Current Ideas and Framework

Currently I am considering some of the following ideas:

DDD

I followed this for a while back in 2013. At that time I made money on the long side, the short side, then the long side again, by identifying a reflexive trend – using stock sales to fund acquisitions. It was a classic reflexive boom-bust, as outlined in chapter 1 of Alchemy of Finance. I lost money in the 2nd half of 2013 when I called the top of the bubble too early. I was squeezed out with a number of other shorts, and the stock chart turned parabolic until it peaked in Jan 2014. After that, it has fallen for over two years from the mid $90’s to current prices under $10. I learned some lessons –

  1.  to wait until you see the “whites of their eyes” when you are shorting – wait until the chart sets up perfectly to short, or
  2. to size appropriately in order to have staying power.

I am not the best reader of charts, so #1 seems difficult. #2 seems more within my grasp, although it involves a lot of discomfort as you “fight the market”. Whitney Tilson entered the DDD short at about the same time I did, however he had the staying power to make a lot of money on it. This demonstrates that I have a lot to learn still.

I am more interested in the long side now. I think that it’s margins could normalize  because of its cost cutting efforts (it acquired lots of unnecessary workers as part of its acquisition spree), an exit from the consumer space (which has always had lower margins), and a new metal printer (I haven’t confirmed the technical merit of this new metal printer). Such a turnaround would give it an EBIT somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 mm. At an 8X EV/EBIT, it would justify the current share price. That is not good enough to warrant an investment however. After a reflexive bust, the stock ought to become a true value, with an adequate margin of safety.

I have been trying to build a financial model that would allow me to test my assumptions, however it is taking me far longer than I expected. In the meantime, the stock has rallied so much that even if it was a bargain, it may not be by the time I finish. This seems to be why George Soros adopts a principle of “invest first, invesigate later”. The only problem with that approach is that you have to remember to do the investigation after you have invested and not complacency set in. This is especially difficult if the trade goes your way – you tend to do minimal work to prove the thesis without assessing the risks adequately because things are working.

AGRO

This is an idea I first read on Value Investor’s Club. I would have been better off if I’d invested then, but I decided to wait out the global turmoil, attempting to be smart and time the markets. So much for that.

The thesis is that

  1. Macri, the new president of Argentina, has eliminated export taxes on many of Adecoagro’s products, which will give it somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 mm of FCF per year.
  2. years of capex in its sugarcane business are winding down, which also ought to contribute $50-60 mm of FCF per year.
  3. a 50% devaluation in the Argentinian peso has occurred, which ought to contribute $60 mm of FCF,
  4. Export subsidies of Argentina’s competitor countries have been eliminated under the Doha round of the WTO. I am not sure what the end impact of this will be, but it will assuredly be positive. India is a big competitor in the sugar markets, however it has massively subsidized sugar cane for years. At current sugar prices, few of its domestic sugar cane operations will be profitable. Also, The E.U. is a competitor in the dairy market (an area where AGRO plans to invest its new cash flows) and it had massive dairy subsidies.
  5. An agriculture inventory that has been building for several quarters. Management of AGRO anticipated Macri’s victory and the elimination of export taxes, and waited to sell certain inventories for several quarters. This depressed cash flow for prior quarters and will increase it in future quarters.

Risks include

  1. The Brazilian real has fallen. This affects the price of ethanol that AGRO sells directly into the Brazilian market. However, the dollar has risen, and the vast majority of its revenues are in dollars. I can’t really tell if the dollar bull market is a positive or not, for reasons of #2 below:
  2. The prices of commodities have been falling. This is largely due to the dollar. So the effect of the rising dollar doesn’t really benefit AGRO as much as you’d think – though it receives revenues in dollars, it is receiving less dollars per unit of product because the price of the commodities is falling.
    So far, I’ve been chalking currency changes to a positive, because many of its costs are in the peso which devalued much faster than the dollar. However, I may be totally wrong on this – there many forced pointing in different directions and its all a little confusing. The other thing is the Fed is likely going to abandon a strategy of multiple interest rate hikes this year, which ought to weaken the dollar.
    Will this increase commodity prices? So far it looks like the answer is yes. The commodity index is up today on news that the Fed is turning dovish. Perhaps the best tack is to just keep doing a bottom up analysis of this and if the value is there, whichever of the conflicting macro forces wins out will not hurt the thesis too much.
  3. El Nino. This is another possible risk, possible benefit. The yield of sugar from sugar cane decreases with increased rainfall, and half of its cash flows come from sugar. However, other crops have increased yields with the increased rainfall. Overall, it might be a slight negative.
  4. Dollar denominated debt. The company has some dollar denominated debt, and its borrowing costs have been increasing because of the rise in the dollar. The amount of debt is $580 mm, which is 4X EBITDA before all the aforementioned increases in profitability, which will come to something like 1.5-2 X EBITDA after those changes. Furthermore, the rise in the dollar could halt or reverse, and I think the company will be able to aggressively pay this down over the next couple of years, so I don’t think this risk is all that bad.

