TGISVP – Hot or Not Snapshot

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Thanks readers, the comments (here & elsewhere) and emails are piling up – keep ‘em coming. Certainly seems like people would like to see another year of The Great Irish Share Valuation Project! It’s tempting – the Irish market’s definitely been good to me in the past two years (despite my regular warnings about home bias). Um, except for those poor little junior resource stocks, of course! Fortunately, I’ve studiously ignored them as potential portfolio picks – well, except for my dog food stock, Petroneft Resources (PTR:LN). Jesus, after the walloping most of these stocks have received over the past couple of years (despite QE!), could they now be…ulp, cheap?!

Now now, let’s not get too excited there! That wasn’t a teaser question – I don’t actually know the bloody answer, at this point. Well, maybe I do…sad to say with some of those companies, but the notion they’ll ever prove a good investment is about as likely as US Oil & Gas (USOP:G4) ever producing a commercial drop of Perrier oil. But maybe there’s now a diamond or two to be found in the rough – imagine I find ‘em & write ‘em up, jeez think of all the new readers I’d attract. Golly, I’d be the bloody one-eyed king in the land of the muppets! Aaah, but then I’d probably have to give up the sarcasm…I mean, if muppets can’t smell bullshit, they surely won’t detect wit.

And if I do go ahead with TGISVP, it will definitely be a project for February onwards – I expect to be kept busy for the next couple of weeks (hopefully leading to an interesting post, or two). On the other hand, with two years of posts under my belt now, I’d hope to progress a little faster analyzing the current universe of Irish stocks. Actually, I note my analyses were more quantitative last year (vs. 2012) – I suspect that trend would become even more pronounced with a TGISVP 2014. Which makes sense:  I certainly don’t consider myself a quantitative value investor, but if the numbers don’t stack up there’s little chance of me going gaga over a company – no matter how good its business model, or its upside potential.

Anyway, it was never my intention to produce a buy/sell guide to Irish stocks. In the end, I’m happy if readers: i) are motivated to research a few interesting stocks for themselves (or to bail out of a total no-hoper stock, or two), and ii) learn something useful from the variety of valuation perspectives & techniques I employ.

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TGISVP – 2013 Portfolio Performance

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OK, a second year of The Great Irish Share Valuation Project is now complete – for reference, here’s my mid-year review, now it’s time for the real post-mortem!  Let’s take care of a little housekeeping first:

- Between Jan & May last year, I published individual reviews/valuations for 73 different Irish companies, and kept a file recording each share price (at time of evaluation) & price target to properly assess performance.

- Post mid-year, in Aug-Sep 2013, I published (& recorded) some additional reviews/valuations for 3 new Irish IPOsGreen REIT (GRN:ID), Keywords Studios (KWS:LN), and Ardmore Shipping (ASC:US).

- Since mid-year, I’ve made no other changes to my TGISVP file, except: i) Donegal Creameries (DCP:ID) changed its name to Donegal Investment Group (DCP:ID), while United Drug (UDG:LN) became UDG Healthcare (UDG:LN), ii) Kedco (KED:LN) changed its name to REACT Energy (REAC:LN), and also consolidated its shares on a 1-for-50 basis, iii) Grafton Group (GFTU:LN) migrated to a London-only listing, iv) Elan Corp (ELN:US) was acquired by Perrigo Co (PRGO:US), and finally v) TVC Holdings (TVCH:ID) paid its shareholders a EUR 0.495 special dividend.

- Since the (major) review/valuation phase was spread over 4 1/2 mths, my benchmark (the ISEQ) needs to be adjusted accordingly. I’m going to reference the mid-point (in terms of companies valued) of this phase – i.e. Feb-25th – as the most appropriate start date for the index.

