Thursday 13 December 2012

Playing Second Fiddle: Possibility of First Rate Returns

It is human mind's innate tendency to seek patterns from the past experiences and extend this patterns to predict the future. Even though this innate human trait is very handy on number of occasions,  many a times it leads to visualizing patterns where there exist none! In my opinion, a key differentiator in identifying a useful pattern is the causal relationship or lack of it! In simple words, if our mind visualizes some pattern but there is no logical/rational explanation for why particular pattern exist, more likely than not, pattern may turn out to be misleading. Idea behind discussing this trait of human mind is that this post is related to a pattern that I have observed in some of my investments and there is a common thread binding success of these investments. My personal take is that this pattern can have high predictive value as there are enough logical reasons to explain for the pattern deciphered here.

There is a very interesting thread going on on valupickr forum on identifying success patterns in investment. Donald has done an excellent summary of various patterns discussed on this thread. Do read this thread as some of the patterns there are indeed very interesting.

Let me start the discussion with a question. What is common between Amara Raja Batteries, Cera Sanitaryware and Oriental Carbon & Chemicals? Let me define characteristics which bind them together..

  • All these companies operate in duopoly/oligopoly: Organized sanitaryware industry catering to mass market is dominated by three players i.e. HSIL, Parryware and Cera in that order. Similarly, battery industry is dominated by Exide, Amara Raja and to a limited extent Tata. In insoluble sulfur space, there only few suppliers garner more than 95% market share in insluble sulfur supply to all tyre majors across the world.

  • They are not leaders in their industry but are second/third largest players in their industry: Cera is the third largest player in organized sanitaryware industry catering to mass market. Amara Raja is the second largest player in battery market (both industrial and automotive combined) and OCCL is third largest player in insoluble sulfur market.

  • All three companies have been discussed on this blog based on fundamental and business analysis. (though due to some management actions, I have exited OCCL as I was not comfortable with management quality, however, on quantitative basis, it still looks very good for longer term)

So once I noticed the commonality among these three companies, I sensed that there may be some pattern emerging which may have causal/logical links.

So here is the hypothesis

" Second or third largest players, operating in a consumer-centric industry and increasing/retaining their market shares are good investment candidates if it is acquired before market picks up the thread"

Now the hypothesis seems slightly complicated (may be verbose!), but i put it like that to ensure none of the attribute is left out from the hypothesis!  So what are the attributes one should be looking for in second/third largest players in order to qualify it as good investment candidate?

  • Industry should be consumer centric or product should be used in consumer centric industry to ensure steady demand
  • Industry should be growing at reasonable pace
  • Industry shall have duopoly/oligopoly with market leader enjoying pricing power.
  • overall business economics (return ratios and margins) for industry is good  and consistent while second/third largest players enjoy similar economics as that of industry leader (or may be better!)
  • Second/third largest players should ideally be increasing its market presence/share
  • Second/third largest players trade at significant discount to market leaders.
This may sound like a wish list but the fact that such opportunities existed in the past does build confidence as an investor that one may come across such opportunities from time to time. If one is able to spot such opportunities and invest, it is likely to give first rate returns!

So let me dwell into logical link as to why this pattern makes sense as investment opportunity.

  • Typically in an industry, with duopoly/oligopoly, market leaders enjoy pricing power and hence their margins are generally decent and protected. This ensures that second/third largest players also can take advantage of this dynamics and enjoy protected margins. Thus any major fluctuations on RM price is typically passed on to the end user (though some times with lag). This attribute can be very handy as company's bottom line is predictable as long as company is able to sell same/more of its products.
  • Another advantage second/third largest players have is that they have to grow from much lower base than market leaders.As we all know it is much easier to grow at faster pace from lower base than higher base. Moreover, since company is growing from lower base, it is possible to maintain growth momentum (of course with right products and strategy) for longer. Thus if company is operating in an industry with reasonable  growth it shall be able to grow at pace comparable to industry growth. Now if we combine these two attributes of reasonable growth in top line and protected margins, it will lead to predictable earning growth for some years. 
  • Another interesting fact is that market typically focuses on industry leaders and assigns discount to companies which play second fiddle to leaders. Many a times, this means that one can get opportunity to buy a business which has as good economics as industry leader, higher growth than  industry average (due to lower base) at much lower valuations. It thus may present an opportunity to buy growth companies with superior economics at very reasonable price giving some margin of safety to the investor. 
So apparently, there is some logical link that can explain why investing in second/third largest players in oligopoly/duopoly makes sense. However the moot question here is, does it always work? There may be contrary evidences where in spite of this pattern, playing second fiddle did not work as investment  opportunity. Hence, it is important to recognize that, just spotting an opportunity which fits the pattern is not the end, but the beginning. It shall never be a proxy for fundamental/business analysis that one should perform before making investment decision. Limited point here is that, pattern may be useful in identifying investment opportunities which have higher probability of giving superior returns over a long period of time.

Food for thought: A few other opportunities which can fit in this pattern are Atul Auto, Narmada Gelatines and Fluidomat as all three of them operate in an industry with oligopoly/limited competition. 

Please share your ideas on which other businesses you think can fit into this category. 

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Hyderabad Industries Ltd: A Mispriced Bet

I hope all of you had a fabulous time during Deepawali and are eager to make most of the new year that has begun. In last two months market has been topsy-turvy with undertone being on the optimistic side. Any good news on sector/stock specific front is followed by strong rally while bad news are considered to have been discounted. In last two months number of undervalued opportunities discussed on this blog and many other such blogs seems to have caught up and difference between price and value seems to have narrowed (though undervaluation still exists in quite a few). In such a stock specific market, it is generally difficult to spot opportunities which have under performed in spite of strong fundamentals and good performance. 