Maybe some of the risks pull the cash flow numbers a little lower for 2016. Either way, you are still going from a situation where cash flows were flat to slightly negative for the first part of 2015, suddenly turning at least $100 mm of positive FCF and possibly as much as $200 mm of FCF in 2016. The stock has rallied by about 40%, but I think this is far too small of a rally. The EV is currently about 2 billion, so the price isn’t that low, but once the debt starts getting paid off and new investments (like the dairy investments mentioned) start working, the stock will probably seem underpriced.

Now that I’ve gone through the value argument, I think the main reason why I’m so interested is that perceptions ought to dramatically change after the company starts reporting massively profitable quarters. So the time horizon on this isn’t as long as a typical value investment – I’m looking for this to work out in the next 6 months or so or I’ve made some wrong assumptions here.

DOC

This is an idea I saw on IBD talking about how investors turn to REIT’s during times of market turmoil. What I saw that got me excited was another possible reflexive boom-bust – the company is issuing a ton of shares and using them to acquire real estate. The company did several hundred million dollars in acquisitions last year, and management states they want to do over a billion this year. They just completed a share issuance for $320 million, and the stock rallied. I haven’t done a lot of work on this, but these seems like a prime “invest first and investigate later” type of investment – the stock has a perfect technical setup, so I dont want to miss it.

The stock has an inverted head and shoulders with a neck line of $16. After breaking through, it dropped, tested $16, and the level held. This indicates that it won’t likely fall through $16 again. As such, I can pretty clearly define the risk on this trade – if it falls through $16, I’m wrong. If it doesn’t, it ought to keep rising. The one thing I don’t expect, is that the price will stay where it is for the next year.

I would have to monitor this position closely, and I really must remember not to get complacent on this – that’s how you lose tons of money on these things.

Japanese stocks

I really don’t know which ones I like yet, but I’m putting this down as a theme I’m watching for now. The BOJ seems determined to make inflation happen, in an environment where one their key metrics of inflation, oil prices, keeps falling. This puts them in the struggle of printing more and more money by buying assets. The trouble is, those assets they are buying are JGB’s, which are now incredibly scarce. So they have turned to buying stocks outright through purchasing ETFs. They want the investment banks to make a custom ETF for them with Japanese companies that investing in Japan. Who the investment banks pick remains to be determined, but Mizuho put out a list of four possible candidates recently. After scouring those companies, I could only find one that I actually liked, Colopl, a mobile phone video game developer, now investing in VR games. It was cheap (7 X EV/EBIT), but not terribly cheap for a Japanese company – there are a ton of net-nets in Japan right now.

So far I have three possible strategies:

  1. Buy up net-nets. These are proven to outperform the market over a longer time period. But if Japan is devaluing the yen, then the value of holding cash decreases, and maybe this isn’t the best environment to do net-net investing.
    On the other hand, maybe Japan isn’t successful in further devaluations. Nearly everyone in Japan thinks the yen will devalue further, so this is a very against-consensus idea, but the yen might appreciate a lot if the risk-off dynamic persists.
    So then the yen might be a buy right? Well why not buy yen at a discount? If you buy up a bunch of net-nets, you can essentially buy cash at a 50-75% discount. Then, if the yen appreciates, the true value of your holdings has appreciated. If the yen continues to depreciate the core businesses and earnings improve, and the stock ought to go up. These might be a win/win
  2. Buy companies with lots of debt. These ought to be more volatile and their borrowing costs are decreasing, so they may go up more than net-nets in this environment
  3. Buy the companies I think will be included in an Abenomics ETF. Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t. I don’t have a lot of confidence – after analyzing the candidates Mizuho put out there, they don’t look like great values.

GPRO – GoPro

Okay, the TTM EV/EBIT is 3.6X. Okay, sure, I know trailing numbers include this huge fad trend, and Gopro might never regain that kind of popularity again. But 3.6X!

