Thoughts on the market and portfolio construction

The last month I have not written much here on the blog. However the inactivity does not mirror what I have been up to. I spent a lot of time lately, screening for stock picking ideas, reading, listening to inspiring podcast and most of all thinking and contemplating.

My screening which will be covered in a separate post has made me realize that I need to significantly improve the way I look for new potential investments. The power of screening increases significantly when you have the luxury (like I do) of looking for stocks all over the world in all market cap sizes. The reading I have done lately has in part been inspired by trying to understand more what metrics I’m looking for in companies that I want to invest in over the long term. Hopefully the steps which I’m about to take over the coming months will be crucial to take my portfolio and investment process to the next level. Slowly but surely the aim is to move towards a more structured and professional investment approach.

My thinking and contemplation has mainly been around two things: 1. What markets are up to currently, if and how I need to adjust my approach. 2. How my portfolio construction should be structured to maximize my changes of success. That’s what I thought I write about today.

Markets and the Trade War

Let’s start with the current market environment. Anyone not living under a rock for the last six months has been flooded in the news about Trump, China and the Trade War. But return wise for most global stock portfolio this has so far had minor impact. US stock markets are at all time highs, Europe is doing pretty well (except Turkey). So far only one major stock market has really fallen significantly and that is China/Hong Kong. Although I made a point of reducing my exposure towards China already back in May 2017 (Rotate away from China). I still keep a large overweight compared to MSCI World in Chinese related stocks. Either that they are listed in Hong Kong, or that they actually are materially exposed to the Chinese economy. Below is the total return of both benchmarks since I made my post about rotating away from China.

WorldvsHangSEng201808

The trade war puts a stock picker in a bit of a conundrum. Most Macro events should be ignored by a stock picker, but the Trade War actually becomes a company specific event as well. In my view it can not and should not be ignored. The effects of the tariffs are so big that a producer in China could be totally out-competed by a producer in another country, as soon as the tariffs comes into place. One could say that the Trade War is bigger than just China and USA, that’s probably true and Trump might for example still have a beef with the Japanese car producers and the imbalances created there in trade. But for now I have just focused on US/China conflict and how that has affected my portfolio.

I have not looked at the stock market in this light before, but I tend to group companies like this since the Trade War started. Especially for stocks listed in Hong Kong.

  1. Companies which mainly sell products and/or services to Chinese consumers. Here the main risks are more subtle, how will the Chinese economy fare if the Trade War intensifies? For the first time ever since I started visiting Mainland China, the people I talk to are afraid of the Trade War effects on the Chinese economy. I just have to point out how rare this is. I discussed everything from ghost cities, rampant borrowing, spiraling property market etc, nothing has really moved the belief among the Chinese I talked to, the only way was up. This is the first time I hear the Chinese people themselves admitting that this could end badly. One should not underestimate the effects such a psychological shift has on an economy which has been a one way street for so long. This makes me worried about my large China exposure.
  2. Companies producing products in China and mainly selling products to the USA/World, but products currently not on the list of tariff goods. Here the risk is more obvious and probably the area where one should be most careful. The stock market has probably not fully discounted that the companies products will fall under future tariffs. An excellent investment thesis could be destroyed by the stroke of a pen from Mr Trump.
  3. Companies producing products in China and mainly selling products to the USA/World, products already on the list of US tariff goods. These companies have probably already seen most of its initial stock price fall already. There might be opportunities here if the company somehow can navigate through this mess, perhaps relocating production or other measures.
  4. The rest – Companies with little or no direct exposure to the Trade War. Here we should more be looking at indirect effects. A lot of companies producing products in other countries are reliant on parts from China, which might be under new tariffs. This could quickly alter margins and shift advantages to producers in other countries which has non-Chinese suppliers of their parts. The problem here is it requires very very deep due diligence to understand these dynamics, if the management is not upfront about it.

Looking at my holdings grouped into the above categories:

  1. NetEase, Fu Shou Yuan, Essity (mainly its holding in Vinda), Dairy Farm (mainly its holding in Yonghui Superstores), Nagacorp (Chinese going to Cambodia to gamble), Coslight
  2. Dream International (although majority of production is now in Vietnam).
  3. I don’t hold any company with significant portion of their goods under current US/China tariffs.
  4. Since I have very few US based holdings I don’t see any major effects here for my portfolio.

So the conclusion for my current portfolio is that I have to be mindful of the general economic strength of the Chinese consumer. If they stop spending, my portfolio would be hurt significantly with so much direct exposure to Chinese consumers. So should I reduce my exposure? If this really pulls down China into a recession and all the unraveling of leverage that would mean, then yes, I really should reduce my exposure. My this is threading dangerous grounds, because now we are not talking about company specific effects anymore, this is Macro. As we concluded many times before as a stock picker we should be wary to try to time too much macro. The truth is I haven’t really made up my mind yet. Let’s look at the other side of the coin too, opportunities.

Opportunities?

Such serious fall in one stock market also gives rise to opportunities. The same reasons why I had such an overweight towards China when I started the blog was partly due to the relatively low valuations compared to other markets. When the Hang Seng now is falling when other markets are rising, this puts me in a tough spot again. Hong Kong stocks looks cheap, but I already have a significant exposure, if I find something very interesting, do I dare to add more China exposure? I think my conclusion so far is, very selectively and with a larger margin of safety than before. I have one investment idea (again in a fairly illiquid company unfortunately), if it falls a bit further, it might enter the portfolio during the autumn. Please give your comments on what do you think of my portfolio taking larger tilts towards China in such sensitive times?

