Monday 26 December 2016

A Look-Back at My Blog for 2016

2016 is drawing to a close and it is an opportune time for me to reflect on my blog for this year. Regular readers of my blog would know that my blog posts this year have tilted towards understanding the business of the industry/ company. This is most clearly manifested in the series of 14 Oil & Gas posts and a couple of sporadic posts in banks and Global Logistic Properties (GLP). This tilt towards business analysis is also reflected in my investments, with selective positioning along the O&G industry chain and a big investment in GLP.

This shift towards business analysis as opposed to financial analysis has yielded advantages. Previously, being trained as a value investor, most of my investments were solely based on analysis of the financial statements, i.e. the company must have good earnings, low debts, strong cashflows, etc. However, the issue with financial statements is that they reflect the past business conditions, not the future business conditions that drive stock prices moving forward. It is like driving with the rear-view mirror. Thus, many times, I would buy into a stock with good earnings but whose price is declining, only to end up with declining earnings and further declines in share price later. This is most clearly epitomised by the misadventures in O&G stocks in late 2014.

With business analysis, past financial statements are only an input for understanding the business of the company and constructing a business model for it. They are a means to understand what factors drive the revenue and costs of the company. Using this model, you can feed prevailing news about the economy in general (e.g. rising interest rates), industry news (e.g. OPEC cutting oil production) and company-specific news into the model and forecast how future financial statements would look like. This way, when the next financial statement is released, you would not be surprised by the earnings report. Also, the next financial statement is used to check how accurate your business model is and make the necessary adjustments. It is also used to check how well management has executed their strategy and business plans and understand what are the potential risks. Financial statements are a means to an end and not the end itself.

Having said the above, I have actually not carried out an in-depth business analysis of any company in my blog. What I have done is broad-level analysis of industry groups instead, as a single industry analysis can provide a quick understanding of many companies in the industry. A blogger who has done in-depth business analysis of companies very well is SG Thumbtack Investor. Looking forward to 2017, I hope to carry out more business analysis for more industry groups.

Thanks for staying tuned to this blog throughout the year. Wishing all readers Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous and Healthy 2017!

See related blog posts:

Sunday 18 December 2016

Why Is Protectionism A Concern For Singapore?

After the election of Donald Trump as US President, it has been said that his protectionist stance is bad for open, trade-reliant economies like Singapore. But what is trade? My idea of trade has stagnated since the secondary school days, when we learnt that Singapore had a thriving entrepot business due to its strategic location at the southern tip of the Straits of Malacca. Thus, if it is just the port business that is affected by protectionism, then it is not a very big deal, isn't it?

However, on further thoughts, trade is not just about the port business. When we buy goods from the supermarket or shop online from Amazon or Taobao, that is trade. When we watch the Premier League on TV, that is also trade. As investors, when our companies such as Keppel Corp builds and delivers an oil rig to the Gulf of Mexico, that is trade. And when SIA flies passengers from New York, it is also trade. Thus, trade is all over the place. It is what enables us to consume goods and services that Singapore does not produce and sell goods and services that Singapore produces. The smaller the domestic market is, the more reliant we are on trade with other countries.

The figure below shows the correlation between Non-Oil Domestic Exports (NODX) and GDP. The correlation between NODX and GDP is 0.52. It illustrates the importance of trade to GDP in Singapore.

Correlation between NODX and GDP

What would happen if there is no trade with external countries, as a result of protectionism and/or trade wars? In the extreme case, we would not have food, enough water, and power (because no natural gas), not to mention creature comforts like the latest iPhone or watching the Premier League. Keppel Corp could only build oil rigs for drilling oil in Singapore waters and SIA could only fly from Changi Airport to Seletar Airport! Very soon, these companies would go out of business and all the staff that work for these companies and supporting industries would be jobless! Thus, although we seldom think about it, trade is essential for the survival of Singapore. When there are threats of protectionism and/or trade wars, perhaps we should pay more attention to them, because our survival depends on free trade!

See related blog posts:

Sunday 11 December 2016

Making America Great Again and Its Impact to Asia

I delayed writing about the impact of Trump's victory in the US presidential election, primarily because I wanted more time to observe his policies. However, since US Fed is meeting this week to discuss interest rate rise, I will pen down my current thoughts. Things will change, as Trump might adjust his policies after he becomes president.

Since Trump's surprise victory, stock markets have rallied strongly. Part of the reasons has to do with some of the positive policies proposed by him, such as infrastructure spending, tax cuts, reduced regulations on banks, etc. If enacted, these policies will increase aggregate demand and speed up the recovery of the US economy. This is a refreshing change, considering that we have had 8 years of loose monetary conditions and the economy has not improved much since the end of the Great Financial Crisis. In fact, risks have increased in some areas of the economy, as described in What Have We Got After 8 Years of Easy Money?

However, Trump's proposed policies are not all positive. Chief concerns among his policies are his protectionist stance and worries that increased infrastructure spending would lead to inflation and interest rates rising more rapidly. Although increased infrastructure spending and tax cuts would strengthen the US economy, if US adopts a protectionist stance and raises import tariffs against other countries, other countries would not benefit from increased US demand as much as previously. This is especially so if other countries engage in a tit-for-tat retaliation against US protectionist policies. Furthermore, given the rise of anti-globalisation sentiments in many developed countries, the risks of increasing protectionist policies and trade wars cannot be ignored. Thus, while the US stock market has valid reasons for rallying, it is a little strange for other stock markets outside US to cheer when protectionist policies have beggar-thy-neighbour effects.

It should be highlighted that US policies have significant impact on other countries, as the world economy is mostly centred around US. US is a major export destination for many countries. Thus, when US decided not to proceed with membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the TPP is said to be practically dead. When US pulls out of TPP, the net effect is equivalent to all other 11 members of TPP pulling out at the same time. In contrast, Brexit is only one country pulling out of the European Union. Had it been Singapore which pulled out of TPP, the Singapore stock market would have dropped, not risen as it had after Trump's victory.

