Big Blue: singing the blues?

IBM has seen better days. Lately, it’s been the poster-child for old technology: not growing, seemingly threatened by technological obsolescence, and failing in the cloud and mobile. (full disclosure: my clients and I own shares of IBM)

I think this view misses a few things. IBM has very deep relationships with its customers, who tend to be large organizations that need or want IBM’s help with information technology. IBM also dominates mainframes, and has a very strong position in middleware. IBM is a very high return on investment business, with lots of opportunities to reinvest for future high returns.

I believe IBM’s key strength is its relationship with customers. IBM is deeply embedded with large organizations who use its hardware, software and services. These customers prefer to “not get fired” because they buy from IBM, but they also have legacy systems that are very difficult to replace. IBM is there to hold their hand when it comes to information technology, and that is why many, if not most of them, will continue working with IBM. They trust IBM to help them with their information technology decisions and implementations.

Part of the reason IBM is so embedded is that many large organizations still use IBM’s mainframes: 92 of the top 100 banks, 10 of the 10 largest insurers, 6 of the 10 largest retailers, 23 of the 25 largest airlines. Most of these organizations started using mainframes decades ago, and have legacy code that would be very expensive and difficult to move off IBM’s mainframes. Feature-wise, mainframes are very reliable (reboot time in years, not weeks), high security, and extremely fast (especially for the type of processing such organizations do). IBM is dominant in mainframes (~90% market share) and that’s unlikely to change soon.

IBM has the highest market share in middleware at present, too. This is the software that links software components or enterprise applications with each other. IBM’s middleware allows other programs to work together, and that connection is extremely important to IBM’s customers. Gartner’s most recent report showed IBM with 29% market share, far ahead of Oracle’s 14%. This position is likely sustainable because of how integral middleware is to large organizations. Software is 28% of IBM’s revenue, but 48% of their pre-tax profits. Software really matters for IBM and its customers.

IBM generates very high returns on its investments. It doesn’t take a lot of capital to provide IBM’s hardware design, services or software. By my calculations, IBM generates 35% returns on net assets, 42% returns on capital, and 84% on net tangible assets. Although these numbers have been trending down recently, the decline is not precipitous and they demonstrate the high return nature of IBM’s business. I believe these opportunities will continue into the future because the nature of IBM’s business and its underlying stability hasn’t fundamentally changed (many disagree with me on this–seeing tech obsolescence as IBM’s key problem; I have more to say on this below).

And, that’s an important key to understanding IBM: the nature of its business. IBM is first and foremost an enterprise information technology company. It is not trying to dominate all markets, just the markets where IBM has value to add and the returns are high. Much of IBM’s business is service-oriented. That work is usually based on long term contracts that allow for predictable allocation of assets and returns on investment.

Importantly, IBM seems to have institutionalized high productivity innovation and financial discipline. IBM has led the world in patents for 20 years, which just shows how important innovation is at IBM. Not all of those patents are productive or successful returns-wise, but it does show how even a large organization can put innovation at the center of its culture. This culture does not make it omnipotent, but it does lead to high value products and services–in other words, many high return, future investments.

When IBM does miss a technological change it views as important to enterprise information technology, it doesn’t tend to suffer from not-invented-here. Instead, it acquires the technology it lacks, and does it with financial discipline. By this, I mean IBM doesn’t pay a price it can’t get a good return on. It prefers to buy smaller companies that haven’t expanded internationally, such that IBM can recoup its investment by putting its global sales force to work selling the technology just acquired.

IBM’s financial discipline is on display with its returns on capital and acquisitions, but also with its capital allocation between reinvesting in the business, paying dividends, issuing/repaying debt, and buying back stock. IBM has been justly criticized for buying back stock up to 43% above its current price level, but I think this misses IBM’s attitude toward reinvesting in the business that focuses on investment returns (I judge the organization on their process and discipline as well as their successful implementation–no one gets it right 100% of the time). That focus and discipline is rare, especially for a technology company.