Hyderabad Industries Limited (HIL) is one such opportunity, which inspite of good fundamental, decent growth record in recent quarters, strong promoters and potential to grow at decent pace, is trading at very cheap valuations. It is  a story which in my opinion is slowly unfolding but is not perceived correctly by the market. It is still considered a cement sheet company which means slow growth and fluctuating margins and hence valued in line with other cement sheet companies at TTM P/E of 4-5. In short to me HIL seems a mispriced bet.

Business Overview: HIL is a CK Birla group company established in 1946 and was a pioneer in asbestos based cement sheet business.Even though fiber cement sheet business still constitutes 80% of the business, HIL has also entered into business of thermal insulation, accessories and recently green building products. It has 12 plants spread pan India covering length and breadth of the country. Following is the key snapshot for major businesses of HIL 

Fiber Cement Sheet Business: It has built formidable "Charminar" brand over the years and has developed extensive sales and distribution network covering even remotest rural areas in the country. It is the largest player in this segment with more than 20% market share. This business contributes around 80% towards revenue however its share in overall revenue mix is decreasing due to increased contribution from green building product division. A peculiarity of this business is that transportation cost is one of the major component of the cost structure. Thus producing end product near demand centers is critical for better margins and cost competitiveness. HIL scores very well on this front due to highest number of plants spread across different states of the country covering all the regions.Other players in the industry are Visaka Industries, Ramco Industries, Everest Industries etc.

Green building products: This business is marketed with the brand of "Aerocon" and has become very popular in recent times. It comprises of two products namely AAC blocks and Aerocon panels. 

AAC Blocks: Autoclaved aerated concrete blocks are made from mix of cement, fly ash, aluminium and other plasticizers. It has number of advantages over clay bricks such as more environmental friendly, much better thermal insulation property, very light in weight, less labor requirements. Even though AAC blocks are costlier than clay bricks on standalone basis, cumulative cost of construction is comparable due to number of advantages AAC blocks enjoy.  In time of increasing focus on climate change and government's focus on improving energy efficiency in building construction sector, green building products have huge potential. Moreover, in addition to "green" tag, ease of use, acute shortage of labor and rising prices of sand/cement and reduced construction time is motivating number of builders to shift to AAC blocks. In Ahmedabad area itself, I have seen many of the new apartment and commercial complexes  using AAC blocks instead of clay bricks.

HIL is one of the leaders in AAC blocks segment with close to 26% market share in southern and western market. Other large players include Siporex (Pune) and magicrete(Surat). It grew its AAC block business by 100% last year and is hoping to maintain good growth in coming years due to increasing demand, its focus on quality and its relationship with large real estate players.

Aerocon Panels: A panel made from recycled waste (fly ash) is a perfect replacement for plasterboard, plywood, particle board and brick wall. It is a green product certified by Indian Green Building Code (IGBC) and has huge number of applications including partition walls, office chambers, office partitioning, mezzanine floors and pre-fab structures. It has low weight, ductility, better thermal insulation and fire resistance. HIL is leader in this segment with 58% market share. Business in this segment grew at healthy 21% in FY 12.

Thermal Insulation Products: HIL is leader in calcium silicate based thermal insulation product. It markets its thermal insulation product in the name of "Hysil". It commands 65% market share in domestic industry. It has application across cement,power, petrochemical and fertilizer industry. Thermal insulation business is too small compared to its building product division. It also is a slow grower and HIL is looking to expand this business in international market by focusing on exports.

Financials and Fundamentals: 

Let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Ayush and Pratyush for creating wonderful site like It is fabulous and extremely useful  site for creating user defined screens without getting bogged down by only recent years numbers. Here is the snapshot of 10 year financials for HIL. 

Before I start analyzing the financials, I want to bring in an important perspective here. HIL till 2006-07 was predominantly a cement sheet manufacturing company with virtually no appetite for growth. It was operating in a mature industry and in tough competitive environment with focus on maintaining its market share instead of growing.Its growth rate hovered around the growth of industry as a whole or slightly better(7-8%). However, management decided to bring in new vigor to the company, HIL brought in Mr.Abhay Shankar as its MD and widened its focus from fiber cement sheet business to become a building product company. This key change is reflected in numbers as well.  Few things which are evident from the analysis of financial statements.

P & L:

  • HIL's top line grew 7% CAGR from FY 2003 to FY 2008 while it grew at CAGR 15% from FY 2008-2012.
  • HIL's net profit grew more than four fold from 14 crores in FY 2008 to 60.5 crores in FY 2012. This is CAGR 44% in four years. 
  • Over last 10 years profit margins have been all around the place and there is no consistency in the margin. However, it seems (may be too early to conclude) operating margins around 12-13% is a reasonable estimate considering improving product mix (higher contribution from green building products).
Balance Sheet: 

  • Key takeaway from balance sheet analysis is that HIL has deleveraged its balance sheet over last 10 years. HIL reduced its debt/equity from 1.9 in 2003 to 0.3 in 2012. 
  • HIL managed its working capital exceedingly well and improved over last 10 years. WC as % sales reduced from 24% to 12%. 
Cash Flow:

  • HIL has consistently generated positive operational cash flow and mostly in line with the profit generated by the company. 
Return Ratios:

  • Company's ROE has been fluctuating over the years ranging from   below 15% to above 40%. however in case of normalized margins for HIL, it has earned very decent ROE i.e. in excess of 20%. In FY 12, HIL earned ROE of close to 20%. 
  • ROE is contributed equally through margins, asset turnover and leverage. I have preference for businesses that are intrinsically asset light (or rather not asset heavy) and ROE is derived through balancing of all the three factors. HIL surely scores well on this front.
  • It has asset turnover ratio hovering around 2 in spite of continuous capacity addition and expansion. 
Key Drivers for HIL:

Even though many a times, history does give important clues to how future may pan out, it is not the case always. Things change, circumstances change, people change and organizations evolve. 

