come a long way, and will there be more volatility going forward. Certainly yes, the tariff issues between the US and China is still yet to be resolved. Also, for so many years, the interest rates all over the world have been held extremely low. Debts were now at their historical highs once again. If FED were to increase interest rates aggressively, I would not be surprise that another crisis could erupt, maybe, this time, the epicenter is nearer to us. Then again, DBS share price can get hit again.

Disclaimer – The above arguments are the personal opinions of the writer. They do not serve as recommendations to buy or sell the mentioned securities or the indices or ETFs or unit trusts related to it.

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Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 28 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is the instructor for two online courses on InvestingNote – Value Investing: The Essential Guide and Value Investing: The Ultimate Guide. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.

DBS – The pleasant surprise

Abstract – Two years ago, the sudden devaluation of the Chinese yuan RMB caused DBS share price to fall below its book value. Since then, DBS Holdings share price has been on the rise. In a similar fashion, the share price of OCBC and UOB also fell to below their respective book value. For the past two years, the share prices of all the three banks were rising at unprecedented pace. As of 23 Feb 2018, the share prices of DBS, OCBC and UOB were respectively at $29.59, $13.37 and $28.05 respectively.

It came as a big surprise to many that DBS announced a very generous dividend distribution policy following their internal assessment that they have been more than fulfilled the Basel reform requirements. Historically DBS has never been this generous and their dividend distribution to share price ratio has almost always been lagging behind OCBC. Even during times when they offer scrip dividends, their discount has always been lower than that of OCBC. As their share price advanced, the number of scrip dividends that can be converted from the dividends gets smaller, and it became extremely daunting for people who has been targeting to get, for instance, 500 shares for every year of dividend declared. In simple arithmetic, by the time the share price hit about $20, we need to have at least 15,152 DBS shares before one can get 500 shares of scrip dividends assuming that no discount was given for taking scrip dividends. As the share price goes upwards, it is almost an impossible task as the horses are running well ahead of the chariot.

But that all changed overnight as DBS suddenly moved up the dividend generously from the expected final dividend of 33 cents for FY 2017 dividend to 60 cents and topped it up with a special dividend of 50 cents. In addition, it further announced that the dividend going forward to be marked up to $1.20. This means that we should generally expect the dividend pay out to be $1.20 per share for 2018 and, perhaps, even for the next few years. The whole dividend equation changed overnight. What that has been a more and more distant dream of getting 500 shares for each yearly dividend distribution became an instant possibility overnight. For example, in the above case, we do not need 15152 shares for have 500 shares of declared dividend. Instead, we need to have only 8333 DBS shares to get an equivalent of 500 DBS shares in declared dividend. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, depending on whether one owns the shares or still wanting to buy the shares, the share price never look back. It has been gradually rising two weeks ago from $25.36 on 7 February, the closing price on the day before the results announcement, to $29.59 as of yesterday. This represents a rise of more than $4 or about 16.7% rise within a matter of two weeks, literally unperturbed by the Chinese new year holidays in between. With the newly declared dividend for at least in the near future, it actually helps provide a ‘floor’ share price for the stock.  (For those who wish to have a better idea of the valuation may wish to refer to my on-line course on the investingnote.com platform – Value Investing – The Essential Guide) For example, the share price of $24 would now have been considered a steal when it was said to be ‘extremely expensive’ even at $20/- just twelve months ago.

Apart from the positive effect on its share price, the newly declared dividend distribution by DBS has other pulling effects too. It turned on the pressure for the other two banks to up their dividends going forward as well. In fact, in the latest results announcement for FY2017, both OCBC and UOB have already declared a higher dividend whether in the form of the final or special dividends. As we all know, bank performances tend to move in tandem with each other. So, with the more generous declaration for DBS, it is also likely that the heat for OCBC and UOB be turned on to bring up their dividends as well. Even if that do not happen in the near future, the current perception of a higher dividend declaration would help push up their share prices. Adding to this tail-wind is the expectation of higher net interest margin in the coming months. That means the shareholders of the all the banks would ‘huat’ (prosperous) in the light of this pleasant announcement.

Disclaimer – The above arguments are the personal opinion of the writer. It is not a recommendation to buy or sell the mentioned securities.  

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 28 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is the instructor for two online courses on InvestingNote – Value Investing: The Essential Guide and Value Investing: The Ultimate Guide. 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.

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.