The cloud is where IBM has felt the most criticism, recently. The story is that IBM missed the transition to the cloud, and that it can’t catch up to new businesses native to the cloud, or further ahead in cloud implementation. But, I think this misses the nature of IBM’s business and its customers. I don’t think a top 10 bank will jump to a cloud database solution any time soon. They want IBM’s legacy mainframe system paired with the cloud in a hybrid configuration (as much to maintain security and regulatory requirements as to prevent having to recode their systems of record). Many or most of IBM’s current customers are in similar situations with similar concerns. IBM is very likely to be a trusted partner showing them the way.

IBM’s numbers have looked weak or even terrible over the last couple of years. Part of the reason is due to currency: much of IBM’s top line comes from outside the U.S. (66%) and the U.S. dollar has appreciated over 20% over the last year. IBM has also been aggressively selling off lower return on capital businesses: retail store solutions in 2012, customer care, showcase reporting, ACG and Cognos ADT in 2013, and microelectronics, industry standard servers, solidDB, Cognos Finance, IMS Tools Suite, Sterling Transportation Management Systems, ILOG JViews, Ilixir Visualization, Focal Point and Purify Plus in 2014. These divestitures have hurt both the top and bottom line, but have also raised profit margins. Adjusted for these divestitures and currency moves, IBM’s numbers look much better, though not wonderful, either.

And, I think this is the heart of the investment argument for IBM. There is little doubt that revenues haven’t been growing, but is that already factored into the price? It seems to me that it is.

IBM’s last 4 quarter sales per share were around $87. The adjusted net margin (adjusted for discontinued operations and a few other small items) over the last 12 months were around 17.5%.

My base case assumptions are 0% sales growth, 1.5% net margin growth, and 2.5% share buybacks. Hanging a 12.5x multiple on that (4% earnings per share growth) I come up with a price of around $190.

My below base case scenario sees -2% sales growth, 1% margin growth and 2% share buybacks (the low end of management’s expected range). Hanging a 9x multiple on that (1% earnings per share growth) looks like a $137 price.

My above base case scenario envisions 2% sales growth (the low single digit number management claims they can achieve), 2% margin growth (going from 17.5% net margin to 18.5% over the next 3 years based on moves to higher margin hardware/software and services) and 3% buybacks (the top end of management’s expected range). Hanging a 16x multiple (7% earnings per share growth) gives a $244 price.

If I give a 25% chance to the poor outcome, a 50% chance to the base case, and a 25% chance to the better outcome, that looks like a mid-teen return (I assume dividends grow at the same rate as earnings per share). That looks pretty interesting considering that the S&P 500 looks like a mid-single digit return from here. IBM’s price seems to factor in the key issues a bit too harshly.

Looking at Wall Street’s estimates, other analysts seem to be in the same ballpark with my assessment for earnings, which seems to indicate that the multiple and growth are where our opinions differ. I think a 10x multiple is too low for a business like IBM, but Wall Street seems to think it will stay there. If IBM executes as I believe it will, mostly because of its relationships with customers and embedded products and services, I think other investors will end up agreeing with me and rewarding IBM with a higher multiple.

As for growth, I don’t think IBM needs top line growth to grow value per share. Growing margins and executing buybacks at smarter prices–two things IBM has done well in the past (although not every time)– should lead to low to mid-single digit growth in earnings per share. That, too, would indicate a higher multiple.

I have deliberately stayed away from describing IBM’s upside. Watson could prove a solid money maker and revolutionize computing. So could IBM’s specialization in analytics, growth in hybrid cloud, or efforts in security and engagement. I don’t think IBM needs these things to go right to win, but if it does, it provides more upside.

What could go wrong for IBM? Technological obsolescence: the cloud could evolve to provide the same level of speed, reliability and security as mainframes but at lower cost or with greater convenience. Or, IBM’s relationships with customers could be sundered by competitors or substitutes able to best IBM’s services. I don’t think either threat is imminent or very likely, but either could make inroads over time that could build into bigger competitive difficulties for IBM. I am watching IBM’s numbers closely to see if this has or is happening.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Big Blue: singing the blues?

No Joy for Joy Global

Because the coal market is tanking, it’s an interesting place to look for investments.

