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.

Overview, part 1

My funds are up significantly to-date, but so is the market.

The market feels overheated, so I am cautious, and looking to reduce my exposure where I can. Any securities that I had been holding as value investments may be approaching correct valuation, so I am going to have to re-evaluate.

Core Labs (CLB) is a position that has been great for my portfolio. Up until now, there has been a two-fold case for the investment – the undervaluing of its shares, and its position as THE dominant player in reservoir analysis and management. In addition, its perforating products had been selling like hotcakes to many of the shale E&P companies. However, there is evidence that growth in the latter is slowing, and recent reports of drilling rigs being pulled from dry gas areas may negatively impact these products performance. Core’s management has even stated that they did not expect the past levels of growth in these products to be sustainable.

Core is also approaching a good valuation for the shares. I would place a good target price at $140/share. However, the whole oilfield sector is due for major appreciation, as geopolitical risks show no signs of cooling down, and oil prices continue to rise, and a rising tide tends to lift all ships. Core will likely appreciate along with the likes of Halliburton and C&J.

Can I still justify my investment in CLB, with HAL and CJES sitting at such ridiculously low valuations? Especially with C&J, the latest quarterly report has just confirmed the trend of earnings growth, and indicates a speeding up of growth, as three new fleets will be deployed in 2012. This is a 50% growth in its fracking business, which itself brings in over 80% of its revenues. C&J is also set to grow its coiled tubing business this year.

Further, C&J is a 100% liquids play now. They have moved their last fleet out of dry gas regions, and enter 2012 with all of their fleets in liquids rich regions. The only problem that seems to be occurring with the trend is a delay further upstream – there have been well delays because of constriction of supply in drilling rigs. When demand is outstripping supply, is that not a good thing?

With over 25% of my portfolio in this single stock, I am reluctant to commit to it further. Especially because its shares have appreciated so much since my initial buy-in – I feel I missed out, and now must wait.

This is probably foolish, but I should not ignore the effect of this emotion – does it have merit? If not, I can safely disregard it, hold my nose, and continue to load up.

But it is true – CJES does not represent the same value proposition that it once did. Buying it at $22 a share is much different than buying it at $17.

But how can I value this company properly? Because it is also a reflexive process – CJES is fueling its growth through share issuance – does my traditional value measurement even apply?

It has a 13.66% earnings yield, and a P/E of 7.32. From a return on my equity, it gives 64%, similar to its ROA of 42%, since it carries no debt. A price to free-cash-flow 4.83, almost all of which is used for the new fleets.

To value it from a PEG ratio, I expect anywhere from a 50%-100% earnings growth this year, which would translate to a PEG .14 to .07.

But can a GARP approach make sense here? There is a reflexive influence. It inflated the market cap by about 10% last year – this year we might expect something similar. If that were to occur, at today’s prices, CJES would still have a P/E of 8.05, still leaving significant margin for safety.

And the reflexive relationship may decrease over time – as CJES’s operating cash flow increases, it can increase the proportion of capital expenditures financed by operating cash flow and decrease the amount funded by share issuance.

Well, at least three questions remain –

1. At what price would I stop being a buyer?

2. At what price would I be a seller?

3. How much of my portfolio am I comfortable with allocating to this one stock?

1. I don’t have an exact answer, but I believe that a P/E of 10, it would cease to be such a screaming value. The stock does carry some risk – perhaps regulations, but more likely the ceasing of the trend, caused by decreasing oil prices (a resolution to the Iran crisis, Saudi Arabia flooding the market, or extensive oil finds outside of CJES’s core areas). The resolution of the Keystone pipeline could provide another risk to this stock, by flooding the United States with new, potentially cheaper, oil.
A P/E of 10 would give a top buying price of $30, which is still 36% higher than today’s price. Wow.

But that is my top purchase price. I get a feeling that buying at any price higher than $25 would not be prudent. If I want to allocate any more of my portfolio to this position, it should be at prices below this. If it so happens that I get a flood of capital after the stock has appreciated, I will have to evaluate the current market at that time – maybe there will be an abundance of great values by that point (i.e. maybe a crash will occur before then).

2. To gauge this, I would normally use the valuation of a current oil service major. But with much of the sector depressed, current valuations of BHI and HAL seem too low to correctly gauge. And SLB and CLB, with P/E’s of 22.6 and 32.9, respectively, are given high valuations because of competitive advantages that I don’t believe are present in CJES.
The growth rate will slow as the company’s installed base increases, at the same time that every other oil service major is increasing their installed base.

3. I would be comfortable below a max allocation of 50%. Anything more would be too much in one basket.

So that is an analysis of two of my holdings. Since CJES is below my stop-buying price, and provides significant upside from here, I am going to stick with it, and move over some funds from the hot CLB.

But what about the rest of my holdings? I want to make my allocation to CJES much closer to 50% than it is currently. I will have to do a follow up post on some other stocks that look less compelling that I am holding.