Perception drives reality. In investing, this means there are sometimes opportunities when some companies are sold off for some alleged “evil” they’ve caused.
Think back to the near-collapse of the banking system in 2008.
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“Banker” nearly became a dirty word, as loose lending policies came to light amid the crash of the housing market. But if you bought shares of quality banks at the bottom, you’d have made some sharp, fast gains.
Wells Fargo is up almost triple from its lows. So is US Bancorp. Even beleaguered Citigroup is up nearly double from its lows.
More recently, you could have bought shares of BP in the midst of their huge oil spill in Mexico. Critics of the company claimed that it could have been prevented if BP wasn’t cutting corners with rig safety.
Environmentalists were decrying an environmental catastrophe that might never be completely undone.
Shares have bounced 62 percent from their bottom in June 2010, and the Gulf of Mexico is being cleaned up faster than expected.
There’s a lesson here: When a company is facing a crisis to the point where it’s being criticized as evil, it might be time to take a closer look at the share price. A bargain might just be in the making.
There are some caveats, of course. First, a company has to be more than just hated. It has to be reviled in the press every day as the result of a dire, but solvable problem. (If the problem can’t be solved, the company might just go under.)
But more importantly, its shares need to sell off well beyond any potential cost to the company. In part, that means investors need to wait until enough information is known.
In the case of the banks, once politicians decided to step in to bolster their balance sheets with taxpayer dollars, it was time to buy.
Once the caps on what BP would have to pay for the spill were determined, it was a green light to buy shares, because the company had sold off significantly more than what it would ultimately pay out.
Right now, the most hated company is News Corp. (NWS), on allegations that some of its subsidiaries were involved with phone hacking. It’s also an opportunity for other criticisms about the company and its founder, Rupert Murdoch, to come to light.
So is this another opportunity to buy a hated stock? Probably, but not yet. Every day brings a new angle to the original crisis that’s caused the stock to shed two years of gains in three weeks. Once that flow stops and News Corp. agrees to a settlement to make the allegations go away, it’ll probably be time to buy.
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