Slides from the presentation: The Case for Uranium – Part 2
Presentation slides: The Case for Uranium.pdf
- Unsustainble gap between production costs and prices
- The number of miners are down 90% since 2011
- Both sides of the supply/demand balance is shifting in a favorable direction and the longer term outlook is fantastic
- Adding new supply is a lengthier process than in other sectors
- Game changing events are taking place in Kazakhstan – OPEC-like structure in the near future? =
- Investors hate uranium after a 7-year long bear market
- Upside potential is explosive while downside is well-protected
- Arise has refinanced their bond = less risk.
- Demand for wind power projects among institutional investors has risen.
- Valuation gap. Trades at half book value while competitor Eolus trades at book value. The size of their pipelines is the same.
- The forward price curve for electricity has improved. Probably a function of the price of coal and carbon emission quotas rising throughout 2017 and continuing in 2018 laying a floor under the price of electricity.
Summary: The fundamentals have improved while the price of the stock has fallen to 12,50 SEK. I expect a rerating to occur and see fair value in the 18-19 SEK range.
Sorry for the delay in updating the excel sheet following Q4, which was released on the 15th, but here it is: wwhq4-2017.
I have the discount to NAV at 38,3% currently and the total NAV at 396 NOK. Nordea has the same NAV at 522 NOK… Not sure why we get such different numbers, as they don’t specify how they arrived at them but I suspect they value WMS more ”aggressively” than I do. I’d like to see a few more quarters of stable results before I revisit that valuation.
Either way, there seems to be plenty of room for the share price of Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding to grow just on the basis of the discount gap shrinking. On the business side there are promising signs as well. I expect mining related commodities to do well in the coming years and the group is well positioned to take advantage of that.
Q4 – Holding
As for the report, it was pretty much in line with expectations at the holding level. Wilhelmsen Maritime Services, WMS, improved both the topline and the EBIT-margin (after M&A costs) which is now at 10%, which is about where it should be longer term. Apart from that there was no big news.
Q4 – WWL
The daugther company WWL was hit by a 140 MUSD provision on top of the 300 MUSD that had already been set aside. This was a surprise to the downside that I had not seen coming and the market cap effect is -4%, which equates to 2% for Holding.
The operating results of the daugther company continued the postitive trend from Q3 and High & Heavy volumes have started to kick in, which is evident in the cargo mix when adjusting for seasonal effects. Volumes grew both quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year. The company has raised the expected synergies from the merger another 20 MUSD annually and they also benefit by 6 MUSD per year from the US tax cuts (which are absolutely madness if I am allowed to have an opinion on the subject!).
I am currently digging into the energy space and I expect some of that research will find its way into this blog. So if this is an area that interests you please stay tuned for an update within the coming weeks 🙂
Every investor knows the feeling of having followed a stock for a while and having considered buying it when all of a sudden the thing takes off and you are left on the dock viewing the boat and its cheerful passengers from afar as it disappears into the sunny horizon while you are beating yourself over the head for missing out on yet another opportunity!
You know that feeling, right?
If so here is why you MUST silence that voice in your head and overcome what could otherwise end up eating away at your life savings:
- That voice is a liar. You would have bought the stock if you had thought it sufficiently attractive. There always is a reason why you didn’t act – most often a very good one.
- Remember all the bombs and mines you avoided over time due to craving large enough margins of safety. Don’t give in – stay on the path!
- If the stock went up based on positive unexpected news flow then it isn’t the same stock any more and therefore it is irrational to have any attachment to what once was. It’s simply a different situation from the one you considered before the news broke. Analyze anew, carefully and deliberately and without haste. Mistrust any bodily reaction compelling you to jump onboard. Detach!
- Recognize the danger of hunting the next hot thing that has left people disconnected from their rational selves in a blind hunt for quick profits. One word: Refrain. Fundamentals are what drives prices over the long haul – and they usually come down after the time of exuberance is over. Remember Warren Buffett’s quote: “The market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.”
- You want to always be in a calm state of mind when considering financial actions. Fear of missing out (FOMO) takes you out of that state and into caveman territory where the amygdala and fear and greed rules. When fear or greed has become rampant in the market you want to be an observer as opposed to a participant – and generally opt for the opposite side.
- In the history of the markets FOMO is the single biggest contributing factor to bubbles. If you can manage to stay away from those you probably won’t get rich quick but you will live to fight another day when drowning is taking place all around you. In the markets not losing is more important than winning – unlike in life! You won’t die if your neighbour gets the prize and you don’t. Deal with it!
- Recognize FOMO as the biggest monster in the market and as a crusher of souls. It may not have devoured your savings yet – your gambles may even have paid off handsomely a few times and lured you into thinking it is a viable strategy – but if you don’t actively keep FOMO a bay, one day the odds are it will devour you cold-bloodedly. Therefore: A day without FOMO in our lives is a day worth celebrating!
- Finally, and most importantly: There are tons of boats in the ocean arriving at our shores every year (and by the way, having enough dry powder is also such a boat: the optionality of cash). The best counter to FOMO is to put in the work and dig up enough cases with enough margin of safety so that you can wave goodbye to all of those boats that you will miss with no feelings of regret – and to do so with a smile knowing that yet again you conquered the mighty enemy that is FOMO!
Much of this is easier said than done. And no, I don’t have it down completely myself. But in the words of JFK:
We choose to go to the moon. Not because it is easy but because it is hard!
WWL – solid numbers
WWL, Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding’s largest asset, accounting for about half of the overall value, came in with some good numbers yesterday, mainly due to High & Heavy recovery as well as synergies kicking in ahead of schedule following the recent merger and thereby lowering their overall cost base. This took the market by surprise and since the report the stock has climbed by 20% on the highest trading volume in 7 months.
On the one hand High & Heavy recovery ought not to shock the market as Caterpiller came in with great sales numbers on Oct. 24th (there is a high correlation between WWL High & Heavy sales and Caterpillar sales). On the other hand, WWL’s CEO gave a subdued outlook during the Q2-presentation three months ago. One might say that this is yet another case of ”under-promise, over-deliver” from the Wilhelm Wilhelmsen group.
A major reason to be bullish on WWL’s prospects going forward, and perhaps a major contributor to the stock performance the last couple of days, is that they are performing well despite the fact that income from the mining sector is still at only 15% of what it was at the peak in 2012, which means there is a lot of earnings potential as the life cycle of current mining equipment gradually comes to an end. This is especially significant as the mining sector is where the highest margins are at, not only in comparison to the car segment but also the other two High & Heavy segments, construction and agriculture. All three H&H segments appear to be recovering following a 5-6 year drag.
The bearish argument for WWL is that cars sales, which account for 60% of the overall volume, is in what appears to be the beginning of a cyclical decline after many years of festivities, especially in the US. This may partly be offset in a brief period of time by all the hurricanes of late which have destroyed a large number of cars that need replacement, but the structural decline appears to be on the horizon. On top of that the CEO said there is still some overcapacity in the market putting pressure on rates. One could argue that performing well in a declining environment is bullish as well as the fact that no new ships were ordered in the quarter by the competitors.
In case of a trade war?
What would happen if the geo-political freaks who rule this precious world wake up on the wrong side of bed one morning and decide to engage in a trade war by charging tariffs on imports. While it would not be the end of international trade, it would unquestionably be a big blow to car carrier companies, especially.
But there is a flip side to that coin, one which I had not considered when I warned about the above scenario earlier in the year: Whenever countries engage in trade wars the result has historically been higher inflation. Higher inflation = a flight to commodities = increased investment in the mining space = the highest margin areas for WWL. So while a trade war may at first glance look like mayhem for the WWL stock it may turn out to not be that bad.
Central bank money printing is another argument for ”hiding” in the hard asset commodity space.
Wilhelmsen Maritime Services
Q3 came in slightly lower than expected, even if Q3 has always been a weak quarter both incomewise and marginwise. The EBIT-margin fell to 7,4%, below the 9% thresshold the company has set for itself. One-off currency effects is one reason, but the more structural reason, margin pressure, is still having an impact. As a result I have lowered my valuation slightly from 525 MUSD to 490 MUSD as a cautionary measure. However, the company cites restructuring benefits as a reason for optimism going forward. Interestingly, during the Q&A this morning the CEO hinted that guidance longer term will probably be higher than 9% now that they have sold off lower margin businesses.
Treasure currently trades at 35% discount to Hyundai Glovis on the Seoul stock exchange, which is on the high side historically. Since the shareholder agreement with Glovis has been changed allowing Wilhelmsen to sell more than half of their position it would indicate a sale might be imminent. If all of that was paid out to shareholders in the form of a special dividend it would equate 40 NOK (their entire stake is worth 70 NOK per WWH share).
Suppose all of the Glovis shares were sold rendering Treasure an empty shell, there is speculation that WMS could be spun off into Treasure further illuminating the values of the holding company.
Wilhelmsen incurred an accounting loss of 40 MUSD from reclassifying NorSea from associate to subsiduary in the books due to increasing their stake in the company to a controlling one during the quarter going from 40% ownership to now 72%, making NorSea a more significant asset going forward.
Current discount to NAV – 38%
My estimate of the fair value of WWIB sits at 333 NOK per share, which equates to a discount to NAV of 38%, which is the same as the end of last quarter. So while the stock trades at an all time high of 258 NOK the discount gap hasn’t narrowed at all and is still as attractive as three months ago. Here is the updated Excel sheet: wwhq32017
The Q2 numbers beat expectations in pretty much all sectors within the group. The outlook, however, was subdued, also in pretty much all sectors – as has been the story for the last couple of years.
- Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL) reported a 16% increase year-on-year in adjusted EBITDA.
- Half of the promised synergies have already been confirmed in WWL, ahead of schedule.
- WMS (Maritime) is back on track with EBIT-margins above 10% after a brief dip below 6%. EBITDA beat expectations but were down 21% year-on-year.
- The equity ratio is at 77%, up from 55% (no real change, new accounting method). If the investment in Drew Marine gets financed 100% by debt this figure will fall to 67%, which is still very solid.
Now that the daugther company (WWASA) has merged into WWL and the mother company (Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding) no longer has a controlling interest above 50% the accounting method has changed. Why do I mention something as silly as an accounting change? Because it changes the visibility of the risk for investors. As mentioned in my video in May of 2016 the “real” equity number was always in the 70s, as the mother company was never liable for WWASA’s debt. (As a sidenote, the high equity ratio is a major reason why I have dared to size up on this investment and make it my biggest position.)
Current discount to NAV – 38%
My estimate of the fair value sits at 324 NOK per share, which equates to a discount to NAV of just north of 38% from the current share price. Since margins for WMS have improved I have made a slight adjustment upwards compared to Q1. Here is the updated Excel sheet: wwhq22017
Following the Q1 report I have updated my Excel sheet numbers: wwib-presentation-excel2017q1133. The discount currently stands at slightly above 35%. Assuming a conglomerate discount of 20%, fair value of WWIB sits at 305 NOK – an upside of about 25%. The discount was at 45% three months ago but there is still plenty of upside left and the margin of safety is considerable.
On top of this you could argue that both Treasure ASA and WWL ASA trade at a discount to their underlying value providing a ”discount on discount”-effect not accounted for above.
Nordea recently put fair value of WWIB at 450 NOK. They use their own estimates of values for Treasure and WWL rather than those of the market which means they arrive at much higher figures than I do. They also value WMS at higher multiples than I and are putting the conglomerate discount at only 10%, rather than my 20% (20% has been the norm in markets across the board for the last decade or so).
On the same subject it is curious that the discount for Swedish conglomerates and investment companies have, as of late, come down drastically and trade around 0% on average, which means that many actually trade at a premium rather than a discount, http://investmentbolag.net/investmentbolag-substansvarde/
WWL (The newly formed entity Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics): Slightly disappointing Q1 sales. However, High & Heavy guidance was much more aggressive than has been the case for the last 3-4 years, which is almost certainly the reason the market rewarded the stock with a 4% increase following the WWL report on May 9th.
