The Saga Continues…


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‘Bout time I revisited Saga Furs (SAGCV:FH). Loyal readers will hopefully recall my original investment write-up, two years ago now:

‘Quite A Saga…’

And boy, that’s what it’s proved to be ever since… Wisely, I wrapped up my last post with a potential health warning for readers (& included a scary looking chart). At first, it seemed unnecessary, as Saga managed to rally 20%+ in the following two months (hitting almost EUR 50.00 a share, which was gratifying). I must admit, I certainly didn’t expect what came next…

Now, I should encourage you, please go back & read my original post – it provides useful background on the fur industry & Saga Furs, which I don’t plan on revisiting here. [And I’m ignoring an anti-fur movement that’s become increasingly irrelevant…but I should clearly highlight Saga isn’t a stock for everyone, though obviously it’s not a fur producer itself]. Let’s recap my positive investment thesis at the time:

  • Triple Threat:  Saga Furs offers attractive exposure to three of my favourite things: Emerging Markets, Luxury Goods & Auction Houses.
  • Supply:  European/N American fur production is highly regulated (& superior to Chinese fur), with supply constrained despite generally increasing prices.
  • Demand:  High-growth/secular fur market trend in the past decade or so, driven by Western fashion/luxury revival & new emerging market demand.
  • Resilience:  Despite a 39% post-crisis collapse in sales, Saga’s P&L stayed close to break-even. [Aided by inversely-correlated commission rates, which increase as sales decline]. Auction sales rebounded 78% the following year.
  • Investment:  Significant percentage of Saga’s annual turnover is ploughed into expanding capacity, European/global fur lobbying, and the promotion of Saga Furs as a luxury brand.
  • Market Share/Network Effect:  Now permanent agreement with American Legend & Fur Harvesters Auction to sell via Saga auction, thereby creating some of the largest fur auctions in the world & significantly improving Saga’s effective market share.
  • Valuation:  Stock cheap in absolute terms, vs. long term earnings growth & an average adjusted operating FCF margin of 28.0%. Also cheap in relative terms, vs. auction house & luxury goods sectors.

Unfortunately, the perfect storm was ready to hit: Dec-2013 auction sales collapsed 76%, as prices & the number of pelts sold dropped precipitously. Despite the about-face, initially this seemed like a bit of a buyers’ strike really…brought on by a mild winter, sticker shock (after pelt prices doubled in 3 years), higher retail inventories, and signs of slowing Russian & Chinese growth. Looking back, we know better now. It did prove to be a temporary buyers’ strike (as I’ll highlight below), but clearly the December auction heralded a more serious & sustained market disruption – the Chinese crackdown on luxury gifts was just gathering momentum at the time, and Putin was on the verge of sending the Russian economy (& ruble) over a cliff by backing military intervention in Ukraine.

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$DCEL: Denis’s Cash Extraction Lifeline


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NB: I should immediately note Denis O’Brien is not selling any of his shares in the upcoming Digicel IPO. And why should he…when the company’s already after paying him $1.1 billion in dividends over the last 3 years. Surely that will keep the home fires burning for quite some time to come!?

NB: And ‘Lifeline’ is simply a reference to ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ (or Billionaire?!) – nothing at all to do with lifeboats, or sinking, or drowning, or debt, or anything else even remotely like that…

So, ever since Denis O’Brien started popping up at regular intervals on CNBC & Bloomberg, maybe eighteen months ago now, I just knew in my gut he had a whopping great IPO in the works… Fast-forward, and Digicel’s now billed as the largest ‘Irish’ IPO ever, a revised F-1/A was just filed with an indicative $13-$16 per share price range, and its NYSE IPO is just about ready to drop. With everybody & their mother talking about it (well, except for Johnny Ronan’s fat mouth), how can I resist chipping in my two cents..?!

Let’s kick off with an introduction: Digicel Group is a leading provider of mobile communication services in the Caribbean & South Pacific regions. Its mobile subscriber base has grown from just 0.4 million in 2002 to a total of 13.6 million subscribers as of Jun-2015 (an impressive 31.7% CAGR). It now enjoys a number one position in 21 of the 31 markets in which it operates.

Digicel Glance

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Wexboy Portfolio Performance – Total Gain & CAGR (since Blog Inception)


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Crikey, the blog’s 4 years old soon! So this post’s been on my to-do list for quite some time now…as they say in the hedge fund world, you’re nothing ’til you’ve racked up a 3 year track record! And maybe it’s the perfect time for it, anyway – with an hysterical media insisting the market (& the global economy) are on the verge of collapse again, a reminder of the opportunity & rewards of medium/long term equity investment may offer some welcome relief.

