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Posts from the ‘Patriot National (PN)’ Category

Week 236 Mistakes were Made (by me)

Portfolio Performance

week-236-yoyperformance

week-236-Performance

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

I am late getting this update out. Last week I found it hard to write about my investments as my portfolio is getting ravaged every day.

I was doing pretty well up until the end of the year.  I wasn’t at a high, but I wasn’t too far away and the market was only doing ok so that didn’t seem too bad.  I’d taken some one-stock hits in December, on news from Patriot National, Acacia Research and Iconix, but I had managed to make back those losses by working hard to find other names that worked.

Then the new year hit and it all fell apart.

I wrote about 80% of a write-up last weekend.  I intended to write the rest Monday, but my portfolio got smacked.  Same thing Tuesday.  By Wednesday I was selling some positions and adding to others, so my original write-up seemed out of date.  On Thursday I had a miserable day as the positions I had added to (Northstar Realty, Brookfield Residential, TG Therapeutics, Relypsa) took further hits.  On Friday, after some further losses, I threw in the towel, sold a lot of stock, and went back to a big cash position and (where I can) shorts to hedge the rest.

It is a little depressing. I am literally back to the exact same level I was at during the mid-August bottom which is the same level I was at during the early October bottom (note that I’m pretty sure that intra-day of the crash that occurred in August I was quite a bit lower, though stocks recovered a lot of those losses by the end of the day so we’ll never know how bad it got).  No progress.

You work hard, find some good stocks, manage through some bad one’s, scalp a few trades where you can and make some progress and then in a week you are right back where you started.

Not fun.

I made the following tweets on Friday evening that sum up my sentiment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I don’t know, maybe this is going to turn out to be a whole lot of nothing again, but you never know.  What kind of worries me about last week is how many stocks I own and follow made 52-week lows on basically no news.   Stocks that fell like a knife through support on absolutely no reason.  The overall move in stocks was supposedly caused by China but that disagrees with what I saw because what I watched were positions in Northstar, Brookfield, Delta Apparel, Vicor, TG Therapeutics, Relypsa, get obliterated and none of them have anything to do with China (to make no mention of others like Patriot and Iconix, where yes they have their own issues but still the collapsed on no news was somewhat stunning).  In fact much of my losses were the result of buying stocks that I felt were isolated from China but which fell extremely hard anyways.

The last time this sort of move happened was when Bellatrix, RMP Energy and Swift Energy went into free fall in October 2014.  It all seemed terribly overdone at the time but was fully justified in retrospect given what happened to the oil markets.   Looking back on that time, the only thing I wish is that I would have sold out sooner.

I sold sooner this time. Never soon enough, but sooner.

One of my favorite books over the last few years has been Mistakes were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.  In the book the authors investigate how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes we experience cognitive dissonance that is uncomfortable, maybe even unbearable.  If we allow ourselves to rely on our natural fallback mechanisms our response is to disengage ourselves from responsibility, make up a story in our head to justify what we did or change the narrative entirely to a more pleasing one.  The intent of which is to restore our belief that we are right.  The consequence is that we do not learn, we do not change, and we are more likely to make the same mistake again.

I am not going to allow myself to justify why I am right and the market is wrong.  Not when I get bombarded with evidence like I got last week.  I don’t know the reason.  Maybe (like with oil in October 2014) there is something out there that I just haven’t figured out yet.  Maybe I’m just picking the wrong stocks in the wrong market.  Maybe everything bounces back next week and I am left scrambling (and I will scramble back into some of these positions if it looks like the coast is clear).  Nevertheless if I was doing things right, this week should not have happened.  I should not be losing 5% in a week.  Something is wrong and the only prudent thing I can do is take a step back until I figure out what that is.

What is written below is what I wrote before the carnage of last week.  Not all of it is relevant.  I sold out Iconix.  I sold out of Relypsa.  I cut Patriot back substantially.  I still hold my golds, and added to a few in the last week.  Note that I also started one new position that I kept, Vicor, but I am in no mood to write it up right now.

Gold stocks: Lake Shore Gold

These gold stocks get no respect.  If I told you that I had a company with a $500 million market cap, zero net debt, generating 50% gross margins and with free cash flow of $42 million in the first nine months what would you say?  Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?  Except its Lake Shore Gold.

I am returning to the gold sector because I see it as a potentially misunderstood investment.  The gold stocks all move inline with the price of gold.  Its painful to watch.  The price of gold goes up $5 and they all get a bid.  It drops $5 and that bid disappears.

Yet for non-US based gold producers it is not the price of gold in US dollars that determines their margins.  Its the price of gold in local currency, or to look at it the other way the cost of production in US dollars.  For Canadian, Mexican and many South American producers, the cost of producing gold has fallen dramatically.  Add to that the reduction in energy costs and many producers are experiencing margins that are actually better than they were when gold was a few hundred dollars higher.

Lake Shore Gold has 439 million shares outstanding.  It has long-term debt of $91 million, cash on hand of $80 million and another $20 million in gold inventory.  In the first nine months of the year the company generated $77 million in cash flow before working capital changes, spent $37 million in capital expenditures and another $7.5 million in finance equipment leases.  Free cash flow was $42 million.