I’ve generally observed that EVERY time that I’ve ever seen a fad stock crash to this kind of crazy level, it rebounds. I’m not saying it’s never happened that a stock falls and doesn’t recover, but I think there is usually at least a “dead-cat bounce”.

I think there’s a lot of potential for upside surprise here. What if the drone product takes off? What if people have a Gopro replacement cycle every 3 years and sales start picking up? What if other countries really start digging the Gopro thing? There’s a lot of ways it could go right.

Of course there are a lot of ways it could go wrong also, but I get a feeling that its all priced in.

I still have work to do, but I just get a hunch that there is value there. The last thing that makes me bullish is this article I saw at Motley Fool. When long term bulls are throwing in the towel, it’s usually a sign of the bottom.

The way I’d play upside surprise would usually be a simple call option, but the calls are so darned expensive. I’m thinking about buying a call spread – long a call at $10 or so, short a $20 call. This ought to lock in a 300% gain to 100% risk ratio, which seems about right for the probabilities here.

 

Kearny Financial Corp – an old-fashioned thrift conversion

Here’s an interesting idea I came across on Barron’s. After I read Klarman’s Margin of Safety and re-reading some of Peter Lynch’s old books, I did a recent search for thrift conversions, and there are still a few occurring. Kearny converted earlier this year, and is already up quite a bit. However, there is probably still a lot further to go – the Equity to Assets ratio is above 25, and non-performing assets are below 1%, meaning the bank could take a ton more leverage on and boost earnings. Ultimately that will lead to a higher price to book more in line with peers (currently 1.1, peers are 1.5).

An issue with regional banks in general is knowing the regional environment. This one is mostly in New York/New Jersey area. I’m not aware of major dynamics either way (bullish or bearish) that will affect the financial sector. If stocks in general take a bath, or the fallout in bonds wreaks havoc on Wall Street, there could be implications for Kearny. Furthermore, The bank has a team that is working on getting more commercial lending done, so they are going to be taking on quite a bit more risk, but of course that will come with higher earnings in the meantime.

Disclosure: I own no KRNY, may buy shares in the reasonable future. 

Reverse Corp – Not as Bad as It Looks – 130% upside, 34% downside

This isn’t a great business. It isn’t even a good business. But it’s not a terrible one, and that’s what it is being priced as.

Reverse Corp is in the collect-calling business. It had its heyday, back before the age of mobile phones, but it’s been in steady decline ever since.

During its peak years, it expanded into all sorts of other terrible businesses. It opened new collect calling divisions in European countries and it expanded into payphones. Needless to say, these businesses were crushed after mobile phones came into the picture, and the stock fell from a peak of $6/share to less than a penny per share.

But the board took action. They began a restructuring in 2013 in which they divested all those loss-making divisions. This restructuring, combined with a shift of focus of the company to collect calls from pre-paid cellphones, turned the company around from huge losses to huge profits. They also started a new line of business, an online contact lens store called Ozcontacts.com.

1-800-REVERSE

The idea is, when pre-paid phones run out of minutes, the owner will have to use the company’s service, 1-800-REVERSE, to make a call to anyone. Up until recently, all calls from mobiles cost the user minutes – even calls to 1-800 numbers. However, Reverse Corp was able to negotiate exclusive contracts with the biggest Australian mobile phone companies, Telstra and Vodafone, such that calls to 1-800-Reverse would be the only free call a pre-paid wireless customer could make.

Needless to say, this monopoly on a niche market drove up profit margins. Unfortunately, the Australian government moved to make all 1-800 numbers free from cellphones by the end of 2014. It was expected this would have a huge negative impact on revenues, as the competitors, 1-800-MumDad and 1-800-PhoneHome, would now have access to the pre-paid wireless market, so Reverse Corp shares sold off.

Oddly, the results have been exactly the opposite. In the most recent fiscal year, revenues actually increased 3%, and EBITDA increased by 12%.

Perhaps there is some brand loyalty to 1-800-Reverse, or perhaps pre-paid wireless customers are simply not aware of the change in rules yet. Whatever the reason for this paradoxical increase in revenues, there is evidence that investors should not be discounting the cash flows from this business so heavily.

OzContacts.com

Most of the time, when managers start a new line of business in which they have absolutely no experience, it’s a complete failure. But Ozcontacts has been anything but. Over the course of the last 2 years, the company has grown organically from nothing to a business doing $1.8 million in revenue per year. Over the course of the last fiscal year, it broke even on cash flow, and management reported the business was actually cash flow positive in the last half of FY 2015.

