Picture imperfect - Knowing every detail about a business is of little use if you ignore valuation


Ian Kelly

Ian Kelly

Fund Manager, Equity Value

From time to time, here on The Value Perspective, we are asked whether we are perhaps being remiss in ignoring the recommendations investment analysts make about particular sectors or stocks. Such a question, however, mischaracterises the esteem in which we hold these fellow investment professionals.

While we admit our opinion of analysts may on occasion verge on the jaundiced, we would never deny they can boast a great deal of specialist industry knowledge. What we aim to do is build on that knowledge by imposing a valuation framework that, all too often, analysts have neglected to factor into their work because they have been too focused on the nitty-gritty of the various businesses.

A good example of this, as it were, failure to see the wood for the trees – or ‘inside view’ as we defined it in Pep talk – came in a piece of research we read recently on Hong Kong’s banking sector. As it enthused about the significant market shares and competitive positions enjoyed by a small number of businesses, it became clear the author knew a great deal about deposit mixes, funding costs and so on.

At the end of this hugely detailed note came – almost as if it were an afterthought – a section on valuation. This included an economic formula, from which emerged a sort of rule of thumb that implies a bank that is earning a 20% return on its equity should trade on at a market capitalisation 2x its book value, a bank earning 30% should trade on 3x, and so on.

It is important to add that, by using a current 20% return to justify a 2x book value multiple, the analyst is implying that this attractive return will continue in perpetuity. Now, while that may be possible in theory, it is flawed in practice because, over the longer term, rational economics tends to win out. In other words, if your potential competitors see your business earning such attractive real returns, then that will encourage them to enter your market – which will eventually lead to the sector’s returns reverting to the mean.

We don’t want to single-out a particular analyst, as this type of thinking is common in the market. The charts below show a real example of this using the characteristics of Hang Seng Bank, dating back to 1997. When returns on equity were over 30%, the bank traded on 4x price-to-book; when returns on equity were in the 20s the bank traded around 2x. Effectively, whether the returns on equity were very high or just high, the market priced-in that the situation would go on forever.

Although book value per share has steadily grown at Hang Seng, the price of the shares (in orange) has swung around wildly, as analysts and investors have mistaken various transient environments for permanent conditions.

This is where we aim to add value at The Value Perspective; we are not experts in each sector but we know how to spot when the market is pricing conditions as permanent but history tells you that they will be transient.

Source: Bloomberg Finance L.P May 2014

Top chart – Green line represents return on equity

Middle chart – White line represents price to book ratio

Bottom chart – Orange line represents share price and white line represents book value per share

The sectors/securities shown above are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be considered a recommendation to buy/sell.


Ian Kelly

Ian Kelly

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I joined Schroders European equity research team in 2007 as an analyst specialising in automobiles. After two years I added the insurance sector to my coverage. In early 2010 I moved into a fund management role, and then took over management of two offshore funds investing in European and Global companies seeking to offer income and capital growth. 

Important Information:

The views and opinions displayed are those of Nick Kirrage, Andrew Lyddon, Kevin Murphy, Andrew Williams, Andrew Evans, Simon Adler, Juan Torres Rodriguez, Liam Nunn, Vera German and Roberta Barr, members of the Schroder Global Value Equity Team (the Value Perspective Team), and other independent commentators where stated.

They do not necessarily represent views expressed or reflected in other Schroders' communications, strategies or funds. The Team has expressed its own views and opinions on this website and these may change.

This article is intended to be for information purposes only and it is not intended as promotional material in any respect. Reliance should not be placed on the views and information on the website when taking individual investment and/or strategic decisions. Nothing in this article should be construed as advice. The sectors/securities shown above are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be considered a recommendation to buy/sell.

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