My new portfolio construction

I written quite a lot about the importance for me to find investments that I’m comfortable holding long term. I think this will always be main foundation of my portfolio, lower turnover and a long-term approach to investing. Although a few of my holdings to do not fully meet all my investment criteria (which I by the way will define more clearly later), in general I hold a portfolio now which I’m more comfortable with holding for the long term. I realized now, that reaching this is actually a very nice feeling in many ways. Mostly because I can relax more in terms of following up on my holdings. Instead spend that time on rather finding new good investments and taking my time to do so. Before there was always a stress to find something new to invest in, since many of my investments were short term and I knew I needed to replace them with new ideas rather quickly. This brings me to my next point.

I actually miss not being able to invest in what I would call a swing trade. A large part of my investing “career” I dedicated to following the markets very closely. I’m a contrarian investor at heart and I almost love catching knives (until I cut myself badly on them and need to lick the wounds for a while). Many of my investments in the past were at infliction points in stocks and actually I think I’m rather good at it! So this focus on long-term has taken away some of my possibilities for short term swings when I see an opportunity. Supposedly I could just do these trades outside of the GSP portfolio, but that’s not really what this blog is about. This is my journey to become a better investor and if I think I’m good at something, it should be evaluated properly under the scrutiny of the blog.

Another type of investment which I since the beginning have left outside of the blog is smaller positions in (usually loss making) companies with a return profile somewhat more like a out of the money call option. There is tremendous upside if things go right, but in most cases it turns into a dud and depending on sentiment money will be lost. This is also something I have been decently successful in outside the GSP portfolio. Again the exact same reasoning, if these strategies should be evaluated properly I should include it into the GSP. So with no further ado, I present to you my new future portfolio construction:

The new Global Stock Picking Portfolio

80% Long Term Holding – My current portfolio of long term holdings, target holding period 5+ years, maximum 15 holdings, range of allocation allowed 65%-90%.

10% Opportunistic Holdings – Holding period maximum 2 years, maximum 2 holdings at any one time, range of allocation allowed 0%-20%.

10% Speculative Holdings – Holding period could be short or very long term. Minimum position size (at acquisition) 2%, Maximum position size (at acquisition) 3%, range of allocation allowed 0%-20%.

0% Cash – Maximum Cash position 15% – I reduce my max cash position from previously 25%.

The idea of the speculative trades is to be able to sustain larger losses on several speculative positions, but hopefully that one or more will make up for it, by its high returns. The speculative positions could be everything from a micro cap with a potential success product, or even a larger company, where earnings are yet to be proven (think Biotech etc). More on this later.

During the rest of the year I will restructure my portfolio and introduce especially new holdings in terms of the speculative positions. In due time I will evaluate the performance of the different “buckets”, but main focus will still be on total performance of the whole portfolio.

All comments on my changes are appreciated, since I feel they are not 100% set in stone yet.

 

 

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Portfolio holdings – half year review

Year to date the portfolio is up +3.5%, compared to MSCI World at +0.8%, both including dividends (so called total return). My portfolio has in the past generated it returns with significantly higher volatility than MSCI World. You can almost see it in the graph below how stable the upward trend was in MSCI World. Interestingly enough now this year, when markets have turned more volatile, my portfolio volatility is slightly lower than MSCI World, at 15.2% vs 15.8%. Downside volatility is what counts and I think this is one proof that I managed well to create a defensive portfolio, which has been one of my aims, many other aims were discussed in my previous post earlier today.

Total return of GSP portfolio vs Benchmark

Graph_20180629

Total return of holdings since investment

Holdings_20180629

Notable winners/losers during 2018

Some comments on the largest gainers and detractors during this year.

+ Swedish Match

The Swedish tobacco company has performed very strongly compared to its sector colleagues. Then again Swedish Match is a very different company selling smokeless tobacco products. For the interested reader this is a good primer on snus: New York Times on Snus. Except good results, one reasons for the strong share price performance is spelled ZYN. Which is a tobacco free nicotine pouch, which recently has become a big hit in the US. Swedish Match has recognized this and is spending 60 MUSD+ in increasing capacity over the coming to years of ZYN. Valuation short term is a bit stretched, if I had a larger position from the beginning, now would be the time to scale down the position somewhat, unfortunately I started of with a very small position. I’m willing to continue to hold 5% of my portfolio in this excellent company.

+ Fu Shou Yuan

One of my two funeral company investments, they truly went in opposite directions. In a very poor market environment this stock has been on a tear since I invested. The price momentum strength in this stock is almost a bit scary considering how weak the Chinese markets been lately. At these multiples/levels I have to say I’m close to scaling off a bit of this position. That will depend on if I find somewhere better to allocate my money. Here I also want to mention my fellow blogger who wrote an excellent analysis on the company: C for Compounding on Fu Shou Yuan.

+ Dream International

Another new investment that also just kept on its upward momentum. Since I did my analysis on the company I have understood a bit better what kind of plastic toys is driving this fast growth. The understanding came from a deeper analysis of newly US listed Funko. Basically a lot of the Funko’s toys called Pop! are collectible items. Just search for it on Youtube and you will find a lot of people like this guy: Funko Pop collector. The funniest one I found was a contract written up between husband and wife: Funko Pop contract – Limiting spending. This makes the picture a bit more clear how Funko in just a few years has become such a big player in the plastic toys industry. I see this as one of my strongest investment cases, therefor it also carries a large weight in the portfolio.

