Sell Edgewell, adding to Nagacorp and other thoughts

When investing in a company I do my best to understand the products the company is selling. I want to understand the environment the company is operating in, competitors, brand value, together putting the company into a context. I try to understand the management of the company and where they want to take the business. I then try to look long-term if the industry has headwinds or tailwinds and how much sales is affected by the general market cycle. All this and more goes into my valuation of the company. But even when I try to cover all bases, the stock market keeps throwing curve balls left and right, I had my fair share and there will certainly be more in the future. The other day it felt like I was dealt another curve ball.

The management of Edgewell Personal care, went out bought a shaving company start-up called Harry’s for 1.37bn USD. Edgewell with an Operating Income of some 300m USD, net debt of 1.1bn USD and Market Cap (pre announcement) of some 2bn USD, thought it is in a good position buying a start-up for 1.37bn USD. Worse than that, they pay 1.085bn USD in cash and very little in stock. This brings debt levels to seriously tough territory, at a time when I at least believe we are close to the peak of the cycle. I thought I bought a low risk defensive company, it suddenly transformed into a equity position sitting on a huge debt rocket.

Deal details can be found here: Presentation

Harry’s is one of the competitors (Dollar Shave Club being the other) that I mentioned i my analysis of Edgewell when I invested. They are taking market-share from Edgewell, Gilette and BIC over the last years, particularly in USA. Harry’s top-line revenue is expected to be about 325m USD in 2019 (growing at 30% historically).

This article explains the Harry’s story quite well: https://www.inc.com/magazine/201605/bernhard-warner/harrys-razors-german-factory.html

They do own their factories and it has been an impressive growth case, so of course it isn’t a worthless investment, it’s just a combination of overpaying and overstretching Edgewell’s balance sheet.  I’m so disappointing in Edgewell throwing in the towel to create this themselves organically. By acquiring Harry’s it’s like admitting to not being able to compete with these guys. That speaks volumes to me about the management of Edgewell. At today’s close, I sell my full holding in Edgewell. Obviously I wish I never invested in the first place, given that I now take a -16% loss on the holding, but I never saw this coming. Investments really can surprise you in so many ways..

Other thoughts about my holdings and the market

Markets have come off a few percent from their highs and my portfolio has under-performed quite a lot the last few weeks. Some of that poor performance obviously is related to Edgewell, but there have been other holdings performing poorly too. Trade war is a big worry, especially for my portfolio that feels fairly exposed to this. I’m not very positive on us seeing a deal anytime soon, there is too much pride in China for that. At the same time I changed my mind about the so often cited coming China crash. I still think it will come, just not this year. My bets are on a pretty ugly 2020 in China, with serious deterioration in their economy in the later part of next year. These things are impossible to predict, but from everything I read and hear, it seems like we have already passed the peak. It will just take a while for slow moving things like the property market to start to wobble and finally fall.

My more defensive companies like Philip Morris, BATS, Swedish Match, Diageo, Dairy Farm, Gilead, Inditex and Essity has not really done that much lately. They have more or less performed in line with the market or slightly better. Below I instead focus on the more high risk holdings:

Tonly Electronics

One of my largest holdings, the quite illiquid company Tonly Electronics has traded down. This is quite warranted given the Trade War that to some extend will affect the company. I’m still hopeful that the company will be able to improve margins during this year, which really is the key thing to be watching in the next report for the first half year. The fairly good dividend yield, which was paid out yesterday, at about 5% yield is also reassuring. Tonly was an opportunistic investment where I see a very deep value case, but not necessarily something I want to hold for another 5 years, as long as some of that value is unlocked at some point.

Nagacorp

A holding that has been a long term holding, but where I numerous times discussed if it really should be. Nagacorp came through with how they plan to finance the third stage of their expansion in Cambodia. After reviewing the terms, I actually think they are quite fair this time. So I decided to increase my position size here and for now throw away my doubts and really firmly put this in my long term holding bucket. I increase my position size to a 7% holding, nearly doubling the position size, more or less back to where it was before I started to reducing my holding. Somewhat ironically the average selling price of my shares is exactly where the shares are trading at now, 8.96 HKD per share. But the situation was different then, I very much doubted that the majority owner would come through with a decent deal for everyone. Now that he did, it changes a lot for me. I many times stated I would be happy to have a very large holding here if I just could trust management. The trust gauge is not really at 100% yet, but it’s much higher than before and this money printing machine feels like a stable holding at 7% weight.

