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Geoff Gannon August 24, 2019

Monarch Cement (MCEM): A Cement Company With 97 Straight Years of Dividends Trading at 1.2 Times Book Value

by GEOFF GANNON

This is my initial interest post for Monarch Cement (MCEM). I’m going to do things a little differently this time. My former Singular Diligence co-writer, Quan, emailed me asking my thoughts on Monarch as a stock for his personal portfolio. I emailed him an answer back. I think that answer will probably help you decide whether you’d want to buy this stock for your own portfolio better than a more formal write-up. So, I’ll start by just giving you the email I sent Quan on Monarch Cement and then I’ll transition into a more typical initial interest post.

 

EMAIL BEGINS

I think Monarch is a very, very, VERY safe company. Maybe one of the safest I’ve ever seen. If you’re just looking for better than bond type REAL returns (cement prices inflate long-term as well as anything), I think Monarch offers one of the surest like 30-year returns in a U.S. asset in real dollars.

 

Having said that, I don’t think it’s as cheap or as high return as you or I like as long as the CEO doesn’t sell it. And the CEO very clearly said: “Monarch is not for sale”. 

 

I’m basing a lot of my comments in this email on historical financial data (provided by Monarch’s management) for all years from 1970-2018.

 

In a couple senses: the stock is cheap. It would cost more than Monarch’s enterprise value to build a replacement plant equal to the one in Humboldt, Kansas. And no one in the U.S. is building cement plants when they could buy cement plants instead. The private owner value in cement plants is even higher than the replacement value. An acquirer would pay more to buy an existing plant than he would to build a new plant with equal capacity. The most logical reason for why this is would be that an acquirer is an existing cement producer who wants to keep regional, national, global, etc. supply in cement low because his long-term returns depend on limiting long-term supply growth in the industry he is tied to – and, more importantly, anyone seeking to enter a LOCAL cement market needs to keep supply down because taking Monarch’s current sales level and cutting it into two (by building a new plant near Monarch’s plant) would leave both plants in bad shape (too much local supply for the exact same level of local demand). Fixed costs at a cement plant are too high to enter a local market like the ones Monarch serves by building a new plant. You’d only get an adequate return on equity if you bought an existing plant. Therefore, I believe that it’s usually the case that the price an acquirer would pay for a cement plant – and certainly Monarch’s plant given its location far inland in the U.S. – is greater than what it would cost to replace the existing plant. So: Acquisition Offer > Replacement Cost. And, in this case, Replacement Cost …

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Geoff Gannon August 21, 2019

Norbit: A Norwegian Growth Company Trading At 8 Times 2019 EBITDA

by VETLE FORSLAND In the middle of June this year, Norbit ASA (ticker: NORBIT) went public on the Oslo stock exchange at 20 kroner per share, after earlier aiming for an IPO price between 23 kroner per share and 30 kroner per share. It had in the first quarter introduced European truck drivers to a new digital tachograph, a device fitted to vehicles to automatically record speed and distance and landed a seven-year contract with the German industrial giant Continental Automotive – which controls 80...

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Andrew Kuhn August 21, 2019

How Does Warren Buffett Apply His Margin of Safety?

March 26, 2011   Someone who reads the blog sent me this email. Geoff, In a previous email to me you explained how Warren Buffett values a company.  The text that your wrote was: “He wants his investment to increase 15% in value. For every $1 of capital he lays out today he wants a day one return of 15 cents. That means a 15% free cash flow yield or buying a bank with an ROE of 15% at 1 times book or buying something...

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Andrew Kuhn August 20, 2019

The Moat Around Every Ad Agency is Client Retention

April 24, 2016

By Geoff Gannon

Moat is sometimes considered synonymous with “barrier to entry”. Economists like to talk about barriers to entry. Warren Buffett likes to talk about moat. When it comes to investing, “moat” is what matters. Barriers to entry may not matter. Thinking in terms of barriers to entry can frame the question the wrong way.

If you’re thinking about buying shares of Omnicom and holding those shares of stock forever – what matters? Do barriers to entry matter? Does it matter if it’s easy to create one new ad agency or a hundred new ad agencies? No. What matters is the damage any advertising company – whether it’s WPP, Publicis, or a firm that hasn’t been founded yet – can do to Omnicom’s business. How much damage can a new entrant do to Omnicom’s intrinsic value? How much damage can Publicis or WPP do to Omnicom? The answer is almost none. In that sense, the barriers to entry in the advertising industry are low but the moat around each agency is wide. How can that be?

