Investors generally over-react to good and bad times. Equity values are now increasing at a decreasing rate across the indexes as investors anticipate corporate earnings and begin to read the signals; many investors extrapolate past share price performance, and using an moving average or charting the trends in the share price are de rigueur in the search for a Fibonacci pattern. Management are in a signalling game with shareholders, especially the activist shareholders who are demanding changes in the execution of strategy. From Pepsi to Apple from Hertz to Red Lobster, activist shareholders are trying to break up companies, demanding change from management. In http://www.mheducation.asia/html/9781259071065.html Chapter 4 of Decoding Strategy we define the activist shareholder as Bayesian – seeing what they want to see at a point in time. As Aristotle observed in Rhetoric it ‘is a matter of putting one’s hearers, who are to decide, into the right frame of mind’. It becomes a constant exchange between activist shareholders and the management team of the targeted company. Most prominent today is Carl Icahn; he sees a pot of cash in Apple and is urging a share buy-back. The Apple C-suite management team are a player in a game of signalling and they should really engage in positive learning transfer [PLT], by signalling to shareholders how they intend to execute strategy, re-assuring them that further innovation will support a continued rise in the Apple share price.
All shareholders prefer high expected returns but they should also be concerned with the impact of signalling on share price performance. Signals can be observed at any time: check the business feeds from CNN, cnbc or Bloomberg. Apple at US$554 January 24th 2014 9.37 ET is not the call – rather it is Apple at a sustainable US$800 by end of 2014. And that target price depends has a co-variance matrix that depends on (i) the outcome of market share zero-sum game with Samsung; (ii) Apple’s penetration in China with China Mobile and (iii) the launch of a nano-iPhone. The latter has been a theme of this Blog, notably in an open Memo to Ms Ahrendts: http://www.patrickmcnutt.com/news/memo-to-ms-ahrendts/. A nano-iPhone launch would signal innovation – the real challenge, however, is not just in the timing of a launch date but the price point. It should be competitively low priced with a volume throughput encroaching demand from low end smartphones across the world. We should be debating the sweet price for an advanced well specified nano-iPhone not the share price of Apple.
Mant of these issues are accommodated within the Marris methodology; for example, failure to re-invest the cash or any signals of lagged innovation can damage the long term value of the company. Bayesian shareholders are attracted to companies like Apple and Red Lobster’s parent company Darden Restaurants. They are unlikely to praise management. But as shareholders they are frustrated. In game theory language, they believe that management are bounded rational or limited in their decision making. A nano-iPhone signal to the market would be a better play for Apple executives now than a share buy-back. New product launch is a classic PLT signal, re-assuring investors that Apple executives are playing to win the game, not playing to lose. In addition, it could relax the constraint imposed by activist shareholders.
And the Marris v – probably better known as Tobin’s q – is a reliable metric in our game theory tool-kit where rational investors are also concerned with how their share portfolio co-varies with the signals in a signalling game. It is the ratio of market value and book value or the replacement cost of the firms’ assets. Combined with other metrics, the Marris v offers a guide to investors: if v > 1 consider a sell and if v < 1 consider a buy. Who didn’t buy ARM at 95p in early 2009? Taking a moving average of v, defined as v if v > v consider a sell and if v < v consider a buy.
Compare Intel v ARM share prices over the past 5 years. The relative high performance of ARM’s share price from less than £1 in early 2009 to £9.80 at 10.44 GMT January 24 2014 reflects management PLT, their innovation and their attack on Intel’s dominance in the chip market and Intel’s lagged response to getting its chips into smartphones and tablets. Intel management were bounded rational. They tried to acquire ARM but antitrust law prohibited the acquisition. Tobin’s q is interchangeable with Marris v. Both rely on market valuations; the Marris v, however, should be understood in terms of PLT. Management’s type, that is, their ability to define the game dimension and their ability to win the game represent an intangible asset in the Marris v. The Marris v by relying on market valuation avoids many of the descriptors of accounting profits wherein high profits often equate with a monopoly position. But it could also be the case that companies with high market shares earn profits not attributable to concentration in the market – they are more efficient and more innovative than their competitors. Observe the share price and the investment commentary but when v < 1 or v < v step back, read the signals, make a judgement call and consider a buy as a long term investment – do not look back and do not regret the decision once made.