I must admit, I’m not very interested in the coal producers themselves because I see no sustainable competitive advantages. The businesses that serve the coal market, however, do interest me, because I can find companies that possess such advantages. I believe Joy Global (JOY) might be one of them (neither my clients nor I own any shares of Joy Global at present, although this could change at any time).

Joy Global makes some of the huge equipment used for mining. This includes both surface and underground mining equipment, like conveyors, breakers, long wall shearers, roof supports, drills, shovels, draglines, loaders, etc. Joy’s website gives all the fascinating details.

Joy’s equipment is highly specialized, and that means it is highly integrated into mining production companies. Joy’s equipment is also highly productive, which means that mining businesses focused on costs and long run efficiency can benefit from owning Joy’s products.

Most importantly, Joy’s mining equipment is difficult to optimally operate and maintain over the long run without support from Joy, which means that one of Joy’s most important businesses is parts and service. To keep this type of equipment is good working condition, it is beneficial to engage the services of Joy Global.

Joy gets almost 55% of its business from coal miners. That is because Joy has specialized in the type of equipment used for mining coal, both underground and surface. Everyone knows that the coal industry is severely depressed right now with low coal prices due to too much supply and low demand. Coal suffers, too, from competition from alternatives like natural gas at very low prices, as well as oil, nuclear, wind and solar. Significantly, coal is also facing severe political pressure because it is considered such a dirty energy source. Many of the governments of the world, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, are working hard to eliminate coal as a source of energy.

What may not be as well understood is how fundamental coal is both as an energy source (thermal coal) and as an input to making steel (met-coal). Even if everyone agreed that coal is a terrible energy source, it would take decades to completely switch from coal to other energy sources (even here in the U.S.). Coal is also a major energy source in places like China, India and Indonesia (the 1st, 2nd and 4th most populous countries). In China, switching from coal will take a very long time, even assuming the Chinese government agrees to curtail its use. India and Indonesia, in contrast, are trying to figure out how to produce more coal to meet their growing energy needs. Coal may be hated, but it’s not going away any time soon, and perhaps not ever.

In addition to coal, Joy does business with mining companies focused mostly on iron ore and copper, but also gold, oil sands, and potash/salt. None of these businesses are doing that well now, either, because of too much supply and not enough demand. In other words, it is not just the coal market that has Joy down.

Although down, I don’t think Joy is out. Even in it’s depressed state, it is still generating over $3 billion a year in revenue, 75% of which is the more consistent service business I referred to above. And, Joy is still quite profitable. Profit margins are down from a high of over 14% (trailing twelve months) in 2011 to 8% now, but that is still quite respectable. Over the last 4 quarters, Joy still earned $2.69 per share. Not bad.

As investors know, it is the future, not the past that determines a security’s price. For Joy, the short to intermediate term looks pretty unclear. I think it is prudent to assume that the commodities boom of the last 15 years is over. That means looking at Joy’s past 15 years of financials doesn’t necessarily help a lot in figuring out the nearer term future.

I do believe that Joy’s service business is a good place to start in assessing value, though. Joy’s service business has generated an average of $565 million in revenue a quarter over the last three quarters. As a base, that is a bit over $2.2 billion a year in revenue. Unfortunately for Joy, that service business has been declining, too, as miners have been putting off maintenance and overhauls to try to make ends meet.

Assuming Joy’s service business continues to decline, I still think that Joy will remain profitable and able to pay interest payments and dividends. I think Joy’s service business, even without any original equipment sales, could see a further decline of around 25% and still be able to pay interest and dividends. The service business could decline 25% from here, or more, but maintaining a level that low seems unlikely. I believe creditors and bankruptcy judges will agree that maintaining equipment in good working order at the mining companies is in everyone’s long term interests.

As a base case, I’m assuming Joy can do $500 million in revenue a quarter just from service (down 11.5% from the last 3 quarters). Using a 6.5% net margin (lower due to continued fixed costs) on that gives you around $1.28 in earnings per share.  Hang an 8x multiple (which assumes 0% growth), and you get a $10.24 price. I think that is a pretty negative scenario: assuming service declines 11.5%, and no original equipment sales.

