Cigar Butt Investing

Cigar Butt Investing ?

The street is abuzz with success stories of investors and speculators who have doubled or tripled their money in select low unit value stocks in the post Covid stock market rally. Calls from our investors also want to know about that magical stock which can multiply in days if not months. Work from home  or no work with plenty of time to spare and suddenly everyone has become “Skilled Investors” and “know it all master operators” of the Stock market by reading the pink papers, following the business channels and attending Webinars, all of who are all only promising and providing fodder to the thought that this “Once in a lifetime rally should not be missed.”

The more than 40% rally from the March lows has proven lucky for many first timers but the beginners luck is only being attributed to “Skill” of the Investor. The more than 18 lakh new D mat accounts opened in this period and the “Robinhood” investors have all made a killing so far, but for how long will the market rally support the lucky gains without any fundamental basis, especially so in the so called Penny stocks is anybody’s guess. The market veterans have all seen it before and continue to advice caution against participating in the rally and especially adopting the Cigar Butt investing strategy but the latest “experts” are loath to listen to the non-supportive advise.

Iam reminded of the advise of Warren Buffet, the legendary investor on the subject.

“My Cigar Butt strategy worked very well while I was managing small sums. Indeed, the many dozens of free puffs I obtained in the 1950s made that decade by far the best of my life for relative and absolute investment performance.” That is Warren Buffett speaking in the 2014 edition of his annual letter to his company shareholders.

The cigar butt strategy’ is a colourful and colloquial investment term from Wall Street which refers to someone picking up the butt of a smoked cigar from a pavement and then relighting it to get a few free puffs. This is akin to buying a very cheap, apparently worthless stock that no one is willing to pick up and somehow getting squeeze gains out of it.

At a certain level, “Cigar-butt” investing is perhaps the “purest” form of value investing. The core principle behind the strategy, as practiced by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, is to search for businesses that are trading at bargain-basement valuations due to some sort of structural issues. They may be on their last leg and have many problems, but they are so cheap that it still makes sense to invest. The analogy comes from the idea of picking up discarded cigars and taking the last few puffs out of them – quite unappetizing, but still technically good value.

This activity is also called ‘penny stock investing’ and currently in India, it is called the‘Rupee stock investing’. The idea being that stocks that have fallen to very low prices, pennies in the US or single digit rupees in India, sometimes jump a lot and rebound on some  positive news. In percentage terms, this jump tends to be larger for rupee stocks than it would be in an equivalent situation for a higher priced stock.

This rarely happens, but it is what is believed by fans and investors of Rupee stocks. Buffett does say some good things about it, but who is to say whether cigar butt stocks of the 1950s on Wall Street have any resemblance to rupee stocks of 2020 on Dalal Street? In recent months, as many stocks have tanked and stayed tanked despite some others rising, the temptation to dabble in Rupee stocks seems to have stuck a certain sub-section of equity investors. Buffett’s advice would obviously be, “Don’t.”

However, in the recent stock market rally, Certain Rupee stocks in India have indeed risen sharply.  Ruchi Soya, Reliance capital, Vodafone, Sintex, Trident, IFCI, Bajaj Hindustan, Suzlon, Dish TV, Reliance Infra, Nagarjuna Fertilizers, Zee media and many such names have actually given more than or close to 100 % gains from its March Lockdown lows.

But, as Buffett says further in his 2004 letter, “… though marginal businesses purchased at cheap prices may be attractive as short-term investments, they are the wrong foundation on which to build a large and enduring enterprise. Selecting a marriage partner clearly requires more demanding criteria than does dating…

It took Charlie Munger to break my cigar butt habits; The blueprint he gave me was simple: “Forget what you know about buying fair businesses at wonderful prices; instead, buy wonderful businesses at fair prices”.

Buy wonderful businesses at fair prices. Therelies the secret of investing well. There are two adjectives in that sentence: ‘wonderful’ and ‘fair’. Note which one Buffett puts where. He does not say buy fairly good businesses at wonderfully low prices. He certainly does not say buy any business as long as the price is very low.

The market can be irrational most of the times and can give wonderful opportunities by valuing good business at fairly low price points. Therein lies the opportunity of buying good businesses with a reasonable “Margin of Safety”

The idea is very simple and goes to the heart of investing as it should be practiced.

To quote a famous source, it’s all about “the search for discrepancies between the value of a business and the price of small pieces of that business in that market.” Like all those who hunt for good value, whether in stocks or while shopping in a market, one should get excited when prices fall. However, one should not get excited at everything whose prices fall.

The issue in Cigar Butt Investing is that low value stock will most likely belong in a declining industry or those who have lost their competitive advantage and hence the time horizon for that last puff will always be shrinking. 

As the prices of equity  have fallen and risen over the last few months, there’s a temptation to believe that because almost all stocks did badly in March and then many recovered smartly over the next months, therefore most stocks will recover and there will be a full and broad-based ‘revival.’

