Rapid Repositioning

So I have not followed through on the moves suggested in my previous post; I have done things very differently.

The trading in Activision (ATVI) does not make any sense to me. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, Vice President Joe Biden has been spearheading an effort to reduce gun violence, and a discussion on gun violence in video games is in the agenda. Several media outlets specifically mentioned Call of Duty (Activision’s best selling game) when discussing the story.

This, to me, reads like negative news, which would affect perception negatively, and cause the stock to fall. However, last Friday, when the story was breaking, the stock popped instead.

I cannot find sufficient reason for why the perception would get so positive, save for perhaps the recognition of Call of Duty’s success by its infamy. I have not been enthused with the stock’s performance, and there is no blockbuster video game on the horizon. The two biggest drivers of revenue planned for this year are a Starcraft expansion and continued growth in Skylanders. A quick chart of Google trends confirms the idea that Skylanders was a huge seller this previous holiday season. The Starcraft expansion could be a hit or a miss. It is a huge question mark as to whether the Skylanders earnings boost is enough to counter the lack of other major titles during the holidays and the negative perceptions of gun violence. To avoid the uncertainty, and perhaps out of my own negative bias, I have sold the stock. It will remain to be seen whether this was the right decision or not.

There are many less risky plays. The oil price has resumed the upward climb as global demand revives from its dip. The place to be is, and has been, in international and deepwater projects. I still have no exposure to the emergence of African oil, and the ensuing consumer-products boom, which is unfortunate. I was expecting perception of African investments to grow positive throughout December and January, so I was originally planning on speculating in AFK (a broad Africa index), but the index has not performed well enough to suggest that perception is turning around. I will continue to monitor AFK, and look for more targeted ways of playing the African growth story.

C&J Energy (CJES) is now becoming dangerous. Though it remains VERY undervalued, the perception has gotten stronger against fracking. CJES has returned to the resistance point at $22-23, but I do not think it will break through. The anti-fracking movie “Promised Land” has come out, and though it has not been very successful, it should turn the perception even more negative, and depress the stock price. In addition, natural gas prices have not risen as fast or as far as I would have hoped to use up the spare fracturing fleet supply. The U.S. onshore activity (represented by the rig count) dropped throughout the 4th quarter, so I expect that competition was more fierce than the rest of 2012 for CJES’s fracturing services. So I have sold out a portion of the position.

I am unsure how much should be sold out, because 2013 will likely be a much better year for CJES. The natural gas price will probably continue to slowly rise, and oil and gas companies may begin to spend again on natural gas drilling. In addition, the price of oil is already much higher than it was during the 4th quarter, so demand for U.S. onshore oil will increase.

But the combination of a worsening perception for fracking and weak 4th quarter earnings will drive the stock down, so I must sell some of the position.

I have traded out the CJES shares for an investment in Core Labs (CLB). I respect the management of this company more than any other oil service company for their knowledge of and foresight in their industry. The company shifted to international and deepwater projects several quarters ago, so they are relatively immune to the poor 4th quarter earnings that I expect for most U.S. onshore oil service companies. While the profit margins at CJES have worsened, the profit margins at CLB have widened. CLB has a wide moat around its core analysis business, while CJES has a relatively small moat. CLB trades at $113, $2 less than what I sold it for a year ago, though the earnings have increased by 22.6%. It is one of the few companies I would buy at a P/E to growth ratio above 1 (it currently stands at 1.13), because of its excellent management, high profitability, and relative monopoly in the core analysis business.

I have invested in Corning (GLW), which is in the glass business. The TV industry has been experiencing a cyclical trough period as an after-effect of low employment. As employment picks up across the United States, the down-cycle in TV sales should end. In addition, I believe that new buyers of homes will also be likely to buy a new TV for their home. With the housing industry fully on the rebound, a pickup in the TV industry should be close behind.

LCD TV glass has been the most important driver of GLW’s earnings in the past, so the pickup in the industry should cause the fundamentals and perception to become more positive and lead to a stock price increase. As an added bonus, GLW has a near monopoly on smart phone and tablet glass, a segment which has been continually growing. The earnings for these devices is very small compared to TV glass (because of the size of the devices), but this segment should provide an additional earnings boost on top of the TV rebound.

GLW is currently trading at a cheap 9.23 Price/Earnings ratio. I think this is more than reasonable given the prospect of a TV industry rebound. I have invested a fairly large position (~10% of portfolio).

The speculation in 3D systems corporation (DDD) continues. I only wish I had more on the table. I am wary of adding to the position now, because there is really no telling when it will reverse. I will not be shy in shorting the stock when the reversal comes.

Disclosure: I am long CJES, CLB, GLW, DDD. I may sell shares of CJES in the next 72 hours.

Today’s ideas

I was considering speculating on the power outage occurring in the Eastern U.S., but I am not seeing what I thought I would see.

In the power outage of the Northeast in 2003, the company most affected, First Energy (FE), dropped a lot after taking blame and the brunt of the damage. However the most affected companies in the power outage, AEP and FE, have increased since the outage. Something else is at play here… or these are good short candidates.

