Posts In: Gannon on Investing

Geoff Gannon November 3, 2019 Gannon on Investing, Stock Ideas

A-Mark Precious Metals (AMRK): A Dealer and Lender in Physical Gold

A-Mark Precious Metals (AMRK) has been written up twice at Value Investor’s Club. The most recent time was this year. You can read those write-ups over there. It was this most recent write-up at Value Investor’s Club that got me interested in the stock. However, it was for different reasons than that write-up itself lays out as the case for buying the stock. The VIC write-up focuses on how low volatility in the price of gold (and silver and other precious metals) in recent years...

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Geoff Gannon October 30, 2019 Gannon on Investing, Stock Ideas

Daily Journal (DJCO): A Stock Portfolio, Some Real Estate, Some Dying Newspapers, and a Growing Tech Company with Minimal Disclosures

This was going to be one of my initial interest posts. Then, I started reading Daily Journal’s SEC filings for myself. At that point, I realized there just isn’t enough information being put out by Daily Journal to possibly value the company. There just isn’t enough information to even gauge my initial interest in the stock. I’ll still try at the end of this post. But, my look at Daily Journal will be a quicker glance than most. Daily Journal is a Los Angeles based...

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Geoff Gannon October 29, 2019 Gannon on Investing, Stock Ideas

Psychemedics (PMD): A High Quality, Low Growth Business with a Dividend Yield Over 7% – And A Third of the Business About to Disappear

Psychemedics (PMD) is a micro-cap stock (market cap around $50 million right now) that trades on the NASDAQ. It is not – by my usual definitions – a particularly overlooked stock. The beta is about 0.53 (low, but many stocks I’ve written about have much lower betas). The share turnover rate – taking recent volume in the stock and multiplying it to see how much of a company’s total shares outstanding would turn over in a given year at this recent rate of trading –...

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Geoff Gannon October 28, 2019 Gannon on Investing, Stock Ideas

Vertu Motors (VTU): A U.K. Car Dealer, “Davis Double Play”, and Geoff’s Latest Purchase

Accounts I manage own some shares of Vertu Motors (VTU) – bought last week – but, far less than a normal position. Whether we end up owning a full position – that is, having something like 20% of the portfolio in Vertu – or not depends mostly on whether the stock’s price comes down and stays down for a while. As I write this, shares of Vertu trade for about 40 pence. They were as low as 31 pence not too long ago. I wrote...

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Geoff Gannon October 24, 2019 Gannon on Investing, Stock Ideas

Nekkar: Why We Bought It – And is It Cheap?

Someone emailed me a question about Nekkar: “I was just curious to understand your thesis on Nekkar. Although they quite correctly have a net cash position of MNOK 0,3bn, they also have close to 0,2 in negative WC (95 in receivables/inventory minus current liabilities of MNOK 274), and I believe most of the cash in Syncrolift (0,2) comes from pre-payments, which over the course of the project will be used for buying raw materials, paying sub-suppliers etc. I am not sure of the percentage but...

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Andrew Kuhn October 2, 2019 Gannon on Investing 3 Comments

LEAPS

Originally posted at www.Gannononinvesting.com on June 01, 2011

by Geoff Gannon

Someone who reads the blog sent me this email:

Dear Geoff,

in your article “Should you Buy Microsoft?” on GuruFocus, you said, that it makes sense for some investors to use LEAPS instead of the stock.

After thinking long about that, I came to the conclusion, that LEAPS can be viewed as a form of leveraged investment with an insurance against a falling stock price included…So LEAPS would make sense, if you want to leverage your portfolio with relatively low risk.

I’m not endorsing LEAPS.

I think they make sense only in situations where there is a level of catastrophic risk in the underlying stock that is not priced into the option. In general, this means low volatility stocks that nonetheless can fail catastrophically if infrequently.

Like banks.