Coslight Technology

One of my original holdings since I started the blog. As explored the Electric Vehicle theme back 2015-2016 most signs pointed to that the real S-curve effect would start around 2020. I remember telling colleagues back in 2015, isn’t it cool that in just 5 years all big car companies most likely will be launching full EV line-ups. That more or less have come true, maybe with a 1 year delay until we really see them in every car dealership. Even if I got the EV theme correct, the company Coslight has not turned out as I planned when I invested more than 3 years ago. Now when EV sales numbers really are starting to climb, I don’t think its the right time to sell this company. I’m down significantly, on not really any news. The company still also has its game software development which is a profitable cash generating business. There is a lot debt here as well, which has been my main oversight when investing. So I might get wiped out from the debt, but somewhat stubbornly perhaps, I want to see this through.

Irisity

Finally my speculative holding Irisity has lately been on a bit of a roller coaster ride. But fundamentally on the company, I’m even more bullish than before. First quarter sales on Monthly Recurring Revenue was fairly solid showing continued strong growth (from low levels). The latest news about HikVision also being banned, just like Huawei, plays perfectly in the hands of companies like Irisity. The largest competitors in this space for sure are the Chinese, with companies like Sensetime having huge software development teams on video-surveillance. If western companies avoid or even are banned from using Chinese tech in this area, a lot of the competition in the market is removed. I’m considering to increase my holding further, but will stay put for now and hope I can increase and a better entry level.


That is all for now. I’m trying to find time to publish a real deep analysis of some new ideas I have had for some time now. But you will have to wait a little bit longer for that. Comments as always are appreciated!

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Superforecasters – And being perpetual Beta

I like reading, both for pleasure and as a great way of educating myself. A nice combination is when the educational book is written in such a way that it feels like pure pleasure reading. Michael Lewis is an example of such a writer for me. His books become page-turners for me, I just can’t get enough. Slightly more heavy educational material, usually get’s a bit boring and dry. The book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman was a typical love/hate relationship of the sort. The book material was extraordinary interesting, probably top 3 educational book I ever read. But written in such a way that halfway through the book I really struggled. The latest book I read, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, is an easier read. It draws some of it’s material from Kahneman’s book and for an equity investor like me it was almost more intriguing and interesting.

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

superforecasting_cover

In a 20 year very impressive study, Professor Philip Tetlock showed that even the average expert was only slightly better at predicting the future than “monkey’s throwing darts”. Tetlock’s latest projects has since shown that there are, however, some people with real demonstrable foresight. These are ordinary people, who are nonetheless able to predict the future with a 60% greater degree of accuracy than regular forecasters. They are superforecasters.

Reading this book is about understanding what things these regular people do, to make them such great forecasters. Surely one would like to pick up such skills! The examples are mostly related to forecasting politically related events, but I think almost all of it is applicable in the world of investing as well. There are many reviews online of the book, so I will not provide that. Mostly I urge you to read the book, it is really good. But there are so many great books to read, so for the ones that do not have the time here are some personal reflections:

Some of my personal takeaways from the book (interpreted into a financial context)

