Geoff Gannon August 19, 2019 Stock Ideas

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 Gannon on Investing 2 Comments

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 15, 2019 Gannon on Investing 0 Comments

How to Quantify Quality

By Geoff Gannon on November 2, 2013

 

Someone who reads the blog sent me this email:

I kind of understand the quantitative part of stock analysis (such as number crunching, valuation) but really struggle to understand the qualitative aspects which determine quality. What kinds of questions to ask yourself in order to gain more insights into the qualitative?

A qualitative analysis does not have to be any less evidence based than a quantitative analysis. However, you do have to gather the evidence yourself.

What counts as evidence? How can we separate our own biases, speculation about the future, etc. from actual observations of quality? Evidence is fact based. Facts come in several flavors.

Number

Example: Tiffany’s New York Flagship Store had $305.54 million in sales in 2012. That is $6,671 per square foot. Based on calculation made from data given in Tiffany’s 10-K on percentage of sales at flagship, worldwide net sales, and gross retail square footage of flagship.

Quote

Example: John Wiley, Reed Elsevier, Springer, etc. have bargaining power with their customers.

The largest (academic journal) publishers wield the power…as a former colleague of mine once said, ‘the more journals you have, the higher your usage stats are and the more money you can charge.”

Based on discussion with a university press editor.

Anecdote

Example: Over the last 10 years, I have placed an average of one order every 4 to 10 days with Amazon. At no point in the last 10 years, have I ever made less than one order every 10 days. I have been a member of Amazon Prime since 2006. The number of orders made each year has roughly tripled from 2003 to 2013. It doubled after I became a Prime member.

Based on information found in my own order history for 2003 to 2013 at Amazon.

History

Example: The 4 most successful periods in animation were at 3 companies: Disney (twice), Pixar, and DreamWorks. At the time of their success, these companies were run by Walt Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, John Lasseter, and Jeffrey Katzenberg (again). All worked at Disney at some point in their career.

Based on more than half a dozen books on Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks.

Experiment

Example:

377 participants were assigned to (Weight Watchers), of whom 230 (61%) completed the 12-month assessment; and 395 were assigned to standard care, of whom 214 (54%) completed the 12-month assessment. In all analyses, participants in the commercial programme group lost twice as much weight as did those in the standard care group.

Based on a journal article appearing in The Lancet.

As you can see, there is no need to be less evidence based when analyzing a business’s quality than you are when analyzing its price. However, you have to impose an evidence based discipline on yourself. You have to go through the primary sources and extract the relevant facts on your own. They will not be presented in as easily digestible form like an EV/EBITDA ratio on Yahoo Finance. When …

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Andrew Kuhn August 13, 2019 Stock Ideas

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 Gannon on Investing 0 Comments

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 Stock Ideas

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 Gannon on Investing

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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Andrew Kuhn August 11, 2019 Gannon on Investing 0 Comments

When Should You Diversify?

MAY 19, 2015 by Geoff Gannon

 

Someone who reads the blog sent me this email:

 

“I have been thinking about portfolio construction lately. 

…due to the strict standards you have, I thought it was very natural to just hold mainly four stocks…unfortunately, this method has shown its short comings lately. Both because of (your) mistake in picking CLUB/WTW instead of the other winners discussed in Avid Hog/Singular Diligence, and also because I am currently getting in touch with a lot more very cheap opportunities in the Asia region…I have also been rereading Buffett’s partnership letters and was reminded he once held like 40 stocks. Even though he concentrated at his top several positions sometimes and also he sometimes put 30% to 40% of his portfolio into the workout category, he did say they usually have fairly large positions (5% to 10% of their total assets) in each of five or six generals, with smaller positions in another ten or fifteen. (This) of course is a far cry from the 20%/25% position sizing we usually talk about…

 

What are your thoughts? Is it actually better to spread our portfolio a bit more?…I am getting more and more the feeling that finding the right stock is not the most important part, but picking the right ones to actually put money in is the key. Would (being) willing to spread a bit more make this key job easier? The very cheap stocks I am finding these days may not fit something you will invest in as they are likely not good buy and hold investments. Yet they are also not exactly like cigar butts, i.e. not of very, very low quality stuff. Is it wise for me to ignore them in my personal portfolio and just pick those that are more like the buy and hold category?”

