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Posts from the ‘Ardmore Shipping (ASC)’ Category

Week 246: Hidden in Plain Sight

Portfolio Performance

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week-246-Performance

See the end of the post for the current make up of my portfolio and the last four weeks of trades

Thoughts and Review

The market was up and so not surprisingly I had much better performance in the last month.  Even so, I performed better than I might have expected given just how much uninvested cash I have sitting around.

It just goes to show how much of a drag the losers have been.  I’ve had my share of winners in the last year, but my performance has been flat because I also had a bunch of crappy losers.

It would be one thing if I couldn’t distinguish between the winners and losers ahead of time.  But when I look back at what has cost me over the last year, it has been pretty predictable; stocks where I am stretching for a trade, stocks where the value wasn’t clear, or stocks where my primary motivation was their attractive yield.

I’m going to make a concerted effort to prefer cash to those positions going forward.

In the last month I haven’t been actively looking at stocks.  I’ve been surprised by how quickly the market has bounced back and I remain skeptical that it can continue.  So with the exception of a couple of opportunities that I will describe below, I am will remain holding a high cash position until I see a reason to believe the market will sustain a move higher.

Takeovers!

I went a long time without a takeover and then in the matter of 6 weeks I got 3 of them.  First, both of my gold stock picks, Lake Shore Gold and Claude Resources, were taken over.  I bought Lake Shore at $1.12 and, after the takeover offer from Tahoe Resources to exchange each share of Lake Shore for 0.1467 shares of Tahoe, the stock now trades at a little under $2.  I bought Claude at 76c. Silver Standard Resources made an offer of 0.185 shares for every share of Claude.  At the time of the offer this amounted to $1.65.  I’ve sold some of each position and so have reduced stakes in both.  They have been solid performers and I am not unhappy.

A few days after the Claude Resources news my long held fiber-to-the-home play, Axia NetMedia, got scooped up by a private equity firm, Partners Group.   While I was happy to see a quick takeover of both of my gold stock positions, I was more divided by the news from Axia.

The problem is that the opportunity at Axia is much greater than the $4.25 takeover offer.  The company has a massive build out on its horizon in both France and Alberta.  Its becoming clear that fiber-to-the-home is not just a “higher speed-nice-to-have” but a necessary conduit to access all forms of media.  Axia’s cash flow stream once this build-out is complete will far exceed the price paid by Partners Group.

The problem is getting from here to there.  As Axia outlined on their last conference call, the capital necessary to realize the growth is a stumbling block for a $200 million Canadian company.  Axia warned on their last call that they were evaluating alternatives; that they would try to raise capital and if not consider offers by a larger entity with greater access to capital.  Partners Equity is a $50 billion investment management firm.  The only reason that a firm that large bothers with a takeover this small (Axia was a $200 million market capitalization before the offer and under $300 million at $4.25) is because they see significant upside.

Radisys, Radcom, Willden, and what the Market Misses

I’ve made a number of mistakes over the last couple of months but one thing I have done right is add to my positions in Radcom and Radisys in the face of market weakness.

Radisys has had a big move in the last month, moving as high as $4 from $2.50 in January.  I have added to my position on the way up.

The Radisys move over the last couple of weeks has been instructive.  Consider that during the fourth quarter conference call the company announced a large contract from a Tier I customer (from this transcript):

And finally, and maybe most important in this release is, we secured orders totaling approximately $19 million, the majority of which is contained in deferred revenue at year-end for our new data center product targeted at telecom and cable operators which we expect to launch more broadly in the coming months.

The stock moved a little but nothing that couldn’t be explained by what were decent quarterly results.

About three weeks later Radisys officially announced the product, DCEngine, with this press release, along with the name, details and comments from the Tier 1 customer, Verizon.

“As Verizon introduces open, flexible technology that paves the way for central office transformation, we look to companies like Radisys to assist us in that journey,” said Damascene Joachimpillai, architect, cloud hardware, network and security, Verizon Labs. “Network modernization will rely on solutions such as DCEngine that meet service provider needs with open source hardware and software technologies.”

The stock has moved straight up since this press release.

I think this demonstrates how poorly small cap companies like Radisys are followed and how slow the market can be to react to positive developments.  While I find it easy to second guess myself when what I construe as good news in announced and the stock doesn’t move, it is worth reminding myself that this isn’t always an indicator of importance.

With that in mind consider the following situations, Radcom and Willdan Group, two stocks I have had in my portfolio for some time, and Vicor and DSP Group, two new positions that I have added.  I believe all four of these situations represent similar “hidden in plain sight” opportunities.

Radcom

First, Radcom.  Radcom announced in early January that they had signed a contract with a Tier I customer for their next generation service assurance solution MaverIQ.  There wasn’t a lot of details provided, only that the initial phase of the contract would be completed mostly in 2016, and was worth about $18 million.

On their fourth quarter conference call in mid February the company gave more color.  They said the contract for NFV deployment was much bigger than the $18 million announced.  I’m pretty sure its with AT&T.

While they declined from giving guidance (historically the company has given virtually no guidance in the past so this was no surprise) they were willing to say that they expected their cash level to increase to $20 million from current $9 million by end of the first half of 2016, and that the increase in cash would be due to new revenue and not deferred payments.

They also gave an indication of just how big the deal with AT&T might be (my bold):

We just said that we received an $18 million initial deal out of a bigger deal. There is – it’s a large transformation, so it’s not – I think when you’re envisioning it, so I’m going to try to help you model it, right. So when you’re envisioning it, envision something between 2.5 to three year evolution for the very significant portion of the transformation, okay. It doesn’t mean that everything stops after three years, but envision that over the course of those three years, that number $18 million that we’ve disclosed is just an initial number out of something bigger, that’s bigger than that. And I can’t disclose the accurate numbers here. There is things that it depends on. There is – it’s more complicated just throwing other number out there, but it’s much bigger than $18 million, okay.

In addition they made it clear that they are ahead of the competition, witnessed by their comments about Netscout on the call.   They are in the process of trials  with other Tier 1 customers and believe that the next-gen service assurance market will be a “winner takes most” market where they can take the most.

Radcom is a $130 million market cap company.    They just said they can generate $10 million of free cash in the first half of 2016, that the contract they have announced is actually much larger than the announced number, and that they have a product that is significantly better than the competition.

If Radcom can win a couple more contracts in the next year the stock should trade significantly higher than it is now.  it probably gets bought out at some point.   In the mean time I think its quite a good growth story.  The market is really not paying a lot of attention to the “color” provided on the conference calls, and instead is focused on the rather puny revenue that the company generated in 2015 ($18.6 million) and the rather lofty valuation for the stock if you use that backward looking measure.

Willdan Group

Update: I got a response from Willdan IR and they say the revenue is not new revenue and is included in guidance.  I am still of the mind that this is an expansion of scope though and I am happily holding the position I added that I describe below.

Second example.  On their fourth quarter conference call, which I thought was quite positive in terms of the outlook provided for 2016, Willdan stated the following about their ongoing contract with Con-Ed:

We have the extension for 2016 at a value of approximately $33 million. We’re prepared to go beyond this baseline and expect to. The good news is that we continue to perform well for Con Ed and as a result we are in discussions to expand our scope of activity in the second half of 2016 to include more programs targeting customer segments, for example, more of Brooklyn, Queens and larger projects, 100 kW to 300 kW in our SPDI program, the type of programs that will include in the larger retail stores and warehouses and more real estate.

Note that the transcript is incorrectly referring to the SPDI program, which should read SBDI (small business direct install program).

Flash forward to Thursday. In a press release Willdan said the following:

Willdan Group, Inc. (“Willdan”)(WLDN) announced that it has been awarded a one-year, $32.8 million modification from Con Edison to an existing Small Business Direct Install (SBDI) contract.  Under the modification, which extends through the end of 2016, Willdan will be delivering approximately 86 million kilowatt-hours in electric energy savings to Con Edison’s small business customers throughout the entire Con Edison service territory. This includes the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and Westchester County, New York. Willdan described this forthcoming modification in its recent fourth quarter earnings conference call.

Based on the language used it seems pretty clear to me that the $32.8 million is in addition to the $33 million baseline contract.  They talked in the fourth quarter conference call about scope expansion with respect to the SPDI and this is scope expansion to the SPDI.

If I’m right, then the market hasn’t caught onto this yet.  Full year guidance is $170-$185 million and so $33 million is significant.

It’s possible I am wrong.  Maybe Willdan is just re-releasing old news.  I would be surprised though.  I have followed the company for some time and their management does not strike me as the sort to throw out a press release with a big number that is a rehash of an already disclosed contract.  It just doesn’t strike me as something they would do.

I think its equally possible that this was the Thursday before a long weekend, that there are maybe one or two analysts following the company, and so no one that was around to check the news cared enough to notice it.  Yet.

For what its worth I added to my Willdan position significantly.  What the heck; I’m buying the stock at the same price I was buying it at a few weeks ago before this announcement anyways.    What’s the downside?

DSP Group

I have been watching DSP Group for a couple of years and have owned it once in the past.  The previous time I owned it the story was primarily one of valuation.  The stock was trading at $7 and the cash and investments on the balance sheet accounted for nearly $6 of that.   But there wasn’t a clear story behind the business itself and so I sold the stock after it went a few dollars higher.

In the two years since the story around the company’s business has been evolving for the better.  The legacy business that they have, and for which I had a lack of excitement in my first endeavor, is the design and manufacturing of chipsets used in the cordless telephones.  It’s profitable and brings in decent free cash, but it’s an industry in decline to the tune of 10-12% annually in recent years.

This business has fallen off the cliff even more in the last couple of quarters.  Slower demand and an inventory build has led to 20% plus year over year declines.   These declines are expected to moderate back to trend in the second half of the year.  However the bad numbers drag down the overall revenue numbers for the company and are hiding some pretty decent growth businesses.

DSP Group has been investing in a number of new technologies that are starting to bear fruit.  Lets step through them briefly:

  1. HDClear – they have developed a new technology that will improve voice quality on next generation phones. On the fourth quarter call the company announced that they had a couple of wins and one of the wins was with a Tier I device supplier.  Turns out that is Samsung, where it has been designed into the S7.  They expect $2 million to $3 million in the first quarter and guided to lower double digit or high single digit revenue for the year.  When I look at some of the numbers I wonder whether it could be higher: according to this article from Reuters (here), DSPG should get 70c-$1 for each HDClear chip sold.  The Samsung S6 sold over 50 million units last year.
  2. VoIP – their VoIP business unit had $22 million in revenue in 2015. They have guided for 50% growth in 2016.
  3. IoT – Eight OEM’s and three service providers have launched products based on DSPG’s ULE technology. They have a ULE chipset that can be used in home automation, security, remote healthcare or energy management products.  They generated $3.8 million of revenue in 2015 and they think that can get to $5 million in 2016.
  4. Home Gateway – Home Gateway generated $14 million in 2015. It is expected to take a step back in the first quarter of 2016 with around $2.5 million of revenue, but this is going to climb as the year progresses and some new product launches, in particular a North American telecom provider.
  5. SparkPA – DSP Group announced a new product, a power amplifier to be used in the high end access point market. They don’t expect any revenues from this business in 2016 but it will ramp in 2017 and they consider the market they are tapping to be over $100 million

The company gave quite a bit of color about the revenue expectations for each of these businesses in 2016 on their fourth quarter conference call.  If you add up the expected 2016 revenue from the new businesses alone you get around $57 million.  These businesses grew at 35% in 2015 and the company said that in aggregate they expect higher growth in 2016.