Lake Shore operates two gold mines in Ontario.  The Timmins West Mine is 18km west of Timmins.  Lake Shore produces from two deposits: Timmins and Thunder Creek.  The trend is ripe for new discoveries and there have been a couple with the 144 Gap Zone and 144 West Gap Zone.  Below is a schematic of the four deposits.

timminswest

Production from Timmins West has increased over the last three years:

timminswestproduction

The 144 Gap resource is expected in the first quarter.   By the looks of their underground schematic the 144 Gap can be accessed via existing Thunder Creek infrastructure – Lake Shore said in Q3 MD&A that exploration drift from Thunder Creek to 144 Gap was completed in the third quarter, which should simplify the road to production.

I ran a quick and dirty resource estimate on 144 Gap and think it could post an impressive number.  In their MD&A Lake Shore says that the 144 Gap is 300m x (50-125)m x (75-125)m.  I grabbed a specific gravity estimate of 2.92 from the technical report created for Thunder Creek and West Timmins.   The volume of deposit is between 1.125mmm3 and 4.6875mmm3.  I eyeballed the grade of the deposit from slides 13-15 from this presentation.  The results are as follows:

– 2.92 x 1,125,000 = 3,285,000t

– 2.92 x 4,687,500 = 13,687,500t

– 3,285,000 x 4.5 / 31.1 = 475,000oz

– 13,687,500 x 4.5 / 31.1 = 1.98moz

Lake Shore’s second mine is Bell Creek, which is 20km east of Timmins.  The mine also has the milling facility in addition to the Bell Creek Mine where ore from both Timmins West and Bell Creek are processed.  Bell Creek produced 43,400oz in 2014.

bellcreekproduction

Lake Shore recently bought Temex Gold (September 18th) and their interest in the Whitney project for $23 million.  They acquired 708,000 M&I oz and 171,000 inferred oz at Whitney.   The M&I resource is quite high grade at 6.85 g/t.  Whitney is strategically located; its right next door to the Bell Creek Complex.  Whitney was 60% owned by Temex and 40% owned by Goldcorp.

Below are the company’s reserve and resource.  Because so much of the company’s operation is underground, the resource is less robust than many of their open pit competitors.  I wouldn’t read too much into this.  Underground operations are by their nature going to have smaller resources because its simply not economic to drill extensively at depth until mining has commenced nearby.  As we see with the recent 144 Gap zone discoveries there is plenty of potential for additional ounces to be added.

reserveandresource

The only unfortunate thing is that Lake Shore remains a bet on the price of gold.  And I’m not really sure how constructive I want to be on the gold price just yet.  I’m feeling better about gold; I look back to the years between 2004-2007 where the Federal Reserve was raising rates and gold was rising.  I’m hopeful that the beginning of the rate hie cycle will mark the bottom in the gold price.  But I’m not convinced. If I was I would be plowing money into a profitable and well managed miner like Lake Shore and building a big position.  As it is, I’m keeping my position modest, and we’ll wait and see what the next move is.

I also added positions in Claude Resources and Argonaut Gold.  I already have a position in Oban Mining and Carlisle Goldfields.

Taking Hits and Bouncing Back Part I – Patriot National

I had an abnormal number of negative events hit my portfolio in the last month.  Had it not been for these events, my portfolio would have broken out to new highs.  As it was I instead spent the month paddling upstream against the current.

But this is the nature of my investing strategy, which to some degree is bottom feeding in stocks of questionable merit but with the potential for outsized returns if events fall into place.  Unfortunately in each of these cases events fell outside of expectations.

When I invested in Patriot National it was with the understanding that the company had some questionable behavior in its past.  A perusal of the related party acquisitions over the last 18 months leads to some questions and while I am not going to get into the details here, I would direct those interested to read through the proxy for Global HR Research for an example.

Nevertheless I felt comfortable enough investing in the stock because the business was (and is) growing and the CEO Steven Mariano, owned over 60% of the outstanding shares.  This seemed like a good put to me, that nothing too shareholder negative would be done as his own net worth would suffer.

Unfortunately that turned out to be naive.

My mistake here was that I read the news release, thought that the attached warrant was unfortunate, but did not dig any further.   That is until about two hours into trading that morning with the stock down $4 when I realized something must be wrong.  In the proxy document for the offering was a description of the nature of one of the two warrants being offered along with shares, in particular the exercise price associated with the warrant:

Variable Exercise Price” means, as of any Exercise Date, 85% of the Market Price on such Exercise Date (subject to adjustment for stock splits, stock dividends, stock combinations, recapitalizations or similar events occurring on such Exercise Date).

When I read this I honestly couldn’t believe it.  I thought I must be missing something.  Who offers shares that it is questionable the company even needs and tacks on a warrant that lets you buy more shares at essentially any price.  What stops the warrant holders from shorting the shit out of the stock, driving down the price and then redeeming their warrants at the depressed level?  And even if that is explicitly prohibited by the proxy (which it was) what stops investors like me from worrying that they will figure out a way to do it anyways, and selling their position before it happens?

It was essentially a “no bottom” situation where the more the stock fell the more worried you’d get that there were nefarious forces at work and that it would fall further.  So I sold.  About 30% lower than the stock closed at the previous evening.  But over 30% higher than its eventual bottom.

Amazingly, a week later, on Christmas Eve no less, Patriot announced that they had come to an agreement with the subscribers and cancelled the company offering.  Mariano, who was offering some of his own shares as part of the deal, would still sell his.

