Value Trap

What is the Value Trap?

Value trap is when the current price of the stock appears to be undervalued on the basis of fundamental valuation parameters like Price to Earnings, Price to Book Value, Price to cash flow ratio over a period of time, however, in reality, these stocks are not worthy of investments.  This could be because the company doesn’t have much to offer in the future, lacks in future planning of product line, company’s competitive behavior, innovation in the field of operations, ability to manage cost, etc.

Characteristics

Value Trap Characteristics

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  1. Available at Attractive Price Compare to Valuation Metrics: Such investments are priced lower in the market compare to valuation metrics like Price to Cash flowPrice To Cash FlowPrice to Cash Flow Ratio is a value indicator that measures a company's stock price in relation to the cash flow amount it generates. This is determined as the ratio of Price Per Share to Operating Cash Flow Per Share. read more, Price to EarningsPrice To EarningsThe price to earnings (PE) ratio measures the relative value of the corporate stocks, i.e., whether it is undervalued or overvalued. It is calculated as the proportion of the current price per share to the earnings per share. read more, Price to book valuePrice To Book ValuePrice to Book Value Ratio or P/B Ratio helps to identify stock opportunities in Financial companies, especially banks, and is used with other valuation tools like PE Ratio, PCF, EV/EBITDA. Price to Book Value Ratio = Price Per Share / Book Value Per Share read more, etc.
  2. Inconsistent Profit: If investors decide to research more in such stocks, they will find inconsistency in profit over multiple years. Growth of stocks depends on earnings consistency and growth, if it’s not there, resulting in degradation of stock in terms of valuation.
  3. No Future Planning: For every business, it is essential to plan its future process, whenever a company is in the product, which, although trending today but a future requirement in such a product is uncertain, such stocks look attractive today but proved to be value trap for investors.
  4. No Control Over Cost: Due to various factors or development in technology, which are not adapted by the company cost of production is still high, and if the company is not able to manage its costManage Its CostCost management is an integral part of business management that works on the basis of estimates, where various activities such as data collection, data analysis and mechanisms, process evaluation, and event reporting are carried out so that the decision-maker can plan and control the organization's budget requirements, allowing the decision-maker to make informed decisions.read more structure, face problem in the future.
  5. Bad Management: Good management is the life of the business to survive and prosper in the future.
  6. Accounting Issues: Due to manipulation, tactics used in accounting much such value trap business looks attractive in books compare to their market price.

Value Trap Example

Stock ABC ltd is available at an attractive price to compare to its earning at 5X, compare to its average of 20X earning for the last one year. The price to book value ratio of ABC has dipped below 1 for the last nine months. Previously it was around 2.

For many investors, such indicators mean an undervalued company and good investment opportunity in terms of value investment. But, many investors suffer a loss due to a lack in terms of studying complete fundamental analysis of the company.

Causes of Value Trap

Value Trap Causes

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  1. Lack of Research and Development in Product Line: Every company needs to perform research and developmentResearch And DevelopmentResearch and Development is an actual pre-planned investigation to gain new scientific or technical knowledge that can be converted into a scheme or formulation for manufacturing/supply/trading, resulting in a business advantage.read more to survive and grow in the future. If a company does not continuously research new products and services and make it available in the market, it may look attractive today but won’t survive in the long run. Historical performance should be analyzed and compared with the present, and for an investor, it is essential to understand what is future planning of the business.
  2. Less Focus on Investors: Many times, companies focus on large investors and concentrate on them. At the same time, a higher portion of ownership of shares is by insiders and large investors, resulting in ignorance towards the common investor. It is crucial for an investor to understand holding patterns in the company before investing.
  3. Various Small Factors: Many parameters, which affects investment decision on an institutional level to invest in certain companies like stock price, revenueRevenueRevenue is the amount of money that a business can earn in its normal course of business by selling its goods and services. In the case of the federal government, it refers to the total amount of income generated from taxes, which remains unfiltered from any deductions.read more, etc. many institutions prefer to invest in a company after it shows a certain level of growth in the market. Many small companies in which institutional investorsInstitutional InvestorsInstitutional investors are entities that pool money from a variety of investors and individuals to create a large sum that is then handed to investment managers who invest it in a variety of assets, shares, and securities. Banks, NBFCs, mutual funds, pension funds, and hedge funds are all examples.read more are not yet involved look attractive from a price point of view but turns out to be a value trap.
  4. Control Over Holding: Often, it is considered a good sign if the company owns a large part of its shares in the market. But, if institutions like mutual fundsMutual FundsA mutual fund is a professionally managed investment product in which a pool of money from a group of investors is invested across assets such as equities, bonds, etcread more or hedge fundsHedge FundsA hedge fund is an aggressively invested portfolio made through pooling of various investors and institutional investor’s fund. It supports various assets providing high returns in exchange for higher risk through multiple risk management and hedging techniques.read more don’t own enough percentage of stocks to influence decision making or ability to generate the right amount of vote on disagreement in business management which, results in a lack of interest in institutional investors and such stocks becomes value trap for retail investorsRetail InvestorsA retail investor is a non-professional individual investor who tends to invest a small sum in the equities, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and other baskets of securities. They often take the services of online or traditional brokerage firms or advisors for investment decision-making.read more.