When I think about a company with an $80 million enterprise value and $57 million of high growth revenue products, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I understand that overall the company’s revenue is not growing because of the out sized contribution of cordless declines.   But this business is profitable and therefore not a drag on the company, in fact it even helps fund the growth.

I think the stock should trade at least at 2x the revenue of its burgeoning new product lines.  This would be a 50% upside in the stock.  If the growth continues I would expect it to be even higher.

Vicor

I got the idea for Vicor from a friend who emails me regularly and goes by the moniker Soldout.  He gave me a second idea some time ago, called Accretive Health, that I didn’t initially buy and has done really poorly for the last half a year but that I added recently and will talk about another time.

As for Vicor, the company has a market capitalization that is a little under $400 million, $60 million of cash on its balance sheet and no debt.  The company sells power converters.   They offer an array of AC-DC and DC-DC converters that are used in telecom base stations, computers, medical equipment, defense application, and other industries.

Vicor has a history of high-end products and so-so results.  Their technological edge goes back to the 80’s, as they were the original inventor of the DC-DC brick converter, a device that allows the power converter to sit on the circuit board, which in turn allowed a single DC voltage to be distributed throughout the system and converted as required to lower voltages.  However they haven’t made a significant profit since 2010, and even then it was only 80c per share.

The story going forward is simple.  The company says that with recent design wins and product launches, in particular wins for new data centers that will utilize the VR13 standard (more on that in a second), as well as high performance computing, automotive and defense, they can grow revenue 3-5x in the next couple of years.  That estimate comes directly from management (from the third quarter call).

I think it’s fair to say that the array of products that have been introduced and the products which are about to be introduced, for which the development cycle has ended and we’re very close to new product introductions, that in the aggregate these products are more than capable of supporting the 3-by-5 revenue growth goal that we had set for ourselves, and with respect to which we suffered delays.

The increases in revenue in 2016 will coincide with the move to the VR13 class of processors made by Intel (known as the Skylake family of processors) and that are used in a number of high end computing applications.  These processors require power conversion levels that are easily addressed by Vicor’s high efficiency products.  Vicor has already had a number of design wins to be included in VR13 system designs.  The move to a VR13 based architecture has been slower than expected though, and the company has pushed back the revenue ramp from originally beginning in early 2016 to now occurring in the second half of the year.  The company describes the VR13 opporunity below:

VR13 is a class one processor, it’s a class of processors, and it’s processors that in many respects represent the significance that [inaudible] performance relative to the earlier class, which is VR12.5. Now this can be potentially look confusing because, as you follow Intel’s introductions with respect to the many different flavors of these devices, some of them play in a space where now we do not play, and other ones are targeted in particular to higher-end datacenter, more intensive — computing intensive applications. And those are the ones that are relevant to our revenue opportunity.

Vicor has significantly more design wins for the VR13 product line than they did for VR12.5 (again from the third quarter conference call):

To the extent our footprint with factorized power solutions across applications and customers will increase going from VR12.5 to VR13, this product transition is a mixed bag as it may cause near term softening in demand but should result in substantially greater total revenue as VR13 applications begin to ramp.  On a related note, we have started to see significant design wins for our new chip modules as point of load, board mount devices and in chassis mount VIA packages, which validates our expectations of market reception of these products.

Vicor’s technology differentiates them from competitors.  For example they have introduced a factorized power 48V architecture that includes components that can step down voltage directly from 48V to 5,3 and 1V without an intermediate 12V stage.  I believe they were the first company to come up with this solution and I have only seen one other advertising the capability.  Stepping down directly from 48V has higher efficiency and takes up less board space than existing architectures.  On the third quarter conference call the company said the following:

In my recent visits to customers in the U.S. and Europe, I confirmed spreading a rising level of interest in our factorized power 48-volt architecture and are now frontend solutions for automotive, datacenters, high-performance computing, and defense [ph] electronics applications among others.

The 48V products are particularly interesting to data center and server applications where power losses due to the intermediate step-down to 12V are undesirable.  Google, for one has championed a 48V server solution with a new 48V rack standard.  Vicor released a press release describing Google’s initiative:

Patrizio Vinciarelli, President and CEO of Vicor, commented: “By developing its 48V server infrastructure, Google pioneered green data centers. And by promoting an open 48V rack standard, Google is now enabling a reduction in the global cloud electricity footprint.”

The company has been building out their capacity and their existing cost structure can support the anticipated rise in revenue.

So we have significant design wins. We have been working furiously to establish automated manufacturing capacity. There’s been good progress to that end. You know, there’s equipment coming in, factory flaws, have been prepped for it, and we’re going to have a turn now in the very near future in anticipation of volume ramp in Q1 of next year.

If you step through how the numbers would play out and assume that revenues double at some point, a modest increase in SG&A and no improvement in gross margins as revenues ramp, you can see the leverage to earnings that quickly develops. Note that the company has significant net operating losses that will shelter them from tax:

forecast

Keep in mind that I’m not trying to exactly predict how earnings will ramp.  This is not intended to have the accuracy of a forecast.  Its intended to demonstrate the magnitude of the earnings leverage if the company can make good on their expectations.

I have a position in Vicor and expect the stock to move significantly higher if they can realize their revenue expectations.

Tanker Stocks

After watching the tanker stocks dramatically under-perform for the last two months I decided to take a closer look.  I concluded that you can attribute the negativity entirely to the order book for Suezmax and VLCC’s over the next couple of years.  The slide below is taken from the Euronav September 2015 presentation.

orderbook

Note that since that time the gross additions for Suezmax have fallen by 3 in 2016 and risen by 15 in 2017, while gross additions have risen by 5 in 2016 and 5 in 2017 for VLCCs.

The rule of thumb on VLCC demand is that every 500,000bbl/d of demand requires about 15 ships.  The new ships being added covers somewhere between 1Mbbl/d to 1.5Mbbl/d of additional demand.  This seems to be inline with 2016 demand expectations, which I believe are around 1.2Mbbl/d according to the EIA.

Some of the new build activity was likely a rush to procure ships before the introduction costly NOx Tier III compliance requirements which adds an additional $2 million to $3 million to the price of newbuildings (source here)

Adding it all up, this seems like a balanced market to me.  But the stock prices of the tanker equities are trading like a dry bulk type oversupply was about to occur.   I think the extremely low prices we are seeing in these stocks will be corrected at some point during the year, if for no reason other than the typical rate spikes that we see periodically.

I have taken a basket approach and bought positions in Teekay Tankers, DHT Holdings and Ardmore Shipping. Of all these names I think I like Ardmore Shipping the best because the order book for product tankers, where Ardmore has all of its fleet, is the least concerning but also think that in the $3 range Teekay Tankers seems particularly overdone.

These should be viewed as trades.  A move to $5 in Teekay, somewhere in the $11s for Euronav, $6.50 for DHT or $10 for Ardmore and I will cut them loose.  All of these price targets are well below where the stocks traded at the beginning of the year.  I just don’t think conditions have changed that dramatically to warrant the change in stock price.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last five weeks of trades.

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Week 223: Playing the Volatility

Portfolio Performance

week-223-yoyperformance

week-223-Performance

See the end of the post for the current make up of my portfolio and the last four weeks of trades

Monthly Review and Thoughts

I was on vacation for three of the past four weeks, so my portfolio changes have beeen minimal.  It was nice time away but the timing was unfortunate; the market swooned but bounced back before I got back.  There were plenty of opportunities I missed out on.

As it were, the only two I was able to capitalize on were Mitel Networks and New Residential.  In both cases I had old stink bids that got hit (a little over $6 for Mitel and $12.50 for New Residential).  But even in these cases, the positions I ended up with were much smaller than I might have had I been actively watching the action.  I’ll talk about Mitel a little later on.

I haven’t been tweeting a lot either, but I can’t attribute that entirely to being away.  I find my mind hesitating on any conclusion.  Its very difficult to tweet when each comment requires a couple of caveats a maybe and at least two possible scenarios.  There are only 140 characters.

David Tepper was on CNBC a few weeks ago sharing his thoughts about the current state of the market (click here for one of the clips).  Most of the summaries I’ve read focused on his comments about the S&P possibly going to 1,800.

What I took from the interview was uncertainty.   The direction of money flows are criss-cross, whether the tide is still coming in or starting to go out is more uncertain then it has been in recent years. When quantitative easing was in full swing there was a clear easing of liquidity, now its much more muddled.  And Tepper isn’t really sure where it will all settle out.  It might be higher, but he seemed to suggest that he thought it was more likely to resolve itself lower.

If David Tepper isn’t sure of path of least resistance, I bet you can say the same for the market.  And that to me says we are in for volatility.  Which is what we are getting.

If we are going to be in market where directionality is wanting and volatility rules then the right approach is to not believe too much too fast.  Sell the rallies and by the dips.

If I’ve done one thing right in the last four weeks it is that I have manifested these convictions in my trades.  I sold out of a lot of positions as the market rose last week.  I will be ready to buy them back if the market falls back far enough.  Without QE, without China, and without sensible leadership from any of the market groups, I think we simply flounder around aimlessly, at worst with a downward bent.

A Position in Mitel

Mitel develops and installs unified telephone systems for businesses.  They also provide white label back-end services and software for carriers so they can offer their own telephone products to business.

With Mitel’s legacy business, called the “premise” segment, they install a telephone platform on location, including the phones, connections and back-end.  Upon sale of a telephone system Mitel generates revenue from upfront hardware and software sales, and a small amount of recurring revenue for maintenance and support.

The premise business has been shrinking as companies migrate toward a cloud solution.  The cloud system Mitel provides is similar to premise in terms of functionality: the business gets a telephone platform that operates and connects its devices, provides unified voice mail, conferencing, all of the functionality you’d expect.  But the system runs through the cloud, so the hardware component is mostly absent.

With the cloud product Mitel receives recurring revenue for each end-user that is hooked up.  For their retail customers (those who purchase cloud services directly from Mitel) they receive around $45/month revenue per user.  For their wholesale clients (carriers who resell the service as their own) they receive somewhat less, but at a much higher margin as they are only providing the software and support.

In April Mitel expanded into a third segment, mobile, with their purchase of Mavenir for $520 million. Mavenir offers a 4G LTE solution to telecom carriers.  4G LTE is the next evolution of telecom transmission.

4G LTE is slowly being adopted by carriers for its functionality and costs. With respect to functionality, 4G LTE allows for something called Rich Communication, which makes it easier to do things like video calling, group messaging or video streaming over mobile.  As well 4G can deliver voice over the LTE connection rather than the legacy voice network which is expected to improve call quality.

For carriers the cost advantage is that once installed 4G LTE uses less bandwidth, which limits the requirements of additional spectrum that they have to buy.

Mitel’s shift to cloud and mobile means that the overall business model is shifting towards one of  recurring revenue through subscription/licenses.  Below is a snapshot of recurring revenue growth for each of the segments.

recurringrevs

The overall premise business is shrinking by about 5% to 8% per year as companies migrate to a cloud or hybrid cloud/premise solution.  The cloud business has been growing at 20%. Mavenir grew at 30% in the second quarter.