– Dignity

My second funeral stock has not done nearly as well the first one. I decided to double up in this stock after the fall of 50% in one day. That seemed like a very good move for some time. Actually I was close to making up the whole loss about a month ago, then the stock was hit again. This time it was due to UK’s CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) who launched a review of the countries funeral sector, to make sure “people are not getting a bad deal”. It seems after this most investors have given up hope on the stock. I haven’t really given up yet, since the reason for the rebound after me doubling up was that actual results came out much better than anticipated. We are still looking at a totally non-cyclical company, with a estimated P/E of about 11-12 and a dividend yield of 2.4%. As mention in previous posts, the worry is the debt load in case profit margins fall significantly further. I’m stubbornly keeping this one.

– LG Chem

After being one the portfolios true outperforms and a holding I had for a long time, LG Chem has given back much of that out-performance over the last few months. The stock is fairly volatile and living its own life, but the downturn is likely due to the oil price. This volatility from the Chemicals division is something I will have to live with, since I didn’t invest in more pure play like Samsung SDI. The reason why I’m owning the company is not due to the Chemicals division, but because the company is truly in the forefront of EV battery production. Now we are 1-2 years out for the start of really widespread EV sales from all the big car companies. My plan is to ride this whole wave and hopefully hold this company for another 10 years.

– Coslight

Similarly my idea with Coslight was that it could become a Chinese large player in the EV battery space. I’m less sure now than I was 3 years ago that actually will be the case. Not because Coslight is not going to try, but because the company does not really have the financial muscles to build up huge modern EV production plants. Like for example the newly listed CATL can do, or BYD for that matter. Coslight has proven itself as one of the largest producers of laptop batteries, so they have the know-how to make batteries cost efficiently, but I’m starting to feel less sure if that is enough. They sold of a portion of one of their factories to reduce debt and free up capital to invest further into EVs. Overall it was a good move for us that wanted the company to move towards EV battery production, but the market has not really received this news well. A tricky holding I followed for a long time, before I had a lot of conviction. I think the reasons why I’m not giving up on this company, is that they have truly hidden value within the firm. Strangely enough (due to the majority holders son) the other leg of the company is video/mobile games producer. The best case would be if they decided to list the games entity separately. The games developer might be valued at perhaps a third of whole Coslight’s value, given the multiples on games developers these days.

Summary

As you can see from my discussions above, some holdings I’m happy with, others more worrying. Given this, I still need to keep up the hunt for at least 2-3 new investments. I will also consider if I should increase the weights in some of my current holdings, to not keep cash levels too high. In general that has been a problem in the past and really big performance detractor, since I calculate 0% return on cash.

CashLevel_20180629

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Reflections and how to improve

Its been a few slow weeks for me with vacation, which is usually when I find time for reflections and lessons learned. My thoughts below are a continuation of this post 6 months ago: Portfolio changes larger reshuffle Part 1. I started out this blog and investment portfolio in March 2016. My portfolio at the time had a heavy tilt towards Hong Kong listed companies and holdings with exposure towards China. The big theme I had been researching for the past year, before starting the blog, was Electric Vehicles and this theme had a large presence in the portfolio as well. That was my starting point almost 2.5 years ago, since then I realized a lot of things on how I should build my portfolio and only three of the starting holdings are still around.

A picture says more than thousand words, so I will try a new format here showing the buy and sell timings of some of my holdings. The performance for all stocks is restated into USD, since my portfolio is in USD. As a reference the GlobalStockPicking portfolio performance is also shown, rebased to start at the same value as the stock price. The data series looks slightly choppy since the GSP portfolio returns are only calculated on weekly basis.

Step 1 – Rotate away from China

My main focus for quite a while has been to find new investment cases and at the same time becoming a better stock picker. The stock picking was needed, to find new type of investments when I decided to start reshaping my portfolio. As important is the portfolio management, side, what should I be looking for, and what kind of companies do I want to have in my portfolio? The starting point of that reshaping was to say, what I did not want to have too much of. In step 1 by decrease my portfolio country tilt, away from China (Rotate away from China). This was done in somewhat of a haste, since my bearish market view meant that I thought a stock market downturn was imminent. My views were based on that I thought the Chinese economy was (and still is) severely overheated, with all the stupid investments that goes along with such a overheating. In this haste to transform my portfolio, I tried to replace the Chinese holdings with less cyclical and defensive companies (like Huhtamäki and ISS). I have to confess here, these investments were made without going the full mile in due diligence. Of course I had done some sort of due diligence, but not really drilling into detailed valuations. More recently I understood that I bought some of these holdings at fairly stretched valuations. I just sold my Huhtamäki holding and I would say the next holding I’m closest to selling right now is ISS. Other non-cyclical defensive investments, like Swedish Match, has performed extremely well in the last year.

Lessons learned from this: Don’t overthink Macro, it still OK for me to make a Macro bet that something big is going to happen in the future. But starting to rush into new investments due to a Macro call of rotating away from China, is not OK anymore. It is very rare that there is such a rush to act, take the time to fully analyze what I’m buying before jumping in. I also have a tendency of finding some new investment and get very excited. It gets even worse when the stock is trending upwards and it feels like I’m missing out, classic FOMO. Investing in this way is not acceptable for me anymore, I have to do a proper deeper due diligence before anything goes into the portfolio. Although I have not formulated that here on the blog yet, this is something that has become a hard requirement in the last six months.

Huhta_20180629

SwedishMatch_20180629

China rotation – missed opportunities

My bearish China view obviously did not materialize at the time, rather Chinense stock markets continued to outperform for quite a while. Most of the holdings I sold, outperformed massively and only one, CRRC performed fairly poor. More recently though, Chinese stocks have turned bearish, with Trump trade wars having the most sever implications for China.

