personal investment blog

INVESTING IN SOFTWARE COMPANIES

INVESTING IN SOFTWARE COMPANIES

30 Mar 2018

Ten years ago, I was paid to write research on investing in software companies. My USP was that I was pretty much a technophobe with little or no interest in software but with something of a passion for finding how to make money by investing in companies. Back in the early 2000s the world of software was full of exclusive jargon which, deliberately or not,...

Dogs and tricks – new light from accounting changes?

Dogs and tricks – new light from accounting changes?

13 Jan 2018

The following paragraph is not true. A neat way to value a company is to divide the share price by the earnings per share (EPS) which gives you something known as a P/E (price/earnings) ratio. A low P/E ratio (say <10x) implies that a share is cheap and a high P/E ratio (say >20) suggests expensive. Many people, some of them claiming to be investment...

Investing for our old age

Investing for our old age

16 Jan 2017

Here are two pieces of great news for the citizens of relatively rich, relatively developed, relatively Western economies. Women can increasingly combine career and motherhood rather than having to choose between them: and improved healthcare (if not exercise and diet) mean that people on average are living to greater ages. Fifty years ago, the UK average...

Hidden charms of Mrs M&S

Hidden charms of Mrs M&S

5 Jun 2016

Back in November one of my first ever blogs was about M&S. The shares were trading at 389p and I wrote that only takeover interest could justify a higher price but I thought that the pension liabilities made that a very unlikely prospect. For reasons which were and remain unclear to me the shares touched 600p last year but M&S has not yet been taken...

Dare you trust these dividends?

Dare you trust these dividends?

21 Sep 2015

Perhaps the most pertinent question for UK stock investors today is “can I trust those high dividend yields?” Glaxo has pre-announced that it will maintain its dividend at 80p per share this year and next year. That’s a yield of 6.2%. Royal Dutch appears to yield 7.5% on the basis of paying $1.88 (c.120p) also “guaranteed” for 2015 and 2016. If these companies...

Gifts in the mail

Gifts in the mail

15 Jun 2015

The privatisation of Royal Mail in October 2013 was a lesson in how the City can run rings around politicians who fancy themselves as financial sophisticates. In this case the sap-in-chief was Vince Cable, a man whose CV includes many “economics advisor” titles. Despite this supposed in-house expertise, his department for Business, Innovation & Skills hired...

Grocers minced

Grocers minced

24 Mar 2014

“FTSE 100 sees supermarket shares shelved as Morrisons wages price war.” Last Thursday week (13 March), shares of William Morrison fell by 12% to 206p. They have fallen by 32% since their 2013 peak of 302p in September. In a show of empathy, Sainsbury’s shares were -8% and -26% from last year’s high and Tesco’s -4% and -23% respectively. The...

Are RBS shares on a dotcom!!! valuation?

Are RBS shares on a dotcom!!! valuation?

28 Feb 2014

You might have heard that The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) delivered some disappointing results yesterday. Underlying operating profit fell by 15% to £2.5 billion and the shares fell by 8%. But you might be surprised that it made a profit at all, given that the reporting of the figures and the interviewing of the latest CEO were generally hostile. Well, here’s...

Calmly seeking companies with long-term strategies

Calmly seeking companies with long-term strategies

6 Dec 2013

It may seem odd but it is harder than you might think to find companies with clear and measurable strategies. It is depressing how many listed companies offer nothing but a “mission” to be the “best of class”, to be “passionate about their customers” (yuk) and to pursue “value for all stakeholders”. In these challenging times when (thanks to QE) all assets are...

Yields are usually for a reason

Yields are usually for a reason

12 Jun 2013

Investment is betting on probabilities, not on outcomes. How can we judge if the probability of an event is over-priced or under-priced? Do not try to guess the probability of an outcome with a view to pricing it. Do ask when the price is telling you about the probability – then ask yourself if this is reasonable. For obvious reasons, investors are now very...

FirstGroup – watching with the wolves

FirstGroup – watching with the wolves

21 May 2013

Back on 14 February, when I wrote recommending Go-Ahead Group, I included summaries of my views on the other transport stocks, including this on FirstGroup: At 189p, FirstGroup has a market capitalisation of £911m but an enterprise value of £3357m due to £2446m of net debt (including pension liabilities). Its historic dividend yield of 12.5% tells us that the...

ICAP – a secret utility company?

ICAP – a secret utility company?

14 May 2013

ICAP released its 2012 results today. They were agreeably dull after a number of blows to the share price coming from stories about regulatory investigations including reports that it was being linked to the Libor scandal. At first sight, the statement from CEO Spencer suggests a pretty bad year: This has been an extraordinarily tough year in the wholesale...

Taylor Wimpey – end of an error?

Taylor Wimpey – end of an error?

26 Mar 2013

The source for many of my personal investment rules is mistakes that I have made in the past. The best (if that’s the word) illustration of this is my humiliating shareholding in Taylor Wimpey. I am prepared to make this public now because a) it might be a therapeutic exercise and b) the damage is not far off being repaired. (That last sentence was only...

Transport shares – Go-Ahead can make my day

Transport shares – Go-Ahead can make my day

14 Feb 2013

One of the earliest stock market bubbles was in railway companies in the 1830s and 1840s. At the time, rail was the new technology replacing canals and it is not difficult to understand why people with capital to invest were excited. As with all predictable technology-driven changes, it took much longer than its early supporters expected. (I will briefly...

Home Retail Group – dinosaur goes digital

Home Retail Group – dinosaur goes digital

17 Jan 2013

HMV has just been crushed by the weight of its borrowings. Were banks less reluctant to write off bad debts, it would probably have gone a year ago. Yet its key strategic error, according to commentators, was to fail to respond to the threat of the internet. This charge seems almost unbelievable but it is a reminder of how difficult it is for established...

Why I am buying ICAP plc

Why I am buying ICAP plc

10 Jan 2013

At first glance, ICAP looks like the kind of company that I don’t like to invest in. It is a financial service business whose employees are well rewarded for success. The normal problem with such companies is an implicit conflict of interest in that the shareholders find themselves in competition with the employees for a share of the added value....

Marks & Spencer – if it’s 400p it must be a takeover play

Marks & Spencer – if it’s 400p it must be a takeover play

29 Nov 2012

In the investment rule that I call “Competing Assets” I included four ways in which investors in a company’s equity should look to get paid out. They are 1) by the share price appreciating because the value of the company increases; 2) by the equity’s share of the company increasing relative to the share of other liability holders; 3)...

Enterprise Inns

Enterprise Inns

20 Nov 2012

Enterprise Inns released its fiscal 2012 results today. It is a pub operator that expanded too enthusiastically and became dangerously indebted. Leasing pubs to landlords who want to run them is fundamentally a very profitable business. Enterprise makes operating margins of 47% which is about as good as it gets (Apple’s operating margin is 36.5%, for...