Unfortunately, the business has hit up a wall as far as its growth; revenues are down year-over-year. Management attempted to restructure the business, and states the decrease in revenues is related to a new focus on customer retention and increasing sales per customer rather than increasing the number of customers. It appears the new strategy has at least driven cost improvements:

Management seems to strongly believe in this business. It was started as a JV in which Reverse Corp only owned 65%, however in the last quarter of FY 2015, they bought out their partner, for a current ownership of 95%.

Valuation – Sum of parts

The sum of parts method is probably the best method to value the company; there is a core business that is contributing all of the earnings, another that isn’t, plus a big wad of cash and a hidden tax asset. So first things first – let’s look at cash.

Part 1: Is the Cash worth Cash?

Management plans to use cash on hand to acquire stakes in profitable growing businesses. Normally, this would make me nervous. But the company has a good history of getting in to reasonably good businesses – first with the pre-paid mobile business, and then with the contact lens store. So I think it is most likely they won’t destroy value with any investment.

The cash could be discounted if earnings turn negative on one of the businesses and management doesn’t cut their losses – eating into the big cash pile. But here again, management has a history of divesting loss-making divisions, first with the overseas businesses, and then with the payphone business. If either OzContacts.com.au or 1-800-REVERSE turned unprofitable, I think it’s most likely that management would get rid of it quickly.

Finally, working capital requirements are probably pretty low for these businesses. Since its operations are either run by submitting bills to wireless customers and charging customers online, it doesn’t really need a lot of cash on hand for either of these businesses.

All of this makes me think that the cash is worth near full value, and deserves only a modest discount, if at all. Let’s say 90 cents on the dollar, so $6 million, or $.064 per share.

Part 2: OzContacts.com.au

The business just became profitable, but it is difficult to assess to what degree, because of the inclusion of the unprofitable months at the beginning of FY 2015. Even so, I’d imagine that a profitable online business is worth at least half of sales. It might be worth something more like 1-1.5X sales to a strategic acquirer, like one of the other contact lens stores. So we get to a range from $900,000 in the worst case to $2,700,000 in the best case, or $.01 to $.029, respectively, with a most likely valuation somewhere between that – maybe $.02 per share.

Part 3: 1-800-REVERSE

This is the big question: what is the core collect calling business worth?

Worst Case:

We could easily say that in the worst case, competition catches up, customers catch on, revenues drop off a cliff, and the company quickly becomes unprofitable and gets divested. In the scenario that revenues drop off by 50% in each of the next two years, 1-800-Reverse would only contribute free cash flow for 2016 and 2017, and become unprofitable in 2018, at which point it would likely be divested. This leads to a valuation for 1-800-Reverse of a little more than $750,000, or $.008 per share.

Most-likely:

Considering revenues have actually increased under the new rules, I think it’s likely that the rate of decline in 1-800-REVERSE will be far more modest than 50% per year, maybe something like a 10% decline in revenues per year. Under this assumption, we get to a valuation of $7.6 million, or about $.08 per share.

Best-Case:

Under the best case scenario, we assume flat revenues. Maybe the growth in the population and the market (pre-paid mobile) matches the entry of competition to the market. Maybe the company finds a way to capitalize on a new market (like expanding overseas, except this time, profitably). In either case, it is a possibility that management figures out how to keep up revenues at this pace, with similar kinds of margins. Under this scenario, we get to a valuation of $18.1 million, or $.194 per share – more than the whole company is worth today. (For terminal value, I assumed that after 10 years, the revenue begins to decline at 10% per year).

Part 4: Deferred Tax Assets – a hidden value

The company has about $150,000 in net deferred tax assets sitting on the balance sheet. In addition, they have $750,000 of deferred tax assets sitting off balance sheet in relation to a capital loss. The company can recognize the latter if it realizes a capital gain, if, for example, it sold off OzContacts. If this were to occur, the company could revalue these, and you’d get another cent per share of assets.

Sum of parts

All told, under worst-case-scenario pricing, we get to valuation of $.082 per share – a 34% downside. Keep in mind, this is under extremely aggressive assumptions for decline in 1-800-REVERSE. In the most-likely case, we get to $.164 per share, an upside of 32%. And under the best case scenario? A valuation of $.288, an upside of 130%.

A simplistic valuation check

Things can get hairy quickly doing DCF valuations. But even using a quick multiple check shows us that Reverse Corp is likely undervalued.

The company is trading for 12.5 cents a share and has 93.4 million shares outstanding. We already stated that the value of cash was about $.064 per share. That puts the valuation of the rest of the businesses at 6.1 cents a share, or about 5.7 million.