BYD_20180629 CRRC_20180629 PingAn_20180629 ShanghaiFosun_20180629 YY_20180629

Another lesson learned here is to scale out of winning holdings, rather than cutting the whole position. Sure the stock could be more closely to fully valued, but momentum should not be neglected. Both in terms of stock price momentum, but usually the stock price increase is on the back of better fundamentals, where there is usually also some momentum, bringing the valuation downwards all else equal if you just hold on for a while. The way I sold out of YY (Further China reduce Sell YY), on a China Gov clampdown scare, rather than valuation, and how the stock afterwards continued to soar, that is hurtful to look back at.

Part 2 – Easier companies to understand with a longer term view

I stated a quite long term ago, a desire to have less portfolio turnover and take a longer term view on my holdings. The next step of the portfolio transformation was something I realized I had to do, to come closer to such a investment style. That was to remove holdings that is hard for me to fully understand. Meaning companies that I spent quite a lot of time understanding, but the nature of the business just makes it very difficult to fully penetrate. I had a discussion with value and opportunity blogger on this. His comment was that its no point in fooling oneself that you will ever fully understand any business. I agree with him, but the point for me is to understand the company to such a level, that even if a lot of factors around the company changes, I at least have a reasonable chance to grasp what does the changes mean. Hopefully I will also be able to understand if a stock price fall is warranted, or if its just market sentiment shifting. My experience is that when a stock just keeps rising, it doesn’t really matter how well you know the company, it feels great owning it anyway. The stock price increase just confirms how right you were buying it. Its when an investment falls significantly that your investment thesis is really tested, then at least I need that confidence that you understand the company well. I felt there were some holdings I would never reach that understanding of, at least not without a very serious continuous research effort. Companies that had to leave for these reasons were Criteo and Catena Media, one being one of my larger laggers and the other one of the largest gains.

Catena_20180629 Criteo_20180629

Part 3 – Long term yes, but to what cost?

The main reason why I want to be long term in my investments, is that I firmly and strongly believe that one of the last untapped pockets of easily available alpha out there, is to have a longer term investment horizon than the market in general. Given that we want to be long term investors, how do we merge that with an analysis of the current valuation of the company? Should I buy great companies that currently looks very expensive, because they will do great long term? I think there is more alpha in finding great companies, that also currently have some margin to safety. That means you both are looking at good returns just from the business growing, but also a one off multiple expansion, as the market also realizes that this is a great company. In the very very long term, that multiple expansion probably does not matter as much for total return, but when I say I’m long term, I do not mean 30 years, I mean that I have an investment horizon of 5-7 years. Finding such companies is the ideal case, usually it’s only possible to find these among small caps, which then usually comes with other problems. So it doesn’t mean I never buy companies that are trading at high multiples, it all comes down to what opportunities are available in the market as well. Inditex, Diageo and NetEase are all examples where I paid up an fairly high multiple, clearly there is little multiple expansion to hope for, rather I just think they are great businesses which will continue to do very well, again, long-term.

Part 4 – Stock picking efficiently

Stock picking/research is what I enjoy the most, but it is also a time consuming process. Before I present a new investment case for you, I have looked briefly at many different companies, done a lighter due diligence on 5-10 cases and one of these hopefully is interesting enough to add as a new holding in the portfolio, which is then presented to you. I do not spend my time doing full write-ups of companies I do not invest in, just because time is precious, and I don’t have enough of it, to “waste” my time doing nice write-ups of something that I’m not investing in. The only exception was Teva, and that was a stock I thought I would invest in, but during my deeper dive, I changed my mind. Another lesson learned, is that I need to become more time efficient in my stock screening/searching. Currently my screening process is very much random, reading about one company leads me to another company and so on. Another way has been a general investment idea around for example electric vehicles, this leads me to read up on 10-20 companies in and around that sector. In the past I have done certain screenings, for example I screened for all brewery companies world wide, which led me to investing in Olvi. I have also done some screens on Australian and New Zealand listed companies, where I still currently have a few stocks on my observation list. Since my investment universe is global I think I should utilize this more in the future and use screens/filters as a more efficient way of generating ideas and companies I would never otherwise find.

Summary

  • Having limited time and resources to find investment cases marries well with being a long term investor. Long term investing gives the opportunity to extract alpha where few others are looking. For me only certain types of companies can become truly long term investments. For example the company should be fairly easy to understand.
  • I should focus my search and research on long term type of investments and also try to come up with a screening processes which makes it quicker to find such companies.
  • No more rushing into new investments and never make hasty portfolio changes due to changing Macro, better to be late and do correct portfolio changes than rushing into new holdings.
  • When a company re-rates in the market and starts to look expensive, do not sell the full holding, rather scale back the position, my track record shows I’m often not just early to sell, but way too early. Something of a let your winners run, cut your losers short strategy, but with less emphasizes on cutting losers.

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The effect of oil – selling Huhtamäki

I think most people have noticed oil price increasing significantly over the last 12 months. I started to expand on this topic in my latest post about Dream International. I realized going through all those years of annual reports that the price of oil had a impact of the raw material cost for all the teddy-bears made. In the past years the collapse of oil has boosted profits for a large number of companies, on the raw material and energy side. But the part that probably is not discussed enough is the transportation cost and especially in countries where oil is not heavily taxed.

Transportation – USA

A friend of mine recently did an analysis of companies exposed to the increasing transportation costs in the US. After a longer discussion with my friend I was a bit baffled that I haven’t been able to see this more clearly myself. The labor costs increase and extreme labor shortage among truck-drivers in the US has been well covered. The second part of the equation is of course also the increasing oil price. But how this together changes the picture in terms of transportation, is something I at least have not reflected enough upon.

truck_rates_USA

In many cases its hard for companies to fully transfer the increased transportation cost to the end buyer, especially in the short term. There is also a forward market for both trucking rates and oil, which means that competitors might have hedged their costs further out. More importantly different companies most likely have hedged it differently, or not at all. So the company which has no or shorter tenor of its hedging will face increasing cost, with little to no possibility to transfer that cost on-wards.

