Today is a tough day in the financial markets. Who knows where we will end up at the end of the day, the week, or this month. We’ve already seen the major indexes give up around 20% of their value in a few weeks with today’s down moves at the opening.
I’ve seen this movie before. I had just started working in the venture capital business in 1987 when the stock market crashed 23% on “black monday.” There was the Internet stock meltdown in 2000 when the internet sector went down something like 80% over that bear market. And then there was the financial crisis in 2008.
I don’t know if we are in for another of those moments or something else.
But I do know that good companies can be bought at very attractive prices when markets meltdown. Back in 2008, I was blogging my purchases of Apple, Amazon, and Google during that crisis.
I went back and looked at those blog posts this morning to remind myself of what it was like back then. In this post, I mentioned buying Apple at $90, Google at $320, and Amazon at $40. Those turned out to be fantastic prices when the market bottomed and then started going up again. I eventually sold those positions which of course was a mistake. But even so, it was a great trade.
I was buying these three great companies at less than 10x projected annual cash flow. And they went on to increase their cash flow enormously over the next decade.
Capital markets sometimes put out the for sale sign and if you are patient and wait for bargains to emerge, they will do that.
We are a long way from being able to buy Google and Apple at 10x projected annual cash flow and I am not suggesting we will get to those levels.
But I do know that good companies with resilient businesses and strong balance sheets will survive these occasional crises and that they can be bought with confidence at the right time.
I also know that market meltdowns cause a lot of unwinding of risk and leverage. This is a painful process and the losses can be enormous for investors and financial institutions. That impacts all capital markets, including the private markets.
We may be in for a downturn in all markets and if you have a business that is dependent on the capital markets (ie you are losing money), then you need to be very mindful of that and make sure you are making the financial moves to preserve your cash. On the other hand, if you have a business that is not dependent on the capital markets because you are profitable and/or have a very strong balance sheet, then this environment could be an opportunity to play offense. But you really need to figure out which camp you are in and plan accordingly.
I hope that this crisis will end quickly and that things will return to normal soon. But hope is not a strategy. So we all need to be clear eyed and calmly assess our situation and develop a strategy that gives us the best chance of success.