Summary of 2020

Intro

Much can be said about this year, I choose to focus on how extreme the dispersion been this year. A very small subset of the markets has been doing tremendously well in 2020. Bitcoin has tripled and Tesla and other ESG trendy “hot stocks” soared hundreds of percent on back of the massive stimulus we seen. 2020 has been a treacherous year for us long term more value oriented investors. With the exception of 1999, it has probably never been harder to stay true to your investment philosophy. The liquidity flywheel has been turning extremely quick in a smaller segment of the total market at the same time we all know how poorly the real economy is doing. I’m pretty active Twitter user and never have I seen such euphoria among investors that had a portfolio of loss making, high growth tech stocks with as many SaaS etc in the company description as possible. I was still very young in 1999 and history never repeat itself, but I’m pretty sure it rhymes. And the rhymes I have been hearing lately are not positive for the returns for the coming years.

2020 has also been a terrible year from the perspective of have and have nots. And I’m sitting as a clear winner here from that perspective, with a stable high paid job and and assets that just keep appreciating at a high speed. At the same time a lot of the people who don’t have the luxury of big savings even lost their jobs this year.

The crisis months

What defined most investment returns in 2020 was how one navigated the period of February to April this year. Given that I live in Asia I had a front row seat to what was happening in Wuhan. In my post from Feb 9th I wrote the following:

I would like to start of by saying, that I think we are facing an extremely serious virus spread. It’s the sneaky feature of the virus that it can spread before people feel sick, which really makes this so very dangerous. Thanks to very powerful actions taken in China and elsewhere, we might just dodge a major major global health crisis.

When I started to write on this post a few days ago I felt my fellow investors in the US and Europe had not understood what is going on in China. But just over the past few days I think investors are getting input from company management and decent news reporting on what is actually going on. I felt all worked up, how could equity markets continue up when 1.4 billion people had decided to sit at home, not work and basically tend to basic needs!?

We humans are pretty easy to scare and what influences most of all, is the behavior of the people around us. People can be calm and rational about the likelihood of catching the virus, but change mindset very quickly when put with a new group of people that act more panicked about the virus spread. It’s very quick back to basics in situations like this, Maslow’s pyramid comes to mind. Nobody is any longer thinking about which Hermes bag or new car to buy, when you are fighting at the local supermarket for the last rolls of toilet paper. Maybe it sounds like a joke, but this has been the actual situation in Singapore and Hong Kong over the last few days. 

I think I was fairly spot on in my analysis in early February and really early to voice my views/concerns as well. After that point of being correct early I got a lot of things wrong. First of all I was very bearish and thought this bull market had in general ran its course. I thought we where staring at a crisis that would trigger a more long term economical decline. This meant I did not think of upside potential and buying potential winners from the crisis. I focused all my energy on downside protection and rotating out of anything with high leverage and/or severely affected by the virus. When all the stimulus packages started to kick in, again I was more thinking downside protection, that the USD would be devalued long term, so I took some positions in gold. The right move of course, now that we now the results would have been going in heavy on what was a Covid winner. For example I wrote my analysis on Valneva late 2019 so I was well aware of Moderna, go back to my post and you will see I compare Valneva to Moderna. A company probably nobody heard about in late 2019. In general the strength of the stock market boom from the lows really surprised me and still does.

The year of Poland

2020 was also the year that the Polish stocks in a more significant way entered my portfolio. It’s always a bit scary when one starts to trade a new market, where a lot of information is not available in English. My earlier investing years was very Europe and US focused and later when I moved to Asia I focused much of my investments on mastering investing on the Hong Kong exchange. I know feel I have a good grip of the western markets + HK/China. The become a truly global stock picker, I have over the past 2-3 years tried to widen my scope to other more undiscovered markets. I firstly focused on Italy but struggled to find real gems to invest in there (the market is still clearly on my radar). I then shifted my focus to Poland, a more emerging market than what I previously invested in. The companies have very tiny market caps and one has to accept poor liquidity to buy anything except the 5-10 larger companies on the list. The one big market I have left to look at would be Japan. I know there are tons of interesting companies there and I have from time to time been close to pull the trigger, but so far not.

