Geoff Gannon June 17, 2020

BAB (BABB): This Nano-Cap Franchisor of “Big Apple Bagel” Stores is the Smallest Stock I Know of That’s a Consistent Free Cash Flow Generator

This might turn out to be a shorter initial interest write-up than some, because there isn’t as much to talk about with this company. It’s pretty simple. The company is BAB (BABB). The “BAB” stands for Big Apple Bagel. This is the entity that franchises the actual stores (there are no company owned stores). Big Apple Bagel is a chain of bagel stores – mostly in the Midwest – that compete (generally unfavorably) with companies like Einstein Bros Bagels, Panera Bread, and Dunkin’ Donuts. The...

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Geoff Gannon June 8, 2020

Dover Motorsports (DVD): Two Racetracks on 1,770 Acres and 65% of the TV Rights to 2 NASCAR Cup Series Races a Year for Just $60 million

I mentioned this stock on a recent podcast. This is more of an initial interest post than usual. It’s likely I’ll follow this post up with one that goes into more detail. Two things I don’t analyze in this write-up are: 1) What this company will look like now that it is once again hosting races at Nashville (in 2021) and cutting back races at Dover. 2) What the normal level of free cash flow is here. I discuss EBITDA. But, I think normalized free...

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Andrew Kuhn May 27, 2020

Should I Specialize in an Industry I Know – Even if it’s a Bad One?

A 12-minute read

Hi Geoff,

 

I think you have touched on this before but I will ask a bit more detailed. Do you think it’s better to be an expert on one industry and the stocks within that industry vs knowing a little about many industries? What about if that industry is a “bad” industry like shipping? Would you still think an investor is better off knowing everything about that industry and the stocks vs being a generalist?

I guess that having a deep knowledge and circle of competence you would have an edge compared to other investors. Being a generalist you don’t really have an edge? 

 

I think it’s usually better for an investor to be a specialist than to be a generalist. If you look at some of the investors who have long-term records that are really excellent – I’m thinking specifically of Warren Buffett and Phil Fisher here – their best investments are in specific areas of expertise. Buffett’s biggest successes tended to be in financial services (banks, insurance, etc.), advertiser supported media (newspapers, TV stations, etc.), ad agencies (also very closely connected to media companies), and maybe a few other areas like consumer brands (See’s Candies, Gillette, Coca-Cola, etc.). Other gains he had came from use of float (which is a concept closely tied to insurance and banking – though he also used Blue Chip Stamps to accomplish this) and re-deployment of capital. At times, he liquidated some working capital positions of companies and put the proceeds into marketable securities (a business he knows well). Overall, the Buffett playbook for the home runs he hit is fairly limited. It is very heavy on capital allocation, very light on capital heavy businesses, and it is pretty concentrated in things like media, financial services, and consumer brands. There are some notable and successful exceptions. It seems that Nebraska Furniture Mart (by my calculation) was a very successful investment. However, Buffett’s other retail investments generally were not. By comparison, he hit several home runs in newspapers – Washington Post, Buffalo Evening News, and Affiliated Publications. Several home runs in non-insurance financial services (owned a bank, owned an S&L, invested in GSEs, etc.). Several home runs in insurance (National Indemnity, GEICO, etc.). If you look at Buffett’s record in holdings of more commodity type companies, when he held broader groups of stocks, etc. – it’s not as good. As far as I can tell, the retail/manufacturing parts of Berkshire today don’t have very good returns versus their original purchase prices. It’s not all that easy to be sure of this given the way the company reports. But, I don’t think there are a lot of home runs there.