This brings us to the current state, which is interesting.  As far as the company, its basically status quo.  Guidance has been reaffirmed, no dilution has occurred, its the same company it was a month ago.  Ironically my original thesis, which was that Mariano owned too much stock to do anything too stupid, played itself out as one would expect.  I doubt that the decision go back on the offering was out of concern for the shareholder base so much as the shock that some $80 million of his net worth had evaporated in a few days.

The problem is that credibility has been lost and as a result the stock is trading at about half the level it was at prior to the debacle.  While I totally understand the perspective that you just have to walk away from any management team that would attempt something like this, I am compelled by just how cheap the stock is.   So I added my position back.  We will see if time and maybe a few good moves can heal some wounds.

Taking Hits Part II and II – Acacia Research and Iconix

Acacia Research was the second negative event to befall me.  This one was relatively simpler than Patriot.  The company lost a patent infringement suit that I didn’t think they were going to lose.  It was for their Adaptix portfolio, which is one of their marquee portfolios, and so it calls into question the valuation of that portfolio.  With the stock down at $4 its trading extremely close to cash and you can certainly make the argument that the current price exaggerates the impact of the legal loss.

I sold because I saw the stock falling, knew that the lawsuit was pending and that therefore it had likely went against Acacia, and suspected that there would be more selling than buying over the following weeks so it was better to get out sooner than later.  I plan to revisit after my 30 day tax loss selling period has expired.

When I entered into a position with Iconix it was with the knowledge that there may be more shoes to drop.  So when the SEC announced a formal investigation into the accounting treatment of the company’s joint ventures, I was disappointed but not surprised.  As in the case of Patriot and Acacia I thought it better to sell first and ask questions later, which turned out to be the prudent move as the stock fell further (20+%) than I would have expected.

Iconix feels binary to me at under $6.  Even after the move last Thursday which jumped it to $7 the stock still seems to reflect quite a bit of pessimism about the investigation.

The company isn’t perfect, to be sure.  To reiterate some of what I wrote last post, debt lies at $1.5 billion which is simply too high.  A few of their menswear brands are experiencing headwinds which may or may not be permanent.  The new management conceded that not enough dollars have been spent on advertising and that a “refresh” of a number of their brands is necessary.

Nevertheless, the company owns strong brands prominent in a variety of retail (Walmart, Target, Kohls, Sears/Target) as well as entertainment brands like Peanuts and Strawberry Shortcake that have long term appeal.  They should be able to continue to deliver consistent licensing revenue.  At $6 the stock reflects 4x free cash flow even using somewhat depressed 2016 numbers.  That’s a cheap number for any business that doesn’t have questions about being a going concern.

On further reflection though I decided that the market was probably punishing the stock on uncertainty and passed transgressions than it was on any new revelation.  I think what happened is that the company is suspect because of the already announced accounting issues, and the press release announced was admittedly vague and light on details, so it was an excellent opportunity to imagine the worst.

Relypsa

I got the idea for Relypsa from @exMBB on twitter.  Relypsa has 41.7 million shares outstanding so at the current price it has about a $1.1 billion market capitalization.  the company has $285 million of cash.

Relypsa specializes in polymeric drugs.  In particular they are targeting a condition called hyperkalemia with a drug called Veltassa.  Here is what hyperkalemia is:

Hyperkalaemia (higher-than-normal potassium levels) follows the kidney’s inability to excrete potassium, mechanism impairment of potassium transport into cells or a combination of both, according to ZS’ website. It can cause cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

 

Veltassa is a polymer that will exchange calcium for potassium.  The existing treatments work on exchanging sodium for potassium, which is not well tolerated in patients.

Our bodies relatively narrow range for which we can tolerate potassium in our kidney.  Most of us take in more potassium than we can handle but we just excrete the extra.  However if you have chronic kidney disease you can’t and you end up with dangerously high potassium levels.

If you have a potassium level of 5.5-6 or greater, there is need to treat the patients, but treatment is intermittent because of the poor tolerance of the available options.  With Veltassa you can take patients that are hyperkalemia, pull down their potassium to the normal range and keep it there.

The patient population is 2.5-3 million patients, with these patients all being parts of the CKD3 and CKD4 (CKD is Chronic Kidney Disease) populations that have high potassium levels.  On one of the conference calls Relypsa said that Veltassa would be sold for $600 per month.

Veltassa has been approved for treatment of hyperkalemia, broad application. The approval occured on October 21st.   The problem with the approval was that it included a limitation of use that it is not be used in emergency situations.  The stock dumped initially but recovered much of the losses through November and December.

The warning label was required because there was some indication of interaction of Veltassa with other drugs – in particular in vitro studies showed interaction with 9/18 drugs tested against.

Listening to some of the recent conference presentations, Relypsa argues that the in vitro test is conservative.  In vitro studies are very good at showing where there is no interaction but give false positives for interactions that need to be verified.

Relypsa is going to perform human drug interaction studies to find out if the in vitro studies are correct.  The human studies they are done with healthy volunteers, there may need to be additional studies with some other patient groups such as type 2 diabetes patients who have stomachs that empty much slower and where a 3hr separation wouldn’t be enough.  But the first results are expected in early 2016.

The concern is that the warning label, if it stays, will put Veltassa at a disadvantage against competition, in particular ZS-9, which was developed by a company named ZS Pharma.  ZS-9 is further behind than Veltassa, an FDA approval decision isn’t expected until the spring and it carries some concerns of its own.

Glassock maintained ZS005’s high hypertension threshold will impact approval or prompt a black-box warning. Lipicky agreed a black box could be issued. Veltassa’s boxed warning states it binds other orally administered medications, potentially decreasing their absorption and reducing effectiveness.