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2013 – A Game of Two Halves

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Yup, it’s that time of year again… [For reference, here's my mid-year 2013 performance report, plus my FY-2012 report]. Right off the bat, I have to admit assessing annual performance isn’t my most favourite of activities (as I’ll explain). It also reminds me how easily our (personal) fear & greed equation can magically transform itself as we finish an old year & head into a new one. While most traders tend to start a new year cautiously, investors often set out brimming with over-confidence – which can prove pretty hazardous…

The UK’s AIM market, for example, has enjoyed significantly positive returns in 14 of its last 18 Januaries. This annual love-fest is even more remarkable when you realize the AIM index has declined 17% since its 1995 inception. [Growth and value investors, take note!] My favourite muppets provide a more ludicrous example: Shareholders of US Oil & Gas (USOP:G4) (I’m presuming no new suckers are buying at this point) hailed the new year by immediately buying/running up the price 60% from its yr-end close! Sure, hope springs eternal…but with most USOP investors having lost 95%+ of their investment to date, this kind of new year exuberance is wildly irrational.

Thinking about & tracking your stocks (& portfolio) on some kind of calendar basis is yet another fixated version of tracking individual stock gains/losses. And that’s how fear & greed grabs hold & encourages you to play the ‘if…‘ game. I’ve already recommended you Forget Your Purchase Price – now I recommend forgetting your Year-to-Date Gains. Free yourself of those deadly anchors, and you’ll be forced instead to look afresh at your holdings every single day. For each stock, that’s an exercise in assessing upside potential (i.e. current share price vs. your latest estimate of intrinsic value), and then weighing that reward against the level & range of risk(s) involved. Which boils down to one simple question for each of your portfolio holdings:  Should I buy, sell or hold this stock today? And your cumulative or calendar gains/losses on a stock are irrelevant to that question – no matter how small, large or goddamn painful they might be…

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So, Growth…or Value?

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Ah yes, the great investing debate & divide…

At one extreme, we have the wild-eyed growth investor foaming at the mouth over a great story. A silky-tongued CEO’s painted unicorns & castles in the air, and our reckless plunger’s itching to dance the magic rainbow. No price is too high, no management too sleazy, no risk too great, to deter him from the boundless opportunity he now sees stretched out in front of him… His investing idol’s Philip Fisher, of ‘Common Stocks & Uncommon Profits’ – which I had the misfortune of re-reading recently. How this book was ever nominated a bloody investment classic, I don’t know!? OK, let’s grant some credit. Yes, I’m sure Fisher was a gifted investor, but he was also in the right place at the right time – in California, at the dawn of the electronic (& venture capital) ages.

So, who’s ever sat down & really studied his book, and actually figured out how to bloody implement his 15 Points? Who among us has the time, the means, the resources, or the determination to practice 95% of what Fisher preaches? And where in the book is the real secret exposed – the foresight to pick a 100 or even a 1000-bagger? That’s the problem people forget with growth investing – survivorship bias. Consider a buy & hold investor seeding his portfolio with a selection of promising growth stocks – some die off quickly, most turn out so-so, but maybe one (or two) actually grow & grow to dominate his entire portfolio. Of course, the losers are long forgotten, and he’ll nod wisely & tell you he always knew the real winners! Or how about the chancer who bought a single long-shot stock…and ended up making a friggin’ fortune?! Well yes, he’s obviously a media darling now. But where are the stories about his fellow slobs who bet the ranch & lost everything? Well, like I said, the losers are long forgotten…

Not to mention the fact share prices of even the biggest winners usually suffer some pretty sickening plunges along the way. Of course, every growth investor’s confident he won’t be the sucker shaken out of his wonder-stock’s long-term parabolic trajectory by a mere trading blip. Learn from Black Monday ’87, he savvily reminds you – it’s a mere blip on the charts now! Yeah, but the average investor wasn’t calling it a blip then – he was too bloody busy selling…

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German Residential Property – An Update

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It’s a year now since I completed my German residential property series (Parts I, II, III, IV & V, and the first part of this post offers a brief recap) so it’s a good time to take another look. With winter drawing in fast, why not whip up a plate of sauerbraten & pour a (very) large stein of beer, and we’ll begin:

