Nov 27 2013 Positions & Quick Notes on Future ones

* Successfully shorted ZN last few days, lowered the position size for unusual time period.  Long March Wheat at 662.75, short Twitter at 41.  The wheat has a nice risk-reward and I’ve put in a stop under the lows.

* Really liked Stanley Druckenmiller’s interview on Bloomberg including comments on what great managers are for, and that Japan’s Nov-May seasonal rise is one of the most reliable in the world (including 40k to 7k overall decline, you’d still have made money.)  Suggestion of shorting IBM given cloud computing challenge and their use of capital is a compelling idea that deserves more investigation (the low p/e as is makes me wonder about risk-reward versus other short possibilities.)  Declining free cash flow argument works even better against NFLX for example.  The Amazon comments – that AWS could be half of revenue soon also merit further examination.

* Looking closely at NFLX, HLF, TSLA, P, LNKD on top of TWTR as shorts.

ZC on precipice and LULU

Back from Greece and looking to fire up the blog:  ahead on short ZC position from 760; about to break through 735 which has been the repeated low of the last month:

Prior to the summer run up Corn was in the 550s.  I have no idea if it can rapidly return there but feel this is a decently safe position to enter into an extension of the position.  I did the same on the LULU short, less for technical reasons than increasing fundamental conviction at 68:

I’m down on the effective ZNGA long position (by shorting Jan 13 & 14 puts at 3 & 2.5; the premiums got most of the move down and I also feel there isn’t much further move down there but perhaps could have waited a bit longer to enter the position: now trading underneath net asset value makes the risk minimal I think.

 

 

James Fallows’ China Airborne

China Airborne is a slight misnomer of a title — implying the usual indomitable success stories about China’s recent economic growth.  These are plentiful: gushing portrayals of new airports from Tom Friedman, warnings from Niall Ferguson or even Tom Siebel (part of this itunes lecture, admittedly given in darker US economic days of 2009.)

Fallows’ mixed work — it is repetitive at times and meanders too much around personal experiences in ways to my taste others such as Robert Kaplan do better — takes a different approach.  It wonders if Chinese economic progress may be capped by its controlled, state-centered approach.  Fallows is an avid pilot.  Is China capable of creating a high value industry such as the Airlines?  The question is treated at all levels: production of planes, placement of airports, training of pilots, control (now largely military) of Chinese airspace?

While he concludes that someone who answers authoritatively the question either knows much less or much more than him, the strong hints are he believes not.  The complexity of airplane development is one thread of the book, and sometimes comic state control from make work jobs to his own confrontations with police.

If you have four pages to read they are pages 92-96: “Apex Industries” and escaping the smiley curve.  The smiley curve represents a U shape of profit margins.  Brands and high value development are one, profitable edge of the “U” and high end retail and service are the other, where China is stuck at the bottom.   The compelling data is that trade deficits mask a lot of this phenomena – the entire iphone is represented as part of a Chinese trade deficit as a finished product but at best less than a tenth of the profit goes to China for example.

An Apex industry is drawn from biology’s “apex predator”: the lion on the savanna whose presence depends on layers of prey below them on the food chain.  If they’re there, the whole ecosystem is in good shape.  Aviation is obviously one of those apexes, biotech might be a natural other one.  Here the book tantalizingly ignores a more full investigation into the state of university systems (rampant cheating and poor if voluminous paper production in China has them nearly outside the global academic community.)  It also discusses the state firewall and gives anecdotes of the war against Google.  Had these been more fully explored the book might have made a greater impact than it did in publication this year.

The verdict on Boeing (BA $69) is unclear — though he provides a lens on the history of aviation one doesn’t find elsewhere, including early Chinese aviation pioneers in the Sun Yat-Sen era.  Several analysts discuss the enormous mistake Boeing has made in the outsourcing of much of the value chain — but this also hints at strong value to be found in General Electric (GE $23) engines; GE spends $2 billion annually on engine R&D he claims compared to $300 million in all of China.

