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Posts from the ‘Intermap (IMP)’ Category

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 241: Surviving

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

I had more than one acquaintance send me news that Orange Capital was shutting down.  I found this sad.  Those of you that have been following the blog know that Orange Capital and myself came into large positions in Bellatrix at about the same time.  The fall of 2014.  Both of us saw a company with excellent assets, the potential for significant growth, and a valuation that was compelling.

Unfortunately for us, while company specific factors lined up, the macro backdrop was quite the opposite.  As a consequence in the last year and a half Bellatrix has dropped from my original average cost of $6 down to, at one point, below $1 and current $1.42.

How Orange Capital and I responded was quite different.  Strong in their conviction that Bellatrix had solid assets and weather the storm, Orange Capital held their position and continued to buy more.  Myself, never all that sure whether I am missing some vital information, always wary of “giving it all back”, threw in the towel at around $4.50 in late November, capitulating into an interim low.

That I happened to be right in this case isn’t the point.  I didn’t forsee $20 oil or a $1 handle in front of the AECO spot contract.  I am positive that Orange had a better researched position than my own.  That I was right was, to a large extent, just luck.

What is demonstrated though is a difference in philosophy between what I am trying to do versus many money managers. I’m not a big believer in my own infallibility.  As my positions go down, I try to reduce them.  I’m not perfect in this respect, but its something I try to follow.

This is a methodology that I am finding has its shortcomings in this bear market.  You end up selling a lot of stock only to see bounce back shortly after.  I’ve been whipsawed on a few positions.

The other point I want to discuss, which is semi-related to Orange Capital, is the topic of blowing up.

The point of existence of a hedge fund is to risk money in order to make more of it.  You can argue the particulars of that statement, that risk reduction can occur through various hedges, diversification, concentration, whatever your flavor is, but the bottom line is that the money should be at risk somewhere or why is the fund even there?

But that’s not my job.  While part of what I am trying to do is of course maximize my profit line, my first mandate at this point in my life is also very clearly and in capital letters, TO NOT BLOW MYSELF UP.

I see some of the funds shutting down and stories about others that are down 15 or 20% this year already.  If a hedge fund is down big going into this weekend (I suspect that this is not completely uncommon and that there are many I have read about that are down far more) their primary motivation has to be to get it back.  They need to make money to survive.

I am down 9% since the beginning of the year as well.  But while it would be nice to get it all back, my primary motivation right now is not that.  My motivation is simply to make sure that my family and I are in a position to live comfortably regardless of what happens.  Whether that is 9% higher or not is really not the fundamental point.  Most important, and what I guard against with absolute vigilance, is insuring that my capital doesn’t permanently disappear.

With that said, my biggest transaction over the past month is irrelevant to this blog.  I paid down my mortgage in full. I also went to a mostly cash position in my RRSP (the Canadian equivalent of an IRA).  My investment account, which I track here, has more risk to it at the moment than I would perhaps like, but that is because, as I tweeted on last Wednesday, I thought there was a decent chance of a rally, which we seem to be getting.

So what do I see that is making me take such a bearish, worried stance? A couple things, and I will get into those in a minute, but the overriding factor is the same one that led me to sell Bellatrix in November 2014.  It simply isn’t working.  And when it doesn’t work I have to stop doing it before I suffer a permanent and significant capital loss.

As for those other things, the two legitimate concerns I see are the same one’s everyone else is talking about (which is partly why I think we might be due for a rally).

  1. The collapse of oil bringing about energy company bankruptcies that a. lead to investor losses that start to domino into broad based selling, and b. lead to bank losses and bond losses that cause overall credit contraction
  2. The collapse of China’s banking system leads to currency devaluation and god knows what else.  Kyle Bass wrote a terrifying piece (which I would recommend reading here) about how levered China’s banking system is, how their shadow banking system is hiding the losses, and about how government reserves are not large enough to pacify the situation without a significant currency devaluation.

Just how and to what extent these things come to pass is about as certain to me as $20 oil was in November 2014.  I have no clue.  But they are there, they are clearly worrisome, and what I have been doing is not working.  So I have to act accordingly.

What I did this Month

Not a whole heck of a lot.  In my online portfolio I added back two stocks and sold a few other. I bought small positions back in Relypsa and TG Therapeutics a few weeks ago.  I also made a couple of more buys on Wednesday of last week, adding (very small) positions in Cempra, Apigee, Five9, Ardmore Shipping and DHT Holdings (I subsequently sold DHT on Friday in favor of Teekay Tankers).