Although a protectionist trade wall can limit economic benefits spilling outside of US, it does not restrain financial tightening from spilling into other countries. Given the unimpeded capital flow around the world, increase in US interest rates will lead to increase in interest rates in other countries as they try to hold back capital from leaving the country. Not only that, US dollar will rise relative to other currencies as investors get attracted to the better economic prospects in US. Companies that hold large amounts of US dollar debt are especially vulnerable. During the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/98, regional currencies depreciated significantly against the US dollar (due to unsustainable trade deficits) and companies with large US dollar debts collapsed.

When news of Trump's surprise victory initially filtered through to the markets, stock markets fell precipitiously before rebounding equally sharply. Part of the reason is the reconciliatory tone in Trump's victory speech, which gave the markets hope that he might not go ahead with some of the more controversial policies proposed during the election campaign. It is interesting to note that the markets are willing to discount the negative policies but continue to give full weight to the positive policies. Whether Trump is able to implement the positive policies in full can only be seen a few months after he becomes president. If, for budgetary or political reasons, the policies cannot be implemented in full, the markets will likely be disappointed.

Thus, I am not optimistic about the recent rally in the Singapore stock market. It might continue for some time, but a few months into Trump's presidency, the markets will have a clearer picture of what he can or will do. Also, the interest rate path will become clearer by then.

Related blog posts:

Sunday 4 December 2016

Being A Co-Owner of GLP

It is often said that buying shares in a company means becoming a co-owner of the company. However, what does it really mean to be a co-owner? After my large investment in Global Logistic Properties (GLP), I finally understood what it means. Usually, for any investment, if the company is not doing well, I could simply sell and walk away. But when I initiated the 15% to 20% concentration in GLP, I told myself that there shall be no exits. If GLP sinks, I sink as well. Hence, I have to understand the business very well and monitor the prevailing risks to protect my investment. Such a mentality requires very different actions from the usual mentality in stock investments. In fact, I differentiate GLP as a business investment as opposed to other stocks which are financial investments.

The first difference between a business and a financial investment is the duration of the holding period. After I had overcome my initial jittery over the stock price fluctuations for such a large concentration in GLP (see My Roller Coaster Ride with GLP), I am prepared to hold GLP for 15 to 20 years or more instead of taking profit in the short term. Having understood the business model of GLP, even a 50% gain in the short term will not be sufficient. GLP has the potential to be a multi-bagger if it is given enough time to develop to its full potential according to its business model. It does not matter if the stock market were to close for the next 10 years. Financial investors make money from the markets, but business investors make money from owning and growing the business.

The second difference is in how financial statements, especially quarterly ones, are viewed. For financial investments, I would read the financial statements, possibly discover some concerns, and sell off the investment the next morning. I once sold off a growth stock (Riverstone) after it reported weaker-than-expected quarterly results, only to see the stock doubled in price. But with GLP, the quarterly results are reviewed to monitor how well the company is executing its business model and plans and what are the potential risks. A set of poor quarterly results does not lead to the stock being sold.

An analogy would be the quarterly exam results of your children. If the child only scored 60 marks for one particular quarterly exam, would you quickly give up on the child, or would you look past the score and delve deeper into the exam questions to understand how well the child has mastered the subject syllabus (i.e. followed the business plans) and which areas has the child done poorly (i.e. what are the risks)? Likewise, a business investment focuses less on the actual earnings figures but more on evidence of business model execution and potential risks.

Because of the differences in emphasis, the questions asked by financial and business investors at Annual General Meetings (AGMs) are also different. It is not uncommon to hear questions such as why is the dividend so low or why has the profit margin dropped in AGMs, but these are mostly focused on the short term financial results. Between quarters or even financial years, there are certain to be variations in the results. Sometimes, the variations might simply be a matter of timing, which will reverse in the subsequent financial period. Long term business investors are more concerned about the viability of the business model and the potential risks. For example, if you are a long term shareholder of GLP, would you not be concerned over whether it is at risk of being disrupted by technological innovations or economic trends, or how it is going to manage rising interest rates and declining renminbi value? These are issues that could threaten the viability of GLP and everybody's investment in it if not managed well. In constrast, how low the dividend or profit margin are for one financial year seem less significant compared to these issues. Financial investors ask questions related to the past (e.g. earnings, dividends, etc.), while business investors ask questions concerned with the future (e.g. opportunities, risks, etc.).

There is also a conflict in what financial and business investors want from their investments. As an example, GLP was recently rumoured to be the subject of a takeover by a group of Chinese investors. Financial investors might be satisfied with a gain of, say, 20% over several months if the takeover were to materialise, but business investors would see a great business and a potential multi-bagger over 15 to 20 years being taken away.

In conclusion, the mentality and actions from being a financial investor and a business investor are very different. It might be a lot more risky being a long-term business investor, but also more rewarding if you get it right.

Sunday 27 November 2016

My Roller Coaster Ride with GLP

There is a Chinese saying for relationships: "You come together because of misunderstanding, and you separate because of understanding". When it comes to stock investments, I find that this saying applies as well, at least for me. When I am thinking of buying a stock, the stock would tend to look attractive, even though I would study its financial statements carefully before buying. As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. However, after I have bought the stock, I would follow its announcements closely and realise that I have not understood the stock well enough. This is when I would regret buying the stock, regardless of whether the stock has risen or fallen in price. For Global Logistic Properties (GLP), which is the largest holding in my portfolio, the same pattern holds true.

GLP is a very attractive stock, which I blogged about it last week in The GLP Story. I find it so attractive that I built up a 22% concentration in the stock within weeks! In contrast, my next largest stock concentration is only 2.5%. Stock concentration is something that I have not attempted previously in my 18 years of investing with my own money. However, because I swallowed too much too quickly, indigestion soon followed.

