The Trader: Financial Awareness


 

“When a proactive, constructive idea hits you, all of a sudden, never dismiss it, act on it instantly”

That exactly what happened one afternoon, two months ago. I felt so driven to create a LinkedIn group, and name it The Trader. No analysis or deliberate planning, just a strong gut feeling.

Are gut feelings, intuitions, inspirations enough to embark on a new business idea, take an investment decision, or get married!

Honestly, I am not sure. It depends on the person, the topic, and the circumstances. In this case, it was clearly a good idea. The only resistance came from this part that always says no!

I’m so glad now I listened to that hunch. The Trader has become an exemplary group, in less than two months. Not because I created it, but because of the fine people, who accepted my invitation to join, then shared their wisdom, expertise, and hearts. I owe this success to them.

So what is this group all about? Most LinkedIn groups are networking boards. It is different with The Trader. The vision, in three words, is to learn, share and grow.

The world today is filled with financial advisors, professional traders, investors of all types, wealth management experts, financial authors, or just novice beginners, who are eager to find their way through all the clutter, online and off-line.

The Trader aims to start a movement of “financial awareness”. When the right people get their heads, and their hearts, together, have a clear vision, and robust intentions, they can create miracles. You don’t need thousands of members, just a selected few.

The discussions are still spontaneous, which is perfectly normal and healthy. Down the road, and guided by the group’s vision, The Trader will step on its path.

I believe The Trader can present a robust and sane investing model to the industry. That could be the nucleus for a revolutionary trend, one that is rooted in the principles of value investing, yet flexible enough to utilize the best of evolving schools of thought.

It is still young. It has a bright future, and a rich potential.

The Wealth Maker

 

More on Budgeting


 

We started our discussion about budgeting in the last post. The question we concluded with, was: What is a budget? I like to keep things clear and simple. We could spend pages defining a budget, but that’s not our purpose here.

A budget is a spending plan! That is it. The more you have to spend, the more important having a budget becomes. It could be a simple spreadsheet, or it could be a 500-page volume.

The budget categorizes your spending, so it becomes easier to track. Then based on historical data (the accounting software we talked about earlier is handy here), the budget “allocates” a portion of the expected income to each category.

Now this is all projection. Why is it important? If you went spending without a plan, without some guidelines, you would, most probably, exceed the limits. Even worse, you might spend more on less-important categories than on essential ones.

Let’s have an example. What is more important than your children’s health? Without allocating enough funds to that category, you may end up taking some of that money to cover a less important area, such as eating out.

This leads to a very vital aspect of a good budget: Weights and priorities. Not all spending categories were created equal! Factor that in right from the start. Let your budgeting software know those priorities as it allocates the funds.

The other important element is allocation. How would you decide that, say, groceries would need $2000 this month? The easiest way is to track your spending for a period of time, that is relevant to the budget’s span. Therefore, if you were budgeting month-by-month, then track your spending for a full month, to get an idea how much you would need for the coming months.

Finally, a budget has a lifetime, like everything else! If you were responsible for creating the US government’s budget, then you would need input concerning, at least, the next 10 years, then prepare the current year’s budget accordingly.

Our focus here is personal/small business. In that environment, your budget should take into consideration your overall mission statement (personal, family and/or business), objectives, values and roles. Budget for a year, and have monthly sub-budgets to help you track more effectively.

Always put your investment money aside before you start this process, as if it never existed. We had talked about this before, but it is worth repeating here: Deposit a monthly percentage of your income in a separate account, which is dedicated to investing/growing your wealth.

 

The Wealth Maker

Wealth Maintenance – Budgeting


The reason you need to know where the money comes from and where it goes to is to plan for the future. That is called budgeting.

In the last article, we touched on the practice of tracking the sources of your income. Similarly, keep track of your spending. This activity is so vital for budgeting. As you know the spending categories, the amounts, the patterns, you start drawing your budget’s draft.

You don’t have to do this with paper and pencil anymore. Invest in a good personal/small business accounting software. They have become so sophisticated and fun to play with.

I’ve had some experience with Quicken. The features are overwhelming: You can track your spending down to the penny, enter your financial institutions’s details, download your transactions from those institutions to the software (so you won’t need to manually enter each spending), create cash flow charts, and most importantly to our discussion here, create budgets!