Overall the company has been growing only nominally as the premise business, which makes up 75% of revenue, declines have overshadowed the smaller, growing cloud and mobile businesses.  But this will change as the other two segments become larger.

The early indications are that the Mavenir acquisition is going well.  Second quarter revenue for the mobile segment (which is essentially Mavenir), was $45 million.

mobilerevs

On both the second quarter conference call and at subsequent conferences Mitel has noted an acceleration in Mavenir’s wins since they have been acquired.   The concern of many carriers with respect to choosing the Mavenir solution was that it was a small company with limited resources and a small global footprint.  Mitel’s acquisition has alleviated those concerns.  At the time of the acquisition Mavenir had 17 footprint wins with carriers.  Since April Mitel/Mavenir have won 10 more footprints including 1 major cable company in the United States.

Mitel provides the following roadmap for earnings in 2017.

earningsroadmap

If I use the above roadmap and assume that Mitel can continue 20% growth in both the cloud and mobile business and that the premise business declines at 5%, I can see Mitel earning over a dollar in 2017.

I only wish I would have bought more of the stock when it was in the $6’s.  The timing was unfortunate.  As it is, I am contemplating adding to the position if it dips back into the $7’s.

There are a couple of decent Seeking Alpha articles on Mitel here and here.

Wading into the Biotech Controversy

I decided to jump in with the sharks and take a position in Concordia Healthcare.  I also took a very small position in Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

Concordia has a similar business model to its much larger competitor Valeant.   Its a roll-up strategy.  In the last year they have acquired three pharmaceutical companies: Donnatal, Covis and AMCo.  In the process they have increased their revenue from a little over $100 million in 2014 to over $1 billion in 2016.  Below is a table of the companies acquisition pre-AMCo.

acquisitions

The stock has been hammered as Valeant has been singled out for pushing through price increases on many of its newly acquired drugs.  The comparison is not unwarranted as Concordia has much the same strategy as Valeant, raising prices on newly acquired drugs where the market has been inelastic.

In both the cases I haven’t been able to get a solid handle on the extent of the price increases.  Articles point to 20% plus increases in some drugs.  Others go on to point out that these list price increases are not representative of what is actually paid, and that the actual price increases are more modest.

Valeant is also suffering from its own opacity.  There is an excellent four part blog series that I would recommend reading before investing in either Concordia or Valeant.  It is available here.  The author illustrates numerous examples where Valeant had questionable disclosures and raises some questions about the performance of their acquisition post-integration. Most important though, it provides an overview of how to think about the valuation of both companies that I found extremely helpful.

Concordia is not quite as opaque as Valeant, though some of this is a function of its size.  Until very recently the company only owned a few drugs and depended heavily on Donnatal for its revenue.  So its not too hard to separate the contributing parts.

Unlike Valeant, I don’t see evidence that Concordia’s acquisitions have underperformed after being acquired. Donnatal, being Concordia’s largest acquisition prior to 2015, is illustrative.  Donnatal was purchased in May of 2014.  In 2013 Donnatal had revenue of about $50 million.  In 2014 Donnatal had revenue of $64 million.  In 2015 Donnatal is expected to bring in between $87-$92 million of revenue.

Of course some if not most of that revenue increase was due to price increases.  How reasonable are future price increases on newly acquired drugs?  Without a doubt the potential has diminished.  But I think that as the front page headlines fade the reality will appear less dire than it does now.  Keep in mind that the price increases are not comparable to the 5000% jack-up by Turing Pharmaceuticals an other aggressively managed hedge-fund like pharma providers.  Meanwhile Concordia is down 50% in the last month; surely the more robust expectations have been priced out of the stock.

The bottom line is that both Valeant and Concordia have real negatives but they have also experienced really dramatic falls in valuation.  Concordia was a $100 stock (Canadian) a few months ago.  Valeant was over 30% higher.

I can’t take a big position in Valeant because I can’t really figure out how well its doing and I think the difficulty of performing their roll-up strategy  increases with size.  With Concordia performance is easier to evaluate and they are still small enough to be able to find interesting acquisitions and fly under the radar of the news. I think the question is more one of: are the negatives priced in?  And I think there is a reasonable chance that is the case.

A Few Small Bets on Gold Stocks

Gold stocks have been so beaten up that it just had to turn at some point soon.

I also thought I saw was kind of a win-win situation with respect to the September rate hike decision.  Either the Fed was going to hike rates, which would mean the event had finally passed and the stocks could stop pricing in its inevitability, or they wouldn’t, in which case the legitimate question would resurface as to whether we are really passed the QE-phase.

Additionally, there has been a shift quietly occurring in the gold sector.  Many producers are getting their costs under control.  This has been helped by improving currencies for non-US based producers, by lower energy costs and by lower construction costs.  While the market seems to have a curious focus on valuing gold companies on the price of gold, which has been stagnant to down, the margin they make have been improving.

Let’s take Argonaut for example, which is one of the companies I took a position in.  Argonaut has 155 million shares outstanding and trades at about $1.50, so the market capitalization is about $250 million.  Debt is nil and the cash position is around $50 million.  They have been improving their performance year over year.

yoycomp

Argonaut produced cash flow from operations before working capital changes of $28 million in the first half of 2015 (cash flow including working capital was $38 million, but because changes in inventory are such a big and fluctuating part of a gold mining operation I think they need to be ignored).

Sustaining capital expenditures and capitalized stripping at Argonaut’s operating mines (El Castillo and El Colorada) runs at about $5 million per quarter.  So free cash (so before expansion and development capital) is around $35 million for the year.

Argonaut, and other gold producers like them, are not expensively priced at $1,100 gold.  That means there is no expectation of higher gold prices priced into them.  I think there is a reasonable chance we see higher gold prices as there is a reasonable chance that the economy continues to muddle.  These stocks are multi-baggers if that happens.

Oil

I have had some strong opinions on oil over the past few months but I don’t have a strong opinion now.  When oil was in the low $40’s I once again bet on a number of oil stocks including Crescent Point, Baytex and Jones Energy.  I went through some consternation as Goldman Sachs came out with their $20 oil call and I listened to the twitter universe decry the inevitability of a collapse in the oil price.  But in the end it all worked out, and I sold Baytex for a quick 50% gain, Crescent Point for a 40% gain, and Jones for a 20% gain.

With oil back in the $50’s I feel much more non-committal.  For one, I think that at least some of this move is due to geo-political concerns, which isn’t a firm footing to base a stock purchase.  For two, earnings season is upon us and there is at least some risk that the lack of drilling leads to downward revisions in production forecasts for companies like Baytex and Crescent Point.  And for three, pigs really do get slaughtered, so when the market gives you a big gain in a couple of months I have found it more often than not prudent to take that gain and run.

I will be a bit sick to my stomach if Baytex runs quickly back up to $8, or Crescent Point to $25 but this doesn’t seem like the sort of market to be trying to squeeze out the last 10%.

What I sold (and one more I added)

As I already said I sold out of most of my oil stocks.  I also used the run-up in tanker rates (they breached the $100K per day rate last week) to sell out of DHT Holdings in the mid-$8s and Ardmore Shipping at $13.  I took some quick profits on my small position in Apigee, which ran back up from $7 to $10 on just as little news as what precipitated its move down from the same level.  And I sold out of Alliance Healthcare after the rather bizarre acquisition of shares by a Chinese investment firm (another case where poorly timed holidays contributed to a larger loss than I might have otherwise taken).

I also had a bunch of stocks that I neglected to add to my on-line portfolio, mostly previously held names like Enernoc, Espial Group and Hovnanian.  I took small positions in these stocks during the last dip but sold out them of quickly as they rose.  My plan is to continue to do this sort of cycling, taking advantage of dips and selling the rips.

With that in mind, I did re-add one last position on the last downdraft that hasn’t recovered like I had hoped and that I think will at some point soon.  Air Canada.  The third quarter is mostly passed and there isn’t a lot of evidence that overcapacity from Air Canada and WestJet is going to hinder their performance.   The stocks has barely budged from $11 while other airline stocks soar.  I think it catches up some of this performance in the near term. (Note that I forgot to add this one to the online portfolio but will correct that when the market opens on Tuesday).

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

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Week 2015: Maybe its just a bear market

Portfolio Performance

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See the end of the post for the current make up of my portfolio and the last four weeks of trades

Monthly Review and Thoughts

I don’t flash sensational headlines about bear markets for the sake of getting attention.  I get about 100-150 page views a day and given the frequency and technicality of my writing I don’t expect that to increase materially regardless of the headline I post.

When I raise the question of whether we are in a bear market, its simply because even though the US averages hover a couple of percent below recent highs, the movement of individual stocks seems to more closely resemble what I remember from the early stages of 2008 and the summer of 2011.

A breakdown of the performance of the Russell 2000, which is where a lot of the stocks I invest in reside, was tweeted out this week by 17thStrCap and I think illustrates the pain quite well:

us market

The Canadian stock averages have been made respectable by Valeant and not much else. In a Globe & Mail article appropriately capsulizing my comment here called “The market is in much worse shape than the TSX index suggests” the following comparison was made between the TSX Composite and an equal weighted version of it that dampens out the Valeant effect.

tsxperformance

When the Federal Reserve ended its quantitative easing program last year I was concerned that the market might revert back to the nature it had demonstrated after first two QE endeavors.  But for a number of months that didn’t happen.  Stocks kept moving; maybe not upwards at the speed they had previously but they also did not wilt into the night.

I am starting to think that was nothing more than the unwinding of the momentum created by such a long QE program.  Slowly momentum is being drained from the market as the bear takes hold.

A week late

I am a week late getting to this update.  We were on vacation last week, which made it tough to write.  As well I was in no mood to ruin my vacation and write with my portfolio going through significant perturbations to the downside.

It is frustrating to see my portfolio doing poorly.  My investment account is being saved by two things:

  1. Shorts
  2. US stocks in Canadian dollars

As I mentioned last month I have had a number of technology shorts, some shorts on Canadian banks and mortgage providers, and hedges on energy and small caps via the XOP and IWM.  I actually took a bunch of the tech shorts off in the last few days for the simple reason that they are up so much.  I had some decent gains from INTC, SNDK, MU, ANET AVGO, RAX, HIMX and TSM.  I also ended my multi-year short on YELP.

I am covering my shorts because with earnings season over I think there could be a counter rally resulting from the news vacuum.   The China collapse angle has been beaten up and priced in; I could see the perception shifting towards the positive outcomes of the stimulus. And I’ve read that Apple is increasing orders for the iPhone 6s and 6s+ which may or may not be warranted (I suspect not) but could lift tech results in the short term.

I would put these shorts back on if the stocks recovered.  But I don’t feel like I know enough about tech to be pressing my luck on the names.  And as I reduce my long portfolio and raise cash, I feel less need to have what feel like stretched shorts to hedge those positions.

Without the benefit of short hedging this blog’s online tracking portfolio has done worse.  I’m down about 5.6% from a brief peak I hit in mid-July (when the tankers were at their highs) and I am essentially running flat for the last 4 months.

At the center of my frustration are tankers, airlines, small caps and the REITs.  So pretty much everything.  Let’s talk about each.

The Tankers

With oil oversupplied and refiners working at record capacity producing gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil, one would expect that the market would turn to crude and product tankers as a natural beneficiary.