Although I am very used to fluctuations in stock prices, almost all of my stocks are diversified, with concentrations of up to 2.5% only. GLP, with its 22% concentration, is a different matter altogether. Every 3-cent drop (equivalent to 1.5% drop) in the share price was enough to give me jitters. By Dec last year, I had realised that I could not hold on to such a large concentration and planned to reduce it come Jan, when stocks usually rise with the January effect. Unfortunately, stocks dropped in Jan instead, triggered by the meltdown in the circuit-breakers in the Chinese stock market. Furthermore, there were news of heavy capital outflows from China, triggering memories of the Asian Financial Crisis. I decided to reduce my risks and cut my concentration to 16% at a loss. But when the stock dropped further, it was too tempting and I bought back some shares, raising my concentration back to 19%. By this time, after experiencing the stock price dropping by more than $0.50 from my original cost price, I had more or less become accustomed to its stock price fluctuations. My target concentration for GLP (and any single stock) also stablised at between 15% to 20%, rather than going upwards of 20%.

Beside stock price fluctuations, there were other issues that caused concerns. Around the same time as the stock market decline in Jan, it was announced that the CEO had entered into some collar trades on GLP shares in 2012 & 2014 and the trades would be settled in Jan/Feb. A collar trade is a bearish trade, which left me pondering why was the CEO selling his shares. I also checked that when GLP sold a 34% stake in its China subsidiary in 2014, 3.7% was sold to members of the GLP employee team, which included the CEO. Thus, the CEO was selling shares in GLP and buying shares in the China subsidiary, which represents the majority of the company's net asset value but GLP only has a 66% stake. The interests of the CEO and shareholders are not 100% aligned. 

However, a bigger concern was the fact that GLP seemed to be overpaying for its acquisitions. The table below shows the acquisitions by GLP for the 1-year period from Aug 2015 to Jul 2016, just before its Annual General Meeting (AGM).

GLP Acquisitions from Aug 2015 till Jul 2016

As you can see, some acquisitions were made at Price/Book (P/B) ratios above 2 times. In particular, China X-G Technology was bought at a price of USD21.9 million when its book value was only RMB5,700, representing a P/B ratio of over 25,000 times! 

GLP's AGM on 29 Jul came at the right time. I took the opportunity to raise the question whether GLP was overpaying for acquisitions and what were the governance and controls in place to prevent overpaying. The CEO explained that the book values were historical values. The accounting rules in China required companies to depreciate the cost of land over time and the book value did not reflect the market value. In its due diligence, GLP had carried out third-party valuation surveys to determine the market value. The CEO further explained that there were independent teams within GLP to review and approve any acquisitions. Depending on the value of the acquisitions, approval might be required from the board. I accepted the explanation. In a subsequent acquisition announcement on 17 Aug in which the P/B ratio exceeded 2 times, the company added a statement to explain that the book value was based on historical cost. The statement read "The book value is based on People’s Republic of China’s Accounting Standards for Business Enterprises, which requires properties to be stated at historical depreciated cost. The consideration paid was based on recent third party appraisal of the value of the property, among other factors."

The AGM was a good outcome. Besides getting answers for the key concern above, I also got to see the CEO for the first time. Throughout the AGM, he answered most of the questions, demonstrating a good knowledge of the operations of the company. For readers who were not present at the AGM, you can refer to the earnings call transcript for the recent 2Q2017 financial results, which he again answered most of the questions raised by analysts. 

Coming back to the issue of less than 100% alignment in interests between the CEO and shareholders, the issue boils down to this: how much are you prepared to pay for an intelligent CEO? After seeing his handling of the questions raised at the AGM and in earnings calls, the business strategy and directions of GLP, I am prepared to accept that he has direct interests in the China subsidiary outside of his GLP shareholdings. 

Post-AGM, I sold some GLP shares again in Oct and reduced my concentration to 16%, but it was not because of price fluctuations or any of the above-mentioned concerns. The purpose of the sale was to create some headroom for averaging down in the event of any general market crash. But after the recent rumours of a group of Chinese investors planning to take over the company, I bought back what I had sold, using CPF funds.

Like human relationships, there will always be an initial rocky phase where each party understands more of the other. My relationship with GLP has gone past this rocky phase and I look forward to participating in the long-term growth of this company. 

See related blog posts:

Sunday 20 November 2016

The GLP Story

It has been about a year since I started to build a large position in Global Logistic Properties (GLP). The company initially caught my attention when it bought back a large chunk of its shares. For the Financial Year ended Mar 2016, it spent about SGD222 million in share buybacks. If a company could spend so much money in share buybacks, it must be doing something right. That set me to investigate and understand the company further.

GLP is a logistic property developer. However, it is not solely a property developer; it is also a REIT and a REIT manager. Broadly speaking, whether you like GLP or not depends on whether you like REITs or REIT managers more. REITs provide steady distributions, while REIT managers provide growth. While I like both REITs and REIT managers, between the two, I have a slight preference for REIT managers as I prefer capital appreciation to dividends.

REIT managers generally own a small percentage of the REITs that they manage. However, let us put aside their small ownership for a while and consider the theoretical differences between a REIT that owns the properties and a REIT manager that manages the REIT but does not own any properties. The returns on the REIT are from the rental income generated from the properties. The returns on the REIT manager are from the management fee paid by the REIT for managing the properties. The management fee is definitely much smaller than the rental income generated by the properties. However, remember that the REIT manager (in theory) owns no assets? When the earnings are some positive numbers and the assets are close to zero, the return on assets tends to infinity! Not only that, because there are almost no assets, there are no capital constraints to limit expansion. Just look at Uber, which owns no taxis but has expanded rapidly to become the world's largest "taxi company" within a short period of time. Likewise, through less than 100% ownership of the logistic properties, GLP has quickly established itself as the No. 1 player in China, Japan and Brazil and the No. 2 player in US.

Fig. 1: Market Position of GLP

Coming back to reality, REIT managers will never be like Uber, as they own some percentage of the REITs/ properties they manage. For GLP, the percentage ownership ranges from 10% in more developed countries like US to 66% in less developed countries like China.