I would use LEAPS to buy a bank because there is always the risk that a bank will go to zero. In that sense, LEAPS leverage your investment and provide protection – basically an involuntary surrender – where you cut down a huge loss while still betting on a favorable outcome.

The problem with LEAPS is that they aren’t long enough dated. 5-year LEAPS would be good. 10-Year LEAPS would be virtually indistinguishable from a stock in terms of a correct analysis resulting in profit. But 2 years is not long enough for a value investor. If Warren Buffett had bought Washington Post 2-year LEAPS instead of Washington Post stock in the 1970s he would have lost his entire investment. By buying the underlying stock, he had a return of 30% a year compounded over the first 10 years.

I’ve had stocks that didn’t work out for 2 years. But, boy, did they work out over 5 years. I would’ve lost money on the LEAPS.

Any bet that depends on the market recognizing something within 3 years is a bet where a value investor can be completely right in terms of analysis and yet lose everything simply because the clock runs out.

Value investing is largely based on being able to hold a position until the market changes its mind. I’d say it’s very unreliable to assume mean reversion in the market mood on a stock within 3 years.

The exception to this is when you’re diversifying both across a group of separate bets and across a period of time. For example, if you buy one stock a month every month and turn over the portfolio every year (by swapping out one stock each month), you may average an acceptable result because you’re actually making a dozen different bets on a dozen different stocks that depend on prices at a dozen different future moments in time.

That’s not what you’re talking about. You’re talking about making one bet on one stock that will succeed or fail based on whether or not the stock reaches a certain price fast enough.

Personally, I’m not interested in LEAPS.

And I really …

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Andrew Kuhn September 28, 2019 Gannon on Investing 0 Comments

How to Come Up With Investing Ideas

December 23, 2010

A reader sent me this email:

Hi Geoff,

…I was wondering if there was any other advice you had on how to pick what companies I should look into. You mention a few blogs that I should look to for ideas but what about stock screens? Should I employ those in order to get a rough list of stocks and then choose a few and analyze them by reading their 10-K, etc.? I am just worried I am not sure how to get all the stocks to read their 10-K…

Best,
Phil

You won’t run out of ideas.

Start with one idea and follow that thread wherever it leads. Don’t obsess about any one stock. Just sketch the investment idea quickly in your mind. Does it grab you? No. Then move on.

You can use screens. I recommend Magic Formula InvestingGuruFocusMorningstar, and RobotDough.

GuruFocus also has 2 newsletters for subscribers to the site. One is about Ben Graham NCAV bargains. The other is about Warren Buffett / Charlie Munger bargains.

Use Bloomberg to “watchlist” stocks. Whenever you find an interesting company, go to Bloomberg.com. Type the company name in the blank box in the upper right of the screen. It will give you the symbol (and exchange) of the stock you want. Click on that stock. To the right of the stock price, you’ll see an option that says “+ Add Security to your Watchlist”. Do that. You’ll need to create a Bloomberg.com account for this. It’s free.

The beauty of the watchlist is that Bloomberg tracks the stock’s percentage price move since you watchlisted it. Once a week, log into Bloomberg and just look at the stocks that are red. If the company was interesting when you first saw it, it’s even more interesting now that it’s cheaper.

Bloomberg is the best place to follow foreign stocks. So enter any names you get from reading Richard Beddard’s blog over there. Don’t try to track foreign stocks at sites like Yahoo and Google. Or at your American broker.

That brings me to another point. Pick the right broker. If you’re looking to invest like Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett, don’t use Charles Schwab. Go with an online discount broker that does international and over the counter stocks well like Noble Trading or Interactive Brokers.

Here’s the big mistake most investors make. They refuse to follow their best ideas!

Right now, some people reading this thought: “Really? I have to switch brokers?”

Nutty, I know. But totally true.

Someone will hear about some little company that trades in New Zealand or Denmark and realize Morningstar, GuruFocus, EDGAR, etc. doesn’t have financial data on that stock. Or their broker won’t do a trade there. So they don’t follow up on the idea.

