POP Quiz: Is a Rising ROE Good?

snowmen

I intend to live forever. So far, so good–Steven Wright

We will tackle Chapter 4 in Deep Value next week and I will find out the status of the forum for advanced students this weekend. I am swamped. 

POP QUIZ

If a company is increasing its Return on Equity (“ROE”) over time, is that an attribute of a good business?   

Since you are skeptical, you whip out your ROE diagrams:

400px-DuPontModelEng.svg

simpler

roe

Even better, you are hired as the investment banker to help advise the CEO how to enhance ROE (bonuses are based on rising ROE and increasing earnings per share).

Today, the company receives 0.00000000000001% on its money market accounts, while the CEO’s company stock trades at 34 times earnings and earns its cost of capital, 10%.   Remember, you work for JP Morgan and you have student (MBA) loans to pay off.  You sharpen your pencil and……………….?

My thoughts posted this weekend after I pass out grades.

Post: Feb. 16, 2015

Damn! I am unable to flunk anyone. There was a good discussion looking at the question from many sides because I didn’t give you much detail.  The key point is: “It depends.”  Context is key.  You could have a situation like Microsoft’s where its core businesses (Office, etc.) generate so much cash without incremental investment that cash builds up and in turn drags down ROE (equity grows without a high return on the cash). Then the issue becomes what will Microsoft do with its excess cash? Squander on new ventures and acquisitions or return it to shareholders?  Microsoft over the past six years has done a little bit of both. Perhaps low ROE means the company has no debt and thus a buffer during cyclical down turns?

Maybe this company’s ROE is suppressed by last year’s investment into new stores and more time is needed before the stores earn their expected return. Perhaps, like Costco or Philip Morris, future growth will be so profitable and persistent that buying in shares means reducing shares below intrinsic value–a long shot, how many emerging Wal-Marts, Costcos or Whole Foods are there?

The popular move which I, as a JP Morgan banker, would advise the CEO to buy back his stock with his low yielding cash (about a 0%) return and lather on low cost debt to buy stock back  to earn an approximate 3% return (1 divided by 34) despite being a mundane business (10% ROE). Even at inflated prices. You shrink share count and equity to drive up EPS and ROE. The CEO collects another bonus and you can chirp about your value enhancement strategies.  But when you buy an average company at 34 times earnings, you are paying over intrinsic value (let’s assume). Earnings and ROE rise but book value drops. Long-term wealth is reduced.   Look at tech and consumer good companies today where managements are buying in their stock near all-time highs after a six year run-up.  Few bought shares in the depths of the 2008/09 crisis.  Borrow money today at 3.5% to buy-in your stock at a 5% earnings yield. Brilliant–until the next economic downturn.

This is another lesson in incentives. CEOs are incentivized to get a short-term bump in their stock prices, long-term value be damned.

GOOD JOB to all who commented.

Let’s Move Forward

ExpectationsA Hermit has no peer pressure–Robin Wright

Thanks 

Thanks for all the comments. A student from Germany kindly offered to host a discussion board for anybody who wants to analyze investment ideas, cases and/or investment subjects in more detail. The infamous Dr. K has also offered to moderate the board. If he upsets too many people, I will referee. As long as differing views are respected then we will be fine.

My overall goals for this course are to study deep value investing while encouraging independent and skeptical thinking. We will try to read original sources and apply principles to our own situations.

I don’t “like” deep value investing or mechanical investing but I was curious why investing in business disasters is so profitable (Preface in Deep Value). I also find it odd at first glance that Ben Graham the father of detailed security analysis gravitated to rule-based (my substitute for “mechanical”) investing. Joel Greenblatt who was the master of special situation, heavily concentrated investing also moved towards the “magic formula” style of investing. Another great investor I know used to visit companies and be highly concentrated into 8 or so businesses. Now he buys a diversified group of STABLE franchises when they go on sale. He also has a rules-based valuation method. What is going on?

Also, as more time passes, you realize that our human flaws are tough to overcome. Toby in Deep Value mentions that experts often DEGRADE mechanical systems. In other words, human tendencies hurt investment performance. Perhaps “mechanical” investing is worth exploring further without preconceived notions.

I often feel investing is like this situation:

Killing a child is wrong. Those soldiers acted, but then the unexpected happened. What now? Morally you know what is right but can you face the consequences?

It isn’t hard to find cheap companies in this pile (but many worth $0), but there is every reason not to act. Can you endure the ridicule?

TSX Gold

Gold mining is a tough business–when wasn’t it a bad business? Managements are bad (true, but note how US tech firms are buying back stocks near their all-time highs—their managements are no better than the miners yet their stock prices are stratospheric), and on and on.

Buffett

Altucher writes of Buffett’s early career. Even in the 1990’s Buffett was buying net/nets and companies in Korea trading at 2 to 3xs earnings.

So I chose Deep Value as a guide/textbook to pursue these topics with this group.

The direction of the course will be easy to follow:

We will go chapter-by-chapter in DEEP VALUE by Toby Carlisle while reading the footnotes and original sources as best we can. Let’s understand terms in the book like enterprise value and EBITDA, for example, before moving on to the next chapter.

