Buy low sell high, duh! Everyone knows that that is the way to make money in the stock market. You buy something for less than what it is worth and attempt to sell it at a higher price in the future. Yet, many investors have taken this saying out of context, creating this misguided notion that they have to frequently buy and sell in order to make a profit. They thus end up trading, attempting to make a quick profit. Perhaps the tendency to do so is innate. We all know that dips and corrections are part and parcel of the markets but it remains something that is psychologically challenging to endure. However, studies after studies have shown that the money is in holding on.
The logic behind buying right and holding on is so simple that many belittle it. When you invest in a great business capable of generating greater than average return on investment for many years, time is on your side. Simply holding on will allow your investment to compound.
I recently read “100-to-1 in the stock market” by Thomas W. Phelps and “100 baggers” by Christopher Mayer, two books analysing 100 baggers. A 100 bagger is a stock that has appreciated a 100-fold. Thus, a $10,000 investment will turn into a million dollars. My initial reaction is that stocks like this must be few and far between. I was proven wrong.
In “100-to-1 in the stock market”, Thomas W. Phelps found that starting from 1932, a different stock could have been bought in each of thirty-two different years and every dollar invested would have grown to $100 or more by 1971. In fact, from 1932 to 1964, more than 365 different securities appreciated a 100-fold or more in four to forty years.
At this point, I was of the opinion that technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since then and there is not much left to invent or innovate. Thus, such monstrous growth enjoyed by companies of the past is unlikely to repeat itself.
I was proven wrong once again, and happily so. In his book “100 Baggers”, Christopher Mayer again found more than 365 different 100 baggers from 1962 through 2014. The important lesson to draw here is not that we missed another 365 opportunities. Instead, it is that as long as humans remain humans, the world will keep changing. Consumer trends will constantly evolve, leading to new unmet demand which require new inventions and innovations, creating the next generation of 100 baggers.
Additionally, both books detailed 100 baggers in a wide variety of industries, not just in emerging sectors such as technology, internet and biotech but also in “boring” and “old-school” industries such as consumer businesses. While it may be hard to fathom that there are that many future 100 baggers, history has shown that they are out there, waiting to be found.
If you are convinced that there are many future 100 baggers out there waiting to be discovered by those who seek them, here are a few qualities of 100 baggers to aid you in your search.
1. Growth, growth and more growth
There is no way around it. For the share price of a company to appreciate a 100 fold, it’s earnings has to increase tremendously. So, you need growth – and lots of it. But not just any growth. You want quality, value-adding growth. You want to avoid companies that doubles it’s earnings but also doubles the total shares outstanding. In other words, focus on earnings per share instead of raw earnings. At the same time, beware of companies that increase sales by cutting prices or acquiring companies for inflated prices. Both of these drive down return on equity – the company is investing more and getting back less. These are kind of growth you want to avoid. Focus on companies that has lots of room to expand and reinvest its earning. Such companies will be able to compound earnings over an extremely long period of time. These qualities will show up in the balance sheet as high organic growth (growth without acquisition) and high return on investment.
2. Lower multiples and smaller companies preferred
Growth is only one part of the equation. The other half of the DNA of a 100 bagger is a huge increase in earnings multiple. For instance, if price-to-earnings (PE) ratio remains the same, earnings will have to increase a 100 fold in order for the company to be a 100 bagger. However, if PE ratio quadruples, earnings only need to increase 25 fold. Now that is a much more achievable feat. Together, lots of growth and a low multiple forms the twin engine of 100 baggers.
Along a similar note, smaller companies are preferred. Big tech do have decent growth rates but do you think they are able to grow to a 100 times? Probably not. Apple, as great as it has been and is, won’t become a 100 bagger from current levels. At a 100 times of today’s value, Apple’s market cap will be more than 12 times the size of the US economy. It could be a good stock for some time yet, but eventually, the law of large numbers start to work against you. That being said, you don’t have to go looking at penny stocks. Mayer found that the median sales figure of the 365 names in his study was about $170 million. As a rule of thumb, he recommends focusing on companies with market caps of less than $1 billion.
The caveat here is that while lower multiples and smaller market cap are preferred, they are by no means a prerequisite. There are certainly many great businesses that have higher multiples (and justifiably so). This does not make them poor investments. On the flip side, there are many companies with low multiples because they are declining. Beware of these value traps. Similarly, there are many great companies with market caps above $1 billion that have the DNA of a multi-bagger. The point I am trying to make here is that nothing is cast in stone. Always make your own judgement.
3. Economic moats are a necessity
100 baggers are requires a high return on capital for a long time. A moat will keep competitors at bay, allowing the company to compound it’s earnings at above average rates for a long time. Without moats, competitors will steal away market share, driving return on investment down. Thus, extraordinary growth rates without moats are simply unsustainable. A company with a great product but no barriers to entry may be able to return double or even triple one’s investment. However, they will rarely return much more than that. It thus pays to spend some time thinking about whether the company in question possess economic moats. A moat, no matter how narrow, is a necessity.
4. Owner-operators preferred
Although not a necessity, it does help to have a owner call the shots as well. A CEO with some skin in the game will have his/her interest aligned with yours. What’s good for them is good for you, and vice versa. You can thus have greater conviction that they won’t take actions that allow them to gain at your expense. You can figure out how much stake the executives of a company has in it’s proxy report. I recommend that you spend additional time to do some research on whether the shares that the executive owns are mainly options given to them or common stock that they have purchased. The common wisdom is that options will align the interest of the management team with that of the shareholders. I won’t dive into details, but fixed price options with a long expiration date have the potential to distort the management’s interest. It is best if management own commons stock, and even better if they have to fork out their own money to buy them. That being said, there are many 100 baggers that are not owner led. Having an owner-operator is just an added benefit that gives you conviction to hold on through thick and thin.
Of course, finding a 100 bagger is easier said than done. However, even if I do not find a 100 bagger, I am optimistic that this search will turn up some decent multi-baggers, making the effort more than worthwhile. Nonetheless, 100 bagger or not, the most crucial step in the search for multi-baggers is to hold on.
There is no use in buying right if one does not hold on.