First, I should remind readers of my approach since day one. When I started out here, there were some great investment blogs (some which I read to this day) that served as inspiration. Except many didn’t have any kind of portfolio tracking, or performance, which frustrated me… Now, don’t get me wrong, performance certainly isn’t the be-all & end-all of any blog. Quite obviously, the quality of the investment ideas & analysis is far more important.

Or is it..?

I mean, how on earth do you evaluate an investor’s conviction regarding a specific stock…when you don’t know whether he’s really putting his money where his mouth is (or even if he owns the stock at all)?! I’m not talking dollar/euros & cents here, disclosing the relative size of a position is more than enough. Call me crass & materialistic, but I tend to pay a hell of a lot more attention to someone telling me about their new 10% portfolio holding, rather than some 2% place-holder – how about you?! And then there’s the sad fact that investing isn’t just about investment ideas. As any hedge fund honcho will tell you, a great analyst doesn’t necessarily make a great fund manager…

‘Cos play money ain’t the same thing as real money!

[NB: And nope, I’m not (& have never been) a frustrated hedge fund analyst!]

So, when it comes to investment blogs, it’s natural to want a more holistic view of what an investor really brings to the table. Are they prepared to expose their portfolio to real-time public scrutiny? And if they are, can they actually live with that decision? For example: How do they perform under pressure, and how do they deal with the pernicious impact(s) of fear & greed? Do they insist on defending a failed investment thesis & going down with the ship, or can they bring themselves to admit they’re wrong…even when they secretly believe they’re still right? Or as any good trader might ask:

Do you wanna be right, or do you wanna make money..?!

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Smokin’ the S&P…H1-2015 Wexboy Portfolio Performance!


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Oh Lord, where did July go..?! I’d hoped to publish my H1-2015 portfolio performance report a week/ten days ago, but I guess the days kinda slipped away – who can fault a bit of fun in the sun, esp. when my portfolio holdings are slowly but surely marching higher (despite all the China volatility & the fact the US market’s totally sucking wind this year).

Now, if you’re a regular reader, I recently detailed my (still) developing bubble thesis (Parts I to IV), suggesting an increased focus on large cap stocks (a new global Nifty Fifty) might be more profitable. [Though I’m also v conscious of certain small/micro cap successes in the past 12-18 months – a bar-bell strategy, in terms of market cap, may ultimately prove more compelling]. But in terms of immediate portfolio changes, I hastened to add: ‘I don’t believe there’s any great rush here, necessarily’. Well, that being said…let’s first kick off with some (end-June) portfolio changes!

Portfolio Sales:

Alternative Asset Opportunities (TLI:LN):  TLI had a great H2-2014 run – gaining over 22% (inc. a 2p return of capital), making it my top holding at year-end (at 11.1%). Since then, the insured have enjoyed a real stroke of luck, with just one maturity announced. Not surprisingly, the shares are off YTD in sympathy (reducing my holding, in % terms). But I’d focus on TLI’s portfolio instead – adjusting for minor FX unfavourability, and an additional 2p ret. of capital, TLI’s underlying NAV decline was limited to just 3%.

And I see no change in prospects: We’re at the end of a long & painful life expectancy adjustment process (in fact, June NAV inc. a meaningful positive LE impact), and the insured are now 91.5 yrs old on average – maturities will inevitably accelerate (peaking in 2019-20). There’s little financial risk (with an available credit facility, zero debt & cash on hand), and TLI’s focused on regular returns of capital. Sure, we can debate valuations, but shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture – as per the latest results, the portfolio now consists of $132 million in death benefits vs. a current carrying value of $45 million.

But owning such a defensive & uncorrelated investment isn’t as compelling a requirement for me today, and I see equally attractive (albeit, more correlated) opportunities elsewhere. I’ve reduced my shareholding accordingly, from 9.1% to 7.0%. [NB: I normally don’t add to individual holdings beyond a 7.5% limit – TLI remains a substantial position for me].

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The Inherent Contradictions of My Portfolio (or Who’s The Greater Fool..?) (Part IV)


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Continued from Part III.

