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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stimulus - Monetary, Fiscal or both

Ed Harrison initiated a discussion on stimulus. The question was whether the US government stimulus was necessary. Here is my response.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

US Dollar views

I am starting a new initiative. I will hereafter add videos rather than posts. Here is the first one on US dollar.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Defining end of recession

Just a quick note:
If it takes three consecutive quarters of GDP decline to call a recession then how can we call it over by just one good quarter?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dollar will go down - just not yet!

There is a lot of talk about return of the USD, specially after Jim Rogers declared that he is long USD. Jim Roger put out a counter trade argument. Simply put, there were too many people betting against the dollar. So no way it will go down right away. There is one more argument!

Exporter push developing country central banks to the wall!
While USD weakness is well known, the developing country central banks are under increasing pressure to  manage the exchange rates at current or pre-crisis levels. Entire exporter lobby staff is on just this one task. The thing they don't understand is that US demand is not coming back to pre-Sub-Prime Crisis levels.
I expected this lobbying. But I also expected large exporters to start geographical diversification. This would suggest that exporters are buying time while preparing for new world realities. But there is still no sign of it. I believe, exporters are still in denial!

Currency tango - It still takes two for it!
Central bankers, on the other hand, do not want to be the first developing country to let their currency appreciate. So it will be a game of who blinks first. The usual strategy is such a poker game is to suggest that one will defend the peg no matter what! That is what China has done.
But I would venture they will be the first to act, and they will act decisively. But till that time we are in for holding breath under-water! It is unlikely that anything substantial will happen in 2010 on this front, may be during fall of 2010. One can only guess the impact once currency revaluation sets in. Lord have mercy!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hidden Risk in Indian Tech

One of my hobbies is to poke holes in stock ideas of analysts. Recently, these talking heads have put out strong buy ratings on Indian tech companies, the likes of Infosys, Wipro, TCS and even Satyam (post scandal). Here is what I need to know before I can be certain of such a trade.

Winning contracts in currency uncertain environment
Indian IT companies have been winning technology contracts from top companies, most recently Walmart. Now imagine a US company that knows USD will depreciate. So how would this impact my sourcing strategy? I, personally, would accelerate all the supplier contracts in today's dollars. Iron-clad them in legal fine-print to mitigate risks from demand collapse and currency fluctuations. The longer such a contract the better it is! Now the question for me is, sitting on other side of this agreement, how have IT companies managed this risks?

The currency risk
This is the most potent business killer, if ever one exists, in Indian IT companies. A lot of analysts have sensitivity analysis ranging from INRUSD of Rs 30/ USD to Rs 50/USD. A few smart investors have already stressed the financials till INR 20/USD and seen the impact. Even smarter investors know that the impact is non-linear in nature. Such currency volatility needs business model innovation (as above) rather than simple currency hedges. The volatility implied in such scenarios may actually test counter-parties in hedged transactions.

Survival Necessities for coming years
Given our current situations, IT companies will have to prepare differently to survive.

  • Multi-location operations will be an advantage: This implies having robust processes to create and manage scaling issues well. Companies like ones mentioned above are operating in various countries thus helping them react better. 
  • Flexi-sizing will be key: If the currency valuations reach new normalcy, it will be important to relocate manpower to cheaper locations. Companies will have to be quick to rapidly expand, move or lay-off employees. While, all the companies above have what it takes to do it, we should realise it is not an easy process.
  • A bit more fat! The crisis is upon us and the IT companies are cash rich. The key is to keep higher than normal cash reserves and not fall into the acquisition trap at this early stage. 
The best time for investment is not now!
Once the currency crisis hits, there will be more clarity on winners and losers. At that point valuations will be saner and those that survive will definitely give better results. Till such time, I would keep a safe distance between myself and IT stocks.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Interpreting Equity Valuation and simple strategy

The way to interpret equity valuation has changed in the context of current crisis. The day CNBC talking heads realize this will mark a new beginnings in the history of mankind. 

At some stages, we find same cash-flows being looked upon more kindly (higher valuations). This does not mean that analyst should rework forecasts tampering with cash-flows to retrofit the price and valuation equations. Yet, that is precisely what I am noticing currently. That is bad analysis!

It is the liquidity stupid!
There is ample liquidity in global system at the moment. This money moves across borders, based on whatever reason it deems fit, and lands into a sector or stocks. So the traditional logic of valuation is stretched a bit. Though we don't throw it out of the door. Therefore, watch the global macro in a more meaningful way.

A simple investment strategy
Given the current environment, the best way to manage investments is going back to basics. 

  1. We have to find financially robust companies that generate positive cash flows and have lesser leverage. 
  2. We then look for managements that have a vision for growth. We are looking for cash-flow accretive growth. So companies with plans to buy market share are out. Growth should be profitable growth.
  3. Thereafter we watch these companies for opportunities to buy. Any correction is opportunity to accumulate.
  4. Exit when the market peaks! Exit is very critical otherwise all profits are paper profits.
Notes and disclaimers
Equity investment is filled with risks so beware. The ideas above are for investors and not for speculators.

Do not construe this as advice to buy at any time. (Timing is critical). These views, though fundamentally sound, are echoed by very few people. So mostly, you will hear very different ideas.