However In our opinion, the question of whether to do “Cigar butt or Rupee Stock Investing” or not comes down to three main factors and it depends on:

a) The company in question : In other words, you need to objectively look at aspects such as; How likely is the company going to pull through? Does it actually have potential or do the assets still hold value and can deliver value? What was the reason for the company and the stock faltering and is the damage permanent or can the company recover?

b) The specifics of the situation : When it comes to situation specifics, we’re predominantly referring to price points, proposed recovery routes, and the larger market. How is all that looking? Does the big macro picture look worthwhile or even more disconcerting when all is added up?

c)The individual investor wanting to get involved :Perhaps most important, is this factor; the individual investor and the role this investment will play in the portfolio. What does your portfolio look like? How much is it going to hurt if your deep valuebet goes wrong? And do you have the stomach to see it through even more potential volatility and possible loss in case the price corrects substantially from this level?

There are three critical things cigar-butt investment strategy needs in order to be successful:

a) The first is a low valuation, which may be evident from low valuation metrics like PE, PB, market cap lesser than cash and cash equivalents in the books etc.

b) The second is a collection of core productive assets that have a decent chance of generating relatively steady cash flow over time, otherwise the low valuation will not valid.

c) And finally Those assets should be long-lasting and with a wide-moat which is still sustainable.

In a Cigar butt strategy or Penny stock picking, you may have to look at the story behind the pure numbers; the reasons why the company is where it is and can it recover with the help of its productive assets and relative strengths.

In most times and with most stocks, nothing of the sort is likely to happen. In the Covid times, the probability is still lower what with perfectly sound business models also faltering due to the demand slowdown or/and supply constraints.

Times like these are exactly what separates out the good, the bad and the worthless. Picking up cigar butts and chasing rupee stocks may seem like a good idea but they could easily turn out to be worthless paisa stocks. And money lost is money lost, whether in Rupee stock investing or in growth Strategy.

In times like this I am reminded of Warren Buffet’s basic Rule of Investing :

This too shall pass,

Invest wisely!

Stay Blessed Forever

Sandeep Sahni

Kindly check our earlier blog on a similar subject : Investment Lessons from Mythology at https://sahayakgurukul.blogspot.com/2019/03/investment-lessons-from-mythology.html OR https://www.sahayakassociates.in/resources/our-blog/2553-sahayak-associates/sahayak-associates-blog/8435-investment-lessons-from-mythology 

Note: All information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and does not constitute any professional advice or service. Readers are requested to consult a financial advisor before investing as investments are subject to Market Risks.About The author

About The author

Sandeep Sahni

Sandeep Sahni

After completing his schooling from St. Johns, Chandigarh (Class of 1980) and Modern School, New Delhi, (Class of 1982) Sandeep did his B. Com (Hons.) from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University (Class of 1985)

Sandeep is an alum of IIM Lucknow with a Post Graduate Degree (MBA class of 1988).

He has also written two books, ‘Dear Son, Life Lessons from a Father’on the teachings of Life https://www.amazon.in/dp/1637815271 and the Second book which he has Co Authored titled, ‘What My MBA Didn’t teach me about Money’ on the Human and Financial perspective of money. https://www.amazon.in/dp/1637816502

He has a rich work experience and started his career as a corporate man with Asian Paints after IIML. He has a rich experience covering the FMCG, Food Distribution, Cold Chain, Logistics, and Hospitality Industries. He is currently in the Wealth Management and Personal Finance domain. He has a passion for finance and is an active speaker on topics in finance. The stories he narrates strike a chord close to his heart, as they are based on events from his own life. He believes in a holistic view of Personal Finance.

Sandeep’s investing experience and study of the Financial Markets spans over 30 years. He is based in Chandigarh and is advising more than 500 clients across the globe on Financial Planning and Wealth Management.

He has promoted “Sahayak Gurukul” which is an attempt to share thoughts and knowledge on aspects related to Personal Finance and Wealth Management. Sahayak Gurukul provides financial insights into the markets, economy and Investments. Whether you are new to the personal finance domain or a professional looking to make your money work for you, the Sahayak Gurukul blogs and workshops are curated to demystify investing, simplify complex personal finance topics and help investors make better decisions about their money.

Alongside, Sandeep conducts regular Investor Awareness Programs and workshops for Training of Mutual Fund Distributors, and workshops and seminars on Financial Planning for Corporate groups, Teachers, Doctors and Other professionals.

Through his interactions and workshops, Sandeep works towards breaking the myths and illusions about money and finance.

His passion has driven him towards career counselling for young adults and mentoring the youngsters on achieving their life goals and becoming “Successful Humans”

He also writes a well-read blog; https://sahayakgurukul.blogspot.com

He has also conducted presentations, workshops and guest lectures at professional colleges and management institutes for students on Financial Planning and Wealth Creation.

He can be reached at:

+91-9888220088, 9814112988,
sandeepsahni@sahayakassociates.in

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