Investments inviting ridicule

Investments inviting ridicule

20 Jun 2022

I am struck by the knowledge that the stock market hit its Covid panic low on 23 March 2020 (FTSE at 4994). That was the very day that the first UK lockdown was announced. This is a splendid example of how desperately keen share prices are to discount bad news. Because the actual news got much worse for much longer than anyone could have believed – but the low was already in for the stock market. Today, it is hard to see how much worse the news could get for UK consumer shares or government gilts. So here are some deservedly unpopular ideas that might just pay off. THREE SHARES VULNERABLE TO CONSUMER SPENDING National Express (buses and coaches) 217p Since the beginning of March it is an amazing fact that three of the four UK listed bus (& train) companies have received takeover bids Stagecoach – bid 105p (now unconditional) vs March low 76p (38% premium) FirstGroup – indicative bid of 163.6p vs 89p in March (84% premium) Go-Ahead – bid of 1500p vs 550p in March (173% premium) That leaves only National Express which is now just a bus company (plus a few trains in Germany). It is huge (£2.7 bn in revenues this year)  and supposedly in the sweet spot for new transport habits (out of those wicked cars, people, and get on board with the monarchs of the road). It raised £235million from shareholders in May 2020 at 230p per share and the price has gone nowhere (now 217p). It plans to restore a dividend in 2022. It has hedged its fuel costs 100% for this year, 64% of 2023 and 25% for 2024. It has guided to a 7% operating margin in 2022 (10% in 2019).  I do not love this company but it has the potential to benefit from a certain scarcity value. Halfords (auto centres and bikes) 157p Another theoretical sweet spot – second hand car servicing and cycling. This statement of the bleeding obvious last week sent the shares down by 20%. While rising inflation and declining consumer confidence will naturally present short-term challenges for any customer-facing business like ours, we remain confident in Halfords’ long-term...

EQUITIES ARE THE NEW JUNK BONDS

EQUITIES ARE THE NEW JUNK BONDS

28 Aug 2019

Anyone who cares to investigate can discover that the equities that you probably own directly or through your pension scheme are equitable only with each other. Benjamin Graham, the so-called father of modern investing, called them “common shares” which is a better clue. When a company is wound up this typically means that it has run out of money and run out of people who will lend or give it more cash. Equities represent any surplus assets that are left when all other creditors have been paid off. Every other creditor ranks above the owners of the common shares. First are secured creditors like banks or bondholders who have lent money on fixed terms. If the company defaults on those terms it can be forced into formal insolvency, though sometimes the secured creditors will accept equity in return for a further cash injection, if they judge that their best chance of getting their money back in the end is to keep the business going. In those circumstances they will be issued shares on such favourable terms that existing equity investors are diluted to the point of worthlessness. This is happening now in the case of Thomas Cook. After secured creditors have been paid in full, anything left goes to so-called preferential creditors, including employees, and then to the luckless trade creditors and HMRC. You can infer that common shareholders will usually be completely wiped out. Unsurprisingly, people who invest in equities very rarely think about the risk of insolvency and losing all their money. We all dream of the day when the theoretical value of those surplus assets explodes upwards. Bond holders may get their money plus interest back but as Benjamin Graham pointed out many decades ago, common stocks have “a far better record than bonds over the long term past”. It has widely been accepted as a fact that equities are the answer for a long term investor. Cautious share owners look for sustainable dividends that can rise as the company grows; the more optimistic hope for rising share prices as well. Those are the two elements that drive the long-term performance of common stocks observed by Graham. But stock market investors...

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 interested in dividend yield but they also have reasons to be worried about the stock market. Commentators seem to be evenly split between those who are looking down and suffering vertigo and those who say that equities continue to offer attractive value compared to what else is on offer. According to my own investment rules, you will find me in the second camp for as long as that proposition continues to be true. Dividend yields are as reliable a measure as any for judging what the market thinks of a company. Then, as the quotation from my fourth investment rule (Probability) says, we can ask ourselves whether this is reasonable. Below is a table of current dividend yields from shares that I follow. There is a wide range which, if the market is efficient, should tell us that we can choose between relatively safe companies with relatively low yields and relatively risky with commensurately high returns. Before I discuss any individual stocks, I will characterise what these various yields imply.     Price Yield BG 1165 1.4% Fuller Smith & Turner 925 1.5% Domino’s Pizza 670 1.5% Travis Perkins 1520 1.6% Experian 1175 1.9% Regus 165.00 1.9% Home Retail Group 152 2.0% Diageo 19.15 2.2% Interconti Hotels 1835 2.2% Smith & Nephew 755 2.3% Rentokil 88 2.4% Millennium 549 2.5% Cranswick 1120 2.7% Stage Coach 287 2.7% Kingfisher 344 2.8% Hays 90 2.8% BT 312 2.8% Synthomer 194 2.8% Sage 348 3.0% Rexam 505 3.0% Micro Focus 659 3.1% Unilever (€) 31.4 3.1% Reed 736.0 3.1% Tate & Lyle 811 3.2% Greencore 130.00 3.3% St Ives 160 3.3% Greene King 750 3.4% Debenhams 92 3.6% Morgan Crucible 277 3.6% M&S 448 3.8% Pearson 1173.0 3.8% UBM 690.00 3.9% Mitie 253 4.1% Costain 254 4.2% Tesco 343 4.3% Marstons 142 4.4%...