Articles Archive for December 2008

How to invest in cyclical companies

28 December 2008 Michael Szumielewski 26 Comments Investing

Cyclical companies are companies who are strongly tied to the business cycle and their stocks move sharply up and down when economy turns around. Because of this, they require special handling by the intelligent investor.

Definition of a cyclical company

During recessions and economical downswings the stock market as a whole usually goes down, but a special type of companies suffers most: the cyclicals. Examples for cyclical companies are Caterpillar, US Steel, General Motors and International Paper, all makers of products with a fairly flexible demand curve. Automobile manufacturers, airlines, steel, paper, heavy machinery and hotels are the best examples. Examples for non-cyclical companies are Coca Cola, Proctor & Gamble, and Quaker Oats, all makers of products with a fairly inflexible demand curve. In bad times, people still have to eat and buy stuff for the household. Getting a new car or some new whirlpool parts on the other hand, can be delayed for some time.

Marc Thomson, a friend of mine who works at a big bank here in Munich, Germany, said last week: “A lot of our clients feel it now, the recession is hitting them hard. We’ve seen that before in downturns, but as usual, industries like the steel and automobile industry suffer the most and request new credits. ”

Chart for AAR Corporation
Chart for aviation support company AAR Corporation

Great opportunities ahead

When you look at charts of cyclical companies like the one above, there are always big up and downs. But when economy turns around, cyclicals can outperform growth companies and be great turnarounds. The problem is to catch the right moment of the cycle to buy. Take a second and analyse the chart of AAR Corporation for yourself and you will recognise that after this recession great opportunities will come ahead.

There are two problems when it comes to investing in cyclicals: timing and selection.

When it comes to timing, no one really can predict the economy as a whole and additionally cyclicals tend to doing well many months before the economy comes out of a recession. Best indicators seem to be interest rates and the companies’ financial ratios which show when demand goes up again, but also insider buying. It also helps if you know the industry. But all in all it is quite difficult to catch the best moment for the ride.

When it comes to selection, it makes sense to pick an industry that is due for a bounce. Choose the biggest company for more safety and smaller companies if you want to take some risk. These companies who suffered the most can produce the most impressive returns, but you have to make sure, they also don’t go bankrupt. More than usually, you have to check the balance sheet. An indicators that the company is healthy is for example a strong cash position.

If you do your homework well, I’m sure you can find plenty of good opportunities. While it certainly never hurts to have a college education you don’t need a bachelors degree to find good investments. Solid research, patience and a solid understanding of your limits will go a long way in your success.

How to invest successfully

So, successful investing in cyclicals requires careful timing and a good selection. At this point, it’s time to make a watchlist and be prepared to invest when the recession comes to an end which no one know how long it will take. When taking action, take advantage of cost-averaging by buying the stock for several months and building up your position. To be save, you should also set a stop-loss limit to protect you from loses.

Most of all, never forget the up-and-down nature of the economy. And be careful, some cyclical companies die when it finally comes to a economic slump, because of bad management which thought the good times will go on forever and building up a cash reserve is not necessary. When you decide to invest in a cyclical company, you have to follow the news about the global economy and the industry the stock is in. Also cyclicals are not suitable for long-term purposes because of no protection in recessions. Buy-and-hold doesn’t work here. Please keep that in mind.