Market behaviour and its implications

Investing is easy but not simple. Investing can be skinned in many different ways creating possibilities that are extremely far off from each other yet produce similar results over the long run. Emotional equanimity through the process is a completely different animal with varied outcomes depending on the part of the cycle one is in.

While markets are largely efficient, it is just as often extreme in its views of certain sectors of the market. Either investors are completely enamoured by the business and its quality that they want to own it at any price and project the future with a lot of certainty that the underlying business might or might not possess. On the other hand, they completely shun some businesses and refuse to touch it even when the value proposition gets compelling. Couple this phenomenon with the narration bias where glowing articles galore on businesses that do well and doomsday articles on businesses that rile on businesses that are out of favour. This creates an interesting pond of opportunity as the market analyses the information fairly well but there are times when the market also struggles to separate the wheat from the chaff. Other times, the narration changes very quickly.

Let us look at a business that is viewed very favourably today by the market. Apple Inc. The market cap of Apple is $1.395T today and the shares trade at $318.31 as we speak. The PE is north of 26 and the dividend yield is just shy of 1% (Yahoo Finance)  The market is pricing in what is expected to be a strong holiday season sales; the subscription growth of Apple+, the newly launched streaming service last year; the AirPods pro launch and the upgraded iPhones; the 5G compatible phones that are expected to be released later this year. All are valid reasons and you can find several articles that dissect any of the above mentioned reasons and you can get a fairly good sense of the narrative. All in all, it is priced like a technology leader who relevancy is solid with a strong moat that will protect the business (at least for the next decade).

Rewind a year ago, the market cap of Apple was close to 50% of what it was today. Jan 21, 2019, Apple closed at $157.9 a share; a tad less than half of today’s price. In less than a year, the company has added close to $700B of market cap. Around the same time last year, the company was coming of a bad holiday season, profit warnings, gloom and doom articles appeared around how companies could bypass the App Store and even though Apple was better than RIM and Nokia, it faced an uncertain future in a technology driven market and was much better priced at a lower valuation like a declining business.

What a difference a year makes. In context of Apple though, it needs to be kept in mind that the market does not owe a down year just because it had a stronger than expected 2019. Nor does it mean that the momentum will continue forever either. Remember, the market is supposed to be largely efficient. Yet, the narrative changes quickly. This is why investing is simple but not easy. 8.2% of the entire S&P growth in 2019 came from Apple alone. Apple and Microsoft, accounted for 15% of the S&P growth. If you owned the market, you benefited largely from the technology growth of 2019 or if you owned Berkshire, the value of your holdings benefited from Apple (as the single largest equity held by Berkshire). If you were a single name investor and did not have the index or Apple or Microsoft in the portfolio or were not big into FAANG or technology in general, you had an uphill battle in 2019 to beat the market.

However, that was an easy one. If you are investing in the markets, you probably were aware of the Apple example. If you had to benefit from Apple’s massive run, you had to buy / hold the stock through some scary headlines. Just being contrarian does not work either. Every bankruptcy has been preceded with scary headlines. Differentiating the wheat from the chaff is the key there.

Let us look at some examples at the other end of the spectrum. Pan out from the US and pan in into the Indian banking and shadow banking system. A poster child of things gone wrong. DHFL posted close to a $900M loss on a $14B loan book; financial irregularities are being investigated and the company is going through a bankruptcy process in India. Yes Bank is losing all credibility in the market for waffling around instead of raising capital. As of 30th Sep, the bank had a book value of INR 109, the market clearly does not believe that Yes bank is still marked properly. It has valued the stock the close to 40% of the reported book value. Very rarely have banks that have fallen more than 90% recovered quickly from debacles like this. Even if one were to assume that the bank was technically insolvent because liabilities exceeds assets, there is still a large piece of the balance sheet that is healthy that will earn positive cash flow and earnings. The only way in the medium term, the bank can come out of the mess is through a cap raise. Then the question becomes. at what margin of safety will investors be willing to invest capital in the bank? 50%? 60%? 90%? If the bank is not able to raise any capital even at a massive discount to the book value, they might as well go the same way as DHFL. In the case of no capital being raised, the market essentially signalling that it has no trust in the bank and with no trust, there is no banking. If not, they need to quickly raise capital and reverse the downward spiral they have been on for the last 24 months.