The local banks – DBS, OCBC and UOB

The local banks have just released their financial results for the financial year 2016. All the three banks suffered a decrease in profit for FY 2016 compare with FY 2015. OCBC seemed to have it worst, while UOB did comparatively well. Before the results were released, it was widely expected that the banks would suffer a decrease in profit in view of the flagging economy, and most importantly their exposure to the offshore and marine industries that had turned sharply for the worst following the sharp decline in the crude oil price last year. For almost whole of last year 2016, we have seen several major defaults and major loan re-structuring exercises in this sector. Surely, in such a scenario, it would be a miracle if the banks can go through the year unscathed.

One interesting thing to note, however, is the impairment charges that the banks set aside in FY 2016. OCBC and DBS increased the impairment charges by 48.8% and 93.0% respectively, while UOB decreased it by 11.6%. One deduction, I can make is that UOB felt that it had already accounted for all the problem loans, and there was no longer a need to make further provisions. Meanwhile, OCBC and DBS were still making provisions for loans that might deteriorate in time to come. One possibility is that they are pre-empting the possibility of Ezra that can go in the path of Swiber or Swissco. Due to this significant impairment charge, the EPS of OCBC and DBS were marked down by 13.7% and 3.0%. The drop in the EPS of UOB is mainly due to the higher operating costs for the year, and is a different nature from the other two.

For the net interest margin (NIM), the fate is entirely different for all the three banks. OCBC’s NIM remains unchanged at 1.67%, UOB decreased from 1.77% to 1.71%, while DBS increased from 1.77% to an uninspiring 1.80%.

On the whole, the business risk for the banking sector has increased. Asset qualities were decreasing, and decreasing at a very fast rate. In the meantime, the share price for the banks has been on the uptrend for several months. All this translate to the fact that the ‘margin of safety’ continues to get thinner as the days passed.          

 To know more, register at on bpwlc.usefedora.com. Registration is free. Paid students who are attending the stocks review master program on 11th March 2017 are entitled free access for the online courses.  Passwords will be sent to your emails to enable your access to the modules.  Courses are other sectors are also available.      

 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.

What can we expect from the American election?

Now that the American election is over, and Donald Trump has been announced to be the president-elect. The inauguration is scheduled to be on 20 January 2017. As a biggest economy in the world, we can expect big event changes to have a bearing on the many smaller economies. Certainly, the promises made by Donald Trump during his campaigns would be closely followed, as they may become the new government policies during the term of the new president. Of course, one may argue that these may be promises, and they may not be fulfilled or at most partially fulfilled after looking at the cost-benefits of all these promises. After all, until the fate was sealed on last Thursday, Donald Trump had been an underdog in this neck-to-neck race with Hillary Clinton. To change the odds of winning this election, he might have to resort to populist promises to win votes.

 

However, as investors, we tend to make anticipations of the future to guide us in our buy or sell decisions. So the closest or best clues would be to go along the lines of his background as well as to rely on his promises during the campaigns. As it is, he has been a real estate magnate businessman with zero political back-ground, many would have expected that he would be especially focused on infrastructure developments. These constructions would likely to bring about inflation resulting in FED hiking up interest rates more aggressively. So in all likelihood, our bank interest rates would also perk up in time to come. As it is in the last few days, the local bank stocks such as DBS, OCBC and UOB were holding up relatively well while many local stocks were on a down-trend. In particular, DBS advanced $1.20 or about 8% in the last two days on Thursday and Friday. Conversely, the interest rates sensitive stocks such as bonds, REITs, property counters as well as many debt-laden companies were hit quite badly. Many emerging market currencies are also affected as funds are expected to repatriate back to US in search of higher interest rates. Thus many Asian currencies have also been on the downward trend. In fact, companies, especially the debt-laden ones that borrowed or purchased goods in US dollar are likely to be hardest hit. Consequently, many Indonesian company stock prices fell very hard. They purchased goods in US dollars and sold locally in rupiahs. Stocks like Jardine C&C, which held 50% of Astra shares, had already retreated about 10%. This situation is likely to continue as long as the spectre of interest rate hikes remains in the mind of investors.

 

The other significant factor mentioned in his presidential campaign was pro-American, pro-white policies that point toward protectionism. This means that many economies depending on US for trade will be also affected. These countries include Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam and even Singapore. Furthermore, with their respective currencies retreating against the US dollars, it is likely to make things very expensive for these countries. Certainly the respective stock markets are not going to be spared as well. The fear factor should likely continue to weigh on the Asian stock markets in the short term.