  • HIL management has become more proactive for last 4-5 years which is clearly reflected in the numbers. HIL management aims to more than double its top line from current 850 crores to 2000 crores by 2016-17. Please read following article.
  • Moreover HIL is slowly moving from being a pure fiber cement sheet  company to a building product company having larger number of products in its portfolio. Revenue mix is slowly but surely changing with contribution from green building products rising at fast clip. Management plans to change revenue mix of cement sheet/green building products to 50/50 by 2016-17 from current mix of 80/20. Typically green building products have higher margin than cement sheets and hence margin profile may improve further from current levels.
  • As I have been working in sustainability area, I see a clear focus by the government in promoting energy efficiency. Government is strongly promoting green and energy efficient buildings by bringing in new guidelines and building codes. Moreover, green buildings are economically  viable if one considers cost metrics in totality and hence no additional burden on stake holders for "green" tag. This makes me believe that there is huge opportunity waiting to be tapped and hence growth expectations of HIL are not misplaced.

HIL currently has market cap of 350 odd crores with PBDIT of 116 crores and has book value of 452. It is trading at TTM P/E of 5 and P/B of 1.05. 

Now there are two scenarios I would like to draw here. First one is the pessimistic scenario. If HIL does not do as well as management has indicated and just grows its top line at CAGR 10-12% for 4 years, it will end up with revenue of roughly 1400 crores. If I take normalized net profit margin of 7.5% (which I think is realistic considering changing revenue profile), it will mean NP of 104 crores and EPS of roughly 140. Even if I take P/E of 5 (which in my opinion very conservative), it will result into price of 700 i.e. CAGR 10%. It is reasonable to expect that company will at least continue to pay dividend equivalent to current dividend, it will add roughly 4% to returns. Thus total returns will be 14% post tax. Thus in worst case, I earn 14% post tax returns which is not bad at all.

However, if company grows in line with what management indicates, it will be earning EPS close to 200. Even if I assign modest P/E of 10 (for a 25%+ CAGR company) it will mean price of close to 2000. This will mean CAGR 40%.

Even though it is too early to conclude anything, HIL has reported excellent numbers in Q1 and Q2 showing 30% + growth in each of the quarters.

So it is one story where odds of losing reasonable returns is minimal while one can make good money without losing sleep!

Key Negatives:

So what all can go wrong in this story? 

  • Typically margins have been fluctuating widely and hence it is not unlikely that history repeats. However typically lower margins have been followed by above average margins in subsequent years. It is reasonable to assume that over a 5 year cycle, one would earn normalized margins.
  • Management may make pricey acquisitions (as it is mentioned as one of the possible strategies for growth) and not able to manage it well. It will also mean balance sheet may be leveraged and hence things go awry.
  • There are no major entry barriers to any of the segments of HIL (including green building products) and hence competitive landscape is going to be flooded with number of players resulting in moderating in margins or price war. This can result into lower margins that company commands today for green building products.
So what's the final verdict? HIL is a bet where odds of winning seems tilted in favor of investor while risk of loss is minuscule from this level.

Friday 26 October 2012

A Year into Value Investment Blogging: Time to Do Reality Check!

It has been almost a year, since I started this blog on value investing and let me take this opportunity to thank fellow investors who have not only regularly read the blog but also have provided their suggestions, critique, inputs, questions and insights. This involvement and interactions, with number of fellow investors ranging from novice to veterans, have made this journey an enriching experience for me. I sincerely thank all the readers from bottom of my heart  for their wholesome participation and look froward to more and more interaction in coming time.

Over one year, I have posted number of ideas which I thought made sense from value investing framework and I had highest conviction in. I also tried to write about ideas where I myself will be willing to put money so as to make sure I had complete buy in before putting the idea into public domain. Most of the ideas discussed (not all) on this blog are/were part of my portfolio at some time or the other. As I started the blog, one of the objective of writing a blog was to document my investment rationale/hypothesis behind businesses that I buy and to keep tab on how my ideas perform over a period of time. Even though, in value investing, one year is not an appropriate time frame to evaluate the performance of a portfolio, it does serve as milestone indicating whether one is traveling on a right path or not. It is like a mid term exams! 

I take this opportunity to acknowledge that the idea of evaluating performance of my idea is derived from the work done from Vishal (Valueinvest30) who took pain to put together buy price/date of post for all the ideas posted on this blog. Thanks Vishal for that. This prompted me to think that I should assess performance of the ideas posted on this blog for the sake of transparency and getting a sense on direction . It doesn't matter, how the portfolio performs, but it gives me and blog readers some idea about what went right and where it did go wrong.  I also plan to make it yearly ritual  of evaluating performance around same time frame to keep things consistent from evaluation perspective.

While I do not carry all stock in my portfolio in same proportion in terms of capital allocation, for the sake of simplicity and to generalize the results,I have done my performance analysis assuming roughly 10,000 allocated to each idea. I have assume closing price as average buying price on the day I wrote the post about a particular idea. Today's closing price is taken as CMP and returns are calculated on CMP. 

Blog Posted
Current Amt
J B Chem
Cera Sanitaryware
Mayur Uniquoter
Sintex Industries
Oriental Carbon
Shriram Transport
Gujarat Reclaim
Piramal Enterprise
Narmada Gelatine
Mazda Ltd
Atul Auto
Amara Raja
Swaraj Engines
Wim Plast
Hindustan Zinc


As it is evident from the above table that some of the securities performed extremely well even in over all depressed markets while other did reasonably well. There are few securities which performed worse than benchmark and dampened the overall returns. However, portfolio as a whole did manage to perform well as it generated 38% absolute returns (not annualized as many of the opportunities are less than 6 months old) on amount invested. Now, if one would have invested same amount in nifty/Sensex based index funds, returns will be in the range of 7-8%. Thus, at least for this year additional effort put into finding opportunities seems to be well rewarded.

