Archive for October, 2005

The Corporate Tarpit: MOVI

Dear Johnny,

What does it look like when a company sinks into the tarpit of its own obviated existence?

Investingly,
Your theoretical female reader

Dear Reader chick,

It looks like this.


-JD

Recommendation: Short Moviegallery, Long Mammals.


Why Miers could never be part of the new SCOTUS.

Investment analysis trumps political analysis yet again. Conservative originalist lackeyish with a hint of espirit de redeconstructionalism? Like that matters when the woman can’t dance.

Readers who read our reseach report on John Roberts and his familial ability to break-it-down knew that Miers’ nomination was doomed because the woman clearly can’t shake it herself and lacks any rug-cutting progeny. FYI to Harriet: the new court will hopping and if you aren’t getting down, you ain’t getting in.

Recommendation: Potential SCOTUS nominees should consider buying a dance pad and practicing in the confines of their own home.


Investing in Public Equities is Like Dating

I would like everyone to know that I am writing a future best-selling series of business books. It will be a syndicated series, kind of like Chicken Soup for the Soul. You know, first it was Chicken Soup for the Soul, then it was Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, then Chicken Soup for the Deaf Prostitute’s Soul, then the ground-breaking, recursive Chicken Soup for the Chicken’s Soul. My series will be similar and follow the formula Investing in Public Equities is like [Blank].

The first edition will be Investing in Public Equities is Like Dating. Here’s the idea: During one of the many rocky periods in a particular personal relationship, I remember asking my parents (married for 25 years) whether or not they had ever gone through tough times when they were starting out. Their basic answer: Relationships, despite what your girlfriend just told you, aren’t supposed to be “work.” “Work” is supposed to be “work,” hence the name. When a relationship is right there won’t be a lot of analyzing, discussing, and dissecting every aspect of the relationship as if it’s a third, independent entity.

In fact, finding a promising investment thesis is similar to meeting a new girl who might be dating material. Examine the similarities:

Dating:

Is she truly interesting? Can she take a joke? Does she come from a decent family (i.e., just how crazy will she be later in life)? Is she good looking all the time or only in dark bars? What do your friends think of her?

Investing:
Does the management team know what they’re doing? Does the company have sustainable barriers to entry in their key businesses? Is the company well positioned for the next 3-5 years? What do the company’s customers and suppliers say?
Sometimes — ok, a lot of times in Mr. Juggle’s case — things just won’t feel right even when the answers to most of these questions are positive. Just as a relationship can lack chemistry, a stock can look promising in theory but fail to perform. You will find yourself constantly justifying the stock to your friends, talking about how great the company is and how the chart is smiling at you. And much like your first relationship that you dragged on far too long, you’ll be tempted to “work through it” and stick around. Again, examine the similarities:

Dating:

I’ll put more effort in our relationship… Ok, I’ll try to change… I’m sorry…

Investing:
There was no operating leverage but we’ll see it next quarter for sure… They’ve assured me they have the financing in place…. The investment period is almost over…Management has a lot of “skin in the game”….

Listen to Juggles: Don’t do it.

Now the reason I think relationships are a particularly good analogy for investing is that it’s just as tough to know when you should cut your losses in a stock as it is when things go south with your girlfriend. You’ve been through a lot and there’s a shared history; is there something fundamentally wrong or are you just being impatient/unreasonable/(insert common male or investor characteristic here)? Finding an investment thesis is at least as hard as going back to dating, and you never want to bail on a good idea early. So ask yourself: the stock isn’t working but is this a healthy argument with your future wife or maybe you and the stock are fighting again because things just aren’t right between the two of you. Does the stock want you to “work on it” or “pay attention to its needs” more often? These are probably signs you should set cut that stock loose.

But don’t think it’ll be easy. The day you finally give up on that stock – it’ll go up 5%, just like your ex-girlfriend will wear a short skirt and slut herself around showing you how many other boys like her. But your better off man, you are way better off.

Recommendation: Long book writing, short dating.


Lending No-No Update

The stock secured loan to Phillip Bennett mentioned in my Lending No-No article was, in fact, unhedged, according to this RefCo article in the Journal.

The Refco stock Mr. Bennett pledged as collateral for the loan is now nearly worthless, damaging Bawag’s own financial situation. Earlier this week, ratings firm Moody’s Investors Service said the loan exposure represents a material proportion of the bank’s core equity and more than two times Bawag’s estimated 2005 earnings. Moody’s is concerned that the potential loss content of this exposure could negatively affect the bank’s capitalization.”