We just finished Chapter 3, Warren Buffett: Liquidator to Operator where we had the case study of See’s Candies. Buffett moved from investing in deeply discounted tangible assets like Dempster Mills to a franchise like See’s Candies. Buffett was willing to pay a premium over book value because the assets of the business generated returns far in excess of its cost of capital. See’s takes commodities like sugar, milk and chocolate and turns them into boxed chocolates that customers are happy to pay a premium for. Why? The company has a brand built through the customer’s experiences with the product.  As a deep value guy, I gave a second-hand box of chocolates to my EX.  I said, “Here, ignore the half-eaten chocolates, the rest look OK. I got this on a 95% off sale!” Tense!

So what can WE learn from the case that we can apply in our investments? So rather than try to be like Buffett let’s take his principles and find applications which we can apply going forward. Why is See’s a great business? Taking commodities and turning them into a product that consumers pay a premium for seems like a business to buy. Note that Bicardi was the best business in Cuba and still is going strong. Bicardi takes sugar and water and turns it into premium Rum. I see similarities—brand name built upon quality and good distribution within its geographical boundaries. See’s is strong in southern California, for example. Perhaps, Sherwin-Williams is a bit like See’s Candies. People are willing to pay a premium for paint because 98% of the cost of a painting job is the labor while you want the job to last and look good. Good distribution coupled with service (color tinting/application advice) is also critical. I could go on but the point is to take the general concepts and apply them in your own way. Don’t be Buffett, but be yourself in applying Buffett’s lessons.

Chapter 4: The Acquirer’s Multiple: Fair Companies at Wonderful Prices in Deep Value

is the next assignment. As a supplement: Placing EBITDA into Perspective

A Reader’s Suggestion for DEEP VALUE COURSE

I have recently received many suggestions to improve this course. There are almost 600 people in our group with many different backgrounds and experiences.  There may be advanced students who wish to discuss current case studies (Why is DLX, Deluxe, not a value trap like Radio Shack?) or potential investments or subjects into greater depth.  This course planned to follow Deep Value (book) while digging deeper into the footnotes without preconceived notions.  If, for example, we read about Buffett’s transition from net/nets to franchises, we will look at franchises but not focus on them. The point is to give students background to understand the distinctions. However, this may be too basic for many of you.

My goal is to make this a learning community. One idea would be to set up another blog (volunteers?) to discuss various ideas if there is enough interest. I won’t give out anybody’s email without their permission, but if a group of students wanted to dig deeper into various subjects, I am happy to provide a link to this new group or discussion area.  I will wait until I hear your feedback.

For example, a reader/student went into vast effort to provide feedback and suggestions.  Dr. K (my nickname for this reader) might be an excellent leader to develop a new discussion blog?  Below are Dr. K’s emails and links.  I will post your suggestions.

EMAIL 1

John; This is Dr. K following up from our phone conversation. So far I am very frustrated with the deep value course and in the following series of emails I will explain why.

Why I hate mechanical investing and problems with back-testing

  • First of all Seth Klarman in his book (Intro xvi, p.13, p.16-18, p.151, p.162) discusses the folly of searching for the holy grail “mechanical” formula for investing success. BG in The Intelligent Investor p.38-46 and p.194-195 also says mechanical formula investing is self-defeating. It contradictory that we are reading about mechanical formula (Toby Carlisle’s books). Mechanical formula (Toby Carlisle and Joel Greenblatt’s 2nd book) come off as lazy, naïve, and immature to me.
  •  Seth also is not a fan of Wide Moats (see p.32-34, p.93) but I guess that’s OK but it’s very confusing how we are jumping around from one investment ideology to another!! Seth also does not think much of EBITA (see p.71-78) while you seem to mention it on the front of your blog home page in a link at the top.
  •  Now go to http://falkenblog.blogspot.com and read as many past articles as you can. You should also get his first book: “Finding Alpha.” There is no need to read the rest of his books. In that book especially key in on p.115-116 “Geometric vs. Arithmetic Averaging”, p.116-117 “Survivorship Bias”, Ch. 6 p. 113-125 “Is the Equity Risk Premium Zero?” especially read p.121-123 “Transaction Costs” , p.47 “the Size Effect” and p.48 “Delisting bias.” These are just some of the many reasons why mechanical back testing is a dead-end path to investing success.
  •  And/or you can go to http://www.efalken.com and watch the Finding Alpha videos. This should take 8 hours but it’s good if you are short on time or you can do both. I also have many of the papers he has written or mentioned. I can send them to you upon request.
  • Next go to www.davidhbailey.com.Click on the Mathematical Investor blog and read all of the articles. Now see that attached papers he wrote along with Campbell Harvey.
  • Go to www.numeraire.com and read all of the links at the top. In the search site map section click on the article about why screening is not valuation.
  • Now go to www.numeraire.com/download.htm . Read every article in the Research Related Letter section. These are short but notice whom he is critical of. Now read all of the articles in the Research Notes section. Especially read “What is Circular Reasoning” which will explain why most stock screens and mechanical formulas (Toby Carlisle, Joel Greenblatt) are garbage! Make sure you click on or go to all of the links in this article. Notice the lists of various forms of logical errors. Notice the cross correlation with behavioral finance! These logical error list need to be studied in greater detail!! Also especially read “What is Economic Simultaneity?”, “A History of the Size Effect” and notice that on p.4-5 he lists some of the variables that are and are not circular!!, “Evolution of Stock Picking”, “Visual Detection of Circular Reasoning” (it’s vital you understand this) and finally “Fatal Summary.” (it’s vital you understand this also) Read all of the articles in Research Presentations and in Research papers (especially “Circling the Square” and notice on p.8 he gives the return formula and it’s vital you understand this).