No such luck.

The recent moves by my favorite tanker plays: DHT Holdings, Ardmore Shipping and Capital Product Partners, have been to the downside.  There was a brief move up towards the end of July that coincided with earnings (which were outstanding) but it was quickly unwound and now we are back to levels seen a few months ago.  While I sold some along the way up, it wasn’t (and isn’t) ever enough.

Ardmore Shipping

Particularly with the product tankers (specifically Ardmore Shipping), I just don’t get why the behavior is so poor.  I found it difficult to come away from their second quarter conference call with anything but an extremely bullish take on the company’s prospects.

The product market is benefiting from extremely strong refinery utilization and strong demand for products.  It is also benefiting from the move by Middle East nations to add refining capacity with the view of exporting finished products.

Ardmore had earnings per share of 30c.  They achieved those earnings with 18.4 ships. By the end of the year, once all of their newbuild fleet is delivered, the company expects to have 24 ships.  If newbuilds had been operating in the second quarter, earnings would have been 43c for the quarter.

In the second quarter Ardmore saw spot rates of $22,400 TCE.  So far in the third quarter spot rates are up again to $23,500.  At current $23,500 spot rates and with 12 MR’s in the spot market, EPS would be $1.85.  The stock has been trading at around $13.

Yet the stock sells off.

DHT Holdings

Likewise, I couldn’t believe it when DHT Holdings traded down to below $7 on Wednesday.  At least the crude tanker market makes some sense in terms of rates.  Voyage rates have come off to $40,000 TCE for VLCC ships.  This is seasonal and if anything rates have held up extraordinarily well during the slow third quarter.

DHT stated on its conference call that they had more than 50% of their third quarter booked at $80,000 per day.  The company has a net asset value of around $8.50 per share.

While I already had a pretty full position heading into the last move down I held my nose and added more at $7.15 (i never catch the lows it seems).  I’m not holding these extra shares for long though.  In this market having an over-sized position in anything seems akin to holding an unpinned grenade.

The Airlines

While Hawaiian Airlines has been an outperforming outlier, responding well to strong earnings, Air Canada has languished.  The stock got clobbered after the company announced record earnings and great guidance.

Air Canada reported 85c EPS and $591 million EBITDAR.  In comparison, BMO had been expecting 90c EPS and $618mm EBITDAR and RBC had been expecting 77c EPS and $558mm EBITDAR.

The story here really boils down to the Canadian economy.

Both WestJet and Air Canada are increasing capacity.  The market is worried that they are going to flood a weak market and pressure yields.  On the conference call Air Canada addressed the concern by pointing out that A. the capacity they are adding is going into international routes and B. they have yet to see anything but robust demand for traffic.

What’s crazy is that while investors have responded negatively, analysts have been bullish to the results.  I read positive reports from RBC, TD and BMO.   Only Scotia, which I don’t have access to, downgraded the stock on concerns about no further upside catalysts.

Its rare to see multiple upgrades accompanied by a 7% down move in a stock.  I would love to see one of the darling sectors, tech or biotech, respond in such a manner.

So the analysts are bullish and the company is bullish but right now the market doesn’t care.  As is the case in general, the market cares about what might happen if some negative confluence of events comes to fruition.  And it continues to price in those worries.

Its just a really tough market.

Trying to find something that works

Another contributor to my poor performance has been that what has worked over the last five years is working less well now.

In particular, over the last give years I have followed a strategy of buying starter positions in companies where I see some probability of significant upside.   In some cases I will buy into companies that do not have the best track record or are not operating in the most attractive sectors.  But because the upside potential is there I will take a small position and then wait to see what happens. If the thesis begins to play out and the stock rises, I add.  If it doesn’t I either exit my position or, in the worst case, get stopped out.

This has worked well, with my usual result being something like this.  I have a number of non-performers that I end up exiting for very little gain or loss, a few big winners, and a couple of losers where I sell after hitting my stops.

I’ve had a lot of winners this way over the last few years: Mercer International, Tembec, MGIC, Radian, Nationstar, Impac Mortgage (the first time around in 2012), YRC Worldwide, Pacific Ethanol, Phillips 66, Nextstar Broadcasting, Alliance Healthcare Yellow Media and IDT Corp are some I can think of off-hand.  In each case, I wasn’t sold on the company or the thesis, but I could see the potential, and scaling into the risk was a successful strategy of realizing it.

Right now the strategy isn’t working that well.  The problem is that the muddling middle of non-performers is being skewed to the downside.  Instead of having stocks that don’t pan out and get sold out at par, I’m seeing those stocks decline from the get-go.   I am left sitting on either a 5-10% loss or getting stopped out at 20% before anything of note happens.  Recent examples are Espial Group, Hammond Manufaturing, Versapay, Higher One Education, Willdan Group, Acacia Research, Health Insurance Innovations and my recent third go round with Impac Mortgage.

All of these stocks have hair.  But none has had anything materially crippling happen since I bought them.  In the old days of 2012-2014, these positions would have done very little, while others, like Patriot National, Intermap, Photon Control, Red Lion Hotels and most recently Orchid Island would run up for big gains and overall I’d be up by 20% or so.  Instead this year the winners still win, albeit with less gusto, but its the losers that are losing with far more frequency and depth.

So the question is, if what has worked is no longer working, what do you do?

You stop doing it.

I cleaned out my portfolio of many of the above names and reduced a couple of others by half.

So let’s talk about some of what I have kept, and why.

Health Insurance Innovations

HIIQ announced results that weren’t great but the guidance was pretty good.  Revenue came in at $23 million which is similar to Q1.  In the first quarter the company had been squeezed by the ACA enrollment period, but in the second quarter this should have only impacted April.  So I had been hoping revenue would be a touch better.

The guidance was encouraging though.  The company guided to $97-$103 million revenue for the year which suggests a big uptick in the second half to around $28 million per quarter.  In my model, I estimate at the midpoint they would earn 40c EPS from this level of revenue if annualized.

Also noted was that ACA open enrollment would be 90 days shorter next year, which should mitigate the revenue drag in the first half of the year.  And they appear to be doing a major overhaul of management – bringing on people from Express Scripts (new president), someone new to evaluate the web channel and a number of new sales people.

Its been a crappy position for me but I don’t feel like there is a reason to turf it at these levels, so I will hold.

Impac Mortgage

As usual Impac’s GAAP numbers are a confluence of confusion.  The headline number was better than the actual results because of changes to accretion of contingent expense that they incurred with the acquisition of CashCall.

The CashCall acquisition had contingent revenue payout and that payout expectation has decreased leading to lower accretion via GAAP.  Ignoring accretion the operating income was around $8 million which was less than the first quarter.

The decline was mostly due to lower gain on sale margins, which had declined to 186 bps from 230 bps.

While origination volumes were up 8% sequentially (see below) I had been expecting better.  The expansion of CashCall into more states was slower than I expected.  In the second quarter CashCall was registered in 19 states.  I actually had thought that number was 29.

q2volumesBy the third quarter CashCall is expected to be compliant in 40 states.  And really that is the story here.  Volume growth through expansion.

CashCall is a retail broker dealing primarily with money-purchase mortgages (mortgages to new home owners).  Therefore Impac is not as dependent on refinancing volumes as some other originators.

While it was not a great quarter the company still earned 70c EPS.  Its lower than my expectations but in absolute terms not a bad number.  On the conference call they said that Q3 margins looked better than Q2, and while July production was only about $700mm, they expected better in August-September as the pipeline was large.

I made a mistake buying the stock at $20 on the expectation of a strong second quarter.  But I think at $16 its reasonable given earnings power that should exceed $3+ EPS once CashCall is operating nationwide.

PDI Inc

The response to the PDI quarter is indicative of the market.  The company released above consensus earnings on Thursday along with news that their molecular diagnostic products were being picked up by more insurers.  In pre-market the stock was up 20% and it looked like we were off to the races.

It closed down.

Recall that PDI operates two businesses.  They have a commercial services business where they provide outsourced sales services to pharmaceutical companies looking to market their product.  And they have the interpace diagnostics business, which consists of three diagnostic tests: one for pancreatic cysts and two for thyroid cancer.

I suspect that the market decided to focus on the one negative in the report: reduced guidance for interpace revenues from $13-$14 million to $11-$12 million.  The guidance reduction was caused by a delay in receivables from some customers.  The metric by which to judge the growth of the actual operations, molecular diagnostic tests, increased from 1,650 in the first quarter to 2,000 in the second quarter.

But in this market you gotta focus on the negative.  At least on Friday.

Patriot National

When I bought Patriot they were a new IPO whose business was a platform that allowed them to procure and aggregate workers compensation policies for insurance carriers.  They sign a contract with a carrier for a bucket of policies with particular characteristics and then distributed that to their pool of agents, collecting a fee in return.

But over the last couple of months Patriot seems to be expanding that role to something more holistic.  Among their nine acquisitions in the past six months is an insurance risk management firm, an auditing and underwriting survey agency, an insurance billing solution platform and a beneits administration company for self-funded health and welfare plans nationwide.

Patriot describes themselves in their latest presentation as follows:

whattheyarePatriot has shown solid growth since their IPO, both through their roll-up strategy of small insurance businesses and organically.  They have increased their carrier relationships from 17 to 82.  They are expanding their relationship with a few big carriers like AIG and Zurich.  They have grown their agent pool from 1,000 to 1,750.

I’m not really sure what it was about the second quarter that caused the stock to sell-off like it has.  It was down 16% at one point on Wednesday, which is about the same time I tweeted that this is crazy and pulled the trigger.  I suspect its simply another case of a bad market, a run-up pre-earnings and a release that didn’t have anything clearly “blow-outish” about it.

Nevertheless the company provided guidance along with its results and for 2016 predicts 37% revenue growth and 55% earnings growth.  These numbers make no allowances for further accretive acquisitions, which undoubtedly will occur.

The stock trades at 6.5x its 2016 EBITDA multiple.  From what I can tell its closest peers trade at around 10x, and they aren’t growing at a pace anywhere near Patriot.  As I said I added under $16 and would do so again.

Orchid Island

I have followed Orchid Island for a long time having been an investor in its asset manager, Bimini Capital, in 2013.  I never bought into Orchid though; it seemed small, it always trade around or above book value and being an mREIT it seemed that you had to have more of an opinion on the direction of rates than I have had for a while.

But when the stock got below $8, or a 30%+ discount to book value, it just seemed to me like the opportunity was too ripe to pass up.

There have been a number of good SeekingAlpha articles by ColoradoWelathManagementFund on Orchid where he describes the MBS investments and also the Eurodollar hedges.  These hedges, which require a different GAAP accounting then other more commonly used hedges, seem to be at least partially responsible for confusing the market and leading to the massive discount to book.

However I don’t plan to wait this out until book value is realized.  When the stock hits double digits again I expect to be pulling the trigger.

Higher One Education

I bought back into Higher One after it got clubbed down to $2.20, where it seemed to be basing.  Upon buying the stock was promptly clubbed down again to below $2.

Like many other names I am not sure if the clubbing is warranted.  The company’s second quarter results were better than my expectations.

Adjusted EBITDA in the second quarter came in at $8 million versus $7.2 million in Q2 2014.  While the disbursement business EBITDA was down, both payments and analytics were up (46% and 38% respectively).  EPS was 8c which again was better than last year.