Even though, these are early days, a pattern emerging from the performance analysis is that combination of undervaluation and great business (Cera, Amara Raja, Mayur, Wim Plast, Oriental Carbon) is likely to fetch far superior returns than finding out business available at deep discount but mediocre/average in nature. However, as I said earlier, these are early days and it is not worth jumping to conclusion. 

Among the under performers, I am very positive on Atul Auto, Piramal Enterprise, GRP and Shriram Transport. 

Mazda and JB chemicals remain value play. However, post JB chemical's announcement about dispute with J&J regarding amount put in escrow account from  sale of Russia-CIS business, margin of safety has reduced. I have partially exited (roughly 50%) at marginal gain, rest 50%,I continue to hold. For Mazda, undervaluation remains. 

Disclosure: Views posted here are personal and shall not be construed as investment advise on buying or selling. One must do his own due diligence before making investment decision. My views can be biased as I hold position in many of the companies discussed here.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Mr.Ajay Piramal - Businessman Stepping In Shoe of A Value Investor

Let me make a confession at the beginning, I am a convert, hence my views are bound to be biased! Yes, over last few months,  I have witnessed a slow but steady transformation in my feeling towards Mr.Piramal from curiosity to respect to awe. As I watch Mr.Piramal conducting the business of now re-named Piramal Enterprise, it leaves me with a feeling of deep satisfaction that i have made a right choice of making "side car investment" with Mr. Piramal. As an avid student of value investing, it is fascinating to watch some one taking the teachings of this highly intuitive and yet effective philosophy out of investment paradigm and start putting it into practice in making business decisions. In order to demonstrate how deeply value investing principles are ingrained in Mr.Piramal's business philosophy, let me analyze some of the decisions made by Mr.Piramal and how they relate to core principles of value investing. 

1) Mr.Piramal's decision to sell domestic formulation business to Abbott:  

Building business from scratch is like growing a baby. It takes continuous effort, unwavering commitment and complete dedication while end result is deep sense of satisfaction. One gets completely engrossed in the process and becomes deeply attached to the business. Hence, it is very difficult for one to let go of this attachment and sell the business, especially a successful one. Consider PHL in 2010, domestic formulations division was the bread & butter for PHL and Mr.Piramal had worked hard to bring it into top-3 in Indian pharma industry. In FY 10, healthcare and diagnostic business constituted roughly 60-65% of revenue for PHL. Moreover, the business had grown topline and bottomline at 17% and 34% CAGR respectively in last 8 years. (pg.11, AR FY11). In short, every thing was hunky-dowry! So what prompted Mr.Piramal to take decision of selling largest chunk of his business to Abbott? Here is an answer in his own words from interview given to HT in June 2012

"I have an obligation to my shareholders, to create maximum value for whatever they have invested and that’s what my job is and that’s what I am here to deliver. I don’t carry an egoistic or emotional attachment to the businesses. We did a calculation to justify the value that Abbott paid — I would have had to grow the business for 15 years at 20% CAGR with an operating margin in excess of 35%. Now that’s not possible and therefore, the choice was should I leave aside my ego that it is my business and I created it, or should I do what is in the best interest of shareholders. If you look at like that, that’s what a leader ought to do, in my view. Job of a leader is to act like a trustee."

Now this will  surely sound like music to ears of Philip Fisher or Warren Buffet who puts concept of "management as trustee of shareholder wealth" on top of the list in making investment decision.

 Also note similarity with Ben Graham's advice given in his seminal book Intelligent Investors. He tells that some times Mr.Market is brimming with enthusiasm and  offers ridiculously high price to buy out the your interest in the business. At that time, as prudent investor or sensible business man, you shall oblige and sell the business and take advantage of the deal offered by Mr.Market. Here in this case it was Abbott in place of Mr.Market and as Mr.Piramal describes, he happily sold his interest as in his own sense, price offered far exceeded intrinsic value of business.

PHL decided to buy-back shares instead of declaring special dividend: 

PHL decided to reward shareholders by offering buy-back of 20% of shares at 20% premium to market price. Now market did not like this move at all! Market was more interested in special dividend as it meant "cash in hand" of the shareholders even at the expense of getting less value! In spite of anticipating this unpopularity, management decided to act in manner which was in the best interest of the shareholders. Please refer to slide 7 & 8 for analyst presentation for Q3 FY11
As it is illustrated in the slide, for the same amount of money spent by the company, cash in hand of shareholder is much higher in "buy-back" option as compared to paying dividend due to tax efficiency of buy back. Moreover, it also is beneficial to continuing shareholders as number of outstanding shares go down by 20% (thus decreasing equity base) and help in enhancing EPS/ROE.  As Graham puts it in intelligent investor,

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right."

and now read what Mr.Buffet thinks on share buy back. Let's go to 1984 news letter where he penned down his elaborate thoughts on share repurchase and its virtues 

"While we enjoy a low tax charge on these proportionate redemptions, and have participated in several of them, we view such repurchases as at least equally favorable for shareholders who do not sell.  When companies with outstanding businesses and comfortable financial positions find their shares selling far below intrinsic value in the marketplace, no alternative action can benefit shareholders as surely as repurchases.".

So, Mr.Buffet clearly indicates that share repurchase program gives an opportunity to existing shareholders to redeem some of their capital with low tax liability without adversely impacting interests of continuing shareholders. Mr.Buffet puts in necessary conditions for initiating share repurchase (As highlighted) which were met in case of PHL.