 

Phil Fisher talks about how he focused on manufacturing companies that apply some sort of technical knowledge. This is interesting, because people think of him as a growth or tech investor – but, he thought of himself as investing in technical manufacturing companies. But, specifically – manufacturing companies. He didn’t …

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Geoff Gannon April 24, 2020

Otis (OTIS): The World’s Largest Elevator Company Gets the Vast Majority of Its Earnings From Maintenance Contracts With a 93% Retention Rate

Otis Worldwide (OTIS) is the world’s biggest elevator and escalator company. Like Carrier (CARR) – which I wrote up two days ago – it was spun-off from United Technologies. However, shareholders of United Technologies received one share of Carrier for each share of United Technologies they had while they only received half a share of Otis for every one share of United Technologies they owned. As a result, the market caps of Carrier and Otis would be the same if the share price of Otis...

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Geoff Gannon April 22, 2020

Carrier (CARR): A Big, Well-Known Business that Just Spun-off as a Cheap, Leveraged Stock

Carrier (CARR) is a recent spin-off from United Technologies. The company has leading brands in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), fire & safety, and refrigeration. The best known brand is the company’s namesake: “Carrier”. About 60% of profits come from HVAC. About 30% of  profits come from fire/safety. And about 20% of sales and profits come from refrigeration. Although you may be familiar with the Carrier name in terms of residential air conditioning – there are just under 30 million residential Carrier units in...

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Geoff Gannon April 20, 2020

Mills Music Trust (MMTRS): A Pure Play Decades Long Stream of Future Royalties on Old-Timey Songs Available at More Than an 8% Pre-Tax Yield

Mills Music Trust (MMTRS) is an illiquid, over-the-counter stock. In fact, it’s not a stock at all. The security traded is a “trust certificate” that entitles the holder to quarterly distributions from the trust. These “dividends” are not dividends. The trust has not paid taxes on the income. So, you will be taxed on the income received. As a result, you’ll need to adjust the after-tax return on Mills Music Trust as compared to other stocks you might own. Since I don’t know your tax...

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Andrew Kuhn April 19, 2020

Which Kind of Investor Could You Aspire to Be: Graham, Fisher, Lynch, Greenblatt, or Marks?

Hi Geoff, 

 

I am very new to investing and I have most of my savings invested in Vanguard S&P 500. I would love to learn more about the world of investing but I just don’t know where to start. Could you please give me a roadmap to begin?

 

Geoff’s Advice to a Brand New Investor

 

You Need to KNOW YOURSELF First, So…

 

It really depends on what approach would work best for you. You should read about the investor who most speaks to the kind of investor you COULD be. In other words, what are your interests, what is your personality, etc.

 

I would recommend picking from one of five possible investors:

 

1) Ben Graham

2) Phil Fisher

3) Peter Lynch

4) Joel Greenblatt

5) Howard Marks

 

You might want to read one book by each of them. The Ben Graham approach is based on asset values and liquidation value. It is the approach of net-nets, stocks trading below book value, stocks trading at less than 10 times P/E and little debt, etc. You could read the Intelligent Investor (I recommend the 1970s edition – or earlier – but not the edition revised by Jason Zweig. So, find an edition with just Graham’s name on it – not Zweig’s name). I would also recommend reading “There’s Always Something to Do”. This book is about Peter Cundill. It is an easier read than the Intelligent Investor. But, it shows you what the actual work of applying a “Graham and Dodd” approach is. So, to get a taste of the Ben Graham approach I’d recommend reading: First – “There’s Always Something to Do”. If you feel like Cundill’s investing style is one you could copy yourself – then, read “The Intelligent Investor”. If you get something out of “The Intelligent Investor” you can then read the various editions of Security Analysis (1934, 1940, and 1951). Also read: “The Interpretation of Financial Statements”. There are a few other books by Graham that are good (a couple books of his articles and an autobiography called “memoirs”). You can find all of these at Amazon and elsewhere. Buy them used and collect the books for your own review. Keep them forever. Heavily annotate them. Copy the approaches you read about using modern stocks. However: ONLY do this if you read “There’s Always Something to Do” and the Cundill approach resonates with you as something you could do personally. If you read that book – it’s a very breezy read – and don’t feel that approach resonate with you, then skip Graham entirely.