Could things be worse? Of course. Assuming services declines 25% and gets only a 5% net margin (even bigger hit from fixed costs), you end up with $0.74 in e.p.s., which would be below Joy’s dividend rate of $0.80 per year. Hang my no-growth multiple of 8x on that and you get a $5.90 price. I think that is an extremely negative scenario, but one that must be considered.

Assuming the coal market eventually stabilizes and Joy gets back to its current level and mix of services and original equipment (75%/25%), then you get back up to $3 billion of sales, an 8% net margin, so $2.37 in e.p.s., and an 11.5x multiple (3% growth), and Joy would be back up to $25 to $30 in price. That would be a nice return from here.

If I assume a 25% chance of my worse case price, $5.90, 50% chance of my base case, $10.24, and 25% chance of my stabilization case, $27.28, I come up with an assessed value of $13.42. With that, you can see why I haven’t bought, yet, but I am getting close to doing so.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

No Joy for Joy Global

Falling prices are good, unless you are an imminent seller

When the stock market is tanking, like it has been recently, I find many people are scared to talk to me about it. They seem to think that declining stock prices are like a death in the family–a reason to offer condolences.

But, why is that? I don’t fret if I go to the grocery store and find prices have fallen 20%. When I go to buy gas, I’m quite happy to find prices have fallen. Why is this so different with stock prices?

After all, I’m a net buyer of investments. Only if I had some imminent plan to sell my stocks because I needed the money very soon would falling prices be a bad thing.

I think most people think I’m putting on a brave face or bucking myself up when I say I’m happy to see stock prices falling. They can’t seem to conceive that falling prices are good for buyers of stocks just as it is good for buyers of groceries, gas, cars or even houses.

I think that is because people too closely associate themselves with their current net worth. Instead of conceiving of their net worth as something in flux, that goes up and down like everything in the economy, they feel their current net worth indicates how much they can pull over time.

But, current net worth is a snapshot, not life itself. Just as a picture cannot capture a life, neither can current net worth define your lifetime cash flow.

Even for those close to or in retirement, stock market fluctuations need not be of major concern. If you have money you need to spend next month or next year in the stock market, you are indeed at risk. But you need not bear that risk unless you choose to. Your cash needs for the next three or so years should be in a stable value position, like a bank or money market account, not in the stock market. 

Most people who fret over stock market returns don’t need that money soon, either. They know they will need it in time, but they don’t need it today. 

Market volatility and declines are a benefit to the calm investor who knows that current net worth is just a snapshot. Thought of in this way, stock market drops can lead to higher net worth over time and increased cash flows. That is why I’m happy to see the stock market decline, and I think others should be, too.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Falling prices are good, unless you are an imminent seller

What is diversification worth?

In the investing world, diversification has the feel of holy writ. No one conventional will ever question it.

The reality, however, is that diversification is frequently taken out of context and misunderstood.

For example, many investors are sold on the idea that diversification will prevent their portfolios from tanking when markets go haywire. But, this is seldom the case. Perhaps one’s portfolio goes down 40% instead of 50%, but that’s the best-case scenario at the absolute worst part of a market downturn. How many people are really happy about being momentarily down a little less than the overall market?

I’ve seen presentations that show much less “reduced volatility”–down 10% instead of 11%–pitched as the holy grail, but I’ve never heard a client say, “Boy, am I glad I was diversified,” with such small differentiation.

As with all things in life, there is a cost to diversification: usually lower returns. The sales pitch is that you give up some return in exchange for lower volatility. That’s great, but it must be thoroughly understood that giving up return means less money in retirement. I think many investors would prefer higher volatility and a better retirement, and they should make that choice with a clear idea of what they are choosing. I would happily take 10% more volatility and 10% more income in retirement, and my guess is that I’m not alone.

Diversification is a benefit, but that benefit has limits. A portfolio of 100 stocks should probably be replaced with a low cost index fund. A portfolio that is 80% in your employer’s stock is not very smart. Somewhere in between those two extremes is diversification that works for most people.

Diversification works because it removes the consequences of not being omniscient. No one, not even Warren Buffett, knows the future with precision, so that type of diversification is prudent. 

That does not mean buy a little of everything and the more the merrier. Over-diversification has huge penalties, too, and that comes in the form of lousy returns.