I’m ignoring companies with non-English IR websites. This may be a personal prejudice, but sometimes it can be hard enough to decipher a company’s communications & (underlying) performance without suffering a language barrier too! For practical reasons, I’m also ignoring sub-10 million market caps, plus companies with a relatively minor German property allocation. [But here's a fairly comprehensive list of these companies]. I’m kicking out Youniq (YOU:GR) (see comments below), plus Speymill (SYG:LN) which has disposed of its German property to Jim Mellon. However, I’ve added two big IPOs from earlier this year (Deutsche Annington & LEG), plus Adler who ramped up its residential portfolio this year (& added an English IR website). Finally, I’ll still treat Deutsche Wohnen & GSW as separate companies, even though the takeover of GSW’s now a done deal. [GSW may well remain a separately listed company]. This leaves us with 13 companies, a baker’s dozenthe vast majority of which are residential pure plays. They should serve as a good proxy for the entire sector:

Adler Real Estate (ADL:GR)

Conwert Immobilien Invest (CWI:AV)

Deutsche Annington Immobilien (ANN:GR)

Deutsche Wohnen (DWNI:GR)

Estavis (E7S:GR)

Gagfah (GFJ:GR)

Grand City Properties (GYC:GR)

GSW Immobilien (GIB:GR)

KWG Kommunale Wohnen (BIW:GR)

LEG Immobilien (LEG:GR)

Patrizia Immobilien (P1Z:GR)

TAG Immobilien (TEG:GR)

Taliesin Property Fund (TPF:LN)

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Fortress – On the Ramparts

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When I posted my first writeup on Fortress Investment Group (FIG:US), it was May-2012 & the share price was only $3.11. Buying the shares (& writing about them), I felt like I was in the thick of battle – trying to defend a breached portcullis in a last-ditch & perhaps doomed effort! [In hindsight, the more revulsion I hear about a post/company, the more promising the investment opportunity might actually be...] But the situation certainly looked much safer by December (with the share price at $4.38), when I posted a follow-up piece: Another Assault on Fortress. And now here we are, standing proud & tall on the ramparts, masters of all before us – the share price is $8.17, and even traded up to $9.00+ recently!

Fortress Price Chart

But ramparts aren’t about the view, they’re designed for spotting danger. My last fair value price target was $8.84 per share – we need to do a fresh survey. How much upside potential is now on offer? And more importantly, has our margin of safety been eroded to unacceptable levels?

OK, let’s do a quick wrap-up of 2012, and then take a closer look at progress YTD-2013. I plan to stick with roughly the same valuation methodology, so I definitely recommend you revisit my last two posts (linked above). However, it would be handy to reproduce this table here:

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Total Produce – A Fresh Perspective

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Total Produce (TOT:ID, TOT:LN) was one of my very first blog write-ups, back in Nov-2011 at EUR 0.39. [And I've written about it a number of times since]. Less than two years later, we’ve enjoyed a nice double on the stock – which is now trading within spitting distance of my original EUR 0.882 fair value target. This warrants a fresh perspective… But looking back, now I remember – even then, I offered up a very specific perspective:

So we’re talking a business that really runs itself, just what I like! Particularly as I don’t have great respect for management (except if you compare them say to Greencore Group (GNC:ID) management – whose shareholders may finally be put out of their misery with a potential bid, rumoured to be coming from Dubilier Clayton & Rice). Carl McCann is Chairman, while his brother David’s in the Chairman seat over at TOT’s ‘sister’ company Fyffes (FFY:ID), and neither is really a patch on their father Neil McCann (I was sad to hear he passed away recently) who joined Fyffes in 1948. I think of the crazy worldoffruit.com online effort in the v late 90s (which ‘…received a very positive reaction from within the produce industry and looks set to dramatically change the way in which fresh fruit and vegetables are traded across the globe…’), the lack of earnings growth in the past few years, the ludicrous de-merger of Fyffes, Total Produce & Blackrock (now Balmoral Int’l Land Holdings, whose shares subsequently collapsed & are now delisted), etc.

I also look at the excessive B/S Cash of EUR 89.6 mio, and I’m bemused (and slightly alarmed) to remember a colleague telling me many years ago his impression that having large amounts of Cash on hand appeared to give management the warm and fuzzies, and they appeared to enjoy playing the banks off against each other for deposits (and perhaps even some jolly currency switching). All very well, I confess I’ve been through all that myself professionally, but always felt frustrated at having giant hoards of Cash on hand to invest – in an ideal world, I knew the best thing for shareholders and Return on Equity was to have zero Cash and just come in each day and draw down/pay down on a Debt/CP facility. With TOT, of course, the obvious answer to this Cash is frequent execution of small/medium sized acquisitions across Europe (similar to what DCC (DCC:LN) has done for years in its Energy business) – considering the nature/scope of potential business acquisitions, I think there’s a marvelous opportunity here to hoover up cos and double their operating margins v quickly through cost elimination and economies of scale.