Recently, GLP has been in the news as a group of Chinese investors was rumoured to consider buying over the company. While the takeover has not materialised, coincidentally, another REIT manager is the subject of another privatisation around the same time. The REIT manager being privatised is ARA Asset Management. The price is $1.78. Compared to its book value of $0.55 and 2015 earnings of 8.96 cents, the price represents a Price/Book ratio of 3.24 times and Price/Earnings ratio of 19.9 times. Just a few months back, in Jun, Croesus Retail Trust internalised its own REIT manager for SGD50 million. The estimated P/E ratio for that transaction is 126 times! Going back further in time, Capitaland privatised its REIT manager, CapitaMalls Asia (CMA), in Jun 2014 at a price of $2.35, representing a P/B ratio of 1.27 times and P/E ratio of 15.3 times. Thus, while more and more REITs are being listed, more and more REIT managers are being privatised. This gives a glimpse of just how valuable REIT managers are!

Having said the above, there are important differences between GLP and ARA. ARA is a pure REIT manager, while GLP is a combination of (1) property developer, (2) REIT (for the properties that it has not spun off to the REITs/ property funds) and (3) REIT/ fund manager. Thus, its valuation will not be as high as that of ARA. It is more similar to CMA than ARA at the current stage of development. However, GLP is still a work-in-progress. With the passage of time, more and more properties will be spun off into the REITs/ property funds. Thus, over time, GLP will look more and more like ARA and its valuation will approach that of ARA. Although it has a lower valuation than ARA currently, the key advantage of GLP over ARA is that it has a huge pipeline of properties to feed into the REITs/ property funds. The figure below shows GLP's growth in Assets Under Management.

Fig. 2: GLP's Growth in Assets Under Management

GLP will become more and more valuable with time. Thus, now is not the right time to discuss privatisation of GLP. It is definitely a stock for the long term.

See related blog posts:

Saturday 12 November 2016

The Minions (Millions) Mentality

Last week, I blogged about the minions in my portfolio, i.e. small, speculative positions in loss-making companies with reasonable chance of turning around. Although small, they have the potential to become multi-baggers. I also mentioned the advantages of minions, which are: (1) they serve as incubators for further investment should further evidence of the company turning around emerges and (2) "risk-free" positions to counter the high risks involved in investing in some companies and industries, such as the Oil & Gas industry. You can refer to Meet The Minions for more info.

However, the minion strategy goes beyond these 2 advantages. I discovered the mentality of investing like the rich. Because the amount invested in minions are relatively small, typically 1/3 the size of a typical investment in a profitable company, any price changes are fairly insignificant. In fact, as mentioned in my last post, the investment is mentally written off the moment they are purchased. Because of the relatively small size and also because they are mentally written off, there is no emotional attachment to the share price. Whether the price is down 10% or 100%, I could not care less. Contrast this with the largest holding in my portfolio which takes up 15% to 20% of my capital. When I first held such a large position, every 3-cent movement (equivalent to 1.5% price change) was enough to make me feel jittery. There is only 1 word to describe the lack of emotional attachment to share price: liberating.

Because I could not care whether the stock is down 100%, I also could not care whether the stock is up 100%, 200% or 400%! That was the case with MIT, which I originally bought at $0.066 and it went up to $0.285 for a 332% return on the purchase price. I decided that a 332% return was inadequate and held on for a 1000% return. Unfortunately, the price came back down to $0.165, with further drops likely after a series of disappointing results recently. Nevertheless, I had no regrets not cashing in on that multi-bagger and locking in a gain of 332% plus bragging rights for a 4-bagger.

One of my problems in investing is the inability to hold on to winners. This problem becomes more obvious as the stock approaches a 100% gain, which is the threshold for a multi-bagger and comes with bragging rights. Watching the stock price fluctuating just above and below the line is nerve-wrenching. On one occasion, I decided that I had enough of the jittery and sold for a 163% gain, only to watch the stock climb another 118%! In other words, I sold for double my purchase price, and the price doubled again after I sold! It was not a minion position and the amount of "lost profits" was staggering. The stock was Riverstone.

This is why I said that when there is no emotional attachment to the share price, the feeling is truly liberating. When there is nothing to anchor the share price, such as the 2-bagger threshold, the sky is the limit. The minions mindset also gives me a peek into how the rich treat their investments. Whenever there is a stock market crash, newspapers would tabulate how much money the billionaires in the world have lost. Yet, they never seem to want to sell their massive shareholdings in the companies they founded or owned. When the stock market recovers, these billionaires made much more money that they had lost in the crash. They are in the top 10/100 billionaire list for a reason: they never sell. Had they sold at the top of the stock market, they probably would not be in the list for much longer. The dividends from the stocks they own are way more than sufficient to fund their lifestyles. There is no need to sell the stocks to protect the value from dropping in a stock market crash. In constrast, retail investors like myself are always looking to protect the value of our investments. If someone were to tell me with 100% accuracy that tomorrow's stock market would crash, I would sell a majority of my stocks. (Actually, if you read my blog, I do think that a crash is coming, and I'm 50% in cash. Thus, you can see that I am still a very long way from adopting the mentality of the rich).

The minions might be small and insignificant. But they have important lessons on how to make millions. I have certainly learnt a lot from them.

P.S. As I'll be overseas next week, I would not be able to respond to your comments until I return. Appreciate your understanding.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Meet The Minions

I have a bunch of speculative shares which I affectionately call "the minions". The characteristics of the minions are: small speculative positions in loss-making companies with reasonable chance of turning around. The idea behind the minions came about from a realisation that one source of multi-baggers is loss-making companies that manage to turn around. You can refer to How to Get a Multi-Bagger? for more info. The turnaround multi-bagger I had was Magnecomp, now known as Innotek. It was a chance occurrence because I usually avoid loss-making companies. However, one of the main problems with value investors is that we often buy too early into companies whose share prices are falling but the earnings are still good, without realising that earnings would soon follow the share prices down. In the case of Magnecomp, it reported a huge loss after I bought it and the share price continued to fall. At its lowest point, the unrealised loss on my purchase was as high as 55%. Subsequently, it managed to turn around and I sold it for a 3-bagger. See the price performance of Magnecomp below.