Examples like DHFL and Yes Bank coupled with a beleaguered real estate sector, growing NPA’s and slowing growth in India has resulted in separating the perceived very good banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFC’s) in India from the rest. Companies like HDFC, HDFC Bank, Bajaj Finance that are perceived to have less risk continue to enjoy a massive premium over the rest of the sector. They trade at huge multiples of book value, enjoy strong growth, low NPA’s and solid ROE’s and capital cushion.

But the interesting companies are neither of these two buckets but the ones stuck in the middle. The in-between bucket today neither enjoys the premium of a strong franchise nor the discount of a capitally starved financial institution. They are associated enough with the mess that the valuations are discounted due to association effects but decently high enough due to their earning power and robust business models. A decent example of both would be Shriram Transport Finance and Shriram City Union Finance, both of which we have been following (and owned) for years. The stocks have gone nowhere over the last few years even though the capital position is robust, earnings are increasing, the valuations are decreasing. Shriram Transport, which caters to financing of used trucks and new trucks, is largely dependent on the small owners of commercial vehicles. While at first glance, the NPA’s or the stage 3 ECL’s look high; they are more a function of the business model than they are of the underlying business. With a low LTV and a solid guarantor system, the realized losses are far lower than what the NPA’s or the ECL’s suggest. With a ROA close to 2.5%, ROE of close to 17%, Book Value of INR 751 and decent growth of AUM and decreased corporate tax rates, the stock is expected to earn around INR 125 this year and is trading at INR 1050 as of today. The market seems to be projecting the gloom and doom of today well into the future. Shriram City Union Finance, which caters to the SME sector and the MSME sector, is a similar story. With ROA north of 3.5%, ROE north of 17%, low leverage, a segment that is almost captive, high ECL’s but low real losses on loans, with a book value of 1031 INR at the end of Sep is trading at INR 1380 creating interesting possibilities. However, if you owned one of these in the last few years, the stocks and the portfolio went nowhere. Coupled with some big investors and PE looking to cash out, near term tailwinds are capped.

In this context, if one were to tether oneself to beating the market index while picking individual names, one would have to gravitate towards the momentum driven stocks or high quality stocks which are at sky high valuations. On the other hand, if one were to look at through the cycle growth and compare them, the risk-reward function might be changing. So far, the momentum and high quality stocks are miles ahead in the race.

As I am thinking through these examples, there are three broad lessons that I think of: 1. It is very tough to predict markets short term. But through the cycle, they will reflect the fundamentals of the business. 2. Markets are largely efficient but far from always efficient as seen by the Apple example above 3. One can have different investing approaches — the more I think, the more I am inclined towards being more conservative through businesses that have earnings on hand today, trade at low multiples to cash flow than predicting longer term cycles.

Disclaimers: Own several indexes, Banks, NBFC’s, Single Name stocks etc. See FAQ’s. Not recommendations. Please do your own research.

Piramal Watch: Another strong quarter from the numbers!

We had written about Piramal Enterprises before here recently. Last night, they announced their results. Strong revenue and profit growth at 21% YoY. As expected, the focus on was their financial services portion of the business. The book was flat quarter or quarter with about 5K crores of repayment and 4.8K crores of disbursements.

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The real estate book is starting to show signs of diversification with a lower wholesale residential RE portion but it is still 47% of the book.

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The ROA and ROE seems to be holding up well for the business. GNPA actually fell in the quarter based on 90 dpd. It does look like payments are coming in through for Piramal as of now.  I suspect there is a lot of advance payments that is going on here that is causing this to look very strong and probably some better risk management as well.

