Sumir Chadha Explains Technique For Finding Multi-bagger Stocks

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    Sep 8, 2015
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    Sumir Chadha, the whiz-kid founder of Westbridge Capital/ Jwalamukhi Holdings, has given important pointers on the techniques followed by the Fund to find winning stocks. He has also discussed his favourite stocks at length

    If you are looking for a model portfolio where stocks are picked as per a specific process, you have to check the portfolios of PIPE (Private Investment in Public Equity) Funds.

    Some leading PIPE funds in India are Pulak Chandra Prasad’s Nalanda Capital, Sumir Chadha’s Westbridge Capital/ Jwalamukhi Holdings, Brahmal Vasudevan’s Creador Capital/ Idria, Renuka Ramnath’s Multiples Equity etc.

    The portfolios of each of these PIPE funds is constructed after complete due diligence and after paying proper attention to all aspects of fundamentals, management quality, size of opportunity, valuations etc of the stock.

    No wonder that these funds have given their lucky investors humongous returns over the years.

    In the latest issue of Outlook Business, Sumir Chadha of Westbridge Capital/ Jwalamukhi has given important pointers of the fund’s investment technique. He has also discussed the Fund’s favourite holdings at length.

    India offers a massive opportunity to find stocks:

    India has a huge number of listed companies – over 4,000 – which means there is a massive opportunity to find good stocks. In other countries you don’t find this – in Brazil, there may be 500 listed companies, in Indonesia, it’s a couple of hundred. In India, for historical reasons, it is easy to get listed and we don’t have Sarbanes-Oxley and all that stuff that inhibits promoters from coming to the public market, like in the US.

    Indian entrepreneurs are among the best globally:

    Indian entrepreneurs are among the best globally because the truth is that it is so difficult to build a company in India. Being an Indian entrepreneur is like being an Ethiopian runner. The Ethiopian runners are really fast as their countries are very high above sea level, so there is very low oxygen. They are used to running on very low oxygen. That is one of the reasons Ethiopians are one of the world’s best runners. When they come to sea level and they are running they are killing every-one else because suddenly for them it is like running down. It is easy. In the same way, Indian entrepreneurs are used to such tough conditions in running a business. Every distributor is trying to squeeze you, everyone is negotiating with you. They all make it through that. I would say the good ones stay grounded, though there are the stereotypical flashy entrepreneurs as well. But we like entrepreneurs who are down-to-earth, stable and uphold middle class values. That is, sort of, what we find works in the long term.

    The volatility in Indian markets is a big advantage because stocks can be bought very cheap and sold very high:

    The Indian market is highly volatile. If you are a patient long-term investor, it actually works to your advantage. Because when things get depressed, they get so depressed that there arises a great opportunity to buy. And when they get euphoric, they get so euphoric and that is a good time to sell.

    We look at volatility as our friend. Say tomorrow there is a sharp market downturn, we would love it. We have a lot of uncalled capital and cash. We would just start buying in our own names. When things get too hot we start exiting, if things get cold we use that as an opportunity to buy a lot. That is how we manage our own risk.

    High-Quality mid-caps that are not actively traded make the best investments:

    We like to focus on high quality mid-caps and there are a lot of them in India.

    We love stocks that are not actively traded as they tend to be mispriced. We usually buy a chunk, typically 5-25%, in a listed entity with a long-term view of the promoter and the company.

    For example, four years back, we had bought shares of Astral Poly Technik. When we bought a 12% stake in the company it had a Rs. 300 crore market cap and was hardly traded. Today, it has a 15,000 crore market cap. We sold half of our stake last year with a fantastic gain.

    Hold stocks for the long-term and, if possible, for forever:

    Long term can be very long or short depending upon the situation. But, generally, we take a five-to 10-year view. The way our current fund works is that, unlike a private equity fund, it is an ever growing fund. So, in many cases, we may end up hold something for 20 or 30 years. Some of our companies we may never sell. So, our fund is designed to be a little bit more like the wealthy families in India, where if you are investing your own money, just leave it there, you don’t have to sell. But some-times, we may sell very quickly if a stock runs up a lot in a very short period. We sell because in a public market there is always the opportunity to buy it cheaper. Hence, unlike a PE fund, we enjoy a lot more flexibility and that is a huge advantage.

    What to look for in companies -overarching theme in the portfolio:

    We look for high quality franchisee businesses that can generate superior return on capital over the long term. For us, that means companies with unfair advantages. Typically, we look for a very strong brand with a great reputation, a very strong distribution network, the type of things that make it very hard for a competitor to come in and eat their lunch.

    The overarching theme is to invest in companies with long-term competitive and unfair advantages that arc very hard to replicate. That is a basic theme and cuts across industries. So we look for some edge.

    Have a concentrated portfolio. Be very selective in your investment:

    We have a very concentrated portfolio, a really small number of high quality companies. Our top 12 companies account for about 75% of our asset value. So, we don’t hold a huge number of investments. We are not afraid to put a lot of money into these companies because we believe in them. Or, if we don’t believe in them we don’t invest. We are not like a mutual fund in India that will typically own 80 stocks in the portfolio. We find that a riskier approach. We don’t want 80. We want the top 10 or 15, so we are really choosy. In India, over the past 16 years we have invested in 200 companies. We invested in many of the companies when they were small and we were on the board. Now they are listed. We know either the promoters or the board members pretty well from many years. Also, before investing, we do the usual things: a background check, send an investigative firm to check on various things, and our own calls or references. We spend a lot of time with them, and we either get comfortable or we don’t. Any whiff of promoter risk and we walk away.

    Have an exit strategy in place:

    If prices turn too steep, we cash out. We sold quite a lot of stuff, million dollars worth of stocks, in the past three quarters. So, we have exited quite a bit. If things keep going up we will keep exiting. In mid-caps, in a bear market there are no buyers and that is good because we are the buyers who get these stocks at a discount. In a bull market, there are plenty of takers. You should see how many calls we get for many of our companies saying, “Please, can you give me a block stake!”

    For a typical structure, take Mayur as an example. The company’s promoter owns over 70% of the company and we own 10%. We have the largest non-promoter holding and then there all these small retail shareholders. The promoter is never going to sell, so anyone who wants to own something substantial will come to us. Half the time we are saying ‘no, but in the past three quarters, we sold quite a lot. But then, we sell only in a good market. If it is a bad market, we will not sell. So, when the market was really bad in 2011, 2012 and 2013 we invested heavily and we sold nothing. Then last year the market became good and we started selling, but very selectively.

    Avoid investments in technology stocks if you cannot understand them:

    The technology sector is rapidly changing. It makes it hard to invest in the sector. Our current fund has very little tech for that reason. It is the reason a lot of public investors shy away from technology because they say, “Look, there is a lot of money to be made but it is also very risky.” A company can suddenly lose its edge very fast. But plumbers will not forget the Astral brand very easily. Success can be quite short-lived in technology. But when it creates value it is incredible.

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