Magnecomp - A Turnaround Multi-Bagger

This multi-bagger is the only turnaround multi-bagger that I have. Due to my preference for profitable companies, it did not occur to me that even loss-making companies could be profitable investments! It was only when I blogged about it in 2014 that I began to seriously consider adding loss-making companies with reasonable chance of turning around to my portfolio. To manage the risk, the amount of money invested in them is relatively small, typical 1/3 the size of a typical investment in a profitable company. Not only that, the amount invested is mentally written off the moment they are purchased. Thus, there are no expectations of them returning an investment profit. In other words, there is nothing to lose on them.

Despite the fact that the amount invested is 100% written off mentally, these minions, as a group so far, have performed beyond expectations! Of the 11 minions, 2 were sold off at profits of 34% to 87% and 2 are unrealised multi-baggers! See the table below for the performance of these minions to-date.

Company Avg Cost Current/Sold %Gain Remarks
ASTI $0.055 $0.055 0%
Ellipsiz $0.283 $0.380 34% Sold
Food Empire $0.270 $0.305 13%
Grand Banks $0.275 $0.245 -11%
Grand Banks $0.260 $0.245 -6%
Hiap Seng $0.100 $0.142 42%
Interra $0.069 $0.068 -1%
Kris $0.145 $0.149 3%
MIT $0.066 $0.165 150%
MIT $0.130 $0.165 27%
Ramba $0.220 $0.160 -27%
Ramba $0.200 $0.160 -20% Rights
Ramba Wt - -
STATS $0.335 $0.625 87% Sold
Sunright $0.125 $0.340 172%


In fact, MIT (Manufacturing Integration Technology) went as high as $0.285, representing a 4-bagger on my original purchase price of $0.066! However, since it was considered a nothing-to-lose speculation, I held out for bigger gains. Unfortunately, it has come down to $0.165, with further drop likely.

The advantages of the minions go beyond returning a profit on the investment. They also serve as incubators for further investment, which is why you seen some minions have twice the amount invested in them. As the probability of turning around increases, a second investment is made, so as to reap bigger gains when the turnaround is realised. The best example of this is MIT, in which a second investment was made at $0.13, even though it had already doubled from the original price of $0.066.

The second advantage of the minions is that they are considered nothing-to-lose. Since there is already nothing to lose on them, it also means that they are technically "risk-free". This characteristic is very useful in making investments in high risk sectors, such as the Oil & Gas industry. From the list above, 4 of them are from this industry and they have performed admirably. When something extremely risky meets a nothing-to-lose mentality, the risk-reward balance tilts in favour of the latter. Minions are a key part of My Oil & Gas Fightback.

It is important to note that the minion strategy works only if the position is small enough to be written off. If it is too large, it is difficult to write off the full amount and adopt the nothing-to-lose mentality. Not only that, there is usually a need to diversify as much as possible to reduce the risk of individual stocks really losing money. However, this also presents one of the challenges of adopting the minion strategy. While $1,000 in 1 stock might be easy to write off, a total of say, $10,000 in 10 stocks might not be that easy to write off.

Moverover, although I talked about writing off the investment, nobody likes to really lose money. Thus, stocks selected under this strategy have some evidence of being able to turn around. If they have no chance of turning around, using this strategy will only mean losing more money.

In conclusion, minions may be small, but do not underestimate them. It is precisely because they are small that they are able to achieve big returns!

Sunday 30 October 2016

SSB Interest Rate Estimates – A Year On

Some readers might know that I run a parallel blog at (The) Boring Investor's Statistics that shows some of the investment statistics that I monitor on a regular basis. One of these statistics is a forecast of the interest rates of the Singapore Savings Bonds (SSBs) to be announced in the upcoming month. The interest rates for the SSB to be announced in the following month is based on the average yield (i.e. interest rates) of the Singapore Government Securities (SGS) benchmark bonds in the current month. As an example, the SSB to be announced in Nov (and issued on 1 Dec) is based on the average SGS yields in Oct. The SSB that is available for subscription in Oct, however, is based on the average SGS yields in Sep. Thus, by comparing the average SGS yields for Sep and Oct, you can assess whether you should apply for Oct's SSB (to be issued on 1 Nov) or wait for Nov's SSB.

There is, however, a small issue. Applications for SSBs close on the 4th last business day of the month. In the case of Oct's SSB, it closed on 26 Oct. Thus, if you are thinking of whether to apply for Oct's SSB or wait for Nov's SSB on 26 Oct, you only have the SGS yields from 1 Oct to 26 Oct to compare against the yields for the entire month of Sep. If the yields from 27 Oct to 31 Oct were to change drastically from the yields from 1 Oct to 26 Oct, your forecasts for Nov's SSB interest rates would be incorrect. 
For my (The) Boring Investor's Statistics blog, I usually blog on weekends only, hence, the forecast is carried out and posted even earlier, on the weekend prior to the close of application. This means that the post can sometimes be as many as 8 business days from the end of the month. The forecast error can be larger. As an example, for Oct, the application closed on 26 Oct, but my forecast was posted last Sun on 23 Oct. This means that I have 3 fewer days of data to carry out my forecast.
I usually provide 2 forecasts, one based on the SGS yields up to the date of forecast (known as the equal-weighted forecast), and another assuming the yields for the remaining days of the month to be the same as that on the last available date (known as the end-weighted forecast, because the yield on the last available date has a weight of 3-8 times more than all other days). After providing the forecasts for over a year, how accurate have my forecasts been? Fig. 1 below shows the forecast errors for both methods.

Fig. 1: SSB Interest Rate Forecast Errors

The figure above shows that the average errors for the end-weighted forecasts are smaller than that of the equal-weighted forecasts for all time periods except for the 10-year interest rates. However, on closer inspection, the equal-weighted forecast errors are of higher magnitude and are sometimes postive and sometimes negative, resulting in a smaller error when averaged. When compared using standard deviation, which considers only the absolute value of the errors, the end-weighted forecasts have smaller variance than the equal-weighted forecasts for all time periods. Thus, end-weighted forecasts provide better estimates of the SSB interest rates.

