Tag Archives: Sequoia

Valeant Case Study in Progress


There is an ongoing battle over Valeant’s (VRX) valuation and business model between short-sellers and investors.   This opportunity allows us to improve our analysis skills and understanding of business models.  Also, how will Sequoia, an owner of over 20% of Valeant’s equity, handle their portfolio?

My first question is whether Valeant is a franchise with durable competitive advantages or a roll-up of commodity products dressed-up in a fancy industry (Pharma)?   We should use this case to learn how experienced analysts present their opposing views.

First: What’s not to like?  Valeant has rapid growth with huge profit margins? Of course, the PERFECT investment is a company that has high returns on capital and can constantly redeploy its capital at the same high returns.  The classic case would be the early (pre-2000) history of Wal-Mart (WMT) as the high returns generated from its stores could be redeployed into new stores on the borders of their regions which had economies of scale in administration, advertising, and management costs per unit of sales.  WMT did not have, for example, advantages in gross margins, but net profit margins. See WMT_50 Year SRC Chart.

What would be the source of Valeant’s high returns and competitive advantages?

Sequoia (a well-known value fund with an excellent long-term record) saw strong competitive advantages.  See their recent investor transcript:

Sequoia-Fund-Transcript-2015-August  Note the date of the transcript and the questions regarding Valeant concerning Philador and Sequoia’s 20% concentration.

Other investors (Charlie Munger, Citron) disagreed:

April 2, 2015 from www.fool.com

…..Recently, during a shareholders meeting for the Daily Journal Corporation, a newspaper where he serves as Chairman, Munger had this to say about Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc. (TSX:VRX)(NYSE:VRX): “Valeant is like ITT and Harold Geneen come back to life, only the guy is worse this time.”

What exactly does Munger mean by this?

A little history lesson

Who exactly was Harold Geneen? And what did he do at ITT that’s so infamous?

Geneen took over ITT Corp in 1959 when it was still mostly a telegraph and telephone company. After being blocked by the FCC in an attempt to buy the ABC television network in 1963, Geneen decided to diversify away from the company’s traditional business and completed more than 300 acquisitions during the decade in areas such as hotels, insurance, for-profit education, and the company that made Wonder Bread.

Geneen used cheap debt to finance these acquisitions, which later proved to be the company’s downfall. After Geneen’s retirement as CEO in 1977, subsequent CEOs spent much of the next two decades paying off the debt by selling most of Geneen’s acquisitions.

Is Valeant really comparable?

On the surface, Valeant looks like it could be pretty comparable to ITT. Since merging with Biovail in 2010, Valeant has made more than 30 different acquisitions, most of which were paid for with debt or by issuing shares.

Since the end of 2010, Valeant’s debt has skyrocketed from US$3.6 billion to US$15.3 billion. Shares outstanding have also gone up considerably from 196 million to 335 million. It’s obvious that Munger is onto something.

But on the other hand, I’m not sure Valeant is anywhere close to being as bad as ITT was. For one thing, all of the company’s acquisitions are at least in the same sector. ITT was buying up hotels and car dealerships, while Valeant is buying up pharmaceutical companies. Valeant’s efforts scale up a whole lot better than ITT’s ever did.

There’s also a bit of hypocrisy coming from Munger on this issue. Munger is actively involved in a company that does pretty much the same thing as ITT did back in the 1960s. Sure, Berkshire doesn’t use much debt or engage in hostile takeovers, but Berkshire and ITT have more in common than Munger is willing to admit. Both attempted to dominate the business world using a roll-up acquisition strategy; Buffett and Munger were just a little more patient with their plan.

But just because Munger exaggerates how bad Valeant’s acquisition spree has been doesn’t mean the stock is necessarily a buy at these levels. The company had earnings of just $2.67 per share in 2014, putting the stock at a P/E ratio of nearly 100 times. Yes, earnings are expected to grow substantially in 2015, but the outlook is simple. For the stock to continue performing, the company must continue to make acquisitions.

After making more than 30 acquisitions in just a few years, it’s hard to keep finding deals that will not only be big enough to make a difference, but will also prove to be good long-term buys. There’s so much pressure on management to keep buying that a serious misstep could be coming. If that happens, this hyped stock could head down in a hurry.