Read also the following: Bloomberg – Rising cost on supply chainUSA Today: Trucker shortage

All this brings me back to my analysis I recently made on Huhtamäki.

Huhtamäki

In my recent analysis of Huhtamäki. I understood that valuation wise we needed to see a margin improvement. It seems feasible to believe that such improvement is possible, looking at competitors margin levels. But maybe its the other way around, everyone’s margins are actually coming down? Part of Huhtamäki’s products are flexibles, plastic based products, meaning dependent on price of oil. The other part is high volume paper based products like paper cups etc. A products which most likely is highly sensible to increased transportation costs. How Huhtamäki in the current environment with US being its largest market, could raise margins, is going to require some pretty magical management execution. So after contemplating this a bit more, I need to revise the probabilities for my bear/base/bull cases. The conclusion then is that this is a clear sell, in the short to medium term. Therefore as of today I sell my full holding in Huhtamäki.

Other companies affected

As noted in the linked articles a lot of companies are affected by this. In my own portfolio I see several companies that could see headwinds due to this: Dairy Farm (Asian retail), Olvi (Selling beer in northern Europe), Inditex (Clothes retailer, shipping much of its clothes by air), Essity (selling paper based products worldwide). Essity probably being the next company I need to take a closer look at, for example competitor Kimberly Clark has been in a downtrend for a year now. We have recently seen US retail giants like Kraft Heinz drop tremendously, there are many reasons for that drop, but partly it could also be related to transportation costs. One should not change the whole portfolio, just because oil price has increased, but it might affect share performance in the short/medium term significantly for many companies.

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Dream International – a dream investment?

Summary

Dream International is a Hong Kong listed plastic and plush stuffed toy manufacturer, with factories based in China and Vietnam. Most of the factories today are based out of Vietnam, which gives a cost advantage on China based producers. The company supplies toys to a limit number of larger companies, such as Disney, Oriental Land, Funko and Spin Master. The company has been growing revenue last 10 years with a CAGR of 12%. This has accelerated last 3 years to a CAGR of 21% for revenue and 38% for EBITDA. Although profits have been accelerating, the company is trading at a trailing P/E of about 6.8. Usually when something is trading so cheap, there is some catch, or is this the holy grail of Growth At a Reasonable Price (GARP)? I will try to give my views of what I have been able to find.

Dreamstockchart

+ Fast growing company trading below 7x P/E.

+ Exposure to segment of toys with high growth (Marvel superheros, Star Wars, Disney figures etc).

+ As one of the worlds largest plush stuffed toy producers, Dream has a long track record with large customers like Disney.

+ Recently expanded the customer relationships to plastic toy sales which has given explosive growth and earnings.

– Poor liquidity in the stock.

– Old (69 years) majority shareholder and CEO, unknown what his plans for the future are.

– Probable margin deterioration due to higher material costs (mostly related to oil price).

– Recently bought it’s office premises in Hong Kong for 200m HKD instead of continuing to rent.

Background / History

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Huhtamäki – A food packaging company

+ Large player in food packaging niche, riding on global tailwind of “on-the-go” food and drinks.

+ Good track-record of growth through acquisitions.

+ Exposed to emerging markets, where the competition is more fragmented and expectation is for significant growth.

+ Food packaging is a sensitive product in terms of food safety. This creates a moat for a companies like Huhtamäki compared to smaller competitors. This also explains why many of the worlds largest food producers is a customers to Huhtamäki.

– Currently trading at fairly high multiples. Valuation demands continued growth with at least stable profit margins.

– Capex heavy business, a lot of capital is needed to scale the business and keep a high growth rate.

– Pulp prices have been rising, at the same time consumer staples companies are facing headwinds. Short-term some questions around companies pricing power, might be squeezed in both ends.

– Some countries, like UK, are fighting back against the trend of increased usage of disposable food containers. Threatening to ban or put taxes on usage of for example disposable paper cups.

huhta_stockprice

Background and history

Huhtamäki is a Finish global food packaging company. It started out in 1920 in Finland and has through organic growth and a long line of acquisitions grown into a global player. Some 5-6 years ago the decision was taken to focus on becoming the global leader in food packaging and consequently started to dispose of business units which were not in line with that agenda. The company has some 17 000 employees worldwide. It’s Indian unit (owned to 66%) Huhtamaki PPL is listed in India with a MCAP of about 300m EUR, compared to Huhtamäki’s 3.7bn EUR.

The business is today divided in the following segments:

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Adding Rezidor Hotel Group – HNA related idea

A good idea for a book, could be to dig in behind the scenes of the incredible global spending spree of Chinese companies like Dalian Wanda, Anbang and HNA. I find this whole thing very interesting. I won’t have time to go into all the details here and I don’t have all the details myself either (I think very few do). But I encourage you to read up in media on what these companies have been up to lately. I think quite a few “special situations” will occur over the coming years, when these companies need to unwind their massive oversees holdings. HNA seems to be the one who hold most listed equities.