This week I added a small Air Canada position back and made two adds to existing positions: Radcom and Intermap.  Radcom gave a very positive quarterly update, said that the recent contract for NFV deployment is much bigger than the $18 million originally announced and that we should expect more contracts in the second half of 2016 or beginning of 2017.  I’m pretty sure this contract is with AT&T.  And while Radcom doesn’t give guidance they did say they expect $20 million of cash by the end of the first half of 2016.  This would be up from current $9 million.  They clarified that the cash is due to new revenue not deferred payments which exemplifies how profitable the new NFV contract is.  I think its quite a good growth story in a landscape bereft of them.

Intermap closed their $125 million SDI mapping contract and I don’t think the market is giving them full credit it for it.  I would expect that as the money rolls more believers will jump into the stock.  Intermap remains highly speculative but if they can follow up this contract with another large contract the upside for the stock would be significant, making it just the sort of market-insensitive story that I like to have in this environment.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

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Week 2015: Maybe its just a bear market

Portfolio Performance

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

Monthly Review and Thoughts

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

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

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

us market

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

tsxperformance

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

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

A week late

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

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

  1. Shorts
  2. US stocks in Canadian dollars

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

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

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

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

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

The Tankers

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

No such luck.

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

Ardmore Shipping

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

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

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

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

Yet the stock sells off.

DHT Holdings

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

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

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

The Airlines

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

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

The story here really boils down to the Canadian economy.

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

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

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

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

Its just a really tough market.

Trying to find something that works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You stop doing it.

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

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

Health Insurance Innovations

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

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

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

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

Impac Mortgage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDI Inc

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

It closed down.

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

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

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

Patriot National

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

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

Patriot describes themselves in their latest presentation as follows:

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

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

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

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

Orchid Island

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

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

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

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

Higher One Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Oil Stocks

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

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

So far so good.

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

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

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

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

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

Jones Energy

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

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

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

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

RMP Energy

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

antecreekvolumes

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

But the market sees it differently.

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

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

Granite Oil

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

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

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

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

economics

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

Portfolio Composition

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

Click here for the last five weeks of trades.

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Week 210: All about the 5-baggers

Portfolio Performance

week-210-yoyperformance

week-210-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

A few weeks ago I was talking to someone who works at a large fund.   He was telling me about a retail clothing chain that their fund was interested in.  To help evaluate the opportunity, they commissioned a research firm to canvas and scout locations across the country.

That is amazing intel.  It is also wholly impossible for me to replicate.

I generally have a pretty good idea about a business before I buy into it.  I do a lot of work up front, far more than the highlights that go into these posts.  But I’m always left with elements that are uncertain.   For an individual investor with access to limited information and with limited time, certainty about one’s beliefs is more hubris than reality.

In the face of such disadvantages, my strategy is to take smallish positions and add to them if they begin to work out inline with my expectations.  If they don’t, I cut them.

By keeping my positions small until they start working and cutting my losses before they get big I guard against the big hit to my portfolio.  On the winning side of the ledger I generally end up with a similar number of winners that cancel out the losers.  But I also end up with 2 or 3 big winners that lead to out-performance.

It’s the 5-baggers that make the engine go.

Another portfolio year has passed (I started writing this blog on July 1st 2011) and you can see from the results that the last year was not as good as the previous few.  I still did better than the market, but I didn’t do that great.

In part the under-performance was caused by not sticking to my rules.  I have already rehashed my failures with Bellatrix and other oil names in past posts so I won’t go into that again here.

But I also attribute it to my lack of “5-baggers”.  I haven’t had a big winner in the last 52 weeks.  I’ve had a lot of good picks (Air Canada, Axia NetMedia, PNI Digital, Extendicare, Radcom, Rex American, the second go around with Pacific Ethanol and so on) but only one true double and nothing that tripled or quadrupled.

Realizing how important multi-baggers are I’m sending myself back to the drawing board.  I’m not sure why I’ve failed to discover the big movers over the last year.  But I suspect that it is at least partially due to ignorance of the sectors that have had the momentum.

Up until recently I never owned a bio-tech.  I’ve stayed away from technology in all but a few exceptions.  I’ve only been in healthcare on a couple of occasions (one of those being Northstar Healthcare, subsequently Nobilis Health Corp, which I rather amazingly sold last October, at no gain or loss, literally days before it began a climb from $1.20 to over $10 in thee next six months).  Yet these sectors are where the big winners have been.

My attitude towards these and other outperforming sectors is going to change.  I have invested in a couple of bio-techs and in technology (shorts mind you, as I will explain later) and in the last couple of months.  More new ideas will follow.