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A detailed book sensitivity shows that there are probably around 10% of the deals that need attention which is not concerning given that Piramal has shown an ability to actually implement corrective action and fix them in the last few quarters.

Screenshot from 2019-07-31 05-03-42

The key news was on the liability and equity side. The company informed that they were planning to bring in 8K-10k crores of equity on what they called significant growth and consolidation opportunities that are opening up on the NBFC.

I will also link here the CNBC transcript that shows a more aggressive yet cautious contrarian waiting for the right opportunities to open up in the NBFC space. It was good to see that they are treading with caution and watching instead of jumping into the first deal they get. With a solid quarter behind them, will this be a case of yet another counter cyclical aggression from Piramal? Only time will tell.

Disclosure: Long Piramal.

NBFC Watch Continues! Shriram City Quarterly Results!

Last night Shriram City Union Finance announced its quarterly results. Assets under management is up from 29,582 crores in March 2019 to 30,352 crores at the end of June 2019. RoA is marginally down to 3.41% in June from 3.44% in the prior quarter. RoE is down to 15.44% from 16.48% at the end of March. Disbursements are marginally down 5% QoQ. EPS was INR 38.4, Book value at INR 1005, CRAR at 22.5%. Asset quality only very marginally declined with net stage 3 assets holding almost flat at 5.03% with provisions just marginally up. Looking at the ALM statement, looks like their short term liquidity is fine.

And this was supposed to be a bad quarter. Results have help up well and the business model seems more steady than what the news will lead you to believe. It does look like this blood bath will eventually open up interesting opportunities for the patient investor.

Disclosure: Long Shriram City. Also read disclosure here




Piramal Watch: Distressed Seller or a Predator on Hunt?

With all the bearishness around the NBFC and the liquidity situation surrounding the industry, we are closely monitoring the status of several NBFC’s. Amongst them is Piramal. Depending on which source you read at or talk to, you have Piramal, either an overexposed real estate NBFC lender in a liquidity crunch, selling investments to fund liquidity issues OR a savvy predator hungry for more deals in the market when there is blood on the streets. Either way, when the results come out tomorrow, it will be a good indicator of what the reality looks like.

With so many stories swirling around, it is really tough to separate out the truth from the rumor. All we can say is, given the sheer number of permutations and combinations of the stories out there, it is evident that Piramal is talking to investors. But for what and as what? A distressed seller or as a bloodhound on a trail. We will have to wait and see how this plays out.

Some of the links to articles around Piramal:

  1. Piramal capital eyes $600M of buyouts in NBFC space (here)
  2. Can Piramal enterprises weather the NBFC storm (here)
  3. Softbank set to infuse capital into Piramal capital (here)
  4. LIC, IFC come to the aid of Piramal’s financial services business (here)
  5. Piramal’s INR 2500 Crore debt up for redemption in next 18 months (here)
  6. Piramal sharply cuts short term debt as NBFC crisis lingers (here)
  7. Piramal raises 1500 Crores from Stanchart through NCD’s (here)
  8. Reliance Jio and Piramal might setup a joint venture for financial services lending (here)
  9. Consumer finance focus can bring softbank to Piramal (here)
  10. The pathetic performance of the IndiaReit V fund (here)
  11. Piramal sells entire stake in Shriram Transport (here)
  12. Piramal is in talks to sell stake in Shriram group of companies (here)

Update: Added a few more links to the Lodha issue

  1. Piramal capital offloads 2,000 crore linked to Lodha (here)
  2. Piramal to pare 1,000 crore of Lodha developers debt (here)

Disclosure: Long Piramal.

Valeant Pharma Non-Gaap Definitions

It is one of those posts where I am just reproducing Valeant’s Non-Gaap definitions. I just cannot imagine all these expenses being excluded. Source is Q4 2015 results presentation. Link here

The reason I have reproduced this here is to remind myself when I see something like this in a management metric to run the other direction. All I can say is wow… just wow… and run… It is beyond me how to evaluate the operating performance for an acquisitive company with this disclosure…

Going by this disclosure; Bill Ackman can exclude his Valeant loss while reporting because it is a non-cash charge.