Although I don’t buy Munger’s alarmist concerns about Valeant, I agree with him on one thing. The stock just isn’t attractive at current levels.

A potential acquisition target, Allergan, Inc., points out its worries over Valeant’s business model. investor-presentation-may-27-2014-1 on VRX

Citron, a short-seller, attacks with a report: Valeant-Part-II-final-b. Valeant is another “Enron.”  Use the search box on this blog and type in Enron and follow links to review that case.  Enron never showed the profit margins that Valeant is currently showing.   NEVER take another person’s statement on faith.  Check it out for yourself. 

Valeant today (October 26th, 2015) counters Citron and answers investors’ concerns with 10-26-15-Investor-presentation-Final4 Valeant and video presentation:  http://ir.valeant.com/investor-relations/Presentations/default.aspxeep.

Ok, so what is Valeant worth?   Can you make such an assessment?  How do you think Mr. Market will weigh-in?   If you owned a 20% stake in Valeant, how would you manage the position?   What are the main issues to focus on?

This may be too difficult to analyze for many of us but we have  or will have many documents and reports to provide insights.  Remember that there are two sides to every narrative. Can we move closer to reality or the “truth”?

Note www.whalewisdom.com and type in VRX.   What type of investor owns Valeant?   Will momentum investors stick and stay?

Your comments welcome.

Sign up for Whitney Tilson’s emails on investing.  Worth a look: leilajt2+investing@gmail.com

A Bear and a Value Investor Throw in the Towel


Bull could run 5 more years, carry S&P 500 close to 3,000 only seemed interesting because the forecast sounded a bit extreme. We quickly scanned the headline, thinking that whoever was making this assertion surely hadn’t breathed a word about this when the SPX traded at just below 670 points in March of 2009. Such wildly bullish forecasts are strictly a function of SPX 2000 in our opinion, on a par with the “Dow 36,000” forecast, which gained some notoriety in the late 90s. One of the reasons behind the SPX 3000 forecast mentioned in the article did amuse us greatly though, namely the following:

They cite extensive deleveraging in the U.S. as well as the uneven global recovery among other reasons why “this could prove to be the longest U.S. expansion – ever.”





An emerging market value investor’s plea:

“This Is A Circus Market Rigged By HFT And Other Algo Traders”

Andrew Cunagin, the founder of Rinehart Capital Partners LLC, a hedge fund backed by hedge-fund veteran Lee Ainslie and specialized in emerging-markets stock-picking, and who as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier, is closing. The closure is not news: what Cunagin blames the closure on, however, is.

From the WSJ:

“This is a circus market rigged by HFT and other algorithmic traders who prey on the rational behavior of warm-blooded investors,” Mr. Cunagin wrote, referring to the high-speed traders who have attracted wide attention this year for the alleged advantages they hold over more traditional investors.

Mr. Cunagin, 43, said in an interview from Cape Town, South Africa, where he was scouting potential future investments, that there was “clear evidence of penetration” by high-frequency traders in the stock markets of South Korea and Mexico, among other areas.

You can see the evidence of dark pool trading…you’ll see half the day’s trading volume occur in the last seconds of trading,” he said. “There’s just evidence that this is not a level playing field.”

In his late-August letter, Mr. Cunagin criticized the “dash for trash” among other traders, including exchange-traded funds, that “puts to shame even the most speculative excesses of the dot.com era.” He said those factors, along with the impact of high-frequency trading, contributed to his fund’s recent poor performance.

Rinehart launched in August 2007, just two months before many emerging markets hit their precrisis peaks. The fund lost 12% in 2008, outperforming most funds during a dramatic pullback for emerging markets world-wide, and made money in the subsequent three years. More recently, however, it struggled, posting losses of 7% in 2012, 15% in 2013 and 4% through midyear this year.

So is this just sour grapes as yet another trader “fought the Fed”, and lost due to two minor disadvantages: a limited balance sheet, and being forced to stay liquid longer than the central planners can stay irrational?

Perhaps, he does however, make a point: “The frustrating thing is that this is precisely the time when you shouldn’t be giving up,” Mr. Rinehart said in the interview. “Anyone who shorted the ‘dot coms’ in the 90s had bad performance, and those ended up being the trades of the decade.

