What are the factors you look at before deciding to invest in a company? Can you give us an example?
The first thing you got to look at is, "I am not buying a stock, but I am buying a business." And you only buy the business if you were willing to buy the entire business if you had money for it. So, for example, if Reliance Industries has a market cap of $100 billion and you had a $300 billion, the question you would ask yourself is, would I buy the entire business for a $100 billion?
The first thing is that you are not buying pieces of paper, but you are buying an entire business. The second is that you ask yourself, do I understand the business? Do I truly understand how it will work, how it makes money, how will it do in the future?
Then the third thing is, if Reliance produces$3 billion a year cash flow and it trades for $100 billion, I have no intention of buying it at 33 times cash flow. It is like I have no interest in putting money in an account that pays 3% interest.
So I love Reliance, maybe, if the fair value of business is 15 times cash flow, which is $45 billion. And since I am cheapskate, I don't want to buy it for more than half its fair value, so I just say to myself, that if it goes below $20 billion in value -- or one-fifth the current price -- then I will look at it again. In fact, that is the way to look at the Indian Sensex. You take all the Reliances, the Wipros and Infosyses of the world, chop their price by four, and that's your entry price.
What has been your most successful stockpick till date?
You know that's a very funny question. The most successful company I ever invested in is Satyam. I invested in 1995, and I was completely out by 2000. When I invested the stock was at Rs 40, and Satyam's earnings at that time were about at Rs 12 a share, so you were buying a business for three-and-a-half times earnings. And the more interesting thing for me was that property the company had in Hyderabad exceeded the market capitalisation as it was carried at a value that was bought a long time ago.
The only reason I knew about Satyam was because I was in the IT services space. These guys had actually visited us to see if they could do business together. And I had been pretty impressed by the way the business operated and the people I had met.
I looked at it from my investment point of view after was amazed that such a business could trade at such a price. So I invested in Satyam. In 2000, it was trading at Rs 7,000, that is about a 150 times the price I bought it at. This was in the days before demat, and actually when I bought the stock with an account through Kotak that I had in Mumbai, I was given physical delivery of these shares that looked like tattered pieces of paper that were falling apart.
Satyam from less than a PE of 3 to more than PE of 100. I just said I am out of it because now I owned a bubble stock even though I did not buy it at bubble price. I sold my entire position within 5% of the peak. Within six months it had dropped from Rs 7,000 to Rs 1,000, and continued on the sidelines for a while. That was the best deal that I ever made.