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Show me the money

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics

Show me the money

Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, describes the approach taken by the Oakland Athletics baseball team in the early 2000s. Essentially, the approach involved determining which performance measures contributed the most to the outcome of a baseball game, and recruiting players that rated highly against those measures. Compared with the subjective talent scouting approach employed by other teams, this afforded the Athletics a big advantage.

One of the key performance measures identified was on-base percentage, which credits players who can avoid getting out at the plate. It doesn’t matter if you smack a home run or take a walk to first after four balls, just so long as you don’t get out. This has some appealing logic: if your batters don’t get out, then your score will tend to keep advancing, and that’s a very good thing.

There is an analogous performance measure in business: the ability to not lose customers. If a business has a strong hold over its customers such that they are very unlikely to go to a competitor, its revenue and earnings will tend to keep advancing, and in the long run, an earnings line that only goes in one direction is a highly attractive feature.

Good customer retention can come about in several ways. One example is a service business with very high levels of customer satisfaction that result in low rates of customer ‘churn’. Another example is a business that becomes so highly integrated into its customers’ day-to-day operations that it takes a big effort for the customer to switch. Whatever the reason, high levels of customer retention are a promising indicator of long-term success.

One business that has this feature is Infomedia (ASX: IFM). Infomedia provides software that auto dealers globally use to automate their workflow, particularly in relation to parts and service. It takes time and effort for IFM to establish customer relationships, but once a dealer has adopted IFM’s software, trained its staff and got its systems working smoothly, they are reluctant to change. History has shown that once a dealer becomes a customer, they are very likely to remain a customer.

IFM is not a large company, and is only a small position in The Montgomery Fund, but it is a good example of a business whose earnings should continue to march upward in years ahead. For investors with a bit of patience, that’s a comforting proposition.

 

 

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Tim joined Montgomery in July 2012 and is a senior member of the investment team. Prior to this, Tim was an Executive Director in the corporate advisory division of Gresham Partners, where he worked for 17 years. Tim focuses on quant investing and market-neutral strategies.

This post was contributed by a representative of Montgomery Investment Management Pty Limited (AFSL No. 354564). The principal purpose of this post is to provide factual information and not provide financial product advice. Additionally, the information provided is not intended to provide any recommendation or opinion about any financial product. Any commentary and statements of opinion however may contain general advice only 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 independent advice from a financial advisor if necessary before making any decisions. This post specifically excludes personal advice.

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3 Comments

  1. Hello Tim and team. Would you please care to comment and update on characteristics of IFM in the light of their recent loss of Jaguar/Land rover as customer? I assume you are still positive on this company, because I have noted that the fund has increased it’s stake in IFM post the announcement. The loss revenue from that contract seemed to me way out of proportion to the relative drop in share price. Thus it seemed like one of those nice situations where the market offered an opportunity. Interested to hear your views.
    Regards
    David

  2. Do you have figures on IFM’s customer retention rates or can you point me towards this source of information?

  3. Thanks for bringing up Moneyball Tim, was recently in the states to see it in action as i followed “trade deadline” day. I think Billy Beane made a big mistake this year but i won’t go into that. The interesting thing is to watch how these teams trade, they trade players with far less emotion than most stock traders. One player was even pulled mid-game because during the inning he was traded to another team.

    Moneyballs greatest gift to investors in my opinion is the message that there are always inefficiencies which can make you outperform and don’t get out (or don’t lose money). No harm in creating wealth in a boring fashion.

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