As the software becomes familiar with your spending patterns, your income, and your liabilities, it helps you create a professional budget very quickly and effectively. Of course, you must be aware of what the software is doing, and guide the processes to your special preferences.

Quicken is not the only software out there. Microsoft has Money, and there are few others. Do not use a 2nd tear software for this task. It’s worth a $70 or so investment.

Once you have your budget in place, you can use it to guide your spending from now on. But what is a budget? That’s what we’ll talk about next time. One important tip before we wrap this up: Always prepare your budget, especially the personal one, with your significant-other. She or he must be involved to avoid conflicts down the road. But more importantly, sharing this is a sign of mutual respect, and hopefully, love 🙂

The Wealth Maker

The Wealth Algorithm (9) – Conclusion


 

So far, we’ve covered two out of the four steps mentioned in article (6) of this series. Namely, the business plan and funding options and processes.

One quick note about the funding options presented in the last article. Most of those organizations are based in the US. They offer their “services” to US citizens or US permanent residents only. Before you start working with an online funding entity, please make sure it supports your country. The concept is fairly new. It might not be available everywhere. It’s starting to emerge in Canada as we speak, but it’s more established in the US so far.

Assuming you’ve found the right source of funding for your venture, and prepared your business plan, now you need to work with the funding institution to present the business plan and obtain the funds.

If you went the route of online funding, most of the work would be electronic: Emails, completing online forms and applications, and probably by the end, some phone conversations. Be prepared to answer a wide range of questions, including personal questions. To some extent, this process may be more demanding than job search.

As long as you clearly know what you want (your intention), and how to achieve it (your business plan), you’ve already covered more than half of the distance!

Keep in mind that funding organizations are business-oriented. They want to make sure that by investing in your idea and your plan, both parties would create a profitable business. This insight needs to be clear throughout your presentations. You are not asking for loans or charity. You are a business partner, who is ready to use the offered capital to generate a positive outcome for both parties.

Once a verbal agreement is reached, the details must be documented in an Investment Partnership (TM) Agreement (IPA). The IPA would become the “constitution” of the project. It specifies the objectives, the parties involved, the timelines, rights and responsibilities, the way profit and/or loss are shared, and so on.

Carefully read the agreement in full, and check if you agree on all its provisions, before you make any commitment. If something is ambiguous, or contrary to your original understanding, never hesitate to voice your concern, till you and the funding party reach a mutually agreed-upon formula. This is your right as a business partner..

Next, as you start receiving the funds, you begin executing your business and action plans, day in and day out, till you attain your clearly set intention, and successfully satisfy the terms of the IPA.

I’m not promising you that the road will be rosy all the way. There would be some challenges. Use your capacity and wisdom to convert those challenges into new opportunities. This is easier said than done. Deal with them, one by one, as, and if, they come.

All the best,

The Wealth Maker

 

The Wealth Algorithm (7) – Business Plan


 

In the last post, we concluded by listing few steps you’d need to take, in order to finance your dream via a partnership.

Before you can engage a potential business partner in the process, you must be ready in terms of your plan and strategy of developing the capital to reach the intended result.

According to Wikipedia.org, “A business plan is a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons they are believed attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals.”

In our case, there’s only one “goal”, which is the intention we clearly defined. Next, you need to explain “the reasons you believe that intention is attainable”.

There could be different reasons to different people. Imagine your potential partner asking you this question: “Why do you believe that you are able to grow this “X” amount of money into, say, one million, over the course of the plan”?

Here, one should look closely at his/her skills and talents related to managing money, and financial assets in general.

If you feel you don’t have what it takes to succeed at this task, don’t be disappointed, you’re not alone. That’s why lifelong learning is so important, not only for our bank accounts, but also for our physical and mental health.

Keep things simple, pick one or two methods from the ones we’ve covered here. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of each one, then use that in answering the above question.

Let’s assume you were interested in building an online store. After reading and fully understanding the article, expand your knowledge further. Do more research. Try to actually build a simple online store and see if your interest was still the same, more or maybe less. Take all of that into consideration while writing your business plan.

