Guest Write-up by Jayden Preston Introduction Vistaprint was founded in 1994 by Robert Keane, on the idea that there was a market for producing business cards cheaply for companies too small to order in large quantities. Through utilizing the internet, creating better software and printing technologies to make such mass customization cost effective and efficient, the business has turned out to be a huge success. 23 years later, Vistaprint has become a clear leader in mass customization of marketing materials for small businesses. It...… Read more
Seeking Out Strange Stocks: How to Create a Value Investing Basket that MIGHT Get Decent Returns Even When the Market Falls
Someone emailed me this question:
“I know you are a stock only person.
But just for a minute I need your knowledge…I don’t look for 15% per year. I look for 6% a year for the next 5-7 years…on my money.
What would be the best/safest way to get it? Will a certain ETF, a dividend stock? SPY? Japan ETF? India or Russia?”
I don’t know of anything that can safely guarantee you anything like 6% a year. To give you some idea, even junk bonds now yield about 5.5%.
And I wouldn’t call junk bonds safe. Their prices would fall as interest rates rose and the economy entered a recession. Both of these things will happen at some point. Will it be in the next 5-7 years? I don’t know. But, you can’t buy assets like that at today’s prices if you’re hoping to make 5-7% a year over the next 5-7 years even if the stock market does badly.
However, you can certainly find things that should return at least 5% to 7% a year over the next 5-7. It’s just that:
1) Some of them will be specific stocks – not ETFs
2) Some of them may return a lot more than 5% to 7%
3) Some of them will lose money
4) It will take a lot of work on your part to find them
5) You will need to use a basket approach
6) Actually: I’m going to recommend a “basket of baskets” approach
I don’t diversify widely. But, if you’re looking to find something that will return 5% to 7% a year over the next 5-7 years, your best bet is to own a basket of very cheap (probably obscure) stocks. If these stocks are cheap, small, obscure, illiquid, etc. – it’s less likely they will move with the overall market. Special situations (like spinoffs and other things mentioned in Joel Greenblatt’s “You Can Be a Stock Market Genius”) should also help get you closer to your goal of 5% to 7% annual returns over 5-7 years no matter what the market does.
The reason I’m starting off a discussion with “cheap, small, obscure, and illiquid stocks” is that I’m not at all confident I can find an entire stock market for you that will return 5% to 7% a year over 5-7 years given today’s starting price. Although, in a moment we will discuss the possibility of putting 20% to 40% of your portfolio in things that are either directly or indirectly “funds” rather than specific stocks. More on that later.
But, first, let’s start with the specific stocks.
If you aren’t doing a lot of intense stock picking that results in you only owning maybe 3-5 stocks at once (like me), you need a process for finding investments that is a more formulaic, “wide-net” approach.
A fund manager has to worry about putting large amounts of money to work. So, they lean in the direction of owning even more …Read more
I just sent out replies to everyone who requested a stock write-up. I got a lot of requests. So, it may take me several months to work through the backlog.
People have asked if I will open myself up to requests for stock write-ups again. The simple answer is: it depends on how this first batch goes. How long does it take me to do them? How much do the people who receive them like or hate the write-ups?
(And, of course, how many people actually pay me. I’m doing the write-ups up front and getting payment – only if the requester is satisfied – after I send them the write-up. We’ll see if that was a dumb idea on my part.)
If I open myself up to requests again: 1) The price will probably be higher and 2) The request window will probably be shorter. Or maybe I’ll come up with some better way to ration things so the backlog doesn’t get this big again.
For those who requested write-ups, I’m sorry that the volume of requests means I can’t promise a reasonably quick turnaround time. If your stock request is time sensitive, I may not be able to help you.
I get asked a lot how I screen for stocks. And the basic answer is that I don’t. I sometimes run screens, but I rarely find ideas off them.
I can rephrase the question though. When most people ask me how I screen for stocks, what they’re really asking is something more like: “How do you decide which 10-K to read next?”
In other words: “How do you come up with new names to research?”