According to industry reports shown in the Q1-presentation both mining and agriculture machinery are expected to increase very significantly in the coming years after a prolonged slump:
A more aggressive dividend policy of 30-50% payout ratio was presented. If we assume an average of 200 MUSD in profit after tax in the coming years for WWL this would equal 1.2-2.0 NOK per share in dividends. The stock is currently traded at 46 NOK = 3-5% dividend yield.
WMS: Significant EBIT-margin decline. However, from the report it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which this is due to M&A restructuring costs or whether underlying weakness in operations plays the larger role – regretably they don’t quantify it. Were it the latter it would be bad news. On a positive note they noted an uptake in the last part of the quarter, so perhaps a new trend is taking shape.
No additional info on the 400 MUSD aquisition of Drew Marine Technical Solutions was given in the report which is disappointing given the size of the aquisition.
The actual sales numbers and margins were a disappointment in my view, while the outlook from the company was uncharacteristically upbeat – especially so for the high margin segment High & Heavy.
Do you swing for the fences or is your main focus on not getting killed? And is your assessment of that question even accurate?
Say Hello to a Chicken (I Think)
Personally, I like to think I’m a chicken as my focus is almost always downside oriented first and foremost. However, when discussing position sizing with friends more often than not I get labeled a cowboy as few and large positions is usually my game.
Charlie and I disagree with that! (Hm, for some reason that line felt good. I wonder if Warren gets the same pleasure from it when he says it – which is often…).
A few bets are all you need, but when you find the few, act aggressively. Diversification is for people who don’t know anything. – Charlie Munger
The point of the above quote is that with knowledge comes risk protection. And in my world big bets are reserved for especially safe situations where as many angles as possible are covered through relentless investigation. For me that tends to be investment companies and conglomerates as these are already quite diversified through their holdings in multiple companies and where there is an added layer of safety through an unusually large discount. I rarely take super large positions outside of those types of companies. So in spite of having massive positions percentagewise I would argue that this is in fact a chicken approach to investing, one in which it is hard to get hurt in a big way.
A hypothetical example
Take an example. Which is more diversified: five promising growth stocks or one investment company with an unusually large discount to NAV? More often than not I’d bet on the latter, but a more accurate answer is, of course, that it depends. If you have deep expert knowledge and an intimate feel for the industries in which the five growth stocks operate, preferably through working or having worked in the field, then you may have yourself a near perfect match between diversification and a high expected value situation, supposing the fields are non-correlated. But few of us have this much expert knowledge and on top of that it would require a lot of work.
Laziness can be riskier than big bets
So risk comes more from laziness than the sizing and the amount of companies in one’s portfolio. And risk can be materially decreased from understanding and being able to identify the type of situations where one can size up with a large degree of safety. More on that in a recent post: https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/the-sizing-of-a-bet-the-art-of-not-blowing-up-while-getting-the-best-of-it/
Bonus: The title of this post was inspired by a recent Howard Marks interview on Bloomberg Radio : https://www.bloomberg.com/news/audio/2017-02-17/interview-with-howard-marks-masters-in-business-audio To Marks devotees, such as myself, it may not contain anything new in terms of substance but ohhh the pleasure of this man’s eloquence! Poetry blended with the sharpness of a Japanese knife…
The Q4 report was released yesterday evening and the main headlines are:
On the negative side:
- Another 31 MUSD provision for anti-trust, adding to the 200 MUSD already provisioned for. I had expected the initial 200 to be more than enough. On a positive note, the specificity of the number (31) could indicate that the whole anti-trust case is finally about to be wrapped up and that the company has received an indication of the size of the fine and that they will accept it.
- The company’s outlook: Continued pressure on rates, but margins are improving and they expect the topline to have bottomed in all segments.
On the positive side:
- WMS underlying EBIT-margin improving and close to 10% once again after the dip down to 6% earlier in the year.
- Dividend increased to 6 NOK up from 5 NOK (which was the dividend for the last three years). The payout ratio is still only about 15% as earnings was 36 NOK per share (P/E: 5,5).
- Merger synergy guidance now at the upper end of the 50-100 MUSD interval. (Apparently analysts have been fed this information some time ago. This ought to have been communicated to the market!)
Near term share price implications
I expect WWASA to take a slight hit tomorrow, while WWIB NAV discount has increased 5% since the beginning of the year so I expect the already extremely wide gap to narrow and the stock price to increase.
The market will probably view the increased dividend in a positive light though the increase is very marginal.
Net Asset Value Excel sheet update
I have updated the Excel sheet that I created for a post back in May: wwib-presentation-excel2017
It may look a bit messy but it is very easy to use. Simply plug in the values in the yellow fields after each quarterly report to arrive at 1) Net Asset Value (NAV), 2) Fair value, 3) Discount to NAV and 4) Upside to fair value.
Conglomerate discounts usually fall in the 15-25% range so the current 44% discount is very generous and creates reasonable upside potential as well as a very comfortable downside cushion.
Also worth noting is that my estimate of the value of Wilhelmsen Maritime Services (cell C12, the only subjective estimate in the sheet) is quite a bit more conservative than what the only two analysts I am aware of use. I use 6 x EBITDA, while one uses 8 x EBITDA and the other 10 x EV/EBIT (which would add about 25-35 NOK to NAV).
If anyone out there has information on what other players in WMS’ industry have been selling for recently I am all ears. From what I have been able to gather the main competitors in that space are Maersk Line and Mitsui OSK Lines and they are both very far from pure plays so they cannot be used as valuation guidelines.
A disclaimer is in order:
- A broad macro view of the world in all of its beautiful complexity is a really, really dangerous and risky thing to have. Most people are best off simply buying whenever they have spare cash – as long as it doesn’t threaten their personal situation. Never taking chips off the table at anytime in one’s life except when needing it to buy something is almost always the most prudent thing to do in order to secure buying power as we get older and to fight the fact that inflation eats into the real value of our savings.
- Whenever you or someone you listen to is having a negative and bearish macro view you should be particularly sceptical of that view. Being bearish is more interesting and intellectually stimulating so in that respect it can be rather seducing. The question is whether it is beneficial to the wallet because over the long haul being positive has won in the market by a huge margin historically. It does seem that humanity has a tendency to always overcome hardships. Many would argue though that recent decades have been aided artificially by mountains of debt, and that this is now a major source of our current problems.
The optionality of cash and equivalents in a high-risk setting
The markets seem very sure that 1) giant stimulus packages will be approved by the US congress, and 2) that they will work where everything else has failed. That may happen but it is very far from a sure thing and it won’t happen tomorrow, more like 2+ years down the road. In the meantime we are entering into dangerous territory and the risks are mounting on multiple fronts in the coming years. I realize it is unfashionable to make macro calls – and perhaps rightly so – but I do think prudence is called for considering the following factors, many of which have reached proportions unseen for decades:
List of macro risks:
- The geopolitical power balance is out of whack which has led to instability not seen since the late 70’s/early 80’s. Could turn out explosive.
- Rapidly growing tensions within all developed societies. Is this strictly limited to the immigrant situation or is it also rooted in the enormous inequality divide which is stifling consumption and thereby economic growth?
- Poor underlying demographics in the developed world, which may be a deeper and more fundamental cause for the slow growth of the last 10 years.
- A possible bubble in the bond market. This is way more dangerous to the world economy than a stock market crash due to the sheer size of the debt market (this could actually be bullish for stocks if money from bonds retreat into stocks). Will haircuts be needed for bondholders? And if so, what happens to the balance sheets that are heavily exposed to that debt?
- 0% interest rate for 10 years ought to lead to poor capital allocation, which in turn usually leads to recessions or outright depressions.
- How will the steep mountains of sovereign debt all over the world be paid back? Will central banks continue to stimulate and thereby increase risks of a giant blow-off and/or runaway inflation somewhere down the line?
- A global trade war seems increasingly likely (given administration picks). This could lead to a global recession.
- Low capex globally and high share buyback (which is typically a late-cycle phenomenon) means there isn’t much belief in the future. If companies aren’t investing where will future growth come from?
- Historically high margins. Is mean reversion inevitable or is it a sign of the IT economy being less capital intensive? If the former turns out to be true we are in for a multiple contraction.
- US jobless claims has fallen to a 43-year low. This is often an early indicator of a downturn and a late-cycle phenomenon since it suggests the potential for further growth is low as there isn’t much slack left. On top of that, even now when unemployment is this low the economy is struggling, which is not exactly a sign of underlying strength.
- AI could be here much sooner than expected. Some experts talk about a couple of years rather than 10 years. While this will provide opportunities in the long run – is our system adequately prepared for it in the short term?
- How will the stimulus package get financed? More debt or will Trump find a way to let Chinese money invest in roads, airports, etc.? Perhaps in exchange for not imposing trade tariffs on Chinese goods? Win-win if possible but is strong-arm tactics viable in the longer run…?
- High valuations among so-called ”safe” dividend stocks due to “reach for yield” desperation. Shiller PE of 28 and the non-manipulative Price/Sales ratio is through the roof at 2,6 (1,6 being the average). Warren Buffett’s favorite indicator Total market cap/GDP is also blinking red. This is currently at 127%. Based on historical averages a fair valued market would be at around 85-90%.
- Trump being Trump.
The bullish arguments that I see:
- A giant stimulus plan corresponding to 2,5% of GDP over a 10-year period in the US ought to move the needle IF it indeed is approved. And if Germany picks up the mantle and does the same if could have a big effect. It is also a huge gamble because if it doesn’t do much the debt situation will be even more dire as a result.
- Deregulation and tax cuts may also add some umpph. However, the latter could have a negative effect on long-term growth if much of it is given to the top, which would not do much for consumption.
- Bond weakness could transform into stock strength as the money leaving the bond market has to go somewhere. If I had to choose, I’d feel safer in the stock market than in the debt (bond) market right now.
- The possibility of a Trump impeachment would reduce many of the outlier risks. I suspect there will be a huge number of Republicans that will leap at the opportunity to get rid of him if it arises now that they have secured power. And I suspect there will be ample opportunities as the guy is likely to confuse his own financial interests with those of the state at some point.
- In general I think it is more prudent to move to the emerging world where there is growth potential due to low debt levels as well as lower valuations.
One can argue whether the risk/reward points to a bullish or a bearish view, but one cannot argue against the fact that the risks are high. As a consequence of my own cautious view I have set out to increase the cash position to at least 30% and I am currently looking into gold miners as a potential currency and market hedge. I will probably post something about my findings further down the line.
For Those About to Trump etc.
In my last post I had said I’d write in depth about the US election situation but decided I cannot do it without it quickly becoming a private issue, which isn’t of interest to anyone. So I’ll just quickly say it makes me boil with anger that people chose untruth and unchecked aggression and that they were willing to put on a big gamble that will undoubtedly cause a great deal of harm to living beings all over the globe. But one either gets this or one doesn’t and my words won’t make dent of difference.
I hate what happened with uncontrollable anger. So this is my mistake for the year: In order to preserve mental health I will resort to shielding myself from the words of Trump and his lunatics to prevent that anger from taking over, preferring instead to read commentator’s analyses of the situation. As an investor you always want the naked source not other’s interpretations of it so this is a step backwards for me. Hopefully something will come in the way of this presidency so we can move on.
For the record: I was for Bush being elected in 2000 (and against in 2004) so this is not automated knee-jerk lefty speak. I have listened to tons of past interviews with Trump and figure I have a grasp of what the man is made of and it isn’t the material of a man with a grand and carefully thought out vision. His path is fraught with bankruptcies and court battles and there isn’t much else there except the ego’s will to express itself.
