How to handle market uncertainty

  • Business
  • Wednesday, 04 Nov 2009

AFTER the strong rally over the past seven months, the market is finally undertaking some corrections. Some investors may not fully comprehend why the stock market moved up when the companies reported bad financial results, but tumbled when the companies started to show better financial performance.

We need to understand that the market had discounted the good news. Some of those good financial results were already reflected in the stock prices. The stock market cycle always moves ahead of the economic cycle.

During the Great Depression in 1929, the stock market recovered eight months ahead of the real economic recovery. Even though some investment experts say the worst is far from over, we notice that a lot of economic indicators are pointing to an economic recovery.

However, the economic growth may not move as fast as the stock market. As a result, while the economy continues to recover, stock prices need to come down to reflect the fundamentals of the companies.

This explains why once investors started to realise that the stock prices could not be supported by the fundamentals of some companies, especially blue-chip stocks, the stock prices had to come down to reflect the true value of companies.

Nevertheless, based on our analysis, most listed companies in Malaysia showed great recovery in their second quarter of 2009 financial results against the results in the first quarter as well as the fourth quarter of 2008.

We need to understand that there are many disturbing factors that affect the stock prices, but not reflect the fundamentals of companies. From the perspective of behavioural finance, investors’ expectations and emotions have great influence on stock prices. Two factors influence investors’ expectations – past experience and new information.

In the absence of new information, investors will use past trends to extrapolate into the future. As a result, the stock prices may persist in trend for a while before the next market reversal. This may cause the market to overreact to good financial results as shown by some companies.

According to Fischer Black, some investors tend to be affected by noise that makes it difficult for them to act rationally. He defines noise as what makes our observations imperfect as well as keeps us from knowing the expected return on a stock.

Some investors, due to lack of self control and proper financial training, may misinterpret economic information and sometimes be carried away by the stock market emotion. Investors may feel uneasy over the recent strong market performance. However, they will still choose to follow the market trend even though they feel their judgment may be wrong. In behavioural finance, we label this as conformity in which we are inclined to follow the example of others even though we do not believe in the action.

The above phenomenon of stock prices being valued beyond the fundamentals of the companies is applicable to some selected blue-chip stocks. Nevertheless, Bursa Malaysia does have plenty of second- and third-liner stocks which are still selling at cheap valuations. Investors may want to take the current market corrections to accumulate them for the long-term.

We need to relate the current stock prices to the intrinsic value of the companies. Some investment tools like price-to-earnings ratio, dividend yield and price-to-book ratio will assist us in filtering out some good companies for investment.

Even though there are a lot of uncertainties along the way to full financial recovery, we feel that investors may view the recent corrections as good opportunities to build their long-term investment portfolios. For those who have been looking for investment returns higher than fixed deposit rates, there are still a lot of stocks that are paying handsome dividend yield of more than 4% and yet selling at cheap prices.

One of the most important investing principles is to have the discipline to hold long term. We should not pay too much attention to the fluctuation of stock prices; instead, we need to focus on the earning power of the companies as it is one of the most important drivers in deriving the intrinsic value of a company.

As a result of the financial crisis, even though a lot of companies are showing great recovery, their performance and prices are still lower than their peak level during the year in 2007. If the overall economy and the companies’ performance recover to 2007 level, their current stock prices may be a good entry level.

● Ooi Kok Hwa is an investment adviser and managing partner of MRR Consulting.

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