Occasional contributor to The Intelligent Investor Tony Scenna once remarked ‘if you’re going to panic, panic early’. With the market down 21% from its peak in November last year, now isn’t the time to be switching to cash. In fact, the All Industrials Index (which excludes resources companies) yesterday hit a two-and-a-half-year low.
Screaming bargains are still hard to find. The most significant pain has been in the sectors that were most overpriced – namely insurance and banking. Even in these sectors, though, we have high-quality businesses like QBE Insurance coming back to much more reasonable prices. Overall, industrial companies are 29% cheaper than they were in November.
Sure, there’s plenty to worry about. Credit crises, liquidity crises, a US recession, a global slowdown, Australia’s dependence on the commodity boom – the list goes on. But there’s always plenty to worry about. The time to do something about it is when conditions seem best.
Boom times for big banks
Consider the big banks. For the past two years conditions have been perfect and the banks have been lending money willy-nilly and at prices that in no way compensated them for the risks. That was the time to worry.
Now the big four banks’ competitors are dropping like flies. Macquarie Group has quit the market for mortgages and most of the non-bank lenders are on their last legs if not already dead. Risk is once again being priced appropriately at worst and attractively at best. That’s a recipe for future profitability. And in anticipation of that profitability, you should be considering buying, not selling.
For mine, at two times book, the banks still aren’t screaming value, especially given that some of the stupid loans made over the past few years are yet to manifest themselves as bad. But they’re a lot cheaper than they were.
The same holds true elsewhere. In some areas of the market – particularly among heavily indebted companies – the falls look justified. But many high-quality and well-financed businesses have been dragged down alongside them. Cochlear (-30%), Macquarie Group (-48%), ASX (-38%), Westfield Group (-21%), Aristrocrat Leisure (-39%), Billabong (-34%), Cabcharge (-34%), Computershare (-28%) and Harvey Norman (-51%) are just the ones off the top of my head. Some of these make better buying opportunities than others, but in all cases we’re certainly past the time for panicking.
Disclosure: The author, Steve Johnson, doesn’t own any of the shares mentioned but staff own shares in Cochlear, Macquarie Group, Harvey Norman and Westfield Group.