First of all, the historical record is clear that among the global advertising giants we are talking about a stable oligopoly. The best measure of competitive position in the industry is to use relative market share. We simply take media billings – this is not the same as reported revenue – from each of the biggest ad companies and compare them to each other. If one company grows billings faster or slower than the other two – its competitive position has changed in relative terms. Between 2004 and 2014, Omnicom’s position relative to WPP and Publicis didn’t change. Nor did WPP’s relative to Publicis and Omnicom. Nor did Publicis’s position relative to WPP and Omnicom. Not only did they keep the same market share order 1) WPP, 2) Publicis, 3) Omnicom – which is rarer than you’d think over a 10-year span in many industries – they also had remarkably stable size relationships. In 2005, WPP had 45% of the trio’s total billings. In 2010, WPP had 45% of the trio’s combined billings. And in 2014, WPP had 44% of the trio’s combined billings. Likewise, Omnicom had 23% of the trio’s billings in 2005, 22% in 2010, and 23% in 2014. No other industries show as stable relative market shares among the 3 industry leaders as does advertising. Why is this?

Clients almost never leave their ad agency. Customer retention is remarkably close to 100%. New business wins are unimportant to success in any one year at a giant advertising company. The primary relationship for an advertising company is the relationship between a client and its creative agency. The world’s largest advertisers stay with the same advertising holding companies for decades. As part of our research into Omnicom, Quan looked at 97 relationships between marketers and their creative agencies.

I promise you the length of time each marketer has stayed with the same creative agency will surprise you. Let’s look …

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Geoff Gannon August 19, 2019

Waste Management (WM): A Capital-Intensive, Wide-Moat Garbage Collector That A Middle-Aged Warren Buffett Would Like

by JONATHAN DANIELSON Waste Management is not a cheap stock. It does, however, have nearly all the markers of a really good business. And it doesn’t necessarily look overvalued at these levels either. It leads its industry, has consolidated returns that look to be both of high quality and extremely stable in nature, looks to have a wide moat which will be discussed further below, and all easily discernible indications would lead to the conclusion that management is competent and perhaps even value-add. Waste Management...

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Andrew Kuhn August 17, 2019

Insider Buying vs. Insider Incentives

December 17, 2017

by Geoff Gannon


A blog reader sent me this email:

Do you ever pay attention to insider transactions when analyzing a company?”

I do read through lists of insider buys from time-to-time. I follow a blog that covers these kind of transactions. But, I can’t think of any situation where I incorporated insider buying or selling into my analysis.

 

 

Learn How Executives are Compensated

I can, however, think of situations where a change in how insiders were compensated was included in my analysis. For example, years ago, I was looking at a stock called Copart (CPRT). It had a high enough return on capital and generated good enough cash flow that it was going to have more cash on hand than it could re-invest in the business pretty soon. Up to that point, it had been able to plow a lot of the operating cash flow back into expanding the business. However, it seemed like they had gotten too big to keep that up. So, they were going to have to buy back stock, pay a dividend, do an acquisition, or let cash pile up on the balance sheet.

I saw that the Chairman and the CEO (two different people, the CEO is the Chairman’s son-in-law) were now going to be compensated in a form that meant the share price a few years down the road is what mattered (if I remember right: compensation would now be a big block of five-year stock options combined with an elimination of essentially all other forms of compensation for those next 5 years). I had also read an interview with the Chairman (it was an old interview I think) where he didn’t strike me as the kind of person who was going to venture out beyond his circle of competence if and when he had too much cash.

So, I felt the likelihood of big stock buybacks happening soon was high.

To answer your question: no, I don’t really pay attention to insider buying and selling. But, yes, I do pay attention to whether insiders own a lot of stock, how they are compensated (what targets the company has for calculating bonuses), etc.

I can think of one situation where both the company and the CEO were buying a lot of stock at the same time. And, I should have bought that stock. If I had, I would’ve made a ton of money. However, to be honest, even if the CEO wasn’t buying shares and the company wasn’t buying back stock I should’ve seen this was a stock to bet big on.

It was trading for less than the parts would’ve fetched in sales to private owners. It was an obvious value investment. And that’s probably why insiders were buying.

