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Geoff Gannon September 18, 2010

Business Books: 12 You Might Have Missed – Geoff’s Picks

Geoff, I think that you mentioned that you might do a post about books that you have read.  I would definitely be interested in that topic.  I will read anything on investing, but lately, most of the new (to me) stuff that I can find is business biographies. I would love to see a list of business books that you have read and liked. Sincerely, Hugh Here are 12 I’ve read and liked. These are not my favorites – though The First Tycoon and The King of Cash are...

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Geoff Gannon September 18, 2010

Kenneth Cole: Iconix Wants to Buy – Brother Runs Company

Bloomberg reports Iconix (ICON) wants to buy Kenneth Cole (KCP):

Designer Kenneth Cole is in talks to sell the shoe and clothing company he founded to Iconix Brand Group Inc., the licensing company run by his brother Neil Cole, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Kenneth Cole and Iconix are both asset light companies. Would Benjamin Graham buy Kenneth Cole? Probably not. Benjamin Graham liked his earning power backed up by assets. Kenneth Cole is asset light and earning power heavy.

Kenneth Cole’s 10-year average real free cash flow per share (adjusted for the current share count) is $1.18. Slap a Shiller P/E of 15 on that $1.18 and you get $17.70. Kenneth Cole has a clean balance sheet. It has $4.67 a share in cash and investments. Current assets are $2.52 a share more than total liabilities. That means at least $2.52 per share of those cash and investments is surplus. Add the company’s $17.70 a share in earning power value to its extra cash of $2.52 and you get an intrinsic value of $20.22. A buyout price of $20 sounds fair. The stock trades at $16.75. That’s a 20% return if Kenneth Cole is sold for $20.

The downside? It’s hard to come up with an intrinsic value estimate under $15 unless you think 2008-2009 sales are the new normal. Fashion is fickle. It’s not my thing. But 10-15 years of solid cash earnings, the buyout report, and the family connection make Kenneth Cole interesting.…

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Geoff Gannon September 17, 2010

ou Can Be a Stock Market Genius: Best Investment Book Ever

I love Benjamin Graham. But if I had to hand you one book to tell you how I pick stocks, it wouldn’t be The Intelligent Investor. It would be You Can Be a Stock Market Genius.

Why? Because Joel Greenblatt doesn’t talk personal finance. He doesn’t talk bonds. He doesn’t talk portfolios. He just says diversification is overrated and starts picking stocks.

The next 250 pages are case studies. Greenblatt tells you how he found a stock, the situation it was in, why he bought it, and how much money he made.

Benjamin Graham is value investing’s Old Testament. Warren Buffett is its New Testament. And You Can Be a Stock Market Genius is our Gospel of Mark. It doesn’t repeat sayings or rehash dogma. It just tells stories. The case studies read like the present tense. You feel like you and Greenblatt are analyzing the stocks together.

It’s a cheap book. Amazon sells the paperback for $10. The publisher is Simon and Schuster’s Fireside. It’s sitting in my bookcase right now, shelved with a $50 hardcover from Wiley. It looks like it belongs one shelf down squashed between Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.

The pulp pages, urine yellow cover, and Ron Popeil title turn off a lot of investors. I was one of them. I wouldn’t touch it in a bookstore. I needed to read Amazon reviews and hear from value guys. Tariq Ali of Street Capitalist loves it too.

He should. It’s the best investment book ever written.…

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Geoff Gannon September 17, 2010

Barnes & Noble: Glass Lewis, Egan-Jones Endorse Riggio and Poison Pill

Proxy advisors Glass Lewis and Egan-Jones endorsed the Riggio party and its poison pill in the Barnes & Noble (BKS) board election.

Of modern Wall Street’s sins, the one Benjamin Graham would never forgive is listening to a proxy advisor.

“Glass Lewis’s analysis concludes that Mr. Burkle and his nominees have not offered a compelling plan or strategy to build value at Barnes & Noble and that his proposed amendment to the company’s shareholder rights plan could enable Burkle to team with Aletheia to acquire control of the company without providing shareholders a control premium.”

Glass Lewis is wrong on the people and the pill.

Without the pill: neither Burkle nor Riggio could take control without paying a premium, because each party blocks the other and too much stock is sold short. The poison pill doesn’t block a creeping takeover. It blocks a Northern Pacific mad dash to 50%.

Ron Burkle is one of America’s best investors. In You Can Be a Stock Market Genius, Joel Greenblatt calls Stephen Bollenbach a “financial whiz” and a big reason why he bought stock in Host Marriott. None of the Riggio party other than Len is impressive. If the proxy advisors endorsed on merit alone it would be: Burkle, Bollenbach, and Riggio.

Instead they break with common sense and endorse a barely independent board (Judge Strine’s words), an ineffective compensation committee (Glass Lewis’s words), and a poison pill at a company with a staggered board.

The Barnes & Noble polls close September 28th.…

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Geoff Gannon September 16, 2010

Charlie Munger: 2 Hour Interview – Opportunity and the Black Death

Becky Quick interviewed Warren Buffett’s partner, Charlie Munger, for two hours at the University of Michigan. Tariq Ali of Street Capitalist has the link.

