Recently some of you readers have contacted me either through the blog or on twitter to discuss Essex Biotechnology. Since I also recently increased this to a high conviction position, I thought I would share my thoughts on why I did so and some very recent development.
To start with I want to say so far Essex has been a terrible investment, I allocated significant capital to Essex on 5th of April, very close to the market bottom. And the stock is trading flat since then, whereas my portfolio is up 54%, a pretty remarkable underperformance. Why am I then adding to this holding which obviously the market doesn’t really see any value in? Well the (maybe obvious) answer is that I believe that the market is wrong and that there is significant upside in Essex to hopefully be unlocked. The most exiting trigger is that Essex today posted what I have been waiting for for some time now.
The Board is pleased to announce that, as informed by Mitotech, the topline data of VISTA-2 will be released and presented on 24 February 2021 after trading hours, and an announcement will be made by the Company accordingly
This post won’t be very structured but I would just comment on different aspects of the company. Let’s jump in
With ~5 years of announcing every buy/sell transaction on the blog, I have now for a while shifted to only post changes under “Trade History”. Sacrificing some transparency but with the aim to focus blog posts on more interesting things than every trade done. I imagine this will be my new format, where I look back on the past months and comment on what I feel is most relevant to mention. This is the batch of trades I will discuss.
It’s high time to review my holdings and if anything changed in their investment thesis. This will be a monster post, for me it’s a great way to review all my holdings and make sure I stay up to date. For you, if you hold or are interested in one of these stocks you will get a quick “what’s the latest” with some sprinkles of why this is a great company (or not anymore). As a bonus there is a short elevator pitch of my two new holdings.
I stopped posting updates for every portfolio change (instead found under Trade History tab), so I have some changes to comment on: MIX Telematics left the portfolio and Lvji entered and exited without comment from my side. MIX Telematics was a case of having too high exposure to the oil industry in the US, I don’t see that coming back at all in the same way as in the past. This was something I did not understand when I invested, properly hidden oil exposure and a mistake on my side. Lvji was a tech play on travel guides for Chinese, but soon after taking a position some twitter friends alerted me of doubtful accounting. I looked at it myself and couldn’t really feel comfortable, better safe than sorry I then sold at almost the same price I bought.
Now on to comments on all my current holdings from top to bottom in the table below.
I have been thinking and discussing a lot over the past few months, what is actually going on in the world? I think most investors have been taken by surprise by size of the disconnect between the stock market and the underlying economy. I try to stay clear of taking too much notice of this, just stick to my stock picking process, but it’s damn hard not to. In my view central banks after the financial crisis distorted the Fixed Income markets and to some extend with that also the property market in many places around the world. I think equity markets were fairly free from such distortions previously, but it’s becoming more and more clear to me that is no longer the case. We are reaching bubble territory in some sub-segments of the stock market, probably to a large extend due to central bank and political interventions.
Mr Market seems to believe a few things right now:
1. Interest rates will stay close to zero for the coming 10-20 years. This gives large incentives to own growth stocks, instead of value stocks. Growth stocks have their profits further out in the future and are therefore gaining more on a lowered interest rate.
2. “New economy” tech stocks that can show large growth today, will continue to grow in the same fashion for a very long time.
3. These new economy stocks will so to say eat the old world and nobody will be able to out-compete them or destroy their margins, rather the opposite, with scale they grow even stronger. There are many examples, better cars (Tesla), new ways of shopping (Amazon), new ways of watching TV (Netflix), new ways of providing software services (A huge number of SaaS companies). These are the champions of the market right now and every company that has a look and feel anything like these champions are bid up in a similar fashion.
4. Lastly, momentum feeds momentum, when liquidity is ample (again thanks to CBs), people tend to pile into what is already rallying. I see clear tendencies that when a stock starts to move and establishes an uptrend, it moves a lot.
So this is where we are, maybe the market is rights, maybe not. This has anyhow created a divide in the market, with a sub-set of the market rallying like there was no tomorrow. One can also describe this as the growth/value spread being at extreme levels compared to history etc.
My portfolio is not immune
Obviously my portfolio is not immune to the above points, my holdings like LiveChat, Swedish Match, Vinda, JOYY and a few other I already sold have rallied like there is no tomorrow since the rebound started. This is great news and has helped me have a fantastic performance this year, the portfolio now up some 16% on the year. But it has also pulled the valuation of a few of these companies slightly out of wack. So what do I do? Well I want to invest for the long term, but I also have to stay true to my approach of allocating my money where I see the most value. Not just momentum riding something that quite frankly short term starts to look expensive. So just like in previous stocks I sold I run the risk of selling too early. But this time I’m not selling my full holdings I just trim them a bit and re-allocate some capital to stocks that haven’t followed up in this stock market crazy, but still are solid companies, valued very conservatively.
Portfolio before re-balance
This is my portfolio as of last Friday, all re-balancing happens on today’s close:
The company is doing a lot of things right. The company recently spent quite a fair sum of money to acquire the livechat.com web-address which I think is important (previously they had livechatinc.com). They have also spent money on creating a new Logo and revamping the look and feel of their brand. The launched a brave mission statement of how they want to develop the company going forward. Read it yourself: Living Constitution
“I don’t want to build a company that only has 100,000 clients and billions in revenue. I want us to go down in history as the company that revolutionized internet communication. We need an ambitious goal and the courage to achieve it.”