Portfolio update – Arise sold
I decided to sell my remaining stake in Arise. I took some chips off following the September spike and now I let go of the rest. The reason being the combination of 1) a collapse in e-certificate prices lately (143 SEK/MWh in October to 69 now) as well as what I regard as a surprising weakness in the electricity spot price (below 300 SEK/MWh for a full week). A combined price below 370 SEK/MWh in wintertime despite extremely low water reservoir levels (low capacity in the system ought to lead to higher electricity prices) while the share price is approaching a three-year high has made me decide to move to the sidelines.
In addition to this there is a bit of uncertainty about the fact that the Kölvallen-project (150-200 MW) has still not received the final permit. It was scheduled to happen in the fall of 2016 and now the decision is expected in Q1.
To be clear it was a close decision to sell and my cautious macro view and my wish to increase the cash position played a part. I still think the share price is a bit lower than fair value even given current circumstances but on the other hand it isn’t as much of a no-brainer proposition for me currently so I elected to monitor the situation from the sidelines and perhaps re-enter at a later time should the outlook as well as the margin of safety become more attractive again.
When I started writing about the stock in October 2014 the stock price was 17,10 (https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/arise-windpower-traded-at-a-historically-large-discount-part-1/). Now it sits at 21,50 for a gain of 26%, which isn’t great for a two and a half year time frame but market beating nonetheless.
An interesting, a tumultuous and an utterly horrifying year for the developed world has come to an end and even though I am thankful the year was extremely kind to me personally I find it difficult to shake off the nasty feeling that something terrible could be about to unfold in the world. More on that in my follow-up post. In it I will outline an investment mistake that I will make in 2017 and there is nothing I can do to prevent it due to a flaw in my mental constitution…
For now though I’d like to focus on the one giant mistake that I know for sure that I committed in 2016 because I think it is one many of us make and I think it is very much avoidable. At the end of my post I will also get into my current top positions.
Preparation, damn it!
Trump wins and I sit and sweat like an idiot researching military defense companies and pharmaceuticals after the fact instead of putting in the work ahead of time. This isn’t merely one of those excusable mistakes we all make during a year. Instead this is one that cannot be brushed off lightly because it is one of few areas where there is a significant edge to be had by individual investors who are free to ignore the day-to-day noise as opposed to many money managers who get measured on quarterly performance.
Frantic research leads to fuzzy thinking, which again tends to lead to rushed, subpar decisions. (I bought one company, Invisio Communications, after only a few hours of research only to sell it the next day after further research. Great company, stretched valuation in the near term.)
So the lesson is: Plan ahead or prepare for getting pushed around by the market and expect mediocre results.
Definitely easier said than done as many events will be of the ”thief in the dark”-variety, i.e. completely unknowable ahead of time. But there are others that are dimly available to our eyes out there in the distance.
Think ahead – examples
Suppose, for example, that China is forced to devalue their currency by a massive amount, say 25%. This would send violent shock waves through the global markets but it would probably also cause many Chinese stocks to become extremely attractive right after the devaluation (as opposed to before!). And I imagine in the first few hours of the panic one may be able to pick up some nice bargains while the markets are searching for their footings. This presupposes that one has done the work on the potential individual companies and that money can be moved to those markets quickly.
For individual companies there will often be ”trigger events” where one can calculate the value of each outcome ahead of time. This road is perhaps a better one to take, especially with regards to smaller companies, than trying to get ahead on the macro front.
Time is of the essence
You will notice that I am preoccupied by time and tactics here. The reason being that I have a lot of respect for the market’s ability to correct mispricings quite quickly and so often they will only appear for short periods of time before the gap is closed.
Many value investors will not bother with such tactical maneuverings preferring instead to search for compounders and worry less about hitting them at the point of maximum pessimism. This strategy relies on superior analytical ability and patience (the mother of all edges) and it is a fine one.
It isn’t one that is ideally suited to my personality though as I tend to look more in the deep value and ”special situations” space where mispricings are more temporary in nature and where my superior tolerance for pain (if I may say so myself!) can create potential edges in the market. A more opportunistic mindset.
For those wondering about my tolerance for pain… Yes, your suspicions are correct: This skill was carefully crafted over years as a slave in a sadomasochistic relationship giving in to the needs of the wife! That plus a side career playing cards characterized by violent volatility on a daily basis helped as well.
If I had to put percentages on my general strategic focus I’d say somewhere in the range of 60% deep value, 25% tactical/special situations, 15% buy-and-hold compounding and 0% momentum. So compared to many buy-and-hold value investors I usually turn over my portfolio more than most, often in the 100-200% range.
Unusually low portfolio turnover for me in 2016
In 2016 my big positions in Wilhelmsen Holding and Arise Windpower (which at one point constituted 80% of my overall portfolio, unfortunately I sold off 1/3 in WWIB following Trump) called for lots of waiting, so I did almost no buying and selling until mid-September – 11% of my portfolio was turned over altogether, unusually low for me. By the end of the year that had climbed to 40% due to rearrangements in the portfolio following the US election, which I believe to be a game changer event.
My top 6 positions going into 2017
As of this moment my top 6 positions and their weightings are:
Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding (WWIB, NO) – 32% weighting
Cash and equivalents – 18% (including time arbitrage positions)
Mylan (MYL, US) – 13%
Arise Windpower (ARISE, SE) – 11%
Protector Forsikring (PROTCT, NO) – 8%
AO Johansen (AOJ, DK) – 7%
(Smaller positions – 11%)
Cash = optionality
The plan is to increase cash to about 30% in the following month or two as I am becoming more and more fearful of the mounting risks on multiple fronts and want the optionality that cash provides.
It won’t be fun to watch the market likely go higher while sitting on cash but there are meditative ego lessons to be learned in the process of sitting on one’s hands…
My next post
In my next post I will get into the risks that I see as well as go into the mistake I am inevitably going to make in 2017.If you are in the mood for some gloom and some doom stay tuned for For Those About to Trump – I Salute You!
In many areas of life size is overrated in my opinion. The wife thinks otherwise – which is always a cause for concern as evening approaches… Now when it comes to investing you cannot afford to close your eyes to uncomfortable facts. And one such fact is that if your strategy to outperform the market relies on high concentration on a relatively small number of high conviction ideas you will blow up at some point in time if your understanding of the mechanics of bet sizing is flawed.
The better the odds, the bigger the sizing – then readjust for risk
The main idea is very intuitive to most. We size each bet according to the expected value of it. EV being the difference between the stock price and what we perceive to be fair value after careful calculation, which is the difficult part. Only then do we readjust for risk by scaling down when the risk is high and conversely scale up when it is not.
(Two notes: 1) EV in this context should not be confused with Enterprise Value, and 2) The time horizon is unimportant. A ”bet” could easily be a 20 year long position. I use the term ”bet” in the title for two reasons. The more important one is the wife thinks ”position” is better used in other contexts. And so being sensitive to risk I opted for ”bet”. The secondary and less important reason is that on a musical level ”bet” is more pleasing to the ear!)
Why the highest EV idea should not always be our biggest position
Assume that we are magically confronted with two bets that both have a 3x expectation and the outcome of both will be decided tomorrow. Bet both our own house and that of our grandma, right? You know the answer: Not so fast – it depends on the risk involved. So let’s quantify:
In example A there is a 30% chance the company gets bought tomorrow at 10x our investment and a 70% chance the deal fails and as a result that the company goes belly up and our investment is worth 0.
In example B the numbers are 4x 75% of the time, and the remaining 25% of the time it goes bust and we get 0.
The Expected Value of each is the same:
EV in example A: (10 x 0,3) + (0 x 0,7) = 3
EV in example B: (4 x 0,75) + (0 x 0,25) = 3
Let’s ignore the fact that both of these very hypothetical bets rank in the ”72 virgins in the sky”-sphere, ie. not gonna happen, but really, really nice to think about nonetheless and let’s instead agree that bet A is way riskier than bet B though their average expectation is the same. Neither proposition are in the ”bet grandma’s house”-range, but for some very risk tolerant dudes or gals bet B may actually be within the ”bet our own house”-range.
Size really is everything!
The EV is massive for both bets and therefore no-brainers that are almost criminal not to make. But since we ruled out betting grandmas house on the grounds it was too risky (though plenty of people had no problem taking risks at the expense of others in the years leading up to 2008!) the question then becomes one of sizing.
The Kelly criterion not suitable for everyone
How much then? Some use the so-called Kelly criterion, which is a mathmatical formula that provides the theoretically optimal way to size one’s bets to maximize long-term growth of capital. I would caution against it, however, since it does not take your own personal situation into account, such as cash flows from your job, risk preference, age, mental constitution and last but not least errors in judgement. To add a margin of safety some will use fractional Kelly (mentioned in the link above).
What I do
I don’t use Kelly myself but I do factor in both my personal cash flow situation, the number of opportunities I currently am aware of, my conviction level in each as well as the risk inherent in each – all to best of my ability.
The gold standard: many non-correlated high EV bets
The gold standard is to have a ton of non-correlated high conviction bets. For that to be the case one of two things need to happen.
One is you need to first narrow the field of ideas intelligently and then do a huge amount of work on all of the most promising ones. Only a rare few possess both the intelligence and the inclination for constant hard work such as a Warren Buffett, a Peter Lynch or a Mike Burry (think The Big Short), so many high EV ideas will be hard to come by for most.
Investment ideas from people you know to have the right process in place can be a source but remember you will need to have a thorough understanding of the drivers and the details of the business in order to know when to sell so work is always necessary unless you take to index investing, which is probably preferable for most people – though I will provide another solution that almost certainly will beat the market over time at the end of this post without too much work. It probably won’t be by a huge amount but it will beat indexing.
Absent that you may need to wait for the market to take a big dive for the and suddenly the waters may be ripe with opportunity.
A history of three 50%+ positions – and a gut wrenching loser
In the past five years I have had three 50%+ positions. Most people I know would never even consider this a possibility and it certainly isn’t the gold standard you want to aim for most of the time. However, I would argue there are times and situations when huge bets are very rational and not especially risky.
The first of those three times was in early 2012 in a Danish company called United International Enterprises, or UIE. This is a holding company where the discount to net asset value (NAV) had risen irrationally to 46% while the historical average was in the 20-30% range. The assets were stable in nature and on top of that the brothers who held the reins had recently bought shares for 1.5 million USD in the company. To me this seemed like a situation with both significant upside and a lot of safety on the downside attached to it, which is what you want out of a big bet. It worked out well and after 7-8 months the discount had narrowed to more normal levels and so I sold.
The second situation was a Swedish company called East Capital Explorer in late september 2013. The situation is similar in many respects, except the assets were more diversified and it required some work to ascertain the NAV as the holdings consisted of 40+ companies in 10 different countries listed on obscure exchanges. The company would issue a quarterly update of the NAV in 8 days time and due to heavy insider buying (8 million USD) I thought there was a good chance the NAV would increase significantly and that I could front run the update by doing the work myself and know the result ahead of time. I concluded it was at 42% while the historical average was at around 25% so I took a large position and sold it 2 months later when the discount went below 25% and received a 30% gain in exchange for a little effort.
The third case is Wilhelmsen Holding. I’ve written extensively about that so no need to go into detail here except to say that since it is also a conglomerate with a huge discount to NAV as the other two cases the risk is greatly reduced when comparing to a one trick pony type of company that sells products within one sector only. Leverage at the holding level is also very limited in this case. Huge insider buying adds to safety as well. Also fraud becomes less of a concern in conglomerates and investment companies with many holdings, especially when insider buying has been prevalent.
Greed gave rise to this post
Back in October 2014 I got greedy and loosened up on my bet sizing requirements (read: I screwed up on them). A Norwegian company in the oil service sector, Polarcus, had essentially been reduced to an option because of declining revenue coming from the big oil companies. The upside was huge but so was the downside due to high leverage. Still I thought the EV was attractive enough that it warranted a bet, especially since pension funds were selling out desperately in what seemed to me to be a forced fashion.