Warren Buffett is gun scope focused on making money. Charlie Munger, like Benjamin Graham, scans a wider field of vision. Also like Benjamin Graham, Charlie Munger talks a lot about professional ethics. He blames accountants for Enron and says Arthur Andersen got what it deserved.  He talks about how his dad almost lied on a hunting license to save five dollars. Why? Because he was with friends who were lying on theirs. The moral of the story: avoid temptation. And learn psychology. A good place to start is Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

On opportunities, Charlie quotes his great-grandfather, a pioneer and banker who fought in the Black Hawk War:

“When you find one, my dear grandchildren, and you can clearly recognize it, seize it boldly and don’t do it small.”

Seizing opportunities is Charlie’s best advice.  What’s his best quote?

“The Black Death was good for the survivors.”

The Black Death was a 1300s plague that killed 30% to 50% of all Europeans. It cut the ropes of the rigid labor market that tied down Europe’s economy.

I know what you’re thinking. With unemployment at 9.6%, we could use a plague. It’s nature’s own stimulus package.

Like wars, plagues always kill but seldom stimulate. The Roman plague of the 160s killed millions and did nothing for the economy.

Besides, quantitative easing is more sanitary.…

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Geoff Gannon September 16, 2010

arnes & Noble: CEO Campaigns for Riggio – Bookstore Darwinism

William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble (BKS), sent a letter to shareholders as part of the Riggio party’s campaign for the September 28th board election against Ron Burkle.

The letter’s chewy center is bookstore Darwinism:

a. Fewer bookstore competitors – It’s clear there will be fewer bookstores in this country and as we continue to maintain the best real estate portfolio of locations and best run retail bookstore model, our stores will be the beneficiary of this consolidation…

b. Fewer stores selling books – approximately 50% of the $21 billion U.S. book business is transacted in non-book retail outlets such as mass merchants, as well as drug and mass discounters. As the physical book market contracts over the next four years, from approximately $21 billion to $19 billion, we see many of these non-book retailers de-emphasizing the book category with greatly reduced shelf space and in some cases eliminating it all together. This will provide an opportunity for us.

Evidence of this shake-out already exists as our share gains from our largest physical bookstore competitors have accelerated in the last year. Today, the Company owns approximately 18% of the U.S book market, and we expect that figure to grow to 20-25% over the next three years.

I was just chatting about this with Sivaram of Can Turles Fly?. My expectation: The offline book market will shrivel while Barnes & Noble takes a bigger piece of that shriveled pie.

See: Would Benjamin Graham Buy Barnes & Noble at $15 a share?

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Geoff Gannon September 15, 2010

Barnes & Noble: On the Proxy Campaign Trail

Barnes & Noble (BKS) shareholder wrote this at GuruFocus:

I’ve gotten no less than 5 (maybe more) phone calls trying to influence how I vote my tiny stake of 1,900 shares. Mostly I don’t answer them, but in (one) case where I did, and had a little debate, the caller seemed fairly well informed on the issues. Of course he was following a script but even so…(he was) fairly good at responding to my questions…It must cost a lot to staff up, train, call up every small shareholder, and be ready to answer questions. 

It does cost a lot. And the parties don’t staff up themselves. They hire expert proxy campaigners. That’s what Benjamin Graham did in his 1927 proxy campaign against the Bushnell brothers at Northern Pipeline. And that’s what Ron Burkle is doing in his 2010 proxy campaign against the Riggio brothers.

Ron Burkle hired Mackenzie Partners. This is what Mackenzie does:

…initial tasks…include analyzing the shareholder base and developing voting projections based on our knowledge of the…constituents’ past and…future voting practices…From there, we develop a…communications strategy based on the issues involved and launch a comprehensive campaign. The solicitation…includes a full-scale telephone campaign to retail holders, (and) in-person visits and conference calls with management of the largest institutions…

Sounds like James Carville for corporations.

You can read about Benjamin Graham’s proxy campaign at Northern Pipeline in Chapter 11 of Benjamin Graham: The Memoirs of the Dean of Wall Street.

The Barnes & Noble polls close September 28th.…

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Geoff Gannon September 14, 2010

Interactive Investor: One of my Favorite Blogs

Richard Beddard writes about stocks Benjamin Graham would buy. Beddard focuses on U.K. stocks. If you use a discount broker who doesn’t let you place orders overseas, you probably think you’re saving money. You’re not. Cheap brokers cost Graham and Dodders money. Lost Benjamin Graham bargains cost more than commissions. My advice: switch brokers and read Beddard.

If Benjamin Graham was alive, he’d be in foreign micro caps. It’s easy to find cheap micros overseas. It’s hard in the U.S. Lots of American investors focus on cheap micros. You need to go where the competition ain’t.

Beddard writes well. There’s more muscle than fat on his prose.

He sticks to Orwell’s rules:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active. 
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

I would add another: Never use a pun.

Beddard does. And he does it well (Dart: in for the long haul). You can tell Beddard reads Krugman. Krugman also does puns well (Brother, Can You Paradigm?).

If you’re looking for the best Benjamin Graham bargains in Britain, check out the Interactive Investor blog.…

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