HNA – the short version

My investment case in Rezidor is related to HNA, so here is a very short version of what I managed to gather from the history of HNA. HNA started out as a local/regional airline for the Hainan island in China, dubbed China’s Hawaii. Side note, I actually visited the island once. It’s popular among Chinese (and Russians to some degree), but the luxury resort Sanya is way overpriced compared to Thailand/Vietnam etc. During early 2000’s HNA diversified from its airline business to becoming HNA Group, moving into tourism, logistics etc. The structure is not easy to grasp. Equity analysts at UBS tried to map out this corporate structure in a recent report titled “What if HNA Group is the black swan of the equity and bond markets in 2018?”. See below (click to maximize):

HNA_structure

These different entities then went on a pretty crazy shopping spree worldwide, snapping up assets all over the place. I encourage you to listen to this “funny” episode of just how crazy HNA’s spending spree has been:

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Xtep sell full holding

As I was hinting in my previous post, I was looking for a decent exit level in Xtep holdings, today was the day. The company is still cheap and I think it is operating in a segment (running shoes geared towards Chinese) with clear tailwinds. Why I’m selling is for more subtle reasons. I think I will personally really struggle to fully understand this company, its customer base and the products they are selling. I have no idea if the customers like their products or how much they like and trust the brand. I  tried to discuss the brand with people living in Shanghai, but nobody used the brand or barely had heard about it. They were all buying Adidas, Nike or perhaps Anta shoes. All the Xtep stores were also located far away from central areas. This is when I understood that this brand is just selling to a much poorer category of Chinese then I come in contact with. Since I have no contact with this customer base I deem it very hard for me to build any feel for the company beyond the numbers. I could possibly still keep this kind of company long term in my portfolio, for the general tailwinds of this segment and a belief in superior management. I think the deciding factor has been that I have not seen any signs of this superior management, rather this is one of the reasons why the stock is still selling so cheap.

I bought 14300 shares Feb 1st 2017 at 3.28 HKD, after a bumpy ride I thought the stock had lagged its competitors significantly and added Aug 22nd another 7150 shares at 3.16 HKD just before the semi-annual was released. The report was a disappointing and the stock traded down to a low of 2.6 HKD in the coming months. But this time I did not do the same mistake as with Zhengtong Auto (were I stop-lossed at the bottom). This time I held on and the turn-around thankfully came. Including dividends I made a return of about 36% on this holding as I sold the full holding today. As a reference my overall portfolio returned about 25% since the initial investment in February. With my increased cash position I will for the coming months rather consider what of my current holdings I will add to, rather than trying to find new investment cases. My portfolio is diversified enough already and it feels good for the first time to not have any stress of adding new and/or better holdings to the portfolio.

The last few weeks my portfolio performance has been very strong, in part thanks to Xtep, but also other HK listed holdings like Nagacorp and Fu Shou Yuan has performed very well. Last Friday the portfolio was just half a percent shy of all time highs, which feels as a pretty solid result considering the stock market correction we just saw.

The Huhtamäki analysis is now overdue due to high workload and a few other things that popped up, my apologies but it will take another few weeks before it is done.

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Reflections on top 5 holdings

Graph_20180223

Holdings_20180223

In the graph of portfolio performance dividends are included, but in “Return (in USD)” of current holdings dividends are not included.

Holding comments

As you can see above, my portfolio has become more diversified than ever before (18 holdings). I would say the reason for that is the high valuations we currently see in stock markets. I used to at least find cheap stocks in the Chinese markets, but not so much anymore. In frustration over finding anything that feels like a home-run investment, I have gone defensive, both in the style of my holdings and also diversifying into a broader portfolio. With this kind of portfolio I do not expect to outperform as much as I have done in the past. Below I will give comments and thoughts on the larger holdings in the portfolio. Before I start I would like to mention Catena Media. I bought into the company when the stock price was falling rapidly from it’s highs. Soon after I bought the CEO was fired and the majority owner took over as CEO. It was a tough decision to hold on to the stock, as people speculated that the quarterly report would show some major issues (perhaps why CEO was fired). But no such thing happened, rather afterwards confidence grew in the company again. When I sold the full position in Catena it was actually the largest holding in my portfolio and a strong contributor to me managing keep pace with the benchmark. Now let’s focus on the five largest holdings in my portfolio:

LG Chem

Previous posts (LC Chem posts)

I have not commented that much about LG Chem, although it has moved up to be my largest holding. The investment traces back to my investment theme 2 years ago when I started the blog. The six months before the blog was launched I had spent a lot of time to research the whole value chain of Electric Vehicles (EVs). I ended up concluding that it will be very hard to forecast a winner among the many  car makers. As a side note I did and do still have a belief that Chinese automakers will step up and take a large part of the global vehicle sales pie. I looked at three segments of the value chain, mining companies, battery producers and semiconductor companies. Semiconductor companies I dismissed, since at the time I saw it as more linked to smart/self-driving vehicles. It then came down to mining or battery companies. When I looked into the supply situation of Lithium, from what I could gather there was actually plenty of supply, the bottleneck was rather Cobalt, but here there were no decent investment options. Batteries also had the tailwind of Energy storage systems, that could potential ramp up demand substantially on the back of more Solar energy usage. So batteries became what I focused on.  LG chem was and continues to be a world leader in battery production, with the most advanced batteries in terms of performance vs price.

EVleaders

The problem with LG Chem, was like most of the investment cases around the EV value chain, it was not a pure play. Most of LG Chem’s revenue comes from chemicals sales which is totally unrelated to EVs.  I tried to analyze the chemicals business best I could, but it is a complex field. I understood that I did not buy into something at peak valuations, but rather chemicals where trading at somewhat depressed levels, my analysis did not really go deeper than that. I reasoned that expanding battery production, to meet the enormous future demand, would require a sizable company with muscles to expand.  So without knowing that much about the chemicals business, I saw it as a good backbone to build the battery production capacity on. And that is more or less what LG Chem has been doing. Capex and R&D expense is planned to increase substantially in the coming years, on the back of strong cash-flows in the last quarters.