They lost 6 clients representing 86,000 signed school enrollment (SSEs), signed 4 new clients with 16,000 SSEs and renewed 59 clients with 675,000 SSE’s.  Their total SSEs were 5mm at the end of Q2.  Given the headwinds in the industry, Higher One is holding their own.

The overhang in the stock is because the DOE proposed new rules that ONE and others are pushing back on, with the biggest issue being that you can’t charge fees for 30 days after deposits.  From their conference call:

The way the rule is proposed every time there is a disbursement made into the students accounts, we’d have to freeze all fees for 30 days.

This of course would severely impair Higher One’s ability to be profitable with these accounts.

On Friday after writing this summary I decided to sell Higher One.  I’m waffling here.  I like the value but don’t like the uncertainty and if the market can knock it down to $1.90 then why not $1.50?  Uncertainty reigns king.  I might buy it back but its difficult to know just how low a stock like this can go.

My Oil Stocks

I’ve done a so-so job of avoiding the oil stock carnage of the last few months.  After the first run down in the stocks I added a number of positions in March and ran them back up as oil recovered to the $60’s.  Then oil started dropping again and in May I began to sell those stocks.

oiltweetBy mid-June I was out of all my positions other than RMP Energy.  By July I had reduced RMP Energy down to about a percentage weighting in my portfolio.

So far so good.

Unfortunately I started buying back into the oil names in mid-July, which was too early.  I bought Jones Energy in the mid to high-$7s but sold as it collapsed into the $6’s.  I tried to buy RMP again at $2.20 but got pushed out as it fell to $2.  I bought Baytex and Bellatrix which was just stupid (I sold both at a loss).  I’ve probably given back half of the profits I made on the first oil ramp.

In this last week I made another attempt but I am already questioning its efficacy.  I took small positions in RMP Energy and Jones Energy and a larger position in Granite Oil.  The former two have done poorly, while the latter had an excellent day on Friday that provides some vindication to my recent endeavors.

One thing I will not do with any of these names is dig in if the trend does not turn.  I’ve learned that commodity markets can act wildly when they are not balanced, and the oil market is not balanced yet.  So its really hard to say where the dust settles.

Even as I write this I wonder if I should not have just waited for a clear turn to buy.

These positions are partially hedged in two ways.  First, I shorted XOP against about a quarter of the total value of the positions.  And second by having so much US dollar exposure (still around half my account) as a Canadian investor they act as a bit of a counter-weight to the wild moves I can see from currency changes.

Jones Energy

One of the interesting things happening right now is that natural gas production is flattening, in many basins it’s declining, and yet no one cares.  When natural gas first went to new lows in 2012 many pointed to the declining natural gas rig count, believing prices would quickly bounce back.  They didn’t, in part because of the associated gas coming from all the liquids rich plays.

With the oil collapse much of the drilling in those liquids rich plays is no longer as attractive.  You have to remember that even as oil has fallen, natural gas liquids like propane and butane have fallen even further (ethane, which is the lightest of the liquids, is now worth no more than natural gas).  Many producers that were labeled as oil producers, because they produced liquids, really produced these lighter liquids that are now trading at extremely depressed levels.  Drilling in light-liquids rich basins (the Marcellus but also the Permian and parts of the Eagleford) has declined precipitously, and with it all of the associated gas being produced.

Meanwhile much needed propane export capacity is on the horizon and expected to arrive en-masse in 2016.

Jones Energy has too much debt (around $770 million net) but they also have oil and natural gas that take them out into 2018.  I think they are a survivor.  They have reduced their drilling and completion costs in the Cleveland from $3.8 million to $2.6 million.  They actually increased their rigs in the Cleveland in June, though I have to admit that might be dialed back again with the prices declining.  I bought back into the stock for the third time this year when it was clobbered on what seemed to be pretty good earning results (a beat and guidance raise).  Its a play on oil, but also on falling natural gas production, as natural gas makes up 43% of production and much of the associated liquids are light.

RMP Energy

I think that the miserable performance of this stock is overdone, but I have thought that for some time and down it continues to go.  RMP gets punished over and over again for essentially the same concern – Ante Creek declines.  This latest pummeling seems to have been precipitated by the disclosure that August volumes at Ante Creek were around 8,500 boe/d.   This is a decline from April volumes of 12,200boe/d but similar to end of June volumes.  Below is a chart from Scotia that details Ante Creek production:

antecreekvolumes

The April increase coincided with the new gas plant.  The subsequent fall was because the company drilled no new wells in the second quarter.  That production has stabilized from June to August without any new wells being drilled is encouraging.

But the market sees it differently.

Lost in the shuffle (with nary a mention in any of the reports I read) is that RMP has reduced its drilling and completion costs by 30% and that operating expenses were down from $5.26/boe to $3.89/boe.  Also forgotten is that the company is experiencing positive results at Waskahigan with it new frac design.

RMP trades at about 2x Price/cashflow and has debt of about 1.35x expected 2015 cash flows.  Its not levered like many peers and its not expensive.  These constant concerns about Ante Creek need to be priced in at some point.

Granite Oil

Of the three names I own, this is the one I am going to stick with the longest.  Granite has a $150 million market capitalization and $50 million of debt.  Their asset is a large position in the Alberta Bakken (350,000 net acres).  They can drill 240MBBL wells that are 98% oil for $2.8 million per well.

And they are beginning a gas injection EOR scheme that is showing promising results.  Below is company production as gas injection has increased.

alberta-bakken-eorThe results are well above expectation and show minimal decline even as the number of wells drilled has only increased marginally.

The result is some pretty strong economics even at lower oil prices.

economics

Granite management had been loading up on shares in the $4’s.  I did too.  The company announced earnings on Friday and is probably the only oil company to announce a dividend increase.  Like I said, this will be the last oil position to go for me.

Portfolio Composition

As I’ve said a number of times in the past, I sometimes forget to mimic my actual trades with the online RBC portfolio I track here.  After a while these differences get too out of whack and I have to re-balance.  I did some of that on Friday, and so the transactions on that day are simply me trying to square up position sizes.  I don’t have things quite right though; the cash level of my online portfolio is negative while my actual investment account is about 15% cash.  I looked at why this is and its the contribution of a number of positions that are all slightly larger in the online portfolio than they should be.  I didn’t have time to adjust everything exactly so I’ll just try to reduce this discrepancy naturally over time.

Click here for the last five weeks of trades.

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Week 202: Better Late than Never

Portfolio Performance

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week-202-Performance

See the end of the post for the current make up of my portfolio and the last five weeks of trades

Monthly Review and Thoughts

I am a week late getting this portfolio update out due to a really busy weekend that kept me from doing any writing.   Fortunately very little is pressing.  I only made a handful of portfolio changes and added two stocks, small positions at that.

Given the relative dearth of transactions, I thought this would be a good post to give an overall update on some of the stocks I own. I have stepped through my thoughts on a few positions, giving a brief summary of why I own them and what I expect going forward.

But before I do…

This week I picked up the book Reminscences of a Stock Operator.  It is a book that, in addition to which this blog received its name, I read again and again, rarely from start to finish, usually just a chapter starting at whatever page I happen upon.  It has is so much knowledge and so much of my own investment philosophy is tied to its precepts.

This week I opened the book to the chapter about Old Partridge, an fellow with a thick chest who carried a big line and had been around the block a few times.  Its quite a well known chapter, mostly for two comments made by Partridge.

The first is perhaps the most famous.   Being one of the senior members of the house, and given the propensity of speculators to look for an outside influence to sway their opinion, Partridge was often asked for his opinion on tips and whether they should be bought or sold.  When asked such a question he would always respond with the same answer: “You know, its a bull market”.

The weight of this statement is the simple recognition that in a bull market the general trend of stocks is up and if you are confident of the general condition of the market, you can’t go too terribly wrong.  The general trend will  lift most boats.  A precept to be taken seriously for sure.

The second well known passage occurs when Partridge is being presented with advice from a tipster who had given him an idea that had worked out well and was now suggesting that Partridge sell and wait for a correction. To this tipster Partridge replies that he cannot possibly take the man’s advice, for if he were to do so he might lose his position, and he could not bare to do that.

This is really a statement about our own fallibility and our own psychology.  Regarding the former, if the correction does not materialize, then where are is poor Partridge now?  Without a position and up against his own mind’s wrongness to get it back.

As for the latter, are we really so sure of our own emotions that we can stomach either A. buying back the stock at a lower price only to have it fall further or B. waiting too long for the bottom so as to miss it entirely and not being able to stomach a later purchase at a price more dear?

Anyone who has played with real money will know that the mind plays tricks in each of these circumstances.

So this is what is well-known and often quoted from the chapter.  But I was struck by a less often, if ever, quoted passage that is, in my opinion, equally or more important.  I will quote this exactly since it is less well known, with emphasis on one sentence in particular:

“In a bull market your game is to buy and hold until you believe that the bull market is near its end.  To do this you must study general conditions and not tips or special factors affecting individual stocks.  Then [when the bear market comes] get out of all of your stocks; get out for keeps!

Now step back and think about this for a moment.  Livermore is not saying that one needs to be cautious in a bear market, or flee to safety stocks, or go net short.

He is saying sell it all.

How easy would it be to sell every position tomorrow if you had to?  Forget about the logistics, think only of the psychological strain.  Could you really let go of every stock you owned?  Or are reasons already creeping into your mind about why this one or that one should be different, should be held onto, will persevere through the carnage.

I know those reasons are abound for me.

My point is this.  This is not a precept to be taken lightly, and not one to be first dwelled upon at the time when action is required.  To follow it requires training the mind to ruthlessly let go of all your former beliefs and go to 100% cash (or as close as is possible) when the time comes.  This is something that requires practice, and something I am trying to ingrain in myself right now.

With that said, on to the stocks.

New Positions – Enernoc and others

I had a few new positions in the last month.  I bought Enernoc (ENOC) I bought Chanticleer Holdings (HOTR) and I bought some gold stocks for another swing.  I’m not going to talk about the gold stocks.  I bought a few very small one’s on the recommendation of a friend that I agreed not to talk about on the blog and so I won’t.  I bought a few larger one’s for the online portfolio that I have talked about before and really have nothing new to add other than that gold looked ready to break-out (it did) and so I thought the stocks would follow (they did).

The idea behind Chanticleer came from this SeekingAlpha article, which I found to be quite good. But to be honest I bought the stock as more of a short-term momentum play than a long-term hold.  I have to spend more time on it to know whether it is anything more and if I do and decide favorably, I will write more about it later.

On the other hand I expect to hold Enernoc for at least the immediate term.

Enernoc operates two businesses, a legacy demand response power management business and an evolving energy intelligence software (EIS) business.

The demand response business is very lumpy, and that lumpiness leads to the kind of stock reaction that happened in February and again a few weeks ago.  The company partners with enterprises to provide load reductions in times of high power demand.  By pre-buying into generation capacity that is no longer required (and thus no longer needs to be delivered) they split the winnings from the savings derived thus profiting from the result.  The difficulty is that the company’s profitability depends to a degree on the volatility of the power market, which is cyclical and hard to predict.

This year Enernoc is experiencing this negative cyclicality in Western Australia.  In addition, a contract they have with PGM cannot have its revenue recognized until fiscal 2016.  This combination led to revenue guidance in 2015 of about $100 million below 2014.  The market didn’t like that.