The flipside is that everyone else who went long the dot coms felt richer and richer, if only on paper, and invest more and more cash into the clear bubble until they too lost everything in the end. But such is the poetic justice of the, rigged or otherwise, market: first it wipes out all the shorts, then it drags everyone on the long side, and then it goes bidless and wipes out the longs.

Rinse, repeat.

* * *

Some other excerpts from Cunagin’s letter, courtesy of the WSJ’s Money Beat blog:

The dislocation of returns from traditional vehicles of wealth creation and protection has created a violent rip tide of fund flows from conservative segments of the risk spectrum to the most speculative, giving rise to another, more dangerous bubble. With yields ZIRPed and alpha dead, beta and the ethereal pursuit of “market-” and theme-driven (social media, bio-tech, Chinese internet) returns have become the only game in town, with central banks as the arbiter. Post-2008 monetary policies have rewarded the beta investor who’s gone “all in” on market risk and themes, while punishing harshly the market-neutral, alpha investor who discounts allocations on the basis of value. New paradigms have emerged as a result, defined by binary outcomes of risk-on/risk-off, taper-on/taper-off, win big/lose big. With new innovations of beta-engineering—instruments such as E-minis, QQQ, dollar-yen carry trade—investors are pursuing en masse too little reward in exchange for too much risk. As one commentator put it recently, “the market has become a roulette table, with dimes on black and dynamite on red.”

Just as in previous boom-bust cycles, the seeds of destruction are sewn in the illusion of trend masquerading as truth, with momentum seeming to validate a widening gap between perception and economic reality. And just as in past cycles, the manager who doesn’t subscribe to the new rules, who goes against the grain of convention is viewed as out of touch or left behind.

If there’s an expression that’s come to capture the zeitgeist of the QE era, it is the notion of what is or is not “working” across the asset allocation spectrum. I’ve read reports from equity strategists advising clients to stick with growth themes since “value isn’t working.” Technical analysts assure us that, despite what you’ve been brought up to believe, a strategy of buying high (especially on dips) while selling low is what “works” in this market. I’ve heard from prominent allocators frustrated that “nothing seems to work in emerging markets.” And, most dishearteningly, I’ve heard from Rinehart investors who have rightly observed that, despite steady performance in the past, our strategy is “just not working now.”

The assumption, of course, is that if it’s not working then it’s wrong and if it is working, it’s right. That’s fair enough. As a service provider, we serve at the pleasure of clients, and no manager is ever owed an explanation for being hired or fired. But it’s worth asking, what is it that investors seek? That is, just what is working?

Since the beginning of our fund’s drawdown in early 2012, a Bloomberg index of the “Worst Balance Sheet” companies of the S&P500 has returned to-date over +30% on an annualized basis. An MSCI index of the “Most-Shorted” companies of the Russell 3000—a proxy for the visibility of bad valuations, bad managements, and bad fundamentals—has also returned over +30% annualized. These perversions are even more pronounced within EMs, exacerbated by record fund outflows in the first half of 2014, exceeding even those of the 2008 crisis. This dash for trash puts to shame even the speculative excesses of the dot.com era. This is a circus market rigged by HFT and other algorithmic traders who prey on the rational behavior of warm-blooded investors. They only serve to further undermine the integrity of public markets, which will ultimately bring about their rationalization. Nonetheless, it’s an internal dynamic to which we are uniquely levered, by design, as an alpha strategy. One thing is certain, managers whose strategies are working may be bright and well-informed with advanced metrics on which they make investment decisions, but a reasonable assessment of value is not among them. Do previous cycles not bear asking, what other measure is there?

Sequoia Transcript Sequoia 2014 Transcript

Update on Sept. 11, 2014: Another bear throws in the towel for not being BULISH enough


Information Sources and Sequoia Transcript

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. –Albert Einstein


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Sequoia Transcript

Thanks to their emails I came across the recent 2011 Sequoia Fund Transcript: http://www.sequoiafund.com/Reports/Transcript11.pdf

If you read the transcript of these professional investors talking about companies, you will learn. Note on page 7 the discussion of the high rates of return in the auto parts business. Why do Autozone, O’Reilly and Advance earn double digit returns on capital? A good research project. Go the extra step to become a better investor.