The company generated $2.8 million in EBIT during fiscal 2015, so that puts the company’s valuation at a measly EV/EBIT of 2 – certainly low enough to merit a deep value investment.

Summary

The company has undergone a turnaround, and even though its core business is undesirable, it is currently throwing off a lot of cash flow. The major determinants of value are

1) Whether 1-800-REVERSE declines in revenues as a result of the 2014 ruling to allow free 1-800 calls from all mobile phones, and whether fewer callers resort to collect calls over time

2) Whether the contact lens business can meaningfully contribute to cash flow or will be put up for sale

3) What businesses the management decides to buy with cash

If you buy the arguments for the best case scenario, then the company offers a pretty good risk/reward of 1 to 3. If not, then at worst it’s a toss-up – about a 1-1 risk/reward. I think it’s entirely possible the company continues to earn at its current rate, and therefore I’ve accumulated a position for myself.

Energy One: a fast grower in the Australian electricity market.

This is an example of the kind of research I do when I’m investigating an idea. Right now I’m looking at foreign micro-cap stocks for ideas. Here is one I found. It seemed like a good value, but didn’t meet my level of risk tolerance due to its reliance on a few high-value contracts and some temporary work that is boosting results. I have gotten burned too many times on small companies receiving a few big contracts that later dry up, leaving a much less profitable business behind.

Energy One (ASX:EOL)

Market cap: $5.80 mm AUD

Cash: $1.73 mm AUD

No debt, total provisions of $180,000

Enterprise Value: $3.89 mm AUD

Overview of Business

Energy One  provides software and services to wholesale electricity, gas, and carbon trading markets in Australia.

The business model is based on selling one software system to a customer at a time, then upselling to further systems as the relationship develops. To further these plans, the company plans to make acquisitions of complementary businesses, so it can continue to bundle software packages into its product suite. This results in operating leverage, because the same staff can be used for maintenance of the old package and installation of the new package, resulting in higher profit margins.

In the early part of 2014, Energy One secured two major contracts with Australian energy utilities, Alinta Energy, and one other unnamed entity. Alinta has already purchased the entire Wholesale Energy Trading Suite.

The other utility purchased the Energy One Trading platform in July of 2014. So these revenues were not recognized until the half ended December 31,2014.

Finally, a third utility company has expressed interest in upgrading its systems from a previous version of Energy One’s software to a newer one in the near future. Currently, it is trialing this new version, so there are no guarantees, but a new contract would probably allow for continued profitability for at least another year or so.

Much of Energy One’s  revenue may have been derived from one-time revenues occurring on installation of its products at two major customers. From its December 18,2014 release:

“Energy One has been proceeding with the implementation of its products at two major customers and completed the implementation at another. Revenues from these projects will continue to be realized over the remaining installation period and from license fees and on-going support.”

The company receives revenues that are recurring (Licenses, support and maintenance, IT services, ongoing enhancements and engagements), and one-off (labour services for project-based implementations). These project based implementations generally last for 12-24 months from commencement.

Thus, the major projects announced H2 2014 and H1 2015 (calendar year 2014) will reach the closing implementation stages during H1 2016 (calendar year 2015).

Review of Operations

Because of all of its recent work, EOL published really good numbers for the half ended December 2014. The stock quadrupled from $.10 to $.40 on the news. It had the highest revenues for any half-year going back to 2011:

Revenues from Operations

Furthermore, as EOL has grown, it has been able to leverage its employees. It’s employee expense as a % of revenues is down to 58%, from greater than 100% 4 years ago.

Employee Expense

Other, more fixed expenses are coming down as a percentage of revenues too, showing the power of EOL’s business model to leverage fixed expenses. I regard Rental Expense, Accounting Fees, and Insurance Expense as more fixed expenses. These fixed expenses are smaller than employee expenses to begin with however, so leveraging these fixed costs will have a smaller impact on the bottom line.

Rental Expense

Accounting Fees

Insurance

The one expense that is not decreasing as a percentage of revenues is the consulting expense.

Consulting Expense

The uptick in consulting expenses this last half is related to its recent major contracts. The company increased the numbers of both regular employees and consultants to deal with the new work. The outside consultants are mostly helping in software installation at the two major Energy utilities that signed on in 2014. Per the CEO, “As the projects revert to long-term support, these project costs will reduce as a proportion of revenue”.