Adjusted EPS Management uses Adjusted EPS for strategic decision making, forecasting future results and evaluating current performance. In addition, cash bonuses for the Company’s executive officers are based, in part, on the achievement of certain Adjusted EPS targets. This non-GAAP measure excludes the impact of certain items (as further described below) that may obscure trends in the Company’s underlying performance. By disclosing this non-GAAP measure, management intends to provide investors with a meaningful, consistent comparison of the Company’s operating results and trends for the periods presented. Management believes this measure is also useful to investors as it allow investors to evaluate the Company’s performance using the same tools that management uses to evaluate past performance and prospects for future performance.

Adjusted EPS reflect adjustments based on the following items:

Inventory step-up and property, plant and equipment (PP&E) step-up/down: The Company has excluded the impact of fair value step-up/down adjustments to inventory and PP&E in connection with business combinations as such adjustments represent non-cash items, and the amount and frequency is not consistent and is significantly impacted by the timing and size of our acquisitions.

Stock-based compensation: The Company has excluded the impact of previously accelerated vesting of certain stock-based equity instruments as such impact is not reflective of the ongoing and planned pattern of recognition for such expense.

Acquisition-related contingent consideration: The Company has excluded the impact of acquisition-related contingent consideration non-cash adjustments due to the inherent uncertainty and volatility associated with such amounts based on changes in assumptions with respect to fair value estimates, and the amount and frequency of such adjustments is not consistent and is significantly impacted by the timing and size of our acquis itions, as well as the nature of the agreed-upon consideration.

In-Process research and development impairments and other charges: The Company has excluded expenses associated with acquired in-process research and development (including any impairment charges), as these amounts are inconsistent in amount and frequency and are significantly impacted by the timing, size and nature of acquisitions. Although expenses associated with acquired in-process research and development are generally not recurring with respect to past acquisitions, the Company may incur these expenses in connection with any future acquisitions.

Philidor Rx Services wind down costs – The Company has excluded certain costs associated with the wind down of the arrangement with Philidor Rx Services, primarily including write-downs of fixed assets and bad debt expenses. The Company believes it is useful to understand the effect of excluding this item when evaluating ongoing performance.

Other (income) expense: The Company has excluded certain other expenses that are the result of other, unplanned events to measure operating performance, primarily including costs associated with the termination of certain supply and distribution agreements, legal settlements and related fees, Philidor-related and pricing-related investigation and litigation costs, post-combination expenses associated with business combinations for the acceleration of employee stock awards and/or cash bonuses, and gains/losses from the sale of assets and businesses. These events are unplanned and arise outside of the ordinary course of continuing operations. The Company believes the exclusion of such amounts allows management and the users of the financial statements to better understand the financial results of the Company. 

Restructuring, integration, and acquisition-related expenses: In recent years, the Company has completed a number of acquisitions, which result in operating expenses which would not otherwise have been incurred, and the Company may incur such expenses in connection with any future acquisitions. The Company has excluded certain restructuring, integration and other acquisition-related expense items resulting from acquisitions (including legal and due diligence costs) to allow more accurate comparisons of the financial results to historical operations and forward-looking guidance. Such costs are generally not relevant to assessing or estimating the long-term performance of the acquired assets as part of the Company, and are not factored into management’s evaluation of potential acquisitions or its performance after completion of acquisitions. In addition, the frequency and amount of such charges vary significantly based on the size and timing of the acquisitions and the maturities of the businesses being acquired. Also, the size, complexity and/or volume of past acquisitions, which often drives the magnitude of such expenses, may not be indicative of the size, complexity and/or volume of future acquisitions. By excluding the above referenced expenses from our non-GAAP measures, management is better able to evaluate the Company’s ability to utilize its existing assets and estimate the long-term value that acquired assets will generate for the Company. Furthermore, the Company believes that the adjustments of these items more closely correlate with the sustainability of the Company’s operating performance.