 

While the situation looks grim, it is only based on anticipation. The reality may not turn out to be this way after more detailed review of those promises. It could even be that the President may decide to soften his stance on free trades after his inauguration.

 

So, end of the day, it is still important to continue to stick to our long term-plan in building our stock portfolio. The fear factor may even present interesting opportunities for us to buy stocks that are beyond our reach during euphoria.      

Good luck!

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 26 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.

Buy-and-hold strategy does not mean buy and don’t sell

For those who may not know, buy and hold strategy is a proven strategy and is used by long-term investors in hope to benefit from the capital appreciation of the component stocks in a portfolio. It is often associated with Warren Buffet (WB)’s style of investing, especially when he mentioned that the holding period for the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio is FOREVER. It is probably a sweeping statement, but many people had taken it to the extreme that when we buy a stock, we should not sell it. Of course, if we look at the ST index from its all-time high and compare it with today closing of 2869.74 as of 30 September 2016, one would have thought that by adopting the buy and hold strategy, one would have lost more than 25%. But does it really mean that buy-and hold strategy does not work anymore? Not quite. Otherwise, why would fund houses and insurance companies still continue to adopt such a strategy? Remember, these are big fund managers and when they hold a stock, they do not just own 2,000 shares. They probably own 200,000 shares or even 2,000,000 shares even if it means $20 per share. For the fact that they continue to use this strategy means that it is still relevant even with the advent of high-frequency trading computers. In my opinion, if it works for big funds, it should also work for individuals as well. And because big fund managers hold large quantity of stocks, we simply cannot expect them to empty their portfolio of, say 200,000 of OCBC in one day, and then buying it all back on another day on a short-term basis. In fact, most of the time, their portfolios do not change at all. In the way, they are practicing buy-and hold strategies. These fund managers have to think long-term in order to pay the clients and retirees, who are long-term stake-holders. The key here is to think long-term. (Sometimes, I am quite bemused by people who mentioned “Aiyo, must think long-term ah!”. Thinking long term does not mean that we do not sell a stock at all!)

 

Given the relevance of buy and hold strategies for large funds, can small retails players like us mimic the actions of these fund managers to make money? Certainly yes. The fact that we do not hold too many lots per stock, it is sometime easier for us to manoeuvre better than the fund managers.

 

Allow me to go back into my history. After falling and recovering from the bad experience in the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC). (Click here for the detailed history), my aim was to hold this great stock called DBS. On my record, I purchased 1000 shares at $14.80 in February 2004. (In fact, it was less than 10% below yesterday’s closing at $15.39 considering that they are more than 12 years apart.) My long term plan was to have at least 10,000 shares in 10 years. Based on this objective, my shortfall was 14,000 shares. The period between 2004 and 2007 was a fantastic time for stocks because the ST Index advanced all the way from below 2000 to its all-time high of 3,875.55 in October 2007. The global economy was doing so well that one very significant local political personnel was said to be saying “All the pistons are working at full force”, pointing to the perfect functioning of US, Europe and China. (Of course, we know in hindsight that Global Financial Crisis (GFC) came one year later and everything got imploded.) Needless to say, in between 2004 and 2007, if one were on the buy side and sold 1-2 months down the road, or simply buy and hold all the way, he should be able to make money. This is especially true for DBS, which is a good proxy to the stock market. Even though I have a long-term plan to continue to accumulate DBS in the long run, the speed of price advancement was so rapid that each time when I bought it, it became attractive to sell it off some months down the road. In fact, it was prudent to take money off the table because rapid advancements are very often met by rapid pull-backs. In such a situation, I could even say that I was trading, though not exactly short-term trading because each time my holding period was a few months. The share price of DBS in the period between 2004 and 2007 advanced from $14.80 when I bought it to a peak of $25.00. By the end of 2007, however, my shareholding in DBS did not increase at all because I had sold just as much as I had bought it. It was probably with some luck that the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) came along that I was able to pick up a lot more shares and subscribe more rights at $5.42. While I did lost some money on paper on the 1000 shares that I kept, it had been more than offset by the capital gains in the ‘trading’ that I made off from the DBS shares that I had bought and sold along the way. Furthermore, the GFC was probably a once in a lifetime chance to accumulate DBS. It came glistening right in front of my eyes. Such opportunities should not be missed at all cost. This was even truer for someone who had been bashed badly during the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC), and only to see opportunities slipped through the fingers from a low of 805 on the ST Index to more than 2000 within a matter of 15 months or so. (Click here to view my background).