Looking at the future, worries lies in if there will be any substantial margins left for the battery producers. As Chinese new giants like CATL steps up to the plate, it would not be the first time a  thriving profitable industry, becomes like the solar industry where huge volumes are produced, but no money is made. What keeps me somewhat comforted is that there are safety and quality aspects to these batteries produced, which means that a battery product is not just only about cheapest possible price per kWh of battery power. There are also more long-term quality and safety aspects to a battery product.

Even after the strong share performance, the company is trading at an undemanding trailing P/E of 15 and a estimated forward P/E of 13, which is in the middle of the range of it’s long-term P/E band. I would argue there is still room on the upside, even short-term. Since we are closing in on the S-curve area of EV adoption, where LG Chem is bound to see strong Revenue growth. A few years ago, it was estimated we would see substantial EV sales come through around 2020. But it’s more likely that most cars will be Plug-In hybrids around 2020 and pure EVs really taking of on a massive scale, is still probably a few more years into the future. But say 2025, I’m certain 75%+ of all new cars sold will be either a hybrid or a full EV car. If LG Chem manage to keep in the forefront of battery production, it is a company I’m very willing to hold for the coming 10 years.

Dairy Farm

I recently wrote a long analysis on this company, you find it here: Dairy Farm Asian Food Giant

Dairy Farm being a conglomerate within a even larger conglomerate. One could argue that instead of buying into Dairy Farm I should take a position in the whole Jardine Group. But I do like being exposed to food in the Asian region. Food is of course important to everyone around the globe, but Asians are in my view even bigger foodies than westerns. As the region grows richer, which its more or less bound to do, if Dairy Farm plays its cards right, it should be able to long term leverage that trend. Of course it is a highly competitive market, but with the Jardine Group behind it, Dairy Farm has all the advantages you could have for this region. I see this as a very long term holding, which I would only re-evaluate if I saw that something major had changed in the direction of the company.

XTEP International

I invested in two steps into XTEP, you find my thinking at the time here: XTEP Posts

The more I learn about Hong Kong listed companies and market participants, I realize mis-pricing are more common, or at least market participants have another time horizon and sentiment shifts in their investments. When the sentiment finally changes, it’s a bit like the famous ketchup bottle, positive momentum builds quick and reprices the stock to a new level in a very short time. For a stock picker that is of course a good thing, if you can get in before the sentiment changes. But you also need to be very sure about what you are investing in, since your patience and thesis will be tested. XTEP has had a a similar story of under-performance and then a catch-up. The clear winner though has been the largest company Anta, which since I invested has continued to outperform its peers.

XTEP_Relativeperf

When I invested about a year ago, XTEP was the ugly duckling, trading at a much lower P/E than its peers. One of the reasons as I have understood more clearly is that XTEP competitors are aiming more for the branded high priced segment, competing with Nike etc. XTEP has had it’s niche more towards the cheap/affordable running shoes. Much of the growth trend (so far) in health and sport awareness among Chinese has been in the more affluent population which obviously will go either for western brands or top Chinese brands. I tried with this investment think second level, that since healthy living and exercising already is a strong trend in China among rich people, that maybe it would also affect the middle class population to consume more sports shoes. The jury is probably still out if XTEP will succeed in this.

Looking to the future, I think the sports apparel segment is a good segment to be invested in. The tailwind from Chinese consumers on these type of products should continue. If XTEP is a good enough company in terms of execution and brand building, that I’m less sure of. Basically because I’m not in touch with its customer base, or consume their products myself. So the case for me to generate alpha in terms of stock picking, is lower here, where I only go by what I can see in the data. For these reasons I will probably never be fully comfortable with this as a very long term investment and my strategy lately has been to ride this positive momentum that finally arrived and look for a good exit level in this holding.

Gilead Science

My initial thoughts when I invested: Gilead investment

I was reflecting on that I spent a lot of my research time on looking at Health Care/Pharma companies of different kinds, everything from more niche small cap companies producing probiotics or vaccines, too large companies like Teva. It’s a bit ironic then that currently I only hold one single Pharma company, and that is a company I spent less time researching myself and more followed the results of others that I respect for their knowledge. WertArt’s excellent analysis helped my jump the boat and invest. Since I invested Gilead has made some larger acquisitions, again I’m not competent enough to understand if this was positive or not. I can only see that the Gilead management has had a fairly good track-record in its larger purchases.

The question to ask myself really is, since I seem to have no to a weak edge in being able to understand and analyse big Pharma companies, should I even invest in them? I’m not a benchmark agnostic investor and the Health care segment has 12% weight in MSCI World. With such a large weight in the benchmark I would rather say that I want to hold at least one Health Care company. For now I’m happy holding Gilead as a good pick in the segment, but I will do my best to find smaller companies in this sector, which are easier to grasp.

Huhtamäki

Initial reasoning for buying into Huhtamäki: Rotate away from China – New holdings

In a very fragmented market Huhtamäki has managed to take a strong position in the food packing market by doing a large number of smaller acquisitions. Food packing I believe has a long-term strong tailwind. In terms of risk I see a trend where large companies decided to be more eco-friendly. Seeing the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” makes you very sad of. We treat our environment in a horrible way in terms of plastic packaging. Maybe in parts of the world, there will be trend towards more paper/wood based packaging products. Huhtamäki today does both, so even this I don’t think is a major risk long-term, although short term it could create some losses if the plastic production facilities would become underutilized.

In the case of Huhtamäki a full analysis of the company is long overdue, it’s something I kept pushing forward as I feel I understand the company fairly well. The truth probably is somewhere in between since I have not sat down and looked at detailed figures of the company, reading many of the previous annual reports etc, as I usually do when I fully analyze a company. Instead of doing a half-hearted attempt here now, I will instead try to deliver a full analysis of the company in the next few weeks.