Berkshire Hathaway Media Holdings 1977

Berkshire Hathaway has issued shareholder letters every year since 1977.  I was reminded by this of Joe Kraus’ investing tips which included the recommendation from David Siminoff to read all of Warren Buffett’s letters.   In 1977 the holdings (which you could have gotten for $131, preparing for your 1,000x return over the next 25 years) were surprisingly for me concentrated in media companies both on the content side (Capital Cities, Knight Ridder, Washington Post) as well as the agency side (Ogilvy & Mather, Interpublic Group); 5 out of effectively 7 investments that were publicly held.  Privately BRK owned the Buffalo Evening News as well.  Knight Ridder appears to be flipped the following year, and Capital Cities exchanged for ABC (well before the 90s takeover, I’m not sure what happened there).  Still as a window into the 20th century’s greatest investing mind it’s nice to see a strong window of support into media.

No. of Shares Company Cost Market ------------- ------- -------- -------- (000’s omitted)
    220,000    Capital Cities Communications, Inc. ..... $ 10,909   $ 13,228  
  1,986,953    Government Employees Insurance 
                  Company Convertible Preferred ........   19,417     33,033  
  1,294,308    Government Employees Insurance 
                  Company Common Stock .................    4,116     10,516
    592,650    The Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc.     4,531     17,187  
    324,580    Kaiser Aluminum& Chemical Corporation ...   11,218      9,981
  1,305,800    Kaiser Industries, Inc. .................      778      6,039
    226,900    Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Inc. ..........    7,534      8,736
    170,800    Ogilvy & Mather International, Inc. .....    2,762      6,960
    934,300    The Washington Post Company Class B .....   10,628     33,401
                                                         --------   --------
               Total ................................... $ 71,893   $139,081
               All Other Holdings ......................   34,996     41,992
                                                         --------   --------
               Total Equities .......................... $106,889   $181,073

Intuit’s PR Push

Barrons and Forbes both did big profiles on Intuit (INTU 58) this weekend.  When this happens it’s not likely by accident and you can thank a good PR company.  Rising stock prices affect the likelihood of feature articles.  Reporters want to explain to their readers what is going on, and whether to get on the bandwagon.  Sometimes they do themselves. Continue reading

East Bay Real Estate Thoughts

Besides our primary residence, we still own our old house in Pleasant Hill’s “Poet’s Corner” whose streets are named after poets like Byron and Shelley and other names most people who live there will vaguely remember from tenth grade English.  This is presumably more respectable or better marketing than the names of the daughters of the real estate developers or some trees and flowers and other conventions, and is among the better neighborhoods of this suburban community.  Most of Pleasant Hill was like the rest of the East Bay, developed after World War 2.  Our neighborhood was built in 1947 on what appears to have been a former Mushroom farm, whose spores still disproportionately take hold in the spring.  There are touches of character such as Molino’s Ravioli but dining like “Nibblers” Catalan menu sadly failed in competition with Roundtable Pizza or BBQ.   This is family-raising territory, good California living subject to all the pros and cons that means.

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Tale of Three Once and Future Dividend Providers, April 1996 to present

Investor return can come from appreciation, or dividends.  Microsoft (MSFT 31) announced this week the quarterly dividend will be raised to .23/quarter, going ex-dividend November 13.  It yields 3%.

I thought this would be interesting to compare to GE as classic growth stock, and Altria as a “high dividend payer” from the same approximate time.

If you’re even vaguely familiar with the market you’ll know MO & its descendants are going to come out ahead on total dividends, but what about total appreciation as well?

MSFT:

Microsoft paid a $3 special dividend in 2004, and has paid a dividend since 2003, starting at a humble .08 for the year.   In the fiscal 4th quarter of 2004, the dividend went quarterly at .08.   The dividend is unlikely to triple in the next eight years — for one thing the payout ratio has gone up.

It will have paid a total of $7.02 in dividends.  For those long term holders, this means if you bought in April 1996 congratulations you’ve just (before taxes) recouped your investment — of then a maturing company ten years after its IPO.   (This was a full two years after I made the worst investing decision of my life, selling the little America Online because Microsoft was coming to get it.)

Chart forMicrosoft Corporation (MSFT)

The classically safe large cap growth stock, GE, traded at 14.4 in April 1996 (now a humble 22, but probably a touch undervalued.)