OK, so here’s an end-June snapshot of my current portfolio allocation:

Wexboy Jun-2015 Portfolio Allocation

[NB: And here’s my portfolio a year ago (from this post) – the majority of subsequent changes are obviously due to sales/purchases & the share price appreciation/depreciation of (mostly disclosed) holdings. Notably, my minor Hedge & Nat Resources allocations are now eliminated on sales of holdings, while my new US & Undisclosed (a new asset class I’m still working on) allocations reflect undisclosed new holdings. I’ll also highlight my Cash allocation’s pretty minimal, with the priority on Fixed Income (which is how I basically consider my Alternative Asset Opportunities (TLI:LN) holding) & Event-Driven (essentially, my NTR plc holding…noting, in particular, last week’s announcement of a return of capital/wind-down) :-) ]

Some big & small changes, obviously – but in the scheme of things, it certainly isn’t a radically different portfolio. But what were you expecting…did you really think I’d turn on a dime & completely transform my portfolio? Um, maybe if I was some hard-charging hedge fundie. But for the average investor, the more rapidly & radically one’s portfolio changes, the more likely it’s the result of poor/faulty decision-making! And I suspect this is even more true of thesis-driven investing – the biggest & most rewarding theses tend to develop/evolve over a long period of time, and likewise so should your portfolio…

Now, let’s consider some potential portfolio allocation implications, in terms of my current macro investment thesis. [Keeping in mind my recent Four Feds commentary]:

Emerging/Frontier Markets:  My underlying emerging/frontier markets thesis hasn’t changed a jot since I wrote this post (& its follow-up). But sentiment remains negative, with investors/commentators focusing on specific country surprises & disappointments, and the narrowing growth gap between developed & emerging/frontier markets. Currency weakness, esp. against the dollar, hasn’t helped either. But emerging/frontier markets are still the world’s growth engine, and will continue to trounce developed markets in terms of absolute growth. And the narrowing growth gap’s mostly due to starkly differing fiscal/monetary policies…investors might well ask themselves which policies are more sustainable? As for currency weakness – yes, it’s a short term hit, but it also improves their terms of trade substantially.

But doubters question whether a new export-led growth surge is even possible, citing lower developed market growth/demand. Which strikes me as a remarkably stupid argument…if you expect lower Western growth, surely it strengthens the case for high growth emerging/frontier markets investment?! Many which now appear to be reaching an inflection point, where domestic middle class/consumer demand’s emerging as a new growth driver, reinforcing or even supplanting existing export-led growth.

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The Inherent Contradictions of My Portfolio (or Who’s The Greater Fool..?) (Part III)


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Continued from (Part I) & (Part II).

For a moment there – yeah, go on, admit it – you really did think I’d lost my mind & mutated into some kind of wild-eyed snorting pawing charging bull!? One who’d sold off his entire portfolio, plus the family silver, and blown his entire wad on a titillating smorgasbord of the past year’s hottest large cap stocks & sectors instead?

But only for a moment, I hope, mes frères?!

OK, I may be a charging (?) bull – yup, my negligible cash holdings don’t lie… And I may well believe the market ultimately loses touch with the real world (& enters the floating world). But c’mon, did you really conclude I’d lost touch with reality?

Er, no… Or should I say, hopefully not..?

Obviously, having some kind of (global) macro investment thesis is essential for all investors. Well, it should be obvious – someone who foolishly pontificates it’s all (& only) about the micro (i.e. stock picking) could be, for example, missing out on a potentially lethal big picture. But an investor who focuses exclusively on the macro is being just as foolish. Because, of course, the micro’s where you’re likely to find the best long term multi-bagger opportunities. Don’t even fight it, macro & micro are both equally important…

[OK, I’ve gotta confess, that’s pretty much a bald-faced lie – any number of studies prove asset allocation (i.e. macro) is the dominant contributor to portfolio returns. But I’ll save you from reading ’em – instead, just ask yourself whether stock picking saved your ass in the last bear market?! Er… But hey, what can you do, at least stock picking keeps me off the mean streets! ;-) ]

And the stronger your investment thesis, the greater the discipline, the conviction, and the ultimate success of your investment portfolio & returns. But an investment thesis, whether it’s macro or micro, is not a winning lottery ticket you simply collect on, it’s not a belief or principle you defend to the death, and it’s certainly not some map that’s etched in stone. It’s about making your own luck, where preparation meets opportunity…so never grow too attached to a pet thesis. Instead, consider it an evolving premise that needs to be constantly challenged & updated. Far better to aggressively ask yourself (& the world) each day why your premise might actually be wrong – rather than devoting all your efforts to constructing some tottering edifice of proof to memorialise what might be, in the end, a long-dead thesis.