Once you’ve answered that question, the rest is much easier. You want to do your best to prepare a plan that is precise, presentable and convincing. Include a step-by-step action plan that specifies the activities, the desired accomplishment from each activity, the time-frame, and the resources you may need (financial, human, etc).

A good way to start would be to use a “template”. This is available online. Pick one that you understand and can fill out effectively, in light of our discussion above.

The following points cover major areas of a business plan as described on the BDC™ site (Reference: http://www.bdc.ca/EN/articles-tools/entrepreneur-toolkit/templates-business-guides/Pages/business-plan-template.aspx):

  • Business overview: A brief description of your company and where it stands in the marketplace;
  • Sales & marketing plan: The sales & marketing strategies that will be used to target your customers;
  • Operating plan: A description of the physical aspect of your business operations;
  • Human resources plan: Details on your key staff, HR policies & procedures;
  • Action plan: The planned actions of the business over the next 2 to 3 years;
  • Executive summary: A summary of the reasons you are seeking financing, together with a summary of your business operations;
  • Financial appendix: The facts and figures that back up what you say in your plan.

 

All the best,

The Wealth Maker

 

How to Weather Mr. Market’s Moods


By now, you probably have created a portfolio of carefully picked stocks. Each has a wide Margin Of Safety (MOS). We did talk about how to achieve that in a previous post. Simply put: Never pay the price tag. Not only that; but go to the extent of paying 50 cents for each dollar. You may wonder: But how? If I found a beautiful business, and fell in love with it, how could I wait till its price fell to those levels?

The answer is the following: Since Mr. Market is moody, its movements are not always logical. Often times it does punish a good, or even a great, business, and yank its share price way down. If you did your homework of investigating good businesses and placing them on your radar screen, you would capture that opportunity and buy as many shares as you could. This also requires having cash put aside for such instances.

So back to the title of this post, in order to withstand price fluctuations, especially in times of uncertainty, or even recessions, you need a portfolio that has been built based on the principles we’ve been talking about; that’s number one. Number two, you need the emotional stamina to stay put! Yes, do nothing till the storm passes. In the middle of the hurricane, you can remain stable, because you know your businesses are good, and you know you had bought them at attractive prices, so they will bounce back for sure.

Any action you take, you will most probably regret later when the sun rises the next morning! Sometimes inaction is the best of actions. It’s helpful here to have a longer view of your investment, part of your investment strategy (which I will talk about in a future post) is to decide a time span of your portfolio. This could be three, five, or even 10 years. Having that in mind, helps you ignore monthly fluctuations and weather the storm!

Till the next post, happy investing 🙂

The Wealth Maker

Why Do You Invest?


Have you ever asked yourself this question?

Some people invest because they don’t know what to do with their money! Some to imitate their friends or family.

The reason we invest is two-fold: One is to grow our savings, and the other is to contribute to our society by supporting wonderful businesses.

As a value investor, you should not invest in businesses that harm the society, even if they pass the criteria for a wonderful business at an attractive price. There are hundreds, if not thousands of businesses that qualify without imposing any harm to the society.

Are there other reasons to invest? To put your money on the line? To allow others to make decisions, concerning your money, on your behalf, without consulting with you, most of the time?

Investment, when practised mindfully and full heartedly, gives you the opportunity to sharpen your intellectual faculties: You study, analyze, compare, make decisions, and so on.

You also get to have a broader view of the market and the forces that influence it, regardless of its moodiness!

You realize after a while, that there are businesses out there, you haven’t heard of before, especially if you had been a professional in a specific industry. Here, you almost know them all, but you don’t have to be an expert in any one of them. As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t, to avoid any potential bias.

In my opinion, if you reach that level of neutrality, you can call yourself: a businessman.

You no longer fall in love with technology, retail, energy, manufacturing, or whatever. Your main focus is on the business as a business: A vehicle to produce value to the society, the employees, the shareholders, and of course, to you!

And that value is not only money. It is also a contribution to productivity, to a stronger economy, and to the well-being of all involved.

Value-based Investment: Wonderful Businesses


 

This is the heart of our value-investing discussion. If you haven’t already, I suggest you go back and read the previous articles in this series.