Exceptional return in an exceptional year

I’m both extremely pleased and somewhat surprised over my return in 2020. With twice the return of MSCI World and at a lower standard deviation (measured on weekly data), it’s my best year since the blog started from an outperformance perspective. When I say that I’m surprised it’s because how strong the US tech segment been, which has a large weight in MSCI World. I have had very little to no such exposure (perhaps you can count LiveChat and JOYY in that segment). If you look at the below table of where most of that performance was created, it’s almost all from holdings that I added during 2020 (holding period less than 1 year). Many of my 2020 losers are my long term holdings such as Nagacorp and Dairy Farm, so activity has definitely paid off this year.

Thank you all for following my blog all these years, if you do enjoy it, please subscribe go get all my posts in your mailbox.

 

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Portfolio walkthrough – short comments

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.

Press “read more” and enjoy!

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Portfolio re-balancing & some thoughts

Some thoughts…

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:

LiveChat Software – Reduce to 8% position

My analysis from 1 year ago: Link

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!

Essex Biotech – Increase to 7% position

My analysis from April this year: Link

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).

Summary

All in all this reduced my cash balance from 12.4% to about 7.7%. Comments as always welcome!

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Portfolio update – what a difference 3 weeks make -22% YTD

My portfolio has dropped -22% year to date and it’s been a struggle how to position myself in this type of market. This still compares fairly well to MSCI World which is down -30% YTD, both calculated in USD. Talking about USD, the currency moves we have seen lately has been out of this world. I have a few holdings in NOK and SEK, in the last three weeks USD strengthened 25% vs NOK and 8% vs SEK. This means that my portfolio calculated in NOK is actually UP year to date! Such moves are way to big to ignore and must be incorporated in the analysis of the company you are buying, especially if the companies income is in USD. And then we have the oil, here I feel a bit unlucky buying into my first oil investment since I started the blog just before this epic double whammy of Corona scare and Saudi/Russia oil price war. A bit more on that later. Oil is important, but the big one has of course been the spread of the virus and lock downs around the world. First of all, I think it has been a process for all of us investors to come to grips with this. What does this all mean for my holdings and the economy? I had a head-start given I had closely followed this situation in China before most investors barely looked at it. Even with a head-start it has not been easy. Question like should I re-balance my portfolio when one holding drops unreasonably much compared to another, pops up for me on a daily basis. It’s very easy to over trade in this type of market. I will do a new quick review of all my holdings from a corona perspective. Debt levels for example become more important (I have usually been careful with this). First a few more Corona thoughts..

Further virus thoughts

First I want to say, you are probably pretty tired of reading about virus opinions from unknown readers online. Like 99.9% of these opinions I’m not an expert on virology. That said, I spent an almost unreasonable amount of time following this, listening to experts, trying to form an opinion on what is happening, long before most of you did. Not because I’m more clever or anything, it just happens that I live in a region which was close to the epicenter of this. I mentioned this many times before over the years in my blog, normally I would ignore Macro and focus on stock picking. But some events are so large you should not ignore them, this is such an event. I previously posted about how serious I thought this virus was in China. I just assumed that other developed countries closely monitored the situation and would sound the alarm if cases started to spread elsewhere. I was wrong. It’s now clear that the virus must have spread for a long time in Italy before getting noticed. But I wasn’t entirely wrong, in my post Feb 9th I wrote: “I really don’t understand why we are 1% off all time high the S&P500 when we are staring this situation right in the eye.” That doesn’t mean though that my portfolio was hedged for this scenario. I have tried to stay in defensive stocks for quite some time now, but that was defensive in a general sense, not Covid-19 defensive. In the past three weeks the whole developed world has changed and with that stock markets has totally repriced the world economic outlook. Credit/default risk and significant rise in unemployment is a certainty. The question now is not if, but how bad it will get, before it gets better? Vaccines is everyone’s big hope and that would be wonderful, but unrealistic to have before late this year. If we are locked down until a vaccine comes around then, this will be as bad as the depression in the 1920’s in my opinion. My hope stands to a medicine which significantly reduces the symptoms and the deadliness (right now malaria medicine + zinc seems like the best candidate, with HIV medicines a good second). Such a medicine could potentially reduce symptoms and would enable the younger/healthier part of the population to dare to go back to work and a more normal life. I read that most countries are now giving their patients the malaria medicine (based on the results from China and Korea). Given that governments have to find a way to at least partially normalize this situation, I see such medicines as the base case scenario, where governments can within a month or so go out and proclaim that they have a positive effect. A more bullish scenario would be an even more effective medicine, making the disease harmless, which seems unlikely to me. Then there is the depression scenario, one has to at least have a plan to survive that as well. That scenario goes a bit outside of this blog though. It means buying physical gold (which I have done and potentially I will buy more), stock up on goods at home, and hope you are lucky still have a job with cash flow coming in. I will focus less on the depression scenario, such scenario is a bit to bleak and in my view, still unrealistic, at least at this point.

