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It’s time to take advantage of mis-priced stocks

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It’s time to take advantage of mis-priced stocks

If the current market is shaking your confidence, don’t worry – you’re not alone.  Right now we’re seeing many lower quality businesses being bid higher, while high quality businesses are getting hammered.  Is this a rare opportunity to take advantage of mis-priced securities?  We think so, provided you’re willing to ignore market noise and think longer term.

Investors who pursue active equity management implicitly assume that equity markets are not entirely efficient.  In other words, we believe that equity markets sometimes mis-price securities, and that an astute investor with stock selection skill can identify and act on these mis-pricings in a repeatable fashion over time.

If we accept that mis-pricing occurs (and as active managers we clearly do), there are some interesting implications that flow from this, and it can be helpful to keep them in mind.

One corollary of market mispricing is that even an investor with the ability to perfectly value every security in the market is not assured of consistent outperformance.  If our super-investor buys a security in the absolute knowledge that the market has priced it too cheaply, there is nothing to stop the market from continuing to price it cheaply, and indeed pricing it even more cheaply.  Knowing what a stock is worth doesn’t’ tell you anything about when the market may come to agree with you.

We would certainly expect our prescient investor to chalk up some good performance numbers over a reasonable period, but the mechanism that allows that performance (mis-pricing) means that in the short run, performance numbers will be rather more random.

Even the best investors fall well short of perfect valuation insight, and if our super-investor can underperform, you can imagine that a mortal investor who falls short of perfect insight will experience meaningful periods of underperformance.  The noise added by the inevitable valuation errors will add to the variability of results, such that luck will play a significant role in shaping short run returns.

With this in mind, a good question to ask is “how long is short run?”.  If your investment strategy is producing disappointing results, at what point do you ascribe the results to noise and at what point do you have grounds to think that the strategy is fundamentally flawed?

The answer, I think, is much longer than many people realise.  As a rough guide, we believe that a very good manager has perhaps a 70% chance of beating the market in any 12-month period.  This implies that in any three-year period, we should expect to find ~1 year of underperformance, but finding two years of underperformance would be well within the realms of probability.  For this reason, any assessment of manager performance that covers a period of less than three years is unlikely to tell you very much.

If you find you are tempted to reach conclusions on much shorter runs of data, you are certainly not alone.  There is no shortage of industry professionals who fail to appreciate the role of short term noise and the real nature of investment performance numbers. To my mind, being able to cultivate this understanding is one of the hallmarks that distinguishes the genuinely good investors.

Tim joined Montgomery as Head of Research and Portfolio Manager of The Montgomery Fund in July 2012. Prior to this, Tim was an Executive Director in the corporate advisory division of Gresham Partners, where he worked for 17 years. Before joining Gresham Partners, Tim worked for McKinsey & Company for four years, where he was involved in strategic consulting in both Australia and Denmark.

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This post was contributed by a representative of Montgomery Investment Management Pty Limited (AFSL No. 354564) and may contain general financial advice that is prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial circumstances or needs. Because of this, before acting on any of the information provided, you should always consider its appropriateness in light of your personal objectives, financial circumstances and needs and should consider seeking advice from a financial advisor if necessary.

4 Comments

  1. Roger speaks highly of Isentia yet scaffold rates it poorly – any comment to assist me in reconciling these two positions?

  2. Hey Tim
    Along the theme of mis-pricing
    VOCUS communications has been covered on this forum over the years any chance that Montgomery could do an update.
    Its been a great quality company in the past and was to expensive for a year or two but now given the price decline what would the perspective of the team be going forward ?
    Thanks

    • Due to the rate of consolidation and industry change, I find Vocus almost impossible to unravel at the moment. Having earned less than $20m in 2015, VOC is forecast to earn more than $200m in 2017. Possibly good value, but also with big integration challenges, changing competitive dynamics, management moves and limited transparency.

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