Can You Smell The Deception & Misdirection

This is a periodical post about things that I see in the financial press, which I tend to interpret differently. When managing investors money, you need analyse the news and not just simply read it because you can’t assume you are getting to the truth.

Firstly, Jakarta warns Australia they are prepared to “clash” over border violations incurred by the Australian Navy. Australia best heed their warnings and wipe that smirk off your face because 300 million Indonesians should send your xenophobic fears into overdrive. I hope our government isn’t pinning all of our defensive hopes on U.S. Marines stationed in Darwin?

But equally Telstra is looking to form a 50/50 venture with Telekom Indonesia. Can David Thodey please be our next foreign minister?

I can’t believe why any company in the world wants to pay that much for a small insignificant business such as Warrnambool Cheese & Butter. Good luck to them.

Panic, Panic – protestors block Bangkok streets and the Thai Prime Minister is suspected of corruption. The Thai stock market has risen 9% in 10 days since this story picked up steam.

Alex Waislitz’s Thorney Group raises $68 million. Now I’m not sure what their raising target was but from a distance, their reputation could have easily raised 4 times that amount. My point is, would-be stockbroking firm geniuses should keep in mind that it’s difficult to raise money from the public.

With 65% domestic market share, Qantas still thinks it plays on an uneven playing field.

Franchisee of Australia’s 370 Burger King stores, Competitive Foods Australia, posts revenue of $1.03 billion for fiscal year 2013 and makes $21.4 million profit. That’s a lot of invoices and money to handle in order to make a 2% net profit margin. Last year, revenue was $935 million and profit was $8 million. Hey Jack, I see that cost cutting program is working?

Australian rail operators (in the Pilbra, Western Australia) are complaining that truckers have got an unfair price advantage when they transport iron ore. If trucking iron ore is cheaper than by rail, then the iron ore giants should then give their competitors access to their railroads. Umm, I didn’t think they would.

Various interviewees in newspapers are wishing for a weaker Australian Dollar. Be careful what you wish for. When you see commodity prices rise, it is usually accompanied by a higher Australian Dollar. In Australia we mainly export commodities, ’cause we don’t manufacture things such as cars, televisions or clothes anymore. So if the AUD remains weaker, we can sell US Dollar denominated commodities and receive a lot of AUD once its converted but it’s also good for overseas money to buy up Australian assets (see Australia is “on sale”).

Australia’s stock market falls due to weak Chinese data. Yup, heard this one before. Just like other brokers who actually ask me if I’m staying up late to watch the U.S. unemployment numbers. It doesn’t really affect the earnings of the shares in the companies that I and my clients own but if you need to justify a movement in the stock market with some sort of news, good luck and be my guest. Please continue to manage your investments on the basis of “jumping at shadows”.

Finally, this week, not a single economist who provided an estimate on the Australia Consumer Price Index reading got it correct and Deutsche Bank posted a “surprise” $1.15 billion quarterly loss.

Whether these professionals continually get their ‘calls” incorrect, can’t make money themselves or continue to pay fines for manipulation & price rigging, yet people still give these investment firms their money to manage.

Why Am I Buying This Stock Today?

What a contrast.

Generally, retail investors didn’t seem too interested buying equities in September or October 2012. After all, with all of the world’s looming problems….

Today, anecdotally, investors are chasing stocks at higher prices even after seeing an advance of approximiate 13% in many indices and individual stocks.

Why do investors feel more comfortable buying when prices are much higher?

Is is because there is less risk in equity markets today?

Are they “technical” traders and feel better buying on the “break-out”?

They feel more “comfortable” if the herd is doing the same?

Or perhaps they have a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)?

At the beginning of February 2013, the market capitalisation for Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) nears that of Bank of America.

CBA has one-quarter of the revenues while domiciled in a country with one-fifth’s of Bank of America’s home turf. Hmm, not sure if this is deserved.

I think investors in Australia are not only worrying about the FOMO but also upset that they are “only” earning 3.5% on their cash savings.

They are starting to exhibit “needs-based investing”.

Ever heard of anyone being a “forced buyer”?

This is where an investor “needs” to invest because they feel aggrieved by their paltry bank interest returns.

Recently, I have had conversations with investors who wish to buy CBA’s stock (even though it has risen 14% in the past 3 months and 165% in past 4 years) because it’s paying a 7% dividend. They are happy to buy assets that present a headline dividend yield for the sake of yield alone, without any regard for any capital risk that they may be taking.

The sadness for Australians who only invest in Aussie shares, is that they have a lack of quality companies from which to populate their portfolios with.

This is not a post about CBA’s valuation but rather behaviour. I am encouraging retail investors to observe the biases that they may have when making decisions.

It seems every investor is armed with the same defence.

Many say, “I’ll only own blue-chips”. And they do, often without any regard for valuation, because if you call a stock “blue-chip”, then you are apparently safe and immune from losing any money.

If you’re an Australian whose equity portfolio only consists of domestic shares, ask your friends to describe their portfolio to you.

You should find that they will start by bragging about their “blue chips” and amazingly, you’ll probably own the same 12 stocks.

3 out of the 4 banks, BHP, Rio Tinto, Telstra, Wesfarmers, Woolworths (they’ll usually say something like “’cause everybody has to eat” after mentioning this one), Westfield, maybe an insurance company, some other sort of mining company that they think is blue-chip ’cause of the mining boom and CSL. Some investors still hold a pearler such as Qantas or Toll Holdings for they are confident that they will “come good” sooner or later.

Investing behaviour never ceases to amaze me.

Is Fortescue in trouble?

Lately, Australian iron ore miner, Fortescue Metals (FMG), has seen increasing speculating whether it will breach loan covenants or require more capital due to the fall its stock pice has suffered as a result of the decline in the spot iron ore price.

Depending what index you happen to watch, iron ore has fallen 40%-50% in the past 6 weeks.

Keeping with this blog’s mantra, “Trying to Hear What Is Not Being Said – It doesn’t matter what the iron ore price does week-to-week. The multi-year and decade demand for iron ore is stronger than the supply pipeline, especially with the scarcity of capital and expanding project costs to extract and ship it.

Furthermore,  I don’t think that analysts fully take into account the iron ore reserves that FMG has. It seems they take the market capitalisation of $10 billion and look at its $8.5 billion of gross debt and start scaremongering. In fact, FMG has $2.3bn in cash, so it’s “net” debt is $6.2 billion.

Did you know that in the 2012 financial year, FMG had revenues of $6.7 billion and its EBITDA was$2.8bn? It’s net debt is less than 3 years worth of EBITDA, which is not a stretch considering its debt is priced at 600 basis points over the benchmark and is rated BB-.

FMG’s bonds aren’t trading at levels that indicate default or bankruptcy. I actually wish that they were trading at woefully large discounts as it would b a great investment opportunity. In fact, the upside for FMG’s debt is that their credit rating improves and their cost of borrowing drops and they subsequently re-finance.

I can’t say that FMG equity is dirt cheap but if you align yourself with its founder, owning the equity would be a more attractive than its “not quite cheap enough” debt.

Fortescue won’t fold or “go under”, irrespective of what ratings agencies have to say. In fact, Australia’s Labor government (who will most likely be re-elected in 2013) would be wise to stop bashing the iron ore miners and be prepared to shift their stance to being more supportive.

Imagine if Fortescue fails as a company? Directly and indirectly, FMG is responsible for (and has created) thousand of jobs. If government is bailing antiquated automobile manufacturers, it better get ready to support the iron ore industry.

Don’t they know that they would have a bunch of unhappy Chinese on their hands!

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