Over the years as I have become more confident in my investment style and invested less and less through themes. A theme can still be a good backdrop for the investment case, but I want to pick a specific company, not get exposure towards the overall theme. When I started the blog in 2016 I still bought companies to get exposure to a theme, without having very high conviction on the specific companies. In 2015 I identified the Electric Vehicle theme as an exciting change in the industry and I wanted to profit from being early investing into companies that would benefit from this shift. Today the great champion of EVs – Tesla, is trading close to 1000 USD. The best option for sure would have been to just invest in the most obvious choice back in 2016, but seldom has my investment path been such. I have always tried to find the overlooked and hidden companies. I’m not sure if LG Chem qualifies for being hidden, but many other of my investments in this space definitely were. Nevertheless LG Chem was the company I held onto the longest, almost 4 years. After a very strong re-rating recently I think its time for holding to finally leave my portfolio. There are of course many positives with the company, but here are the reasons I sell:
The EV hype is currently very strong and not very healthy. I think Elon is a super cool guy, I even read the book about him back in 2017, but Tesla at 1000 USD per share is in my view ridiculous. Some of that hype must have rubbed off on LG Chem.
Like many other markets, Airlines, Solar-panels etc, competition often eats away at margins. Looking at sell side research which aggregates the available battery cell supply, it looks like a fairly oversupplied market for quite some time. I’m afraid the EV market is important to the Chinese to champion that they will subsidize away healthy margins for battery cell producers, like LG Chem. China’s aim is to be a leader in production of Electric Car’s. I think for example Geely will be one of the players in this space.
We now have fairly good visibility of EV models coming out for the big European carmakers. Back in 2015 it looked like 2020 would be the “big bang” year for EVs. There will probably never be a big bang event, but I would today put that date at 2022 perhaps. I think the positive market sentiment has been discounted quite heavily into the shareprice of LG Chem.
LG Chem has taken on a lot of debt to finance their big battery cell production expansion, I’m wary of owning companies with high debt, especially given the Corona market we are in.
LG Chem is still mostly a Chemicals company and it’s a beneficiary of the low oil price, I see this a cyclical upswing which wont last (although hard to time).
As of Friday I sell my full holding in LG Chem.
This is what my portfolio looked like just before selling, sorted after Holding period (in years):
I’m happy to announce my portfolio now has taken new all time highs, but maybe even more importantly significantly outperformed the market. My out-performance against MSCI World is a total of 39.2% over this 4+ years. This means my alpha compounded at about 8% per year, an incredible figure which I don’t expect to keep over time. After all I run a diversified portfolio of some 20 holdings. We are indeed living in strange times when the portfolio can perform so well, when in the real economy people are losing jobs and struggling.
In the graph of portfolio performance dividends are included, but in “Return (in USD)” of current holdings dividends are not included.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the future I will move to quarterly performance reviews, so this is the last irregular update. The portfolio has done extremely well and I must say this much out-performance does not come without a certain amount of luck. I feel we are reaching the end of this long bull-market and we are probably moving into a more challenging investment climate over the coming years. Even so I still think there is enough dispersion in the market that it gives some comfort in attempting to pick stocks. The strength of the USD is concerning I think. I don’t see how the US stock market can be at it’s peak and the USD keep strengthening as well, at the same time other equity markets are far from peak levels. Something got to give.
The graph above shows The “GSP Portfolio” performance including all trading and dividends since the blog inception (no trading fees deducted).
Previously held stocks
+ Coslight Technologies
After tremendous results in it’s semi-annual report, the stock soared. I have been analyzing all the battery companies that are listed and I have been able to invest in. Out of all of those I placed my bets into two stocks, that were pure-play battery companies. One has with a lot of volatility, mostly gone sideways, but Coslight had the sales turnaround I was expecting, driven by China’s significant insentives for electric vehicles, both buses and cars. Nice to be right for once, after spending tremendous amount of research on the topic over a 1 year period. Now there is talks about a potential over-supply situation among the Chinese battery-makers, I’m somewhat worried about that, but more short-term than long-term. I see signs everywhere that the growth of Plug-in hybrids and all electric cars is just in its infancy. If this company keeps playing their cards right, this stock could go another 100% within the next 2 years. Previous write-up on Coslight.