It is the second business, an EIS software platform, that really has me interested.  The EIS platform is sold to enterprises and utilities and allows for the centralized monitoring, analytics, reporting and most importantly management of energy to reduce consumption and manage supply.  From what I can tell they have one of the leading solutions on the market.  And I really like the market.

As a general rule I’m not much for technology story stocks but this makes sense to me.  I believe that the electricity grid is in the early stages of a pretty profound transformation.  Anyone can pull up a graph of solar costs and see that while we are not there yet, we are headed for a world where solar will be cheap enough to be competitive in say the next 5-10 years, if not sooner.  As that time comes upon us the management of energy, both to and from the grid  and at the level of each individual enterprise or consumer, is going to be much more important.

Meanwhile, the evolution of the industrial internet means a general trend toward the greater use of measurement and analytics in all areas of business.  Energy consumption and distribution will be forefront of this shift.

Enernoc says that right now their primary competition to their EIS platform are spreadsheets and apathy.  I believe both of these impediments will become less viable as the electricity grid evolves.

I would urge readers to give a listen to at least the first 45 minutes of the investor day presentation, available here.  I thought they painted a compelling picture.  Please tell me if you think I’m on crack.

Of course one look at the stock and the numbers and they are terrible.  So terrible that I am not going to roll out any spreadsheets or models because they are just too ugly.  I think 2015 guidance was for -$3 per share in earnings or something like that; I can’t even remember the exact number because it was so bad that it wasn’t even  worth remembering.  Cash flow isn’t quite so bad because much of the earnings hit is due to the revenue deferral.  The company expects break-even cash flow in 2015.

The stock delivered crappy numbers in the first quarter and got smacked and it could easily deliver crappy numbers in the second quarter too.

Nevertheless I think at some point we see the EIS business overshadow the results.  The key metric is annual recurring revenue (ARR), which the company reports for both utilities and enterprises.  ARR growth will reflect annual subscriptions to the software.

In 2015 Enernoc is expecting 70% ARR growth for enterprises and 15-20% growth for utilities.  If they hit or exceed those numbers I don’t think the stock will continue in the single digits.

This is the kind of story that could get a silly valuation if things turn out right.   It is a somewhat un-quantifiably large opportunity that could be extrapolated to a big number if it starts to work.  Its not working yet and that’s why the stock is in the $9’s.  I think there is a reasonable chance that changes in the next 6-9 months.

Revisiting some existing positions

Air Canada

I made this my largest holding after first quarter earnings were announced.  Air Canada continues to get very little respect from the investor community.  With estimates that top $3 for the full year 2015, the stock trades at around 4x earnings.

Even after accounting for the relatively difficult business of air travel, and recognizing that free cash generation hampered in the near term by the build out of the fleet, I have trouble believing the stock isn’t worth more than this.

I was talking to a twitter acquaintance about Air Canada and WestJet.  He was making the very valid argument that WestJet was an easier position for him to make larger because it was A. less leveraged and B. had lower cost.

The conversation made me revisit a comparison I made of the two airlines.  One thing I looked at was analyst estimates for the two companies.

epscomp

Air Canada trades at a discount to WestJet on both and EBITDAR and EPS basis, but the discount is far greater with regard to the latter because of the leverage that Air Canada employs.  Air Canada has about $5.5 billion of net debt while Westjet debt is  around $1.1 billion.

I believe that the discount Air Canada receives is due to historical biases that are beginning to close.  There is evidence that Air Canada is taking market share from Westjet.  Costs are coming down and CASM declines nearly every quarter.

The nature of their network is that it is always going to be higher cost, but what matters are margins and margins have been increasing.   In the first quarter operating margins reached 6.3% and return on invested capital rose to above 15%.  If they continue to roll out their plan, expand margins while increasing capacity, it will be harder and harder to justify a 3-4x earnings multiple on the stock.

Axia NetMedia

Axia is one of about  five stocks that I rarely look at.  I have no intention of selling my position.  I have confidence in the long-term direction of management.  And I think they provide an important service to rural residents and businesses (high speed internet access) that has, if I were to steal the term of a value-investor, a wide moat.  I’ve also lived in Alberta all my life, grew up in one of the small towns that Axia provides service to and know the family of their CEO and Chief Executive Officer to be stand-up people.

The business is not without its faults: it requires large up-front capital expenditures to lay fiber to mostly out of the way places.  In Alberta it is dependent on a somewhat complicated agreement between Bell (which owns the fibre backbone connecting the 27 largest communities), the Alberta government (which owns the backbone to the rest of the communities) and Axia (which operates the backbone owned by the Alberta government as well as owning branches to individual communities and businesses off of the backbone).

The stock has appreciated over the last couple of years but still trades reasonably at around 7x EBITDA.  Once the build-out of fibre in France and Alberta is complete and capital expenditures trend into maintenance, the business should produce ample free cash.

Its a stock I hold without concern and add to on any of its infrequent dips.

DHT Holdings

This is my biggest tanker holding.  DHT owns a fleet of 14 VLCCs, 2 Suezmax and 2 Aframax vessels.  They have another 6 VLCC vessels scheduled for delivery in 2015.  I like that they have growth on the horizon and I do not feel like I am paying up for that growth.

In the first quarter DHT reported earnings of 25c.  They booked VLCC rates of around $50,000 per day and Suezmax rates of about $30,000 per day (note that in the press release DHT referenced $60,000 per day for its VLCC’s but this referred to spot exposure only).

Along with the first quarter results the company gave guidance on new builds, saying on the conference call that “under a rate scenario, say, $50,000 per day, we estimate that each of these ships will add some $3.7 million of additional EBITDA per quarter.”

Take a look at my model below.  Those 6 additional ships, delivering $3.7mm of EBITDA at $50,000 day rates, are going to double earnings to around 50 cents per share quarterly.  This is comparable on a per share basis to Euronav, yet Euronav trades at $13.

newforecastLike the other tanker companies reporting earnings DHT had mostly positive things to say about the future.  The company pointed to a 2 year plus wait to get VLCC delivered from Korean or Japanese yards.  They also don’t think the strength in the tanker market has anything to do with contango – instead that it’s a function of higher demand, longer routes and limited order book bringing on little new supply.

Empire Industries

I was really happy when I found out that the Canadian government had decided to support the 30 meter telescope.  As I’ve written in the past, Empire had significant contract work lined up for the telescope, but the work was contingent on financial support for the telescope from the government.    The company expects the 30 meter telescope contract to add about $80 million to their backlog.

Even without the $80 million, Empire’s backlog has been increasing.  Backlog at the end of the first quarter was $155 million versus $93 million at the end of the fourth quarter.  The increase in backlog due to orders for the Media Attractions group, which continues to make inroads in Asia and the Middle East for its amusement park rides.

So with all this good news, why is the stock languishing?  Oil.   The Hydrovac truck business is getting squeezed on volumes and margins and the steel fabrication segment is weak:

hydrovacandsteelfabbizSo the problem with the stock is that some business are doing quite poorly.  Even with positives from the telescope revenue things remain a bit up in the air because of these other lagging businesses.

Finally I have read on Stockhouse that there is the Chinese seller trying to get out of their position.  I have no idea whether this is true, but it makes some sense particularly given the pressure on high volume that the stock experienced after earnings.   Earnings day is often a good opportunity to liquidate in these low volume venture stocks.

Teekay Tankers

This was my third largest tanker position (behind DHT Holdings and EuroNAV), but after being downgraded by Deutsche Bank on concerns about supply in the second half of 2016, I hemmed and hawed, modeled what looked like it was going to be a very strong quarter and after a whole lot of consternation, I added to my position.

I actually got a copy of the Deutsche Bank report thanks to one of my very helpful twitter pals.  It’s a reasonable report.  Deutsche Bank expects higher supply growth in 2016 than they had previously estimated.  This is because of a pull-in of 2017 new builds into the second half of 2016, and lower scrapping of ships.

I don’t totally agree with their numbers; in one case in particular they assume scrap of 0.5% for 2015 and 2016 while the actual year to date numbers for 2015,which have been extremely low, are 0.3% over the first four months.  It seems a little to pessimistic.  Nevertheless the themes are reasonable.

The question I wrestled with through the day on Tuesday was whether the tanker rally would end prematurely on the basis of an expected re-balancing of ship supply in year and a bit down the road.  My conclusion was that it’s too far to see; too far to expect the market to discount.

What is the new equilibrium price of oil?  What is the new demand level at that price?  How many new-builds are going to get out on the ocean?

We are already seeing the EIA increase oil demand estimates and we know they are typically behind the curve.  We are already seeing costs come down for oil services, suggesting a lower price of oil will deliver similar margins.  Deutsche Bank assumed a 38% non-delivery of the order book.  This is probably reasonable, but after listening to comments from Euronav and DHT about the composition of the order book its conceivable that the number could be higher.

I get the feeling that Deutsche Bank, and presumably many others, are basing their conclusions on the narrative that tankers are a fragmented industry that has never and will never get their shit together.  The problem with this narrative is that its not really historically accurate.

Below is a chart from the Euronav roadshow giving historical VLCC rates, followed by one from Teekay Tankers investor day giving historical Suezmax and Aframax rates:

vlccrates

historicalratesThe VLCC, Suezmax and Aframax markets went through a 4 year period, from 2004-2008, where rates were extremely profitable.  In fact they were higher than today.  Yet the narrative is that at the first sign of positive earnings, tankers will flood the market and so the current cycle will be 12 months tops.

I’m not so sure.

I’m not suggesting that the questions and history paint a clear picture for tankers.   I’m simply suggesting the picture is not convincingly dark.  And the valuations, in particular Teekay, reflect a lot of darkness.

Rather than give you my model for Teekay, just take a look at the following slide of the company’s cash flow.

freecashflowThe company’s cash flow increases by 57 cents for every $5,000 increase in day rates.  Its extraordinary leverage.   Now albeit their definition of “free cash” is a little suspect – free cash for tankers is basically, “we’ve bought all our ships and don’t plan to buy any more”.  But nevertheless a cash flow multiple  of 3x, when that cash will go straight to the balance sheet in one form or another absent further ship purchases, seems inexpensive to me.

Extendicare

Sometimes you just have to wait out the speculators.  When Extendicare announced the sale of its US assets in November, my first instinct was to sell my position.  It was a poor deal, though maybe not as bad of a deal as the market reaction insinuated.  I did a lot of work in the days after the deal, basically distilling what remained of the thesis into a simple observation: the current market price at the time (around $6.50) was essentially assuming that Extendicare did nothing right going forward: that they remain underleveraged and that they don’t put the cash from the deal to work in a accretive manner.  When I thought about the chances of this happening, I saw it as a real possibility, but not a certainty.  I also suspected that there were some very large shareholders who had been betting on a positive outcome to the US divestiture and they were now forced to sell shares of an illiquid stock with no momentum at the end of the year.

The picture was thus one of abnormal and perhaps unwarranted weakness. Thus I concluded that I would hold onto my shares and in fact added to them when the stock got as low as $6.20.

Since then we have had a recovery.  Extendicare has proven that it can put the cash proceeds towards a positive end, having purchased Revera Home Health homecare business for $83 million.  The acquisition is expected to add 10 cents to Extendicare’s AFFO.  This has allayed concerns that the dividend may need to be cut to what is sustainable for the Canadian only operations.  Also in the first quarter the company bought back 978,000 shares, or a little over 1% of shares outstanding.