 

Phil Fisher. Read “Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits”. Fisher wrote a few other books too. But, read that one. Especially think about his talk of “scuttlebutt”. Is this something you can do? Is this something you want to do? If so: read Fisher’s other books. Focus on the scuttlebutt approach. During coronavirus, it will be difficult to make company visits. But, you can often speak with people …

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Andrew Kuhn April 18, 2020

What Makes a Business Durable?

What Makes a Business Durable?
Hey Geoff,
I noticed in one of the recent videos you mentioned that the durability of the business matters more then the returns. I believe you were answering a viewer question on return on capital for the subject matter. When you mention durability are you talking about recurring revenue, sustainability of the business going forward (like waste collection industry or railroads etc…)?
Answer: A Good Place to Start is With the Oldest Companies in the Oldest Industries
Yes. So, this is something Buffett has said before too – and it’s true. It’s the reason why I’m not a fan of “The Magic Formula”. The Magic Formula is a system that might work empirically – but, it isn’t based on sound logic. That’s different from something like the Piotroski F-Score or Ben Graham’s 2/3rds of NCAV rule. Both of those approaches are logically sound and then can be tested to see if they work empirically. I don’t think it’s a good idea to use a system that has been back tested to show good results, but that doesn’t seem logically sound. I’m unconvinced of the logic of The Magic Formula – because, it is basically buying high current return on capital stocks without asking if they have a moat. It’s not the Buffett approach. It’s actually very different from Warren Buffett’s approach. His approach is to figure out why a company has had a high return on capital in the past, has a high return in the present, and is likely to have a high return in the future. Once he knows the reason for the high return – the company’s “moat” – he can judge how durable that moat is. This is also similar – though slightly different – from the Phil Fisher approach. Phil Fisher’s approach focused more on the organization and whether it is built for the long run: is it investing enough in marketing, is it investing enough in R&D, does it have good enough people at lower levels in the organization, are the markets the company is in likely to grow for a long time to come, has the company had success releasing new products regularly to replace old products, etc. That’s very similar – though from a different angle – to the Buffett approach. Those two approaches – Buffett and Fisher – are qualitative looks into the future. We can debate how accurately a human being can judge the likely future of a company. But, the logic of trying to do that is sound. The logic of assuming that a currently high return on capital is less likely to decline than a medium or low return on capital makes little sense. There has been some research in this area and the answer is – it depends on the industry. Some industries do show high persistence of relative returns among the firms in those industries. So, for example, the leading movie studio or beverage brand or condiment maker might tend to
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Andrew Kuhn April 16, 2020

How Do I Find a Company with a Moat?

Hi, Geoff. I have just recently read your old article titled “How To Find Competitive Advantages In The Real World”. My question is, is that article still relevant at this point in time (because it is quite old)? If any, what would you update or change in that article? And about your comments on books about competition, do you believe that it is still true till today (Or you would like add to other book recommendation on competition besides “Hidden Champions”) ? Is it possible to identify economic moat without scuttlebutt? In your opinion, which is better: screen stocks for cheapness first and determine whether the stock in the cheap screen has quality OR screen for quality first and determine whether the price is right?

Answer: Here are 10 Checklist Items You Can Start With

There’s a checklist you can work through to see. It’s made up of 5 items from Michael Porter and 5 items from Morningstar. You may be able to identify if some of these items might apply to the company you’re looking at. And then, you can judge how durable they are or not. So, here’s the 10-point checklist.

Porter’s 5 Forces

1. Threat of new entrants

2. Threat of substitutes

3. Bargaining power of customers

4. Bargaining power of suppliers

5. Competitive rivalry

Morningstar’s Economic Moat

6. Network Effect

7. Intangible Assets

8. Cost Advantage

9. Switching Costs

10. Efficient Scale

You could start your analysis by just finding a cheap enough stock, finding any stock at all, finding a stock that has strong enough past results, or finding an industry that has strong enough past results.