2nd Corona status check on my holdings

I need to redo my Corona virus status check from Feb 9th, since the one I did a month ago was discounting “only” a significant spread in China, not a world pandemic. So here we go again (press read more):

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5 years and blog still going strong!

It’s 5 years since I started this blog and what a journey it has been so far! When I set out on a mission, of becoming a better investor through this blog, I realized it would be hard to consistently keep posting. With life having it’s ups and down it has from time to time been a challenge to do so but I’m proud to have been able to keep up the pace. I have at least posted once every month since I started, and on averaged slightly above 2 posts a month. This sometimes cathartic exercise of publicly sharing all my investment decision has really been helpful in honestly reviewing what works and what does not work. Some of you readers have been part of most this journey and some might have scrolled back through my posts. But most of you are likely readers that found my blog in the last 3 years. So let me take the opportunity to introduce how I view my journey and also highlight some older posts that might still be worthwhile for you to read.

Pre-blog days

Everyone have their story of how they started investing and how they became better investors. My early days of investing is very colored by the 2003-2007 bull market. I had fantastic returns, about 200% return in 4 year time period. I really thought I had investing figured out back then, the 2008-2009 period taught me I did not. I like explain my feelings around how skilled of an investor I am with the hype cycle:

For me I was at the clueless stage in the early 2000’s, I got naively confident around 2006-2007 and discouragingly realistic around 2008-2010. I understood around 2011-2012 that the path to “Mastery Achieved” is extremely long. I needed to find a venue to set a long term plan to become a better investor. I considered just writing a personal diary, but realized it would be hard to keep it up. At the same time, I had been doing deep research into Electric Vehicle investments, trying to understand the whole supply-chain. This theme I spent some 6 months to research and that was how it started. I wanted to write down everything I had learned about this emerging sector and share it online. I realized I could use a blog format to share such information and at the same time structure the thoughts in my head around investments. I really wanted to get on the journey towards “mastery” in investing and a blog seemed like a good way to structure it.

First year of the blog

So my first big investment theme was that Electric Vehicles would totally change the car industry, below is the post where I truly kicked off my blog. Back in 2015 people did not talk about EVs like today, most people were still great skeptics that EVs would take over the car industry, I believed after all my research that they would. I think I have been proven right by now (sentiment actually turned already around late 2016). In the same post I formed my early thoughts around what kind of edges you can have in the market. I identified that investing with a longer term horizon was one such way.

Investment Theme: Electric Vehicles

As you know by now, my blog mixes discussions about my current portfolio, sometimes dropping a shorter note on a holding and writing lengthier write-ups of stocks. One of my first lengthier write-ups was of NetEase, which has been a very strong performer in the stock market since:

NetEase – Chinese Gaming

One of my more important posts which shows that I started this blog to go on a journey to become a better investor, was the following post:

Investment styles and lifelong learning

I particularly like this point I made in the post. I will come back to this later:

“but for me personally I want to spend a few more years understanding both stock markets around the world, different sectors, as well as different investing styles. Because if it’s one thing I learnt from meeting all these great managers out there, with great track-records of alpha generation – there is not one style that is superior to others, all different styles of investing can work, if you do it right. And maybe as important, different investing styles will outperform during different times.”

Second year

I started the second year with the best analysis I probably produced on this blog. At least if you evaluate it in terms of stock price returns (I don’t count stocks I just mention, like the DNA discussion I start of the post with – CRISPR there would have been a fantastic buy). The post was followed up with an equally good commenting from many of you readers.

Nagacorp – Casino in Cambodia

I was very early on the sneakers trend in China and invested long before Anta and Li Ning moved up multiple-fold. I did get a good return with XTEP in the end, but it also shows that buying value is not always the best case. A lot of the value sits in a brand and here Li Ning for example was a much stronger candidate. I understood that during my due diligence, but instead went with what looked cheap on fundamentals. As often is the case, cheap is cheap for a reason. I have gotten better at being skeptical against cheap companies, although I still do mistakes.