The benefits and drawbacks of diversification seem clearer after the market has tanked and rebounded like it has over the last week and a half. There was little benefit to being investing in one stock versus another, because they almost all went down and back up together. 

The things that did do well, perhaps gold and U.S. Treasuries, either have been or will be terrible investments over 5 to 10 year periods. To gain their benefit in somewhat reduced volatility is to lose future returns that may be worth much more. Perhaps that’s not what everyone wants or needs.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

What is diversification worth?

The stock market wakes up to global risk

Surprisingly–to me, at least–the market has finally woken up to global economic risks.

The signs were there before: commodity prices tanking, emerging markets in heavy decline, state interventions in Greece and China, accusations of broad corruption in places like Brazil.

The question investors will be asking themselves over the weekend is: is this the beginning of a bear market or just a brief pullback to be bought into?

I’ll spoil the suspense: no one knows. Only in hindsight is it clear when bear markets begin versus temporary pullbacks.

What I do know is that a significant pullback or a bigger bear market are both opportunities for investors. During such times, psychology takes over as some people panic, and that means something is being sold too cheaply.

To benefit from such situations, the goal is not to pick the absolute bottom in the stock market or a particular stock, but to know what specific securities are worth–after arduous research–and then to buy accordingly.

When people ask me if such pullbacks scare me, I always say “No!”  Such times are great opportunities to benefit from the panic of others.

In other words, I’m excited to go shopping.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

The stock market wakes up to global risk

Stock market up 60% since 2007 peak

Building wealth over time requires the fortitude to stick to your plan.

Colorado Spring’s own Allan Roth made this point nicely in a recent Wall Street Journal article. His basic point is that even if you had been unlucky enough to buy at the stock market peak of 2007, your wealth would still be 60% higher now if you had stuck with it.

The problem is that so few stick with it.

Yes, the market went down over 50% from that 2007 peak. But, those losses were temporary. The U.S. businesses underlying the market rebounded and are doing well.

Nothing in life is free. The price of generating good long term investment returns is having the courage to stick to a good plan. 

That means you have to be able to ride the market up and down without getting so that scared you sell at the bottom or so euphoric that you don’t adjust your portfolio at the top.

Becoming wealthy is not rocket science. Spend 80% of you income, invest the other 20% in the highest performing asset class over time–stocks–and have the intestinal fortitude to stick to that plan over time.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Stock market up 60% since 2007 peak

Adapting as an investor

I remember well how much I loved to program computers. As a cadet at the Air Force Academy taking lots of astronautical engineering courses, I had to do a lot of computer programming.  These projects were very complex, requiring precise calculations (to 8 significant digits) of the velocity and position of satellites, antenna pointing angles, terrestrial positions, etc. They were done on 286 Zenith computers without hard-drives, so some programs could rake as long as 24 hours to run.

I love the process, though. No matter how difficult the problem, I could always solve it. It was like a big puzzle: figure out what part of the program went askew, make changes to that one part and test it repeatedly, and keep doing that until you got it right. Then move on to the next part and repeat until you got it all solved. My classmates were frequently amazed that I would have the projects done weeks in advance. I just loved the process.

Investing doesn’t work so easily. The difference is the noisy feedback loop. Orbital mechanics is like clockwork. You know the starting situation, you know the physics, so when something goes off track it is easy to see that it’s wrong, and it is easy to figure out where to jump in and fix it.

With investing, the data is much more noisy. By noisy, I mean there are lots of false signals that things are going well when they won’t in the long run, and that they are going poorly when they will go well in the long run. 

In other words, when you make a change to your investing process, it can take years, perhaps even decades to see if you really have it right. That’s not the happy feedback loop of computer programming with instant and clear feedback.

But, that is the nature of the beast. When you see your results aren’t doing what you expect, you need to make changes to adapt, and then wait another couple of years to see how that worked.

The process is the same as it is with computer programming, but the signal is very noisy, meaning you don’t know if things have actually gone wrong or not, and the feedback loop takes years instead of minutes to complete. 