GMCR is up another buck today. I am feeling foolish for not trading out my ATVI this morning.

But perhaps there is a silver lining. Vivendi is seeking a buyer for its majority stake in ATVI. I think this could be bought out at a significant premium – but only if Vivendi pushes for it. ATVI is probably worth close to $17 a share, but Vivendi has to hold out for a company to step in and buy.

Who might the buyer be? Perhaps media giants like Viacom (VIA), Disney (DIS), or News Corp (NWS) after it splits. But who really knows? Corporations are still sitting on a lot of cash, so they may be willing to pay up.

Ideally, multiple companies will start a small bidding war for the ATVI stake, and we will get a price that is between $14-20/share. Worst case, Vivendi is desperate to raise cash and sells to the first bidder it can get for a price that may be slightly lower than the current price. I’d say that $11 a share is a minimum in the worst case scenario.

Vivendi does probably want to shore up its balance sheet – as a French company, it needs to insulate itself from the worst of the crisis, which is yet to come. This means that the maximum upside of $20/share is unlikely.

So we are looking at a risk/reward of about a 10% loss to a 15% gain, with a remote possibility of as high as a 65% gain. The risk/reward ratio dictates that I should hold my ATVI shares.

With GMCR, I’d say that we have seen a bottom of $20 ($19.83 to be exact), which is a 15% downside at least, and the stock could tank further if the SEC brings up charges. However the upside is probably around $60 a share, which is 155% higher, albeit over a longer time period.

The rises in the price must have scared out short sellers, which explains why the upward momentum has lasted for three sessions.

There is a similar story playing out across three different stocks, GMCR, TPX, and DMND. Let’s call them the “fallen angels”; stocks that were once revered and pumped up by Wall Street, rising in a reflexive manner as highly-leveraged momentum players ploughed in, that crashed precipitously as problems arose. There is even similarity in the prices of the stocks post crash – with GMCR and TPX almost mirroring each other down to $20, then back up $23.50.

However the fundamentals of each situation are far different. The problems facing GMCR have already been discussed – concerns about competition, patent expiration, an accounting question, and a slowing growth rate coupled with ridiculously high expectations. The margin call on the founder pushed the stock downward in a reflexive deleveraging.

The concerns on TPX are verified by management – a low guidance, and an expectation of an earnings decline by 50% or more. The concerns on DMND are also quite justified – an accounting problem seems more likely, and DMND has missed a crucial filing deadline, suggesting a real management problem.

So short sellers have been making a killing on these stocks – and perhaps these are the same entities on all of them. This would mean that rises in one might trigger short covering in the other. But whether or not that is true, all three have been rising, which should trigger shorts to cover and propel the stocks higher in a reflexive fashion.

The real question is are the shorts done covering? Which stocks are they leaving hanging, and which ones are the jumping out of? To answer this we can consider the short interest as a % of Float.

“Fallen Angels” Short interest as a % of Float
GMCR 17.74%
TPX 7.92%
DMND 49.11%
So DMND is the most heavily shorted, but probably for good reason. TPX is the least, which is odd, but perhaps all the shorts have exited.

The short interest in GMCR has decreased since June 15, when it was 19.7%, but it is still substantial – shorts have a ways to go before they finish covering, or they are holding out for the accounting questions to come back with some negative news.

The spike at the end of today signals that there was a rush to cover… perhaps this could continue into Friday. I am thinking that a short seller would not want to hold the short over the weekend… but I have not been a short seller before, so I don’t have a good understanding of the mental state…

On the macro side… the European regulators cut rates, leading the Euro down against the CAD. I am continuing to watch at this point, though I am kicking myself for my cautiousness in avoiding the trade. I am waiting for some sort of a pullback before I enter. After such a sharp move, it should experience a pullback and some kind of consolidation around a price. Around that time it may be good for entry.

Canada is probably the strongest bet I can think of currently – it has the safety of a developed nation coupled with an export economy. Plus, it has the upside of the Keystone pipeline.

I expect that Obama will concede to the Keystone pipeline after the election. If Romney takes it, he will certainly pursue the pipeline. Obama likely could not agree to the pipeline pre-election because he was depending on environmental groups for campaign financing. By delaying the decision, he has ensured their support in the election, and to a large degree, the nation is not really upset that the pipeline was not acted upon, because most people are not really aware of the benefits.

Japan has been having problems obtaining funding from its parliament. It seems that after years of sitting on massive debt/GDP levels, they are finally starting realize that this may become a problem, after seeing how investors have been treating European nations with high amounts of sovereign debt. However, the effect of this realization has been detrimental. I am reminded about something that George Soros remarked in Alchemy of Finance – once regulators recognize the problem, they tend to take action that actually makes it worse, before taking any action to make it better. That seems to be the case here.
The situation is similar to what the U.S. experienced last fall, when Republicans in Congress threatened to block the raising of the debt ceiling. If the result is similar, then one would expect a lower yen against the dollar. The dollar dropped versus the yen 250 ticks during the debt ceiling debacle, but the largest drop happened in the wake of the Standard and Poor’s downgrade of U.S. debt, which triggered massive volatility in U.S. markets. The drop in the dollar probably occurred because of outflows from the equity markets and treasuries…
We might get a similar flight from Japan if the debate really reaches a fevered pitch, but I have not seen enough evidence to act yet.