You should a somewhat better idea of why mechanical investing is not scientific. You should not trust academic research as well as a lot of p-side research! I am not impressed with Toby Carlisle and Joel Greenblatt’s second book. I have a good feeling that many people in this course and google group are more advanced then you are aware of and feel the same way. I can tell you that I have been reading many academic papers over the years and would attach them when I tried to apply for a research job and never got any positive feedback from attaching them!! In addition Alpha Titans such as Seth Klarman, Peter Lynch, Warren Buffett, Ben Graham were not fan of this type of investing approach.

Let me know when you have read this stuff. I think you need to read and understand them otherwise you are not fully grasping how difficult value investing really is!! Keep in mind I don’t fully understand everything in this material but I know enough to not be impressed by mechanical investing research garbage studies!!

Most Factor Models that Explain Returns are False _ 1

Anamolies Don’t Do as Well after Publication

A Skeptical Appraisel of Asset-Pricing Tests _ 3

Backtest Overfitting

Significance Testing Issues for Empirical Finance 5

The Probability of Backtest Overfitting 6

Factor models to sensative to the time period tested 7

Email #2 about Net Nets.

You mentioned www.oldschoolvalue.comon your site in the resource section. I like this site for the free screens and the blog articles which do a good job of teaching quality investment theory. I am not too fond of his software program and he raised the price and his spreadsheets do not include critical off-balance sheet accounting adjustments (I will explain the New Constructs platform in a later email). Jae Jun thinks his spreadsheet program is better than it really is. (in my opinion).

Go to the -VeEV, NNWC and NCAV screens. Some of the stocks duplicate themselves. Now go to Ben Graham Net Net Stocks and a 7 Step Checklist to Make Money with Net Nets . Notice on p.7 Jae says 99% of Net Nets are useless and on p.9 he does not like Chinese ADRs. I think he also does no include financial companies, REITs, CEFs, Shells etc.

Now go to www.grahaminvestor.com.In the screens link at the top go to the NCAV Stocks (Shares Outstanding) screen. Notice it does include Shell companies and Chinese ADRs but only companies listed in the USA. (no Japanese, Canada, Australia, etc.) The next screen is NCAV Stocks (Float). I am not sure what the advantage of this screen is. It only seems to leverage the Current ratio. I have never seen anyone else mention using Float instead of Shares Outstanding instead. This site also gives: NCAV Stocks (Shares Outstanding, new) and NCAV Stocks (Shares Outstanding, new, no Chinese). I sent an email to the people that run this site about the screens but they never got back to me. I would not blindly trust that these companies are true Net Nets. You should verify the numbers yourself.

Go to http://www.netnethunter.com/my-ncav-investment-scorecard/. Does this guy give you the impression that he is a fan of running a mechanical screen and blindly following it?? Notice that he does analysis on the company’s “Burn rate.” Where did Toby Carlisle mention this?? Make sure you read all of the articles.

Now for the subscription. He does screens for Japan, Australia, Canada. The Japanese financials he gets are written in Japanese and gets the aggregated data from Business week.

A good assignment would be to figure out where for free or how you can screen for Japan, Australia, Canada or anywhere else other than the USA. Given the above two mentioned sites we could also for a day analyze (or for a week) every company of the list in greater detail and not do stupid mechanical investing like it has been suggested so far!!

I think I read that www.gurufocus.com has some Net-Net screens for a subscription rate but I don’t know if they are any good or not.

Another reason why Net Net studies and papers are flawed is that they don’t account for Survivorship bias and delisting bias in the historical database the study was conducted from. It’s quite possible that a company could be a “quality Net-Net” from financial standpoint but if the trading volume is too low then the NYSE could delist the company and then the stock loses 90% of its value as it goes from being a listed company to an unlisted (or OTC) company. Most of the deep value research does not discuss how to account for this and how to follow and trade these OTC companies!!

Here is email #3 about Wide Moat Investing.

You mentioned Pat Dorsey and his books. (see The Five Rules for Successful Stock Investing and The Little Book that Builds Wealth).

