When I was reaching for a pithy way to sum up the latest month in the life of the Share Sleuth portfolio, the phrase “There’s nothing like a crisis” came to mind, but none of the endings that followed really fitted. I was thinking of “to focus the mind”, but it didn’t hit the mark so I typed the first half of the phrase into Google. The search returned a quote from Dexter Morgan, a fictional anti-hero. It was perfect.
Appraising shares today for the long term requires a certain detachment from the present. It’s easier to be detached, of course, if a company has the security of a large cash surplus and supplies something we still need despite the restrictions of the pandemic, like Anpario. Next, one of Britain’s best-run retailers, though, is pitted against an intractable problem: few of us are shopping for clothes.
Earlier today, I found my wallet in a drawer. The contents: a fiver, an old receipt, an English Heritage membership, and a card with ink-stamps from Waterstones’ cafe nearly entitling me to a free cup of coffee, seemed like relics from a bygone era. It’s been weeks since I used any of these things.
Deciding on the long-term prospects of businesses is a daunting prospect when so much about the short term is uncertain. But a pandemic is just one of numerous ill-defined but serious threats we hope will not happen “on our watch”. Over the course of an investing lifetime, though, some of them inevitably do.
This month, I’ve made two trades. The first was perhaps the easiest I have ever made; and the second – well, it should have been easy but a virus intervened.
This piece was written before the coronavirus severely impacted markets and new restrictions came into force.
A stock market sell-off probably triggered by high valuations and the global spread of Covid-19 is bad news for flighty investors who already own shares, but good news, perhaps, for those who would like to. Almost across the board, shares have got cheaper, if you believe they will survive the short term and prosper in the long term.
This piece was written in early February, before the coronavirus severely impacted markets.
There has been something of a melt-up in the valuations of the 30 shares I score and rank using my Decision Engine spreadsheet. Because prices have gone up, the engine is producing fewer and fewer recommendations.
Owing to high valuations across the board and because, despite frantic efforts, I have dug up no new companies to invest in, there were only two high-scoring additions to the Share Sleuth portfolio open to me this month, both existing members that are underrepresented (See Share Watch for an explanation of how I score shares). They were Victrex, which accounted for just 2.2% of the portfolio, and Anpario, which is a slightly smaller holding.
When investors think about the competitive advantages, assets or capabilities businesses have that will enable them to profit handsomely from their activities, they often think of things such as patents, unique products and services or popular brands. But while these can make companies special, so can people.
In October last year, I noted that PZ Cussons was at a crunch point. The company owns illustrious consumer brands such as Imperial Leather soap, but revenue and profit had declined significantly over the previous five years. PZ Cussons had halted its acquisitive strategy and started selling its less profitable businesses, some of them acquired only recently.