PHL's Investment in Vodafone India: PHL bought 11% stake from Essar in Vodafone India at roughly 5800 crores. Mr.Piramal made it very clear that this invsetment was only financial investment and company had no plans to enter into this sector. It was indeed a smart strategy to park huge surplus cash in a way that maximizes return while giving time to PHL to find out good specific opportunities in its area of operations. However what is more remarkable is the deal Mr.Piramal extracted from Vodafone. As he emphasizes that "trust" and "respect" that PHL has created over a period of time that helps him get a better deal than rest of the people.  So here is the deal, 

PHL buys out 11% stake from Essar in Vodafone India in two tranches of similar proportions. PHL has an option to sell its stake in IPO if Vodafone India decides to go public in 24 months from the date of investment. However, if Vodafone decides not to go for IPO, Vodafone will buy back 11% from PHL in the range of 7000- 8300 crores (Vodafone AR, page 59). Now in the worst case, company is getting 10% annualized return at floor price of 7000 crores while PHL will earn 20% return at 8300 crores. So minimum return PHL will earn is 10% CAGR which is still better than money put in fixed deposit. 

Now, if Vodafone decides to come up with IPO by 2014, which is not an unlikely event, considering their plan for expansion and their intent of going public, Vodafone India can at least command valuation similar to that of Bharti (as it is comparable in size with Bharti)  even if one doesn't consider premium for MNC. So, going by FY 12 numbers, Vodafone India clocked EBIDTA of 1.2 billion pound i.e. roughly 10,000 crores. Considering today's situation of  extremely negative sentiments about telecom sector, Bharti is still trading at Market cap of 1,00,000 crores i.e. 10 times last year's EBIDTA (10,300 crores).Hence, it is not unreasonable to assume Vodafone India also getting similar valuation of roughly 1,00,000 crore market cap. This will value PHL's 11% stake at 11,000 crores, cool 80% return in 2 years i.e. 38% CAGR! Reminds you of something? yes,  Heads I don't lose, tails I win big! Low risk- high return game...

PHL's Acquisition of DRG : PHL completed acquisition of DRG in June 2012 at 3400 crores paying 4 times expected revenue for FY 2012. As indicated by PHL management, publicly listed companies engaged in similar business trade at valuation of 3-5 times topline  Hence, DRG was not that cheap by these standards. PHL decided to pay fair price. Now read this sentences from Mr.Buffet 

“It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”  


“A truly great business must have an enduring ‘moat’ that protects excellent returns on invested capital.”

As many of you may be knowing, DRG is in the business of  healthcare information management where they collect "vertical specific" data, organize it into usable information and sell information to customers where information arbitrage is important. Now look at the analyst presentation on DRG put up by PHL. PHL describes reason for acquiring DRG; here are the key points

  • Recurring revenue flow  which is tied into budgeting cycle (predictable business
  • Data gets embedded into client's system ( one of the moat of "high switching cost" mentioned by Pat Dorsey in his extremely useful book "Little book that builds wealth")
  • High value of insights; the risk far outweighs the price (of subscription); reputation of source (hence authenticity) matters ( very high switching cost due to potential negative impact)
  • Quality, accessibility and frequency of data and sources is more important than price (pricing power a key attribute that quantifies moat)
  • High barriers to entry with, 290 analyst with deep industry knowledge and relationship; data collection process with irreplaceable longitudinal data and  network of 125000 advisers and data providers ( again Pat Dorsey's one of the moats, Network effect; difficult to replicate) 
  • strong operating leverage ( as company scales up, higher percentage of top-line flows to bottom-line)
  • Strong free cash flow ( another key attribute (along with pricing power) of great business) 

As can be seen from the above analysis, DRG demonstrates all the attributes of a great business (having sustainable moat). Hence, DRG is a perfect example of buying a company with sustainable moat (in Pat Dorsey's words strong moat) at fair price. 

I am feeling convinced that given enviable track record of value investing principles of generating above-average returns for a long period of time, journey with Mr.Piramal will turn out to be a one big joyride for PHL investors!

Friday 21 September 2012

Amara Raja Batteries Limited: A Business Moving Towards Sustainable Moat?

This posting is slightly modified version of the thread that I initiated on Amara Raja Batteries Limited on valuepickr. Even though, over three years, I have been experimenting with various value investing approaches like deep value investing (cash bargains/debt capacity bargains), growth for free and great businesses at reasonable price, I am slowly realizing why Mr.Buffet puts so much of importance on the idea of "durable moat". In my investment journey, though very short by any standards, I am starting to get a "feel" that investment in business with durable moat at reasonable price may give much higher return than buying reasonable businesses at great prices (to read more on sources of durable moat sources of durable moat). Hence, I have been looking to re-balance my portfolio with companies that either have durable moat and are trading at reasonable price (25-30% discount to conservatively calculated intrinsic value) or companies that have a possibilTity to create sustainable moat over next few years and are available at  reasonable bargain price (40-50% discount to intrinsic value). Even though ARBL came to my radar around April 2012 (earlier post on Value Picks in turbulent times), as I dug deeper, my conviction level on ARBL went up considerably. 

I tried to put on skeptics hat and tried to put hole into the story, but could not find any major ones. Then i posted the idea to valuepickr community members (a very vibrant and dedicated community towards value investing to say the least!), essentially seeking views of the community members on what can go wrong. And till now many of very senior members have opined that it is indeed a good business with possibility of having durable moat. So here is the story of Amara Raja.