  1.  I met Pat Dorsey at a CFA Rochester, NY meeting while he was working for Morningstar. Morningstar has The Stock Investor newsletter which gives coverage of about 150 companies Morningstar believes are “Wide Moat” companies.
  2.  You mentioned Bruce Greenwald’s book and presentations about this subject.
  3. Now go to www.oldschoolvalue.com/blog/tutorial/this-is-how-buffett-interprets-financial-statements. This is a good summary article of the book “Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements” by Mary Buffett and David Clark. The authors also wrote “Buffettology” and a workbook about this book.
  4.  Also see What Gross Margins Can Tell You About a Company’s Economic Moat by Old School Value.

The assignment here is using these various books, articles and presentations someone subscribe to Morningstar’s Stock Investor newsletter, tell us the list of the 150 companies Morningstar list for “Wide Moats.” Then once we have this list we all go through each company and analyze and verify why these companies are indeed “Wide Moat” companies. In a presentation that you posted recently by WB he mentioned that there are no “Wide Moat” companies in Japan. I suppose we could locate “Wide Moat” companies in countries outside of the USA.

—–

This is email #4 about Special Situation investing. You mentioned Seth Klarman’s book. In the second half of that book he gives various “Special Situation” opportunities. Joel Greenblatt’s first book also was pretty good (but  now a little out of date while his second book was a bunch of mechanical garbage).

a. The absolute best and easiest site to locate “Special Situations” is Spinoff Monitor – Actionable Opportunities in Special Situations: Spinoffs, Bankruptcy, Restructurings . Notice on the right hand side a very easy list of all of the various situations!! I am very interested in exploring this area of Investing!! Their is no analysis on this site.
b. Other sites that list Special Situations include:
c. You mentioned www.distressed-debt-investing.com in your resource section on your blog. Someone also attached Stephen Moyer’s book about Distressed Debt investing. My advice here would be to stay far away from this area of investing until the investor has more experience under your belt in analyzing distresses equities first. That website and book is very complicated as it requires specialized knowledge of Bankruptcy law, Quant Credit Modeling and simulation. You should not really list this site on your blog unless you make it clear to people this area of investing is not for beginners! It’s for advanced investors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These resources are not written in a way that is easy to learn or read!!
d. There are many sites on the web for following the Insiders. I think I read that www.gurufocus.com gives you coverage of Insiders. Many sites are for free. The absolute best book on Insider Buying is “Investment Intelligence from Insider Trading” by H.Nejat Seyhun. It should be noted that Seyhun’s database goes all the way back to 1975 while I have yet to see any website that goes back that far for a affordable price.
Now here is what I think is going on with Spinoffs. Suppose you have XYZ company with a consolidated financial statement consisting of three divisions: Division A, Division B, Division C. So Consolidated XYZ = [A + B + C]. Now suppose Division B will be Spunoff. Now we have two companies: Parent Company = [A + C] and the Spunoff Company = [B]. I think what is going on here is that when this proposal takes place it won’t occur for a 90 day period so therefore their is a 90 day period where these two companies’ financial statements won’t be in the various databases. Instead Consolidated XYZ = [A + B + C] will still be in the database. I THINK WHAT YOU NEED TO DO IS RECONSTRUCT THE FINANCIAL STATEMENTS SUCH THAT YOU CAN ANALYZE PARENT COMPANY = [A + C] AND SPUN COMPANY = [B] AS TWO SEPERATE COMPANIES. DO NOT ASSUME AS MECHICANICAL INVESTORS DO THAT THE SPUNOFF COMPANY IS THE GOOD DEAL AND THE PARENT COMPANY IS THE BAD DEAL. EVEN IN JOEL GREENBLATT’S FIRST BOOK SOMETIMES THE PARENT COMPANY IS WHAT HE PURCHASED AND SOMETHIMES THE SPUN OMPANY WAS THE BETTER DEAL. I think Joel did an OK of explaining what was going on in his first book but he was not always clear about the timeline of events for how to follow a typical Spinoff situation.
As for the various other types of Special Situations (except for Merge Arb) their is almost no analysis or coverage on how to follow these events!!

Email #5 about “Expectations Investing.”

  1. Go to www.expectationsinvesting.com. Make sure you read “Expectations Investing (2000)” by Alfred Rappaport and Mchael J. Mauboussin and “Creating Shareholder Value (1998)” by Alfred Rappaport. THESE ARE THE ABSOLUTE TWO BEST BOOKS I HAVE READ THAT CLEARLY EXPLAINED WHY CONVENTIONAL ACCOUNTING IS FLAWED AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACCOUNTING VALUE AND ECONOMIC VALUE CREATION!! I can’t go into two much detail here but make sure you read and understand every Tutorial on the site!! In a recent post your blog about Enron I think you were trying to highlight the concept of Incremental Capital expenditure. This and Incremental Working Capital expenditure are clearly taught in these two books. These books also do a wonderful job of explaining the underlying drivers of Economic Value creation! You want to understand these spreadsheets in detail!

The assignment here is that New Constructs (See links below) does about 22 various off-balance sheet adjustments. Learn these adjustments and modify the Expectation Investing sample spreadsheets. Know how to do this for companies that New Constructs does not cover. (such as REITs, MLPs, Net Nets, Special Situations, Japan and non-USA stocks). In the case of non-USA companies the accounting conventions would need to be researched.