 

Of course, one may argue why I did not even sell off my 1000 shares that I had been holding. The reason is simply that I am not GOD. (There is a Cantonese saying – 早知就没黑衣) I can’t predict the future. If I could predict the future, I would have even sold my 1000 shares and bought it back at the peak of the crisis. My long term plan, however, was clear that I needed to accumulate DBS shares in the long run, and the GFC provided me an opportunity to do so.

 

Then another opportunity came knocking again. After the GFC, DBS advanced again past $20 by late December 2014. Having come up from a relatively low base during the GFC, I managed to sell some shares at $18.50 in October 2014. At this share price, it would have translated to more than the market capitalisation of DBS before the GFC when it was at $25.00. (The reason was that DBS raised rights of 1-for-2 shares during the GFC.) I would have thought that the share price would not go beyond that point, but the general optimism pushed the share price further up to past $20. I sold again at $20.20 in December 2014. It finally reached $20.60 in early 2015. Of course, the crash in the oil price and a series of ‘scares’ in the last 18 months or so, made the share price of DBS came tumbling down again to less than $16, which now becomes a super strong resistance level. When it reached a level of around $13/$14, it allowed me to buy back those quantities and even more than I had sold.    

 

In a similar way, I have been reducing my SPH shares for the past 1-2 years because I felt that the fundamentals of SPH are weakening. It is not because of bad management or SPH was making wrong investments. In fact, I believe that the management has been quite good, peppering shareholders with good dividends. That was why the share price has been quite well-cushioned enabling me to sell a bulk of my stocks off at above $4.00, except for the last 2,000 shares which I sold recently.  The fact is that media and publishing business is under a huge threat from the internet, which is highly accessible locally. The threat is beyond their control and that is why the profit from the print business is dwindling. The only thing that probably helped them along is the SPH REIT, which probably had already hit a plateau. Of course, SPH is not sleeping and is on a look out for fantastic investments that may pop out along the way, but until today, it is still not there yet. Of course, when the price becomes attractive again, Perhaps, I may be back in again.  

So in summary, buy-and-hold does not mean buy and don’t sell. Sometime, it is prudent to sell and take money off the table even if the stock has not reached its full potential. Very often, there is a need for stocks to digest a bit before they can climb further. In fact, as it is DBS is now hovering for the past six months or so below $16. If I had not sold anything and stood only on the buy side from 2004 till now, I probably would have made only from my dividends and not too much from the capital gains. It is the long-term strategy and, of course, some luck that counts. It does not mean buy and don’t sell.

Good Luck!

 

Disclaimer – This post is not a recommendation or an advice to buy or sell the stocks mentioned here-in. These are past performances. They do not reflect future performances. 

 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 26 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.

Sell in May and go away strategy: Why not a contrarian view?

The old saying sell in May and go away strategy seemed to have taken its toll this year when STI was sharply sold down from 2960.78 on 21st April to 2730.8 on 6th May 2016, a drop of 230 points, representing about 5.8% decrease on the ST index. After that, there appeared to be an increase in volatility as the bull and the bear tussled to tip over each other. By the end of today, after approximately 3 weeks of trading or so, the ST index ended at 2791.06, a mere increase of 60 points from 6th May.

According to The Straits Times (ST, 30 May 2016), it happened four out of five times in the last five years. If that view still holds true, then would it not be interesting for us to take a contrarian view and buy into the market when we bade farewell to the last ship that left us. And, of course, if they do return going forward, we can slowly sell back to the market.

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Frankly, taking advantage of this apparently universal ‘market theory’, I was actually a net buyer in the month of May. After all, isn’t it important that to gain from stocks, we should either be ahead of the market or, if we are courageous enough, even to act against the market movement. Otherwise, we are just a market follower moving up and down with the market. When market tanks, we lose; and when the market roars, we win. That said, I bought back some of the stocks that I had sold in April such as Jardine C&C and IPC to pocket the difference and yet maintain my original exposure in these stocks. In other words, I ‘squared off’ my position.

Hopefully, I am well-positioned when there is a big buy to propel the market. There could, however, be a stumbling block this year as the spectre of higher interest rate can derail this strategy. Big investors and fund managers may not return any time soon as they go in search of better yield elsewhere especially when local economic outlook still looks uncertain. Should such an event happens, it would affect the market liquidity. Accordingly, we should expect the spread between lending and saving to widen, thereby benefiting the bank stocks. With the cash return from OSIM, following the privatization plan by its chairman and CEO, Mr Ron Sim, I had also increased my stake in the bank stocks. However, one has to be careful about over-exposures in bank stocks in an increasing interest rate environment as non-performance loans (NPL) will also increase as well. If the interest rate continues to perk up, it will come to a time when the deteriorating asset quality will overwhelm the benefits of higher interest margin.