What I Sold

Usually I discuss my new positions next.  While I have a couple of these, they are not significantly sized and my actions have been more weighted to the sell side of the ledger, so it seems appropriate to discuss what I sold first.

As I tweeted on a couple of occasions I have been skittish about the market over the past month and a half.  I sold out of some positions and reduced others when Greece went on tilt and announced a referendum two weeks ago.

Since that time as my worries have subsided I have bought some of those positions back. It doesn’t look like an immediate contagion is upon us, which was my main concern.  Still I’m keeping a healthy amount of cash (20%) and where I can I am short a number of stocks.

In what turned out to be an unexpected consequence of my recent research expansion, over the past month I spent a lot of research hours looking at short opportunities. Trying to take more of an interest in tech, I read through reports describing the state of business and dynamics at play in everything from telecom infrastructure to smartphone.  As I did I felt most of the near term opportunity was on the short side, and so I took positions there.

My tech shorts have been based on three-fold expectations: PC sales are declining faster than consensus, smart phone sales will grow slower than consensus, and rumors that the big data build out by cloud providers has been overdone will prove to be true and future spending will be scaled back.  Without going into the individual names, I’ve stuck mostly with the big players and mostly with semi-conductor providers, which seem to be the most susceptible to spending downturns.

I think however that this play has almost run its course.  I have been taking off some positions heading into earnings (for example I was short Micron going into their June quarter but took it off the day after earnings were announced), and plan to exit my remaining positions as earnings are released.  I don’t like to hold short positions too long.

While I have yet to take any short positions in healthcare, I get the feeling that the recent merger mania may be leading to valuations that prove difficult to justify once the feeding frenzy subsides.  I note that a top pick of Jerome Haas, who I have followed and found to be a solid thinker, was a short on Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

In my online portfolio, in which I cannot short, I sold out of my gold mining shares, my oil stock shares, some of my tanker shares (Euronav and Frontline), a hotel play (Red Lion), reduced my airline exposure in both Air Canada and Hawaiian Holdings as well as my Yellow Pages and Enernoc positions.

I also sold out of DirectCash Payments, though I subsequently added the position back later (at about the same price).  I really want to hold this one through earnings because its been beaten down so far and I still have doubts as to whether the first quarter is the secular harbinger that the market seems to think it is.  In the turned out to be an unexpected consequence of my recent research expansion

Similarly, while I sold out of RMP Energy, I bought it back (at a lower price) because I want to see their quarter before giving up on the stock.  Like DirectCash Payments, I question whether results will be as dire as the market suggests. In the same segment of his BNN appearance Haas also made DirectCash Payments another top pick.

I only added to a couple of positions in the last month.  Patriot National continues to execute on their roll-up strategy, buying up smaller insurers at accretive multiples.  The stock is up 40% from my original purchase (though in the online portfolio I forgot to add it when I originally mentioned it so its up somewhat less there) and I decide to add to the position since its working out.

Second, I added to my position in Capital Product Partners on what I believe is unwarranted selling on Greece.  The company is incorporated in the Marshall Islands, does not pay Greek taxes but does have offices in Greece, which is at the heart of the sell-off.  A scan of the company’s annual filings shows that their exposure to Greece is potentially some deposits in Greek banks and the risk that one or more of their subsidiaries could face higher taxes.  I don’t think that correlates to the 20% plus sell-off in the share price.

I also added two new positions to my portfolio.

Intermap

I have followed Intermap for years.  Its a company that my Dad owned. While it always held out the promise of a significant revenue ramp Intermap could never quite figure out how to monetize their world class geo-spatial data.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the company signed a large contract with unnamed government for the implementation of a National Spatial Data infrastructure program.

For years Intermap was primarily a mapping services provider.  They owned 3 Lear jets equipped with radar technology that scanned and mapped large swaths of terrain.  They would land contracts to map out a country or region and be paid for providing that data.

The company always kept the rights to their mapping data and, over time, Intermap compiled a database of geospatial data for a large part of the earth.   This spatial database became a product called NextMAP.   The database can be accessed through commercially available GIS software like ArcGIS or web browser apps developed by the company. Customers can license either parts of or the entire NextMAP database for their use.

The latest version of the database, called NextMAP World 30, is “a commercial 3D terrain offering that provides seamless, void free coverage, with a 30meter ground sampling distance, across the entire 150 million km2 of the earth’s surface.”