Chinese shoes – XTEP

Another analysis I spent a lot of time on was YY, which recently changed name to JOYY and which I re-bought into the portfolio. I was way too quick to sell the company as it doubled after I sold (and later came back down again).

YY.com – Full Analysis

Since I started the portfolio I always had a fairly high weight towards companies with exposure in the Chinese market and often listed on the HK exchange. The reason for that has been valuation and the nice growth prospects. At the same time I’m always fully aware of the Macro backdrop, which always scared me. I’m pretty sure at some point we will see a major economical collapse in China (before they really take over the world), maybe it will come now triggered by Corona. Anyway, the first time I got cold feet was in 2017 and I wrote this post.

Rotate away from China & Portfolio changes

Well in the end I have not been able to stay away from China, I still have a lot of China exposure in my portfolio, perhaps I should take a look at that once again?

Tokmanni was a company where I did the analysis correctly, but I did not have the patients to wait for the stock to reprice (which it did in the end):

Buy the dip – Tokmanni

One of the larger write-ups and due diligence processes I ever done on a stock was Teva. That taught me a lot about the industry which was good, but it also taught me that it’s not really worth it. A large Pharma company is just too complex to value and it takes too much of my precious time. Time better spent on smaller companies. I guess my analysis is still somewhat relevant (written in two parts) and the company is still a controversial highly leveraged investment:

The Perfect Storm – Teva – Part 1

Finally in December 2017 I did another large piece on a company I still hold, Dairy Farm. The company really is in a pickle right now with Corona virus, HK protests and in generally mis-managed supermarkets. The valuation also reflects it. This post gives a good overview what the company is about:

Dairy Farm – Asian food giant

Third year and onward

Given that these are more recent I will keep a bit more brief.

I was very proud of how I combined my knowledge of China and an entity listed in Europe when I presented this idea (which turned out be perfectly timed):

Adding Rezidor Hotel Group – HNA related idea

I also want to highlight a stock a still own, which continues to trade on a very low multiple, Dream International:

Dream International – a dream investment?

One of the post I’m most proud of in terms of originality is my Art of Screening post. I took a fairly scientific approach of trying to find out which markets have the lowest retail stock investing participation and through that approach find the stock that are most overlooked. This concept has stayed with me since and is another important puzzle piece to what today is how I go about finding new investments and building my portfolio. I think I will have to follow-up on this post, there never was a Part 2 written..

The Art of Screening – Part 1

Another major stepping stone in my approach to investing came with this post, where I introduced 3 buckets of investing, Long Term, Opportunistic and Speculative:

GlobalStockPicking 2.0 – Major Portfolio Changes

Just as Electric Vehicle was this big theme I researched I in the same way researched the Dental Industry in a three part series. Unfortunately most of the investment cases were in my view priced for perfection, but I learned a lot, which will be helpful to pick up these stocks in the future if the market provides a buying opportunity. The stock I choose to invest in which I still hold is Modern Dental Group:

The Dental Industry – Part 1- Overview

2019 saw my first guest post from a friend of mine. Maybe given the current situation is worth revisiting some Macro thoughts?

Guest post about the US debt cycle

And finally, in my view another one of my very solid write-ups, Polish listed LiveChat, which so far has had a very strong stock performance:

LiveChat Software – company with a strong track record

Readers input please!

I hope you liked what I have written over the years! What were your favorite posts? What would you like to see more of and what should I spend less time on? Please comment!

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A look in the rear-view mirror

This time around I thought I would take a different approach. Recently I walked through all my current holdings: Short comment on all holdings

Today as a year end evaluation I will do the opposite, go through all companies I held but sold. This will also give new readers who hasn’t read through my blog from the start a better understanding what has built my performance over the years. For every holding, if you want to kno more, check through the drop down menu (if you are in a web browser) and select the stock in question. The purpose of this exercise which took quite some time to compile is to evaluate if I’m turning over my portfolio, too much or too little. And even more importantly of all the investment ideas I put in my portfolio over these years, are they of high quality? Have they kept performing after I sold or am I buying too many poor performing businesses?

All stock performance data is converted into USD and total return (meaning dividends are reinvested) and benchmark against my GSP portfolio. Also take note that the Y-axis varies in scale, let’s get started!

