False Hope, Poor Due Diligence Blinds Oil Industry Investor

I invested in an oil and gas industry offshore support vessel (OSV, boats that carry out operations for floating drill rigs, and onshore or fixed production platforms) company “Victory Limited” (Victory), in the first quarter of 2014, driven mainly by the desire to cash in on the presumed success of its parent company, oil and gas industry engineering, procurement, and construction firm, “Swath Limited” (Swath).

In early 2013, I had invested in another Swath OSV subsidiary, “Cruise Limited” (Cruise). At the time, Victory was a dormant subsidiary of Swath.

Between early 2013 and October 2013, the share price of Cruise appreciated substantially, the company continued to win new contracts, financial performance improved quarter-on-quarter and the financial position was sound, though the company was taking on increasing levels of debt.

In October 2013, Swath signed a deal to sell its majority ownership in Cruise to a private equity firm. The acquisition immediately required the private equity firm to buy all remaining shares. The private equity firm offered a 15% premium to the 15-day volume weighted average price prior to the offer date. The sale was completed in December 2013.

Success arising in parent company fuels overconfidence in subsidiary

Overall, the investment in Cruise resulted in a return for me of around 125% for a 10-month investment (or absolute profit of about 250,000 Singapore dollars [187,000 US dollars]), and I was brimming with confidence of course at the prospect of such returns continuing.

In November 2013, having finalized the sale of its stake in Cruise, Swath’s management decided it would invest the profits from the sale into Victory. Following the announcement of that investment in Victory, to turn it from a dormant subsidiary into a going concern, Victory’s share price immediately appreciated, further egging on my desire for similar gains.

Failed to act decisively to take an opportunity when its time had come

In early December 2013, Victory entered into a JV with a major Middle-Eastern OSV company. Following this announcement, Victory’s share price appreciated further. In hindsight, if I had invested in Victory in early November 2013 instead of early March 2014, I would have made a very handsome profit in a very short time (about 300%). However, I hesitated, I guess out of fear of the risk to what I had put in. Nonetheless, after reading about the future expansion plans for Victory in March 2014, I decided to invest.

Then came a long list of warning signs amid lack of due diligence

At the time, I did not do sufficient due diligence to review the financial position and performance of Victory, Swath, the history of the JV partner, nor the current projection/forecast surrounding the oil and gas sector.

In essence, I decided to invest due to (a) confidence that the parent entity had sufficient prior success in developing a subsidiary in the OSV sector to repeat such success, and (b) overconfidence that the oil boom would continue. Up to that point, the oil and gas sector had been through a significant boom for nearly five years, with oil prices booming past US$100, major projects being announced, and large contracts being awarded. However, in early 2014 there were numerous red flags that the good times were coming to an end.

Six months of flat or negative growth raises no alarms

In early March 2014, I invested in Victory with an amount equal to about 40% of my original capital investment in Cruise. From March 2014 to August 2014, the share price of Victory generally stagnated (rising 10% or declining 10% but across the period, generally flat).

Sector also signals ‘danger ahead’

In August 2014, the oil sector edged toward the cliff. Regardless, I held on to the notion that “it’s only a correction, and it will come back”. However, the warning signs of a major collapse were flashing. In the same month, after a correction in Victory’s share price following a slide in oil prices, I invested another amount, around 10% of the original investment I had invested into Cruise.

Stands and watches oil prices burn but again fails to act on losses

In late September 2014, oil prices went over the cliff to below US$100, then US$80 and so forth. As the price declined, I simply viewed it as a great chance to average down and grab a bargain in Victory. I had totally ignored the sector’s problems, the flow-on impact to upstream-related sectors and financial performance and position of Victory.

Refusal to set or obey stop loss stems from denial over false bottom

Rather than put in a stop-loss position and decide to accept the many losses and move on, I persisted with averaging down concluding falsely that the bottom had been reached every time a rebound occurred at a resistance level.

Between September 2014 and January 2015, however, the share price kept falling and I kept averaging down to the point that I had reinvested all my original Cruise capital.

Unable to let go of investment despite all evidence

At this point, I stopped averaging down or investing new capital. Even so, the share price continued to fall. In hindsight, I should have sold out my entire position regardless of the losses. However, I continued to hold, refusing to accept the losses, and due to the incorrect presumption that “everything will get better and I’ll get money back”.

False hopes and hurt pride prove a dangerously unprofitable mix

My overconfidence, unwillingness to own up to the loss through hurt pride, and false hope that the sinking ship would at least stay at the surface, all combined to blind me I suppose, and my fingernails remained dug into these investments.

Between January 2015 and September 2015, the share price of Victory stabilized, though it was down more than 60% from initial investment levels. In October 2015, the parent entity of Victory, Swatch, filed for bankruptcy. Accordingly, the share price of Victory fell 50% the day after, and continued to fall until November 2015.

Since, November 2015 oil prices have been on more of an upward trend, but the OSV sector has remained significantly depressed. Accordingly, while oil prices have increased, Victory’s share price has continued to decline and is now 80% down on the level it was at during my initial investment. Despite all of this, I have refused to sell, unwilling to accept I made a mistake, and still feeling a recovery is due.

The investor who hung on like a legendary bulldog

Relative to other OSV companies, Victory has achieved stronger final performance than competitors, undertaken a successful refinancing exercise and boosted its order book. However, given the extent of its prolonged losses, the amount I invested, the length of time I invested in a company with a very poor share price, and my stubbornness to abandon the position, I conclude that it the worst investment I ever made.


Andrew’s takeaways – Avoid these mistakes to become a better investor

The toughest question to answer: ‘When should I give up?’

In the world of traditional, fundamental investing, it is hard to take a loss. This is very different from traders who set up stop-loss points for each of their trades. The difficulty for fundamental investors is that they have devoted their life to trying to find good companies with good stories. They work hard to research these ideas and then they invest. When the share price goes down, the traditional fund manager will think that they see something that the market does not. But truthfully, who knows?

One way to solve this dilemma is for the traditional investor to say to himself: “My idea may have been right but maybe it was the wrong time”. A next question to ask would be: “Knowing what I know now, if I didn’t own this company today, would I buy it today?” If the answer is “No” then it is a good sign that you should exit the position.

Consider using a stop-loss as a money management tool

Assume a trader buys a stock at 100 and puts a stop-loss at 80, if the stock falls to that point the broker is supposed to sell the stock. By planning your future action, you take your emotion out of the investment. A typical fundamental investor abhors such behaviour because it would imply that he is not confident about his research conclusions.

Avoiding loss is critical

When considering long-term returns, some of our research has shown that avoiding large loss is more important that getting high returns. This is like saying that to be a successful batter in baseball it is more important to not strike out, rather than to hit homeruns. Preserve your capital by accepting that the share price can move against your position for a long time.


Mistakes in this story

2. Failed to properly assess and manage risk

  • Bought more as the price went down
  • Failed to set a stop-loss and follow it

3. Were driven by emotion or flawed thinking

  • Failed to invest in a good, familiar idea

5. Failed to monitor their investment

  • Failed to review investment strategy regularly

 

Learn about the six ways you will lose your money and how to avoid them here.

About the author, Andrew

Dr. Andrew Stotz, CFA is the CEO of A. Stotz Investment Research, a company that provides institutional and high net worth investors with ready-to-invest stock portfolios that aim to beat the benchmark through superior stock selection.

1 Comment

  1. […] This post was originally published here. […]

Leave a Comment