My thinking was that these are not the sharpest knives in the industry and that the reason for their selling might be due to institutional market cap constraints following the decline in price or managers simply trying to protect their job by not having a loser in their books. Seeing this I got greedy and violated my own rules and put 20% in it.
The oil price declined further in the weeks to come following an OPEC meeting in which the Saudis decided they would go for market share rather than cut production. The oil companies cut their capital expenditures more and more as time passed and it started to seem likely that Polarcus would need a cash injection to stay afloat which would probably wipe out the existing shareholders.
I got out ahead of that and took a devastating 25% loss on the position. It turned out to be the right decision but still I was taught a painful lesson about sizing. I’d bet on the situation again but hopefully I can control my greed the next time a similar one presents itself and size these option-like situations more appropriately.
The big bets should be reserved for cases where the downside is extremely well protected along with significant upside to protect the opportunity cost. The gold standard is to have many non-correlated high EV bets because then downside risk suddenly becomes much less relevant. This is difficult to obtain at any specific point in time due to both time restraints and due to the market seldom cooperating in providing you with tons of non-correlated high EV bets. And non-correlation is genereally hard to come by in the interconnected world we live in.
So how can someone who isn’t well versed in the markets use the above info and expect to outperform the market? By zooming in on investment companies in particular (and perhaps also conglomerates) and buy when the discount to NAV is above the historical average, preferably by a significant amount, and sell when it goes below. This is an easy way to buy a significant portion of the market while doing it at a discount, which ought to lead to outperformance. Seems almost too easy but it really does work.
Here is a list of Swedish investment companies you might want to look into so you can strike when the discount is out of whack.
Stay tuned for my next post around New Year. It will be about the mistakes I committed in 2016 as well as the composition of my portfolio going into 2017. Having made almost no changes all year I made some significant ones following the insane Trump victory.
I attended the Wilhelmsen Capital Markets Day in Oslo last week and it turned out to be fruitful in many respects. More than 100 people showed up and it was great to have the chance to exchange ideas with other investors and to meet management for the first time in a format that allowed plenty of time.
While there weren’t any ”breaking news” (plenty of those leading up to the event) Wilhelmsen’s investor day turned out to be a smörgåsbord of relevant information, and not exactly of the blue sky scenario garbage variety that is often dumped on investors at similar events. Those following the Wilhelmsen companies may have already seen the slide presentations but I will just add my 2 cents in a note-to-self format as things were said that weren’t in the slides.
Notes from Wilhelmsen CMD
The holding company, WWH (stock ticker WWIB):
- The merger will add ”at least” 50-100 MUSD to the bottom line of WWL, primarily due to the utilization rate of the vessels improving. “At least” was new information to me.
- Major reasons for the merger: Quicker decisions, less stalling = more manuverability in a market where margins are under pressure.
- Share buybacks is not on the table currently. The overarching goal is ensuring long term value creation and survival by keeping the holding company net debt free as it is now (no bond debt to use for share buybacks in other words). Subsiduairies can potentially assume more risk in the form of debt – all at an arm’s length away from the mother.
- Aquisitions targets need to be close to debt free (I like the sound of that!), dominant in their field and have an underlying positive cash flow. No experimentation that will endanger equity in WWH.
- Margin pressure. Outlook in the near term is cloudy.
- Low customer credit default risk despite shipping customers hurting perhaps more than ever. Partly due to WMS being able to withhold vessels until payment has been obtained, meaning bills from WMS are not the ones you want to stall.
- Interesting Survitec deal. 20% in a company that is a dominant market leader in all segments they enter into. High margins and nice pricing power. IPO potential in 2-3 years.
- Margin pressure going forward. Merger to offset some of that.
- Supply/demand under pressure as there is very little scrapping potential for the next 10 years world wide and the world fleet is younger than ever (Chinese boom 5-10 years ago to blame for that). Scrapping/new building-ratio does not look favorable many years out unless new building cancellations start to take place.
- WWASA best in class? Utilization rate of 85-90% is above industry average of 80% and EBIT-margins seem to be better than their biggest competitors, though it is difficult to measure as the competitors are not pure RoRo players only and do not specify their margins by segments in their financial reports.
- Mining is finally showing signs of improvement (Rio Tinto capex expanding again) and big opportunity for growth particularly in Australia where WWL has a strong inland logistics network.
- WWL’s land based logistics business is asset light and has grown rapidly. Revenue now about the same as ocean transportation (although most of it comes from the low-margin distribution business). Margins from Terminals and Tech Services, which currently accounts for 40% of inland logistics revenue) are handsome in the 10-15% range. Long term contracts and cash flow is stable. In my opinion this change in revenue stream will lead to a repricing of WWASA further down the road.
- The inland and ocean based businesses are separate financially, meaning should one experience difficulties it will not drag down the other.
Conclusion – what has changed?
Wilhelmsen Holding’s prudent capital allocation strategy means one can view an investment in the company as a storage of value with almost bond like safety while also getting the benefit of a lot of upside potential due to the generous discount-on-discount effect, which I find to be counterintuitive. A simple sum of the parts-valuation (based on mark-to-market pricing of WWASA, Treasure and Qube, book value of NorSea and EBITDA*6 for WMS) gives an upside of about 100% from the current market price. Added to that both the holdings in WWASA and Treasure appear undervalued (hence the discount-on-discount). Both of those companies probably have sharper upside potential in the near term but at greater risk, in my opinion, particularly WWASA.
Adding monetary experimentation and mindboggling politics into the equation
The current non-tested central bank experimentation, the weird political scenes around the world and high valuations in general leads me to believe that one ought to focus on safety rather than going for that extra percentage point here and there while exposing oneself to the enormous risks lurking out there. So in general I think defense is the play right now. In life the mindset of not losing is often equal to losing. But in investing there are times when not losing is a way to set the stage for winning…
A quick update on my opinion on today’s proposed merger. You can read the press release from the company here: http://www.newsweb.no/newsweb/search.do?messageId=408785
Expected gain for the holding company (WWIB): 30 MUSD per year (250 MNOK)
First the hard numbers. The synergies – a larger and more robust company will be able to achieve better financing terms, will need to employ fewer people as well as being able to direct their combined vessels more efficiently – are expected to result in a gain on the bottom line of between 50-100 MUSD for the new merged company, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics.
Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding (WWIB) will own 40% of this company, which means the bottom line will improve by 75 MUSD (average estimate) * 40% = 30 MUSD per year = 250 MNOK per year. There are 46,5 million outstanding shares which means earnings will improve by 5 NOK per share. If we assign a conservative PE of 5-6 that would mean 25-30 NOK/per share. The market’s verdict today: 7 NOK.
Now that I got my scorn for the market’s ability to do simple math out of the way let’s focus on the broader picture because there is more to this merger than the gain from synergies.
The name itself indicates a gradual move which has been underway for the last couple of years away from shipping and towards inland logistics, where margins are better – and where stock valuations are much higher. WWASA is valued at a gigantic discount to book value, while inland players such as Hyundai Glovis (p/b 2) and Qube Holding (p/b 1,5) – both of which Wilhelmsen Holding hold a minority share in – are valued much higher.
There is also the fact that the Wilhelmsen’s have once again demonstrated a willingness to let go of majority control and instead focus more on releasing shareholder value. I think this trend is very clearly going to continue. Once a tightly controlled company starts to open up like this the odds of it reversing course are low. The selling off of the Hyundai Glovis shares may now have come closer and perhaps there is more streamlining to come from the Wilhelmsen Maritime Systems division in the near future as well.
Just my two cents on the meaning of today’s development. I’m curious about your view…
Just a very brief update on Wilhelm Wilhelmsen ASA & Holding after restructuring announcement and Q4 results yesterday. I will go into more detail on my estimates of normalized earnings when I come back from a two month vacation to the beautiful country of New Zealand.
The market price of Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding’s main asset, WWASA, has been very suppressed in relation to current earnings for quite some time – and even more so in relation to my estimate of normalized earnings. When I checked last week it has gone from very underpriced to comically underpriced considering the following simple math:
Market value of WWASA: 6900 MNOK.
Market value of share in Hyundai Glovis: 6600 MNOK
Market value of WWASA excluding Glovis: 6900-6600 = 300 MNOK
WWASA profits after tax for the last two challenging years: around 1000 MNOK per year excluding contributions from Glovis and after one-off provision for the antitrust case.
A first step toward a more market friendly direction?
Yesterday management took a step that surprised both the market and myself – namely to prioritize transparency in relation to the company structure by spinning off the shares in Hyundai Glovis in a different listing. The company has for many years been more focused on creating long term real shareholder value (as can be seen by the constant increase in shareholder equity over the years) than caressing the market with cosmetics moves such as simplifying the company structure but apparently the mispricing became too much even for them (being a publicly traded company and all) and the market has reacted with long overdue hoorays, especially for WWASA. I personally think this move is mainly a cosmetic one as no real value was added equity wise by today’s announcement but still important in that it could signal a first step in a more market friendly direction which could lead to repricing faster than otherwise might have been the case.
2016 will most likely be another challenging year for High & Heavy
Q4 saw an expected decline on the top line while profit margins improved. Considering that major customers such as Caterpillar and John Deere are having the fourth straight down year for the first time in their history I believe better times are to come in the years ahead for the High & Heavy (mining & agriculture) segment, which is the most profitable segment and one that WWASA is particularly exposed to. Business has always proven cyclical in nature while many analysts tend to extrapolate recent trends into the future leading to faulty expectations. It may still take some time for the segment to turn around – most industry players (WWASA, Caterpillar & John Deere among others) expect 2016 to be another tough year – but profitability is still good for WWASA currently and investments into new vessels by competitors have been at stable levels so no reason to suspect a substantially tougher playing field in the years to come, in my view.
Disclaimer: I am heavily exposed to WWIB and may unconciously be biased in my views. Always advisable to do one’s own research…
A Danish poet wrote a poem many years ago saying that the year contains sixteen months and five of those are November! A not so subtle hint that darkness and cloudy weather is becoming the norm at this time of year and that time tends to become more of a drag.
My mother and I are less pessimistic. In fact it is a month where we indulge in our disorders and celebrate them. For her Christmas comes early. And those 107 Santa Claus characters populating every shelf in the house? Well, they are just not enough. And so as soon as the stores make new ones available she acts swiftly and decisively. With skills carefully crafted and perfected over many years she picks out the most spectacular ones before anyone else can get to them – and thus fulfills her cravings.
I’m also like that at this time of year except my disorder is more related to stock purchases. I load up on stocks I have had my eyes set on and I even buy on margin (4% currently and I will most likely boost it to 10% as I have done in previous years). Doing so makes me tense but I simply refuse to let those crumbs lie on the floor without picking them up when they are thrown around so carelessly by money managers clinging on to their jobs. You might say I have a mean streak in me because I don’t believe in leaving money on the table for my fellow man but when I see mispricings before my eyes without acting on them, I become physically ill. The stomach ache from buying on margin I can handle but not that other pain. Also, stomach ache is the constant companion of the bargain hunter so I get a bit of extra practise at the same time!
So what makes some money managers become so generous all of a sudden? Why do they act like amateurs and let small investors eat their lunch?
Some investment funds mislead their clients by selling badly performing securities before the end of a reporting period – month, quarter or year – and use the money to buy a rising security instead or to hold cash to buy back the securities they sold when the new period begins. By listing the stocks they hold at the end of the period the fund wants to appear to have performed better than it actually has. It is a despicable practise but it is a well-known fact within the industry that it occurs and it is most prevalent during the months of November and December.