Press “Read More” and be ready for a lot of graphs!

In stock code alphabetic order, all stocks I held but sold:

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Portfolio update and larger portfolio change

2019 has been the toughest year for the GlobalStockPicking portfolio in terms of under-performing against the MSCI World benchmark, YTD the return stand at 3% vs 15% for MSCI World. I did very well up until about April this year, when I posted about a new all time high for the portfolio. Such boasting was immediately punished with severe under-performance. Both US and European markets have performed well, whereas Asia is more in line with my portfolio. With quite a lot of Asia exposure the portfolio has fallen behind, but even taken that into account I have under-performed.

Obviously I’m disappointed, but more so I have been scratching my head. Is this how it should look like at a market peak, as irrational investors pile into Beyond Meat like investments and rational investors fall behind? Or am I on the wrong track and investing in poor value trap companies etc? Before going further into that topic, below is the return in a more digestible format:

Two portfolio “issues”

  1. First “issue”, I’m sitting on a few Hong Kong small cap investments which are pretty much dead in the water. The market sentiment in Hong Kong currently is not very good and although my companies (thinking foremost of Tonly Electronics, Modern Dental Group and Dream International) seem to have little exposure to trade tariffs (for Dream it’s actually a positive) or exposure to Hong Kong protests, the stocks are not moving. These three holdings at 17% of my portfolio seem to be pretty much in value trap land at the moment. Sure they might be cheap, but there is no interest in the market to price these stocks at higher multiples. So is this an issue then? Well yes and no, if it’s important to keep measuring yourself against a benchmark which keeps moving upwards, then it is an issue. If you are long-term and the underlying businesses are doing all right, it’s a non-issue, at some point the market will wake up and revalue the companies. Given that I want to be very long term, I have decided that this is not an issue for me. Obviously that might change when the semi-annuals soon are released for this companies.
  2. I’m having too many large cap companies in my portfolio where I have no reasonable edge against the market. Not having an edge on the market is something I thought a lot about lately and something I realized is critical for long term out-performance. I see two main cases (there might be others) where I think I could still have an edge in large caps:
    1. That I have a much longer investment horizon than the market (my investment in Diageo, Inditex,, Essity, Dairy Farm and LG Chem are based on this).
    2. Irrational selling flows in certain market segments, for example Hong Kong listed stocks right now, or stocks not fitting into the ESG portfolios which seems to go into everything right now (my investments in Swedish Match, BATS and Philip Morris are based on this).

Basically this gives me a few large cap holdings which have not really been bought with these “edges” in mind: NetEase, Gilead Science and partly NagaCorp. But NagaCorp being a Cambodian investment, listed in Hong Kong and after a big run-up trades around 6bn USD in MCAP. I would say it’s not really a main stream large cap investment just yet.

Portfolio Changes

Selling Gilead Science

Already back when I invested in Gilead I “confessed” that I had struggled to find a really great Pharma investment case. I relied heavily on other investors and their analysis when I invested in Gilead (Another Portfolio change Aug 2017). I think shows a bit how my investment style has changed since then. Today I would not do such an investment without doing my own due diligence a bit deeper first. Given the “no edge” argument, it’s time to let this one go and invest in something where I think I found an undervalued company, which the whole market is not aware of.

Selling British American Tobacco (BATS)

I might be right that ESG tilts in portfolios have put tobacco stocks on the no-go list of investments, but I can’t just base such a large portion of my portfolio just on this. I need to see that these companies long term are capable of delivering great returns in my portfolio. Swedish Match I think qualifies there, that’s why I increased my position there. Philip Morris might qualify long term, I do like the IQOS product and long term it’s success will be pretty crucial for delivering really strong shareholder returns. In BATS case, I’m pretty confident that this is a good defensive company which will deliver decent shareholder returns, if I was a corporate bond investor I would like BATS quite a lot. But I’m looking for slightly higher returns and I gambled a bit too much on this ESG angle having 3 tobacco companies in the portfolio, two is enough and BATS is the weakest link.