I’ve been developing this market bubble thesis for a couple of years now. To date, it stands up well to scrutiny & keeps getting stronger…but I’m also very aware it’s a thesis which will continue to evolve & be tested. And I certainly don’t think we’re anywhere close to bubble territory yet – leaving aside some obvious exceptions, investors aren’t exhibiting any of the usual symptoms: Yes, I’m sure you know ’em…a twisted market/valuation logic, a blatant disregard for risk/leverage, and/or a messianic over-confidence in future growth & returns.

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The Inherent Contradictions of My Portfolio (or Who’s The Greater Fool..?) (Part II)


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OK, I posted Part I a month ago (and here’s its prequel, Welcome to the Floating World…), so you may want to skim those posts again. [Especially as the world’s changed so much since then…what with the bond markets going crazy, Greece staying crazy, etc. ;-) ] To briefly summarise:

The central banks control the price of money, and everything else is a function of the price of money, and post-crisis they embarked upon the greatest price-fixing experiment ever – an echo/amplification of the entire era leading up to the late ’60s/early ’70s. Consequently, sustained near-zero rates has meant there’s a wall of money that’s slowly but surely being forced into the equity market. And just like the early ’70s, investors have & will continue to exhibit a distinct preference for Nifty Fifty stocks, i.e. large cap/blue chip companies which guarantee (or at least offer the illusion of) predictable quality & growth in an uncertain economic & fiscal environment. Small & mid cap stocks may be neglected accordingly, but will probably end up getting dragged higher regardless.

As for liquidity, central banks will basically find it impossible to reverse the explosion in their respective balance sheets…Pandora’s Box is now open. And GDP growth may prove irrelevant – since positive/accelerating growth is likely to underpin/encourage market sentiment & valuations, whereas weak/negative growth will simply elicit fresh expectations of central bank stimulus. Most of all, regardless of potential rate increases (or bond market volatility), the absolute level of yields means stocks will arguably remain cheap at any price…

But I really don’t have to make the argument: If/when this bull market keeps marching higher, I have no doubt we’ll be spoon-fed all the erudite & compelling arguments we need to justify it, ’til investors can no longer help themselves & inevitably turn the market into a self-reinforcing bubble. I’m not saying this is necessarily a logical process (what bubble is?!) – but I am saying it could easily happen, plus I’m also saying it could well turn out to be unprecedented…

 [Again, it’s worth remembering two recent & very relevant quotes:

Buffett – ‘Everything is a function of interest rates. Interest rates are like gravity.’

Tepper – ‘Don’t fight four Feds!’]

So, what are the implications for my portfolio?

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One Fifty One? No, It’s Worth Far More…


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A One Fifty One plc investment write-up has long been outstanding from me now, as certain readers have reminded me! It’s high time now I rectify this – especially since I’ve already highlighted One51 & its CEO, Alan Walsh, play an integral role in the unfolding NTR plc story. Of course, One51’s also another classic example of Celtic Tiger hubris & near-collapse – but its future definitely looks far more promising…

Let’s rewind:  In 2005, members of the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society Ltd. approved the creation of One51. In bygone years, it would probably have remained just a sub. of the Society, conservatively managing its investment properties & portfolio. But the Celtic Tiger demanded something more ambitious, so it became a stand-alone company: a) When Society members became direct shareholders in One51, via a Feb-2007 share exchange, and b) grey market trading commenced in One51’s shares at the end of Oct-2007.

[NB: Irish grey market shares are unlisted – akin to unlisted UK shares (which trade via matched bargain), or US OTC/Pink Sheet stocks (but without the benefit necessarily of market-makers). One51 now has a quarter billion dollar market cap, and its standards of reporting, corporate governance & investor relations equal any of its listed peers, but it’s still a grey market share…so be aware of the usual investor health warnings. But if you’re still interested, you can discuss and/or trade One51 with these brokers.]

This independence was something of an illusion though, as One51’s board and management was populated mostly with continuing (& former) directors and management of the Society & IAWS Group plc. [IAWS Group was a listed sub. of the Society, which has now become Aryzta (YZA:ID) & Origin Enterprises (OGN:ID)]. The company’s shareholder base also overlapped with those of the private & public IAWS entities. But those were heady times – brokers & punters weren’t too worried about potential grey market illiquidity, or governance issues. All they really cared for was the mesmerising strategic vision painted by Philip Lynch, One51’s CEO. [Who was still CEO of the Society, and a former CEO & Chairman of IAWS Group]. Unlike everybody else at the time, Lynch wasn’t actually focused on property investment & development…instead, his real ambition was to become a genuine mover & shaker in the Irish (& even the UK) corporate world.