+ Shanghai Fosun Pharma
This was an example where a lot of things together made me take the investment decision in this holding company. The chart looked like the stock was set for a leg up, I wanted a healthcare stock in my portfolio and the valuation started to look more and more compelling (SinoPharm holding >50% of Fosun Pharmas Market Value). Right after I bought the stock started surging, a quick 25% gained. Lucky yes, but at the same time it was strangely out of sync with SinoPharm. Now the stock is more fairly valued, although still not expensive. Since I have understood from Chinese friends that Shanghai Fosun’s management have a bit of a reputation, I might need to have some margin of safety in this one. I have another “Pharma” holding on my radar, if it looks more compelling I might switch this for something else. Fosun Pharma write-up
This fantastic company is over-delivering for every report they release. But I can’t keep holding the stock at these valuations, so I sold all, at an average gain of over +50%. I’m hoping there will be a rebound, because this is probably still a great stock to hold over the long-term. NetEase full analysis
Well, I thought I got this stock on the cheap, and I still think I did. But it got even cheaper. I’m surprised by how weak retail sales are in Sweden, given how well the economy is doing. This was a play on the Swedish consumer, and although I wasn’t dead wrong, I was not right either. Seems it’s sales through internet channels that are hurting retail all around the world and perhaps also in Sweden? Well I chose to move on since I don’t believe in the Swedish consumption over the coming 5-6 years anymore., even if it pains me to sell something that is still cheap.
– LG Chem
Again I thought I got in on a technically good level, where the graph looked like a move up was in the cards. And it was, but it became very short-lived, a month later the stock peaked and then took a serious turn downwards, now sitting -10% from my purchase price. But the stock falling doesn’t generally bother me much, I’m in for the long-run for their battery production (although it’s not a pure-play). But there was a reason for the stock falling, which was plans from LG to merge LG Chem with LG Life Science. I don’t know anything about LG Life Science, but what I do know is that I bought this for it’s future in battery making, not to own a conglomerate with a small part in battery-making (like Panasonic) – frustrating! So, right now it is wait and see, I’m not ready sell, especially when the stock is trading fairly cheap. On a more positive note the Chevy Bolt is coming out with great positive reviews from everywhere, just like the Tesla model S before the Tesla share surged with 300%. The Bolt is very much a LG product, with battery produced by Chem and the electronics inside is produced by LG Electronics. Looking at competitors it’s clear that LG is one step ahead of its competitors in battery technology (price per kWh). Short LG write-up
So after the sale of Criteo the portfolio has been suffering from way too high (unintended) cash levels (17%). Somewhat hurtful in a market which just keeps rallying. So it’s high time to add a new holding to the portfolio.
Why LG Chem
Today I initiate a full position at 7% in LG Chem listed in Korea. This is large Chemicals company that also happens to be one of the major battery manufacturers in the world. LG Chem has also had the most sophisticated batteries for electric cars, in terms of cost per kWh and I hope they will defend that position. Due to this technical advantage LG Chem has tied many car manufacturers to its list of customers. Among these are Chevrolet and the Chevy Volt seems to be selling well and soon the all electric Chevy Bolt is going to be released.
Although my main reason for buying LG Chem is their growth potential in batteries, one have to be respectful that 85% of their current sales comes from elsewhere and mainly from the Basic Materials & Chemicals division, which produce different type of petrochemical products. What I like about this, is that the battery industry at the moment is in a stage of heavy investments. Some serious cash is needed to build and ramp up production of the next gen batteries. Most of the smaller players can’t handle that, thanks to LG Chems other divisions generating significant cash, they are able to do just that. So I believe I get the petrochemical business at a reasonable multiple with good potential for growth in the battery division over the coming 5-10 years. This is a very long-term play though and much can happen on the way there.