Selling Essity and switching into it’s subsidiary Vinda

This switch is something I haven’t mentioned, but looked at for a long time now. Vinda being a Chinese tissue paper products producer, majority owned by Essity and listed in Hong Kong. Basically the case is that given demographics, Vinda will see much stronger growth than the rest of Essity, which is also confirmed in historical results. So all else equal given higher growth Vinda should trade at a higher multiple, but it’s rather trading just in line with Essity. Why? Probably because Vinda being somewhat illiquid in comparison with a small float of some 25% on 2.2bn USD MCAP. But you get a Swedish governance run company, with full exposure to China’s growing middle-class and elderly population. This is truly something to put in the long term bucket.

Some pictures showing how Essity and Vinda traded since Essity got listed as a separate entity (spun out from SCA):

I was unfortunately asleep at the wheel during the summer when the spread was at it’s largest. The spread shrunk after great H1 results from Vinda, but has increased again on back of Hong Kong stocks under-performing in general (probably due to protests etc). So this gave me another opportunity to switch into Vinda.

Initiate new position in AK Medical Holdings

Another twitter inspired holding (LiveChat being the other), which I feel a bit ashamed of not having found myself (given how much time I spend looking for stocks on the HK exchange). Again my timing here is not the best given that the stock has rallied quite a lot recently. A full write-up will have to wait, but this is the holding I hinted at in my 3-D printing post. The company produces orthopedic implants, mainly for the hip and knees. The sell their products almost exclusively in China. Over the last few years the spent quite a lot of resources to use 3D-printing technology to create better custom made hip implants. Just as I wrote about in the 3D-printing post, the most successful examples of 3D-printing so far has been for the human body, where the need for customization is high. The companies sales of 3D-printed implant parts is still fairly small compared to total revenue, but it’s growing very nicely. It also shows the companies ambition to not just be the low cost option for implants compared to international players.

I think the company partly have traded so strong lately due to trade war speculation. If the trade war intensifies, probably international companies selling hip implants will face difficulties, which could favor a local player like AK Medical. My investment thesis is not based on this though, although of course it’s nice to have a trade war hedge in the portfolio.

This company is not trading at very cheap levels, so I will start with a fairly small position. You will have to wait a while longer for a full write-up.

Sizing and adding in Sbanken

I sell the full holdings in Gilead Science, BATS and Essity as of close Friday. This takes my cash level to about 14.1%. Of this I allocate a 5% to Vinda and a 3% position to AK Medical Holdings. Of the cash left I decided to increase my position in Sbanken again, which has traded down significantly on general Nordic bank stock weakness. I take my Sbanken position back to 5% of the portfolio, leaving a small cash buffer.

 

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2018 Summary and Review

For 2018, the Global Stock Picking portfolio is down -2.5%, that compares to MSCI World Total Return (i.e. including dividends) down -8.2% on the year. My return is also including dividends but no trading fees deducted. In the counterbalance to fees, I do not calculate any return on cash, which has averaged around 9% of my portfolio. Given my fairly heavy China tilt I have in the past compared myself with Hang Seng, down -10.5% on total return basis. During the first 9 months of the year I struggled to keep equal steps with MSCI World, given the benchmarks high weight to the U.S. When U.S. markets sold off sharply towards year end I increased my alpha quite significantly against the benchmark. As you can see in the graph below, I was flat performance wise from mid-October to year end. This meant that my cumulative alpha reached it’s highest level towards year end. Total return is 47% since inception vs 22.8% for MSCI World. Although a negative year is not very encouraging, I’m still happy with the results, given how exposed I have been to China, which has had a terrible year.

Significant Portfolio changes over the year

Funeral investments – Dignity and Fu Shou Yuan

I entered into my demographics investment case beginning of 2018. It did not play out as planned, I changed my mind and sold both holdings in late November.

Brewery and liquor companies – Olvi, Diageo and Kopparbergs

Olvi and Diageo I still hold, I see them as defensive good companies, 2018 performance wise has been unspectacular. Probably Diageo is a bit too big company to deliver outstanding returns, it would be better to find something smaller, like Olvi, which I like a lot. My best investment was the one I sold, Kopparbergs, good return and the stock has totally collapsed after I sold. I think this was a case of my being a bit lucky with the timing, but also being ahead of the market understanding the cider business fairly well. Behind the scenes I have done a lot of research on other cider companies and how the big breweries are ramping up their cider offerings. I also done a lot of on the ground research, always checking stocks in stores around the world and in pubs of course. All of this made my change my mind on Kopparbergs prospects, selling has so far paid of very well.