I have to admit, I still love to solve the puzzle. Just like with computer programming, I’m as committed and convinced that I can get it right.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Adapting as an investor

The Lessons Of Oil

Not many outside the investing business have heard of Howard Marks. He is a very successful money manager at Oaktree Capital with a reputation built mostly around distressed debt investing.  

He also writes very well and publishes Memos that I eagerly read.

His latest is on the fall in the price of oil and what lessons we can learn from it.

I highly recommend it to anyone who wants clear thinking on the subject.

If you don’t want to read it, here are some quick highlights:

“…what ‘everyone knows’ is usually unhelpful at best and wrong at worst.”

“Not only did the investing herd have the outlook for rates all wrong, but was uniformly inquiring about the wrong thing.”

“Asset prices are often set to allow for the risks people are aware of.  It’s the ones they haven’t thought of that can knock the market for a loop.”

“Forecasters usually stick too close to the current level, and on those rare occasions when they call for change, they often underestimate the potential magnitude.”

 “This is an example of how hard it can be to appropriately factor all of the relevant considerations into complex real-world analysis.”

“Most people easily grasp the immediate impact of developments, but few understand the ‘second-order’ consequences…as well as the third and fourth.”

“…it’s hard for most people to understand the self-correcting aspects of economic events.”

“If you think markets are logical and investors are objective and unemotional, you’re in for a lot of surprises.”

“A well-known quote from economist Rudiger Dornbusch goes as follows: ‘In economics things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.'”

“The key lesson here may be that cartels and other anti-market mechanisms can’t hold forever.”

“…it’s hard to analytically put a price on an asset that doesn’t produce income.” 

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

The Lessons Of Oil

There’s no substitute for hard work

When it comes to improving at anything, there is just no substitute for good, old fashioned hard work.

I’ve been reminded of this lately as I build out my circles of competence through intensive research.

When I started out investing in 1996, I was still working full-time as a pilot in the Air Force and getting my MBA in night school. My research then was heavily focused on quantitative analysis, and my understanding of the qualitative side of investing was slim to none.

As I gained more experience, I also did a lot more research into the qualitative side of research starting in 1998. At that point, my investing results were about as good as the market’s, which isn’t outstanding, but is quite an accomplishment as a value investor at the end of one of the biggest bull markets in history.

As the dot-com bubble peaked and then exploded from 1999 to 2000, I found myself holding several very under-valued, small brick and mortar companies. Those companies’ out-performance was just incredible over the following years.

That was around the time I got out of the Air Force in late 2001 and started as an investing professional.  At that point, I had a lot more time to do qualitative research, but my quantitative method was still working so well that I wasn’t quite doing the best research I could. Because the quantitative method looked so easy at the time, I didn’t see any good reason to dramatically change.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I found myself beating the market by over 8% annualized from 1995-2002 (71% more, cumulatively, than market returns) and 1995-2003 (85% more, cumulatively, than market returns). It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Because I was having a harder time finding my quantitative darlings in 2004, I was sitting in a lot of cash, but my returns were still beating the market by over 6.5% annualized over 9 years (76% more, cumulatively, than market returns).

What I didn’t realize at the time was that value investing was having it’s best run ever from 2000-2005. The quantitative method that had served me so well was about to sunset.

That was when I started my own value investing shop. Bad timing.

I knew the quantitative side wasn’t working like it had, but I didn’t fully grasp why. As time went by, I worked harder and harder to master the qualitative side of investing, but I wasn’t quite getting there because I was trying to do it without really working with as much focus as I needed to.

After beating the market by a small margin from 2005 to 2008, I started to realize I needed a more fundamental make-over of my investment research. Instead of quantitative screens, I needed to figure out which companies I wanted to own, qualitatively, and then figure out what they were worth.

I have been on that path ever since, and I’ve been working longer and longer hours at it. Getting to know one company, and all its competitors, all the other companies in the industry, and the company’s suppliers and buyers, the substitute products that may kill the business, and so on takes many hours of reading, re-reading, learning, researching, analyzing, etc.

When it comes time to improve, nothing really beats hard work. Hard work isn’t fun, per se, but it does produce great value. I’m ashamed to say that it took me so long to find and pursue this path, but now that I’m on it, I’m not sure why I thought any other method would work.  

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

There’s no substitute for hard work