A Wonderful business is one that delivers value to its customers, shareholders, and employees. The role of the management of such business is to balance those interests, yet satisfy them to a reasonable degree.

This leads us to a key element in spotting a wonderful business: Its management. Who is calling the shots? How does the management maintain a positive balance sheet? What are their pay packages? Are those in line with the financial temperature of the business? We could spend hours asking such questions. The bottom line is to investigate the managing team, meet some of them if possible, ask the tough questions. You should be satisfied with their management style and their track record, before you give them your hard-earned money.

Next, or parallel to that, you need to roll up your sleeves for few hours, or maybe days, to research the financial health of the company. The first station your research train will stop at is the annual report. Reading and understanding annual reports gives you a tremendous edge, yet it’s not easy at all. Studying the financial history of the company gives you a good idea concerning its future. The most important annual report to dig through is the last one. But you should have a look at the annual reports of at least the last five years.

Questions you may want to ask, and find solid answers to, are:

  • Have the earnings been growing quarter over quarter, during the last five years?
  • Has the compensation of employees, especially the executives, been in line with the growth of the business?
  • What is the market capitalization? Is it a small cap or a large cap, or something in between?
  • Does the business pay dividends to the shareholders? What’s the dividend percentage of the share price? Look for something above 2%
  • Are their strategies in place to reduce the cost of production without affecting the quality?
  • How much debt does the company carry from quarter to quarter?
  • What is the net Earning/share (EPS) for the last four quarters, the last five years, and maybe 10 years?
  • Has the EPS been growing or declining?
  • What is the current Price / Earning (P/E) ratio? You need that to be as low as possible. Be careful of any P/E above 20
  • Are there any legal issues facing the business?
  • How does the business compare to its competitors in terms of market share?
  • How much does the business spend on research and development? A retail chain must have a different figure here than a pharmaceutical company, provided everything else is the same
  • Simplicity is another factor. Although it’s not very easy to find out, but it’s worth the research. The more complex the business is, the more prone it is to problems down the road. The reward of simplicity is a low-maintenance business. As an intelligent Investor, you should not fall in love with the business. Even if you love technology, for example, this is not enough reason to buy technology shares, unless they prove to be wonderful businesses!

What you’re looking for is a stable business, which has been growing nicely for quite some time, and which has good, honest, and capable management. A management team that has been successful in making that business a vehicle to delivering real value.

The key words here are: Stability, sustainable growth, ethics, value, and it won’t harm to have some fun along the way!

To be continued…

The Wealth Maker

Value-based Investment- The Intrinsic Value of a Stock


Last time we concluded by defining the IV of a stock. An Intrinsic Value is not always the same as the sticker price (but sometimes it could be). Rather, It’s the inherent value that this business deserves in today’s market.

Simply put, it’s very similar to the net-worth of an individual. You add up the sources of income and subtract the expenses. What you’re left with is that person’s net-worth. Same thing with businesses. What is the expected income from operation? What would be the value of all assets if they got liquidated? Patents, royalties, etc. Anything that the company owns and can convert into cash, minus whatever loans or liabilities it has in the market.

Next, divide that by the number of shares the business has (or intends to make) available in the market. For example, say the calculation we just made above resulted in ten million dollars. That is the net-worth of the business. The number of shares is one million. This gives rise to an IV of $10. This is what a single share of that business is intrinsically worth!

Armed with this knowledge, your decision-making process becomes a whole lot easier. You now have a baseline to come back to. Now, and only now, you go ahead and check the current sticker price of the business; what Mr. Market “feels” the price of one share of that business should be today! If Mr. Market was in a good mood and wanted to raise the price above $10 per share, then as an “Intelligent Investor”[1], you would hold back and keep the stock symbol on your wishlist. If the sticker price was less than ten, then the next step of investigation would kick in: Is it a business you would own for a 100 years, proudly? In other words, Is it a “wonderful”, growth, and money-making business?

That will be the subject of the next episode of this series. Stay tuned and be well…

To be continued…

 

The Wealth Maker

 

[1] Ben Graham has a book holding the same title. I’m not sure if he was the first to use this term though. The book is one of the best references on value-based investing.