I think these spreadsheets do such a good teaching job of explaining things!!

(Not posted here-I couldn’t open the zip file)

  1. Michael’s 2nd book “More then you know” and his 3rd book “Think Twice” are gems that do a good job of summarizing what is going on in behavioral finance and must be read. I have many of the papers he mentioned from these books.

30-00 Part 2

The-Best-Primer-to-Valuation-Multiples Part 2

Trouble with Earnings & PEs

Cash Flow vs. NI

Counting what Counts

Financial Ratios

Financial Ratioswheres the bar ROIC

CommonErrors in DCF Models

Decoding Wall Street Propaganda ( A MUST READ!)

NewConstructs_in_DC

Do Investors see through Reported Earnings

Free-Sample-Company-Research-Report-HLS-2013-02-01

NewConstructsIntro_2013

END

A Deep Value Investor in Cyclical Companies

staffimg_IbenDavid Iben is a deep value investor currently focused on highly cyclical industries like coal, uranium, and gold mining.  He has a mandate to go anywhere to invest in big or small companies. He seeks out value.   The world is now bifurcated between a highly valued U.S. stock market and the cheaper emerging markets.  Social media and Biotech stocks trade at rich valuations while depressed cyclical resource companies languish.

VALUATION

Value to us is a pre-requisite and thus we never pay more than a company’s estimated risk-adjusted intrinsic value. But, failing to think deeply and independently about what constitutes value and how best to derive it, can be harmful. Following in the footsteps of growth investors who had allowed themselves to become too formulaic or put in a box in the late 90s, some value investors were hurt by overly restrictive definitions of value in 2007 and 2008 (Price/Book and Price/Earnings, etc). We find it valuable to use many valuation metrics. Additionally, emphasis is placed on those metrics that are most appropriate to a certain industry. For example, asset heavy and/or cyclical companies often are tough to appraise using Price/Earnings or Price-to-Cash Flow. Price to book value, liquidation value, replacement value, land value, etc. usually prove helpful. These metrics often are not helpful for asset light companies, where Discounted Cash Flow scenario analysis is more useful. Applying these metrics across industries, countries, and regions helps illuminate mispricing. Looking at different industries through different lenses, through focused lenses, using industry appropriate metrics and qualitative factors is important. Barriers to entry are an important factor. Potential winners possess different key attributes. Supply and demand are extremely important detriments of margin sustainability. The investor herd has a strong tendency to use trend line analysis, assuming that past growth will lead to future growth. A more reasoned, independent assessment will often foretell margin collapses as industries overdo it, thereby sowing the seeds of their own self-destruction.

Currently, opportunities are being created when the establishment pays too little heed to supply growth. This fallacy extends to money. Many seem to believe that the Federal Reserve has succeeded in quintupling the supply of dollars without a loss of intrinsic value. That is impossible. Evidence of the loss of value is abundantly clear. Gold supply held by the U. S. Treasury has not increased. As economic theory would predict, the price of gold went up. Following 12 straight years of advance and apparently overshooting, the price has since corrected 40%. The trend followers have their rulers out again, confusing a correction in a supply/demand induced uptrend with a new counter-trend.

We view this as opportunity. At the same time, bonds are priced as if they were scarce rather than too abundant to be managed. It is no secret that this is due to open, market manipulation by the central banks. Intrinsic value must eventually be reflected in market prices. These are abnormally challenging times. Fortunately, we believe markets aren’t fully efficient.

If you listen to his conference calls and read his insights, you will have a great education in counter-cyclical investing. It is easy to know what to do but hard to do!

The Twilight Zone – Jan 2015

Value Investor Insight_3.31.14 Kopernik (Interview)

July 2014 The Contrarian Iben of Kopernik (Interview)

Kopernik Annual Report 10 31 14 – Web Ready

Kopernik Semi-Annual Report _4.30.2014_FINAL

When Doves Cry_Final

The Wizard of Oz Dec 2013

THE SADDLE RIDGE HOARD

2014 – 4th Q Call with DI – Transcript FINAL

A tutorial of Deep Value Investing in Highly Cyclical Assets/Companies

The trials, tribulations, and need for consistent approach.

http://kopernikglobal.com/content/news-and-views-iben-insights

http://kopernikglobal.com/content/news-and-views-news

I will be asking for your suggestions for the deep value course. I am collating one reader’s suggestions which I will post next.  Some of you may be quite experienced and advanced investors who tire of the theoretical course materials as well as the mechanical aspect of quantitative investing. We will discuss this next………….Thanks for your patience.

 

Enron Case Study Analysis. Ask Why? Why?

Enron3

Case-Study-So-What-is-It-Worth    Prior Post where students discussed the case.

Turn up the VOLUME: Don’t believe the …..?

Enron-Case-Study-So-What-is-It-Worth  My walk-through. I go straight to the balance sheet then calculate the returns on total capital in the business. These financial statements were easy to discard because of the size of the business and the poor returns. My estimate of $5 to $7 per share worth or 90% less than the current share price, was wrong. The company was worth $0.  This is more a case of institutional imperative and incentive-based bias. Wall Street was feeding at the financial trough to keep raising money for Enron (to keep the bad businesses afloat) so guess what the financial analysts (CFAs and MBAs) suggested? Buy!   I guess the market is not ALWAYS efficient.