R+D Tax Incentive

As of the last half-year, ended December 31, 2015, EOL received about 16% of its revenue from a R+D tax incentive. This down from 21% for the year ended June 30, 2014, signaling decreased reliance on government support for profitability.

Still, its tax incentive in H1 2016 was about $380,000, almost equal to its overall profits before income tax of about $390,000. So if these R+D tax incentives are wiped out, then EOL’s profitability could evaporate overnight.

According to the Australian Taxation Office, a refundable tax credit is issued to eligible entities with revenues less than $20 million AUD, whereas a non-refundable credit is issued to all other eligible entities.

How does one qualify for the Research and Development credit? It actually operates on the honor system, with random verification. From the ATO: ” We assume that you have completed your tax return in good faith… However, even though we may initially accept the claims in your tax return, we can later ask you to provide the records and information you used to complete your tax return.”

So, if EOL has made a mistake in assessing its eligibility for the tax incentive, the ATO could ask for a lot of money to be refunded.

Here are the R+D Tax Incentive Criteria:

  1. Did you incur the amount (or pay the amount if your expenditure is to an associate)?
  2. Is this amount eligible to be claimed under the R&D tax incentive?
  3. Is the amount incurred on R&D activities that are registered with AusIndustry (who act on behalf of Innovation Australia)?
  4. Have you apportioned your expenditure so that you are only claiming amounts to the extent they are incurred on R&D activities?
  5. Do you receive the major benefit from the R&D activities on which you incurred expenditure?
  6. Have you kept, or can you access, sufficient records to support your claims?

To the best of my knowledge, Energy One’s activities do seem to account for the kind of innovation that would qualify for the credits. However, I have no insight into whether the amounts claimed by Energy One are all eligible or not. I will assume the company has properly assessed the amount of the credit, but I will keep an eye on this as a risk to look out for.

Every year, EOL receives the incentives related to the previous year’s R+D activities. For the year ended June 30 2014, it received $720,247, which was the total amount spent on R+D in 2013. This is substantially higher than the $549,432 recognized on the income statement – one of the major reasons that cash flow was higher than net income for FY2014.

The reason for the discrepancy between the income statement and cash flow recognition of the credit relates to portions of the companies R&D that relate to employee expenses and those that relate to capital expenditures. Whereas in the U.S., R+D expenses are included on the income statement, in Australia, these tend to be recognized on the cash flow statement, if the R+D expense is not an employee salary cost. For EOL, $549,432 of its employee costs were related to R+D, so this amount of the credit is recognized on the income statement. However, the total R+D credit is recognized on the cash flow statement, because all R+D costs are included on the cash flow statement.

For fiscal 2015, EOL has already received $709,326, which was exactly equal to what the company stated it would receive in the annual statement from June 30, 2014.

Death and Taxes

Energy One has had an easy time with taxes so far because of a large build up of accrued tax losses. However, this stash of tax assets is about to run out. The amount left as of December 31, 2014 was only $92,790, down from $611,877 on June 30,2014. This means that pretty soon, likely in the next half, EOL will be forced to start paying taxes. And this will certainly decrease profitability and cash flow.

This means we will have to use theoretical after-tax numbers to value Energy One. If Energy One had had to pay taxes in the last half, it would have generated a net income of $273,964 for the six months ended December 31, 2014. This figure is much less tantalizing than the $513,060 it reported, which was boosted by an income tax benefit of $121,683.

For the half ended June 30,2014, it reported a net income before tax of $540,478, which would be $378,334 after Australia’s 30% business tax. Together, this yields a TTM net income after tax of $652,298.

Compared to an enterprise value of $4.274 million, that looks pretty good, giving it an EV/net income of 6.5.

Risks

In the Chairman’s Report, Energy One Chairman Ottmar Weiss mentions that many of Energy One’s customers are operating in “depressed wholesale market conditions”, particularly in the electricity sector. This is worrisome, since the other customer segments, like energy, are not faring particularly well either.

I don’t see much reason for weakness in the domestic electricity market other than the general economic weakness in the Australian economy. This generally depressed state relates to the poor environment for commodities globally. In the meantime, Energy One seems able to grow even in depressed conditions, leaving it in a prime position to benefit if there is an uptick in the general economy.

Ideally, customers would recognize that improved IT systems may lead to decreased costs in the long run, but in a cash crunch, companies usually don’t splurge on big capital expenditures, even if they may be cost-saving measures. So this is definitely a risk to EOL’s business model.