Perhaps most importantly, the Ontario government amended its subsidies for redevelopment at the of February.  The base subsidy for large homes was increased to $162,000 per bed from $121,000 per bed over a 25 year life.  Also the revised design standards no longer include LEEDs certification, which should bring down construction costs.  Below is the outcome of Extendicare converting 1,876 of its Class “C” beds (the lowest type) into 1,972 Class A beds.

newontsubsidies

The amendment of subsidies is a big deal for Extendicare.  The vast majority of their beds are in Ontario.  When asked on the call whether the latest changes by the government would make it economically attractive to redevelop their Class-C beds, Extendicare responded that while there are still practical details to iron out, in theory the economics are there.

Given that Extendicare now has multiple options for its cash including further acquisitions in the homecare segment, redevelopment of existing Class C facilities, and new developments in the independent living/assisted living space, investors can begin to look forward at possibilities rather than backward at missed opportunities.  I’m holding my shares.

Hammond Manufacturing

Taking the what they do statement right from their MD&A: “Hammond Manufacturing Company Limited manufactures electronic and electrical enclosures, outlet strips and electronic transformers that are used by manufacturers of a wide range of electronic and electrical products. Products are sold both to OEM-direct and through a global network of distributors and agents.”  Simple business. No real moat.  But the type of business that can see a very positive impact from a change in their cost structure such as that brought on by the current weakness in the Canadian dollar.

The stock has so far been a bit of a disappointment.  They had a great quarter on the top line – revenue was up to $30.5mm from $24.5mm in 2014, which is inline with my thesis that they would be one of the manufacturers to benefit from the lower Canadian dollar.  The revenue gain was partially due to foreign exchange gains and partly due to market share gains.

Income from operations was also up significantly:

q1

The problem with the quarter, and what was unexpected for me, is that they had a really big foreign exchange loss of $623,000 versus $145,000 last year. $380,000 was due to a USD loan for their US subsidiary. This really depressed the bottom line.

Excluding the foreign exchange loss, Hammond actually didn’t have a bad quarter.  The stock remains reasonable.  Below are the trailing twelve months results for the company.  The free cash generation (below computed before changes in working capital) is compelling and I see no reason for a return to parity for the Canadian dollar and thus no reason to think this level of cash generation can’t continue.  I am considering adding to the position, even as I am down fairly significantly on it.

ttm-results

Euronav

Euronav had a very interesting conference call, which unfortunately has no transcript via Seeking Alpha, so it is difficult to quote.  I’m paraphrasing.  Euronav said they believed we are at the beginning of a multi-year run for the market.  They see the catalysts for this run being:

  1. limited vessel supply
  2. increasing demand for oil
  3. rising tonne-miles as cargo moves over greater distances and ships reposition over greater distances

One of the most interesting points that Euronav made, and one that I had not heard before, is that there is a significant amount of vessel tonnage available for sale.  They estimated that 10% of the tanker fleet is up for sale from private owners, distressed entities, and opportunistic speculators.  Of that 10% a significant number of the vessels are in the 0-5 year range.  The point here is that the quality of available fleet is not far off of new builds, and so if capital begins to come into the tanker market looking for a home, there are plenty of places for it to go without adding to supply via new build orders.

Another interesting comment that Euronav made was that you need 40 new build VLCCs per year to keep up with oil demand.  Returning to the Deutsche Bank analysis I mentioned in my Teekay Tankers remarks, Deutsche Bank is estimating an increase in 30 VLCCs in 2016, followed by only 10 in 2017.  Again, I’m not so sure that their analysis is as bearish as their price target changes suggest it is.

Euronav’s bottom line is the same one I have already stated for DHT Holdings and Teekay Tankers.  Its too cheap if you think rates in the current range can sustain themselves.  The company can generate earnings north of $2 per share at current rates (earnings were 55 cents in the first quarter).  At $13, which is where I was buying it, it trades at 6x earnings.   If that multiple goes to 8x you are looking at a 36% upside in the price.

Stocks I sold

I exited a number of positions in the last month.  I sold out of Handy & Harman (HNH), Ellington Financial (EFC), Hooper Holmes (HH), Amdocs (DOX), Ardmore Shipping (ASC), Impac Mortgage (IMH) and Avid Technologies (AVID).

In the cases of Amdocs, Ardmore, Impac and Avid, I sold out because the stocks had risen to a level that I thought closely reflected a fair price.   With Impac Mortgage in particular I caught the top with the on-line portfolio sales, but I regret to say that in my real dollars portfolio I only sold half at $27, and had to let go of the rest at $22.  I may revisit Ardmore in the future if it dips but I just have so many shipping plays in my portfolio right now I thought it prudent to take profits on some of them.

Handy & Harman and Hooper Holmes both just weren’t working out, I was down about 20% and so I had to make a decision of what to do.  I decided to cut the positions because I am simply less certain about their future direction than I am with other stocks in my portfolio.

I still own Ellington Financial in my other account where I hold mostly dividend payers.  I just didn’t think holding a stock where the upside is mostly yield makes much sense in a portfolio that does not track dividends.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last five weeks of trades.

week-202

Week 197: “Make your money while you can”

Portfolio Performance

week-197-yoyperformance

week-197-Performance

See the end of the post for the current make up of my portfolio and the last four weeks of trades

Monthly Review and Thoughts

On Thursday, while I was surfing around the web over lunch hour trying to figure out what I wanted to write about this month, I stumbled on a YouTube clip of Neil Young being interviewed on Charlie Rose. He describes what he thinks of Bob Dylan’s song writing (the quote in the title of this post is attributable to the Dylan song Rambling, Gambling Willie).  Young observes the source of inspiration that leads to a great song.

The argument about whether investing is an art, a science, or just a mundane business is one that depends as much on who is making the argument as it does on an objective reduction of its reality.  Investing has elements of all three and it’s essence is whatever one associates with best.  I stand firmly in the camp that it is an art, and I think that for the kind of shooting star sort of performance I try to achieve it is that hard to put your finger on source of inspiration that leads to out-performance.

Maybe I am being too bold to analogize the making of a great song and the development of a great investment idea but as I stand back from both I do note some common characteristics. Both tend to be built on their historical predecessors, both stand in deference to the structure they abide in and, when done correctly, both live within the bounds of their genre’s common sense.  At the same time each has to extend outside of that imposed limit just enough to see what is not easily seen, but not so far as to drop off the cliff of abstraction or dogma.

Most importantly though is that both are built upon a sensibility, one that is hard to put your finger on but nevertheless is there.  Being more of a word guy, I can describe this best with lyrics; when you hear something that is right, you just know it, even though you might not know why.  You can try to break it down to the linguistic structures, cultural context and the feelings it invokes, but I don’t think you will ever quite get to understanding.  The right phrase in the right spot is right because it just clearly is, and if you happen to be possessed by the inspiration that Neil Young describes you will discern that and act accordingly.

The sensibility on which an investing idea is based is no less complicated, no less abstract, and I would argue no less difficult to reduce down to its essence.  But if you are in the groove, you just know that a good idea is good before you even know why.

Two Interesting BNN Segments… the first on the market

I listen to a lot of BNN clips.  I will have them on in the background as I’m doing research.  Most of it is not helpful and I’ve become deft at tuning out the noise.  But every so often I hit upon a gem.  I came across a couple of those in the last month, with the first being this segment on market performance.

I can’t figure out how to embed a BNN video for the life of me so here is the link to the segment.

The theme is the performance of small cap stocks, and in it Jonathan Golub describes his thoughts on the small cap sector.  The really interesting part is in the last minute, where Golub notes that in the average year that the economy is not in a recession you will see 16-18% gains in the stock market.  But when we hit a recession you “lose all your chips” and the average loss is 35%.

A couple of points here.  First, this exemplifies something I have been saying, that one has to get while the getting is good but be ready to get out when it ends.  There is no hiding when the tide goes out.

Second, this is relevant to what we are seeing right now.  All of the gnashing of teeth over valuations and the lack of a correction forgets that the stock market rarely makes a sustained move down when the economy is expanding.  But once the economy begins to contract the moves down are exaggerated when compared to the amplitude change in growth.

In the mean time there are always ways to justify valuation. Right now the most common one is that with interest rates low, inflation expectations non-existent, so ergo a future dollar is worth more than it has been in the past.  Therefore, paying a higher multiple for that future dollar of earnings is justified.  This logic, which like all justifications contains both germs of truth and seeds of failure, can be used to rationalize stock prices to these levels and probably a lot further.

… and the second on oil

Over the last couple of months I have picked away at position in oil stocks on weakness and at this point have accumulated positions of a decent size in RMP Energy (RMP), Rock Energy (RE), Canaco (CNE), Jones Energy (JONE) and most recently DeeThree Energy (DTX).

There are still plenty of analysts and much of the twitter universe posturing for a further decline in oil and with it a commensurate drop in the oil stocks.  I don’t know about oil, it may fall if the storage concerns are real, or it may not, but I do think that barring some further shock (ie. a demand shock brought on by a recession) we have seen the lows in the stocks.

It doesn’t make sense to me that oil stocks (at least the one’s I own) will fall to new lows even if the price of oil does drop further.  I understand there are leveraged companies that can ill afford further whittling of their cash flow and for those names sure I can see further declines.  But for well capitalized companies, I just don’t buy the idea that further panic will engulf them and send them down further.

To think that is to embrace the idea that an oil stock price should be based on the current price of oil.  That’s crazy.  Nothing in the stock market is priced off of current prices.  If it was, shipping stocks would be trading at 3-4x what they are, Pacific Ethanol would have gotten to $50 for crashing all the way back down to $5, I could go on.  Oil stocks, like everything else, go up and down based on the expectation of future business.

Turning again to a BNN clip, Eric Nuttall was on Market Call last week and he had some interesting observations about the oil market.

The four important data points that Nuttall provides are:

  1. US company capital expenditures are expected to be down 40-50% in 2015.
  2. Production has already seen monthly declines in Eagleford and Bakken
  3. The natural decline in the US is 2mbbl/d per year
  4. Weatherford was recently quoted of  saying that international capital expenditures have fallen by 20-25% and that as a result they expect production ex-US and ex-Canada will fall by 1.5mmbbl/d in 2016

I think there is a growing understanding that prices are too low to support stable production levels worldwide and that we will soon (in the next 9 months) see the impact of this as supply turns down.  Without getting into too many details, I have seen enough declines of Eagleford and Bakken wells to know that these fields are not eternal springs of flowing oil.  We are already seeing the first signs of declines in these fields.  And the natural gas analogy is flawed; there is no such thing as associated oil, so there will be no analogy to the associated gas (and of course the Marcellus) that led to the strong production from natural gas even as rig counts fell.

What I find ironic is that many of the same names who derided oil companies for not producing free cash at $100 are somehow confident that production will remain high at $50.  It seems like a rather bizarre confluence of opinion to me.

But most investors are beginning to realize that well financed oil companies will soon be making significantly more cash flow than what is implied by plugging in the current spot.  So I don’t think we see new lows in names like those I own, or if we do it is going to be an operational catalyst (see RMP Energy for an unfortunate example), not a general malaise.

