A one-year time frame is a good benchmark when I look at an investment return. It doesn’t mean I’ll sell after one year, but enough time has passed for me to see the general trend of the stock. Judging a company over a shorter time might lead me to make the wrong call on the stock. One example is Rolls-Royce (LSE:RR) shares.
A year ago, Rolls-Royce shares were trading at 208p. As I’m writing, the share price is 115p. From this I can clearly see that a £1,000 investment is worth less now than it previously was. In numerical terms, it’s down 45%, so my £1,000 would be worth approximately £550. As a rough barometer, the FTSE 100 index over this period is down as well. However, it’s down less than 3%, so Rolls-Royce shares are underperforming the benchmark.
This move lower doesn’t appear to be a one-off. If I look back two years, the share price was at 305p. There have clearly been fundamental drivers that have caused the value of the company to decrease over the past few years.
One of these has been the “tangible and sustainable cultural and performance shift” that was reported in the 2019 results. Rolls-Royce had focused on repositioning the business in several key areas. This meant cutting headcount (seen in both 2019 and 2020) as well as trying to reduce net debt (gross debt reduced by £1.1bn in 2019). This understandably meant Rolls-Royce shares took a knock, as trying to transform a mature company will hurt in the short run before investors see the benefits.
Another hit to Rolls-Royce shares came due to Covid-19 last year. The impact was felt in most industries, but particularly in the aerospace sector. Demand for maintenance of engines and new engine sales in the civil aerospace area dried up. Although demand in other areas (such as defence) held firm, Covid-19 definitely took its toll.
Should I buy Rolls-Royce shares now?
I could look at Rolls-Royce shares and think that the downward trend might continue. However, there comes a point when the share price simply can’t fall lower unless the business is looking like it will go bust.
In its latest trading update, Rolls-Royce confirmed it has £9bn of liquidity available. So I don’t think the business is remotely close to going under in the short term. Therefore, I do see Rolls-Royce shares as an opportunity for me to buy in. But before I do, I’d like to see the full-year 2020 results that are due out on March 11. Besides any major disaster, I’ll buy after results come out.
I imagine the commentary with the results will stress caution, but could look ahead with optimism. Based on the vaccination numbers, flying hours should increase in H2, which indirectly will benefit Rolls-Royce. Ultimately, I don’t see air traffic (either civil or otherwise) remaining depressed in the long term. So this should gradually mean a return to sustainable profits for the business.
The issue here though is simply the risk of the unknown. If more virus mutations surface or lockdowns are prolonged, Rolls-Royce shares will likely continue to trade lower. However, I can’t predict this, and have to accept this as a risk. But with this in mind, I’d still buy the stock.
jonathansmith1 has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.