Fig. 2 below shows the forecast SSB interest rates superimposed on the SGS yields for the previous month. When SGS yields are relatively constant for the month, both forecasts yield very good results. However, when SGS yields are either rising or falling, the errors become larger. The equal-weighted forecasts have larger errors than the end-weighted forecasts because they do not take into consideration the direction of the SGS yields. End-weighted forecasts are more accurate as they give more weight to the SGS yields near the end of the month as described above.

Fig. 2: Accuracy of SSB Interest Rate Forecasts

Finally, the most valuable lessons that I learnt from forecasting SSB interest rates over the past 1 year is this: the future cannot be predicted. Although I could enhance my forecast methodology and perhaps provide good estimates of SSB interest rates, the best I could forecast is only 1 month in advance. I cannot forecast the SSB interest rates beyond 1 month. When the first tranche of SSB was announced in Sep 2015 with a 10-year interest rate of 2.63%, I forecasted that the next tranche of SSB would have a higher interest rate and decided not to apply for it. When the second tranche was announced with a 10-year interest rate of 2.78%, I was proven right! At that time, there was even an outcry among the SSB investors who had applied for the first tranche as their SSBs were now less valuable. Little did I expect that the SSB interest rates for all subsequent tranches would drop below that of the first tranche! The 10-year interest rate for the current tranche is only 1.79%, which is much lower than the 2.63% for the first tranche. Investors who bought into the first tranche of SSBs got a good deal after all. Smart alecs like me can only watch the SSB interest rates going lower.

If you are interested in forecasts of the SSB interest rates, you can refer to SSB Interest Rate Estimates at my (The) Boring Investor's Statistics blog. Just bear in mind the lesson I learnt above, which is that the future cannot be predicted.

See related blog posts:

Sunday 23 October 2016

Singapore Savings Bonds – A Year On

It has been a year since the launch of the first Singapore Savings Bonds (SSB) in Oct 2015. How have the interest rates of SSBs changed in this 1 year and how have they performed relative to the more conventional government bonds, namely, the Singapore Government Securities (SGS)?

Fig. 1 below shows the 10-year interest rates of SSBs (red line). The interest rates are computed as the average of the benchmark 10-Year SGS interest rates (blue line) over the previous month. (Note: There is always a confusion over the "month" of the SSB. The SSB announced in Oct is issued in Nov and based on the average rates of the 10-Year SGS benchmark bond in Sep.). As you can see from Fig. 1, interest rates have been on a downward trend, reflecting the eagerness of central banks around the world to lower interest rates, to even negative levels in some countries.

Fig. 1: SSB 10-Year Interest Rates

The highest 10-year interest rate achieved for SSBs was for the second tranche of SSBs issued in Nov 2015. The interest rate was 2.78%. The 10-year interest rate touched a low of 1.75% for the tranche issued in Sep 2016. The interest rate for the current tranche is not much higher, at 1.79%.

If you had bought the first 2 tranches of SSBs issued in Oct and Nov 2015, you would be happy with your purchase, since interest rates for all subsequent tranches have been below these rates. 

However, the performance of the more conventional 10-Year SGS bond was even better. Fig. 2 below shows the price performance of the 10-Year SGS bond since the issue of the first SSB.

Fig. 2: Price Performance of 10-Year SGS and SSB

On 1 Oct 2015, when the first tranche of SSB was issued, the 10-Year SGS benchmark bond traded at $98.61 for every $100 of bond principal. Due to the fall in interest rates, prices of bonds have been on the rise. A year later, on 30 Sep 2016, the same bond traded at $105.09. Investors who bought the SGS bond would have gained a capital appreciation of 6.6%. On top of that, investors would have received another 2.375% in coupons (i.e. interest) for holding the bond. Since investors bought the bond at less than the principal of $100, the coupons translate to an interest yield of 2.41% ($2.375 / $98.61). In contrast, SSBs are capital-guaranteed, which means that their value stays at $100 regardless of whether interest rates are going up or down. Over the same period, investors in the Oct 2015 SSB would have received 0.96% in interest, being the 1-year interest rate of the SSB. In total, investors in SSB and SGS would have received the following returns over the 1-year period.

Capital appreciation - 6.57%
Interest 0.96% 2.41%
Total 0.96% 8.98%

Thus, the 10-Year SGS bond has outperformed the Oct 2015 SSB by as much as 8.02% over the 1-year period. The main reason is that interest rates have dropped from 2.54% in Oct 2015 to 1.74% in Sep 2016. 

Hence, if interest rates are rising, it is better to stay with SSBs as they are capital-guaranteed. However, if interest rates are falling, SGS are a better choice as they will gain in price. By juggling between SSB and SGS, you can gain from changes in interest rates. This is exactly the conclusion discussed a year ago in Getting the Best of Both SSB & SGS.

See related blog posts:

Sunday 16 October 2016

What is My Target Price?

A reader asked me what was my target price for a particular stock in one of my blog posts. I was stumped for a while, and realised that I do not really have a target price for my stocks! I do have valuation limits on what price I could buy or sell a stock, but they are not the same as target prices. Let me elaborate further on the buy side and sell side separately.

Buy Side

Having a target buy price suggests that there is a particular stock that you like to buy but is waiting for the price to fall to the right level. To prevent myself from overpaying for stocks, the maximum price I would pay for a stock is 1.8 to 2.0 times the book value of the stock. It looks like a target price, but it is actually a stock selection criterion. All stocks that fail the criterion would not be considered for purchase. The Price/Book (P/B) criterion works the same way as the Debt/Equity criterion. The stocks either pass or fail the criteria; it is not quite the same as waiting for the price to fall to the right level. The litmus test of whether the P/B threshold is a target price is to consider what happens when the price falls to that level. Nothing happens, until the next review. If, in the next review, the stock is still below the P/B threshold, it would be considered for purchase, assuming it passes all other criteria. Thus, it is possible that the stock is bought at a P/B ratio lower than 1.8 to 2.0.