  • This book resonates with me on multiple levels, but what spoke to me the most, was Tetlock’s description of perpetual beta: “a computer program that is not intended to be released in a final version, but will instead be used, analyzed, and improved without end.” As you might guess, we are not talking about computer programs really, but rather an approach to life itself. I finished my Masters studies many years ago now, the first few years working in Finance was very intense and I really learned a lot. But later on, I realized I had started to fall back on old knowledge in many occasions. I was still learning new things, but at a much slower pace than at Uni (or the first year working). And I realized I didn’t like it. It’s somewhat hard to explain, I have this need to constantly keep learning and understanding new things. I’m just very curious about understanding things. From how people think, to how a certain company operates and how it all slots in together in the bigger picture and the world we live in. Since back then I have found multiple ways to keep developing and improving: proper financial studies with exams, reading books on topics I want to understand better, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, following great people on Twitter and vloggers on YouTube. The world is today filled with so great, easily accessible ways to keep learning! The latest way of improving is my very own blog, where I can structure some of all that information I take in and do something useful out of it. One of the main points of the book and how to be a superforecaster, is to constantly keep learning and improving. Or in Tetlock’s words in the about superforecaster Bill Flack: “I can’t imagine a better description of the “try, fail, analyze, adjust, try again” cycle—and of the grit to keep at it and keep improving. Bill Flack is perpetual beta.”. Just like Bill I’m trying to very humbly be perpetual beta as well.
  • Another important concept of becoming a great forecaster is to actually measure how you are doing. Tetlock takes the example of medicine. In the old days, there was no actual follow-up on if what doctors did actually worked or not. It was just assumed by their reputation and knowledge that they knew what they were doing. This illusions of knowledge and accepting the doctors view was a terrible way to actually improve medicine. It was only when we started of putting medicine to test, through randomized controlled trials, that medicine science really took off. In the same way for investing, one should not forget to evaluate free from bias, what did one forecast and how did it actually turn out. Which leads to the next point
  • Be specific and clear in your forecasting. The financial field is full of people going on TV everyday, voicing their views and forecasts of the future. It is very seldom any TV-program goes back and reviews over the past 3 years, of all the people we brought here multiple times, who got in right and who was wrong? Except the problem that its not evaluated at all, next time you hear one of these people on TV, listen to what they really say. They use vague words, which basically never makes them entirely wrong (or right). To actually be able to evaluate yourself, you have to force yourself to make actual precise forecast, use percentages! And try to use as detailed percentages as possible! Example: Right now, weighting all factors available to me, there is 78% probability that the S&P 500 is lower at year end than it is today, that we can follow up upon! And if I do a hundred forecasts like that, we can start to see if I’m a superforecaster or a dart throwing monkey. Which leads me to me final main takeaway of the book:
  • Forecasting should be evaluated in two dimensions, calibration and resolution. To cite the book: “When we combine calibration and resolution, we get a scoring system that fully captures our sense of what good forecasters should do. Someone who says there is a 70% chance of X should do fairly well if X happens. But someone who says there is a 90% chance of X should do better. And someone bold enough to correctly predict X with 100% confidence gets top marks. But hubris must be punished. The forecaster who says X is a slam dunk should take a big hit if X does not happen. How big a hit is debatable, but it’s reasonable to think of it in betting terms. If I say it is 80% likely that the Yankees will beat the Dodgers, and I am willing to put a bet on it, I am offering you 4 to 1 odds. If you take my bet, and put $100 on it, you will pay me $100 if the Yankees win and I will pay you $400 if the Yankees lose. But if I say the probability of a Yankees victory is 90%, I’ve upped the odds to 9 to 1. If I say a win is 95% likely, I’ve put the odds at 19 to 1. That’s extreme. If you agree to bet $100, I will owe you $1,900 if the Yankees lose. Our scoring system for forecasting should capture that pain. The math behind this system was developed by Glenn W. Brier in 1950, hence results are called Brier scores. In effect, Brier scores measure the distance between what you forecast and what actually happened. So Brier scores are like golf scores: lower is better. Perfection is 0. A hedged fifty-fifty call, or random guessing in the aggregate, will produce a Brier score of 0.5. A forecast that is wrong to the greatest possible extent—saying there is a 100% chance that something will happen and it doesn’t, every time—scores a disastrous 2.0.” And the book then goes on describing that a Brier score needs to be set into a contex: “Let’s suppose we discover that you have a Brier score of 0.2. That’s far from godlike omniscience (0) but a lot better than chimp-like guessing (0.5), so it falls in the range of what one might expect from, say, a human being. But we can say much more than that. What a Brier score means depends on what’s being forecast. For instance, it’s quite easy to imagine circumstances where a Brier score of 0.2 would be disappointing. Consider the weather in Phoenix, Arizona. Each June, it gets very hot and sunny. A forecaster who followed a mindless rule like, “always assign 100% to hot and sunny” could get a Brier score close to 0, leaving 0.2 in the dust. Here, the right test of skill would be whether a forecaster can do better than mindlessly predicting no change. This is an underappreciated point. For example, after the 2012 presidential election, Nate Silver, Princeton’s Sam Wang, and other poll aggregators were hailed for correctly predicting all fifty state outcomes, but almost no one noted that a crude, across-the-board prediction of “no change”—if a state went Democratic or Republican in 2008, it will do the same in 2012—would have scored forty-eight out of fifty, which suggests that the many excited exclamations of “He called all fifty states!” we heard at the time were a tad overwrought. Fortunately, poll aggregators are pros: they know that improving predictions tends to be a game of inches. Another key benchmark is other forecasters. Who can beat everyone else? Who can beat the consensus forecast? How do they pull it off? Answering these questions requires comparing Brier scores, which, in turn, requires a level playing field. Forecasting the weather in Phoenix is just plain easier than forecasting the weather in Springfield, Missouri, where weather is notoriously variable, so comparing the Brier scores of a Phoenix meteorologist with those of a Springfield meteorologist would be unfair. A 0.2 Brier score in Springfield could be a sign that you are a world-class meteorologist. It’s a simple point, with a big implication: dredging up old forecasts from newspapers will seldom yield apples-to-apples comparisons because, outside of tournaments, real-world forecasters seldom predict exactly the same developments over exactly the same time period.”
  • This long explanation in a Financial context is such a nice way touching upon my very first post on the blog, where I tried to argue that it’s important to know what your benchmark is: Know your benchmark. Because if you do not know your benchmark, how can you then even start to test how well your investment strategy is doing?

