It’s not that I have always been a bear on IT companies. I have held NIIT tech, Patni computers and Infosys are various times over the last 5-6 years.
You can see my analysis of NIIT tech here and patni here.
The main reason for my bearishness is simply ‘valuations’. Mid cap companies like NIIT tech or patni and maybe a few others could be slightly undervalued (depending on your point of view), but I find it difficult to see the undervaluation in large caps such as Infosys which are selling over 30 times their current earnings.
A lot of the IT companies are priced for perfection which as we have seen never happens in reality. In the alternative universe of brokers and tipsters, the time to buy IT stocks was in 2000 and now and to sell was in 2008. We do not know how things will turn out in the future, but can clearly say from hindsight that 2000 was the time to sell and 2008 was a decent time to buy.
The advantage (or disadvantage) of having a blog for more than 5+ years is that all your past thoughts and statements are online and can be referred back at any time. In 2008, I felt that IT stocks, especially midcaps were extremely undervalued (some selling for PE of 2 or 3) and hence were a bargain. It was not a macro point of view, but based purely in valuations (you can read the post on it here)
Getting the timing wrong
My decision to start buying into some of the IT midcaps was based on valuations and a belief that the underlying economics of the IT service space was still attractive and the companies would continue to be profitable in the long run.
I had no clue that 2008 and 2009 would be such a disaster ( if I knew, I would have bought put options and retired by now :) ). So clearly, in hindsight the best time to buy was 2009.
However one cannot make investment decision based on hindsight and so mere mortal like me (unlike some of the forecasting gurus ) have to base their decision on current valuations and expectations of reasonable business conditions in the future.
Still no idea of the future
As I have still do not have any special powers of knowing the future, my current view on IT stocks is centered on valuations and some of the long term headwinds faced by the industry such as
- Dollar depreciation : when and by how much …who knows, but more than likely to happen
- Increased costs : If you are an employed with an IT company, a point to remember is that everytime you get a good raise in salary, it comes from the bottom line (no there is no santaclaus paying for your salary)
- Intense competition: From other IT companies which is likely to drive down returns in the long run
- Host of other factors: regulation, slow growth in developed markets etc etc
The point is that the current valuations do not reflect these risks. Ofcourse you can make a point that current valuations for a lot of companies do not reflect the risk – but that is whole different story.
So what to do ?
Nothing much – sell if you think the stocks are overvalued and yes, be prepared to look like a fool if the stocks keep zooming up after you have sold. I have done that for most of my IT stocks and I am fully ready to look like a complete fool.