Never limit yourself because you can’t get data on the company. Screens limit you. Pretty soon you’re focusing only on screens that are running in

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Andrew Kuhn September 26, 2019 Gannon on Investing 2 Comments

Calculating Free Cash Flow: 5 Illustrated Examples From Actual 10-Ks

Some readers have emailed me with questions about exactly how to calculate free cash flow, including: Do you include changes in working capital? Do you really have to use SEC reports instead of finance websites?

Yes. You really do have to use EDGAR. Finance sites can’t parse a free cash flow statement the way a trained human like you can. As you know, I’m not a big believer in abstract theories. I think you learn by doing. By working on problems. By looking at examples.

Here are 5 examples of real cash flow statements taken from EDGAR.

We start with Carnival (NYSE:CCL).

Notice the simplicity of this cash flow statement. It starts with “net income” (top of page) and then adjusts that number to get to the “net cash provided by operating activities” (yellow). To calculate free cash flow in this case you just take “net cash provided by operating activities” (yellow) and subtract “additions to property and equipment” (green). The result is free cash flow.

As you can see, Carnival produces very little free cash flow. Free cash flow is always lower than net income. That’s because cruise lines are asset heavy businesses like railroads. They have to spend a lot of cash to grow. Carnival’s reported earnings tend to overstate the amount of cash owners could actually withdraw from the business in any one year.

Carnival is our example of a “typical” cash flow statement. There’s really no such thing. But this one is simple in the sense that you only have to subtract one line “additions to property and equipment” from “net cash provided by operating activities” to get Carnival’s free cash flow.

Next up is Birner Dental Management Services (OTC:BDMS).

Notice how Birner separates capital spending into two lines called “capital expenditures” and “development of new dental centers”. This is unusual. And it is not required under GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). However, it’s very helpful in figuring out maintenance capital spending. If you believe the existing dentist offices will maintain or grow revenues over the years, you only need to subtract the “capital expenditures” line from “net cash provided by operating activities.” But remember, any cash Birner uses to develop new dental centers is cash they can’t use to pay dividends and buy back stock.

Now for two cash flow statements from the same industry. Here’s McGraw-Hill (MHP) and Scholastic (NASDAQ:SCHL).

These are both publishers. And like most publishers they include a line called “prepublication and production expenditures” or “investment in prepublication cost”. Despite the fact that these expenses aren’t called “capital expenditures”, you absolutely must deduct them from operating cash flow to get your free cash flow number. In fact, these are really cash operating expenses.

For investors, this kind of spending isn’t discretionary at all. It’s part of the day-to-day business of publishing. I reduce operating cash flow by the amounts shown here. At the very least, …

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Andrew Kuhn September 6, 2019 Gannon on Investing 3 Comments

EBITDA and Gross Profits: Learn to Move Up the Income Statement

“In lieu of (earnings per share), Malone emphasized cash flow…and in the process, invented a new vocabulary…EBITDA in particular was a radically new concept, going further up the income statement than anyone had gone before to arrive at a pure definition of the cash generating ability of a business…”

  • William Thorndike, “The Outsiders”

 

“I think that, every time you (see) the word EBITDA you should substitute the word bullshit earnings.”

  • Charlie Munger

 

The acronym “EBITDA” stands for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization.

A company’s EPS (which is just net income divided by shares outstanding) is often referred to as its “bottom line”. Technically, EPS is not the bottom line. Comprehensive income is the bottom line. This may sound like a quibble on my part. But, let’s stop and think about it a second.

If EBITDA is “bullshit earnings” because it is earnings before:

  • Interest
  • Taxes
  • Depreciation and
  • Amortization

Then shouldn’t we call EPS “bullshit earnings”, because it is earnings before:

  • unrealized gains and losses on available for sale securities
  • unrealized currency gains and losses
  • and changes in the pension plan?

I think we should. I think both EBITDA and EPS are “bullshit earnings” when they are the only numbers reported to shareholders.