There are also stocks that I wait on the sidelines before buying. However, I am not waiting for the right price, but the right moment. Take for example, Keppel Corp, which I am interested to average down. Based on my assessment, Keppel Corp has not seen the worst of the Oil & Gas winter yet. Thus, if it revisits its low of $4.64 reached earlier this year, I would not be keen to buy the stock. On the other hand, if visibility improves on its business environment 2 years later but the stock then rises to $6, I would be interested to buy at the higher price. The main reason is to wait for the price to reflect fully the business conditions as well as assess whether the company is able to recover fully. All these take time. I view Keppel Corp as a long-term investment, thus it is much more important to understand the business conditions fully than to buy at a low price.

Sell Side

Having a target sell price means that you are waiting for the price of a stock to rise to a particular level before selling. It also means that if the price does not reach the target level, the stock would not be sold. Similar to the buy side, I have valuation limits on when I must sell a stock, no matter how much I like it. The P/B ratio for selling is 3.5 to 4.0 times. However, it does not constrain me from selling even if the stock does not reach the P/B threshold when the need to sell arises. In fact, rarely has a stock in my portfolio reached the P/B threshold mentioned above. Typical reasons for selling include changes in business fundamentals, triggering of trailing stops, or simply risk management.

Having said the above, I have loss aversion bias. There are some stocks that I regretted buying and no longer wish to hold on to them, but the price has dropped below my cost price. For these stocks, I am usually reluctant to sell at a lower price. Thus, the original cost price becomes a target price for selling these stocks. Nevertheless, if the loss is manageable and there are overriding concerns, e.g. changes in business fundamentals or risk management purposes, the stock would generally be sold at a loss. Just last week, I wrote that I had a 19% concentration in Global Logistic Properties but would be happy to reduce the concentration to 15% if the price recovers to my cost price. This is loss aversion bias at work. On reflection, I realised that the position limit on this stock is 20%, which means that I only have a 1% headroom for averaging down if the need arises. I sold 3% at a loss this week. The same goes for the growth stocks in my portfolio which were at the position limit.


Generally, I do not have target prices for buying stocks. On the sell side, I do have target prices for stocks that I no longer wish to hold and are under-water but not for stocks that are above-water. I think it is more correct to say that I have loss aversion bias rather than have target prices for selling stocks. So, the next time someone asks me what is my target price for a particular stock, I will be more confident in replying that I have no target prices.

Sunday 9 October 2016

How Should I Defend Against the Next Market Crash?

Barely 2 weeks after I wrote The Exit Might Be Narrower Than Expected, both British Pound (GBP) and Gold demonstrated what I have been worrying about. In a space of 1 week, GBP dropped by 3.8% while Gold dropped by 4.4%. GBP dropped after the British Prime Minister announced a timeline for starting Brexit talks with the European Union while Gold dropped on renewed fears of US Federal Reserve raising interest rates on the back of an improving economy. In particular, on Fri, GBP dropped 6.1% within 2 minutes. The sudden drop was rumoured to be caused by a fat finger (i.e. trading error) or computer trading algorithms. Regardless of the actual cause, the fact that the forex markets could not even defend against a fat finger speaks volume about the lack of depth of the financial markets against massive selling volume. It is definitely something that I need to guard against for my own portfolio.

My target asset allocation in the current investing environment is 50% equities and 50% reserves. Although I am wary of the financial markets, I do not believe in holding 100% reserves. During the market turmoil in Jan, I calculated that I need about 35% reserves to guard against a major stock market crash (see Prudence is the Name of the Game). A target allocation of 50%, which is 15% above the minimum required, is considered comfortable and not excessive. Too much cash would lead to erosion of value due to inflation while too little cash would lead to inability to recover from the crash. A rule of thumb that I always use in place of a detailed Value-at-Risk analysis for equities is a loss of 40% at the depth of the crash. Naturally, the loss depends on how severe the crash is and what are the stocks held. During the Global Financial Crisis in 2008/09, the loss was as high as 65%.

Thus, the problem statement becomes how do I invest the 50% in equities such that they will not suffer too much damage and how do I park the other 50% in other assets such that they can preserve their value.


Looking at my current stockholdings, the elephant in the room is Global Logistic Properties (GLP), which has a concentration of approximately 19%. The stock is a transformational experiment in trying to replicate the success of Warren Buffett. To achieve this, I need to be able to do 3 things: (1) identify a good stock, (2) concentrate, and (3) hold for the long term. Therefore, even if a crash is coming soon, I will not sell out of GLP, unless its business fundamentals deteriorate. Selling out entirely would mean that I cannot achieve at least 2 of the 3 pre-requisites required to replicate his success. Notwithstanding the above, I am happy to reduce the concentration to 15% if the price recovers to my cost price.

The second group of stocks is Oil and Gas (O&G). They are mired in heavy losses currently, but the advantage of this group of stocks is that they have their own dynamics and are less affected by global events. If OPEC were to cut production significantly, it does not quite matter to O&G stocks who wins the US presidential election or when Brexit happens. Over the past 5 months, I have mapped out a model to assess the economics of O&G companies in a series of Oil & Gas posts and will follow the plan accordingly.

The third group of stocks is growth stocks. As their moniker suggests, they grow their earnings over the years. Growth stocks can rise a lot during good times as investors chase after them, making them especially vulnerable to a market crash. However, given their ability to grow over the years, their share prices after the crash should be higher than before the crash.

The fourth group of stocks is dividend stocks. There are 2 types of dividend stocks, namely, those which have a constant payout ratio but the dividend varies with earnings, and those which have a constant dividend. My preference is for the second type of dividend stocks. They resemble closest to bonds that have constant coupons, which give bonds the ability to drop less than stocks, as described in What Can We Learn About Stocks From Bonds. If a stock could give me a constant 5% yield on my historical cost every year, I really would not mind if the stock were to drop 50% in a crash.