ZS Pharma was recently taken over by AstraZeneca.  They paid $2.7 billion for the company.  ZS Pharma is essentially a one drug company.  The implication is that apart from the warning label concerns about Veltassa, Relypsa should reasonably expect a takeover value in the same range.

Some of the takeover talk has ramped up through December, first with rumors about Merck and then with rumors of a bidding process in the works.  Here is what is said about the takeover possibility on IBD:

Shortly before noon, Street Insider quoted an anonymous source saying that Merck (NYSE:MRK) was about to make an offer for Relypsa for an unknown price. About an hour and a half later, the Financial Times reported that its own anonymous source said that Relypsa was merely starting the process without a particular buyer, though GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) and Sanofi (NYSE:SNY) are both potential bidders.

Speculation that Relypsa could be bought has been buzzing since AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) agreed to buy ZS Pharma (NASDAQ:ZSPH) last month for 2.7 billion. Relypsa and ZS Pharma both make drugs treating high levels of potassium in the blood; ZS Pharma’s hasn’t been approved, while Relypsa’s drug Veltassa was approved in October but with a stiff warning label about dangerous interactions with other drugs.

Its an interesting situation, one that is speculative to be sure.  There is a short interest that doesn’t buy the story, and plenty of action in both puts and calls.  There is also the question as to why AstraZeneca bought ZS Pharma and not Relypsa in the first place.  Still, I think its worth a speculation.

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

week-215-yoyperformanceweek-215-Performance

 

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

Monthly Review and Thoughts

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

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

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

us market

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

tsxperformance

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

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

A week late

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

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

  1. Shorts
  2. US stocks in Canadian dollars

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

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

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

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

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

The Tankers

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

No such luck.

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

Ardmore Shipping

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

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

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

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

Yet the stock sells off.

DHT Holdings

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

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

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

The Airlines

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

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

The story here really boils down to the Canadian economy.

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

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

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

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

Its just a really tough market.

Trying to find something that works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You stop doing it.

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

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

Health Insurance Innovations

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

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

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

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

Impac Mortgage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDI Inc

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

It closed down.

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

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

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

Patriot National

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

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

Patriot describes themselves in their latest presentation as follows:

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

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

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

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

Orchid Island

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

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

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

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

Higher One Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Oil Stocks

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

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

So far so good.

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

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

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

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

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

Jones Energy

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

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

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

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

RMP Energy

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

antecreekvolumes

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

But the market sees it differently.

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

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

Granite Oil

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

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

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

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

economics

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

Portfolio Composition

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

Click here for the last five weeks of trades.

week-215

 

Week 193: On getting from here to there

Portfolio Performance

week-193-yoyperformance

week-193-Performance

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

Updates

This is a difficult investing environment.  Valuations are high and the market is choppy.  Even as I do my best to limit my exposure to the gyrations by keeping 25% of my portfolio in cash, reducing the size of all but my favorite ideas, and parking cash in dividend paying investments, I still find my stomach churning on days like some of those this week, as I found myself down 2% after Tuesday’s close.

Many stocks that might appear attractive in their own right are difficult to own in this environment.  It is a situation I find unpleasant. While I am still a relatively young man, in markets like these I find myself too old for this.

Like most Canadians I have two accounts.  I have an investment account, and an RRSP account.  Through most of the last 10 years, which constitutes the extent of my productive investing career, these accounts have seen similar allocations.  What I did in my investment account, I did in my RRSP.  However 4 months ago I changed this strategy.  I cleaned my RRSP out of anything speculative, anything small cap, and what I own now are primarily dividend paying companies and REITs.  And a lot of cash.

I just can’t justify the chase given the circumstance and intent of the account and where the market is right now.

In fact, I would expect that at some time in the next couple of years this blog is going to undergo a facelift. Its going to become the ‘how to make money on dividends and not lose your principle’ blog. That happens about 30% from now, so you can put a timeframe to that depending on the returns you think I can manage.

People write blogs like this for different reasons.  Some are looking to make a name for themselves by finding the next big zero or riding a name on the discard heap to the sun.  Others are hoping to parlay their knowledge into a career or at least a few mentions on network cable.  I’m in this for two reason. First, I actually enjoy writing. Second, I want to get to my goal and be done with it, and writing this blog speeds up that process.  How can I get from here to there in the shortest time possible?  That is my trajectory.  While the arrival time is getting close, I’m not quite there yet.

It is this purpose that allows me to exercise as little conviction to my ideas as I see fit.  I’m not interested in appearing consistent.  If an idea is not working I sell it.  If I read or learn something that changes my mind, I change it.  That may be even after I have said only a week before that I loved the idea like a son.   I learned soon after starting this blog that I would have to decide whether I wanted to be right and look good or make money. If I chose the former then I would have to either A. be perfect, or B. show a herculean ability stand by my convictions in the face of adversity and a willingness to stick things out for the long haul through inevitably lags in performance.  Well I’m certainly not A, and B is a little too risky given that A is not likely to be achieved.

Onto my chariots.

Oil Stocks

I took a position in Jones Energy, and I now have exposure to 3 North American E&Ps (with RMP Energy and Rock Energy being the other two).  I am likely too early; WTI continues to fall and the storage builds continue to mount.  But I have a good memory, and I know that trying to predict the stock price turn is not the same as predicting the turn in the underlying conditions.  Remember that things were not necessarily all that rosy in April of 2009 when the stock market decided enough was enough.  Besides, as I will point, this is only one side of a 3-way hedge.