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Breweries – Kopparberg & Olvi + Nagacorp conclusions

More brewery – Kopparberg

My final addition of brewery companies, with a 4% weight, is the Swedish cider company, Kopparberg. The company has been selling sweet fruit cider (and beer) for many years in Sweden and later expanded to the UK. Kopparberg was the first entrant offering a sweet fruit cider in UK, which was more or less unknown to the British.  Kopparberg have managed to break into this market and create its own niche and it has been a roaring success in UK.  Kopparberg has some 60% of its world-wide cider sales towards UK today. Naturally as a Swedish producer the GBPSEK rate is important to the margins of the business and Brexit was not helpful in this regard. Given the companies success in this new niche of very sweet cider, there has of course also been competition that has stepped in. For example Carlsberg Somersby which has also seen extremely strong growth.  With results at current level, the stock is fairly valued and downside is a more general multiple contraction in (brewery) stocks. So I keep this at a lower weight for now, waiting for a more clear confirmation of a turn-around and/or further sell-off, where I would be inclined to add to my position. Nevertheless, I’m impressed by the execution of the Kopparberg management and their track-record. I like that the CEO and founder holds a large chunk of shares. My main thesis for investing at this point, is a normalization of the margins for the UK market, which gives the stock some upside and also that I believe the product will be successful in other markets/countries (with USA being the number one target).

Adding to Olvi – another 2%

I currently hold about a 4% position in both Olvi and Diageo. Diageo is one of the worlds largest brewery groups with a tilt more towards spirits, like whiskey, I’m fairly happy with my holding right now and a larger sell-off would be needed for me to consider adding to my position. Olvi is mainly a beer brewery focusing on Finland, the three Baltic countries and Belarus. Whereas both stocks have traded down slightly since I bought I have been looking more closely at Olvi. The company is in a great position macro wise. The Baltic region is growing very nicely in terms of GDP and economic outlook. Olvi has a very large market share in these markets and just growing at the speed of the local economies will give a significant revenue boost. I believe Olvi is one of the cheaper brewery stocks out there at the same time as they are exposed to some of the countries with very good macro backdrop. I choose to add another 2% to my position here and very much look forward to an interesting report announcement tomorrow.

Nagacorp

Finally Nagacorp, which has made a tremendous turnaround since June, when I decided to add to my position (Double up Nagacorp). The sell-off at the time, was more related to the behavior of the majority holder, rather than any company fundamentals. At that time I added 6300 shares at 3.61 HKD, today I slice my holding with 4300 shares at 7.49 HKD, more than a 100% gain in 9 months, very decent indeed. The explanation is two-fold, the majority holder was not allowed by the HK regulator to cheat the minority holders, this gave a quick bounce up when that issue was resolved. The second reason is that the expansion of the Casino has been a real success. And the latest figures that came out, shows an almost unbelievable growth of VIP rollings. So what I have been saying about the revenue growth all along came true and then some. Thanks to (un-audited) voluntary announcement of the 9/3 month results (which only gives some basic information), we can even see how much VIP rolling grew the last 3 months (in million USD).

vip_rolling_naga_qonq

How this translates into revenue is through the win-rate, which is much lower for VIP gaming than Mass market and Electronic Gaming Machines. A picture from the latest results makes it more clear:

rollings_to_revenue_naga

As you can see, the VIP rollings is presented as an 142% increase YoY, but this increase is mostly driven by the Q4 on Q3 increase of 212%, which as previously stated, is almost unbelievable. Looking at seasonal figures, Q4 is not even a strong quarter, Chinese New Year and so on makes Q1 and Q2 more profitable.

VIP increase effect

So what can we expect from Q1 2018? Well it’s already off the charts, but say the yearly VIP rolling 2018 comes in 4x the Q4 2017 rollings, we have full year rollings at 40,500 million USD. If we take the average win-rate of 2017/2016, we get Revenue of 40500*2.8% = 1134 million USD. The Gross profit margin is lower for the VIP segment, again at an average margin rate of 28.5% this gives us Gross Profit of 323m USD. With other segments at constant revenue and cost this boost Profit before tax with 65% from 263 to 433m USD. Converted into EPS it goes from 0.47 HKD to 0.77 HKD per share, meaning that Nagacorp is trading at a Forward P/E of about 10 currently. With 60% dividend payout ratio policy it get’s pretty interesting.

Why I am reducing my holding?

When things looks so damn good, why am I then cutting my holding? Well reality is not this easy to keep everything constant and just adding VIP rolling growth, first of all, I believe costs will go up as well. Getting this kind of growth in VIP rollings must come a price. The price is paying the junkets for bringing in all the high-rollers. On the flip-side, the highly profitable Mass Market segments is also growing nicely. Another concern is tax, which is again bound to go up (its a yearly negotiation between the Cambodian government and Nagacorp).

mass_rolling_naga_qonq

But really what puts me off is the majority holder and his behavior throughout the years. How he tried to cheat everyone through the double dilution of his convertible bonds price adjustment was very distasteful. Another example, every year he awards himself a massive bonus. Why this bonus even exists is very unclear, he then “kindly” defers it, meaning it won’t affect that years results. It’s a pretty chunky sum of money “Dr Chen will be entitled to a performance bonus of US$11,765,321 (the “2017 Bonus Entitlement”) for the financial year ended 31 December 2017. “. So I keep saying in my comments about Nagacorp, this is money printing machine in a region with tremendous tourist growth. With a better majority owner I would be happy to hold 12-14% of my portfolio long-term in this stock, but now it’s a love/hate relationship, where you are just waiting for the next betrayal. So for that reason more than anything else I hereby take some profit, although I easily could see this stock at 10 HKD before year end.

 

 

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