A look back....
First, lets wind back the clock 7 years to look at previous bear markets. I first came to Singapore in early 2001 with $5000 in my pocket. I arrived from Australia, which had escaped unscathed from the Asian crisis and had been in a bull market for several years. After buying a shares booklet from 7/11, I was astounded. Many mid cap companies with excellent fundamentals were trading at ridiculous valuations. From memory:
- Comfort was trading at a PE of 7 or 8, with a yield of 7%. With excellent cashflow, low debt, almost a monopoly with queues of poor uncles lining up to drive taxis, it had been able to increase its profits by 10+% for several years. I sold remember selling 2 weeks before the takeover by Delgro was announced :( ....to fund my stupid HDB rennovations.
- Robinsons was then a premier department store (as my wife said, it was the only one to segregate its offerings by price level (John little, Robinsons and 'Marks and Spencer') giving a more pleasant shopping experience. More importantly, it was profitable every year, and two thirds of its share price was cash. I didn't buy, no money. It eventually doubled.
- Unisteel, with a 50% market share, trading at a PE of 12. It was to grow 20+ %for several years. I bought at 78c and tripled my money in 3 years. Before I bought it, it had traded around 30+c.
- Want-Want, selling branded rice crackers, trading at a PE of 5 or 6, showing 20% growth. It traded at 60c, then moved up to 80c - I thought I missed my chance and didnt buy. It eventually reached $1.90.
Are we there now?
I cant find the same degree of undervaluation in the market right now. Key differences are:
- In 2001/2002, we were in a recession and earnings were coming off a low base, hence the potential growth. After going several years through the recession , things were so bad that they could only get better.
- The stocks mentioned above usually were blue chip (Robinsons) or had a sustainable competitive advantage (Comfort and Unisteel). Want Want was the exception. Looking at the blue chips today, for example, Comfort-Delgro, SMRT, Ascendas REIT, they do not yet have projected single digit PEs or yields of 7-8%. Trailing PEs are cheap, projected ones are probably not. The companies that have the ridiculously low valuations are the second liner companies which are a little weaker (eg: Cambridge REIT) or have a small market share (eg: TPV) in their industry, are are operating in China where it is hard to even determine their market share and count their competitors (let alone list their competitors).
- Also, I don't mean to say that once stocks reach that level they will not fall anymore. My past experience does not even cover the Asian Crisis (STI went to 800+) where stocks were even cheaper. what I mean to say is that at these levels, I would use about 50% of my cash, which I did not need for 5 years, to buy and monitor them for the long term, with the expectations that some of them will double or triple in years to come. (The other 50% cash I will use for speculation).