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The Evolution of a Value Investor

June 22, 2013 | About:
The Science of Hitting

The Science of Hitting

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“Develop into a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading; cultivate curiosity and strive to become a little wiser every day.”

- Charlie Munger

I’ve never gone wrong listening to Charlie, and the preceding quote has been the cornerstone of my development as an investor; small steps have led to a decent foundation, and I have no plans of slowing down. As time has passed, I’ve moved through different approaches. In my analysis, I’ve worked to continually improve my process in order to generate as much insight as possible when researching potential investments. Today, I would like to point out a few things that have become increasingly important in my approach that others may find useful; hopefully others will add their two cents in the comment section if they think of something indispensable to their own approach that I’ve overlooked. Here are three things I focus on that I didn’t used to a few years ago, but couldn’t imagine not doing today:

1) Pension Analysis – Most companies have defined benefit pension plans on their books; as a result, they segregate assets which will be used to fund future liabilities as they come due. Most investors will look at the pension obligation in comparison to the plan assets in order to determine the funded status; while this certainly is important, I find the assumptions baked into the calculations to be much more revealing. One example is the expected long term rate of return on plan assets: Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) uses a 6.6% return expectation, Ford (F) uses a 7.5% return expectation, and DuPont (DD) uses an 8.61% return expectation; this brings up an interesting question, considering all three have similar asset allocations/targets. In the case of DuPont, meeting this return expectation has meaning; if they only manage to squeeze out the 6.6% that Berkshire’s targeting, they estimate the impact would be a $360 million hit to pre-tax earnings – equal to 13% of DuPont’s net income in the most recent fiscal year.

2) The Proxy Statement – If you’ve never looked at the filing titled “DEFA14A”, you should start; the proxy statement lays out critical things like board composition, large shareholders, and executive compensation. In the case of J.C. Penney (JCP), the proxy statement showed that Ron Johnson made a personal investment of $50 million in 7.5 year warrants, which suggested a long term commitment to the company’s future; in addition, Mr. Johnson did not enter into an Executive Termination Pay Agreement when he was hired, meaning that if he left the company – with or without cause – he would essentially walk away with nothing. On April 8th, that’s exactly what happened. Regardless of the fact that his tenure at JCP did not go as planned, this is critical information to have when assessing whether or not management has your best interests in mind (asking isn’t enough – all management teams will tell you that they’re shareholder friendly).

3) DuPont Analysis – The best gets saved for last; DuPont analysis has fundamentally changed the way I look at potential investments. Prior to implementing DuPont analysis in my investment process, I suffered from a condition that (in my opinion) has a hold on the investment profession; the vast majority of the reports/articles that I read discussing potential investments rest upon the conclusion that the current P/E, EV/EBITDA, or some other multiple of earnings power is due for a change. I think the main reason that this has become the focal point of the investment community is because most people aren’t interested in what happens to the business over time; they plan on holding the piece of paper for a few months (or days) and only hope for speculative returns tied to valuation changes from Mr. Market. The long term investor should look at the bigger picture, as captured in this quote from Charlie Munger:

“Over the long term, it's hard for a stock to earn a much better return that the business which underlies it earns. If the business earns six percent on capital over forty years and you hold it for that forty years, you're not going to make much different than a six percent return - even if you originally buy it at a huge discount. Conversely, if a business earns eighteen percent on capital over twenty or thirty years, even if you pay an expensive looking price, you'll end up with one hell of a result.”

Focusing in on the returns of the assets underlying the business, and thinking about what drives them over time, is critical in building return expectations; finding a great investment involves looking at more than the current multiple on earnings. DuPont analysis gives the numbers in the financial statements meaning; to me, this is epitome of accounting as the language of business.

The beauty of DuPont analysis not only comes from what it says; this exercise will often lead to more questions than answers – with those questions leading to the insights required to spot changed that most investors will have overlooked. This tool is an essential addition to any investor’s repertoire.

Hopefully you will find these three ideas useful in your own research; I would greatly enjoy hearing your own thoughts on what tools in your toolbox you simply could not live without.

About the author:

The Science of Hitting
I'm a value investor, with a focus on patience; I look to buy great companies that are suffering from short term issues, and hope to load up when these opportunities present themselves. As this would suggest, I run a fairly concentrated portfolio by most standards, usually with 8-10 names; from the perspective of a businessman rather than a market participant / stock trader, I believe this is more than sufficient diversification.

I hope to own a collection of great businesses; to ever sell one, I would demand a substantial premium to the average market valuation due to what I believe are the understated benefits to the long term investor of superior fundamentals and time on intrinsic value. I don't have a target when I purchase a stock; my goal is to replicate the underlying returns of the business in question - which if I've done my job properly, should be very attractive over many years.

Rating: 4.4/5 (34 votes)

Comments

Koheleth
Koheleth - 9 months ago
Great article. Love the Munger quotes. Couldn't agree more. I think the book "The Outsiders" also reinforces the point about how a company/management allocates capital has a much bigger impact on long-term returns for the business owner than whether it was bought at a discount.

I would add under your proxies suggestion that you evaluate just how much dilution is possible. I have overlooked this to my detriment. How many new shares will be issued and why? Ownership is one thing but if insiders continually grant themselves stock without paying for it, that's not a shareholder friendly sign to me.

And Lynch says not to worry too much about insider selling, but if more than one is selling substantial chunks, that CANNOT be overlooked.

On the other hand, buried in the proxy I found in one investment an ownership plan not only for the CEO but for his children. That was a good shareholder sign that the ceo wasn't looking for a hasty exit.

The Science of Hitting
The Science of Hitting premium member - 9 months ago
Koheleth,

Great suggestions for the proxy statement - need to see if management has a substantial position in the common equity AND how it was attained. Thanks for the comment!
mtommasiello
Mtommasiello - 9 months ago
Couldn't agree more with #3
The Science of Hitting
The Science of Hitting premium member - 9 months ago
Mtommasiello,

Thanks for the kind words!
dhananjayan.jayabal
Dhananjayan.jayabal - 9 months ago
Very good article - simple but meaningful. Liked all the three points and more on third point. I feel Dupont analysis is the one best tool for critically analyzing a company. Good work. Please keep writing

Regards

Dhananjayan
haoafu
Haoafu - 9 months ago
Good points as always.

One thing I learned from experience: Invest in areas where competition is low(or predictable). Pay extra attention to not only the in-industry competitors, but also the competition between industries/countries.

The Science of Hitting
The Science of Hitting premium member - 9 months ago
Dhananjayan & Haoafu,

Thanks for the kind words; look out for more articles on the horizon.
valueman2112
Valueman2112 premium member - 9 months ago


Very useful. Thank you.
The Science of Hitting
The Science of Hitting premium member - 9 months ago
Valueman2112,

Glad you liked it! Thanks for the kind words!
Valu2day
Valu2day premium member - 9 months ago
Science,

I enjoyed reading this article. You highlighted three exceptional points we should all pay attention to.

Thank you.
The Science of Hitting
The Science of Hitting premium member - 9 months ago
Valu2day,

Glad you enjoyed it - thanks for the kind words!

Please leave your comment:


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