Sometimes you have to lose a little money to make money, and that is the perspective I am taking with Jones Energy.  I will talk more specifically about why I chose Jones below, and give a little update into some of the work I have seen on RMP Energy, a second position of mine. But first a little perspective on oil and how I think about my positions.

At worst what I have here is a hedged bet.  I have my oil stocks one the one side and my airlines and tankers on the other.  At some point, one, or maybe two of these guys is going to be a winner.

The best case outcome is that I have 3 winning bets with staggered payoffs.  Here is how I think this plays out.

First, oil continues to be under pressure in the short-term.  This is already happening. Storage continues to rise, production grows, albeit at a slower pace.  The contango widens and once again the tanker stocks come into favor.  I do not believe that the tanker story is merely a storage story but the market does, so a short term move in these stocks depends on some negative developments on the oil price side and a positive move in the contango.  Tanker rates are already at elevated levels.  If rates move up during what should be the weaker spring season there will undoubtedly be calls that after a 6 year hiatus, the tide has finally come back in for the tankers.  As these stocks move back up, hopefully to their highs or beyond, winning bet #1 pays off.

Next, oil settles as it becomes clear that production has peaked and nobody is drilling any more.  The current narrative of collapse and fear is replaced by a narrative of the “new normal”.  The new normal narrative will be that low prices are here to stay.  This is what is going to set off the airlines.  They have been in a holding pattern since the beginning of the year, digesting some really large gains and wrestling with whether the boon in fuel costs is actually something that can be priced in for the long run.  Once the market decides it can be, they move up another leg and I get winner #2.

Finally for the last winning bet; the E&Ps.  Getting to here might be a shit-show or it might not.  The market is already starting to show signs that it discerns the survivors from the wreckage.  Of the three E&Ps I own, Rock Energy has no debt, RMP Energy has $115 million on a market capitalization of over $500 million (so very low debt), and Jones Energy, which does have a healthy amount of debt, has done such a good job hedging their production until the end of 2016 that by the time they realize spot prices most of their lessor hedged brethren will have already succumbed.  Rock and Jones have done secondaries.  These companies are in good shape.

I don’t think oil prices have to go back to $100 for stocks like these to rise.  At some point a legitimate new normal will assert itself and prices will go back to a $65 or $70 level where supply and demand are balanced.  Now I know there is a lot of talk that E&P’s are already pricing in $70 oil or $80 oil.  While I think this argument is being reserved for the larger entities, the EOG’s of the world, and not these smaller players who have actually taken a very hard fall, I also think this argument is flawed.  I simply ask you this: If some of these companies are pricing in $70 oil, are they also pricing in $70 oil service costs?

As I will explain below using Jones as the example, service costs are collapsing.  And that means $70 oil is no longer actually $70 oil.  $70 oil is maybe $85 oil when you look at in terms of margins, which is what matters.  And not operating margins, not the somewhat irrelevant costs that are used to put together all the break-even forecasts you hear about.  I’m talking about the half-cycle margins that include the primary cost associated with producing oil: drilling the well.  Those costs are coming down big.

The beauty of it is that $70 oil is still going to be $70 oil for the debt laden and high operating cost producers and so the cash flows of many will continue to be constrained.  But for the operators with the financial flexibility to drill and the land positions to achieve attractive returns, they will inherit this new earth.  And that is when my third bet pays off.

Why Jones?

So I bought Jones and I think they have a very good chance to be a big winner when we eventually come through this morass.  Reason #1 for my optimism is that Jones has a very good hedge book for 2015 and 2016:
hedges
Compare the above hedge positions to the company guidance below:

guidance

So to put everything in like terms, guidance is suggesting oil production of about 2,518MMbbl, natural gas production of about 21,000MMscf and NGL production of about 2,300MMbbl.  That means they have about 92% of oil production, 93% of natural gas production and 66% of NGL production hedged at decent prices for 2015.  The volumes hedged for 2016 are not far off that.

On their fourth quarter conference call Jones said that their drilling and completion costs are coming down substantially. Wells that used to cost them $3.8mm are down to $2.9mm.  They think that will come down to $2.6 million in short order.  That is a huge change that has moved the profitability curve down substantially.

While all operators are seeing costs come down, Jones is in enviable position being the major operator in the area – I think they have more leverage over their suppliers than some.

Unlike my other two E&P picks, Jones has debt.  They have also taken on more debt recently. At the beginning of February they sold $250mm of 9.5% senior unsecured notes due 2023 to the market.

Jones has also issued shares, but worth noting, the offerings were at substantially higher prices than what the stock is trading at today:

A. 4,761,905 shares at $10.50 to Magnetar Capital LLC and GSO Capital Partners LP
B. 7,500,000 shares at $10.25 via an underwriting with underwriter option for additional 1,125,000 shares

In total Jones has offered 13.4 million shares if underwriter option is exercised. It will raise a little over $130mm in proceeds from the offering.

As far as the operations go, things look solid.  The company is going ahead with three drilling rigs all focused on the Cleveland.  They’ve settled on a frac design and will be going back to an openhole completion with 33 stages.  This is expected to give them the oil uplift that had been the intent of all the experimentation that they did in 2014, but without a lot of added cost.  Production is going to fall as they cut back on drilling, but I think we are all past the point of worrying about what happens to production in the short term.  They didn’t have a lot to say about their Tanaka wells on the last conference call, but given the opportunity for additional lands that is likely to open up in the Cleveland, I’m not sure if the viability of the Tanaka is relevant any more.

