The Edge: Why have you disappeared from the public eye since 2004?
DR Neoh Soon Kean: There is a danger that if you become a popular writer, your stock picks would be chased after. This could expose you to the danger of being accused of front-running. As the companies that I recommended often did well, certain people said I must be a front-runner. So to avoid all these (accusations), it’s better for me to stay out of the public eye.
Did you enjoy being a low-profile investor and having a peaceful sort of life?
Very much so. Malaysia is a very small place, so there is a risk of becoming too well known. I never want my picture (in the newspapers) so that I could be recognised. It’s one of the great pleasures in my life that I could be walking around in a pair of shorts in Penang, having my favourite hawker food on weekends, and very few people would recognise me.
So, why do you want to be back in the public eye now?
There is an ulterior motive, but the biggest reason is that I want to pass on my ideas, now that I shall be retiring from active investment soon. I will be 70 years old this year. Until now, almost every week, I get requests to republish my book. I don’t think I have time to rewrite it. So, rather than writing a book, I think it is better for me to have the opportunity to explain all the important investment principles that everybody can follow. I would like to leave something for the investing public. I still strongly believe that equity investment is the best way for an average person to accumulate wealth.
What is your ulterior motive then?
Dynaquest has been a very successful investor in its own right. In fact, Dynaquest has achieved a compound average annual return of 15.5% over the last 37 years. We had a very good track record because we work from a fantastic database, whose data is at present sold only to certain investors at a very high price. Three years ago, we decided to put our database onto the Cloud, and this project will be completed in the third quarter of this year. The good news is that the database will be made available in real time to the public at a much lower price.
Why is data important to investment?
In investment, data is the king. If you have the information and know how to use it, you can be a good investor. We cover 700 listed companies on Bursa Malaysia. The amount of information available is therefore enormous. Let’s be honest: It is going to be pretty difficult if you want to make money from buying (shares of) the (largest) 50 to 100 companies as so much is already well known about these companies and this knowledge would have been incorporated in their prices. You would have to go to the small companies to get abnormal returns. So, we want to open our database and provide the market with a huge amount of data that everybody can use.
Most fund managers want to meet the management before they invest in a company, but why do you insist that Dynaquest be strictly data-driven?
I think, to a certain extent, I can judge a person by his action and his demeanour. If a company has been telling you nice stories every year, but its results have never been good, what’s the point of interviewing the company? But if a company tends to be conservative and keeps saying that next year will be challenging, and yet its performance is reasonably good, again, there’s no point interviewing it, because its actions speak louder than its words.
The likes of Dr Tan Chong Koay, Cheah Cheng Hye, Fong SiLing (better known as Cold Eye) and Koon Yew Yin are prominent investors who made a name for themselves in the investment fraternity. Would you regard yourself as an investment guru?
No, no, no ... Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists of all time, said, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ I would never dare to compare myself with somebody like Warren Buffett. My record is nothing compared to his. Again, if I can see better, it is by standing on the shoulders of thinkers like Benjamin Graham, Sir John Templeton and Peter Lynch. These are the real gurus, who are far, far superior to me, and gave me a lot of wisdom. Everything I say has been said by at least one of them before.
You are being humble.
I am a Buddhist. I have to accept that everything is impermanent. I didn’t seek fame and fortune, but did achieve a modicum of fame and fortune purely by accident. Fame means nothing to me. I just want to have a happy, good and healthy life. Over the years, I have made some people rich, but I have never made anybody poor (well at least not that I know of), and I think that’s not a bad achievement in life.