Here is another window dressing technique that I witnessed in real time as I had an interest in buying a related stock at the time: Check out Wilhelmsen Holding’s A stock movement, ticker WWI, on October 30th, the last day of the month. In the last half hour of trading that day the price jumped 10% from 154 to 170,5 on low volume ochestrated by one buyer, CSB, who had been buying heavily in the previous weeks. The related B share hardly moved and in the following days the price came down by the same amount. This maneuvre is not legal but nonetheless it can often be witnessed in several illiquid stocks, especially on Dec 31st. The purpose is to inflate performance numbers at a relatively small price. It seems silly and if you or I did that it would be akin to pissing in our pants to keep warm for a few seconds. But perhaps you would also be tempted by sub par investment decisions if you had clients or bosses to report to?
In an overall rising year selling losing stocks to cancel out part of the wins can lessen the tax burden. For this reason you will often see stocks that have underperformed reach their lows in November/early December.
Be on the other side of the trade
You could call both of the above light forms of ”forced selling”. Any time you can be on the other side of a trade that isn’t driven by company fundamentals you want to be in that position – supposing of course that you want to own the particular stock in the first place. Note that what I am talking about here is the general odds of the above happening – you never know with absolute certainty who you buy from or what their motives are.
The January effect and small cap losers
Part of the reason January is often particularly good to small cap stocks that performed badly the year before can be attributed to the above practises. The market tends to correct itself and smooth out ineffeciencies but strangely this one has persisted and I will continue the uncomfortable practise of buying on margin for three months of the year and then gradually become non-leveraged come February/March until evidence says the market has erradicated it.
This bet doesn’t always turn out favorably, of course. In fact as late as 2014 I was not treated with any respect whatsoever by Mr. Market when I went for a leveraged oil play that turned sour as the oil price decline worsened. I won’t know for sure whether my bet was sound but I believe it was and therefore I would do it again. Investing is at heart a mathmatical undertaking where you attempt to estimate the likelihood of different scenarios happening:
Expected value = (Intrinsic value of the company in Scenario A * likelihood percentage) + (Scenario B * likelihood) + (Scenario C * likelihood) etc…
Dance like a butterfly sting like a bee
The above is a quote by Muhammad Ali to describe his boxing style: Non-dogmatic and opportunistic. When you see an opening: Pounce. I think this flexible attitude can also be applied by the enterprising investor even though check lists and hard rules are also a fine way to guard oneself against permanent loss. But to completely shut oneself off from action when circumstances are especially favorable is also a mistake in my book – mistakes can also be ones of omission as Charlie Munger puts it.
There is only principle I will not bend ever and that is the idea of a large Margin of Safety. The gap between what I perceive the value to be and the market price needs to be large for me to consider an investment no matter the circumstances.
The electricity market in Sweden has been very soft in 2015 due to a number of factors. The biggest contributing factor has been an abnormally wet year increasing the hydropower supply. Other factors: more wind capacity added to the system, a rather slow overall economic recovery, warmer than average temperatures and more than average wind conditions (reflected in the good operating results). In other words, when it comes to electricity prices 2015 has been hit by a perfect storm in almost all respects. In a normalized setting, power prices ought to increase – especially given the fact that four nuclear reactors – 13% of the overall supply – is in the process of being taken out of the system from now until 2020.
As a result Arise Windpower decided to write down their assets by about 10%. In my opinion a bit on the cautious side to do so given that they still have nice hedges in place until mid next year and thus plenty of time to see how the price situation plays out but it is after all a technicality and the market has already discounted the depressed conditions in the price of the Arise shares, which even after the write-down trades at 50% of book value despite a flow of high margin project sales.
Important to note also that about 70% of the production from their co-owned windfarms in Jädraås (about 40% of their overall production) have hedges in the 630-640 SEK/MWh range until the end of 2017 (compared to market prices, including e-certificates, of around 400 SEK currently) thus providing a nice cushion should electricity prices continue to be depressed.
Eolus Wind had written down their assets on Oct. 16th – their write-down was 15%, but I believe their assets are also older on average and thus bought at a time when wind turbine prices were higher. Other wind farm operators have chosen not to write down their assets but they may be forced to do so in the future.
I recently wrote a longer post about the e-certificate situation, thoughts on the future for ocean-based wind farms and possible project sales in the coming years for subscribers on inrater.com and I plan to write a more in-depth post on the overall situation on there soon.
Meanwhile, let’s hope El Nino brings wrath to the Scandinavian winter… May we all suffer a cold and painful winter and may the winds blaze through our lands at violent speeds!
Wilhelm Wilhelmsen and Arise Windpower both presented investors with shocks in their Q3 reports. The underlying results were solid as expected but provisions and write-downs shaved off significant amounts of their equity from their balance sheets.
In the case of Wilhelmsen, WWASA made provisions of 200 million USD for the anti-trust case, and the holding company, WWI & WWIB, another 50 million USD in impairment. It was known the company would be fined, but based on the settlements in Japan and South Africa I had estimated the global fines to amount to approximately 100 million USD, so it is fair to say I was surprised by the amount. Even though it isn’t the final verdict, it must be in that neighborhood since the company has been silent on a specific amount until now. The cases surfaced about 4 years ago so it has been a long wait that has contributed to uncertainty among investors.
It is important to note that the fine does not threaten the survival of the company at all. Their cash position and their easily liquidated share position in Hyundai Glovis (worth about USD 800 million, WWI owns 73% of this) insures that the liquitidy position is very solid. The decision to keep paying the biannual dividend also indicates that the company views their financial position as solid. What the provision means is that 13% of their equity was shaved off, compared to the 5% that I had estimated.
No market reaction
The market reaction has been non-existent. In fact, the stock trades 5% higher compared to one month ago (it is down 5% today, but this is set off by the 5% increase yesterday ahead of the report). That begs the question if the market, unlike me, expected the size of the fine to be as large as the company made provisions for today. That could be the case. It could also be the case that the market judges the provisions to be overly pessimistic.
But there is also a third option, which is embodied in the following quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt:
”We have nothing to fear but fear itself”
He said this in a famous speech in 1933 following the crash in 1929 and the subsequent uptake in the economy which had started to play out. It was true then and it is also true as a general concept for investing. Whenever there is uncertainty about a specific outcome investors tend to overreact. And for private investors with no bosses to report to (and therefore no way to get fired!), this provides a road to overperformance in a ”low hanging fruit” sort of way – provided, of course, the survival of the ongoing business of the particular company is not in question.
Historically cheap valuation
The long term potential in the case is very much intact. In fact it seems to me almost mindblowingly cheap considering that the company’s earnings power is strong compared to the market cap (P/E 4-5, excluding today’s one-off provisions) and has been for many years in spite of tough conditions with increased competition and the fact that the high margin high & heavy market (agriculture, mining equipment) is experiencing hardships, evidenced by reports by Caterpillar and John Deere (25% downturn). One ought to ask oneself what happens to the already healthy profit margins once that segment turns around… The other major segment – transportation of cars by sea – is almost certainly bright considering the growing middle class in China and India (and Africe further down the line) as well as the future replacement of gasoline driven cars towards more electricity/hybrid driven ones.
On a price-to-book valuation WWIB is priced at 0,49 and WWASA at 0,60. There is no reason why a dividend paying healthy business is priced at these levels and I continue to believe the price is based on irrational fear. If you think otherwise, please give me a holler!
Reaction to Arise Windpower’s write-downs
On Friday I will take a look at another company, Arise Windpower, where an almost identical scenario has played out following their report on Nov. 6th. Since I am writing about this company to subscribers at inrater.com (I write about Swedish and Danish companies on there) I cannot go into too much detail, but I will lay out my general outlook.
It’s been a long while since my last post, so I thought I’d give a short update on developments in Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding (listed in Norway) since my last post. Please excuse me if this post is a bit more hurried and less thorough than I normally aim for (fewer concrete numbers), but it is vacation time 😉
Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding
- The Big Negative: Their shares in Hyundai Glovis have come down by more than 30% since my first post on WWH on March 18th. As this is WWH’s most important asset, accounting for NOK 4,1 billion (NOK 5,8 billion on March 18). This is a significant portion of the market cap, which is currently NOK 8,1 billion. The share price in WWH has increased 16% in the same period.
- Hyundai and Kia have recorded declining car sales. I expect this to have a negative effect on Q2 as these two companies are major customers of the coowned company EUKOR. It is, by the way, the major reason why the Glovis shares have come down.
- The Big Positive: The dollar is has recently come back to its highs from March and the oil prices have gone down once again meaning revenue is worth more and operating cost are coming down. Clearly favorable for WWH.
- Much as I expected Q1 was a great quarter, primarily due to a strong dollar, a low oil price and cost cutting effects from 2014 that have started to have an impact.
- The ClarkSea index is up.
In my opinion, the combo of Glovis being worth less while the WWH stock being priced higher makes WWH less of a no-brainer than it was four months ago. I still believe it to be a sound investment long term, but I think it is odd for the market not to react more negatively to such a sudden and heavy decline by their major asset and I fear that this could take place any time so I have decided to reduce my position by two thirds and put that money in more consumer related investments where I see more tailwind both short and long term. The discount to NAV is still favorable, which is why I am keeping one third and ready to increase again if circumstances dictate doing so.
Note: The price was 149,50 when I recommended the stock and it now sits at 171, an increase of 16% (when including 3 kr in dividend received in May).
Stay tuned for my next post on a subject I think is particularly important for investors having stocks in troubled industries, which is my favorite hunting grounds. The title is going to be Becoming Comfortable with Uncertainty.
My last post on Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding, WWI, focused on the Bear Case, https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/wilhelm-wilhelmsen-the-bear-case/. In this post I will present some bullish arguments. It will be shorter than my first two posts as some bullish arguments have already been discussed in those:
The Bull Case
- Bottom of High & Heavy cycle?
- High barriers to entry
- Strong balance sheet
- Strong dollar, cheap oil, opex cuts
- Cheap share price, possibly based on irrational reasoning (see Bear Case)
As with the Bear Case, let’s look at each of the above.
Bottom of High & Heavy cycle?
For the last two years there has been a recurring theme in every quarterly report: ”Unfavorable cargo mix.” What that means is that the company would like a larger percentage of their cargo to be in the High & Heavy-segment, which is more profitable than the car carrier segment.
The reason for this unfavorable mix is that mining and agriculture companies have been holding back on capex spending, ie. upgrading old equipment or buying new due to depressed prices in those sectors. The good news is this cannot continue for much longer. At some point in the not to distant future they will have to make these investments. A good indicator of when this shift occurs is to keep track of reports of manufacturers of that type of equipment: Caterpillar and John Deere.
I list this as bullish since we want to be investing in cyclical companies when they are near the bottom of their cycle instead of near the top. When High & Heavy starts to improve we can expect better margins. Since the stock is already cheap based on current earnings, I expect this to have a strong impact on the share price once it kicks in.
The car carrier segment seems poised for continued growth as former poor countries lift a larger portion of their citizens into the middle class.
High barriers to entry
Investments into the car carrier sector is capital intensive and it takes years from purchasing a vessel till it is delivered. In other words, the economic moat around the sector is quite wide. This makes increased competition less likely in the foreseeable future and profitability more likely to be durable.
Strong balance sheet
When investing in depressed markets, a strong balance sheet is essential in making sure that companies can weather potential storms for longer than their competitors. An additional benefit of having cash on hand is potential opportunities to buy competitors in trouble or their assets. Having an equity ratio of 48% for the holding company, WWI, and 51% for the daughter company, WWASA, Wilhelm Wilhelmsen is in a strong position. Also noteworthy is the interest WWASA is paying on their bonds: 2-3,5%. In other words, they have access to cheap money and are not bogged down by large interest payments.
Strong dollar, cheap oil, opex cuts
In the near term there are a number of external factors that WWI will benefit from.
The strong dollar contributes to stronger earnings as revenue is mainly in dollars and only to a lesser extent on the expense side.