Happy investing!

Disclaimer:

This article is not a recommendation or an advice to buy/sell the mentioned stocks. It is a sharing of his opinions with the readers.

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 26 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.

Making sense out of this market

The interest in the stock market returned with a vengeance over the last 6 trading days. By Friday yesterday, it had ended at 2837, an increase of 234 points from the closing at 2603.40 on 25 February. This represented an increase of 9% on the ST index. Imagine if one were to continue to wait in hope that index tanked further, then he would have missed this rally. It may be the best rally for this year.  Thanks to this changing global sentiment, I managed to pick up some battered blue-chip stocks after the Chinese new year to add to my portfolio. This is in anticipation of additional liquidity that will come April and May when companies distribute out their year-end dividend.

The fact that stock markets all over the world were retreating in the last two months was that people were generally fearful about the world economy – the retreat of commodity prices, the collapse of crude oil prices and that the Chinese economy growth rate slowed to 6.9% was the worst in the last 25 years. Similarly, the European as well as the Japanese economies were only trudging along even with huge stimulation packages. Naturally there is a lot of pessimism over the local economy that led to a huge retreat in the ST index over the last two months in January and February.

As pointed in my book “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks”, markets tend to undershoot the pessimistic outlook (and of course it also tends to overshoot during massive optimism at the other extreme). Consequently, windows of opportunity will present themselves time and again. Take DBS for example. Six months ago, it was trading at around $20 per share, but it fell to $13 per share just recently, a drop of about 35%. In between, there were only two quarterly of reporting. Were the results that bad for the share to tank so much? I am not saying that DBS share cannot drop to $13 if it really did badly. What I am saying is that the market tends to anticipate too much before it really happens. And when things were not as bad or when there were some signs of good news, it would start to leap forward. That was exactly what I mentioned in my earlier post (Market rout: A test of our mental fortitude.) that the market is likely to roar with ferocity because the market had already dropped too much.

 

Let us examine the stock market index. About 20 years ago, if the ST Index were to reach 2500, we can safely say that it had reached its high. But today, if ST index 2600 level, it would be have been considered it as a historical low. There were only two occasions since global finance crisis in 2008/2009 that had hit below 2600, namely the euro-zone crisis in 2011 as well as after the collapse of oil prices recently. Again, it is of course possible that the ST index can go lower than 2600 and even 2500 and below, but it is important to note that stock indices represent the value of a sample of selected companies. As stock indices retreat, values of companies will emerge because market is “under-pricing” the value of companies more and more. Stock prices are driven by sentiments, and very often, the market may become so pessimistic that it starts to price themselves grossly below companies’ intrinsic value thus causing big price differences between stock values and stock prices. Consequently, when the sentiment changes, the bounce back becomes forceful. Now that this force had already pushed up the stock index significantly, perhaps the strength to push up the index further may start to weaken or even collapse going forward.

Invest carefully now.

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 26 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.

Banks may be cheap now, but…

Cash is king. Yes, during financial turmoil like this when stock markets all over the world are sinking, having cash is the key. According to The Straits Times on 20 January 2016, just last year alone, about US$735 billion left emerging market. China accounted for $676 billion which formed the bulk of the outflow. Similarly, the fund inflow last year was about US$231 billion against US$1.2 billion per year from 2010 to 2014.

On the corporate front, banks are natural victims during times of liquidity crunch too. Most bank share prices have sunk more than 30% from their recent high when the ST index hit 3500. Right now, banks are trading near or below their book value (BV). Exactly, five months ago, I had written in my blog that there was always a possibility that banks might start to raise funds through rights issue if the turmoil persists. So far, none of the banks have raised alarm, but still it is possible if banks deem it fit to do so. After all, there were past precedence of fund raising activities during financial crises. For example, DBS raised S$4.2b in end 2008 through 1-2 rights issue. Similarly, OCBC and UOB raised $1 billion each through preference shares issue. In a similar way, during Asian financial crisis in 1998, DBS acquired the POSB. Looking ahead, it is still a possibility especially during such times when other banks or companies may fall into bad times. Such huge fund raising activities can come in handy for future acquisitions.

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 26 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.