Basically, I think Jones will weather the storm here. They have ample liquidity to increase their position in the Anadarko basin with cheap assets. You can pick up the shares at a 20% discount to the underwriting less than a month ago. The near term commodity price risk is greatly mitigated given the hedge book. The move down to $8, which unlike many of their peers is a significant new low, seems to me to be unjustified given all of these factors.

Reviewing RMP Energy

Since I the discussion revolves around  E&P’s in this post, I wanted to give a few thoughts on RMP Energy.  In the last couple of weeks I spent some time reading through and analyzing a recent report put out by Peters.  In the report Peters raised some concerns about the extent of Ante Creek play and the recent decline in Ante Creek production.  Production at Ante Creek is down to 8,300boe/d from around 10,200boe/d in the summer.  Peters lowered their target price on the stock.

To some extent their concerns are valid.   The Ante Creek wells drilled in the south aren’t as productive as those in the core 8 sections.  In the recent March presentation the company the company said as much, delineating between the core, the infill of that core, and regional development.

ror

With that said, I don’t know if I would worry too much about the production declines.  I think that it has more to do with facility capacity constraints than anything else.   The problem is that as the reservoir pressure declines the wells are producing a higher gas content.  Pretty typical behavior.

If you look at the numbers, at 10,200boe/d the volumes were 63% liquids, so gas production was about 22.6MMscfd.  At 8,300boe/d gas production is now up to 48%, or about 23.9MMscfd, so even as the overall production has declined, gas production has ticked higher.  And its started to hit the ceiling.  According to the March presentation the facilities at Ante Creek can only handle 24MMscfd at current gas plant capacity:

gascapacity

Fortunately more capacity should be online shortly, at which time we will see what production can really do.

Peters NAV in the report was $4.25. Its pretty easy to come up with a higher NAV than that and in fact some of the other analysts do, but lets go with this number for sake of comparison.  At the time of the report, at a $5 price, RMP was at a 20% premium to NAV.  This was at the upper end of the peer comparison below:

nav

At the current price, a little under $4, RMP trades at less than 90% of NAV which is pretty closely inline with their peers.  But should RMP really trade at the same level as LEG or DEE? Probably not. So I think the stock has probably come down too far.  I traded some RMP when it got into the $5’s, waited patiently for it to correct like this, and now I’ve jumped on it here sub-$4.

The other leg to the story is that RMP has had excellent initial results for the two Waskihagan wells drilled with their new slick water frac design.  You’ll note in the table above that the Waskihagan wells don’t have a great return with the oil based fracs.  RMP is testing out slick water based fracs and the first two have performed admirably so far.  Another poster on InvestorVillage posted a list of the top performing wells in the WCSB in December-January and the two water based frac wells from RMP made the list.

Fifth Street Asset Management

I tweeted this one out on Thursday.  Fifth Street Asset Management is a fairly small, recently IPO’d asset management company.  They manage a little over $6 billion in assets, with about 90% of those residing in two business development corporations (BDCs).

aumThe stock did an IPO in November at $17 per share.  Since that time it as sunk in price, for what I believe are two main reasons.  First, both of their BDC vehicles trade below book value, and the company has come out and said that they will not raise capital at their BDC’s below book.  This invites the assumption that growing assets under management (AUM) is off the table.  Second, the larger of the two BDC’s, Fifth Street Finance, put out some fairly crummy results in February, including a reduction of the dividend and news that the existing CEO, Leonard Tannenbaum, would be resigning to focus on Fifth Street Asset Management and their new hedge fund.

This feels to me like one of those stories where yeah, the news is bad, but chances are it is transitory and as it is digested and conditions improve the stock could quickly go from dog to darling.  While they are unable to expand their AUM via the BDC’s Fifth Street does have other options for growth.  The company recently closed on a $309 million CLO.   They are starting a hedge fund (which as I mentioned will also be run by Tannenbaum), are expanding into aircraft leasing, and starting a Japan focused fund.  So there are other ways to grow.  And while the BDC’s are below book right now things change.

I think they can do $1+ earnings per share this year.  The company distributed 30c quarterly dividend in January.  On the conference call where they announced the dividend they warned that it would exceed 100% of income in the fourth quarter and possibly exceed 90% of net income for 2015.  As was picked up on by one of the analysts on the call this implied managements expectations of earnings, that they think $1.20 per share is reachable.

I think there is a reasonable chance that the concerns about the FSC subside, the company shows further evidence that they can raise capital outside of the BDCs, and the market begins to focus on the growth potential rather than the lack thereof.  And the stock comes back to its IPO price.

Patriot National

This is another recent IPO that I think has some upside if they can execute and the market gets comfortable with them.  The IPO price was $14 and I have bought the stock at a significant discount to that in the low $11’s.  The IPO prospectus can be viewed here.

Patriot handles the procurement and management (including claims management) of workers compensation insurance.  They basically sign a contract with a client for a set book of workers compensation business, then procure that business through affiliated insurance agents and manage it.  The contract will define the risk parameters, geography, premium size, etc that they want in their book.   Patriot’s system distributes the data to its agents who then look for opportunities to sell into it.   Patriot doesn’t take on any of the claims risk.