Commpany Profile:

Amara Raja Batteries Limited (ARBL) is one of the largest battery manufacturing company in India. It has two divisions namely automotive and industrial. ARBL has very popular brands like Amaron, Powerzone and Quantas and very wide distribution network of 274 franchises across the country.ARBL is promoted by Mr.Ramchandra Galla. Jhonsons Control, world's largest automotive battery manufacturer, holds 26% in the company. ARBL has grown from strength to strength over the years and has successfully challenged the monopoly position of Exide in India. ARBL was the first company to introduce advance technology VRLA in India giving exide run for the money in Industrial segment and capturing growing telecom tower market.

Business Environment:

ARBL caters to two main segments namely automotive batteries and industrial batteries. In India, branded battery segment is duopoly with Exide and ARBL dominating the market. Even though Exide garners larger share in automotive market due to its relationship with two-wheeler and four wheeler OEM, ARBL is fast catching up. Over the years, vehicle owners are slowly shifting focus from unbranded battery to "proven and branded" automotive batteries which is helping both Exide and ARBL. Considering the duopoly nature of the business and perecieved value of the "brand", there is moderate pricing power. Typically, companies are able to increase prices with some lag to raw material (mainly lead which constitutes 60% RM cost) price.

Automotive segment
Exide is present in all the segments of automotive batteries namely four wheeler OEM, four wheeler after market, two wheeler OEM and two wheeler after market. ARBL is present in all except two wheeler OEM which it is trying to get foothold in next 2 years. ARBL commands 26% in four wheeler OEM, 34% in four wheeler after market and 24% in two wheeler after market. It has marquee client list like Maruti, Honda, Hyundai, GM, Mahindra, Tata, Chrysler, Swaraj, Ashok Leyland and many other names

Industrial Segment
 ARBL has developed a fairly robust product portfolio catering to needs of various industry including telecom, power, railways, oil & gas and UPS. ARBL introduced VRLA technology in industrial battery segment by leveraging its colloboration with Jhonsons Control. This move changed the competitve landscape by making a big dent in Exide's monopoly.  This early advantage was carefully scaled up by ARBL. As a result, now ARBL has become market leader in telecom and UPS sector with 46% and 32% market share. To give some more perspective: Over 50% of Indian railway's two and three tiered AC coaches are powered by ARBL batteries
to summarize on the business side

- battery manufacturing is relatively simple business (for sure no rocket science!)

- It is a steady and scalable business. every 3-4 years these batteries needs to be replaced and so the demand for the product is definitely going to go up only as they sell more batteries

-Operates in duopoly with moderate pricing power and competitive environment is benign

- Has strong brands such as Amaron, Powerzone and Quantas with well established distribution network across the country. In my opinion business that combines brand, reach and pricing power is very likely to qualify as high quality business.

Financials and Fundamentals:

I am not posting numbers here as 10 year financials are available on its website itself.

If we look at 10 year history, following can be inferred.

Profit & Loss:
- ARBL has grown its topline and bottom line have grown at CAGR 30% and 40% respectively even though from a lower base in 2001-02. In last 5 years ARBL has grown CAGR 18% on both topline and bottom line. Even though topline has grown consistently in all 10 years, bottom line degrew in two years 2003-04 and 2010-11.

Balance Sheet: 
-Very good management of balance sheet inspite of very high growth rates. Current debt to equity stands at 0.1 while the highest debt to equity was 0.95 in 2007-08. It has also managed its working capital needs well as its net current assets/sales dropped from 0.43 to 0.22. ARBL holds roughly 300 crores as cash on its balance sheet which is deployed in bank FD and liquid funds.

ARBL has been generating positive operating cash flow for last few years and is typically slightly more than its net profit. Moreover, if we take into account depreciation as maintenance capex, company has been generating substantial free cash flow. ARBL is paying small part of this FCF as dividends while the larger part is redeployed in business for growth. I have no quarrels with this as management is generating very decent return on the capital and as Mr.buffet puts it the best business to invest in is the one where large amount of incremental capital can be deployed at high rate of return.


As warren buffet puts it, any business in the long term can not grow its value at higher rate than return it generates on its equity (ROE) and hence it is the single most critical parameter. ARBL has fairly decent trackrecord on this front. It has improved its ROE from 4.5% in 2001-02 to 29% in 2011-12. Moreover, Since 2006-07, ARBL has consistently generated ROE in excess of 20%. Similarly, ARBL has been able to expand its net profit margin from 4.6% to 9.1%. Both these indicates improving quality of business.

Management Quality:

As I went through ARBL's annual reports, I was impressed. ARs are exhaustive and gives a good sense of where business is going with clear articulation of future course of action. Moreover accounting is standard and I was not able to find major objectionable points. 

Actually, if one goes through AR 2008-09,   their treatment of forex losses indicate that company follows fairly conservative accounting practices. In FY 08-09, company had incurred forex losses of 33 crores (both cash loss and notional) due to unprecedented currency movement. As the forex movement was very sharp and unprecedented, AS-11 was relaxed to allow companies to book forex losses spread over next 3 years, however management decided not use this relaxation and booked whole loss in FY 2008-09 itself, impacting its bottomline considerably. This surely indicates, that company strives to provide "as is" picture of its business in its books too. 

  Management is doing a great job in terms of disclosures. Moreover, Jhonsons Controls 26% equity gives me lot of comfort on corporate governance front. In general, my sense is that ARBL management is competent and transparent with no major negatives.


ARBL is currently trading at TTM P/E of 12-13 times which is fairly decent considering impressive historical growth rate, ROE of more than 25%, free cash flow generation and  simple, steady and scalable business run by reasonably good quality management. Management has given guidance of 15-20% growth in bottom line which if we take on its face value, we are talking about forward P/E of 12. In terms of margin of safety, on a very rudimentary basis, if I assume 10% FCF growth rate for 10 years, 3% terminal growth rate and 12% discount rate, typical margin of safety is around 25%. However 10% growth rate is conservative considering past track record, size of the opportunity and growth plans. I do feel it is a high quality business and hence intrinsic value is going to grow considerably due to inherent quality of business.