One of the long term trends that the managing director mentions as a potential headwind is the growth of domestic solar power. This decreases the need for consumers to tap into the energy grid. However, in my opinion, this risk is far from materializing. Due to the general downturn in oil and gas prices, electricity in Australia is only getting cheaper, reducing the impetus to switch to solar.

Looking Forward

There are two main questions that will determine Energy One’s future:

  1. How much of revenues are made up of license fees and on-going product support? During the installation period, the company receives installation fees, but after this period (i.e. beginning H2 2016) license fees and product support may become the main source of revenues.
  2. At what margins will the company be able to operate on a license fees and product support model? Will they be able to pull comparable profit margins to what they have been making in the past half, when installations were underway?

The CEO stated, “Notwithstanding that the company’s revenue base is still comprised of one-off project incomes (and those projects can be subject to delays and elements outside of the Company’s control), it is our intention and goal to seek to produce a second half performance that is comparable with the profit before income tax achieved in the first half of the year.”

This statement bothers me for two reasons. 1) the CEO referred to the revenue base as comprised of one-off project incomes. Rather than use the wording, “partially comprised”, he simply used “comprised”, which makes me think the breakdown between project implementation revenues and recurring revenues is heavily skewed to the former. This is bad news, because unless the company can sell new systems, it will likely sink back into the red again, under the weight of all the new employees that were hired for implementing these new system installations. Even if the consultants are let go, permanent employee expenses more than doubled over the course of H2 2014 and H1 2015, so if revenues go down to the levels of FY 2013, the company would quickly turn from a net profit to the biggest net loss in its operating history.

I don’t think this scenario is likely, due to the new recurring revenues and the fact that another major utility expressed interest in upgrading, but I think the risk of this scenario is too great to warrant an investment at this time. I am going to have to pass on Energy One until I see a new contract signed, or we get more information about how large the recurring revenue figure will be.

Is the market really falling because of oil?

The consensus view is that the overall stock market is being dragged down by the slide in oil prices. This makes sense – logic dictates that falling oil prices have an immediate negative impact in terms of dragging down the prices of oil-related equities, and a longer term positive impact due to an increase in consumer spending.

The immediate negative component will be larger now than in the 1980’s, because the economy has grown more dependent upon oil companies in the wake of the 2007-09 crisis. Oil companies were partially responsible for the recovery America has shown since – it makes sense that anything that imperils the health of these companies would imperil the recovery as well.

Oil price may have overshot to the downside. This is the consensus view anyway – most market participants expect the oil price to overshoot to the downside, as part of a Saudi Arabian scheme to shake out American shale oil drillers. Market participants also expect that oil will rebound within 18 months to previous levels (circa $100) after many of the weaker, more highly leveraged firms have been pushed into bankruptcy.

If the consensus view is correct, the move is to be short oil companies now, long retail and airlines, hold until a bottom in the oil price, then switch to well-capitalized mid-cap oil companies. These latter companies will be able to survive the downturn, and emerge more profitable than ever when the oil price picks back up. The added bonus of holding these companies is that oil majors, like Exxon, would rather acquire than drill for growth in an environment of oil price instability, so by picking the strongest companies, investors could benefit from an acquisition.

The fact that there is so much consensus on this makes me nervous. However, I have no basis for arguing with it. The real question, then, is whether I should join in. With oil prices in the mid $50’s currently, I can answer with a no. The risk of joining the “short oil, long retail and airlines” play is that a trend so advanced may easily correct, so even if I got the trend right, I could be pushed out with a loss by a sharp correction.

Therefore, I have to wait for the next leg of events to begin to participate. In the meantime, I have to formulate a working hypothesis of what is going on.

One thing is apparent, if the market is really falling because of oil, then the market should stop falling when oil bottoms. However, if oil price were to stabilize at current levels and the market were to continue to decline, it could be a sign of something bigger.

I have been expecting a serious correction in equity prices for some time, but I have been repeatedly punished for my bearish views. This could be simply a case of wishful thinking. However, there was a sharp correction earlier this year, that I never found a satisfactory explanation for, other than simply “valuation”.

The fact that market participants are starting to take valuation into consideration is dangerous for the market. In an environment of historically low interest rates, we would expect historically high valuations. If participants are starting to question this process, it could begin to unravel. What makes such an unravelling especially dangerous is the fact that the Fed probably has the data it needs to begin to raise interest rates. Market participants placing more importance on valuation considerations, combined with an increase in interest rates, could create a rapid and deep correction, and possibly a bear market.