Cheap oil reduces transportation costs – although some of those savings are likely to land in the pockets of customers in the form of cheaper prices. At least that has been the case in some of the shipping and transportation companies that I follow.
During 2014 Wilhelm Wilhelmsen undertook operating expenditures cuts that will start to have a positive impact in 2015.
Cheap share price based on irrational reasoning (see Bear Case)
All of the above bull arguments mean very little if the share price is overly expensive. In my post on March 19th, the Bear Case, I noted some possible reasons for the cheap price, some of which are clearly irrational.
Future posts on WWI
My three posts on WWI have focused mainly on qualitative aspects. I will probably revisit the case and post one that is more numbers driven (free cash flow) in the coming months.
Let me know if you have any questions or additional thoughts that can shed more light on the case.
In my first post on W. Wilhelmsen Holding published yesterday, https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/wilhelm-wilhelmsen-holding-quality-at-bargain-prices/, it was established that the stock is exceptionally cheap right now, based on both Price/Book and Price/Earnings.
Why is it cheap? The Bear Case
This question ought to be the main focus when we dig into the fundamentals of a company, which on the surface appears to be especially cheap. There is always the risk that it is a value trap and that the market knows about things that we don’t. As we slowly peel the onion that is the company and get closer to the core of it, reasons will start to appear. The main question is if those reasons are rational or not.
So far I have spotted the following possible reasons:
- Antitrust investigations
- Uncertainty about contract renewal
- Fear of increase in local car production?
- Conglomerate discount
- Shipping market discount
- Norwegian market discount (following the current oil crash)
- The founding family controls more than 50%
- Dividend payout ratio is low (12%)
- No share buyback
- Cyclical, low liquidity, boring
Let’s look at those one by one.
WWASA and three Japanese competitors are all being investigated for price fixing from 2008-2012. The investigation started in the fall of 2013 and has already led to fines from Japanese authorities. Two Japanese competitors have also been fined by US authorities and it is expected that WWASA will be fined as well. It is also expected that the EU, Canada, Mexico and Chile will seek to fine the major of players in the industry. This creates uncertainty in the market. But it can also be a source of opportunity and lead to mispricings if that fear is irrationally overblown. WWASA expects a clearer overall picture on this issue during 2015.
Having spoken to analysts who have followed the process more closely, the expectation is that the total fines for WWASA will be in the USD 100-120 million range, and USD 200 million being a worst case scenario, in their opinion. Translating those numbers to the balance sheet of the holding company means a reduction of between USD 70-140 million in equity. If that turns out to be the case the effect will be in the 0,02-0,03 range in terms of Price/Book, ie. it will jump from 0,49 to 0,51/0,52 – still a far cry from P/B 0,84 of 2013 and 2012. In other words, while a serious matter, this alone cannot be the reason for the heavy discount – if we suppose investors are rational.
The liquidity position of WWASA is solid enough to counter fines of this size. On top of that WWASA has a 12,5% share in the logistics company Hyundai Glovis, and that share is currently worth approximately USD 1 billion. So if things get tough, they can sell a portion of that.
Uncertainty about contract renewal
Eukor, which is 40% owned by WWASA, has a contract renegotiation with Hyundai and Kia coming up in 2016. Eukor currently transports 60% of Hyundai’s and Kia’s exports and there is uncertainty whether this will continue or whether it will drop into the 50% or 40% range. WWASA has stated that they expect volumes to remain the same. Perhaps the market views this as overly optimistic.
Fear of increase in local car production?
I have not been able to find information on whether there is a trend in this direction currently. But if it is indeed the case, or if it happened in the future, it would result in a smaller market, so it is a potential threat to keep in mind and to look out for.
There has always been a discount compared to a sum-of-parts valuation in WWI. As I wrote in the first part of this analysis, I don’t completely agree with it, but it will probably stay that way in the foreseeable future. Should the company decide to spin off some of their holdings, this will come down and the share price will go up.
Another reason for the discount might be a very simple one. Both WWI and WWASA consist of a myriad of companies and joint ventures, which makes it harder and more time consuming to analyze. Perhaps many potential investors stay away for that reason. However, none of those two reasons address the increasing discount gap.
The general shipping industry has been hit hard
The Baltic Dry index, which measures the transport activity of commodities by sea, is at an all time low – due to a combination of overcapacity and declining demand. As a result of that many players in the shipping industry are struggling. However, WWI’s main operations are in the car carrier and high & heavy markets, which are both unrelated to Baltic Dry. The revenues for the Ship Service part of the group has declined slightly – but profits are up and EBIT-margin a healthy 10%. However, these numbers are relatively small compared to the overall numbers for the group.
You could argue that if the market is viewed to be in a slump now and the current P/E is at 3,4 what happens to the share price once profits start to really take off?
Norwegian market discount
Norway is to a very large extent synonymous with the oil and shipping industries. As both have witnessed brutal declines recently some investors in the region may have withdrawn funds from the overall stock market out of fear regardless of the industry that the individual companies are in. A lot of stocks on the Oslo stock Exchange are traded at historically cheap prices. For some the fear is warranted, for other much less so. I believe the latter to be the case for WWI.
The founding family controls more than 50%
Some investors don’t like to be at the mercy of one group controlling 50%+ of the outstanding shares. However, it is very well documented that founding families tend to be more focused on long term value creation than your average CEO. And generally speaking, you get rewarded handsomely for owning shares in family owned businesses. However, there is also another side to this story and that is that the company (Tallyman), which controls the majority of shares in WWI, is owned by about 15 family members, I am told (as a side note, many of those are on this list of Norway’s richest people, among them the group CEO, Thomas Wilhelmsen: http://www.dn.no/nyheter/naringsliv/2013/10/18/her-er-norges-1000-rikeste). What happens if there are disagreements with regards to the overall strategy within that group. Can it hamper decisive action?
Low dividend payout ratio
WWI is expected to pay out NOK 3 to shareholders in May and NOK 2 in November, this equates to only 12% of earnings (3,3% dividend yield). Compare that to the more normal 50% payout ratio of other companies. I think this is one reason why WWI is usually cheap compared to its earnings power. In the current low interest environment the market is hungry for dividend yield so I have no doubt the share price would explode if the company suddenly decided to payout 50% of its profits. Very unlikely to happen though. The company does not strike me as one that changes its strategies to satisfy the market.
No share buybacks
If the primary aim of a company is to increase shareholder value one expects that company to invest its profits in ways that maximizes the return. New capex investments might be expected to produce a return on investment in the 10-15% range. However, there is another low hanging fruit waiting to be grapped now that the company’s asset are for sale at only 49 cents on the dollar and that is to buy back its own stocks. If Price/Book were to increase to the more normal (but still cheap) levels of 2012 and 2013 the stock would increase by about 70% in value. That seems like a no brainer investment to make. And personally, I would much rather see this happen than increased dividends.
I don’t believe it will happen though. The company has no history of doing so and it may prefer an organic growth strategy. If that is the case, perhaps the stock market is punishing the company for preferring empire building rather than shareholder maximizing initiatives.
Cyclical, low liquidity, boring
I don’t care in what shape or form they present themselves but I like value propositions. Paying much less than the expected value of an asset is all that interests me. But many investor groups need an investment to fit into a certain box in order for them to invest and in many ways WWI doesn’t fit the bill.
Dividend investors tend to be defensive and shy away from businesses that are cyclical in nature, which WWI certainly is.
Institutional investors want a minimum of liquidity otherwise their very buying and selling will move the price too much to be worth it for them. On many days the volume in WWI is less NOK 1 million, which is surprising for a company of this size.
Gamblers want bigger day-to-day movement than WWI provides, being in a mature business segment and with a low gearing ratio and solid balance sheet. The later also scares away growth oriented investors.
Personally, I am indifferent to those reasons. I just want the gap between price and value to be huge. I also don’t mind volatility from year to year as long as value is created and compounded over time.
Bear Case conclusions
Of the above mentioned 10 possible reasons for the discount, I believe the first three are somewhat rational. I am the most uncomfortable with the second and third reasons as I find those the hardest to assess both in terms of the likelihood of them occurring as well as the possible impact they can have. The rest are not really rational in my book.
I hope there are skeptical investors out there who would like to share their thoughts if they have found holes in my analysis or have additional information or questions/thoughts to bring to the table.
You can read the third and final part, the Bull Case, here: https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/wilhelm-wilhelmsen-holding-the-bull-case/
Everyone and their neighbor has been participating in a mad rush to buy quality companies (earnings wise) for the past year or so. This has led to bloated, pumped up prices and I want no part in that race even though the participants have been rewarded nicely – so far. Value investors typically look a little dumb in the latter stages of bull markets, but Seth Klarman and the like often remain with their clothes on unlike many others investors a couple of years later. As I have said repeatedly in my blog: Quality is not a safe haven. Price is king when it comes to evaluating risk, not quality. But, if I can have it both ways, I am open to suggestions!
I might just have stumbled upon such a company: Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding, listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange, stock ticker WWI. It has in fact been on my radar for some time I just hadn’t gone down and dirty with analyzing it due to its complexity which meant it would be a time consuming exercise if nothing came up. Below is a diagram of its structure:
The 25% drop in share price since July has triggered my curiosity and I thought it would be an excellent time to take a closer look and dig into whether the drop was warranted or whether it has provided an opportunity for investors. Especially since the share prices of the three main competitors have gone up in the same period of time, indicating a low probability that it is the future prospects of the market they are in that is at fault.
Wilhelm Wilhelmsen Holding, WWI, has an immaculate value creation record since 1861. In the last 15 years WWI has returned 12% annually (semi-annual dividends + increase in share price) to their shareholders, which equates to 4,5x their money, beating the general market by a wide margin.
The company’s biggest asset is the daughter company WWASA (to the left in the diagram above), of which it owns 72,73%. The company’s primary market is transportation of cars and so called “high & heavy” equipment (mainly mining and agricultural machinery) by sea. They also have a lot of subsidiaries and joint ventures in related markets. In other words, it is a conglomerate, and investors typically crave discounts for those. However, unlike many other conglomerates WWI’s businesses intertwine creating synergies, so perhaps it would be more appropriate to award a premium to the share price instead. This probably won’t happen any time soon. However, it is my belief that the current discount will come down as it is rather large.
Key valuation figures, WWI (holding company)
Key valuation figures, WWASA (daughter company)
At the time of this analysis the price for WWI was NOK 149,50 (for the B share, the A share was slightly higher at 150,50 – if I was buying, I’d buy whichever is cheaper on the day). Price/Earnings is extremely low at 3,43 based on 2014 numbers and the company guides for 2015 to be similar to 2014. Price-to-Book is at 0,49, down considerably from 0,84 in 2013. Curiously, in the heyday year of 2007 Price/Book was at 2,2 (4,5 times higher than today).
These first two numbers generally don’t go together. Either you have excellent earnings and pay a high price-to-book for it, or you have poor or negative earnings prospects and are compensated by getting what is on the balance sheet at a discount.
What’s the catch?
Why both? What are the dangers lingering out there in the horizon? Well, according to my analysis there are a few but in my opinion they are relatively minor in proportion to the heavy discounts the market is providing.
- Antitrust investigations
- Uncertainty about contract renewal
- Fear of increase in local car production?