Forget accounting scandals, this was a crappy business based on trading so no way to determine normalized earnings.   When I was in Brazil and saw Enron’s newly-built generating plant sitting idle, I asked why.   A project developer said he got paid by doing deals by their size not profitability, therefore, the bigger the white elephant, the better.  When I called mutual funds who owned Enron as it was trading $77 per share to ask the analyst if he/she was aware of Enron’s declining businesses coupled with absurd price, I was told to shut up. As one analyst (Morgan Stanley?) told me, “I only believe what I want to believe and disregard the rest.”

Enron Annual Report 2000  Ha, ha! and Is Enron Overpriced?

The above august panel never answered why anyone would give capital to Enron?  No one mentions the elephant in the room.  Sad.

What does the above case have to do with net/nets and our course. Everything! Look at the numbers, think for thyself, ignore Wall Street, and be aware of incentives.   Buying bad businesses at premium prices is a guarantee of financial death.

This is an aside, but based on the above Enron example, does value investing serve a SOCIAL purpose or benefit? Prof. Greenblatt doesn’t think so–you are just trading pieces of paper, but what do YOU think?

See these two venture capitalists explain the social purpose of their business:

POP QUIZ: What’s it worth? Good or bad business?

gold-industry-market-cap-relative-other-companies-ocm-gold-fund-feb-27-2014-presentation

 Case-Study-So-What-is-It-Worth  Buffett finally seeks an assistant to help him find and value companies.  You meet him at a diner in Omaha.   He slips you the above financials, then he asks you to comment.  Please take no more than 20 to 30 minutes.  Is this a good business? Why or why not? So what do YOU think it’s worth?  Should Buffett buy this Wall Street darling (at the time?). Show your back of napkin calculations and don’t spill any coffee.

The “Solution/Analysis” will be posted Friday-here.

Some people in the Deep Value course are nodding off.   Try the quiz to sharpen your thinking. If you don’t come close, you will have to meet:

Negative Equity Companies

Investors_ENG

 

CLF-2014 Year End Earnings-Release  $7.5 billion write-off and thus $1.4 billion in NEGATIVE equity.  Headed to bankruptcy?  I wouldn’t bet on it, but there go the screens for low multiples of book value.   Investors typically run from stocks like this.

CLF

Revlon VL has had negative equity for over a decade, but increased cash flow is what has driven this stock higher.

Revlon

Negative shareholder equity–at least from a securities perspective–is not a problem in and of itself generally in the U.S. It can result from any number of corporate histories. Corporate valuations tend to vary widely from their shareholder equities. I am not aware of any state’s corporate law that considers it a problem, in and of itself, either. In Delaware, the measure that matters is “surplus,” which is drawn from a corporation’s market value rather than its book value. Delaware corporations, for example, can pay dividends, borrow money, issue new securities to investors, etc. notwithstanding a negative s/h equity, so long as they have adequate “surplus” meet minimum capital and other legal requirements. I would say s/h equity, while important, is seen more as an accounting function that can-but does not always-track the actual value of a company. The only time I have ever seen it come up as a legal matter is in the case of one company that wanted to self-insure itself for workers compensation liabilities. The state denied the company’s application to self-insure on the basis of negative shareholder equity–notwithstanding its market capitalization was in the hundreds of millions. It was just a requirement buried in the state’s regulations that used s/h equity as its measure of a corporations value (and, thus, its ability to pay worker’s comp claims).

Jun 2, 2013

Oscar Varela · University of Texas at El Paso

Look at Revlon. Here is a firm with about 1.2 bil in assets and 1.9 bil in debt, giving it negative equity of 0.7 bil. This is less than it was a few years ago, when its equity was about negative 1 billion. Yet it survives, and is an NYSE firm.

Timothy R. Watts · University of Alaska Anchorage

Your example is very good because it shows that a change in stockholders’ equity can be a good measure of performance. Revlon’s increase in s/h equity shows that it is performing well, even though it is negative (and will probably be for years to come). Although, like book value, there are plenty of other reasons s/h equity change absent a valuation change. A general example is companies that have (from prior years) built a huge bank of net operating losses (NOLs), which can shield a company from tax liability for a long time. These NOLs, while having value cannot be booked as assets unless the company is showing, according to accounting standards, that it will actually use them. Once a company that has been losing money (and accumulating NOLs as well as, likely, shareholder deficit) becomes consistently profitable, these NOLs can be booked as an asset. The asset is the value of future tax savings. That can turn a company’s negative book value into a positive book value overnight–even though the company’s market value hasn’t changed at all. This can also happen the other way. I recall this happening to Ford around the time of the financial crisis. They booked a massive loss in one quarter largely on the basis of the elimination from their balance sheet a tax asset based on the value of their NOLs. It was a bad quarter for them to be sure (like everyone else), but the accounting loss magnified it several times in a way that didn’t track performance. Ford, after all, was the only major car company in the U.S. that avoided bankruptcy during the crisis.

