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Posts from the ‘Health Insurance Innovations (HIIQ)’ Category

Week 286: On being wrong a lot

Portfolio Performance

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Top 10 Holdings

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See the end of the post for my full portfolio breakdown and the last four weeks of trades

Thoughts and Review

The other day I was considering posting an article on SeekingAlpha.  I couldn’t muster the energy.  I wasn’t sure why, but I felt a strong resistance against it.

So I put it aside and in a couple of days it came to me why.

Take a look at my SeekingAlpha history.  I’ve written a few articles for it.  The list of names is, at best, uninspiring.  Hercules Offshore went bankrupt not long after I wrote about them.

The fact is, I’m wrong a lot.  At least a third of the time I pick a stock it doesn’t even go in the right direction.  In a bad market that number is likely well north of 50%.  And even when I’m right, I often miss by degree.  The last couple of months, while my portfolio has done pretty well, it would have done much better if I was not weighted most heavily in two positions that have done absolutely nothing (Radcom and Radisys).  My biggest winners are often afterthoughts where credit should only be taken with qualification.

If there is one redeeming feature about my strategy it is that I am fully aware of my own limitations.  I am never certain.  In my blog write-ups I try to phrase every position in terms of what might happen, both the positive and negative, with the expectation that I may have the thesis totally ass-backwards.  If anything, the limitations of the medium (writing) convey more conviction than I generally have.

This doesn’t play well when writing an article that is trying to convince others about what a great idea you’ve just found.  It might be, it might not. Who knows.  What I can say is that as long as I cut my losses quickly, it presents a pretty good risk/reward.  But I have no particular insight into whether its going to pan out or not.

It doesn’t make a compelling narrative.

Nevertheless after another pretty successful year, despite a whole lot of mind-changing and almost constant self-doubt, I can say that it worked pretty well once again.  To summarize:

  1. I freaked out in January when my portfolio lost over 10% in a couple of weeks.
  2. I only tentatively added back as the market bottomed.
  3. I sold out of the years big winner, Clayton Williams, about $100 too soon.
  4. I mostly missed anticipating the Trump rally apart from a position in Health Insurance Innovations and a couple of construction plays I bought in the days immediately following the election.
  5. (As I will describe below) it only donned on me that community banks should be firing on all cylinders in the last few days.

Yet I’m up about 35% since July (my portfolio year end) and about 40% in 2016 (though with the asterisk that it is with far less than $50 million in capital 😉 ).

Most occupations don’t tolerate excessive uncertainty.  I am fortunate to be involved in one of the few that reward it.

The last Month

Last month most stocks in my portfolio stagnated.  The gains I had were fueled by a few oil names (Gastar Oil and Gas, Jones Energy, Resolute Energy) as well as Health Insurance Innovations, Identiv, DSP Group, and a last day move back up by Radisys.

Health Insurance Innovations has been a big winner for me.  If only I had bought more!  The stock has more than doubled since Trump took office.  I sold some of my position in the last days of the year (I mistakenly sold all of it in the practice portfolio so that is why it doesn’t appear in the list below).

The second big winner has been Identiv.  Unlike Health Insurance Innovations, I have not taken anything off the table.  Identiv remains quite cheap, with only a $35 million market capitalization.  There is a rumor that after a presentation given at the Imperial Conference the company suggested some recent business with Amazon, which, if done in mass, could be quite a big contract for the company.  I have no idea if its true though.  The stock has pulled back in the last few days, but I’m not too worried.  As long as business continues along its current trajectory, the stock should do well in the coming year.

Key Energy Services

In mid-December I took a position in an oil services firm, Key Energy Services (KEY).  I was given the idea by someone in the comments section of the blog.  Key Energy operates a number of well services rigs, as well as having businesses in water management, coil tubing, and wireline services.  This is a tough business, and has been a disaster over the last two years.  At least 3 competitors in the space have been through bankruptcy.

At the time I bought the stock it was still trading in bankruptcy.  Similar to Swift, existing shareholders received a piece of the new company and warrants.

Since exiting bankruptcy in late December the stock has traded up quite a bit but I think there is still some value there as oil services demand rises.  What I remember from past cycles is how leveraged these companies are to improving fundamentals.  They gain on both pricing and volume. With both natural gas and oil moving up, this may be the first time since 2012 where Key Energy has had pricing of both commodities as a tailwind.

The company has reduced its G&A, reduced interest expense via the bankruptcy process, and is the first of  its brethren to make it through the restructuring process.

On the negative side, its a low margin business, I don’t get the sense that management was particularly astute heading into the slowdown, and in the current pricing environment even after restructuring they are still EBIDA negative.

Nevertheless I am willing to see if I can ride the cycle here.  Its probably no multi-bagger, but I am looking for a move into the $40’s where I would sell.

Community Banks

The last thing worth mentioning is that after a month and a half of rallying, and the astute comment of Brent Barber asking me why I wasn’t looking at them, I finally spent some time on the community banks.  Its soooo obvious, its painful to think that if I had spent a few hours on November 9th I would have quickly realized the same conclusion and ended up a number of dollars richer as a result.

Nevertheless, a good idea is a good idea.  Though the names I bought are up between 10-20% in the last month and a half, I still think they have much further to run.  I added positions in SB Financial (SBFG – former Rurban Financial, which I’ve talked about in the past and owned a small piece of of for some time), Sound Financial (SFBL – another bank I’ve owned for years), Atlantic Coast Financial (ACFC – which I have owned and written about in the past), Home Federal Bancorp of Louisiana (HFBL), Parke Bancorp (PKBK), and Eagle Bancorp of Montana (EBMT).  I took a basket approach because all of these namess are illiquid and difficult to accumulate in too much size.  I will write these up in more detail shortly.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

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A Changing Regulatory Environment makes Health Insurance Innovations Interesting

When I sold Health Insurance Innovations in the spring their business was under attack from the department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The HHS had decided that short term medical insurance policies (STM) were an end run around the affordable care act (not an unreasonable conclusion) and was proposing a rule change (subsequently implemented) whereby STM policies would be limited to “less than three months, and coverage could not be renewed at the end of the three month period”.

So I sold.  It seemed like a broken business model, which was unfortunate as Health Insurance Innovations had just hit their stride.

But then the Republicans swept the election.  The Affordable Care Act will likely be spun back into some other form.  The headwinds become tailwinds.  While it’s not clear what form health care insurance will take going forward, I think it’s reasonable to assume the changes will be positive to Health Insurance Innovations.

While took some time for investors to notice that his tiny sub $100 million market cap company had just had its prospects turn for the better (small caps are not efficient), the stock has been on a tear since the day after the election.

Because I’m not sure exactly what the eventual impact will be, I’ve taken cues from the market, adding as the stock goes up.  This has worked out pretty well as I put on a small initial position in the 6’s, then added in the 8’s, the 9’s and then at 10.

But I’m not adding any further.  I don’t have a large position, but its enough given that I don’t really have a sense of what will succeed the ACA, and Health Insurance Innovations has some legal and regulatory issues that are yet to be resolved and that lend to some uncertainty.  These state regulatory examinations of some of their third-party distributor call centers are described in the latest 10-Q.

My optimism that the eventual outcome of the ACA rework will be positive for Health Insurance Innovations is because their business relies more on a platform than any particular insurance product.    Their AgileHealthInsurance.com platform is a comparison and online enrollment tool that can sell any type of health insurance product.  The site lists products available from multiple carriers and helps consumers pick a product that meets their needs and is the most affordable option.

The company supplements AgileHealth with a retail channel where they sell through third party call centers and I believe still own one call center (ASIA). They restructuring two others,  Secured and ICE in November 2015.  They stock theses channels with policies from a wide range of carriers, including HCC Life Insurance Company, Companion Life Insurance Company, Standard Life and Accident Insurance Company, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, and US Health Group.

Health Insurance Innovations engages with the carriers to create new products depending on the current regulation environment and demand.  They have primarily sold short term medical and auxiliary health plans because that is all that the ACA has allowed for.  On the third quarter call they talked about how they are working with carriers to create product alternatives to STM.

I think that there is a good probability that whatever replaces the ACA will have more choice.  This is in the direction Republicans typically lean.  More choice should play into the hand of Health Insurance Innovations, their platform and their carrier relationships.

The stock is not expensive.  If I gave you the following metrics what would you value the company at?

  • 9 month year over year revenue growth of 30% and policies in force growth of 46%
  • Adjusted EPS of 33c in the third quarter and full year revenue guidance of between 88c and 95c EPS
  • 2017 topline growth of 20%
  • Net cash ($5 million of debt and $14 million of cash) on the balance sheet

Note that I am adjusting the company’s 2016 revenue to account for the impact of moving owned call centers to be third party and the associated accounting treatment of this.  GAAP revenue growth has been over 70% year over year.

Even after a pretty tremendous move up, at $11 the stock is not really pricing in its earnings and growth.

Of course up until November 8th this made sense.  While the company said they could overcome the inevitable revenue decline from STM, I don’t think many believed this.  There was already evidence that new applications were flattening from the second to third quarter (see the submitted IFP applications in the third quarter press release).  Even as the company showed that Limited Indemnity Medical insurance (LM) made up 45% of Individual and Family Plans in the third quarter, the stock price hardly budged.

Now that the future of the ACA is uncertain, and given that Republicans tend to err on the side of choice, things seem to be setting up much better for the company.  While its hard to buy into a stock that has run up as much as Health Insurance Innovations has in as little time as it has, I don’t think you can make the argument that it is unreasonably expensive at this price.  I’m willing to hold on here and see if it has further to go.

Week 258: In Search of the Next Big Thing

Portfolio Performance

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Top 10 Holdings

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See the end of the post for my full portfolio breakdown and the last four weeks of trades

Thoughts and Review

I’m wrapping up the fifth year of the blog and portfolio I track here.  Unfortunately it was my worst year since inception.  With about a week to go I’ve eked out a miserly 3% gain.

In my last few posts I touched on what I think I’ve been doing wrong.  My observation is that I am spending too much time looking for value and not enough time looking for growth and finding major trends underway.

To put that in context, let’s look back at the last number of years for a minute.

I did well in 2009 and 2010 as I bought stocks that benefited from the infrastructure build-out in China, in particular a number commodity producers, mostly copper/nickel (FNX, Hudbay, Quadra) and met coal (Western Canadian Coal and Grande Cache Coal).

In 2011 I extended that thesis into pulp stocks, with wins from Mercer International and Tembec.  In 2011 I also made a few bets on gold stocks that paid off.

In 2012 I stuck with gold and began to see opportunities in small community banks that were recovering but where the market had yet to acknowledge this.  I also saw a slowly recovering housing market, and made successful bets on mortgage servicing stocks like Nationstar, which was a recent IPO, originators like Impac Mortgage, and hated mortgage insurers like MGIC and Radian.

In 2013 I continued the theme of a recovering housing market, with my mortgage insurer bets continuing to pay off, added more underappreciated community banks, and bet on a number of oil and gas opportunities that were taking advantage of the new fracking revolution.  I also correctly discerned that the market would take a more favorable attitude to debt, and so I made some of my biggest gains with stocks with debt, particularly YRC Worldwide, which rose from $6 to $36.

In 2014 my biggest gains were thanks to the ethanol stocks, in particular to Pacific Ethanol, which rose from $4 to $24.  I also did quite well playing the cyclical turn in airline stocks, particularly Air Canada and Aercap.

And how about 2015?  What led to my less than remarkable results?

For one I think that I spent too much time following tanker stocks.  While these stocks were cheap, they couldn’t and can’t shake their cyclical stigma.  Looking at the ships being delivered later this year and into 2017, maybe that is for good reason.

I focused too much on companies that were only marginally undervalued or where there was no real catalyst at hand to improve valuation.  In particular, I wasted far too much time on REITs, both simple single asset REITs like Independence Realty and Sotherly Hotels, and more complicated multi-asset REITs like Ellington Financial, Northstar Realty and even New Residential.  I remember Brent Barber commenting to me at one point to be careful with REITs in the environment we were  entering into, and I should have heeded that call.

I also spent too much time trying to justify the airlines.  As a whole the group is captive to their own history of pitiful returns.  One day multiple expansion may come, but holding too many of these stocks in anticipation of that day is not a good use of capital.

And finally, and more generally, I didn’t have a big theme or trend that worked for me.  There was no China infrastructure, pulp stocks, mortgage servicing, community bank or ethanol idea that I could ride.

For the upcoming portfolio year (beginning July 1st) I am going to focus on finding trends and growth.  The one I have latched onto so far is the move of telecom service providers to software defined networks and network function virtualization, and more generally, the continued move by businesses to locate resources to the cloud.

So far I have made the bet with Radcom, Radisys Vicor, Oclaro and Apigee.  Each of these is bearing or at least starting to bear fruit.  Unfortunately I also came extremely close to taking a position in Gigamon, a company I really like, but instead waited for it to slips into the mid $20’s. It never did and now its $37+.

While I made a couple of endeavors into bio-tech stocks last year and for the most part got taken to the cleaners on those, I’m not giving up on this sector yet.  I have been prepared to lose a few dollars under the agency of education and I am slowing learning more. I have a few more words about TG Therapeutics below.

Overall I really like the stocks that I own right now.  While the risk of what I own remains high as always, I also haven’t felt like I have had so many potential multi-baggers in some time.

I’ve been talking about some of the above mentioned names in the past few posts.  Below I am going to highlight a few others: a new position in RMG Networks, a position revisited in TG Therapeutics and some more information about Radisys.   Lastly I’ll review Intermap, which is more of a crap-shoot than the other names I own, but if the cards align it most certainly is a multibagger.

As for stocks I haven’t talked about in a while but will have to review in a later post, Swift Energy is treading water in the grey market and the warrants I received post bankruptcy don’t even trade, but I remain optimistic that when the stock gets to a big board it will go significantly higher.   While I remain wary of the Iconix debt load a few astute moves by management and the stock will trade at a more reasonable free cash flow level.  And Accretive Health, a very small position that trades on the pink sheets, is struggling through its transition but will soon begin to on-board patients via its long term agreement to manage services for Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the United States.

It was a tough year but I feel good about the future.  Hopefully its a year that I have learned a little from, and that will set me up for a better one to come.

RMG Networks

RMG Networks provides what is called “digital signage” solutions.  They provide the hardware, content, content management system, and maintenance of the product.  The easiest way to understand “digital signage” is to see a couple of examples:

whatisdigitalsignageThis is a small company with 37 million shares outstanding and about a $37 million market capitalization at the current share price.  Yet even though the company is tiny, they do business with 70% of the Fortune 500 companies.

I came across the idea from a hedge fund letter I read by Dane Capital.  At first I wasn’t very excited about the idea; it seemed like a turnaround story with a struggling business, something I have been trying to stay away from.  It was really this quote from Robert Michelson, CEO, that led me to persist in my investigation:

I joined the company and was incentivized by two things. One, was on the company’s position in a really interesting growth industry, and two, my ability to make a lot of money and not salary bonus, but through equity. And you know, for me — I guess everyone wants to make a lot of money but I want to be able to make millions and millions of dollars. And you know I certainly go back and do the math and say, “you know, to get where I want to get to and it’s not just me — obviously, I’m doing this for the stockholders — this company needs to be significantly larger.” And I didn’t come to a company that was grow at like you 5% or 10% per year. You know, if you take a look at public companies, they get higher multiples when their growth is 20% plus.

The other thing that made it interesting to me is its size.  I already mentioned that RMG Networks has a miniscule market capitalization.  The company generated about $40 million of revenue in the trailing twelve months.  That means that relatively small amounts of new business are going to have an out sized impact on growth.  I will outline the growth strategy below.

The turnaround story at RMG began in 2014 when Michelson was brought in.  He proceeded to cut what was a fledgling international expansion, reduce the sales staff and bring back R&D spending to a more sustainable level.  We’re just on the cusp of seeing the fruits of that turnaround.

While the graphic I posted above shows five distinct end verticals the company has only made significant penetration into the contact center market.

This, in part, is where the opportunity lies.  Michelson is trying to address new markets.  His focus is the supply chain vertical and internal communications.

RMG’s supply chain solution provides real time data to distribution centers and warehouses.   Think about big screens in warehouses providing information about shipments, and performance metrics of teams.  The company currently sees a $10 million pipeline and has been seeing progress with leads with 40 prospects.   In the last few months they moved ahead with pilot programs with five of those leads.  RMG is targeting $5 billion companies with 80+ distribution centers and they expect to generate $1 million of revenue from each pilot if closed.

As for internal communications, RMG has a solution that delivers the existing content and management system but directly to employee desktop computers, mobile devices or to small screens around the office.

Internal communications is a $2 billion market.  The company has had advanced discussions with large customers to roll out their solution across their enterprise.

Maintenance revenue has been a headwind over the past two years, falling from over $4 million per quarter in 2014 to $3.4 million in the last quarter, but should stabilize going forward.  There have been two factors reducing maintenance revenue.  First has been the election to end-of-life older equipment that has componentry no longer supported by manufacturers.   Second, the new products being introduced can have a list price 40-50% less than their predecessors that were purchased 8 years ago and because the company charges maintenance as a percentage of sales, this has led to a reduction in maintenance revenue.  Both factors should begin to abate going forward.

Since Michelson started with the company a focus on sales productivity has led to an improvement in lead generation and new pilots.  Sales productivity was up 50% year over year in the first quarter as measured by sales orders per sales representative.  Michelson describes management as having “a relentless pursuit on costs” which is validated by the decline in general and administrative costs from the $5 million level in early 2014 when Michelsen took over to around the $3 million level and a decline in overall operating costs from $11 million per quarter to $5.6 million per quarter.

With the focus on the new verticals and improve productivity of the sale force new opportunities in pipeline are up over 40%.  And here is where we start to see an inkling that the strategic shift is bearing fruit.  In the sales pipeline, Michelsen said that the number of deals $100,000 or greater has increased by 50% in the last year while the number of $1 million deals have tripled.

My hope is that these early signs of sales improvements lead to an uptick in revenues in short order.

The stock is reasonably priced given the potential upside and it will only take a few good sized contracts to move the needle substantially.  I can see this one becoming a bigger position over time if they continue to execute along the current path.

Wading Cautiously back into a Biotech – TG Therapeutics

Here are a couple of thoughts on Biotechs that have begun to crystallize for me. I just finished reading a book called “Cracking the Code” and have started reading another called “The Billion Dollar Molecule”.  Please let me know if you have any recommendations for other good books or articles to help me with the sector.

While I am still a newbie in the bio-tech world, I am starting to understand a few things about the business.   I would distill the most important of my thoughts into the following three points:

  1. Approval/non-approval of any drug and the subsequent market for it is under SIGNIFICANT room for interpretation. Apart from a few obvious blockbusters that get snapped up by the large pharmas well in advance, there is a lot of uncertainty about what will work and what won’t and if it does work what kind of sales it will generate
  2. There is a big difference between the value of a company in Phase II or II trial that will eventually have to ramp up its own sales and marketing of the drug versus what that drug would be worth rolled into a larger entity that already has the salesforce, marketing engine and infrastructure in place.
  3. Biotechs in Phase 1-3 are event driven, open to interpretation, and their share price is as dependent on the capital markets as it is on the state of their particular research.  In this respect they have a lot of similarities to gold exploration companies.

With those points said, and being fully aware of what remains to be limited knowledge in this sector, as I wrote about last month I did purchase, or re-purchase, a biotech position this month.  I have been buying shares in TG Therapeutics.

The story at TG Therapeutics is the same one I wrote about a few months ago.  But that thesis has moved forward in some ways.

TG Therapeutics has two drugs that are in late stage trials for B-cell cancers.  The first, TG-1101, is what is called a CD20 monoclonal antibody.  To dissect what that means, an antibody is a protein designed to attack a pathogen, monoclonal means it is an antibody that latches on to one particular cell type, and in the case of TG-1101, the cell that is latched onto is a B cell, the latching achieved by way of a protein called CD20, which is expressed on the surface of B-cells. Once TG-1101 grabs onto the CD20 receptor it works eventually to destroy the cell.

The second drug that is in the pipeline is called TG1202, which is a PI3K-delta inhibitor.  An inhibitor blocks a particular pathway (a pathway is a series of action by which a cell changes or creates something), in this case the pathway is called the 3-kinase pathway.  The 3-kinase pathway is one of the most activated pathways in human cancers.  So the theory is that if it can be blocked, cancer development will be stunted.

TG-1101 is in Phase 3 trial in combination with an already approved drug called Ibrutinib, which goes by the trade name Imbruvica, and is owned by Abbvie.  Ibrutinib inhibits another receptor on the B-cell called Bruton’s tyrosine kinase.  Abbvie bought Imbruvica for $21 billion in 2014.   Ibruvica has been approved and has shown strong sales; it generated $1.3 billion in sales in 2015 and estimates are that sales could peak at as much as $12 billion.   TG-1101 is expected to improve both the efficacy and safety profile of Ibrutinib when used in combination and so far the results are bearing that out.

A second Phase 3 trial has TG-1101 and TGR-1202 working together.  TGR-1202 is also in a stand-alone trial.  In the stand-alone trial efficacy rates of TGR-1202 are tracking at slightly better than Ibrutinib monotherapy.  In combination, efficacy is even better.

One of the concerns that I believe has hit the stock is because of results that have recently been released for two other PI3Kdelta drugs in development.  Duvelisib (owned by Infinity Pharmaceuticals) and Zydelig (owned by Gilead), have run into issues with efficacy. The market could be looking at this that the read through to TGTX drug is that it is a PI3K inhibitor so in same class as these drugs and so maybe concerns spill over

Everything I have read suggests that Duvelisib and Zydelig had very similar structures whereas TGR-1202 does not.  More importantly, so far TGR-1202 is showing a good toxicity profile (meaning manageable side effects).  So I think we could see the current read through go in opposite direction as the data is digested.

This Barrons article quotes Wedbush as saying that the Zydelig problems have a negative read through for Duvelisib:

Zydelig safety issues raise red flags for duvelisib program. Given their structural similarities and similar mechanism of action, we believe the new Zydelig-related safety concerns provide a negative read-through for Infinity Pharmaceuticals’ ( INFI ) duvelisib program. Zydelig and duvelisib are both inhibitors of PI3K, a family of enzymes that regulate a variety of cell signaling processes, with Zydelig inhibiting just the delta isoform while duvelisib inhibits both the delta and gamma isoforms. A comparison across clinical studies suggests that duvelisib has a poorer safety profile compared to idelalisib, which we attribute to the potentially immune-weakening effect of PI3K-gamma inhibition.

Zydelig, before the recent issues, was approved and brought in $130 million in sales last year.  I saw estimates that Zydelig could reach peak sales of $1.2 billion by 2020.  If TGR-1202 can continue to show a better safety profile, presumably it should be able to take

The differentiation of TGR-1202 the other PI3Kdelta drugs was addressed by TG Therapeutics in a recent press release:

The integrated analysis, which includes 165 patients treated with TGR-1202 alone or in combination with TG-1101, demonstrates that the toxicities observed with other PI3K delta inhibitors such as liver toxicity, colitis, pneumonitis and infection are rare with TGR-1202 with discontinuations due to TGR-1202 related AEs occurring in less than 8% of patients.  We see this as particularly compelling given the recent setbacks for idelalisib with the closure of a series of randomized studies due to safety concerns.  The data presented today provides strong evidence to support the hypothesis that the adverse events seen with idelalisib are not necessarily a class effect.”

TG Therapeutics has about 55 million shares outstanding.  At the current price the market capitalization is about $380 million.  They have $85 million of cash on the balance sheet which should be good for a couple years of cash burn.

Success in the TG-1101 trial will give them a complimentary drug to the widely used Ibrutinib that can be prescribed alongside it.  Success in the combination trial will give the company a “platform” of two drugs from which others can be layered in order to attack the cancer from multiple angles and deliver the knock-out punch.  There are a couple of drugs addressing other mechanisms of attack of B-cells in earlier stages in the pipeline.  And there are investigations ongoing into whether TG-1101 can be used in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.

Radisys – Comments on the B Riley Conference

For some reason I get a lot of emails about Radcom and absolutely none about Radisys. I don’t know why? I would be hard pressed to call Radcom the better investment of the two. Maybe there is more upside to Radcom, particularly if they can evolve their product into something that could be used in a larger market (ie. Data center or security) but in terms of product and sales performance, not to mention stock performance, Radisys is the clear winner so far.

Radisys presented a very bullish call at the B Riley conference.  It isn’t coincidence that the stock moved up from $4.20 to $5 in the subsequent days.

To recap the story, Radisys is growing off of three products. FlowEngine, MediaEngine and DCEngine.

FlowEngine is a software defined network (SDN) friendly load balancer; basically a packet forwarding box. It already has a Tier 1 customer (Verizon) that uses it to triage packets in their network. FlowEngine had no revenues in 2014, had $5 million in 2015 and is expected to double revenue in 2016.

At the B Riley conference Radisys CEO Brian Bronson said it’s a $100 million business in the long term.  Towards the end of the Q&A Bronson pointed out a specific deal in India where they were competing against incumbent equipment manufacturers that were delivering similar functionality in a more traditional appliance for $750,000, while FlowEngine could provide the same for $250,000.

MediaEngine manages and manipulates media, is used in the conference space (I believe Mitel is a customer) as well as in VoLTE and transcoding. It’s the biggest revenue driver of the software and systems segment, had about $50 million in revenue last year, and while further growth is expected, it will not be the driver of growth going forward.

DCEngine is a rack solution for telecom datacenters.  As they upgrade service providers are migrating equipment to a data center environment, replacing the central office that they operate in today. The DCEngine rack is half as expensive as the competition. Bronson outlined that their advantage with DCEngine is that they are not the incumbent equipment provider, which stands to lose revenue and margins by replacing their fully populated custom solution with a rack populated with 3rd party equipment.

Because most of the rack is populated by third-party equipment, DCEngine is a low margin business, pulling in 15-20% gross margins though it does deliver 10% operating income. More importantly it will begin to pull through FlowEngine sales beginning in the second half of this year, as there will be as many as two FlowEngine appliances installed per rack, depending on the application.  Bronson suggested that at some point it could pull through MediaEngine sales as well but that is the first I have heard of that so I don’t know what sort of volumes we are talking here. Finally, selling the rack makes Radisys the natural player for profesional services (ie. installation, integration and maintenance) which on a gross margin basis are only about 20-30% but most of that drops to bottom line.

I gave my model for Radisys in the last update. What I have learned in the last month only strengthens my belief that I am likely going to be conservative on my revenue growth forecast.

Intermap Gambling

I had a friend go to the Intermap AGM, and some questions he subsequently asked about the company got me to review my research on the name.

I’ll review the details again but first the conclusion.  Same as what I concluded originally, this is a coin flip with a large potential upside if things pan out, and an absolute zero if they don’t.   I still feel the odds are favorable given the reward but only for a small “option” position type that I have reconciled to losing in its entirety.

Let’s review.  The story is that of an Spatial Data Integration contract, or SDI.  An SDI encompasses data acquisition, which in Intermap’s case entails crisscrossing a jet  over the country collecting IFSAR data, and data integration, which includes bringing the mapping data into Intermap’s Orion platform, integrating it with existing data (both geospatial, think LIDAR, and other layer information that can be tied to a GIS location), and building queries to automate searches and perform analytics on the data.

The SDI that Intermap has won is with the Congo.  Intermap is not dealing directly with the Congo. They are dealing with a prime contractor, of which the rumor is a company called AirMap.  The purpose of a prime contractor is to provide the local contact and regional expertise, and to arrange project financing.

The project financing is what everyone is holding their breath on.  You do project financing on a big contract like this SDI to help address the mismatch between project costs and funding timeline by the government.  It basically is put in place to insure that Intermap gets paid on time and has the cash flow to keep executing on the deal.

The project financing was supposed to be completed within 90 days of some date in February.  This would have put the deadline at the end of June at the latest.  On the first quarter conference call management implied that there could be an extension, but that the expectation was, by way of the prime contractor, that the financing would close by the end of the quarter.   Management said that financing discussions had moved away from financial details and were now focused on operational details, which presumably is to say things are progressing.

Intermap has 120 million shares fully diluted, so about a $20 million market capitalization.  They have $21 million of debt, mostly payable to a company called Vertex One.  The relationship with Vertex One is another wrinkle.  Here is Vertex One’s position in Intemap:

  • They owned 19.8mm shares in June 2015 (from here) and have subsequently reduced by 4.1mm (from this Sedar Filing)
  • 7 million warrants at 7.5c (from Gomes and from Vertex One filing)
  • They have a 17.5% overriding royalty on revenue
  • Hold $21 million of debt as already mentioned

The question is, given the distributed position, what is in Vertex One’s best interests?  I remain of the position that as long as the SDI is in play, Vertex One interests are best held by keeping their hand.  The equity upside is at least $1, the royalty will skim off the top, and they will collect on the debt through cash flow repayments.

But if the SDI is lost the relationship with Vertex likely means game over for Intermap in their current form.  Interest payments will overwhelm cash flow generated from data sales and InsitePro.

Its worth noting that InsitePro is a product sold to the insurance industry to help them identify insurance risks such as flood plains.  While InsitePro is an interesting little product, and management has noted that the addressable market is upwards of $500 million with a similar competitor product from CoreLogic currently running at $50 million annual sales, the company is really all in on the SDI and it is the success or failure of it that will determine Intermap’s fate.

So Intermap is a binary bet worth holding a small slice of if you don’t mind taking a significant risk.  I’m ok with it, I still think it makes more sense at this point that the deal closes then doesn’t.  But I won’t be shocked if I am wrong.

Extendicare’s Slide

In retrospect Extendicare was probably fully valued when it crossed above $9 into that $9.50 range. But I like the long-term trends in the business which always makes me reluctant to sell a stock like this. With the stock back down to below the $8 level it looks like I am in for another cycle. While I didn’t add any in the tracking portfolio, I did add to the stock in my RRSP.

I can’t be sure what has precipitated the sell off. It could be that the activist is reducing or exiting. The first quarter results were a little light, they are struggling with the Home Health business that they are integrating and margins are coming up a bit short.

I believe they are correct to expand into the home health space. Government is going to try to keep people in their homes as long as possible because its cheaper.  While the publicly funded side of the business is always going to be constrained by funding, it does give the company a base from which to build a private business, which they are starting to do.

I think of my wife’s parents, who take care of her mom’s parent in their home in Ontario. They get a nurse every day for an hour that is publicly funded but even with that help its becoming too much.  One option is to start paying a nurse to stay longer, or come a second time later in the day, out of pocket.  Its those kind of needs that Extendicare can serve.

What I learned about listening to Oil Bears

Its pretty interesting to look back at what has been said about the oil market on twitter over the past 6 months. From January to March there was a decidedly negative bent on oil market tweets. Many of these tweets were made by users with a large follower base, which presumed a degree of authority to their comments. I actually made a list of these tweets at the time, because I really wondered whether the market was as dramatically out of balance as was being suggested.

I’m not going to call out names, but it just reiterates that twitter has to be taken with a grain of salt.

I mostly sold out of my position in Clayton Williams Energy and Surge Energy.  I hold a few shares in one account but am out of these stocks in the practice portfolio.  I’ve replaced the position with another name that feels a bit safer with oil at these levels, an old favorite of mine called RMP Energy.  I continue to hold Granite Oil.

What I sold

I sold out of Health Insurance Innovations after the announcement of the proposed ruling by the Health and Human Services department to limit short term medical plans to three months and not allow renewals.   This is their whole business model, and if it goes I don’t know what happens to the company.  I also noticed that I have been seeing complaints about the company’s call centers aggressive sales tactics pop up, which is worrisome.

I also sold out of Oban Mining, which has been another gold stock winner for me, more than doubling since the beginning of the year.  I just don’t want to overstay my welcome here.

Also note that I did take a position in BSquare, which I will write up in the next post.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

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Week 254: Just a Bunch of Company Updates

Portfolio Performance

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week-254-Performance

Top 10 Holdings

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See the end of the post for my full portfolio breakdown and the last four weeks of trades

Thoughts and Review

First some house keeping.  RBC’s has added new tools to make it easier to show performance for practice accounts.  I’ve maintained my portfolio manually through an excel spreadsheet for the last couple of years because RBC screws up the purchase values on their portfolio holding page and the gain/loss on individual stocks are, at times, ridiculous (my average cost is sometimes negative).

Recreating the results, even after building a visual basic routine to update the month of trades, was quite cumbersome, so I welcome these new tools.   At the beginning of the post I showed a list of my top ten holdings and below are all my positions, both are from the new tools.

The only information that is lost in this new format are the position by position gains and losses. While this is unfortunate, its so much less work compared to the process I had to go through before that this is how its going to be.

With that said…

I didn’t purchase any new stock in the last month so this is going to be a bit of a boring update.  I’ve be dedicated the space below to a discussion of a few of my larger and/or more interesting positions.

With April/May being an earnings period, there is a lot of information to consume.  I had mostly good news from the companies in my portfolio. I’ve tried to stick to names with solid operating momentum, staying away from those that might be turning it around but where good news has yet to trickle out.  And that has served me well.

As I have remarked before, my portfolio has been sitting in a holding pattern for the better part of a year.  While I am still waiting on a break out from the range, I feel better about the stocks I own than I have for a while.  Not all of them will pan out of course, but a few will, and hopefully 1 or 2 will be the multi-baggers that I depend on for out-performance.

Radcom

There is a lot to write about Radcom.

Radcom’s first quarter results were fine.  The company had revenue of $6.5 million and generated non-GAAP income of 15 cents per share. Perhaps the only negative about the quarter came out in a subsequent filing, that over $5 million came from their Tier 1 client, AT&T.

For the first time the company provided revenue guidance for the full year, a range of $28-$29.5 million.  They said that they were very confident in their ability to achieve this guidance as 80% of it was already secured with contracts.  In a later filing they said that 50% of their revenue in 2016 would come from North America.

Putting that together, Radcom is saying that they will generate about $14-$15 million from AT&T, and another $14 million from their existing non-NFV deployment.

Overall this is all as expected to slightly positive.   But the quarterly results and guidance don’t begin to tell the whole story here.  In fact what is most telling about guidance is what is left out; it does not include any contribution from additional Tier 1 service providers.

The company is actively pursuing additional Tier 1 customers for their virtual probe solution (MaveriQ).  They said they are in discussions with carriers from North America, Western Europe and APAC.  I’ve heard that the number of Tier 1’s is in the range of a handful.

It was reiterated on the conference call that MaveriQ is well ahead of its peers. Competitors either haven’t rolled out an NFV product, or if they have they don’t have real world implementation on it, and it is still tied to hardware.

We have competitors in the market but to our best understanding and everything that I am hearing from the CSPs and say they enrolled out an NFV product, some are saying that they have – they don’t have real world implementation on it. Some seem to be still in the hardware area and you cannot monitor an NFV network with the equipment, that’s why we believe they were the first mover and we were widening the gap with our competition.

This is inline of what I have gathered from one of the leaders in physical probes, Netscout, who recently said that their first virtual device would not be released until May.  I listened to Netscout’s webinar dedicated to NFV where they talked about their virtual probe technology and I was not impressed.  It felt like the event was put together to prove that they were in the game.

I note that Mark Gomes wrote the following on Friday, which corroborates with scuttle I had picked up from a different source:

In fact, word is spreading that RDCM’s product (MaveriQ) scored a perfect 100/100 in its lab trials, while the nearest competitor could only manage a 70/100. In other words, RDCM’s technology lead is wide, making them the de facto leader for NFV Service Assurance.

Amdocs provided some color around the cost advantage of virtual probes in this interview.  Justin Paul, head of OSS marketing at Amdocs, said the following:

The fixed video network model uses virtual probes instead of physical probes. This is because traditional, physical probes can’t probe a virtual network and the cost of a virtual probe is significantly lower than a physical one. We’re working with Radcom to implement a vProbe solution with a North American CSP and we’re seeing from the work we’ve done there that physical probe is 20-25% less costly than a physical probe. In addition, you can throw up a ring of probes around a specific area to address a specific peak in demand and redeploy those licences elsewhere when the peak has passed. They’re cheaper to buy and they offer greater flexibility and agility to operators because of that redeployment capability.

Since the results of the first quarter Radcom announced a share offering.  What has followed is an ensuing sell-off in the shares ha culminated Friday when the pricing of the shares came in at a disappointing $11.

Maybe I am too sanguine but I am not worried about the sell-off and while the dilution is unfortunate it is not overly material compared to the eventual upside.

Whether Radcom did a poor job selling their story, were poor negotiators, or just deemed the institutional backing and analyst coverage as being worth the cost of dilution at a somewhat low-ball price is unclear to me.

In the same article I quote above Gomes commented about over-subscription.  I have heard similar comments from another source.  The price action on Friday where the stock traded enormous volume and did not dip below the offer price suggests significant demand even as some shareholders throw in their cards in frustration after what could be perceived as a poor deal.

So the evidence is that the offer price is not a function of lack of interest and not a reflection on investor enthusiasm for their business prospects or for the strength of their MaveriQ solution.  And that was the real negative here; does $11 reflect poorly on Radcom’s business?  If it does not, and is a function of their willingness to concede in order to improve their balance sheet and get institutional support then really its not very negative at all.

I added to my position in the days leading up to the pricing.  That’s unfortunate.  I could have gotten those shares lower on Friday. But I do not see any reason to back track on those purchases.

I sat on a 1-2% position with Radcom for a couple years, all along thinking that this was an interesting little company with a promising technology that was worth keeping close tabs on in case they were able to step into the big time.  That is exactly what they’ve done with AT&T and are on the cusp of doing with other Tier 1’s.  I would be want not to do exactly what I anticipated doing in the event of such a progression.   And in the long-run I don’t think I will care too much that I bought the stock a day or two too soon.

Radisys

The first quarter results marked another step along the trajectory towards transforming Radisys’s business. The company continues to add to its suite products and services designed to facilitate the migration of service providers towards virtualizing their networks.

The company hit the high end of their guidance and then raised their guidance for the rest of the year.  They raised revenue to the range of $195-$215 million from $180-$200 million previously.  They left earnings per share guidance with the range of 22-28 cents on the expectation that additional costs would be incurred to support the expected revenue ramp.

he guidance raise was in large part due to the new DCEngine product.

DCEngine is a rack frame pre-installed with open-architecture software and white box hardware.  Its designed to be an alternative to the “locked in architecture” sold by the incumbent providers, and is consistent with the move to virtualize network functions (as opposed to tying them to hardware) so that upgrades, additional capacity and new functionality can be installed via software installs rather than hardware swaps.

DCEngine had its first order from Verizon, a $19 million order, at the end of the fourth quarter and this order was fulfilled in Q1.  On the first quarter call the company said the order from this service provider was expanded to $50 million, with the rest of the order expected to occur in the second quarter.

While this a large order for a company Radisys size, what is most interesting is that Brian Bronson, the CEO, referred to it as a “rounding error” in comparison to what Verizon needs to build out.

DCEngine is a low margin product, somewhere south of 20% gross margins.  But volumes could be significant, and management said that once the product gains traction that DCEngine orders “should be in the hundreds of millions.”

In addition, there is ancillary revenue to be gained from DCEngine sales.  Right now Radisys populates each rack with two white box switches.  In the second half of 2016 the company’s FlowEngine product will be upgraded and allow Radisys to replace those switches with it.  FlowEngine is a 60%+ gross margin product.

Second, the move from central office to data center is complicated and often requires support services from Radisys.  Providing the rack positions Radisys as the natural support resource, which on the call the company said can add another 10 points of operating income.

