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Time to get greedy with Sirius Minerals plc and Unilever plc

Sirius Minerals. Fair use.

Investing legend Warren Buffet’s advice to “be greedy when others are fearful” is overused and with good reason. But thanks to our all-too-human desire to avoid losses however, following it is easier said than done.

This is particularly problematic at the current time as I think recent events have thrown up a number of opportunities for private investors to pounce on. Let’s look at two examples.

Same ol’ story

Now that the open offer has been and gone, shares in Aim-listed Sirius Minerals (LSE: SXX) have plummeted to levels not seen since mid-June.

Whether we put the drop to below the open offer price down to the vagaries of the stock market, heavy short selling, long-term holders misjudging quite how long they wanted to hold the shares for, or a combination of all the above, it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of investors will be nursing heavy losses right now. This is particularly true if they bought into the company when its shares peaked in value back in August.

Could shares in Sirius remain volatile for some time to come? Quite possibly, although yesterday’s rise of 7% will no doubt have raised hopes that the company is set for a sustained rise after such a dramatic fall. Has the story changed? Not unless you count the fact that Sirius now has funding to build its polyhalite mine, something it didn’t have earlier in the year.

To be sure, those considering retaining their shares until the mine becomes operational will need a truckload of patience. But when was it ever not the case with a company like Sirius? So long as an investor’s actions match his or her strategy, there should be no reason to change course. Indeed, if ever there was a time to be greedy about Sirius, now — I submit — is that time. Buy the company and its prospects, not its share price.

What goes up…

At completely the opposite end of the market spectrum, we have FTSE 100 stalwart Unilever (LSE: UVLR).

In the months following the referendum, shares in the Anglo-Dutch giant rose over 18% to 3,763p in October as investors reduced their holdings in UK-focused stocks and piled into multinational businesses with operations and markets all around the world. As an exercise in risk management, it was a no-brainer. 

Since then, and somewhat understandably, Unilever’s shares have come off the boil. After all, there’s only so high a £40bn cap giant can climb before it starts to run out of steam. A very public spat with Tesco over pricing didn’t help. A general and perhaps unexpected shift by investors into riskier shares following Trump’s election triumph may have been another factor.

Nevertheless, having returned to pre-referendum levels, I think its shares are now worth picking up. A forecast price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of just under 18 for 2017 may not sound particularly cheap but, due to the predictability of its earnings, a portfolio of brands that consumers can’t help returning to and a proven ability to withstand economic wobbles, shares in Unilever have rarely traded for much less. Factor-in a relatively safe 3.7% yield, excellent history of returns on capital, decent operating margins and a hugely impressive management team and I think you would struggle to find many better companies in the FTSE 100.

Buying companies after sudden price drops can take a lot of courage. However, so long as the investment case hasn't changed and the rest of your portfolio is sufficiently diversified, this can be a very profitable strategy over time.

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Paul Summers owns shares in Sirius Minerals. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Unilever. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.