Then of course there’s the silent but deadly fart in the room…finally figuring out it’s time to swallow their pride and reverse the Total Produce/Fyffes break-up – a nil-premium merger is the obvious way to achieve this and I imagine could easily yield 2-3 years of decent EPS growth even if the underlying business remained unchanged. But kudos to management for the 22 mio share buyback last year…! I was impressed, can you please repeat?

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Why I Read (Part III)…

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OK, back in June & July, I covered two key benefits of reading:

Knowledge, Experience & Inspiration – a constant & wide-ranging diet of non-fiction reading’s essential for any investor, and something you’ll find all the great investors practice & recommend. 

Nosce Te Ipsum - I believe reading literature’s equally important, it’s one of the few ways you can truly know thyself (& other people). And painful self-awareness & examination offer the best hope of avoiding the potentially devastating impact of fear & greed on your portfolio.

It’s been a long time coming – let’s tackle the final benefit of reading, which I call:  Magic Eye. It’s definitely the most exciting – I guess I’d classify it as offensive, versus the rather defensive nature of the other benefits. But some context would be useful – let’s first talk a little about how I actually read:

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always found it incredible how the entire world (even multiple worlds) can be encapsulated in a single book. And there’s almost never-ending mountains of them, just waiting to be discovered! In fact, they really are never-ending: In the UK, for example, 150,000 new titles are published each year! Faced with those kinds of numbers, I’ve always felt an overwhelming sense of urgency - how can I ever bloody read quickly & widely enough to ever make a dent in such a mountain?!

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The Bedside Vigil…

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Alternative Asset Opportunities (TLI:LN) recently released their Final Results – I thought readers might appreciate a new post. To some extent, I’m reminded of my original TLI post (wow, almost a full year ago now!) – the insured, those merry little blighters, are still trying their bloody living best to live forever! But Chronos waits for no man, or woman… Here are the policy maturities TLI has enjoyed to date:

TLI Maturities

7 maturities last year was in line with TLI’s 3 year average, and represents an accelerating mortality rate (as the total number of policies held has been steadily declining). However, proceeds of $5.7 million (mio/m) – just $0.8 mio per policy maturity – was an unexpected disappointment. But we have to chalk it up to bad luck (for us, and for them – the insured!):

TLI Policy Size

Because (as of year-end) the $1.6 mio average face value (FV) of outstanding policies ($159.9 mio FV, 102 policies, 90 individual lives insured) was actually double the average policy maturity last year. And, as you can see above, at least 66% of the insured have policies which exceed $0.8 m. In fact, over 90% of the total portfolio is invested in $1.0 m+ policies. And the company has experienced a very welcome step-up in maturities since – in the first 3 months (of the new fiscal year), there’s already been 4 maturities, for a greater than expected $6.8 m (albeit with assistance from a single $5 m maturity). A pretty good harvest, and now winter’s just around the corner…

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Titanium Asset Management…What A Steal?!

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My asset manager addiction knows no bounds – here’s another I own:

Titanium Asset Management (TAM:LN)

Titanium was a SPAC IPO that raised $120 million (20 mio shares at $6.00) in Jun-2007. Aah, remember the glory days..!? The investment objective was to purchase a number of asset managers – and in little more than a year, facing into the worst financial crisis since the ’30s, they acquired four companies: Wood Asset Management, Boyd Watterson, Sovereign Holdings (since absorbed into Boyd), and National Investment Services. Well…I think you can guess the rest!

Actually, I’ve never really sat down & figured out if they overpaid, experienced a client/AUM exodus, suffered integration issues, lost key personnel, etc. Maybe it was all these & more! But if we fast-forward, the legacy of those acquisitions lives on – here’s a brief summary of the last five years:

TAM 5 Year

Ewww, kinda nasty…

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