Barron’s observations October 17 2015

Excluding the news summaries, there have been three table-pounding endorsements of JPMorgan (JPM) in the last few days; first two were in the print edition, the third online.

1: Fund manager Chris Davis’ review of financial stocks recommends JPM, with the quote: “Jamie Dimon may be the greatest financial executive of my time.”

2: The Follow-Up column revisits an earlier recommendation of JPMorgan:

JPMorgan looks as good as it did six months ago at the time of our cover story. Under CEO Jamie Dimon, the bank has invested in key businesses and is a leader in investment banking, credit cards, and asset management. It is also looking to trim expenses.

At the current price, investors get a best-of-breed bank, with a management team that arguably is the industry’s best,”

3: “A Mega-bank selling at a discount price” on October 15 online.

JPM is at 62 now, yielding 2.8%. Great.

jpm 10 years

This performance almost identically tracks Wells Fargo, which is the other “well managed” money center bank. Heck there are really only four now, and let’s accept as a given that Citi and Bank of America were less well managed.

JPM v. WFC

But I can never get excited about these things. The Jaime Dimon-is-a-superb-manager seems to be one of the very non falsifiable managerial propositions. Maybe it’s not falsifiable because it is true. But a _great_ manager would have steered clear of the financial crisis. A better-than-others just avoids bankruptcy better than others. I’m not excited about this and feel when JPM is so regularly getting the drum beaten at Barron’s (which also had an article enamored of regional banks) my gut says pass.

 

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Coverage of the Dell buyout of EMC was a bit lazy spread out through the magazine – recommending that one could make 19% on an arbitrage over the deal. Not if VMWare ($69) continues to dive, a possibility only lightly explored in that article but was visited elsewhere.

There was a decent piece on the tower operators for cell phone companies, focusing on AMT ($96), CCI ($81), SBAC ($110): perhaps beneficiaries instead of victims of Google Fi/Fiber rollout (not mentioned in the article) as well as the national emergency system. Central contention from Alexander Eule is AT&T can’t let quality degrade more so fears overblow.

 

Musings on Autodesk…

I got an investor deck for a startup that was going to “disrupt” Autodesk. Pfft is my first thought. They have an enormous operational moat I replied and…then thought in the back of my head, why not look at Autodesk (NASDAQ: ADSK) itself. But it slipped my mind. Who thinks of Autodesk these days?

Then Alexander Eule of Barron’s wrote September 26th about Autodesk, which may as well be known as AutoCAD, after their dominant engineering design suite. They are undergoing a pricing change, shifting from boxed-perpetual to cloud-licensed product. Adobe is in the midst of completing their own pricing transition, to much applause from the street. The primary source for the article is Rob Nicoski of Disciplined Growth Investors who sees, if the transition is well executed, “a company with earnings power of more than $4 a share in five years.”

Aside from a pricing transition it’s pretty easy to conceptualize a large growth driver in the coming years: widespread – maybe even consumer adoption of? – 3D printing.

Autodesk over the years

Autodesk over the years

Does the Adobe chart presage anything for Autodesk investors?

ADBE max chart oct 2015

Beyond the fashion of cloud applications – though that’s a relevant consideration for investors looking to have multiples expand, the cloud subscriptions can also significantly reduce the piracy rate that afflicts so much high value software. In Autodesk’s case, that’s estimated at 43% (in this investor report, slide 20)

Autodesk like most tech companies has the problem of explaining GAAP to non-GAAP (meaning, huge employee option grants off the books) expenses but assuming market reception to his remains neutral, the product & cash roadmap is intriguing. From the investor presentation at 2015’s investor day in September:

ADSK key takeaways from Sep 2015 shareholder meeting

adsk recurring rev and projections

These numbers bear a great deal of similarity to the analyst estimates’ provided for stories in Barron’s so the likelihood of them should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, engineering and design software is awfully sticky, and deeply embedded into business processes that it would be harder for a start up to disrupt.

Autodesk has under-performed, severely, similar design-oriented software firms like Adobe & Ansys: almost no return in the last ten years versus a 300%+ and 150%+ return.

Autodesk, Adobe, Ansys comparison 10 year

Adobe’s break to new highs in December 2012 at around 36 presaged an enormous run to the low 80s today – though perhaps a bit ahead of itself now, with an unfavorably received earnings report tonight.

After a decade of lackluster performance there’s a lot of execution to prove. Waiting for a new high in ADSK might leave a lot on the table but that’s preferable to dead money for another ten years. With a market generally threatening a downtrend, there is no particular need to jump in now either. This is a classic case of wanting to follow quarterly reports to see when there is a good market response to successful strategy implementation. One is tempted to nibble at it now.

That said, if the product pricing strategy works, and the engineering software market widens or deepens, long dated call options are an interesting play. Open interest is high in the ADSK Jan 2017 60 and 65 calls, with a last ask of $2.11 & $1.39 respectively. Jan 2018 calls are more thinly traded, with a 70 strike at $2.60 ask, $2.20 last. Maybe not bad for the pivot potential in a stock that was at 63 not so long ago this year until cash flow fears materialized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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