Monday, November 19, 2007

Value potential energy

Recently Vitaliy Katsenelson was interviewed by Philip Durell and Bill Mann. I picked up a few ideas that apply to my investments.


In the interview, Mr. Katsenelson pointed out that international investing may actually reduce risk in an otherwise US-based portfolio. When I first bought Canon, hedging against a dollar decline factored into the decision. Since then as the dollar has strengthened from about 105 ¥ to 109.61 ¥ with a lot of fluctuation in the interim. Canon has been increasing their dividend which yields about 2.7% compared to the Japanese 30 year bond that yields 2.27%. If (when) Japan raises rates, Canon's price measured in yen will likely go up to push its yield down. At the same time, the yen dividend will likely be more valuable in terms of dollars. Since Canon has a very strong product line, the stock is very close to a sure thing.

Another point the interview touched on is that the address of corporate headquarters doesn't tell the whole story of what countries a company is exposed to. While Canon is largely a Japanese company, it sells products all over the world and has manufacturing and R&D facilities spread around Europe, the United States, and Asia.

First Marblehead

I'll just quote Mr. Katsenelson:
Another one, and I know you guys both like is First Marblehead. This stock trades at what, eight, nine times earnings? It has a phenomenal growth rate ahead of it and I think the investors still put it into the subprime mortgage category, even thought the average FICO score of its portfolio is 714, which is very high; 83% of it loans co-signed.

The part that I love about it [is] this whole speculation about major customers JPMorgan and Bank of America going away [and] you can quantify that easily. You can figure out what impact it would have on the portfolio if both Bank of America and JPMorgan dropped First Marblehead and actually I figured it out and kind of my worst case, a year after JPMorgan dropped; if JPMorgan and Bank of America leave First Marblehead, its revenues would be up 20% or 30% over where they are today. So my downside is basically none.

You could argue that the margins may become compressed, but that the JPMorgan and Bank of America business is growing so fast that it should overcompensate that. I know you guys will agree.

Potential energy

Quite a bit of the interview was actually about the importance of price when it comes to investing. I starting thinking of it like the potential energy in a spring or a hot air balloon. In Active Value Investing, Vitaliy Katsenelson suggests the QVG framework for examining investments. Quality (Q) could loosely be tied to earnings, Value (V) is related to price, and Growth (G) is how earnings (or cash flow) are likely to change in the future. (This is far too simplistic I'm sure.) To go back to the balloon analogy, price is the altitude the balloon floats at, earnings are the buoyancy of the balloon and growth is how fast that buoyancy is changing.

Now investors looking at the balloon from outside try to guess where it will be floating over some period of time. As management dumps ballast (cuts costs) or adds heat (increasing revenues), the balloon ought to rise. If it can't for some reason (investors holding the price down), the potential energy increases. The altitude (price) is fairly easy to see, but the buoyancy and its rate of change (earnings and growth) are much harder to judge. As a result, lower altitude (price) might actually be the best signal to buy assuming buoyancy (earnings potential) is increasing.

The surrounding environment contributes to the potential energy as well. A balloon will be more buoyant on cold day, while stocks have the greatest potential in markets that have low P/E ratios. The inverse of P/E ratios, earnings yields is a direct measure of potential energy. Since P/E ratios for the market as a whole are trending down, prices won't be helped as much as they once were, so it's important to have good earning yields in the individual stocks you buy and own. Canon (6.78%) and First Marblehead (13.28%) are currently have the most potential energy in my portfolio.

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