JCP – what went wrong

As a value investor, you are likely to come across many struggling companies when doing research. These tend to be the ones trading at low Price/Earnings ratios due to pessimism about the future, so will frequently appear in stock screens. Some will inevitably have the attention of an activist investor who believes they can turn the business around, and in the process produce outsized returns for shareholders. It is easy, as an individual, to believe their assertions and they will often have a good track record to back them up too. But it doesn’t always go to plan as was the case with JCPenney (JCP), and it is an interesting case study to review so that hopefully investors don’t get caught out in this same trap in future.

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Emerson Radio (AMEX:MSN)

Emerson Radio Corp (AMEX:MSN) is one stock that appears to be a no-brainer. Its market cap, at $51m, is less than its net cash of $61m, yet the business is profitable, generating $7m of pre-tax profit in the last 12 months. Who wouldn’t be tempted by such numbers, until you learn the unpleasant truth about why this company deserves to be trading at such low multiples. Its management and owners are surrounded by countless accusations of corruption, so much so that if all are to be believed, shareholders of Emerson should expect nothing more than to be conned out of what is rightfully theirs. This is a warning to investors – an investment in Emerson as it currently stands is nothing more than a gamble on a change of ownership.

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IBM vs Oracle

I bought shares in IBM (NYSE:IBM) over a year ago, not long after Warren Buffett announced he had made a large investment in the shares himself. This is one of the few investments that I have been displeased with throughout, not because the share price hasn’t performed, but because the business itself has performed far below my expectations.

It wasn’t until recently, when I took a look at Oracle’s (NASDAQ:ORCL) performance, that I realised that my thesis on IBM was wrong and the investment wasn’t as undervalued as I thought originally. It is hard to admit you’re wrong, especially when IBM’s share price has been much higher recently than it is now, but it’s the right thing to do as an investor.

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