 

I hold 4-5 stocks because I find that is most comfortable for me. You want to combine an approach that makes enough objective sense to work for anyone in theory with an approach that makes enough subjective approach for you to carry it out in practice. I found owning 20 stocks was not practical for me. I spent more time watching what I owned than coming up with a good list of new stocks to research. I didn’t spend enough time focused on what I was buying. When I owned 20 stocks, I spent too much time on the HOLDING and the SELLING and not enough time on the BUYING. It’s no accident that the only thing we do for Singular Diligence is tell you which stock to buy. We never revisit it. We never tell you to sell. It’s all focused on a one-time buy decision. I think that’s the decision that really matters. If you get that moment right the next 5 years or more will take care of themselves. There’s just a heck of a lot of time spent on stuff other than worrying what to buy next when …

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Andrew Kuhn August 9, 2019 Gannon on Investing 0 Comments

All About Edge

December 23, 2017

by Geoff Gannon


Richard Beddard recently wrote a blog post about company strategy. And Nate Tobik recently wrote one about how you – as a stock picker – have no edge. I’d like you to read both those posts first. Then, come back here. Because I have something to say that combines these two ideas. It’ll be 3,000 words before our two storylines intersect, but I promise it’ll be worth it.

 

Stock Picking is Like Playing the Ponies – Only Better

Horse races use a pari-mutuel betting system. That is, a mutual betting system where the bets of all the gamblers are pooled, the odds adjust according to the bets these gamblers place, and the track takes a cut regardless of the outcome.

At the race track, a person placing a bet has a negative edge. He places a bet of $100. However, after the track takes its cut, it may be as if he now “owns” a bet of just $83.

At the stock exchange, a person placing a buy order has a positive edge. He places a bet of $100. However, after a year has passed, it may be as if he now “owns” a bet of $108.

All bets placed at a race track are generically negative edge bets. All buy orders placed at a stock exchange are generically positive edge bets.

In horse racing, the track generally has an edge over bettors. In stock picking, the buyer generally has an edge over the seller.

 

In the Long Run: The Buyers Win

The Kelly Criterion is a formula for maximizing the growth of your wealth over time. Any such formula works on three principles: 1) Never bet unless you have an edge, 2) The bigger your edge, the more you bet and 3) Don’t go broke.

In theory, the best way to grow your bankroll over time is to make the series of bets with the highest geometric mean. Math can prove the theory. But, only in theory. In practice, the best way to prove whether a system for growing your bankroll works over time is to back test the strategy. Pretend you made bets in the past you really didn’t. And see how your bankroll grows or shrinks as you move further and further into the back test’s future (which is, of course, still your past).

Try this with the two “genres” of stock bets:

1)      The 100% buy order genre

2)      And the 100% sell order genre

Okay. You’ve run multiple back tests. Now ask yourself…

Just how big was your best back test able to grow your bankroll over time by only placing buy orders – that is, never selling a stock. And just how long did it to take for your worst back test to go broke only placing buy orders.

Now compare this to back tests in the sell order genre.

Just how big was your best back test able to grow your

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Andrew Kuhn August 8, 2019 Gannon on Investing 0 Comments

How to Judge a Business’s Durability

Originally written by Geoff Gannon on June 13, 2015

 

My last post listed examples of threats to a company’s durability. This post will be about how we assess those threats. You can always imagine a threat. Is it a realistic threat? How do you judge that?

There are some industries where durability is pretty much perfect. The business doesn’t change much. Barriers to entry are high. The future development of substitutes is unlikely. Location advantages are big.

A good example is lime. Lime is reactive and has a short shelf life. You don’t store it speculatively. You don’t import it and export it. Customers need to get their lime from a deposit being worked somewhere within a few hundred miles of them. Over the last 100 or so years, the real price of lime hasn’t changed that much (real price volatility compared to other commodities is quite low). The price right now is perfectly in line with the real average price per ton since 1900. Lime consumption in the U.S. was no higher last year than it was in 1998. The industry is more consolidated and perhaps less competitive than it was in 1998. I don’t think capacity is being fully utilized now. And I do think inflation will always be passed on to customers (as it was over the last 100 years). So, if Quan and I were to research a company like United States Lime & Minerals (USLM), we could probably start by assuming that last year’s EBIT would – in real terms – represent that company’s durable earning power. That could be our starting point for a buy and hold analysis.

That’s usually not the case. Even when we find a company that has a long history of being the leader in its field – say Strattec in car locks and keys, H&R Block in assisted tax preparation, etc. – there is a risk of change. In these two cases, we know there will be change in the product. For example, more people will prepare and file their taxes online in the future than they do now. And more drivers will enter and start their cars with the use of electronics instead of physical locks and keys. What we don’t know is how that will affect the companies.

Take H&R Block. The company competes in assisted tax preparation. In the 1990s and 2000s, many people switched to using software and then online products to prepare their taxes. But who were these people?

Most were people who had always prepared their taxes themselves. I use TurboTax and know a lot of people who use TurboTax as well. But, I actually don’t know anyone who used H&R Block even once in their lifetime and now uses TurboTax. Everyone I know who uses TurboTax used to – decades ago – prepare their taxes themselves using a pen and paper and a calculator. They didn’t use a CPA. And they didn’t use H&R Block.

Now, this is anecdotal. But, …

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