Unfortunately, looking back, his vision doesn’t look so compelling (or even that strategic). During 2006-08, operating & financial acquisitions were occurring at the frantic pace of almost one a month – and well over EUR 500 million (gross) was actually spent during this period. As a result, the balance sheet almost quadrupled within a two year period (peaking at EUR 900 million+ by end-2007), funded by an easy combo. of bank debt & fresh equity. [Plus EUR 168 million of Convertible Loan Note (CLN) issuance, most of which was quickly converted to equity also.]

Buoyant business & investment confidence, optimistic growth expectations, and the intoxicating availability of cheap funding, all conspired to jack up prices paid (& goodwill recorded) at the time. And management’s lack of financial discipline was clearly evident in the minimal (low single-digit) net profits & return on equity recorded in 2006-07. But judging by One51’s opening share price, investors didn’t much care – they were too focused on their prospective gains, and the touted ‘integration and synergies’ to be extracted from the company’s sprawling portfolio.

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The Inherent Contradictions of My Portfolio (or Who’s The Greater Fool..?)


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My last post (‘Welcome to the Floating World…’) talked about some of my habitual concerns regarding the markets & my portfolio…and consequently, I couldn’t help but highlight an inherent contradiction of my portfolio:

If I worry so much, how come my entire portfolio’s invested in stocks..?!

The answer’s simple: I have been & continue to be resoundingly bullish on the markets. Except it’s really not that simple…because this immediately highlights another obvious contradiction of my portfolio:

If I’m so bullish, how come my portfolio’s invested so defensively..?!

To illustrate, let’s revisit my Top Tips for 2015 post – which actually listed my Top 10 portfolio holdings (as of year-end 2014). Here they are:

Wexboy Yr-End 2014 Top 10 Holdings

I’d classify eight of these holdings into three (overlapping) categories: Deep value, special situations & (mostly) uncorrelated stocks (vs. the economy, or even the market). Which leaves just two holdings that can be described as growth (or high beta) stocks/funds: Fortress Investment Group (FIG:US) & VinaCapital Vietnam Opportunity Fund (VOF:LN). Granted, a defensive portfolio mix helps me sleep at night, as I’ve boasted before – but in light of my bullish market view, I have to ask if this is really an unnecessary luxury…or maybe even a bloody hindrance?

And in reality, my market view shouldn’t necessarily be that relevant anyway – return to my recent Stock Picking…Art, or Science?! series (esp. Part IV), and we’re reminded that consistent portfolio diversification isn’t just about geographical & asset allocation. Take another look at my Top 10 holdings table – again we see an inherent contradiction of my portfolio:

If I’m so concerned about diversification, how come my portfolio’s so lacking in large cap/growth stocks..?!

[Interestingly, the two growth stocks/funds I identified are actually my largest market cap holdings. My other holdings’ average market cap is just $84 million.]

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Welcome to the Floating World…


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I regularly write about fear & greed here. And I often worry about the tentative & fragile recovery we’re hoping for/seeing in the developed economies (led obviously by the US), and whether it’s built on a foundation of sand…or, more correctly, of printed money. I also worry about markets’ headline valuation ratios, which keep marching higher, and question if they’re priced to reflect a growth renaissance, or simply fool’s gold. And sometimes I talk just as much about preserving wealth, as I do about increasing wealth. Most of all, I incessantly interrogate the diversity & robustness of my portfolio, and cling to the comfort its deep value & special situation stocks offer – I demand they help me sleep soundly each night…

Lots of investors deal with this kind of free-floating market anxiety by keeping a healthy slug of cash in their portfolios – but my current cash allocation is actually minimal (& this isn’t a new phenomenon). Which starkly highlights an inherent contradiction of my portfolio:

If I worry so much, how come my entire portfolio’s invested in stocks..?!

Now, I could offer a prior argument – as I usually don’t consider cash a necessary component of a portfolio, with (low risk) event-driven investments generally serving as an acceptable & more attractive substitute. But that would just be a red herring, as I haven’t actually maintained a big allocation to such a cash alternative either. In reality, the answer’s much simpler…as I’ve often said (about management):

Watch what they do, not what they say!

Which is obviously an exhortation that can just as usefully be applied self-critically… OK yeah, I worry, so I obviously rationalise & anaesthetise these anxieties accordingly – but in reality, my fully-invested portfolio is a resounding confirmation of my past, present & continuing bullish stance on the markets. Hopefully, this doesn’t come as a surprise to you – despite the concerns I express regularly, I believe this bullishness has been a predominant & underlying theme of the blog all along.

[This Jul-2014 post is perhaps the best & most recent expression of my underlying bullishness – it just might be worth a read in its entirety].

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