I suggest finding an industry. The performance of any stock over time might be like 50% or so the stock’s position within its industry. But, the other 50% will be the industry. If you buy a basket of regulated utilities or a basket of bank stocks at the same price-to-book ratio – the basket of bank stocks will outperform the regulated utilities over time. This is because – in the U.S. – banking is a much better business than regulated utilities.

Certain industries are better choices to look for moats. I’d suggest:

Household Products

Personal Products

Food

Beverage

Alcohol

Tobacco

Hotels

Restaurants

Food retailing

Consumer staples retailing

Really – “consumer staples” in general is the best place to look for a moat. Products that are: branded, frequently purchased, and used by people (not businesses) both in the home and away from the home are your best bet to look for a durable competitive advantage.

So, I would focus on those industries. There are other industries that are often not big enough to get included as “industries” by investors but sort of just a subset that are pretty good too. So, for example, I think theme parks tend to be good sources of moats though that doesn’t mean the group they belong to “entertainment” is necessarily as good overall. I think lime and cement companies – especially located in

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Andrew Kuhn April 14, 2020

In a Market Like This – Is It Better to Buy 10 Stocks Instead of Just My 5 Favorite Stocks?

Someone sent Geoff this email:
Hi Geoff,
 
On regular days your focusing on overlooked stocks makes much sense to me and is the right place to look for good companies at a decent price.
 
But in this market selloff, wouldn’t it be better to buy blue chip stocks such as Nike, Disney, BrKb, etc.. if they fall to the right price (and I’m not sure they are there yet…).
 
Also, wouldn’t it be better to diversify? To own 10-12 stocks instead of 5-7.
Answer: It Depends On Which Stocks – Conglomerates like Berkshire and Disney Give You a Lot of Diversification, Some Other Stocks Don’t
 
(Note from Geoff: I’m going to split this email into two responses – this one will talk about diversification, tomorrow’s response will talk about overlooked versus big cap stocks)
I don’t know about whether it makes sense to own 10-12 stocks instead of 5-7. I’m not sure it does. It depends on which stocks you’d add to the portfolio. Remember, there is a lot of diversification in certain stocks already. So, you mentioned Disney (DIS) and Berkshire (BRK.B). Berkshire already gives you more diversification in terms of its underwriting than many insurers do. Plus, Berkshire has a big stock portfolio. Plus it owns a railroad. Plus it owns an electric utility. You could separately buy other insurers, stocks like Apple (AAPL) and Bank of America (BAC) and Wells Fargo (WFC) and Coke (KO). You could buy a publicly traded railroad. You could buy a regulated utility. If you add up what you’d put in all those stocks if they were in a 12 stock portfolio – maybe you’d put 33% of your portfolio or more into recreating what Berkshire already has. So, should you buy a bank, an insurer, a railroad, a utility, etc. – or just buy Berkshire? I don’t know the answer. If you pick the right bank, insurer, railroad, and utility – I’m sure you could beat just buying Berkshire. But, if you think you’re somehow safer putting 10% each into one bank, one insurer, one railroad, and one utility than 40% in Berkshire – I don’t think that’s true.
Disney is similar. The company is diversified across a couple big entertainment segments. It has a big allocation to parks and resorts. This includes things like cruise ships. But, it’s mainly theme parks. Disney has the most visited theme parks in several parts of several different continents . So, you could buy SeaWorld (SEAS), Six Flags (SIX), or Cedar Fair (FUN) – or you could get a similar allocation by owning 3-5 times more of Disney than you would of any one of those companies. If Disney is say 20-33% parks by value (you’d have to appraise the stock yourself to make this decision) then simply buying a 3-5 times bigger position in Disney and you’d get the same allocation to theme parks you would from buying one of those other stocks. Disney has a big movie business (it is now, by
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