Intermap has always had a leading technology.  But they have struggled with coming up with profitable ways of marketing that technology.   Over the last three years the company has been working on applications that can be layered over their basic mapping data.  They have a program for analyzing the risk of fires and floods (InSite Pro), a program for managing hazardous liquid pipeline risk (InSite Pro for Pipelines) and a program for assessing outdoor advertising locations (AdPro).

None of these niche solutions have resulted in significant revenue to the company.

The carrot has always been that they land a large government contract for the full implementation of a geo-spatial solution for the country.  Most investors have given up on this ever happening, but then it did.

The announced contract is for $125 million over two years, during which time Intermap will implement the infrastructure solution.  This will be followed by an ongoing maintenance contract valued at $50 million over 18 years.

When I saw the number on the contract I knew immediately that the stock would jump significantly.  Including warrants and options Intermap has 127 million shares outstanding.  So at the closing price the night before the deal was announced the market capitalization was around $10 million.  When it opened around 25 cents I figured the upside was only about half priced in, so I jumped aboard.

The implementaton of a full geo-spatial solution as per the contract will involve the implementation of the company’s Orion platform, which includes the company’s NextMAP data integrated with other relevant third party data and with applications for accessing and analyzing the data.   The platform will be used to help with decision making with infrastructure planning, weather related risks, agriculture, excavation, and national security.  Because this is basically a new business for the company, its difficult to peg margins or profitability.  So I’m not going to try.

Nevertheless, just based on the rough assessment of what $125 million in revenue would mean, at this point, with the current stock price of 50 cents the contract is probably mostly priced into the stock.  I maybe should have sold on the run-up to 60 cents, but I decided not to.

The company has suggested in the past that they have a number of RFPs in the works and some of those they have already won but cannot announce until funding is secured.  The upside in the shares is of course a second contract. That could happen next week or next year.  Its impossible to predict.

The other consideration, and something I have always wondered about, is why some large company doesn’t pick up Intermap for what would amount to peanuts, securing what is truly a world class data set and a platform that would seem to be more valuable in the hands of a large company with the resources to sell large projects to governments.  Somebody like an IHS comes to mind.

Pacific Biosciences

This investment idea is a little out of my normal area of expertise and consistent with my desire to expand my investing horizons.   Its an idea I came up with after reading  this Seeking Alpha article which I think does a good job explaining the trend we are trying to jump on.

PACB has 74 million shares outstanding, so at $5.20 (where I bought it) the market capitalization is $385mm.   The company has $79 million of  cash and investments and $14 million in debt.

They are in the business of gene sequencing.  Pacific Biosciences sells gene sequencing machines and related consumables for running tests to map an individuals gene in hopes of detecting a mutation that will diagnose the future susceptibility to disease.  The machine of course is a one-time sale but the consumables are a recurring revenue stream so the business has a bit of a razor-blade type revenue model to it.

The big player in the gene sequencing arena is a company called Illumina.  This is a $30 billion market cap company that did nearly $2 billion in revenue last year.  They dwarf Pacific Biosciences, which did around $60 million of revenue last year.

In fact I read that Pacific Biosciences has only sold around 150 machines.  One interesting thing from their presentation is that for each of the machines Pacific Biosciences sells, they generate about $120,000 of consumable sales a year.   Thus the opportunity for significantly higher recurring revenues is there if they can sell a few more machines.

What seems to set Pacific Biosciences apart from Illumina is that their technology produces much longer gene sequencing strings which results in far lower error rates.  Below is a comparison between the two.

comparisonilluminaOne thing I am not sure of is where Pacific Biosciences sits compared to some of their non-public competition.  I was reading through some of the comments on a site called Stock Gumshoe that suggested that some private competition may have as good or better sequencing technology.

Pacific Biosciences also has an agreement whereby Roche will market their product for the diagnostics market in 2013.  In May Pacific Biosciences met the second milestone of that agreement.  The only thing that is a little disconcerting about this agreement is that Pacific Biosciences did not announce how much revenue they would be giving up once (and if) the product is commercialized.

My bottom line is that there are enough interesting things going on for me to speculate in the stock.  The key word being speculate.  There is a chance of wider adoption, there is a chance of an expansion of their relationship with Roche, there is maybe even an outside chance of a takeover.  And its an industry that is clearly growing, is in investor favor, and the stock was at a 52-week low when I bought it.

But I will flatly state that I would not take my comments about Pacific Biosciences too seriously.  My knowledge of this industry remains weak (though its improving as I read more).  They could be, or maybe even have been, surpassed by competition and I would not be the first to know.  So we’ll see how this goes and chalk up any loss to the cost of education.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

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