- Conglomerate discount
- Shipping market discount
- Norwegian market discount (following the current oil crash)
- The founding family controls more than 50%
- Dividend payout ratio is low (12%)
- No share buyback
- Cyclical, low liquidity, boring
In my next post, I will take a closer look at each of those bear case arguments and following that I will then proceed to the bull case arguments: https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/wilhelm-wilhelmsen-the-bear-case/
Since I posted my analysis on Polarcus on Nov 18th and a follow-up on Dec 8th the price of oil has come down dramatically to reach USD 45 (Brent) at its low point. Judging from the number of tenders and the current day rates in the seismic industry, Big Oil has essentially freezed their seismic capex spending. During December oil companies reported they would reduce capex by 20% on average. Since seismic players CGG and WesternGeco were quick to reduce their seismic fleet my thinking has been that the balance between supply and demand would not take as large a hit as was reflected in the seismic share prices. However, the tender activity in January was down 50%, and in the North Sea there has been 5 tenders while there is usually 20-25 this time of year. This development is especially unfortunate for Polarcus because of their strained balance sheet and poor backlog for Q2 (45%) and Q3 (55%). Since January 7th there was no new orders until March 4th. And PGS CEO has recently said that there is still 15% overcapacity in the industry and as long as this gap exists this will naturally have an adverse effect on day rates.
Two problems in the horizon
There are two problems in the horizons. The immediate (but less serious) one is loan covenants. In order not to be in breach of those Polarcus needs USD 150 million EBIDTA on a 12-month rolling basis for Q2 (they need USD 50 million in total for Q1 and Q2). I believe they will reach that but it isn’t a certainty if the backlog for Q2 doesn’t build up very soon. A bigger issue is Q4 2015 where the total EBIDTA needs to reach USD 172 million on a 12-month rolling basis and where the equity issue in Q3 2014 does not count in the equation any more. In light of developments the last couple of months I don’t see that happening. But this has happened before and has only led to insignificant fines so it may not be a big issue after all. Then again, it might…
The overshadowing issue, though, is the refinancing of the bond that is maturing in April 2016 where they need to pay USD 104 million. Free cash flow will not cover this amount and given the current yield-to-maturity of their bonds (in the 40-50% range) a new bond issuance seems extremely unlikely unless the market turns sharply upwards in less than a year’s time. So that leaves four other options: The sale of a vessel, new cash injection through equity placement, debt restructuring or liquidation – the latter I think is very unlikely unless oil collapses completely, I assign less than 5% to the likelihood of that scenario. Shareholders will root for the first option as the other three options will almost wipe them out. Sovcomflot has an option to buy the V. Tikhonov vessel, which is currently on bareboat charter. If this happens the share price will almost certainly shoot dramatically upwards (except in the case of a fire sale price). I don’t see this as particularly likely though. My guess is that Sovcomflot is as capex spending focused as the rest of the industry, and if they decide to buy they have a lot of leverage when it comes to pricing given Polarcus’ situation.
The need for cash
That leaves us with cash injection from a new equity issue and debt restructuring. The low share price has made the first of those options less likely. The market cap is now around USD 40 million and Plcs needs at least USD 100 million. In other words, we are looking at a dilution of current shareholders by at least 70%. On top of that, it might only be a shortterm solution as it doesn’t address the bigger issue, which is that there will still be a large amount of debt left which is difficult to service in the current environment. For that reason, I think a debt restructuring is the most likely scenario and one that bond holders will be pressured to go along with. For shareholders this will be bad news as debt restructurings usually wipe out 90%+ of their value.
Sold Polarcus shares, bought Dolphin
For the above reasons I decided to sell my Polarcus shares and buy Dolphin instead. I believe in the longerterm outlook for the industry but right now I believe the risk/reward has become less attractive in Polarcus, even though the stock has gone down significantly in the last two weeks.
Polarcus – lessons learned
I took a loss of 22% (average buy price 0,76, average sell price 0,59) and even though this isn’t the first time that has happened this one has been particularly painful due to the size of my position. I have no problem with the buy and sell decisions themselves. Macro events are impossible to forecast and I would do the same again every day of the week given the situation as it was, and especially once the pension funds started selling out. However, I will probably think twice about the sizing of my bet in a risky proposition such as Polarcus in the future. I am not ready to admit that there may have been an element of hybris involved due to large bets having paid off very well in the past since I previously have only made big bets when the downside was very well protected. The mental anguish involved, however, has been an eye opener. I have followed the developments of the stock price too closely which has led to less research on other possible investments. That has been the main lesson and I cannot allow that to happen again. Overall, the experience has reinforced my belief in taking contrarian positions.
In the near future I will post an article called “The Sizing of a Bet” where I will go into this subject in more detail as it is one I am fascinated with.
Back in October I wrote a qualitative analysis on Arise Windpower (https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/arise-windpower-traded-at-a-historically-large-discount-part-1/) – before reading this quantitative follow-up I recommend that you read part 1 first.
I have been hesitant making calls on future electricity prices due to political uncertainty regarding a possible re-election. Since it has now been cleared up that there will be no re-election I feel somewhat more comfortable making these estimates. However, it is important to realize that there still is a lot of uncertainty in the assumptions below.
Since October, there has been some interesting developments:
1) A project with a capacity of 46 MW was sold to BlackRock, one of the largest money managers in the world. The company will receive a healthy profit of SEK 46 million as well as management fees going forward.
2) Due to the current low electricity prices the company has decided to reduce risk by selling three wind parks with a total capacity of 25 MW (total portfolio is 266 MW). They expect to sell these wind parks at prices above book value. On December 3rd the first of those were sold at a price that was 15% above book value. It was the small Stjärnarp wind park with a capacity of 5,4 MW which was sold for SEK 83 million and which had a book value of SEK 72 million (cost 75 million, depreciation 3 million).
Projects sold above book value, while the stock is traded at a 48% discount
The above sales show that even in the current challenging environment where electricity prices are at historically low levels, customers are willing to buy at prices that are above book value. This is not reflected in the current stock price, which is selling at a 48% discount to book value. After these sales the risk in the stock has been reduced significantly and the upside ought to be apparent for investors.
Let’s now take a closer look at the net present value of future cash flows and convert the number to price per share. Below are my assumptions.
Discounted cash flow analysis – assumptions:
– The previous expansion strategy has been put on hold due to lower electricity prices and therefore I will assume no building of new farms. This means Arise will rely on the cash flows generated from existing wind farms as well as projects sold to external parties. Should total energy prices rise to above 700 SEK/MWh it can be expected Arise will again look into expansion. This is an added upside but also one that is impossible to quantify, and so for this analysis I will focus on the current strategy only.
– Arise has sold 5,4 MW recently and aims to sell 20 MW more at a price above book value. This will lower debt from SEK 1,6 billion to around SEK 1,2 billion. Whether or not these sales will materialize, it will not affect the intrinsic value of Arise Windpower by much. It might be slightly higher if these sales do not materialize, however, the investment will also be somewhat riskier.
– Yearly average production: 715 GWh (current) – 87 GWh (sale of 25 MW) = 628 GWh after sale of 25 MW.
– Life span of a wind farm is 25 years. E-certificates are received for 15 of those years. On average Arise’s total wind farm capacity has been in operation for 3 years. That means on average they have 12 years left to receive E-certificates. For the remaining 10 years only elspot prices will be collected.
– For 2015 we already know Arise will receive around 600 MSEK/MWh due to forward price hedging. Very little is hedged after 2015.
– From 2016 and onwards I make the following assumptions as to prices and the likelihood of them occurring:
Scenario 1: Total elspot + E-certificate prices from 2016 and onwards: 450 MSEK/MWh. 2% price increase per year. Probability: 15% (No e-certificate hike + prolonged lower e-spot prices)
Scenario 2: Total elspot + E-certificate prices from 2016 and onwards: 650 MSEK/MWh. 2% price increase per year. Probability: 60% (normalized e-certificate prices + slightly higher e-spot prices but still below historical average)
Scenario 3: Total elspot + E-certificate prices from 2016 and onwards: 800 MSEK/MWh. 2% price increase per year. Probability: 25% (global recovery above expectations)
– On top of revenue from own wind farms Arise expects project sales of 75 MW on average per year. After the BlackRock deal this seems a reasonable assumption. Total profit after tax for those sales is estimated to be SEK 35 million. Added to that approximately SEK 5 million in management fees per year per project. We don’t know for sure whether Arise will succeed in making these project sales, but due to the recent sales I estimate there is a 75% chance of this happening – so for the numbers I have discounted with this factor.
Given an 8% discount rate, I have calculated the intrinsic value per share to be as follows:
Scenario 1: 13,60
Scenario 2: 31,50
Scenario 3: 44,20
Weighing the different outcomes I arrive at the following numbers:
Intrinsic value: 13,6 x 0,15 + 31,5 x 0,60 + 44,2 x 0,25 = SEK 32,00 per share
The current share price is 16,90. And the current book value per share is 34,90. In other words, the above estimate is still below book value. Considering what recent customers have been willing to pay for Arise’s wind farms it is possible my guesstimates are too conservative. I’d be interested in hearing yours.
Note that when it comes to discounted cash flows it is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And since there is a lot of uncertainty in almost all of these numbers, take it for what it is: Lots of guesses as to possible future outcomes.
Has a special situation presented itself?
I went into some detail on Polarcus three weeks ago (https://hammerinvesting.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/polarcus-a-short-analysis/) when the price was NOK 0,99. Now, following the OPEC meeting on November 26th, it is at NOK 0,64. A loss of 35%, while competitors Dolphin (0%), PGS (-5%), TGS (+8%), EMGS (+20%) and CGG (+1%) have pretty much stayed put. Has Polarcus become that much more risky in comparison with their competitors in that short time period or can the reason be found elsewhere? I believe the latter to be the case.
This post is not about the longterm value of Polarcus. Instead it is born out of what seems to me a special situation that has developed. The newest major shareholder list, http://imgur.com/xrF3q9p, reveals an interesting fact: Since Nov. 14th there has been heavy selling, possibly forced selling, by two Finnish Pension funds, Elo Pension and Varma Pension. None of the other major shareholders have reduced their holdings in the same period. Pareto Securites has sold 19 million shares since November 14th and so it seems to me the only possibility is that they are selling on behalf of Varma Mutual Pension fund and that they now have fewer than 7 million shares left.
For an investor this is significant for two reasons. One, they are soon out of shares, most likely within a few days (Pareto sold 2,8 million shares on Friday) – and there have been no other heavy sellers at these price levels, which makes a near term upwards rise in the share price quite likely in my opinion. Two, if a fund sells large amounts of shares without regards to valuation and estimates of risk/reward, great opportunities can arise.
Why would a fund sell at large discounts?
– Risk profile. Being pension funds their risk profile may be such that they are forced to avoid companies where risk is seen to have increased without regards to price and an overall judgment of risk/reward.
– Market cap considerations. Some funds are known to have internal rules that require them to sell stocks in companies when the market cap of the company falls below a certain threshold.
– Tax/window dressing. At the end of the year some funds are known to sell their loser stocks for tax or for window dressing reasons. Some managers don’t want to be seen investing in stocks that underperform significantly for job security reasons or fear of customers withdrawing funds, so they erase the loser stocks from their listed investments before the end of the year.
There is of course the possibility that the two Finnish pension funds have found a hole in the case that other investors, such as JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and Erik Henriksen, have not. Personally, I view that as highly unlikely. Pension funds are typically not considered to be the sharpest knives in the industry.
While it is not at all certain that Polarcus will make it through the current turmoil in the oil business without new infusion of capital when the USD 104 million bond expires in April 2016, I question if this as catastrophic as the current market price indicates.
Market cap NOK 428 million, equity NOK 4 billion!
Suppose the expired bond cannot be refinancied with a new bond at an attractive interest rate and the company needs to issue new equity that will see a 50% dilution, the Price-to-Book will still be in the neighborhood of the 0,20-0,25 range (currently 0,11) – in other words, still very cheap. Consider also that the largest shareholder, One Equity Partner, owned by JP Morgan, is financially strong and has put up NOK 78 million only two months ago along with NOK 26 million by other insiders.