 

 

Insiders Are Like You – Only Confident

Insiders tend to be value investors in their own companies. So, I think outside investors assume that insiders are acting more on inside information and less on

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Andrew Kuhn August 13, 2019

Parks! America (PRKA): A Gem Trading at a 15% FCF Yield That Should Have 50%+ of Its Current Market Cap in Cash Within 5 Years

by ANDREW KUHN   Parks! America                                              Price:    $0.14 Shares: 74.8m MC:     $10.4m Cash:    $3.2m Debt:    $2.4m EV:       $9.6m   Geoff and I use a checklist that we go through before investing in any company. Let’s go over it here before jumping into the actual business.   Boxes that need to be checked for us to invest:   Overlooked: Parks! America is an illiquid microcap. The stock currently has a market cap of only $10.4m, of which only about 4% of the shares turn over...

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Andrew Kuhn August 13, 2019

Why I Don’t Use WACC

December 14, 2017

by Geoff Gannon


A blog reader emailed me this question about why I appraise stocks using a pure enterprise value approach – as if debt and equity had the same “cost of capital” – instead of using a Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) approach:

 

“…debt and equity have different costs. In businesses with a (large) amount of the capital provided by debt at low rates, this would distort the business value. In essence I am asking why do you not determine the value of the business using a WACC, similar to how Professor Greenwald proposes in Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond. The Earnings Power Value model seems theoretically correct, but of course determining WACC is complicated and subject to changes in the future. Nevertheless, your approach of capitalizing MSC at 5% is basically capitalizing the entire business value, including the amount financed by debt, at what is presumably your cost of equity for a business with MSC’s ROIC and growth characteristics. Perhaps I am coming at this from a different angle than you, but it seems a little inconsistent from the way I am thinking about it, and for businesses with more debt this would lead to bigger distortions. AutoNation would be a good example of a business with meaningful…debt that this approach would distort the valuation on.”

 

When I’m doing my appraisal of the stock – this is my judgment on what the stock is worth not whether or not I’d buy the stock knowing it’s worth this amount – I’m judging the business as a business rather than the business as a corporation with a certain capital allocator at the helm. Capital allocation makes a huge difference in the long-term returns of stocks. You can find proof of that by reading “The Outsiders”. Financial engineering makes a difference in the long-term returns of a stock. You can read any book about John Malone or Warren Buffett to see that point illustrated.

 

But, for me…

 

My appraisal of Berkshire Hathaway is my appraisal of the business independent of Warren Buffett. Now, knowing Warren Buffett controls Berkshire Hathaway would make me more likely to buy the stock and to hold the stock. So, it’s an investment consideration. But, it’s not an appraisal consideration for me. When I appraise Berkshire Hathaway, I appraise the businesses without considering who is allocating capital. Otherwise, I’d value Berkshire at one price today and a different price if Warren died tomorrow. I don’t think that’s a logical way to appraise an asset. Although I do think that buying an asset that’s managed by the right person is a good way to invest.

 

A good example of this is DreamWorks Animation (now part of Comcast). Quan and I valued DreamWorks Animation at a level that was sometimes more than double the stock’s price.

 

There was a point where we could have bought the stock at probably 45% of what we thought the business was

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Geoff Gannon August 11, 2019

FFD Financial (FFDF): A Conservative Community Bank with a High ROE Trading at Less than 10x Net Income

by REID HUDSON FFD Financial Corp. (FFDF) is a small Ohio bank holding company that owns all the outstanding shares of First Federal Community Bank. It is headquartered in the town of Dover, Ohio, where it also has its two largest branches. The bank has a market cap of just under $54 million and is listed on the OTC Pink Sheets. It is extremely illiquid, with average daily volume over the past year at 173 shares, representing around .02% of shares outstanding (although that daily...

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Geoff Gannon August 11, 2019

How Safe Can You Really Make a 5-Stock Portfolio?

By GEOFF GANNON Investors often overestimate the reduction in volatility they will get from diversification and underestimate the reduction in volatility they will get from simply owning stocks with a beta less than 1.   Over the last 10-11 years, I’ve owned 5 or fewer stocks in about 90%+ of all quarters. My portfolio’s returns have had a lower standard deviation in terms of returns than the S&P 500. And in terms of just “downside volatility” – which is what most investors mean when they...

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