How good was my forecast in Tonly Electronics?

I just published my analysis of Tonly a week ago. I ended the post saying that soon the Q3 Sales figures will be out, well now they are out. In the spirit of forecasting, let’s look how well I forecasted the newly released Sales figures for Q3 in my three scenarios:

tonly_q32018_sales

So far it seems I’m very far from being a superforecaster, when non of my three investment scenarios managed to capture the total Sales of Tonly would come in for Q3. Sales came in higher than my Bull scenario! Given the great results on a revenue basis and that the stock has traded down another 10%, I decided to allocate all the cash I had left, into Tonly (which was about another 2% of my portfolio) as of Friday. These Sales results doesn’t mean it’s a home run, something could still have happened to the margins, that we have to wait until next year to know. One could also notice that the segment I thought would drive future growth, with smartspeakers, did not actually even live up to my Base case of 550 million HKD. So although New Audio Products delivered extremely strong, it was still not a perfect report. One should not make too big of a deal of a quarter either, but very nice to see the execution of this company and I can’t believe that the market did not take notice of this at all and actually traded the stock down during the day (it ended flat, where I took my position at 5 HKD per share).

Forecasting is hard

To book brought up how hard it is to forecast something, and the further out in time you go, the harder it gets. The message more or less was, forecasts further than 5-6 years out is more or less meaningless, at least from trying to have an edge in guessing outcomes. I leave this post with a letter which was mentioned in the book, as a way of proving this point. The letter was written in April 2001 by Linton Wells, who at the time was principal staff assistant to President George W. Bush’s secretary and deputy secretary of defense.

 

2001-Quadrennial-Defense-Review

 

 

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Tonly Electronics – Another Hong Kong value investing case

Before we start this analysis I just want to point out a few things. I spent a lot of effort to reduce my exposure towards China about 1.5 year ago. And here I am, pitching another Hong Kong listed company. I’m aware of this, but I just can’t give up on a investment just because it’s listed in Hong Kong. The actual China exposure in terms of sales is actually rather modest. That being said, I will be careful to increase my exposure further and I have worked hard trying to find investments elsewhere. Right now Hong Kong is one of few equity markets that has seen a major sell-off and valuations are in some cases, like this, too good to pass on. My next point is on liquidity. This is again a fairly illiquid stock, buying or selling large blocks in this company will affect the stock price. As always do your own due diligence and don’t consider my posts investment advice. The last thing before we go ahead, I made a mistake regarding my stated position size in UR-Energy, it was supposed to be 3% not 2%. It was just an unfortunate typo in my previous post.