  • Significant rise in lead price is one of the key risk as it directly impacts ARBL's margin. ARBL's competitor (Exide) has its captive lead smelter capacity which typically helps Exide reduce its lead cost. Thus Exide will be able to absorb rise in lead price more effectively with lesser "pass through" to end user. It will be difficult for ARBL to increase price in absence of price increase from Exide in after market segment and hence its margin may get impacted in that particular segment. 
  • Another threat I see is  when Exide starts cutting its margin to improve its market share or stop eroding its market share. Even though, it is a distant possibility, it can not be ruled out.

As we all must have replaced battery one time or the other, I thought it is relatively easy to do a small scuttlebutt to find out whether story has any holes. I went around to various mechanics/garages/ battery dealers (independent and not Exide or Amaron) asking them that I need to replace my battery for the bike, which one should I buy? and to my utter surprise a large majority suggested Amaron ( I expected equal divide between Exide and Amaron). I probed most of them further about why not Exide? they said Amaron batteries last longer, slightly cheaper and comes with higher warranty. Many of valuepickr members too received similar feedback in different parts of the country. So on the ground, things gel in with the story.


For any battery company to succeed, they must create reach across the country not only in cities but even in rural areas as vehicle population is spread all across the country. Moreover, being a critical component, people do prefer brands that are proven. Amaron, Quantas and Powerzone are very very strong brands. It takes years to nurture a strong brand and wide reach. A key attribute of such "moat" is pricing power. Consider this fact, lead prices have increased at CAGR 16% in last 10 years. Lead constitute 60% of the cost of battery. And yet, ARBL has improved its net margins from 4.6% to 9.1%. Thus, clearly company is able to pass on the price increase either through moving up value  chain or increasing prices! Another feature that is often downplayed is the technological edge that ARBL has due to its strategic partner Jhonsons Controls International (JCI). JCI has been instrumental in developing cutting edge technology giving longer life time, better performances and newer applications for many years and has strong R &D focus. Instead of fighting Exide on price front, ARBL has smartly leveraged this advantage to dent big holes into the monopoly of Exide by taking away large market share.

In all, I think ARBL is a high quality business having reasonable moat (and likely to build sustainable moat) which is simple, steady and scalable, run by  efficient and reasonably ethical management, available at a decent valuation.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Psychology of Human Misjudgement and Investing - Part 1

I am sure many of you must have heard about Charlie Munger as vice chairman of Berkshire Hathway and astute value investor who is partner of warren buffet in Berkshire Hathaway. Warren buffet has publicly acknowledged the invaluable contribution that Mr.Munger has made towards the success of Berkshire Hathway. In a sense, Mr.Munger was instrumental in shaping Warren Mr.Buffet's philosophy of "paying for the quality". As Warren Buffet has put it, it is better to buy a great business at reasonable price than buying a reasonable business at great price. However in my opinion, Mr.Munger has made even greater contribution to the discipline of value investing by unfurling how  some very prevalent psychological tendencies contribute towards faulty and ill conceived decision making. I have gained immense insights about our psychological fallies  by reading Mr.Munger's transcript of Psychology of Human Misjudgement. In the essay, Mr.Munger has talked about 25 psychological tendencies/biases that is likely to result into human misjudgement. Most of these  misjudgements lead to faulty decision making without even realizing one has made mistake. I would like to talk about 8 such tendencies which are very prevalent and will try to put forward my point of views on how these biases will cause errors in decision making from investment perspectives. In the first part, I will discuss four tendencies namely reward and punishment super response, inconsistency avoidance, influence from mere association and excessive self regard. In the second part, I will focus on deprival superreaction, social proof, contrast misreaction and availability misweighing.

At the outset, I would like to mention that most of the points discussed here not my ideas and are merely my interpretation of Mr.Munger's essay on the subject. I would like to also mention that Prof. Sanjay Bakshi's hugely insightful lecture notes on this subject has contributed immensely to my understanding of the subject.  

Reward and Punishment Super response Tendency: In very simple words Mr.Munger is talking about power of incentives. According to Mr.Munger, incentives or disincentives are the most important in changing cognition and behavior. As he puts it " I have been in top 5% of my age cohort all my adult life in understanding the power of incentives and yet I have always under estimated that power". Out this enormous power of incentives, arises what is called "incentive caused bias" which drives a fairly decent and good intentioned person, consciously or unconsciously driven by incentives, to drift towards immoral/unethical/unprofessional behavior. Not sure how it works? Remember that insurance agent who sold you ULIP/guaranteed return plans laden with hidden charges, large upfront deductions and meagre insurance covers? What drove and still drives most insurance agents is the commission that they get on policy and ostensibly commissions were highest for ULIP plans. So a fairly decent guy i.e. insurance agent was driven by incentive of "maximizing his returns" without worrying about sub par returns to the policy holder! So how is it relevant in making investment decisions? 

My two cents:

  • As Warren buffet puts it, "never ask a barber whether you need haircut". Be wary of trading calls/advise from brokerages/brokers as they would, almost always want you to trade more to earn more brokerage, even in situations when the best action is "no action".
  • Management having high shareholding in the company has natural incentive towards value creation and sharing of value. Hence high management shareholding shall certainly be regarded as "positive" 
Inconsistency Avoidance Tendency: As Mr. Munger puts it, the brain of a man conserves programming space by being reluctant to change , which is a form of inconsistency avoidance. If we look at worldly wisdom, "first impression is the last impression" which is a combination of doubt avoidance tendency (another tendency discussed by Mr.Munger in his essay which leads to our habit of jumping to conclusions) and then ignore all the facts/incidences that are not consistent with the initial opinion formed. As lord Keynes put it " it is not intrinsic difficulty of new ideas that prevented their acceptance. Instead new ideas were not accepted because they were inconsistent with old ideas prevailing".  And Mr. Munger comes up with a wonderful metaphor that human mind works a lot like a human egg. When one sperm gets into human egg, there is an automatic shut off device that bars any other sperm for getting in. For human mind, idea is like a sperm which penetrates human mind and shuts off the mind from any other ideas. 
From these tendencies arises "confirmation bias". We tend to over weigh evidences that confirm with our conclusions and under weigh evidences that counter our conclusions/judgement. So how does it impact investment decisions? 