The Norwegian Kroner has been bullish versus the Euro pretty consistently over the last 5 years.  The Kroner ought to do well in an environment of $100+ Brent, which it looks like we are entering – provided the oil worker strike in Norway ends soon. And my Norwegian seismic companies, PGS and TGS, may finally see some profit. They are seeing growth coming from West Africa… which leads me to wonder who is ordering these seismic studies…

Oooh, a juicy one here: Chariot Oil and Gas. It trades on the Grey Market here in the states, but it is a stock listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange. It has a large acreage position offshore West Africa, and it has done huge 3D seismic studies on its acreage. The sheer size of the play involved is mind-boggling – it may end up dwarfing the North Sea plays…
The plus on this acreage is that it is not a salt basin, like the huge offshore South American reserves.
Chariot looks pretty good, with a low estimate of prospective reserves sitting at 7,032 bbls, unrisked. With a market cap in the 300 millions, this looks like a solid bet.

Chariot has not gotten very far in exploring this find – it has only finished one exploratory well, which was a dud. It has 4 more exploratory wells planned, with one that is to be completed at the end of this month. If even one of them pans out, the stock could double, triple, or… ?

Update on Longs – Activision, RealD, IMAX, C&J Energy Services, Halliburton

The market seems to be valuing many of the consumer discretionary stocks lower as participants suddenly remember the Europe situation, and begin to recognize the excesses of the first quarter bull market.

I will keep buying up shares of Activision (ATVI) as it drops below $12. It has been hovering near $12 since Monday. The market is incorrectly valuing how much money will come from Diablo 3 and the second Black Ops later this year. I had not anticipated how successful Skylanders would be. All this extra upside now adds encouragement to my original long case, thus, I am adding to the position.

Real D (RLD) is trading too low again. As its theaters approach maximum capacity in the U.S., its capital expenditures will begin decreasing and free cash flow will begin to increase. Its rate of capital expenditure has already begun to slow. Reflexivity is becoming less of a concern here because the share issuance is very little at these prices. They have been slowly wittling away cash balances, but these should begin to rise towards the end of 2012, when more big blockbusters come out.
My free cash is very limited right now, so I would wait until this becomes a better bargain. If RealD hits $10 a share, I would buy.

Imax will probably trade higher later in the year and later into 2012. Management is continually reassessing their maximum target number of screens – it currently sits at 1550, which is much higher than most analyst estimates – so these reassessments will keep raising the hopes for the future.
The bias is still negative, as analysts use last year’s income – depressed from the bad (horrible) movie slate – to value the company. The assumption is that IMAX is overvalued. However, with record numbers from Avengers, and an unexpected success with Hunger Games, the company is just beginning its run for this year. Later in the year, the Dark Knight will do extremely well, and hopefully Gelfond will recognize this in time to give it a longer run time (3 weeks or more). He is getting better about extending the run-period for the blockbusters and downplaying the movies bound to be less successful. Prometheus remains a big question mark, so my view is skeptical. Men In Black will likely do better. The Hobbit will do extremely well.
In a typical year for Imax, more than 60% of the revenues come from the top 5 movies. However, in this year, I expect the majority of revenue to come from the year’s 3 super-block busters – The Avengers, The Dark Knight, and The Hobbit.
Next year, there is another strong movie slate, with Star Trek and Man of Steel to start it off.
So I am still long. I had sold off half of my postion at $24.50 a share. The current price is below, but not enough to get me salivating again. As I said earlier, my free cash to invest is pretty low right now. I may reconsider as IMAX drops below $21.

Still, my largest position is in CJES. The drop in oil was expected, and the drop in the commodity is depressing CJES even after its announcement of earnings. I partially regret not buying as shares dipped into $16 territory again recently, but my long position is so large that I am beginning to question my own approach to risk management.

HAL remains a relatively minor position in the portfolio. The Macondo issue may prove to be bigger than I had initially realized – BP is aggressively pursuing Halliburton to push of blame for the spill. I don’t think they will have good grounds to force HAL to take on cleanup costs, but they may have grounds to pursue a suit related to a bad cement job. I do think, however, it is probable that the amount of the claims will be insubstantial compared to gigantic income of the company in the wake of the shale boom. I still believe that Halliburton remains the best positioned to take advantage of international shales. Others may disagree and point to Schlumberger as the leader internationally, and they may well be correct. However, my thesis rests on the valuation difference between Schlumberger and Halliburton remains so vast that it makes up for the cost of BP’s claims and the first-mover advantage that Schlumberger has.

 

Disclosure: long ATVI, RLD, IMAX, CJES, HAL