Jun 7, 2013

How_long_can_a_company_survive_with_negative_equity_and_how_long_is_this_state_permitted_in_the_USA

I bring the negative equity to your attention because it seems like a good search strategy to find mis-valuation.  First, many screens wouldn’t pick these companies, second most investors would shun them, investors often fixate on accounting convention rather than underlying economics, and finally it seems very counter-intuitive.

Note the article from an early post in this course: Behavioral Portfolio Management

If anyone wants to study this further, let me know.

Buffett on Valuation

Aesop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Graham told a story 40 years ago that illustrates why investment professionals behave as they do: An oil prospector, moving to his heavenly reward, was met by St. Peter with bad news. “You’re qualified for residence”, said St. Peter, “but, as you can see, the compound reserved for oil men is packed.

There’s no way to squeeze you in.” After thinking a moment, the prospector asked if he might say just four words to the present occupants. That seemed harmless to St. Peter, so the prospector cupped his hands and yelled, “Oil discovered in hell.” Immediately the gate to the compound opened and all of the oil men marched out to head for the nether regions. Impressed, St. Peter invited the prospector to move in and make himself comfortable. The prospector paused. “No,” he said, “I think I’ll go along with the rest of the boys. There might be some truth to that rumor after all.”

Buffett-on-Valuation   Worth a review.

Speculation vs. Investment (2000, Berkshire Hathaway Letter)

The line separating investment and speculation, which is never bright and clear, becomes blurred still further when most market participants have recently enjoyed triumphs. Nothing sedates rationality like large doses of effortless money. After a heady experience of that kind, normally sensible people drift into behavior akin to that of Cinderella at the ball. They know that overstaying the festivities ¾ that is, continuing to speculate in companies that have gigantic valuations relative to the cash they are likely to generate in the future ¾ will eventually bring on pumpkins and mice. But they nevertheless hate to miss a single minute of what is one helluva party. Therefore, the giddy participants all plan to leave just seconds before midnight. There’s a problem, though: They are dancing in a room in which the clocks have no hands.

Last year (1999), we commented on the exuberance ¾ and, yes, it was irrational ¾ that prevailed, noting that investor expectations had grown to be several multiples of probable returns. One piece of evidence came from a Paine Webber-Gallup survey of investors conducted in December 1999, in which the participants were asked their opinion about the annual returns investors could expect to realize over the decade ahead. Their answers averaged 19%. That, for sure, was an irrational expectation: For American business as a whole, there couldn’t possibly be enough birds in the 2009 bush to deliver such a return.

Far more irrational still were the huge valuations that market participants were then putting on businesses almost certain to end up being of modest or no value. Yet investors, mesmerized by soaring stock prices and ignoring all else, piled into these enterprises. It was as if some virus, racing wildly among investment professionals as well as amateurs, induced hallucinations in which the values of stocks in certain sectors became decoupled from the values of the businesses that underlay them.

Burning Up the Dotcons

http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/darkside/articles/cashburn.htm

Cigar Butt Investing. Graham and Buffett Discuss

cigarette
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We will discuss Sanborn Map (more of an asset investment) and
See's Candies (a franchise) next. As a supplement to Chapter 3
in Deep Value, you have the early Buffett Partnership Letters 
and the Essays of Warren Buffett.  You have a business and
investing education right there. Let's look closer at Buffett's
discussion of "Cigar-butt" investing. Since Buffett wrote this
letter in 1989, has he ever gone back to deep value investing?
Imagine Ben Graham reading this passage. What would he say to
Warren?   

What Would Warren Buffett Suggest to a New Investor Starting
Today: Buffett - Student Discussion of Investment Style
Thanks to a student contribution!

http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/1989.html

Mistakes of the First Twenty-five Years (A Condensed Version)

     To quote Robert Benchley, "Having a dog teaches a boy 
fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before 
lying down." Such are the shortcomings of experience. 
Nevertheless, it's a good idea to review past mistakes before 
committing new ones. So let's take a quick look at the last 25 
years.

o     My first mistake, of course, was in buying control of 
Berkshire. Though I knew its business - textile manufacturing - 
to be unpromising, I was enticed to buy because the price looked 
cheap. Stock purchases of that kind had proved reasonably 
rewarding in my early years, though by the time Berkshire came 
along in 1965 I was becoming aware that the strategy was not 
ideal.

     If you buy a stock at a sufficiently low price, there will 
usually be some hiccup in the fortunes of the business that gives 
you a chance to unload at a decent profit, even though the long-
term performance of the business may be terrible. I call this the 
"cigar butt" approach to investing. A cigar butt found on the 
street that has only one puff left in it may not offer much of a 
smoke, but the "bargain purchase" will make that puff all profit.