GE has had their ups and downs of dividends, cutting it notably to .10/quarter in the financial crisis.  From the summer of 1996 you would have had $11.57 of dividends from GE (Genworth shares appear not to have been spun out to GE shareholders, but had some dividends they did.)

Chart forGeneral Electric Company (GE)

MO:

Phillip Morris a.k.a. Altria is the classic dividend stand out.  You would have made your $34.6 investment back in Altria dividends alone, $35.06 since the summer of 1996, but there is also Kraft and Phillip Morris International which were spun out in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Each MO share got .692 of a share of KFT which has generated $6.51 of dividends, for $4.51/share.

Each MO share got 1 Phillip Morris International PMI share, which has delivered $11.35 of dividends.

$50.92 in total dividends of MO and its two major spin offs in the same time.

Chart forAltria Group Inc. (MO)

Chart  for Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT)

Chart forPhilip Morris International, Inc. (PM)

For total return calculation purposes you’re still ahead with Microsoft, but barely.

You’d have approximately $150 per share from that $34 investment, 440% price appreciation that is nearly identical to Microsoft’s, with higher dividend return!

I did hold MO, PM and KFT in a retirement account — to avoid the dividend taxation for a number of years, and reluctantly (and foolishly) sold to go into TBT instead.  Is the next MO…MO and its heirs?  Buy and hold is tough for me to stomach but when the right stock is found the results are spectacular.  MO was the classic poster boy for Jeremy Siegel’s The Future for Investors and it has held since the books’ publication.

Yield-hungry investors have piled into stocks like MO and PM and I think I will wait for a drop to get back in.

 

Interactive Brokers’ Mobile App Lightens Up

Interactive Brokers for the professional investor is hands down the best brokerage option, but the emphasis on account security, through requiring custom alphanumeric security codes for every login is a little tedious.  These numbers match a physical card, custom made for you.

You can waive this but then they profess no liability for hacked accounts in the event you do.  A software update in the last few days allows the mobile app to have “read only” access to your real time quotes now.  This psychologically might have the effect of me trading more given the ease of checking now.  It removes the last obstacle to making this a seamless mobile trading experience.   Nice job IB.

Lessons for Big Retail from The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America

Marc Levinson has a good history of one what probably should be characterized as the first dominant grocery retailer in America, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea company, or as ever more frequently known, the great A&P.   Histories of retail often benefit from the abundant number of records kept and A&P is no exception save for a mysterious void of corporate records from the 1920s.  This is an unfortunate loss whose vacuum is filled more by minuate of political response to A&P, most notably in the person of Congressman Wright Patton.  The more juicy loan  made by John Hartford under apparent pressure to Elliot Roosevelt is comparatively unexplored!

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LULU to become a Downward Facing Dog?

I am looking into where a short short entry point is on Lululemon Athletica (LULU, $77).  There is motivation aplenty.  Competition from Gap’s Athleta?  Patents on pants?  Rising inventory?  Color Bleeding?  Who is John Galt?  Landmark Forum participation (see the correction obviously added after some legal notice)? One can over-react to errata but I’ll hone in on other details the website has spacing errors after periods:

 The training program was such a success that the lululemon people have created a life for themselves that most people could only dream of.lululemon is a company where dreams come to fruition.

Notifications about particular stores include information that the Walnut Creek, California store will in fact be open on July 4th.  Congratulations.  For a company whose prime value is brand identity these scratches on the fender do reduce the value of the car.

Chart forLululemon Athletica Inc. (LULU)

A small position probably could be had now with a stop over the spring highs…will look more closely in following days.  I feel bad to have missed the (first big?) decline in Deckers DECK 45, whose story has some eerie parallels with LULU

Chart forDeckers Outdoor Corp. (DECK)

LULU is a sloppy company, poorly managed, riding a fashion craze and about to hit severe price competition.  SHORT!  Namaste.

POSITION UPDATE: Soybeans vindicated today, only commodities position now.  Bought some ZNGA outright as it heads into a ferocious short squeeze.  Out of ANF.

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