Tonly Investment case summary

Tonly_graph

+ Low valuation (P/E ~7) growth company, 0.7bn Cash with a MCAP of 1.48bn HKD.

+ Dividend yield based on previous payout, north of 6%.

+ TCL main shareholder and incentive structure for staff in place (high stock/option ownership with management).

+ Track record of quickly shifting business into new products, high R&D spend.

+ Headphones and smart speakers growing rapidly on back of large respectable customers like Harman, JBL, Google, Alibaba etc.

– US/China Trade War is a worry and will most likely create real impact.

– As many Chinese OEM/ODM factories the reliance on a few companies is high, the largest customer (Harman) in 2017 stood for 42.8% of sales. Harman was acquired by Samsung in 2017, this puts some uncertainty towards the future relationship with Tonly.

– Products shifting quickly, no guarantee today’s successful sales will last more than a few years.

– Low margins showing low moat and high competition.

– Although aligned management is a big positive, options programs have lately been too generous in my view.

History

Tonly Electronics is a OEM/ODM manufacturer of home electronics. ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) is one step higher in the value chain, than pure assembly (OEM). This means that the company design and manufacture products which are later branded by another company for sale. Previously the products were mostly DVD/Bluray players, but that has changed over the last few years. Today the company mostly generates its revenue in the field of acoustics – speakers, soundbars, ear & headphones and smart audio devices.  This transition is something we will look a little closer at, it is also a part of the reason why I decided to invest in Tonly.

I have followed this company since it was introduced on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Back in 2013 I owned a Chinese LCD TV producer called TCL Multimedia (recently renamed to TCL Electronics). They decided to spin-off a smaller segment of their operations, which they named Tonly Electronics. Tonly produced DVD/BlueRay players, digital TV-boxes, speakers and soundbars. At the time I scratched my head somewhat what do with this holding. It so happened that all the ETFs/funds that held a position in TCL, just dumped their holdings as soon Tonly started trading. Probably because it was too small for their funds. This put significant pressure on the stock, which led me to my first case of bargain hunting among Hong Kong’s small caps. I liked what I saw an invested at cheap levels a few months after the spin-off. At first this went great, the company paid out a nice dividend, stock price recovered and then some. But then in 2015 things started to turn south. With rise of Netflix and other streaming services, DVD/BluRay player sales just fell of the cliff. Although audio products kept growing steadily, 2015 ended with decreasing revenue and 2016 sales were down further. Although the company still managed to stay profitable, the stock market did not like what it was seeing. The stock lost some -50% from its 2015 highs, into 2016. Around the time I started this blog in 2016 I locked in some profits, but kept a small position (hence I did not take it up as a GSP holding).

Tonly Video Products revenue contraction 2014-2016 (in million HKD)

Tonly_2014-2016 sales

During earlier parts of 2017 I gave up on this holding, believing it was a lost cause, and allocated my money elsewhere. That was a mistake, I should have followed the company more closely and understood what could be seen already in 2016 figures. Something was cooking in the Audio Products segment. By second half 2017 revenue just exploded in the Audio Products segment.

Tonly half year sales 2014-2017 – Audio Products revenue growth (in million HKD)

Tonly_2014-2017 salesh1h2

And this is where the investment case starts. Tonly was facing major headwinds, nobody was interested in DVD & BluRay players anymore and this was the largest revenue driver of the company. Management redirected its around 500 engineers to increase its R&D efforts in audio products. Management built new relationships with Audio product brands. Within just a few years time, the company manages to grow that business so that total revenue sets new all time highs in 2017 second half. The old revenue driver “video products” is now almost non existent. Be it that the company caught some tailwinds within the audio space, but to me this is a proper turn-around. It shows quality of management as well a testament to the research team to be able to develop new products. If I could just have spotted that in the second half figures for 2016, but alas I did not.

What does Tonly look like today and why is the stock price plummeting lately? Let’s find out.. (more…)

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