The only argument I have against this scenario is that there are strong disinflationary forces in the market: 1) the falling oil price and 2) the strong dollar. These may function to keep inflation below the Fed’s target, allowing it to delay the interest rate hike further and further into the future. The market consensus has been that the rate increase would happen in the early part of 2015, however, latest events should push this at least into the latter half of 2015, if not later.

If this is the case, then the bull market ought to be able to sustain itself, and the indexes will emerge from this dip stronger than ever. In fact, after so many small corrections, we might expect valuations to completely detach from reality. We might see former high flyers in the tech space regain their peaks.

On the other hand, if the market continues to slide after oil stabilizes, then the market may be in for a longer term beating, in which high-flyers are pulled down by the market correction.

One thing is for sure: oil cannot stay in free fall forever. Eventually, it will hit a bottom, and at a current price of $56, I think this will happen sooner rather than later. Then we will have our answer to the above question, and I will have a basis for beginning some speculations.

Gazprom

After the massive gas deal between Russia and China, Gazprom looks like it might be an interesting play.

  • We know it will be doing $400 billion of business over the next 40 years.
  • The market has discounted the price of Gazprom over concerns that Europe may stop buying its gas. However, this is an unlikely scenario.
  • The company trades at a P/E of 3. Part of this may be because of distrust of accounting at Russian companies. However, the valuation looks extremely low.
  • Russia’s market as a whole has been discounted because of the invasion of Crimea. This discount may subside as the situation de-escalates.
  • The key risk is the cost of building the pipeline. China will front $25 billion for the deal. However, the excess costs will come out Gazprom’s capital expenditures. These costs will come over the next several years, while the revenues from the deal will not come until 2018. Equity markets are notoriously short-sighted, typically with a time horizon of 18 months. So any gains in the stock may not come until 2016-2017, while in the near term the stock may be weighed down by costs.

Future Speculation Ideas

I have had a lot of trouble finding the time to do more formal posts lately. Thus, my blog will transition to more of a quick notes format. More formal articles will now be distributed to my Seeking Alpha page, and linked here.

1. Healthcare bubble. Healthcare stocks have been going up. All the traditional healthcare (Johnson and Johnson (JNJ)) along with newer biotechs (Pacira pharmaceuticals (PCRX)). Likely going up because Obamacare means more people that were uninsured will now be insured. Thus, theoretically, more care overall will be provided. Trend will likely reverse when electronic medical records are instituted. EMRs will enable rationing of care, thus decreasing healthcare consumption. This is a weak theory, needs refinement.

2. Internet of things bubble. I havent seen public excitement about this yet, but the underlying trend is there. My hypothesis is this is in stage 1 of George Soros’s boom bust model.  Fundamentals look promising. The key four companies are Sierra wireless (SWIR), NMRX, ESYS, and Cisco (CSCO).
The PE ratios aren’t that high. 24 for SWIR, 20 for ESYS, 15 for CSCO. PE ratios typically get to 100 in a bubble. If the internet of things does become a bubble, there could be upside here.

3. Marijuana bubble. This looks promising. Many penny stocks. The only real company I’ve seen is GWPH. Pharmaceutical company making marijuana drugs. This company is up 1000% in the last year. It may be at the top of a bubble, or it may continue. It has been experiencing a little weakness in the past few months. Unsure if this is a test phase or a sign of a “double top”. Possibly watch this for signs that the bubble is about to burst, and then short.

4. Russia speculation. Russia’s stock market has been down because of the Ukrainian tensions. There is a fear that Europe will stop buying gas from Russia. However they have no alternatives. There is some LNG from Qatar, but not enough. It would be extremely inefficient to get LNG from Australia. US is not providing LNG until next year. Therefore, Europe will not stop buying Russian gas. Russian market is trading at a P/E ratio of 6. Some of that is because Russian accounting is very bad. But it is probably too low, and will recover in 12-18 months, if Russia does not annex any other countries.

5. China speculation. Chinese market has been depressed because authorities are trying to pop the real estate bubble there. There is a large banking system that is not accounted for on balance sheets (I.e. Companies issuing IOU letters of credit, etc) and there is fear that this informal system will collapse. This may happen. There is real risk. However, eventually markets will recover. China still has a long term expected growth rate of 6-7% or so, more than double the US growth rate. It is currently at a P/E of 10, while the US is at a P/E of 18-19. The perception of China may get better towards the end of the year, because China is predicted to overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world by 2015. The trick with this play is to find the bottom of the downturn, and to pick the stocks that will benefit most from a recovery from the dip.