Sunday, 13 August 2017

No Need to Maximise Profits with Cash of Last Resort

CPF funds are my cash of last resort in investing. I have quite a good record of investing my CPF funds. However, that statement would be incomplete, because majority of the time, the funds are parked in bank preference shares and collecting regular dividends that pay higher than CPF Ordinary Account's interest rate of 2.5%. On equity investments, there were only 2 occasions when CPF funds were deployed. The first was during the market doldrums during 2000-2003, when I ran out of cash for investments and had to rely on my CPF funds. The second was to buy more of Global Logistic Properties (GLP) than what was allowed for in my cash portfolio (see What is My Target Price? for more info).

Since CPF funds are my cash of last resort, the overriding principle is safety rather than maximising profits. Hence, majority of the time, they were parked in bank preference shares rather than being invested in equities. Furthermore, on the 2 occasions when they were invested in equities, they were not held until profits were maximised. On the first occasion, CPF funds were invested in STI ETF when the STI was at 1,316 points in Feb 2003 and sold when the STI reached 2,169 points in Mar 2005 for a 66% gain. The STI went on to hit a high of 3,876 points in Oct 2007. The reason for selling STI ETF early was because by early 2004, the stock market had recovered from the doldrums and my cash portfolio had turned a profit. There was no longer any need to use CPF funds for equities investment. Hence, they were returned to CPF.

On the second occasion, I bought GLP at $1.985 in Nov 2016 on rumours that a Chinese consortium was interested to buy GLP. Last month, GLP announced that it had selected the Chinese consortium as the preferred bidder, which offered to privatise it at $3.38. I sold the GLP shares bought with CPF funds at $3.22, even though there is another $0.16 to gain if they were held until completion of the privatisation, which has to be completed by 14 Apr next year (unless extended). The gain is 62%. In my opinion, the job is done. There is no need to further expose the CPF funds to unnecessary risks to get the remaining gains. They can be returned to CPF until the situation calls for them again.

When you have a cash of last resort, the important thing is to keep them safe and have them ready when you need them. There is no need to expose them to unnecessary risks for longer than is required.

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Sunday, 6 August 2017

What Are Driving Those Numbers!

The quarterly earnings season has started and I have been busy reading the financial results. It is sometimes frustrating that the reports do not reveal much about why the business is doing well or poorly and whether the trend will continue. The reports contain a lot of numbers and some discussions, but most of the time, the discussions just regurgitate what the numbers already show. To illustrate what I mean, I will use M1's financial results as an example, but it is not the only company that has the issue.

The figure below from M1's financial results shows the numbers generated by the various business segments in 2Q2017. For instance, it shows that revenue for the mobile telco services segment dropped by 2.1% Year-on-Year (YOY) in 2Q2017, customer subscriptions rose by 4.5% YOY, etc. These are useful numbers to understand how well the business is doing. But they do not explain why revenue has fallen even though customer subscriptions have increased. By right, if customer subscriptions increase, revenue would also increase correspondingly, isn't it?

Fig. 1: Numbers

Following the numbers in the financial results is a discussion of those numbers. The figure below shows the level of sophistication of the discussion. 

Fig. 2: Discussion

The opening paragraph of the discussion says, "YOY, operating revenue at $251.6M for 2Q2017 and $512.3M for 1H2017 were 4.7% and 2.9% higher respectively due to higher fixed services revenue and handset sales. Compared to 1Q2017, it was 3.5% lower." Haven't all these information been reflected in the numbers already? What extra information do investors get after spending time to read the discussion?

What investors really want from the discussion is to understand the factors driving those numbers. Investors should not be left to guess why those numbers rise or fall and whether the trend would continue. An example of a good discussion is actually given by M1 in the second paragraph of Key Drivers, which explains why churn rate hit a high of 1.7% in 2Q2017 when the average historical churn rate is only 1.0%. It explains that "Churn rate was 1.7% for 2Q2017 and 1.4% for 1H2017 as a result of the migration of customers who were previously on 2G data to the M2M platform following the shutdown of the 2G network in April 2017." This gives investors assurance that customers did not desert M1 in droves in 2Q2017.

The discussion should not just be a repeat of what the numbers already show. If companies are serious about providing a discussion, I hope they would be more forthcoming and provide an intelligent discussion about the challenges the company faces and what plans does it have to overcome those challenges. Investors who are informed of these challenges and plans would be more willing to stick through thick and thin with the company when it is going through a difficult patch.

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