     Unless you are a liquidator, that kind of approach to buying 
businesses is foolish. First, the original "bargain" price 
probably will not turn out to be such a steal after all. In a 
difficult business, no sooner is one problem solved than another 
surfaces -  never is there just one cockroach in the kitchen. 
Second, any initial advantage you secure will be quickly eroded 
by the low return that the business earns. For example, if you 
buy a business for $8 million that can be sold or liquidated for 
$10 million and promptly take either course, you can realize a 
high return. But the investment will disappoint if the business 
is sold for $10 million in ten years and in the interim has 
annually earned and distributed only a few percent on cost. Time 
is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the 
mediocre.

     You might think this principle is obvious, but I had to 
learn it the hard way - in fact, I had to learn it several times 
over. Shortly after purchasing Berkshire, I acquired a Baltimore 
department store, Hochschild Kohn, buying through a company 
called Diversified Retailing that later merged with Berkshire. I 
bought at a substantial discount from book value, the people were 
first-class, and the deal included some extras - unrecorded real 
estate values and a significant LIFO inventory cushion. How could 
I miss? So-o-o - three years later I was lucky to sell the 
business for about what I had paid. After ending our corporate 
marriage to Hochschild Kohn, I had memories like those of the 
husband in the country song, "My Wife Ran Away With My Best 
Friend and I Still Miss Him a Lot."

     I could give you other personal examples of "bargain-
purchase" folly but I'm sure you get the picture:  It's far 
better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair 
company at a wonderful price. Charlie understood this early; I 
was a slow learner. But now, when buying companies or common 
stocks, we look for first-class businesses accompanied by first-
class managements.

o     That leads right into a related lesson: Good jockeys will 
do well on good horses, but not on broken-down nags. Both 
Berkshire's textile business and Hochschild, Kohn had able and 
honest people running them. The same managers employed in a 
business with good economic characteristics would have achieved 
fine records. But they were never going to make any progress 
while running in quicksand. 

     I've said many times that when a management with a 
reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation 
for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that 
remains intact. I just wish I hadn't been so energetic in 
creating examples. My behavior has matched that admitted by  Mae 
West: "I was Snow White, but I drifted."

o     A further related lesson: Easy does it. After 25 years of 
buying and supervising a great variety of businesses, Charlie and 
I have not learned how to solve difficult business problems. What 
we have learned is to avoid them. To the extent we have been 
successful, it is because we concentrated on identifying one-foot 
hurdles that we could step over rather than because we acquired 
any ability to clear seven-footers.

     The finding may seem unfair, but in both business and 
investments it is usually far more profitable to simply stick 
with the easy and obvious than it is to resolve the difficult. On 
occasion, tough problems must be tackled as was the case when we 
started our Sunday paper in Buffalo. In other instances, a great 
investment opportunity occurs when a marvelous business 
encounters a one-time huge, but solvable, problem as was the case 
many years back at both American Express and GEICO. Overall, 
however, we've done better by avoiding dragons than by slaying them.

Subjective Value:

http://www.learnliberty.org/videos/subjective-value/

More on Buffett’s Investments

Buffett_Lecture_Fla_Univ_Sch_of_Business_1998 (transcript of above lecture–see page 7 for See’s Candies)

329_Buffett_Seminar_1978 to a value investment class at Stanford University.

Buffett_Case Study on Investment Filters Tabulating Company

The Essays Of Warren Buffett – Lessons For Corporate America  (Please read pages 82 to 97, especially the section on cigar-butt investing).

Valuation of Western Insurance_2  (A reader, WAPO mentioned in the comments section of the Dempster Mill Post that Chapter 3 of Deep Value didn’t include Buffett’s other early investments like Western Insurance, Genesee Valley, Union Street Railway, American Fire Insurance, and Rockwood.   Does anyone wish to dig these investments up from somewhere?  Just post in the comments section and/or I can post your work for the readers. 

In the Dempster Mill Post we learned that Buffett succeeded in this investment because he:

  1. Most importantly and in deference to Graham, he bought well--he started paying $18 in 1956 for Dempster with its $70 per share of book value and $50 of net working capital per share.  He bought right.  Note in the video lecture above, Buffett mentions that he paid 1/3 of working capital for a windmill company (probably Dempster).
  2. Then he was patient. This investment was held for at least seven years.
  3. Finally, he had Harry Bottle to turn the business around.

Thanks for the intelligent and thoughtful comments on Dempster. We learn from the questions and thoughts of others.

Perhaps his success in Dempster Mills lured him to buy Berkshire Hathaway?(considered by Buffett to be his worst investment)

Next we will review See’s Candies, Sanborn Map.  We will focus on Buffett’s writings in his shareholder letters on valuation.  See the Essays of Warren Buffett above.

For new investors you may feel frustrated by the lack of clear rules.  Net/nets depend upon reversion to the mean before total value destruction, but franchises manage to repel the forces of competitive entry for longer than investors expect. Early, fast growing franchise companies like Wal-Mart (in the 1970s) or Costco trade at what appear to be sky-high multiples of earnings (30+) yet the market is UNDER-pricing the profitable growth of those companies.   There seem to be grey areas. Congratulations, we are making progress.    And for experienced investors, we can never reread the writings of investment greats like Graham and Buffett as many times as we should, but it may seem like

 

Have a Great Weekend!