Everything I read about the company speaks of leaders that have vision and are still hungry to be even better. As you can see the stock is on a phenomenal run and it’s turning into one of the better stocks picks I made since the blog started, especially considering the short holding period. I’m happy to keep holding this long term, but valuation is for sure much more stretched now, therefore, to keep my investing discipline I reduce the size here.
Nagacorp – Increase to 10% position
Another company that I thought a lot about lately. The casino has been closed for months and recently reopened. Cambodia does not have that many covid-19 cases but there are troublesome restrictions to travel there. They will for sure be hurting until this virus is over. Early bull case would be travel bubble towards China (not unlikely). But they are in a good cash position anyhow, I don’t have the slightest worry that Naga will end up in cash-flow trouble. I will save a longer write-up here for later, but at these valuation levels this is a very nice holding to have as my high conviction position. Maybe it will be even cheaper during the autumn, but I’m happy buying at these levels.
TGS Nopec – Reduce to 2% position
A put this is a long term holding when I bought it, but to be honest this was a bit of oil punt. I still believe the oil price will recover long term and this is a high quality company in the sector. The only issue is that I haven’t done a deep due diligence on this company. The position is a bit too large, given that. That’s my only reason for reducing the position. Either I will do a deeper DD and decide to take up the position size again, or it will sooner or later leave the portfolio.
PAX Global – Increase to 6% position
This is a holding that has been growing on me. The valuation is suspiciously low, meaning one starts to think in terms of fraud. I have been discussing both on Twitter and emailing with investor relations. I’m not as confident as I can be that it’s not a fraud. There is for sure a lot of competitors that can create a payment point of sales devices. But they seem to a fit a very nice niche of being cheaper than the best solutions and better than all the other cheap options. With card payments being on an extreme uptrend worldwide before Corona, this is actually a real Corona-theme play for the coming years. I just have to increase my position here and hope the market will agree with me at some point. Shout out to Gabriel Castro with twitter handle @gabcasla for good discussions!
I will give you a sneak peak into my next theme, which is partly related to eye sight. With the analysis I have done of the “eye sector”, my conviction on this holding has also grown. Another fast growing company, doing a lot of things right, but the market has yet to revalue it. I increase and I’m ready for re-valuation!
Kirkland Lake Gold – Increase to 5% position
Markets are as stated slightly crazy right now, in my view there is a decent probability that we get a total rocket lift-off in gold price (remember the market love momentum trades right now and gold momentum looks fantastic). Money printing should create inflation, this is my hedge (also a company with track record of creating shareholder value).
All in all this reduced my cash balance from 12.4% to about 7.7%. Comments as always welcome!
+ Silly low valuation at P/E 8 (net cash) given the companies track record of profitable growth.
+ A number of own developed patented products in the market selling at good margins, with large market share in China.
+ Founder led for 20+ years, building this company from scratch.
+/- Using much of it’s cash flow for investments in products from other research teams instead of dividends or share buybacks, which to me is still a negative. On the other hand the products are related to the companies own core business so the investments makes sense.
– The founders are running a real estate company listed in Singapore as well. It does not seem to be doing very well lately (hotels in Japan).
– A fair chunk of revenue is dependent on a distribution contract with Pfizer, which is expiring in 2021. It has been rolled multiple times since 2014, but its still an unknown.
In the early 1990s, most Chinese pharmaceutical companies were focused on manufacturing generics. Essex instead pioneered the use of recombinant DNA technology (a process that involves molecular cloning of DNA from any species) to develop their own unique series of biologics. The company has obtained seven patents for drugs developed using recombinant DNA technology in China. The company enjoys more almost 60 percent market share in its niche areas (eye products). The high market share is largely explained by their very competitive pricing. For example, its Beifuji spray for treating burns and skin ulcers sells for $5 per 15ml bottle. By comparison, a 2.5ml bottle of Regranex, a widely-used spray for treating wounds and ulcers, sells for $74. The company’s products are used in more than 4,500 hospitals across China. Although Essex never explains it as such, my interpretation is that these products are like an advanced form of generics, which enjoys higher margins than simple generic pills.
The company listed all way back in 2001 and for many years grew revenue slowly of a very low base. The company disposed of an agriculture related business in 2009 and has since then developed in it’s current form. I therefore focus on the history of the company since 2010.
Essex core products Beifushu series of drops and gels to treat eye injuries, dry eyes, refractive and cataract surgery, and the Beifuji series of sprays and powders to treat surface wounds, including burns, ulcers, and cosmetic plastic surgery. They also make Beifuxin, a gel that repairs and regenerates cells damaged by bruises, burns, contusions, cuts, surgery incisions, skin grafts, skin resurfacing, laser therapy wounds, bedsores, fistulas, and cervical erosions. The products are patent protected until 2030 in China. Essex also undertakes exclusive distribution in China of third party products that complement its area of focuses. Major third party products distributed are Pfizer’s eye products Xalatan and Xalacom, Iodized Lecithin Capsules for treating various eye diseases and Yi Xue An Granules for treating bleeding or spotting of uterus after induced abortion. Below is a picture of the products: