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Week 2015: Maybe its just a bear market

Portfolio Performance

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

Monthly Review and Thoughts

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

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

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

us market

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

tsxperformance

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

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

A week late

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

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

  1. Shorts
  2. US stocks in Canadian dollars

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

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

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

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

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

The Tankers

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

No such luck.

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

Ardmore Shipping

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

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

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

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

Yet the stock sells off.

DHT Holdings

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

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

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

The Airlines

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

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

The story here really boils down to the Canadian economy.

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

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

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

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

Its just a really tough market.

Trying to find something that works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You stop doing it.

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

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

Health Insurance Innovations

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

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

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

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

Impac Mortgage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDI Inc

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

It closed down.

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

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

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

Patriot National

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

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

Patriot describes themselves in their latest presentation as follows:

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

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

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

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

Orchid Island

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

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

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

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

Higher One Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Oil Stocks

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

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

So far so good.

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

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

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

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

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

Jones Energy

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

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

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

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

RMP Energy

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

antecreekvolumes

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

But the market sees it differently.

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

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

Granite Oil

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

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

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

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

economics

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

Portfolio Composition

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

Click here for the last five weeks of trades.

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Week 202: Better Late than Never

Portfolio Performance

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week-202-Performance

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

Monthly Review and Thoughts

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

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

But before I do…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is saying sell it all.

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

I know those reasons are abound for me.

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

With that said, on to the stocks.

New Positions – Enernoc and others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting some existing positions

Air Canada

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

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

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

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

epscomp

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

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

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

Axia NetMedia

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

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

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

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

DHT Holdings

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

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

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

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

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

Empire Industries

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

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

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

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

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

Teekay Tankers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vlccrates

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

I’m not so sure.

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

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

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

Extendicare

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

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

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

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

newontsubsidies

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

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

Hammond Manufacturing

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

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

Income from operations was also up significantly:

q1

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

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

ttm-results

Euronav

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

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

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

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

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

Stocks I sold

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

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

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

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

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last five weeks of trades.

week-202

Week 197: “Make your money while you can”

Portfolio Performance

week-197-yoyperformance

week-197-Performance

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

Monthly Review and Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Two Interesting BNN Segments… the first on the market

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and the second on oil

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

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

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

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

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

The four important data points that Nuttall provides are:

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

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

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

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

Portfolio changes

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

Ardmore Shipping

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

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

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

demanddynamic

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

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

supplydynamic

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

earningspotential

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

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

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

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

Capital Product Partners

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

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

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

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

newvessels

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

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

charters

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

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

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

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

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

Sotherly Hotels

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

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

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

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

comparison

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

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

hotels

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

hotels2

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

NAV

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

Impac Mortgage

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

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

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

What I sold

Midway Gold

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

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

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

Nationstar Mortgage

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

week-197

Tying up Loose Ends with the last of my June Position Changes (FFEX, IMH, MBI, TVL,)

As I mentioned in my June update, I was away on vacation for a couple of weeks and at the same time the city I live in was hit with the flood of a century, and these two events transpired to put some delays on the posting all the details of the monthly portfolio update that I put out.

In subsequent posts I have talked about the two major theme changes that I made in June, with those being that I sold all of my gold mining stocks with the only exception being Midas Gold (the decision to sell is looking rather prescient right now) and that I had bought a number of REIT’s that I believed were being sold off indiscriminately by investors lumping together all REITs into a single bucket (maybe not quite as prescient as the gold miner sell but I’m doing okay on this one so far).

There were, however, a couple of other portfolio changes that I made in the month of June that I didn’t get a chance to mention.  I want to use this post to do some house-cleaning, talking about the remaining portfolio changes I made in June. Read more

Updates on a few positions during a very busy week

This last week has been jam packed full of news, earnings and outsized moves.  I don’t think I have ever had as many 10%+ days for stocks that I own (or have recently owned but unfortunately sold) as I did in the last week.  While some of these moves do not seem attributable to any specific news (such as First Mariner and Atlantic Coast Financial) most of them do.  And while I have not had time to fully digest all of the news (I haven’t had time to review what announced spin-off for IDT and so therefore won’t be touching on that) I did want to discuss the stocks that I have reviewed and can comment on in the paragraphs below:

MBIA (MBI)

I sold out of MBIA in all but one account about two weeks ago, which is unfortunate timing given what has transpired.  Nevertheless I had my reasons, they remain valid, and you gain little by looking back at bad luck.   When the stock dipped into the $13’s on the day of the announcement I was really surprised, I mean the Bank of America deal was what we had all been waiting for, but I took advantage of the opportunity and loaded up the truck with stock.  Therefore MBIA is a large position for me right now – it seemed very close to a sure bet in the mid-13’s and so I bought 11% position, going on some margin to do so.

At some point shortly I am going to have to reduce that position (I’m uncomfortable with it being this large) but I am waiting for at least the conference call tomorrow to do that.  And what I do with my shares will really depend on what is said – in particular what management says about structured unit on call.  They may come out and say that they have commuted the worst exposure, the unit isn’t going to regulator, and they expect to realize ABV of $10 from it. In that case maybe MBIA is worth quite a bit more than National alone.  We shall see. Read more

Week 88: Take-off (MTG, RDN, MBI, PKI, NTI, IMH, WD)

Portfolio Performance

week-88-Performance

See the end of the post for Portfolio Composition and weekly trades.

A week of Significant Gains from RDN, MTG, MBIA

The last seven days have been extremely good ones for my portfolio.  This has been primarily due to the price appreciation of MGIC, Radian Group and MBIA.  As regards MGIC and Radian, I have written so much about these two names, done so much work trying to understand the business (and trying to understand how other people were trying to understand the business), that it is quite rewarding to see it play out the way that it has.

It is amazing to me that MGIC has more than doubled (from a $2.40 low to a $6.10 high) during 5 days when the only notable disclosure was that the company had the ability to raise capital.  Someone with an interest in market psychology should really write a piece on MGIC – you could call it the Existential Security.

I reduced my position in both Radian and MGIC by a little more than half during the early part of this week.  My sales of MGIC occurred around $5.20 while those with Radian were at a little over $10. I don’t have plans on selling any more of either.

I sold the positions down because they were getting very large (particularly in the case of MGIC) and because my thesis, that these companies would be able to survive, has now played out.  What is going to drive the stocks going forward is the long-term potential of the mortgage insurance business and how well each company can capitalize on it. Read more

Is the Gain on Sale Boom over?

Earlier this week my portfolio was rolling along nicely, having closed at an all-time high on Wednesday night with me looking forward to further gains ahead.

And then Flagstar reported their fourth quarter results.

I don’t own Flagstar.  I don’t even follow Flagstar.  They are a Michigan based bank that has had some problems in their past and, most importantly for this discussion, run a reasonably large sized mortgage operation. In the fourth quarter Flagstar reported a big decline in their gain on sale margin, from 244 basis points to 153, and the Street took it to mean that the mortgage origination boom was over. In addition to the carnage of Flagstar (down about $2.50 to $15.57 on Thursday), PHH Corp, Impact Mortgage and Nationstar all took it on the chin.

But while the headline decline was steep, there is more to the story.  During the conference call Flagstar provided some clarity. The following exchange between Matthew Kerin, the president of the Mortgage banking division, and Paul Miller of FBR is instructive (via SeekingAlpha). Read more