How to Avoid?

Value-Trap

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  1. Avoid Cheap Investment: Investors should concentrate on value and growth instead of price. Companies with the combination of both components,s, i.e., value and growth, prove to be the much better investment.
  2. Fundamental Analysis: 360-degree analysis of the company is critical before making any investment decision. And such analysis should include all pros and cons of business with various points of view.
  3. Free Cash Flow: How much company have after paying out its free cash flowFree Cash FlowThe cash flow to the firm or equity after paying off all debts and commitments is referred to as free cash flow (FCF). It measures how much cash a firm makes after deducting its needed working capital and capital expenditures (CAPEX).read more and how they are utilizing it.
  4. Cash Flow Research: How much percentage of cash flow comes from operating activitiesOperating ActivitiesOperating activities generate the majority of the company's cash flows since they are directly linked to the company's core business activities such as sales, distribution, and production.read more, investing activities, etc. as such information tells the usability of business operationsBusiness OperationsBusiness operations refer to all those activities that the employees undertake within an organizational setup daily to produce goods and services for accomplishing the company's goals like profit generation.read more and investment decisions.
  5. Debt to Equity: Asset vs. liability comparisonAsset Vs. Liability ComparisonWhat makes Assets & Liabilities different is that while the former refers to anything that a Company owns to gain long-term economic benefits, the latter refers to anything that the Company owes to other parties. read more is significant in the analysis. For an investor, it is vital to understand all rations and not to depend on specific ration in the decision process.
  6. Industry and Sector Overview: Understand Industry and sector overview its pros and cons in the market. How peers of the company are performing in comparison.
  7. Past and Present Analysis: The Company’s past, present, and future analysis is essential and can be done by observing the decision process in business, performance, and thorough understanding of financial statementsFinancial StatementsFinancial statements are written reports prepared by a company's management to present the company's financial affairs over a given period (quarter, six monthly or yearly). These statements, which include the Balance Sheet, Income Statement, Cash Flows, and Shareholders Equity Statement, must be prepared in accordance with prescribed and standardized accounting standards to ensure uniformity in reporting at all levels.read more.
  8. Stock Holding Patterns: Understanding of stock holding patterns in a company is an essential part of investment decisions because many times, the value trap is the result of alteration in holding patterns in the company’s shares.
  9. Growth: Growth in terms of revenue, profit future aspects innovation is vital for any business to survive in today’s market.

Advantages

  • Cheap Investment: Cheap investment opportunity, which looks like today’s value trap, might turn into value investment and can create massive wealth for value investors if done correctly.
  • Undervalued Investment Opportunity: If investors did enough research, such value traps can be an excellent opportunity to invest in undervalued stocks and, over the period, generate wealth from such investment.

Disadvantages

  • High Risk: This investment can result in loss of entire capital. If an investor is not careful, he/she will end up losing wealth due to the attractive market price of the investment.
  • Uncertainty: These are uncertain; some might turn to be good investment decisions while others may turn out to be bad.

Conclusion

For any investors, it is crucial to understand and analyze from all aspects instead of concentrating at attractive market prices in comparison with some multiples. Many times even expensive investment at higher prices turns out to be better instead of looking at cheap investment options.

If an investor wants to look for such value investment in undervalued companies, he/she must ask a particular question, i.e., Why the market price of such investments are low over so much time, what are future aspects of business, holding patterns in stocks, comparison with peers and past, present and future analysis and forecast of business. It can be avoided if an investor understands and performs research on the business before making any investment decision.

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