Of course, EPS and EBITDA are literally never the only numbers reported to shareholders. There is an entire income statement full of figures shown to investors each year.

Profit figures further down the income statement are always more complete – and therefore less “bullshit” – than profit figures further up the income statement.

So:

  • EBITDA is always less bullshit than gross profit.
  • EBIT is always less bullshit than EBITDA.
  • EPS is always less bullshit than EBIT.
  • And comprehensive income is always less bullshit than EPS.

Maybe this is why Warren Buffett uses Berkshire’s change in per share book value (which is basically comprehensive income per share) in place of Berkshire’s EPS (which is basically net income per share). Buffett wants to report the least bullshit – most complete – profit figure possible.

So, if profit figures further down the income statement are always more complete figures, why would an investor ever focus on a profit figure higher up the income statement (like EBITDA) instead of a profit figure further down the income statement (like net income)?

 

Senseless “Scatter”

At most companies, items further up the income statement are more stable than items further down the income statement.

I’ll use the results at Grainger (GWW) from 1991 through 2014 to illustrate this point. The measure of stability I am going to use is the “coefficient of variation” which is sometimes also called the “relative standard deviation” of each series. It’s just a measure of how scattered a group of points are around the central tendency of that group. Imagine one of those human shaped targets at a police precinct shooting range. A bullet hole that’s dead center in the chest would rate a 0.01. A bullet hole that …

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Andrew Kuhn September 5, 2019 Gannon on Investing 0 Comments

Why Are U.S. Banks More Profitable Than Banks in Other Countries?

By GEOFF GANNON
09/05/2019

A Focused Compounding member asked me this question:

“Have you any thoughts on why U.S. banks are so profitable (the better ones at least)? I’ve looked at banks in other countries (the U.K. and some of continental Europe) and banks there really struggle to earn the spreads and returns on equity of high quality U.S. banks. This is particularly strange as the U.S. banking market is actually pretty fragmented, certainly more so than the U.K. which is dominated by a few giant banks and has a pretty non competitive deposit market. But U.S. banks seem to earn far better returns.

I was discussing this recently with someone who is a consultant to banks advising them in regulatory capital (among other things) and he said that it was down to the regulatory capital requirements being looser in the U.S. I’m really not convinced by that explanation though.
Is this something you’ve thought about at all?”

I don’t know if the regulatory requirements are looser really. There’s one aspect of regulation nothing about outside the U.S.: fees. It may be that U.S. banks are better able to earn non-interest income on fees (not sufficient funds fees, charging monthly fees for accounts below a certain minimum, etc.) then banks in some countries, because there might be tougher consumer protection rules in some other countries. However, from what I know of U.S. regulatory rules as far as capital requirements versus banks in other countries – I don’t really agree. It’s not that common for me to feel a bank in another country is a lot safer than large U.S. banks. So, if it’s a regulation advantage. It doesn’t seem to be an advantage due to forcing banks in other countries to be too safe.

The U.S. has FDIC. I don’t know what programs in other countries are like. Obviously, the FDIC program in the U.S. – combined with some other rules – helps minimize rivalry for deposits. An unsafe bank shouldn’t be able to draw deposits away from a safe bank just by offering high interest rates on deposits. And depositors shouldn’t abandon a bank they like just because they learn it may be about to fail. Obviously, before the FDIC and other rules – those were concerns which could mean the weakest operators in the industry would lower profitability for the strongest operators through irrationally intense rivalry for deposits.

Negative rates are bad for banks. There could be cyclical reasons for why you are seeing poor results in parts of Europe, because of that.

However, I need to warn you that it’s NOT true that small U.S. banks are more profitable than banks in other countries. They aren’t. It’s ONLY banks with good economies of scale in the U.S. that even earn their cost of capital. My estimate when I looked at U.S. banks as a group is that since about World War Two, they haven’t earned their cost of capital and they have earned returns below the S&P …

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