Portfolio changes

I did not make a lot of portfolio changes over the last month.  The few things I did do was to add two more shipping companies to my basket of tanker stocks, and a cheap little hotel REIT trading well under net asset value.  I will discuss each below:

Ardmore Shipping

As I watch my tanker trade finally start to pay off, in the last month I added three new tanker stocks, Euronav (EURN), Tsakos Energy (TNP) and Ardmore Shipping (ASC).   There was a good Seeking Alpha article on Tsakos, which is available here, and I’m still stepping through my research into Euronav, so I will focus my discussion here on Ardmore.

Both Ardmore and Tsakos allowed me to dip my toes into the product tanker market.  Up until now I have focused my purchases on crude tanker companies.  However, with oil prices low demand for oil products (gasoline, heating oil, jet fuel and the various chemical product inputs) should be strong.  While Tsakos Energy has a diversified fleet with 30 crude tankers and 29 product tankers, Ardmore is a pure play on the product tanker market with a fleet consisting of only MR tankers.

In addition to the demand story, Ardmore listed the following reasons to expect strengthening demand in the product tanker market.

demanddynamic

The following chart is from the Capital Product Partners corporate presentation, and it illustrates the extent to which point 2 from above is asserting itself:

USexportsOn the supply side, Ardmore sees demand outstripping supply in the medium term:

supplydynamic

So the supply/demand situation is favorable.  But what really drew me to Ardmore is their valuation.  The company provided the following charts on Page 7 of their January presentation.

earningspotential

Right now MR spot rates are above $23,000 per day.  From the above slide, the company is saying they expect to earn at least $2.55 per share with rates at current level, and the stock trades at a little more than $10.

Ardmore owns and operates exclusively MR2 tankers (mid-range tankers).  They have a fleet of 24 tankers including 10 new builds that will delivered throughout this year.  The fleets average age is only 4 years.  Their operating fleet is almost entirely on spot or short term charter.

fleetWhile Ardmore looks cheap on an earnings basis they are also reasonable on a net asset value basis.  According to their January presentation Ardmore is priced at a 20% discount to net asset value.

I still like the crude tanker story more than the product tanker story, and indeed my bet on tankers is severly skewed to the crude tanker side (I know, DHT, TNK, EURN, FRO, and NAT on the curde side).  Nevertheless I do think there is upside in both and that Ardmore is a solid way to play the product tanker side.

Capital Product Partners

While Capital Products Partners was one of the first tanker stocks I bought, but I haven’t written much about them and so, since I’m talking about the product tanker market in this post, I wanted to give them a bit of space here.

Capital Product Partners differs from the other tanker plays that I own in that it is not a direct play on the spot market.  Every vessel that the company owns is chartered out for the long term, with some of those charters lasting upwards of 10 years.  Capital Product Partners also differs from the other positions in that it is a dividend play.   The company distributes virtually all of its available cash flow in dividends and markets itself to dividend investors.

Yet even though the company has very little exposure to the spot rate, I still look at this as a play on nearterm tanker market fundamentals.  The idea here is that as rates prove themselves durable, investors will become more comfortable with the dividend sustainability of the company and perhaps anticipate increases to the dividend.  The shift in sentiment should lead to capital appreciation, which when combined with the 10% dividend that the company pays will need to a nice overall return.

Capital Product Partners is primarily levered to the product market.  In all they have 18 product tankers, 4 suezmax tankers, 7 containers and 1 capesize dry bulk vessel all with period employment.  Their fleet is fairly young with an average age of 6.5 years (their MR fleet is on average 8.3 years old). In addition they have 3 container vessels and 2 MR tankers being delivered in 2015, all of which will be on long term contract:

newvessels

In their corporate presentation, the company provides a chart giving some historical perspective to current MR rates.  As you can see, MR spot rates are higher now than they have been in some time, and since the chart was published, rates have gone higher still and are now in the $25,000 per day range:

MRspotBelow is a table illustrating the expiry of charters for Capital Product Partners.  Notice how the expiry of most of the product tankers occurs in 2015, which should result in rate hikes to the majority of the renewals, whereas the containerships and the dry bulk vessel, for which the market is currently in excess and rates very soft, are chartered for years in advance.

charters

I have some questions about the long-term sustainability of the dividend, but I don’t think I will be sticking around long enough in the stock to warrant too much consternation over them.  They’ve been paying a dividend for a while, so from that perspective things look good,  but I still am uneasy over the long term in the same way that I am around many of these capital intensive businesses: Asset purchases are lumpy and large and so free cash generation follows suit which makes it really difficult to discern exactly what the average free cash is over the long term.

For example cash flow from operations over the last 3 years has been $125mm, $129mm and $85mm respectively.  Vessel acquisition and advances less proceeds has been: $30mm, $331mm and -$20mm (in this year dispositions exceeded acquisitions and thus resulting in negative overall expenditures). Clearly the company’s free cash has whipped wildly over this time.   Taking the three year period fas a whole, free cash (before dividend) has been essentially nil at -$2 million.

Now some might look at this as a red flag and something to be avoided, but I think it fits quite well into the thesis (which is short enough in duration to not worry too much about the long-term sustainability).  No doubt investors are assigning the 10% dividend in part because they are evaluating the same free cash flow numbers I am and questioning the sustainability of that dividend.  If however charter rates do show themselves to stay high for the short-term (lets say the next 12 months), this concern will be alleviated and backward looking free cash flow models will be thought to be inadequately pricing in what will come to be viewed (by some at least) as a secular change in rates.

Whether the rate change will be truly secular is up for debate; I really have no idea what rates will be in 2 years let alone the 10 or 20 years relevant for modeling Capital Product Partners sustainability and I think that anyone who does better have called the downturn in the oil price 2 years in advance to have credibility in that prediction.

What I do know is that when the price of a commodity changes, even if turns out to be for a short time, there consensus perception of that commodity shifts at the margins, and that shift in perception can make very large differences in the valuations of those equities priced off of the commodity.  Such is the nature of the world we live in and rather than gnashing one’s teeth at the uncertainty, better to take advantage of it and make a few bucks on the euphoria.

Sotherly Hotels

I have been on the look-out for some safer investments.  As much as I enjoy speculating in tankers and airlines and oils, these remain short-term plays.  I doubt I will have investment in more than one or two of these stocks in a years time.

I came across Sotherly from a SeekingAlpha article available here.  Its written by Philip Mause, whom I have been following for a while and of whom I have gotten a number of solid income oriented investment ideas from.

The income angle of Sotherly is modest, the company pays about a 3.5% dividend, but they have a exemplary habit of increasing that dividend on a quarterly basis. I’m also pretty sure they could pay out a significantly higher dividend if they chose to. The dividend amounts to about 25% of AFFO, and they expect AFFO to grow from $1.09 per share in 2014 to $1.21 in 2015.

The stock trades at a significant discount to other hotel operators as the chart below illustrates.

comparison

I think that the reason the stock trades at such a discount is its size; with 10.5 million shares outstanding and another 2.55 million units, at $7.74 the market cap of Sotherly’s is only about $101 million.  Volume is typically light and so its too small and too illiquid for most institutions.  But the smallish dividend likely limits its attractiveness to the retail contingent.  It is in this no-mans land that there is the opportunity.

The company’s stable of hotels is situated across the south east United States:

hotels

In total these hotels have a total of 3,009 rooms.  Looking at this on a standard EV/room basis, rooms are priced at $112,662 per room, which isn’t particularly cheap.  However this is mitigated by fact that these are mostly high-end hotels – ADR and RevPAR are quite high:

hotels2

On an EV/EBITDA the stock trades at 11.7x and on FFO basis they trade at 5.7x.  The company guided AFFO for 2015 of $1.24 per share and on the conference call when confronted with some discrepancy in the high and low estimates for their AFFO guidance they were forced to admit that they were being conservative on the high end.  Again turning the the company presentation, they put the “inherent value of assets” at over $17 per share:

NAV

On the last conference call management was adament that they would not issue equity at these prices and that they would need to see at least $10 before reconsidering that position.  While they have some exposure to Texas, thus far occupancy does not seem too impacted by oil and many of their larger corporate customers are not oil related.  I’m not sure what else to write about this one.  Its a solid hotel operator trading at a discount to peers for not a very good reason.  As long as the economy  remains sound I think the stock slowly walks up to the double digits over the rest of the year.

Impac Mortgage

I’ve gotten a bunch of questions in emails about Impac Mortgage.  So yes, I have bought back Impac, I took a tiny position around $9 and added to it at $11.  But its a small position and I haven’t talked about it on the blog or on twitter. The reason?  I really don’t know how this plays out, so my thesis is pretty weak.

The company is doing some interesting things.  They have a deal with Macqaurie for the purchase of their non-QM originations and they bought out a fairly large online origination business called CashCall.  So they are doing something, and the share price is reacting.  Still, I find it hard to quantify what it all means for the fair value of the stock. So I really dont know what I’m buying.

If you look at the recent financials and they aren’t great, so the bet I’m making here is kind of a bet that Impac is going to use these pieces and become a big non-compliant originator but while that qualitatively seems like a sound thesis, I don’t really know what numbers they will be able to churn out. To put it another way I probably wouldn’t have bought the stock if I didn’t have a history of it and some comfort that Tomkinson seems pretty experienced and can put something together.  So I own the stock but probably won’t talk about it any more unless something happens to clarify the situation.

What I sold

Midway Gold

My Midway Gold sale wasn’t quite as bad as it looks.  I forgot to sell my holdings in the practice portfolio account and  by the time I realized this the stock had tanked to under 30 cents.  So my sale looks particularly ill timed.

Nevertheless I sold Midway at a loss after the company announced delays with Pan, a potential cash shortfall and some early problems with grade.  The company realized news in its March update that one of the water wells malfunctioned so it has taken them longer to fill up the tailings pond and that Pan would not see the first gold pour until the end of the month, delayed from early March estimates.  Worryingly the company had drawn $47.5 million of its $53 million lending facility and was under negotiations with its lenders to fund working capital requirements.  To make matters worse early results showed some grade discrepancies with their model as grades were coming in lower.

Of all the news, it was the grade discrepancies that led me to sell.  If it hadn’t been for that I would have chalked it up to early days mining hiccups that they would eventually struggle through.  But until the grade issue is resolved you just don’t know what you are getting.  So I had to sell.

Nationstar Mortgage

As I wrote in my comment section last month, I didn’t talk about Nationstar because the stock was a trade that I didn’t expect to hold very long.  As it turned out, I held it hardly any time at all, selling the stock in the day following the posting of my last post.  Nationstar was down below $26 when I bought it and I sold it at around $30, so I made a little profit on the transaction.

I bought the stock because I thought there were some tailwinds here in Q1: the company said on their fourth quarter conference call that so far in first quarter originations were strong.  They also expected amortization to be lower in the first quarter, which will boost earnings.  Nationstar also has a reasonable non-HARP business so they don’t face quite the pressure Walter Asset Management does at that winds down and that, combined with the evolving travails at Ocwen, might bring marginal dollars into the stock from investors looking for the one remaining non-bank servicer without significant regulatory risk (or at least so it appears).   Nevertheless I figured the move from $26 to $30 was probably too far too fast so I took my quick profit.  I have been thinking about buying back in for another run now that is again languishing in the mid-$20’s.

Final Thoughts

I waited three months for it but the tanker trade is upon us.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

week-197