Other Investors Tell Me What They’re Interested In
I meet about once a week with my Focused Compounding co-founder, Andrew Kuhn, to just talk stocks. We both read a specific 10-K and analyze that stock. We bring our notes, Excel sheets, etc. to a local restaurant. And then we have a cup of coffee together and take 2-3 hours to go over the idea. Recent ideas Andrew has wanted to talk about include: Hostess Brands (TWNK), Cars.com (CARS), Green Brick Partners (GRBK), and Howard Hughes (HHC). I wouldn’t have researched these stocks if Andrew hadn’t pick them as our next meeting topic.
I also talk via Skype’s text messaging system with investors around the world who I’ve never met in person.
I spend several hours a week doing all this.
But I guard my time pretty closely. If you’ve ever asked to chat with me this way – you’ve probably noticed two things: 1) I don’t talk on the phone (or do audio on Skype) with anyone no matter how nicely you ask and 2) I insist we agree on a specific stock to talk about. I’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about, but I’m not interested in any sort of general discussion.
These are anti-time wasting rules I’ve learned to adopt through experience.
I Mine My Favorite Blogs for All They’re Worth
I’ve mentioned before that my favorite blogs are:
I go through all their archives and make up lists of stocks they’ve written about. Some of them also have “portfolio” type pages (Value and Opportunity, Richard Beddard) that help generate a list of stocks they’ve covered.
Now, I’ll tell you a secret. Although I love these bloggers and the way they look at things – there’s one situation where I specifically don’t read what they’ve written. It’s when I’m interested in a stock they’re writing about.
So, let’s say I’m reading Clark Street Value’s write-up on the Hamilton Beach (HBB) spin-off from NACCO (NC) or one of Richard Beddard’s articles on Howden Joinery and something in that post makes my investing antennae twitch. I stop reading the post the second I hit that line. I just go off and research the stock myself. Then – and only then – I come back and read what one of my favorite bloggers has written.
This brings up a bigger point. Once you know an investor you think is a clear thinker owns a …Read more
After reading my write-up, a member asked me about the margin of safety in NACCO (NC): “…why would someone put half of their portfolio weight in a stock like this where there is customer concentration risk plus a real risk that one of the customers may close shop? Agree that its FCF yield is 10% or so but does it deserve that kind of weight?” I don’t want to exaggerate the safety of this stock. I didn’t write it up for a newsletter. This...… Read more
A Focused Compounding member who analyzed and bought NACCO himself read my write-up on NC and was curious if I did a “peer analysis” for NACCO: “Did you consider looking at any potential peers with your analysis? I was quite simplistic with my approach. Omnicom splits cash out year in year out. Its current EV to free cash flow is around 10x whereas I looked at NACCO and thought its EV to free cash flow was around 5x (NOTE: At the much lower spin-off price...… Read more
On October 2nd, Hamilton Beach Brands (HBB) was spun-off from NACCO Industries (NC). That morning I put about 50% of my portfolio into NACCO at an average cost per share of $32.50. Since that purchase was announced, several members of Focused Compounding have sent in emails asking for a write-up that explains why I made this purchase. Unfortunately, there just isn’t much to say about my NACCO purchase. So, this write-up will be both brief and boring. I bought NACCO, because the stock’s price after...… Read more
Guest write-up by Jayden Preston. Overview Spun off from Morgan Stanley in 2007, MSCI is a leading provider of investment decision support tools to investment institutions worldwide. They produce indexes and risk and return portfolio analytics for use in managing investment portfolios. Their flagship products are their international equity indexes marketed under the MSCI brand. They also offer other products that assist investors making investment decisions. These include portfolio analysis by their Barra platform; risk management by their RiskMetrics product; provision of ratings and...… Read more
In my last post, I mentioned Twitter is a distraction most investors are better off keeping themselves clear of. I got some responses like:
“Agree (Twitter) can be (a) distraction. I’m careful who I follow, restrict my usage, save leads for later like you!”
“…if it’s a distraction for him I get it. But you can literally pick who you follow, don’t have to tweet, connect (with) other investors…”
“…get Geoff’s (point) here, but Twitter has led me to some great ideas, resources, convos. Great tool if used correctly.”
All of these responses are right, of course.