A small group of stocks that is worth mentioning is the nothing-to-lose stocks. They are considered nothing-to-lose because the amount invested in them is very small, making them easily written off the moment they are purchased. A brief explanation of them can be found in My Oil & Gas Fightback. Since there is already "nothing to lose" on them, it really does not matter if they were to crash 50% or more.


Most of the time, I only need to worry about the risks on the equities portion. This time round, I have to worry about the reserves portion as well due to the extremely low interest rates currently.

Traditionally, the main instrument for parking excess cash is bank preference shares and retail bonds of good companies. However, ever since the redemption of OCBC's 4.2% preference shares in Dec 2015 and the surprise loss of liquidity in retail bonds in Aug 2015 as described in Sneak Attack on My Cash Reservoirs, this instrument has reduced in importance.

Thankfully, around the same time as retail bonds demonstrated hidden liquidity risks, a new instrument was introduced -- the Singapore Savings Bonds. It has 2 important benefits, namely, easy liquidity and 100% capital protection, making it ideal to preserve value and liquidate for stock investments at the depth of a market crash. The disadvantage is that there is a limit on the amount that can be invested.

The other instrument that I have used to park cash this time round is US dollar. Given the impending rise in US interest rates, USD will also rise in tandem as explained in Getting Ready for US Interest Rate Rises. However, there is a limit on the amount of cash that can be parked in USD, as there is not a lot of USD-denominated assets that can be purchased. My preference is not to switch in and out of USD so as not to incur the bid-ask spread.

All other instruments have more disadvantages than advantages. Singapore Government Securities (i.e. government bonds) will fall in value when interest rate rises. Likewise, Gold will drop when USD rises, as demonstrated this week. There is really not many places to park cash safely.


In my opinion, the current investing environment is tricky. But there are also not many places to hide safely.

See related blog posts:

Sunday 2 October 2016

What is Holding Up US Share Prices?

If you had read my previous post on What Have We Got After 8 Years of Easy Money?, you would know that the US equity market has gone on an 8-year bull run even though many industries (at least those in Singapore) are facing poor business and/or low margins. Fig. 1 below shows the performance of S&P500 index since 2012, which is mostly on a straight upward trendline.

Fig. 1: S&P500 Index Since 2012

Yet, when you look at the earnings of S&P500 companies over the same period, they have been relatively flat. See Fig. 2 below (source: Cash Piles at American Companies Are Shrinking). This is due to the lacklustre global economy since 2012.

Fig. 2: Flat Earnings Since 2012

Thus, on one hand, we have flat earnings, but on the other hand, we have rising share prices that have increased by about 73% since 2012. The main reason is of course the massive liquidity unleashed by 8 years of low interest rates and multiple rounds of Quantitative Easing by central banks around the world.

However, it is not just investors who are taking advantage of the cheap and plentiful liquidity to bid up asset prices. Companies themselves are also taking up loans to fund share buybacks and dividends. See Fig. 3 below (source: U.S. Profit Recession Means Debt Fuels Most Buybacks Since 2001). Notice also the bottom chart of the figure which shows the flat EPS growth since 2012, which is consistent with Fig. 2.

Fig. 3: Debt-Fueled Share Buybacks and EPS Growth

Share buybacks can provide a boost to share prices in the short run, but when earnings are flat and companies have to take up loans to fund these buybacks, they may not be sustainable. In the short run, share prices can be out of sync with earnings. But in the long run, the 2 must converge. This is another reason why I am not optimistic about the investing environment moving forward.

See related blog posts:

Sunday 25 September 2016

The Exit Might Be Narrower Than Expected

As expected, but disappointingly, US Federal Reserve did not raise interest rates on Wed. The reasons for my pessimism for the current economic conditions are explained in What Have We Got After 8 Years of Easy Money? Unless we see evidence of coordinated fiscal stimulus from governments around the world to increase aggregate demand, more liquidity via easy monetary conditions will only lead to more value destruction as we have seen so far. Given the precarious investing environment, I have been gradually taking money off the table and building up my defences, before everyone else starts to rush for the exit. Based on the experience of the last 12 months, I believe the exit might be narrower than most people expect.

12 months is not a long time. However, over the same period, we have had at least 3 market declines, namely:
  • Aug 2015 - China's renminbi devaluation triggering worries about China's economic slowdown
  • Jan 2016 - China's stock market circuit-breaker meltdown and oil price collapse
  • Apr/May 2016 - "Sell in May and Go Away" syndrome?

In all these 3 episodes, the declines were fast and furious. See the figures below for the extent and duration of the decline. Note that the no. of days in the figures refers to the no. of trading days.

Fig. 1: STI Decline in Aug 2015

Fig. 2: STI Decline in Jan 2016

Fig. 3: STI Decline in Apr/May 2016

In fact, these 3 episodes are not the only times the stock market has declined so rapidly. As far back as Jun 2013, when then Fed chairman raised the possibility of slowing down and scaling back its bond purchases under the Quantitative Easing programme, the markets had also gone into a tailspin, triggering the famous Taper Tantrum. However, neither the extent or the speed of decline matched those that we observed in the last 12 months.

Fig. 4: STI Decline in Jun 2013

A summary of the declines is shown in the table below.

No. of
Avg Daily Decline
22 May 13 - 24 Jun 13 3454.37 3074.31 22 -11.0% -0.50%
24 Jul 15 - 24 Aug 15 3352.65 2843.39 19 -15.2% -0.80%
31 Dec 15 - 21 Jan 16 2882.73 2532.70 14 -12.1% -0.87%
21 Apr 16 - 6 May 16 2960.78 2730.80 10 -7.8% -0.78%

The purpose of this post is not to encourage anyone to sell. Perhaps the market might climb the wall of worry and rise further. However, for those who believe that they can wait until the last moment and run faster than the rest, they might wish to take the above findings into consideration. The exit might be narrower than most people expect.