My two cents: 
  • This is one of the most potent bias that has ability to cause us huge loss  financially! A typical situation would be to clinging on to stock which was   bought in the first places out of "misjudgements" or "mistakes". As time passes, contrary evidences emerge nullifying   one's investment hypothesis. However, driven by confirmation bias, investors under weigh contrary evidences and do not sell such "losers". Not only one suffers from "loss of capital" from such losers but also suffers opportunity loss (sometimes "huge" due to very attractive investment opportunity) from not liquidating such position and reinvesting it in much better opportunity. I. myself, has fallen into this many a times in the past. 
Influence From Mere Association Tendency: There is a typical tendency in most of us to associate one event with the good/bad outcome in spite of no causal link between event and outcome. Mr.Munger talks about this tendency at length giving various examples. Many a times when people are presented with four or five similar purchase, quite a few of them will select the item with highest price associating the "high priced" item with "highest quality" item even though there may be no causal relationship between price and quality. This tendency is also known as pavlovian association. Another typical example of such tendency is looking for patterns and trends where there are no such patterns/trends. Yet another pitfall that we experience is the extrapolating trends into future which is erroneous most of the times especially in predictions related to business/economics. Stereotypes is also the outcome of such tendency where we associate certain traits/observations with a set of people/communities/nationalities where actually there is no causal link between such traits and people/communities/nationalities and observations/traits may apply to only some identified people/communities/nationalities. 

My Two Cents:

  • My hunch is that some good cash bargains  are created arising out of this tendency. A case in point: Piramal healthcare. Market typically views companies that hold large chunk of cash that it received from sale of asset/business/operations very negatively if proceeds from such sale is not fully shared with the shareholders and a large portion is retained with the company to be deployed in the business. This dislike arises from the fact that history is full of examples where in such situation dishonest or incompetent promoters either allocate this extra capital foolishly (by overpaying for acquisitions or unduly expanding aggressively) to generate  mediocre return on capital or stash away money into promoter's account through financial jugglery. However, market treats competent and ethical management (proven through track record) also with same stick and discounts it heavily to the extent that company is available for less than cash on its balance sheet! It is like getting a dollar worth of cash for 80 cents.... This happened with Piramal Helathcare when it sold of its domestic formulation business to Abbott for $3.7 billion by clinching jaw dropping deal. PHL management shared roughly 20% of the sale proceeds with shareholders through buy back program and rest of the proceeds it retained with the company to deploy effectively in existing and new businesses. Piramal management has exemplary track record of capital allocation and integrity over last many years, however market treated PHL in the same way as it would have treated a company of some third rate promoter! At one point in time, PHL was available at 70 cents for a dollar on a balance sheet with all fixed assets and operating businesses coming free on top! So market associated non deployment of cash immediately with "wrong intentions" of the promoter. I am sure if one understands that market has fallen for this "bias", one would be able to use the situation to take a great advantage out of such situations.
  • Another example of such tendency is drop in price of all companies in a particular industry which is surrounded by negative sentiments or is in down cycle even though some the companies in the same industry may not have been impacted negatively and may actually be reaping positive results of such situations. 
Excessive Self Regard Tendency: Mr.Munger points out to the fact that most of us misappraise ourselves on the higher side on many of our abilities than objective assessment will reveal. A typical example he shares is that 90% of Swedish drivers consider their driving skills above average! Similarly, one typically values his/her possession more than realistic estimate of the value of possession. As Mr.Munger points out that man's possessions, once owned, suddenly become worth more to him than what he would pay if they were offered on sale to him and he did not own them! How about lottery ticket? Odds of winning a lottery for a randomly selected number is as good as (or as bad as!) the number "chosen" by the purchaser of the ticket. However, lottery company charges differently for randomly selected number versus a lottery ticket with a number "chosen" by the purchaser! They take take advantage of lottery ticket purchaser's excessive self regard in "choosing" a number which has more probability of winning....

My Two Cents:

  • A typical folly arising out of this tendency is to over estimating the value of our holdings compared to intrinsic value of our holdings. This over estimation of our holding will not allow us to liquidate the position even when the price of the holding has exceeded its intrinsic value. This trap will lead to a situation where one holds on to investments where margin of safety no longer exist and by clinging onto such holdings one is letting go other attractive opportunities. Prof. Bakshi has suggested a wonderful antidote to this folly. Prof. Bakshi suggests that one should periodically liquidate the entire portfolio mentally to reassess whether one will invest in each holdings if it was a fresh investment decision! I have tried doing this, and let me tell you, it is a wonderful technique to avoid commitment/excessive self regard bis. 
  • Most of us believe that we are better at the art of stock picking than our peers. So we will become "active" investors and make stock specific investments. However, if we analyze portfolio returns over a long period of time (which we often don't!),  we may find out that our track record does not support our assumptions of being "above average" stock picker! We may be under performing the index consistently and yet believe that we are good stock pickers! To avoid falling for this bias, one should maintain a close tab on the portfolio returns which if unsatisfactory, shall either resort to index funds or resort to "intelligent" investment adviser (by intelligent i mean an adviser who follows "value based" investment approach)