Patriot currently provides services to Guarantee Insurance, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. and Scottsdale Insurance Company.  Scottsdale is a relatively new relationship that should continue to add reference premium growth during 2015.  They recently began a relationship with AIG, of who they will begin to provide services to in 2015 and expect to become one of their “primary insurance carrier clients over time”.

They are a small company compared to many of their peers.  with 26.4 million shares outstanding, the market capitalization sits at $290 million.  The company will likely do around  $23-$25 million of EBITDA in 2014, which doesn’t make them seem particularly cheap.  So the story here is growth and I think there is a good chance they can achieve that.

One of the interesting elements of the business model is that Patriot has quite good visibility into its future revenues, because the contracts are signed up front and then Patriot goes out and fills them.  I managed to get a hold of the BMO report on Patriot. Being the underwriter of the IPO, presumably BMO has a close line with management.  In the report, they expect reference premiums to grow from $375 million in 2014 to  over $500 million in 2015 as the relationships with AIG and Scottsdale mature.  That would be 30% growth.

In the company can put together that kind of growth the 14x EBITDA multiple would be justified. If you apply the multiple on the higher level of business, its easy to come up with a lot of upside from here.  Also worth noting, this is a low cash use business.  Maintenance capital is in the low single digits, and the company only has about $40 million of debt, so the vast majority of EBITDA falls down into free cash generation.

Anyways much like Fifth Street I think that Patriot is suffering from the post-IPO uncertainty.  No financials, no track record, no conference call, and the only information it buried deep in a prospectus that most people don’t want to bother with.  I think there is a decent chance they continue to execute on the business and grow reference premiums, and that the stock runs up into the high teens.

TC Transcontinental

TC Transcontinental is a pretty simple story.  They are the largest printer in Canada.  Their printing operation is diverse and includes flyers, packaging materials, newspapers, magazines and books.  Of those lines of business, the main driver of revenue is from retail flyers for customers such as Superstore and Canadian Tire.  Flyers and related services make up a little over 50% of their total revenue. In addition Transcontinental owns an array of local newspaper and magazine publications in Quebec.  They recently expanded into flexible packaging with the purchase of Capri.  The table below illustrates the primary customers in each of their segments.

customers

While the print operations are by no means a growth industry, the company has done well to stabilize revenues while improving EBIT from the business.  EBIT has shown continuous improvement for the last 5 years.

ebitOver the long-term, print remains a challenged business.  Maybe flat to a down couple percent a year.  Transcontinental is offsetting the declines by pushing growth from within their media segment (via a growing online presence) and through the expansion into flexible packaging.

The company has made a couple of acquisitions over the last year and a half to facilitate some growth.  First, in December 2013 they bought a number of Quebec local newspaper and magazine assets of Sun Media.  They paid $74 million for these assets, which generate annual EBITDA of about $20 million.  In April they entered into flexible packaging with the purchase of Capri for $133 million.  Capri generates EBITDA of about $17 million, and 75% of revenue comes from a 10 year contract with Schreiber Foods.

While neither of these acquisitions are revolutionary, I believe they are paying a reasonable price to grow and expand in new directions.  And they aren’t growing via debt.  Like United Online, the print business may not be a great growth business but it does generate a lot of cash.  And that is really what made me look twice at the company.  Transcontinental is really cheap on a free cash basis.  Based on the 2014 year (ended November), the stock trades at 5x the free cash generated.  In 2015 they have to start paying cash taxes again so multiple will jump to around 7x.  There are not a lot of companies left these days that trade at single digit free cash multiples.

So TC Transcontinental is inexpensive and has plenty of cash available for acquisitions  to offset declines or to further facilitate moves into other growth areas.  There are the pieces there for something to go right.

An update on United Online

United Online has been a reasonable winner for me so far, going from $12 and change to $17 since I bought it back in November.  I did some more work on United Online a couple of weeks ago and I thought I’d put it out there for anyone interested.

United Online is not my largest position.  I am not convinced of its prospects and to be honest I don’t even really understand the demand for its StayFriends and Classmates products.  Yet I think the stock has a reasonable chance of going higher.

United Online operates a number of legacy businesses that, while in decline, are producing an increasing amount of free cash flow as United attempts to milk them for the cash.  These businesses are:

  1. Social Networking Services – they operate the classmates.com, StayFriends.com and Trombi.com (France) brandssocialnetworking
  2. Loyalty Marketing – operate a loyalty marketing service called MyPoints.  MyPoints is an online shopping membership that provides discounts and rewards to usersmypoints
  3. Internet Access – operate the brands NetZero and Juno, providing dial-up and mobile broadband servicescomm

While these businesses are all declining, and they hardly exemplify the large moat stability that a value investor typically craves, they are generating more and more cash as United squeezes down the cost side.  In the fourth quarter free cash generation was $8 million.  In the last 9 months its been a little under $15 million.

I’ve listened the last few United Online conference calls and its clear that management understands the predicament they are in.  They know that the existing business lines are essentially in either a stasis or prolonged run-off and that they need to do something to generate growth.  To that end, United Online is in the process of rolling out three new products: a low cost cell phone, a cloud based shopping list app called List+, and a gift card management app called Swappable.  While I don’t really get the cell phone angle, both List+ and Swappable fit well with the existing MyPoints customer base. There is a decent SeekingAlpha article that describes the new products, but its only available for a couple more days.