Some people I’ve gone on to meet in real life have mentioned the first place they saw my name was on Twitter. It helps that my Twitter profile says I live in Plano, Texas. This has encouraged investors who live in Texas or are passing through one of Dallas’s airports to reach out to me for a face-to-face meeting. In a couple cases, good things have come from that. And I have Twitter to thank for it.
So, why don’t I think Twitter’s so great?
Part the First: Wherein Geoff Complains All the Good Playwrights have Gone to Hollywood
I started blogging on Christmas Eve 2005. Back then, I used to read a lot of value blogs. Most of them don’t exist anymore. And not enough good ones have been stared up since. Why? Twitter. Some of the best “would-be” value bloggers spend their time on Twitter instead of blogging.
I talk stock ideas with a lot of people via email, Skype, etc. You wouldn’t know the names of anyone I talk with. But some of them are good. Very good. And they know small, obscure stocks in their home regions – Benelux, Nordic countries, India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Latin America, wherever – so much better than I do or likely ever could. In the past, I’d tell them “you should start a blog.” And sometimes, they would. Now, I tell them “you should start a blog”. And they say: “If I have something to say, I can put it on Twitter.”
And they can. And in terms of visibility, I think they’ll get more out of Twitter. They’ll reach a bigger audience. But, if I can be selfish here for a second…
They are robbing me of depth.
Part the Second: Wherein Geoff Complains that All Music Ought Not to be Pop Music
They are robbing me of a considered, potentially contrarian take. Because Twitter is many things. But the one thing it is above all else is: “catchphrase”. To appear on Twitter, an investment idea has to be distilled into a single phrase. And that phrase – if it’s to be re-tweeted widely – has to be catchy.
I’m writing this post in a noisy environment. There are other people here doing other things. And they’re a distraction. So, I have on some good headphones and I have a piano version of “…Read more
Note: Hostess stock is down about 8% as I write this; the warrants are down 10%. Make sure you check for an updated quote on both.
My Focused Compounding co-founder, Andrew Kuhn, recently wrote up Hostess Brands (TWNK) common stock on the member site. Today, I put up a link on my Twitter noting that the company’s CEO is leaving and the Executive Chairman (billionaire Dean Metropoulos) will assume additional duties in the interim. From these two facts, you can probably guess Andrew and I have been looking at Hostess.
That’s true. But, this post isn’t going to be a write-up of Hostess stock. It’s a good business with very strong brands (most famously Twinkies). But, it’s also highly leveraged. Hostess Brands is essentially a publicly traded LBO. And, in the past, Metropoulos has flipped the food companies he’s turned around (example: Pabst Blue Ribbon 2010-2014) fairly quickly.
The above suggests there may be two important limitations on Hostess Brands common stock:
1. The company is so leveraged the stock may be unsafe even if the brands are safe
2. The company may be sold within 5 years, limiting the stock’s long-term potential
Downside protection and unlimited time for your idea to work out are usually two of the biggest advantages a common stock holder has over an option holder. If, in this case, the common stock itself is a very leveraged bet and is less likely to be public in 5 years than is normal – you might want to consider buying options instead.
Or better yet: long-term warrants.
Hostess has publicly traded warrants (they trade under the ticker TWNKW – that’s TWNK with an extra “W”) that expire on November 4, 2021 (so, just over 4 years from now).
You need two warrants to get one share of common stock. So, I’ll simplify things by talking in terms of a “pair” of warrants. A pair of warrants are exercisable at $11.50 a share. However, they really must be exercised once the stock exceeds $24 a share, as you can see from this quote taken from the prospectus:
“Once the Public Warrants become exercisable, we may call the Public Warrants for redemption:
• in whole and not in part;
• at a price of $0.01 per warrant;
• upon not less than 30 days’ prior written notice of redemption to each warrant holder; and
• if, and only if, the last reported sale price of the Class A Common Stock equals or exceeds $24.00 per share for any 20 trading days within a 30 trading day period ending on the third trading day prior to the date we send the notice of redemption to the warrant holder.”
So, if you buy 2 warrants today, what you get is: 1) 4 years during which you only need to put down the price of 2 warrants instead of the price of the common stock (as of yesterday, the common stock was over $13 a share and two warrants were priced …Read more