Amortization and impairments of finite-lived intangible assets: The Company has excluded the impact of amortization and impairments of finite-lived intangible assets (including impairments of intangible assets related to Philidor Rx Services), as such non-cash amounts are inconsistent in amount and frequency and are significantly impacted by the timing and/or size of acquisitions. The Company believes that the adjustments of these items more closely correlate with the sustainability of the Company’s operating performance. Although the Company excludes amortization of intangible assets from its non-GAAP expenses, the Company believes that it is important for investors to understand that such intangible assets contribute to revenue generation. Amortization of intangible assets that relate to past acquisitions will recur in future periods until such intangible assets have been fully amortized. Future acquisitions may result in the amortization of additional intangible assets and potential impairment charges.

Amortization of deferred financing costs and debt discounts: The Company has excluded amortization of deferred financing costs and debt discounts as this represents a non-cash component of interest expense.

Foreign exchange and other: The Company has excluded foreign exchange and other to eliminate the impact of foreign currency fluctuations primarily related to intercompany financing arrangements in evaluating company performance.

Tax: The Company has (i) excluded the tax impact of the non-GAAP adjustments and (ii) recorded adjustments for the use of tax attributes and other deferred tax items plus any payments made for settlement of tax audits, in order to reflect an expected tax rate for the current period.


About a week ago, Molycorp, the rare earth minerals manufacturer declared a chapter 11 bankruptcy.

From google finance,

Molycorp, Inc. is a rare earths producer. The Company operates in four business segments: Resources, Chemicals and Oxides, Magnetic Materials and Alloys and Rare Metals. The Resources segment includes its operations at the Mountain Pass facility. The Chemicals and Oxides segment includes the production of rare earths at Molycorp Silmet; production of separated heavy rare earth oxides and other engineered materials from its Molycorp Jiangyin facility, and production of rare earths, salts of rare earth elements (REEs), zirconium-based engineered materials and mixed rare earth/zirconium oxides from its Molycorp Zibo facility. The Magnetic Materials and Alloys segment includes the production of Neo Powders through its wholly owned manufacturing facilities. The Rare Metals segment produces, reclaims, refines and markets niche metals and their compounds.

Often companies get into bankruptcy as they are unable to absorb the burden of the debt that they have undertaken and go through the bankruptcy process and come out stronger with better negotiated debt on the other side. The market that Molycorp operates in is dominated by Chinese firms . When the economic behemoth tried to strong arm the world by controlling supplies, Molycorp and Lynas came up with supplies with some non-Chinese mines. These two companies at one point contributed to 10% of the global consumption. Since then the Chinese have backed down and the world has been more than willing to buy from them at rock bottom prices.

When one looks at the financials of Molycorp, attention needs to be paid to the income statement rather than the balance sheet as we usually do in distressed conditions.

$M 2012 2013 2014
Sales 527.7 554.4 475.6
GP 18.8 -67.2 -99.6
GP % 3.6% -12.1% -20.9%

The company has been reporting net negative gross margins. The company has been losing money just getting metal out of the ground. This is even before the sales force is paid, the corporate expenses are paid and even before the interest payments are serviced on the debt. The only time when the GP’s were positive was during the Chinese induced shortages which resulted in a huge price increased in the market. Just restructuring the debt with lower interests or better terms or financial engineering is not the solution to this problem.

The company has not outlined any measures that can make the investor comfortable that a margin of safety exists in the bond even under distress. Unless there is another attempt to strong arm the rare earth market from the Chinese or the US is determined to use only US made rare earth metals, or the Chinese crack down on the black market,  financial engineering will only go far to stem this tide. A cautious investor will do well to sit this out and watch from the sideline!