The Swappable app is a bit of a hot money area right now.  United is competing with another gift card app start-up so there is a gift card app star-up called Raise.   Raise raised $56mm from investors in January, which values them at a little under $1B.  They have “reported hundreds of thousands of customers had either bought or sold cards from around 3,000 brands via the site to date”.  While Raise hasn’t said how many users they have. They did say:

In addition, in 2014, the company sold over a million gift cards, and between November and the end of the year, Raise grew over 50% in revenue and other metrics. And user growth quadrupled.

Again according to media reports Raise “passed $10 million in monthly gross card sales several months ago and has been growing more than 10 percent a month since then”. The company takes a 15 percent cut when someone sells a gift card or store credit on their site.

From what I can tell, the Swappable app does pretty much the same thing that the Raise app does.  Moreover, United Online can leverage off of MyPoints.  From the recent conference call:

MyPoints already does millions of dollars of gift card revenue. It has primarily been desktop. It has been user, going to buy a gift card on MyPoints

So putting it all together, United Online has:

  1. A comparable product to Raise
  2. “An ecosystem in place with MyPoints and the other databases around the company”
  3. “9-plus million MyPoints members we can write and invite to this product”

With cash on the balance sheet exceeding $5.50 per share, United Online has an enterprise value of $160 million at $17.  So a lot less than Raise, even though they have a number of other irons in the fire, and an established means of generating capital to plow into the business.

So we will see.  But its enough of a story to keep me interested in the stock even as it has risen.

Gold Stocks

In continue to own small positions in Endeavour Mining, Argonaut Gold, Timmins Gold and Primero Mining. These positions are just a trade, premised on the supposition that we have once again gone too far to the downside, just as we went too quickly to the upside in January and before that went too far to the downside in December.  But even as I kept all of these positions small, they still led to gyrations in my portfolio, as they saw daily movements in the high single digit and low double digit percentage points.  More and more often it is occurring to me that owning gold stocks is not worth the trouble.

What I sold

Mart Resources

I bought Mart Resources at the trough of the last oil stock rout because of what I saw a lot of potentially positive news on the horizon.  The company was likely to release news about the purchase of the OML-18 block and show production gains after the commissioning of their new pipeline reduced the existing production bottleneck.

Unfortunately none of this is likely to materialize as the company has sold itself to its partner Midwestern for a paltry 80c per share.  This is a case study in why not to invest in a country like Nigeria.  Based on the publicly available information it is difficult to make a case for selling the company at this price.  This likely means that there is other non-public information that makes a sale of the company compelling, if not unavoidable.

One only has to look at the recent share price, which ticked down to 50c at one point, to illustrate the skepticism of the investor base about the legitimacy of the proceedings.  Quite honestly, at this point who really knows what is going on.  I sold my shares at a slight profit from my purchase but in relation to what I had expected, which was the opportunity to  sell these shares at $1+ within the year, it is a substantial disappointment.

magicJack and Radsys

I group both of these companies together because my motivation for selling was similar; a lack of conviction about their prospects.

In the case of magicJack, I keep coming back to the name as I compelled by its large cash position ($5 per share) and the potential for the company to behave in a manner similar to United Online, milking the legacy business for cash while developing new and perhaps complimentary businesses to facilitate growth.  Nevertheless management has disappointed once too often for me to hold my shares through earnings, particularly given that their largest retail vendor (Radioshack) went into bankruptcy during the quarter.   I will be listening closely to the conference call though, and could come back to the stock depending on what I hear.

I could be back into Radsys as well.  Honestly the problem with Radsys is really my problem.  I don’t understand the business that well.  The thesis is based on the 4G LTE products that Radsys offers and I just haven’t developed enough background on the offerings to feel confident holding the stock.  I’ll try to make time to learn a bit more and come back to the stock once I do.

Earthlink

I exited my position in Earthlink after the company announced fourth quarter results.  Its not that the results were particularly bad, its just that they also weren’t notably good, and its difficult for me to envision the catalyst that takes the stock materially higher in the near term.

The company announced flat revenue quarter over for the managed services business, and they really need this business to grow at a reasonable pace given that it is their only true growth driver.  And while they announced that they would be reviewing strategic alternatives for their fibre assets, they were vague about what might sold and for how much.  If the stock drops back to below $4 I will look at it again.

Transat

It was pointed out in the comment section of my last post that while Transat no longer appeared in my portfolio, I had not actually written about my sale.  This was an oversight on my part.  These updates get long and at times I miss transactions that I should mention.

To paraphrase my response to the comment, I sold the stock because I thought that the weak Canadian dollar was going to make the winter season (Q1 and Q2) difficult. When you run a business that has mid digit margins and the currency moves 10% in a few months, its difficult to respond fast enough.  Transat also unfortunately hedges much of its fuel so in the short term they are not going to benefit from the reduced jet fuel prices.  The winter routes also have a lot of added capacity from Air Canada this winter.

All of this came to pass when the company announced weak first quarter results.  Now I still really like Transat and I am looking to add my position back, but I’m not sure we are there yet.  The second quarter is likely to be just as weak as the first, and the Canadian dollar just keeps on falling.  The summer though will be stronger, they will benefit from the weaker Euro and the fuel hedges will begin to run-off.  At some point there is a buy here, but I haven’t jumped in yet.

Final Thoughts

Bad things tend to happen when the US dollar is this strong.

Portfolio Composition

Click here for the last four weeks of trades.

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