‘I don’t know’

April 25, 2006

Ask any analyst, market commentator, investor or your friend on the future direction of the market and they will have a wide variety of views ranging from totally pessimistic to wildly optmisitic. Most will also have very plausible reasons to back up their viewpoints.

In reality, I doubt anyone can consistently time the market (and there is enough evidence to back it up). True some people can get it right sometimes, but I personally have never tried it as I know for sure that I will not get it right.

My approach to this question is ‘I don’t know’. I am not sure what will happen in the future. However that does not mean being blind to the present situation and doing nothing about. On the contrary I have some crude approaches to resolving this problem.

For individual stocks I typically maintain a valuation band (and not a price band). For example, if I think a business has very strong competitive advantage and will do very well, I tend to accord it higher valuations. As a specific case I can cite marico. Marico as a business was valued at a PE of around 10-12 in 2003, when I looked at it for the first time. I conservatively valued it at 20-22 at that time. Since then marico has done very well and may have improved its competitive position. As a result I have bumped up my valuation band to 25-27. The advantage I see in this approach is that I do not fixate on the price. Price is a function of the current earnings and the PE ratio, which in turn would depend on a variety of condition. By looking at a valuation band, I can assess the company’s competitive position and decide whether the current price looks overvalued or not.

Ofcourse the above approach is not perfect. A better approach would be to do a complete DCF analysis from scratch without any assumptions. However it is very time consuming and may not be feasible for me every time.

For the broader market, I have an even cruder method. I track the earnings growth, dividend yield and ROE of the market as a whole. I tend to treat a market PE of 20 as trigger to start investigating as to why the market should not be considered to be overvalued. A PE of 20 does not necessarily indicate an overvalued market. This number has to be seen in context of the other numbers I spoke of earlier. But at this point, I start analysing further and also look at reducing my holdings.

All of the above is hardly scientific and may appear as very crude. However I try not to be too smart in selling. I try to follow buffett’s advice (paraphrased) ‘Buy at such an attractive price, that selling becomes an easy decision’

In the end, my approach is to accept that I don’t know the future of the market and need to manage my emotions (greed at present!!). So a mechanical approach although sub-optimal works well for me.

As an aside, Mr market is current in complete euphoria with the kind of oversubscription for RPL and sun TV IPOs.

Great time for businesses to raise capital from the market !!


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