Larger portfolio reshuffle – Selling Tokmanni, Microsoft, Catena Media and Criteo

This selling was partly due to my change in investment style. One reason was that these companies are hard to understand and grasp, therefore hard for me to have an edge against the market. Hard to grasp also means high maintenance to keep on top of what is happening. Performance wise selling these holdings was neither good or bad, on average they are about flat since i sold. So overall they were not bad stock picks, given that flat performance is also out-performing the market.

Special Situations – Radisson Hotel and Amer Sports

Radisson was my HNA related turn-around idea, which played out like clockwork. Somewhat luckily I bought at absolute bottom (24.1 SEK) and the stock repriced upwards before the bid for the company came. I choose to sell out before the actual bid at 35.8 SEK, whereas in hindsight, like one my readers has pointed out, it would have been better to keep holding it. Currently trading at 42.4 SEK.

Amer Sports was just that I had pretty good understanding of the Chinese company Anta, which had indicated a bid for Amer Sports at 40 EUR per share. The market did not really believe this, I saw it as something that made total sense for Anta. I got my shares for 34.1 EUR and sold at 38.37 EUR 1.5 month later, currently trading at 38.75 EUR.

HK listed small caps – Tonly Electronics, Dream International and Modern Dental Group

I have invested long enough now on the Hong Kong exchange to have confidence enough to invest in the smaller companies listed in Hong Kong. It’s pretty dangerous waters, mis-pricing can last for very long periods of time and many of the companies are not run with shareholders best in mind. Anyhow I found three companies which I believe had few of these dangerous characteristics, low valuations and fairly bright future prospects. To summarize, so far so good, all companies have out-performed the market, although under very low volumes. All these stocks are easily manipulated up/down 10% on a single day. When I bought Tonly and Dream Hong Kong was one of few exchanges that had sold off, and these stocks were in my view uniquely cheap. Now when valuations are coming down everywhere, they seem less and less unique for each day that goes by. It might come a point when these are still good investments, but there are safer options that are valued as low as these. Still I think there is some way to go before we are there.

Speculative/Opportunistic holdings enter the portfolio – UR-Energy, Scorpio Tankers, Irisity and JD.com

The timing (mid Sep) of me buying more speculative, loss making companies was not really fantastic. Just when the markets really started to tank. Given that it’s no surprise that these stocks have not performed very well, all of them being a significant drag on performance. Currently I have most hope to Irisity which is making some acquisitions, trying to consolidate Swedish knowledge on video/camera detection software. Given the market climate I might make some changes and lower the weight towards these type of companies, it might get very brutal in a bear market.

JD.com is also an interesting case, the rape charges were thankfully dropped. On the other hand China feels much more wobbly now than 6 months ago. I’m a few dollars under water on this position, a bit hesitant if I should keep it, due to this being 100% China exposure. As argued earlier, with stocks repricing, there might also be better opportunistic investments than looking for a bounce in JD.com.

Thoughts about 2019

I believe we have entered a bear market. Opposite to a bull market when the market grinds higher and has sudden drops downwards, I think one can start to see that markets rather grind downwards and have large jumps upwards. That is for me the strongest sign of a typical bear market. 2008 was a bit special, since that was more of a collapse. I don’t believe in collapse this time, rather a longer grinding bear market, like in 2000-2003. It’s not going to be very fun performance wise in the next few years if I’m right. It’s also going to be frustrating finding a good investment case, just to see it trade down another 20%, becoming even cheaper. On the upside, it will be like a kid in the candy store, with a lot of great investments and fantastic prices. Probably all of this will not play out in 2019, but continue into 2020 (if I’m right). As always these things are impossible to call and I will just try to hold my long portfolio through it all.

I recently read a book with the title: China’s Great Wall of Debt – Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle. The author definitely has a negative bias on China but it struck a cord with me. I had not read the book when I wrote this post: Rotate away from China. He of course summarizes it much more nicely in his book, but he brings up a lot of points, which is just in line with my own observations. Reading the book it kind of re-emphasized that something pretty bad is lurking in China and when it turns, it’s going to be ugly. On the flip-side China still has many weapons to fight a downturn. Just the other day PBOC announced a Reserve Ratio cut for the banks which will release a lot of liquidity into the Chinese market. I think the big bad ugly China crash is still some years away, probably dependent on how much of a downturn we now will see in the rest of the world.

 

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