The company painted a positive picture of growth going forward.

They said that in addition to the Verizon order they were in discussions with a dozen service providers for DCEngine and expect to have 4 to 6 in trials by the end of the year.

With MediaEngine Radisys continues to ship product to their Asian servicer provider customer and said they are  “increasingly confident in our ability to secure further orders.”

They also see strong orders for FlowEngine in the first half from their Tier 1 carrier and while that might taper off somewhat in the second half they are still expecting revenues for FlowEngine to double year over year and there is the opportunity that more orders will materialize in the second half.

There are a lot of evolving parts with Radisys which make it difficult to pinpoint a forecast.  If I assume that revenue can grow 10% in 2017 on top of midpoint of guidance growth in 2016, that gross margins stay constant and SG&A and R&D costs increase modestly, I easily get to an EPS above 40c in 2017.  This seems like pretty conservative projections and yet it should easily support a stock price that is 50% higher.

guidanceWhat is interesting is how sensitive the numbers are to incremental revenue growth.  15% revenue growth produces and EPS above 50c while 20% revenue growth in about 60c.

What this makes clear is that there is real upside if the product suite begins to gain traction and realizes some of the expectations management alluded to one the conference call.  The speed of the move up above $4 makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly where one should add to their position, but I feel like somewhere in the low $4’s, high $3’s will look like a good price in the long run.

Medicure

I was pleased with the first quarter results announced by Medicure.  Sales were down to $6 million from $9.5 million in the fourth quarter.  Earnings per share were 5c again down from the fourth quarter.  None of this was unexpected after the run-up in earnings in Q4 due to Integrillin shortages.

Earnings as reported by the company are also being depressed by higher intangible amortization due to Medicure reversing some of the write-down of intangibles related to Aggrastat in the fourth quarter of last year.  These intangibles show up in the cost of goods sold (which is why margins were down to 86% in the quarter) and most drug companies exclude them from their adjusted earnings.  Without the intangible earnings would have been 8c per share.

As the slide below, from their first quarter presentation, demonstrates, first quarter sales of Aggrastat were down sequentially as wholesalers that had stocked in the fourth quarter due to shortages of Integrillin purchased less but still up from the third quarter.

q1salesThe company also provided data for hospital bag demand, which was down again from the fourth quarter but to a lessor extent than sales, and up significantly from Q3.

q1bagdemandInterestingly, the company gave a couple data points to help investors normalize their sales data.  They said that first quarter sales understated demand by “a couple million dollars” because of the destocking.  They also said that they are currently shipping 1,700 bags per week, which works out to 20,000 per quarter and means that bag demand has continued to ramp subsequent to the first quarter.

The day before earnings Medicure announced that they are in the process of filing for bolus vial format approval – this will make it easier for hospitals to use Aggrastat. Some hospitals struggle with delivering high dose bolus via intravenous pump instead of syringe. The company provided the following clarification on the conference call:

Although the current bag format can be used to deliver the HDB as well as the maintenance infusion, some physicians and hospital catheterization labs prefer to administer the initial bolus dose with a smaller volume of drug product.  Moreover, the availability of a ready-to-use bolus vial will provide greater operational similarities and efficiencies for hospitals transitioning to AGGRASTAT.

Finally, although there is nothing concrete yet, the company reiterated its interest in purchasing Apicore, the generic supplier that they own 5% of, have a purchase option on the remaining interest, and are in partnership with for the production of a as of yet unnamed generic later this year.

There were a couple of questions in my last post about Medicure.  In particular what generic Integrillin meant to Aggrastat and second, whether Aggrastat itself would have a generic equivalent soon.

The second question came up because when you look at the patents that Aggrastat has, some of them run out as soon as 2016.  While its still not totally clear to me everything I have read suggests that when a drug is approved for a new indication it extends the exclusivity of the drug.   Medicure was granted patent until 2023 on the high dose bolus.

I still haven’t found the smoking gun that addresses this type of situation specifically but I did find a number of resources that indicate that generics will not be allowed until the high-bolus patent expires. This link to the FDA describes the periods of exclusivity for various NDAs. This slide show describes how a new drug is patented and how the exclusivity period is determined.  This q&a describes how a patent is extended with a label change for a new indication and how that will keep a generic off the market. In the book “Cracking the Code” authors Jim Mellon and Al Chalabi write:

Quite often, drug companies therefore try and extend patent life by tweaking the molecular structure of their drugs, changing the dosages or combining their drugs with other therapies to try and create a novel but similar product that allows the patent life to be extended.

Also worth noting is that Medicure does not refer to generic tirofiban (the drugs name) competition as a risk factor in their AIF.

As for the generic competition from Integrillin, it is real and occurring but Medicure allyed concerns by updating their price competition slide to include the cost of the generic.

pricecomp

Aggrastat remains the cheapest of the bunch.

I have added to my position around the $5 range and even caught a couple purchases in the $4’s.  Unless I am wrong about the direct generic competition being years away I think the stock is too cheap and should trade up to a high single digit number on the current level of Aggrastat sales alone.  If there is a positive event with Apicore, the new generic introduction, or additional sales from new indications for Aggrastat, then all the better.

Air Canada

I continue to believe that Air Canada is misunderstood.  Maybe some day I will be proven right.

The stock trades at a significant discount to all of its peers.  The justification behind the discount amounts to:

  1. Air Canada has a lower operating margin
  2. Air Canada has a comparatively higher debt load
  3. Air Canada’s strategy of capacity additions is bound to end in tears

I get that (1) and (2) validate a somewhat lower multiple than a debt free, high margin peer.  But the current discount is too much.  As for the third justification, I think it fails to recognize what Air Canada is trying to accomplish.

Air Canada is adding capacity, but it is not to serve a slow Canadian economy. Capacity is being added to international flights in what they see as under-utilized Canadian/international hubs in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.  The strategy is to pin-point international demand where the location of the hub and cost structure puts them at an advantage against the competition.

Air Canada is also taking advantage of what is actually a lower cost structure on some routes (due to Canadian dollar based expenses and new airplanes with better efficiency) to claw back trans-border traffic that they lost to US carriers during the dark period of their bankruptcy and near-bankruptcy.

Finally Air Canada has added new planes and routes that increase their flexibility to redistribute the fleet during slowdowns like the one that we have seen in Alberta.  It didn’t seem to get a lot of focus in the first quarter follow-up but the Alberta slowdown barely blemished their results.

I think its instructive that with few exceptions when Air Canada comes up on BNN’s Market Call, the pat responses is:

  1. The Airline industry is always terrible
  2. Air Canada has gone through bankruptcy before
  3. It can’t be different this time

What is unfortunate is that there is no quick fix to this perception.  The past couple of years of mostly excellent results are proof that it is going to take time, maybe a full cycle, before portfolio managers become comfortable with the idea that Air Canada has positioned themselves to withstand economic weakness and grow the business in good times. Perhaps when oil prices recover and we see the Canadian economy turn up investors will start to conclude that hey, that was the downturn, and look, Air Canada is still standing.  I’m willing to wait that out as long as the company continues to perform.

