I’m traveling this week, so I’m not able to write a new blog post, but I thought I would share the video of the presentation J. Carlo Cannell and I made at last year’s Stansberry Conference in Las Vegas. (Email subscribers can find the video on Youtube by clicking here.) I’m scheduled to present at the conference again this September. You can register here if you’d like to attend.
Carlo and I had a lot of fun talking about some of the dead companies walking we’ve come across in our careers, and going over the research we conducted before initiating our shorts. Carlo’s two examples are truly unbelievable: a profitless airline for pets that was once valued at $100 million and a dodgy software company with a CEO who wound up in a Columbian prison. Incredibly, you’ll see that the first company I discussed (which I did not include in my book) is still in business. You can’t make this stuff up. We also mixed in a number of lessons we’ve gleaned over the years and answered a few questions at the end of the talk.
As last year’s holiday season was kicking off, I cautioned investors for the second year in a row to beware of the traditional retail sector. Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. This earnings season has been an unmitigated disaster, with one retailer after another turning in disappointing reports. Gap, Nordstrom, Macy’s, JC Penney, Kohls, and others have all dropped precipitously.
Some contrarian investors who buy out of favor stocks in out of favor industries have started calling a bottom for these companies, positing that the recent selloff provides an attractive entry price for long term investors.
Last February, I wrote a thought exercise of sorts for CNBC.com weighing the stocks of the number one and two companies by market cap at the time, Apple and Exxon.
Apple, as you may recall, had just turned in one of the greatest quarters in history, annihilating estimates with record smashing iPhone sales. Its stock had shot up to $128/share, and just about everyone expected it to climb higher. Pundits were breathlessly debating how soon Apple would become the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Exxon’s stock, by contrast, was $88/share and not many people were touting it as a buy. Oil prices had crashed to $50/barrel, from over $100 less than a year earlier, and a recovery was seen as unlikely.
Despite these factors, I wrote that if I could buy only one stock between the two and hold it for the long term, Exxon was a better choice than Apple. A quarter later, as both companies prepared to release earnings again, I reiterated my preference for the energy giant.
This is part two of my responses to some of the emails, messages, and tweets I’ve received in recent weeks. Part one was posted on Monday.
A number have readers have contacted me wondering about specific stocks. I generally don’t like to comment on companies I haven’t studied, so I have been reluctant to offer my thoughts on most of them. However, I thought it might be worthwhile to respond to this tweet from Thomas Yarbrough (@tmyrbrgh):
Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who has emailed, messaged, or tweeted at me since my book Dead Companies Walking came out. I’ve tried to reply directly to as many folks as possible but running my fund has taken up most of my time and attention, so I thought I would post my responses to a few interesting questions, comments, and criticisms I’ve received in recent weeks here. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit everything into one post, so I had to break my responses up into two parts. I’ll post the second half on Wednesday.
First up, an email from a reader named Greg:
“I am a private investor who has been investing on the long side for most of my career. I’ve almost finished your excellent book, ‘Dead Companies Walking,’ and it has inspired me to start trading the short side as well. My immediate question is: Where do you find all the good ideas? It’s fairly easy to find long ideas in places like Value Investor’s Club (of which I am a member), or the published portfolio lists of hedge fund managers. But where do you get quality short ideas? Thanks for your help with this!”
In theory, Wall Street analysts are paid to predict the future earnings of the companies they cover and use those predictions as the basis for their stock recommendations. In reality, this is not always how the game works. Often, analysts seem to forget that earnings and earnings growth have always been the mother’s milk of stock prices over the long term. Instead, they focus on short term price fluctuations, lowering ratings when a company’s stock drops, even as its earnings estimates rise.
Make no mistake, as I’ve repeatedly warned, most stocks making the 52-week low list are there for good reason. The large majority of them are heading lower, and many will cease to exist. Conversely, most stocks making 52-week highs are likely headed higher. However, profitable exceptions to these rules do exist. With a little digging, investors can exploit the imbalance between the Street’s short-term perception of a company, as reflected in its stock price, and its long-term prospects, as reflected by its earnings outlook.
Two high profile commodity companies filed for bankruptcy last week. The first was St. Louis-based coal producer Peabody Energy (BTU). Peabody was the latest coal producer to file, following Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal, and Walter Energy. BTU quickly fell below $1 on the news. Just a few years ago, Peabody’s market capitalization exceeded $20 billion. On Wednesday, Houston offshore oil producer Energy XXI (EXXI) joined Peabody in bankruptcy court. Four years ago, EXXI was a $32 stock. On Thursday, the day after it announced its bankruptcy filing, it closed at 12 cents.
I have lived in Marin County, possibly America’s preeminent left wing enclave, for over two decades. Marin residents are old (and getting older), white, and vote heavily Democratic. They overwhelmingly embrace abortion rights, drug rights, and gay rights. Church attendance is extremely low; mind-altering pharmaceutical drug use and therapist attendance is extremely high. The cult of self is Marin’s dominant religion. And outside of Greenwich, Connecticut there are probably more money managers, per capita, in Marin than anywhere else in America. Marin’s attitudes are not unique. The investment community and the media/cultural elites on both coasts share a suspicion (or dislike?) of religious, socially conservative Americans. That might explain why companies that cater to the values of Red State residents are poorly understood, poorly followed, and often undervalued by the stock market. Continue reading →
Before I get to this week’s post, three quick notes:
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Thanks to everyone who has bought the book recently and commented on it online or by writing in to me directly. I’ve been extremely busy lately running my fund, so it’s been difficult for me to respond to email messages and/or comments on my articles, but I am hoping to write a post soon addressing some of the questions I have received.
Okay, on to this week’s post …
Study after study has shown that most individual investors underperform the indexes. Why? They neglect a few simple rules. The first, as I have repeatedly warned, is never to buy a stock below $5. These junkyard stocks are usually over, not undervalued, and most are heading to oblivion. The second rule is to avoid excessively valued stocks in “cult” industries. Today, social media stocks fit this description, as do Tesla and many companies in the renewable energy space.
So, where should an investor place his or her chips? One place to look is companies paying meaningful (but not excessive) dividends. Historically, those stocks have outperformed the indexes. A second winning strategy is to identify companies that generate big cash flows but trade at low multiples of earnings. I recently traveled to Reno, Nevada to meet with the managements of two regional gaming companies that fall into that category: Eldorado Resorts (ERI) and Monarch Casino (MCRI). I purchased shares in both companies shortly after those meetings.
Ever since oil cratered to $26/barrel on February 11th, prices have steadily inched higher. West Texas Intermediate has now climbed into the $40/barrel range. Not surprisingly, energy stocks have kept pace, with many service companies and independent producers hitting year-to-date highs. Unfortunately for some energy firms, however, this recovery will probably be too little, too late.