Saturday, November 07, 2009

Food for thoughts on investing in undervalued companies

Again, I had a rather long break. And I'm back. One of the cornerstone to successful investing is to buy undervalued businesses. But is it enough? I'd argue it ain't. One other aspect is to have good management that really thinks and acts in the right manner on the behalf of the shareholders, whom the management ultimately have a fiduciary responsibility to.

Sometime in July 09, IMS Health was selling at $12 - click here for more details in a previous post. At $12, the whole company was selling for $2.2 billion. A value that substantially undervalues the company in relation to its future earnings potential. This week, a consortium led by TPG offered $4 billion (or $22 a share) to buy out IMS. The offer was accepted by IMS management. David Carlucci, IMS Chairman and CEO, said: "This transaction enables our shareholders to realize substantial value from their investment in IMS with an immediate cash premium." But is it really so?

Yes, it is but with a caveat. It only offer substantial immediate value for those shareholders who had bought at $12 or so during the period in July but not for the other shareholders. In effect, the management had sold out on the majority of its shareholders. During the period between Oct 08 to before the offer, its share was traded in the range of about $10 to $18 (mostly at $12). Only shareholders who had invested during this period had benefitted but not fully - substantial value is left on the table.

Prior to Oct 08, its share traded at above $22. At that price, it too was undervalued in relation to what a full price would be. At $22, the whole company sells for $4B, with a free cash flow of over $350 million. The company is holding up well through the crisis and business prospects appear sound, though revenue had declined. Expanding global pharmaceuticals market, as expected by IMS, to grow at a compound rate of 4 to 7% to about $1 trillion in 2013. So what value, if any, does TPG and its partner bring to the table. Indeed, much value is left behind.

In my view, the management had failed in its fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. Even for investor who bought at $12, they may have less cause for celebration because the management failed to do their best to get a full value of what the company is really worth. One reason the management is eager to sell could be because of the generous slice of equity in the deal they can get.

So in essence, even if an investor manage to find an undervalued company (imagine you had bought IMS at $22 which is an undervalued price), they may not get rewarded because of a mediocre management.

On the other hand, it is always better to invest in a company that is not only undervalued, but comes with a decent management (think of Berkshire, YUM Brands, Amex, Wells Fargo) who takes care and thinks for their shareholders whom they represent. However, if an opportunity comes where a company is undervalued but its management is mediocre, it's best to buy only at a substantially undervalued price, for IMS case, it did be at $12 or so, not $22 - though both prices are undervalued. Any value investor who had bought before Oct 08 at $22 would perhaps rethink about the whole concept of buying into a company that is run by people who do not think for the people they represent.

1 comment:

Penny Stock Blog said...

I have a website where I research stocks under five dollars. I have many years of experience with these type of stocks. I find that the best measurement of how undervalued a stock is is the price to sales ratio of a companies stock. The price to sales ratio is the market cap of a companies stock compared to the amount of sales the company does on an annual bases. This very simple but little known fact about investing in value stocks could be the most important thing of all when buying a value stock. I will give an example to demonstrate what I mean. A good example of a company with a low price to sales ratio is carrols restaurant group the company has a market cap of just 240 million dollars but does over 800 million dollars in annual sales the company is solidly profitable. In other words the price that the market is valuing the company at is 240 million dollars this is only about one fourth of what the company does in annual sales 800 million dollars. The stock currently trades at about 11 collars a share under the symbol {TAST} I think the stock could get to 55.00 dollars a share over the next five years. I base this on the current net profit margin of around 1.75% or 14 million dollars on sales of 800 hundred million dollars. If the companies sales were to increase by 50% or 400 million dollars to 1.2 billion dollars over the next five years. And if the companies net profit margin were to expand from 1.75% to 5% or 60 million dollars over the next five years. Than if the companies stock increased in price to where it was trading at a price earnings ratio of 20 this would put the stock at 55 dollars a share. This may seem to be a somewhat optimistic scenario but not really that much. There are many stocks that trade at much higher price earnings ratios when they become popular than 20 times earnings. I find that companies like carrols restaurant group are very rare. I also find that companies that have low price to sales ratios that are profitable or of decent quality tend to become takeover targets or get taken private by private equity firms or the management of the company or other companies in the same business. A good example of a popular stock with a very high price earnings ratios is whole foods market it trades at 35 times annual earnings. If anyone has any question as of the validity of the information presented here any stock broker financial planner or CPA that knows how to value stocks will confirm everything presented here.