Health Insurance Innovations

Health Insurance Innovations turned in a very good first quarter but they haven’t gotten a lot of credit for it.  Revenue was up 88% to $42.5 million. EBITDA grew from a negligible amount in the first quarter of 2015 to $4.2 million in 2016.   Policies in force grew from 195,100 to 258,000 sequentially while submitted applications grew from 153,300 to 192,200.  They saw growth from all their sales channels but in particular Agilehealthinsurance.com, their online sales channel, doubled from 11,000 policies submitted in the fourth quarter to 23,000 policies submitted in the first quarter.  Both revenue and EPS guidance were increased for the year.

I’m not sure why the stock hasn’t responded better.  There is a large short interest, which I don’t really understand, so maybe those players have been doubling down on their bet.  The mid point of EPS guidance is 40c, so the stock trades at 15x this years earnings which does not seem expensive given the growth they are beginning to experience.  I suspect that comments on the conference call are partially responsible for the muted response.  They said their baseline assumption is that growth will level out at Agile until the next open enrollment:

we’re taking a view that says a lot of people bought it during open enrollment that’s why we’re still strong and things are going to level off until the fourth quarter when open enrollment comes in.

Hopefully, we’re wrong and we have dramatic sales in between these open enrollment periods, but frankly given the dynamism of this market, we’re not sure and so we’ve done our best to forecast sales at Agile and the rest of the company over the next six months and that take place in our guidance.

I think this might be conservative.  The story seems to be getting better.  At the current price the growth trajectory that has began to emerge over the last couple of quarters is not priced in. While something has held the stock down since the release of the first quarter results, I doubt that can continue with the release of another strong quarter.

Shorter thoughts on a few other names

Granite Oil

Granite Oil had their credit line reduced from $80 million to $60 million.  While I expected some reduction, this was a bit larger than I had anticipated given that the company has such modest debt levels compared to its peers.  Fortunately the company only has $40 million drawn so the reduction is not really an impediment.

Intermap

Intermap still hasn’t received initial payment to allow it to start its SDI contract in the Congo.  I never expected this to be easy and I acknowledge that the stock is a flyer so I have it sized accordingly.   The bottom line is that the risk reward remains attractive if you treat the position like an option that could expire worthless (or close to it anyways) but also could be a ten bagger.  I note that Mark Gomes, who I quoted above, is involved in Intermap as well and has written a number of good posts on the name.

Rentech

Rentech had a not unexpectedly terrible quarter.  In the fourth quarter the company was pretty clear that the ramp at Atikokan and Wawa wasn’t going smoothly, needed more equipment, that they were still tweaking operation plan, and that they were not even sure Wawa would reach original capacity.  In the first quarter they appeared to get Atikokan on-track which leaves Wawa.  Here is what they said about Wawa on the conference call:

Our production shortcomings appear to be the product of limited experience operating the plant at higher levels of throughput and sustained operations as a result of our past conveyor problems. We are now experiencing the operational and production issues that we should have witnessed last year, but for the conveyor problems.

Even with these recent challenges, we’re still learning how to respond to or prevent these causes of production disruption that are typical of ramp-up of new pellet mills, such as sparks, jams, plugging, dust, moisture content, silica content, truck dump outages, hammer mill clogging, et cetera.

On top of that they experienced weather related weakness at NEWP.  The warm winter in the North East reduced demand for wood pellets.

I have only taken a small position in the stock and I don’t plan to add more until we see positive momentum from the Canadian operations.  But I look at these plants like a mine, which I have quite a bit of experience investing in, and the two things I have learned about starting a new mine is that A. it never goes smoothly and B. the initial start-up problems are typically figured out after some time.  So I think Rentech will get their hands around this, and I want to be ready when they do.

Mitel

I sold out of Mitel, at least for now.  The acquisition/merger with Polycom takes the company further down the path of being a hardware provider for enterprise telecom solutions, which is not really why I found the stock interesting.  The justification around the deal is mostly about cost reductions and synergies, not growth, which again is not inline with my original thesis.  And the combined entity still has to compete against Cisco which is significantly larger and has been taking market share from Polycom.  Until I get a better understanding of where Mitel is going from here, I thought it best to exit my position.

TG Therapeutics

I bought back into TG Therapeutics at $7 last week.  There hasn’t been any negative data to justify the fall in the stock of late.  My original investment thesis still stands, just at a price now that is about 2/3 of what it was at the time.  Really, if anything we are getting closer to the conclusion of their Phase II and Phase II studies.

By the way, if anyone can recommend any good books for understanding biotechnology please send me an email liverless@hotmail.ca.  Thanks!

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.  Note that the 224 share AdjIncr transaction is because when Swift pink sheet equity converted to new equity I lost my shares in the practice account and so I had to restore those manually.

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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.

week-215

 

Week 177: Perspective

Five weeks ago I wrote that I was walking away for a while.  And so I did that.  It didn’t last as long as I had anticipated.

At the time I had taken my portfolio to about 60% cash and I had a number of shorts that helped hedge out the exposure from my remaining longs.  In early October I had basically stepped away because I had made some mistakes and lost confidence in my decisions.  It had started with the mistake of not looking closely at the oil supply/demand dynamic, which was compounded by the mistake of selling the wrong stuff when the bet began to go wrong.  As I lost money on a few oil and gas holdings, rather than reducing those positions I reduced other positions, presumably with the intent of reducing my overall risk.  Unfortunately this isn’t really what I was doing.  What I was actually doing was selling what was working while holding onto what wasn’t.  A cardinal mistake.

The consequence was that I saw my portfolio dip 12% from its peak by the second week in October.  More frustrating was that as stocks recovered in late October, I watched as some of the names I had sold near their bottom, in particular Air Canada, Aercap, and Overstock, recover their losses and were on their way back up.

I wrote my last post on a Friday afternoon after the market had closed.  Over that weekend I was virtually unencumbered by the markets.  My portfolio was cash, my blog was on hiatus, I had nothing to prevent me from thinking clearly. I don’t remember exactly when the moment came, but at some point that weekend I had a realization.

For those who have followed this blog over the past few years, you will remember that in December of last year I made a very large bet on New Residential.  The stock had gotten hit down to below $6 at the time.  I thought this was rather ridiculous and so I bought the stock.  I bought a lot of the stock.  I made it a 25% position in my portfolio.

In a narrow sense, the trade worked out.  By the end of December the stock had jumped close to $7 and I sold the position for a tidy profit.  But in the broader sense, it was an abject failure. Read more