The current price also makes a takeover bid for the company by a capital strong competitor or a private equity fond a very real possibility, especially considering the recent bid on CGG by Technip and the merger between Halliburton and Baker Hughes. Curiously, CGG is traded at P/B 0,54, while Polarcus is traded at P/B 0,11, even though Polarcus’ EBIT-margins are much healthier. CGG’s equity ratio is slightly better than Polarcus’ at 45% vs. 42%.
I believe the market has made a serious probability misjudgment based on irrational fear in relation to upside potential. However, it is never wise in these above normal risk/high reward situations to put too much of one’s capital at risk. Staying in the game should always have the highest priority.
As for the oil price, with a sharp downward move like we have seen in the past few months, I am betting on mean reversion in the not too distant future rather than a prolonged downturn – even though it may decline further in the near term. China and India are still growing rapidly and the low oil price ought to raise demand.
P/B: 0,17. Equity ratio: 40%. 2013 P/E: 2. An unlikely combination and too good to be true?
Polarcus is a company that trades on the Oslo Stock Exchange. It is in the seismic industry supplying oil companies with geophysical maps of the underground to aid their search for oil. To do this Polarcus has a fleet of specialized ships with streamers attached that pick up the data like in the illustration below.
The industry is dependent on the Exploration & Production budgets of oil companies. Those have been hit hard recently by a combination of shareholders wanting to cut costs and return more to shareholders via dividends – as well as the decline in the oil price. As a result almost all seismic stocks have taken a hit – and in the case of Polarcus to an extreme degree: 78% down since the beginning of the year.
|Price-to-Book, Nov 18th
since Jan 1st
I believe the extreme differences in those numbers relate to the market’s view of the riskiness of their balance sheets. Polarcus has the newest fleet in the industry and thus has higher leverage while TGS is an asset-light company in that they don’t own any ships.
A closer look at the balance sheet
Currently you can buy shares in the company for 0,99 NOK while the Price-to-Book value is 5,72 NOK per share. This is insanely cheap and indicates that the market believes there is an imminent risk of Polarcus going bankrupt or in need of large injections of cash. If this risk is low and Polarcus survives the current downturn in the industry the upside potential is very large, possibly in the 200-400% range. The stock traded in that range only five months ago.
When analyzing the balance sheet we see that the loan-to-book ratio is 55%. For a bank that would seem a safe loan. Now there are market participants, Fearnley Fonds among others, who argue that as there are no buyers of ships in the current market this ratio is irrelevant. I personally don’t understand this logic. 1) You want to look at the whole business cycle and not just at a moment in time when the market is depressed. 2) With a margin of safety of 55% loan-to-book ratio would the banks not want to extend the loans if Polarcus’ cash position gets into troubling territory? I would think so.
Debt Service Ratio-terms
There is also another aspect of the financing that needs a closer look and that is the Debt Service Ratio-terms that Polarcus has agreed with the banks. In 2014 Polarcus has been in breach of covenant twice and this has resulted in some minor fines of USD 15,000 so it hasn’t been a big issue in the past. However, it is never nice to be dependent on the good will of banks as that can change. With a loan-to-book ratio of 55% it does seem to me that the banks have an interest in keeping the relationship afloat though.
The DSR is defined as EBIDTA/debt service (ie. interest+loan repayment). For Q4 this is 1,6x, Q2 2015: 1,75x and Q4 2015: 2,0x. The debt service on Polarcus’ books are at USD 86 million on a 12-month rolling basis and so for Q4 the EBIDTA needs to be above:
Q4 2014: 86 x 1,60 = USD 138 million on a 12-month rolling basis
Q2 2015: 86 x 1,75 = USD 150 million on a 12-month rolling basis
Q4 2015: 86 x 2,00 = USD 172 million on a 12-month rolling basis
EBIDTA for recent quarters have been as follows:
Q1 2014: USD 40 million
Q2 2014: USD 50 million
Q3 2014: USD 43 million
Q4 2014: ? – probably below USD 20 million given company guidance (lots of multiclient work this quarter)
Note that on Oct 6th Polarcus launched an equity private placement where they secured USD 35 million – probably pushed through by the banks in exchange for better DSR terms. In the DSR agreement the proceeds counts as EBIDTA. Therefore Q4 is no problem in this respect. Fearnley Fonds, who have been selling the stock heavily for the last 30 days, have argued that there is risk of covenant breach in Q2. To me that seems very unlikely. For that to happen the three quarters of Q4, Q1 and Q2 combined would have to be below: 150-35-43 = USD 72 million, which translate into an average of only USD 24 million per quarter and the company has already secured a large backlog for the coming quarters. For Q4 of 2015 it will be trickier. And if the current market conditions persist for much longer I think a breach of covenant is likely in Q4. The question is how much it matters. That we don’t know. So far there have been no serious consequences.
Here is Polarcus’ backlog as of mid November (the numbers in parenthesis are for the same time last year):
USD 325 million (USD 150 million) backlog:
Booked capacity Q4 2014: 100% (75%)
Booked capacity Q1 2015: 70% (30%)
Booked capacity Q2 2015: 45% (20%)
Booked capacity Q3 2015: 50% (?)
Booked capacity Q4 2015: 25% (?)
It is worth noting that the CEO has said that Polarcus has been aggressive in their price bidding recently. But now, given the record high backlog, it would seem to me that to fill the rest of the backlog they don’t need to be as aggressive going forward possibly resulting in higher margins.
Future earnings and conclusion
So far I haven’t even touched on what drives stock prices: earnings and cash flows. While very impressive in 2013 they are much less so for 2014. The bottom line will probably result in a small deficit. The free cash flow will be positive though – for the first 9 months it was at USD 18 million adjusted for changes in working capital (market cap USD 98 million) – and after loan repayment and interest.
2015 will no doubt be a challenging year with regards to earnings. But if Polarcus can get through the current depression in the market reasonably intact, the 2013 results showed that the company has fine earnings potential.
As I believe the market is being too pessimistic with regards to Polarcus’ financial health and is giving too good a price for me to pass up, I have chosen to invest in the company. I do not recommend for others to do so if they are risk averse, however. And for those who do, a bet on the smaller side might be a wise option. In other words: don’t risk the house on Polarcus – it could come crumbling down!
“Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.” – Bruce Lee
Imagine for just one moment that you and your ego are two separate entities. Ok? Now imagine yourself as a boxer and your ego as a punching ball. Is the image planted firmly in your mind? Good… Now punch!
Did it hurt? Unless you are Buddha or someone who dances in nirvana land on a regular basis the answer is probably yes. Separating ourselves from our ego is just not that easy to do. However, it is my thesis that if we become proficient at it good investment decisions will follow much more frequently than if we let ourselves become slaves of our irrational ego. The hopes and fears of our ego can block the view of what is actually true about a situation.
Ego taking over the control
Ok, so we have done a thorough analysis on a company and have decided to invest. The stock goes up and we feel quite good about our stock picking skills. It still has a long way to go before it reaches its intrinsic value (according to our analysis) but nonetheless we decide to lock in the gains and sell on the grounds that “no one ever lost money from taking a profit” – a surprisingly common saying even among professionals who ought to know better. In reality we have committed a crime against our wallet in order to satisfy our ego’s need to book a win. In that moment we gave in to shortsighted sugar craving when it would have been wiser to develop the patience and thick skin and toughness of a Mongolian warrior waiting through the long and cold winters for the prey to arrive – ie. for the stock to finally reach its fair value. Easy thing to say, not always easy to do – hence the spiritual warrior metaphor.
The same is true when we exit a stock that has fallen because our ego cannot stand to see the red figures in our account. When we start buying at absurdly high prices for fear of missing out on a rally everybody and their neighbor is seemingly a part of. Or when we become so attached to a stock that we keep holding on to it even though the fundamentals have changed in a major way so that the intrinsic value is now below the price of the stock. (Note, I’m not talking about the minor inevitable bumps that all companies experience on a regular basis. Selling on minor bad news can be costly when it comes to transaction costs in and out of a stock. I’m talking about game changers that fundamentally change the future prospects of a company.)
Being too attached to a stock
This last example can be especially difficult to deal with if we have put in lots and lots of time studying a company and now feel we need to get paid for that time. Unfortunately, the market is completely insensitive to our petty needs! It doesn’t deal with what is fair or unfair, only with what is true about the intrinsic value – or rather, it fluctuates around it, usually with a pull in that direction, like a yo-yo always returning to home. Another danger of being attached to a stock we have bought is that we can become so blinded by the upside that we don’t analyze news in a cool and unbiased fashion but instead shift the truth of the situation and instead see it in the light that we prefer.
Why do it?
Obviously, all of the above can be devastating to long term returns. So why do you, me – everybody! – do it so often? I think there are a few things that can come into play – and it isn’t at all impossible to cut down on their frequency.
1) We don’t separate ourselves from our ego
When we are not monitoring our own thought processes in an unbiased, “from the outside” sort of way and instead go on autopilot and react to situations in a non-reflecting way, our ego can easily dominate our actions. To prevent that it can be helpful to view our ego and ourselves as separate entities like in the exercise above. Daily meditation can be very powerful in this respect, as in every other part of our life. The Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön has described her view of meditation as the image of “sitting in a garden, watching children play with an attitude of nothing left to do”. With children being a metaphor for our thoughts – ie. watching them in a calm and free way without interfering – and becoming like water:
Within the finance world there are many proponents of meditation, which isn’t surprising given how much people are burdened with constant streams of information. One is top fund manager Ray Dalio, who attributes all of his success to this practice, which he has been at every day for 43 years.
2) Protecting our ego is more important to us than spotting mistakes
When protecting our ego from getting hurt becomes more important than making money we are in a bad situation as investors. The result is that we travel the comfortable road we are used to, which is to make sure we blame mistakes on external factors rather than looking inwards. And here I’m not talking about mistakes as being equal to having losing positions and winning positions being mistake free. That is “after the fact”-thinking, which is worthless and something to toss out the window. We act on the information we have in the moment we make the decision. We cannot look into the future so a mistake is not necessarily the same as an outcome that turns against our particular stock. What I am instead talking about is our reactions to events. That is what needs to be scrutinized, not our results – I don’t believe anything can be learned by studying our results.
3) Analytical work makes our heads cooler
It is much easier to react with a cool head if we have done the analytical work. If we don’t know the approximate value of something through analysis (and here I’m not talking about analysts estimates…) we can be swayed easily like the wind whenever a talking head says something in the news or whenever there is a minor positive/negative company event that doesn’t really do much for the long term value but we react by buying or selling nonetheless.
A note on intrinsic value
Now, I know I talk about intrinsic value – the present value of all expected future net cash flows – as if a number exists that could be agreed upon by all analysts. And if we all had godlike, omniscient knowledge of all available information and were able to calculate the millions of possible outcomes, yes, such a number would exist. But as investors we don’t live in theory land and so the intrinsic value of a stock will always be based on fallible estimates and is therefore not a number set in stone. However, it is the closest thing we have to uncovering the true value of a stock and therefore we have no choice but to rely on our own estimates more than anything else. If we give in and trust the volatile price movements of Mr. Market more than our own estimates, we become speculators instead of investors. And 99% of speculators don’t win.
There is, of course, great uncertainty when performing discounted cash flow analyses. The future is usually very hard to predict. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If not for anything else but to see how the value is affected by different outcomes. And that means we can better interpret the results as they appear.
Ego – peace not war!
Is ego all bad and something that needs to be destroyed in order to achieve good results? No.The ego can often tell us where we want to go. But it needs to be supervised. We need to make sure that it isn’t taking charge of the ship that is us. Because it is a very bad captain.
But, we are humans – not machines. Our ego will take charge from time to time and it will lead us into making bad decisions in the future. The way to reduce the damage is to become aware of the ego’s influence the moment it takes over. Not an easy task, but one that can reap huge rewards the more we work on it. Ignoring it is not the answer. Instead we ought to monitor it like a mild grandfather watching his grandchild play!
I’d love to hear your experiences…