Month: January 2011

Stocks Selection – What to Watch…

Finance regulation is like airline security – defending against the last threat – Anthony Hilton, Evening Standard

Source: Alan Caruba's blog "Facts not Fantasy", http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

When picking an investment focus on the ‘R’sRegulation…. Ready for change…. Robust…. and then lets not forget Rotation…!

Regardless of the validity of the above quote, a higher level of regulation should be a serious consideration when picking stocks. Which sectors are most at risk? And what qualities should a company have to be able to flourish in this environment and provide an attractive vehicle in which to invest?

Let’s focus on the 3 ‘R’s which will help guide our way…

REGULATION – Within the financial sector, this may make banks more stable but less profitable….

READY FOR CHANGE – in contrast, those firms able to adapt will flourish (implementing new technologies, entering new economies (e.g. EM), exploiting niche opportunities)

ROBUST – whilst at the same time, the need for a strong balance sheet remains crucial in order to cope with, for example, the previously mentioned less predictable Emerging Markets. In addition, in this credit-starved environment, the firms with cash to burn are in a stronger position to buy cash-strapped competitors and build market share.

Note: The Economist this month published their 2011 themes, one of which summed up the latter 2 ‘R’s by coining a new term – forecasting of the dominance of “Multinationimbles” – combining multinational reach with nimbleness in strategy. Sited as an example was IBM, celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year, shifting its focus from hardware to selling services.

Another stock example: Nokia, originally a paper manufacturer back in the 19th century, with stints in rubber and electricity generation before entering the telecommunications industry. With products winning approval for sale in China, they are continuing to look for the next opportunity from which to profit.

Source: Google Finance

Ok, before we end the article, there is one more ‘R’ to watch, on a shorter time horizon you should be aware of:

ROTATION – out of defensives and into more cyclical stocks as investors gain confidence and put risk back on the table….

Emerging Markets – Crucial Points to be Aware of When Investing in the “Region”

What Investor Excitement Is Ignoring….

Inflation is like sin; every government denounces it and every government practices it – Frederick Leith-Ross

One of the most interesting market moves in 2010 was the significant outperformance of US equities over Chinese, despite far weaker GDP growth numbers. What many missed is the fact that it is not absolute values but relative figures / surprises which move markets. With this in mind, is it worrying that the consensus for China’s long term earnings growth is forecasted at 18%? Not much room is left for upside surprises, but there’s plenty of space for disappointment!

Source: "The Surprising truth about Investing in the BRICs" on Nicholas Vardy's The Global Guru, http://www.theglobalguru.com/article.php?id=340&offer=GURU001.

Therefore, it is important to be aware of the issues and risks associated with the region to be able to decide not only what to invest in but how to size the investment accordingly, inline with risk / return targets. As expressed above, it is crucial to judge what you believe is already priced into the markets and what pose as upside or downside potential.

Short-Term EM Risks

Short-term cyclical factors can overshadow long-term structural trends

INFLATION: the index used to calculate inflation in EM has double the exposure to food prices than in the G10 (developed countries). Using the price of wheat as an example – an all time high was reached at the beginning of this month, highlighting the magnified pressure felt in the region which may spook investors. From another angle, fiscal policy in China led to a 30% growth in the money supply (M2) in 2009, increased by almost as much again last year, stoking inflationary fears (since with more money around, it becomes worth less and more of it is required to buy goods i.e. goods become more expensive)

ALLOCATIONS: a record percentage of portfolio managers are overweight Emerging Market equities. The combined net assets of the two largest EM ETFs are now above that for the S&P 500, despite the US equity market being ~4 times the size of the investable EM universe.

Long-Term EM Risks

Long-term demographics may negatively affect the working population

AGE TRENDS: the biggest drop in the young working age population is “set to take place in China,” a result of its one-child policy.

ACCESS TO EDUCATION: Of the top 50 universities, only 3 are based in emerging market countries and the highest stay rate is among Chinese students. This means that in order to get a top quality education, the youth of Emerging Markets may have to study abroad and if they do so, may end up staying, greatly limiting the young, well-educated working class of their homeland.

EM Stock Risks

Do due diligence on the companies you pick – you may not be getting the exposure you want

EXPOSURE: just 14% of EM market cap is represented by domestic-facing sectors (i.e. not all EM stocks give investors exposure to the rise of the Consumer and the “Domestic Demand” growth story, a main reason for investment)

GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION: Within the EM stock markets, government ownership of companies is significant. For the Chinese market, 67% of its market cap is government owned (35% in Russia, 29% in India and 14% in Brazil). Putting this in context, in the US, at the height of the financial crisis, government ownership was about 3.7% of market cap. The importance of this should not be underestimated. It means that at times, within EM, a majority government owned entity may not be acting entirely in the interests of the investors.

STOCK EXAMPLE: Petrobras (PBR):  Brazilian government and its affiliates own about 64% of common voting shares. The offering documents state that “the government, as our principal shareholder, has and may pursue in the future, certain of its macroeconomic and social objectives through us.”

INVESTMENT INSIGHT

Therefore, in conclusion: Be aware –

Short-term cyclical factors can overshadow long-term structural trends

Long-term demographics may negatively affect the EM working population

Do due diligence on the companies you pick – you may not be getting the exposure you want