Given what should have been known by the lender, that may have been the worst loan in modern Western World history. At some point, I’m going to have take nominations for worst loans ever. I would definitely count the 57 different Chinese banks that lent money to one guy (which he used to speculatively buy apartments in Hong Kong) as one loan.


Long Earthquakes; Short Wilma

After a heady Katrina-a-Rita induced rise, hurricanes have plateaued and can only go down from their hyper-inflated levels; expect Wilma to further underwhelm its hype. Earthquakes are the steady unsexy FCF generating natural disaster, the kind that the Berkshire Hathaway of Disasters would look to acquire opportunistically. They kill more people. They do more damage. They release more energy (“A Richter 12 [earthquake) would be the equivalent of a fault half way to the center of the earth or about the same amount of energy as the Earth receives from the sun in a day”). They can cause derivative disasters such as mudslides, rockfalls, tsunamis (last winter a 9.0 earthquake iniated the tsunami) and super volcanoes.

Super Volcanoes? (from here)

Immediately before the eruption, there would be large earthquakes in the Yellowstone region. The ground would swell further with most of Yellowstone being uplifted. One earthquake would finally break the layer of rock that holds the magma in – and all the pressure the Earth can build up in 640,000 years would be unleashed in a cataclysmic event.

Magma would be flung 50 kilometres into the atmosphere. Within a thousand kilometres virtually all life would be killed by falling ash, lava flows and the sheer explosive force of the eruption. Volcanic ash would coat places as far away as Iowa and the Gulf of Mexico. One thousand cubic kilometres of lava would pour out of the volcano, enough to coat the whole of the USA with a layer 5 inches thick. The explosion would have a force 2,500 times that of Mount St. Helens. It would be the loudest noise heard by man for 75,000 years, the time of the last super volcano eruption. Within minutes of the eruption tens of thousands would be dead.

Let’s see the “wind” try and do that.

Recommendation: Long earthquakes; Donate money to the forgotten natural disaster in Pakistan.


Accumulate The Stalwart.com

We are working on the technical elements of investing in actual websites, but in the meantime, we recommend an Accumulate position on The Stalwart, based on his recurring greatness and on his especially insightful recent post whose analysis synthesized the world of gossip and capital markets to find that celebrity bimbette markets are the most efficient of all. Paris Hilton’s Invisible Hand is ripe with truth.

Recommendation: Long the Stalwart and US Weekly, Short Barron’s


JD’s Lending No-No’s: #1a and #1b

Juggles has his investment commandments, I’ve got my Lending No-No’s, and it’s all you need to manage the risk in your debt investments.

Lending No-No #1a: Consider the collateral. Never take stock as collateral for a loan if it’s offered by the CEO of a company who is at the center of a multi-billion dollar securities fraud.

Examples:

The ongoing Refco Securities Fraud Stock Scandal hinged on CEO Phillip Bennett’s (Refco) status as an unreported debtor of $430mm to the company. When this came to light on Monday, Bennett repaid the $430mm with cash money. Where did he get this cash money from? Per this NY Post article:
On Monday, Bennett paid back the $430 million plus interest by pledging 43 million Refco shares in return for a loan from The Bank for Arbeit and Wirtschaft AG in Austria.

The Bank for Arbeit and Wirtschaft committed a classic lending no-no and forgot to consider the collateral. It is likely they hedged their position but it was still a bad loan.

Lending No-No #1b: Consider the collateral. That trademark which is part of your security package? If you ever need it, it will have no liquid value.

Examples:

Frequently, companies with trademarks will include them as collateral in loans. So a company such as The Gap Stores would hire a third party to perform a valuation of their brand and come up with a figure say $XYZmm dollars. We all know that $XYZ dollars is a lot of money, but that brand’s value is really only a barometer for how well the company’s stores are doing. If you ever needed to sell that trademark to make a recovery on your high yield bonds or whatever paper you foolishly hold, you can expect to get $XYZmm – $XY0mm for it. That would leave you with just $Zmm left over (see our earlier research on $Z); you can’t win with math like that, which is why you always have to consider the collateral.

Discuss: Riding Segway Doubles Firm’s Stock Price

I've made a huge mistake

That picture of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was taken in November 2002. How do you reconcile that with this AMZN Stock Perf Chart:

Discuss.

Edit 10/17: Kaiser sent me this picture which may show that riding the Segway produces a similar reaction in Bezos as staring down Anna Kournikova. If you notice, it’s quite possible that he is riding a segway in that shot. That is the beauty of the segway, you just never can tell.


Companies I Hate (continued)

A number of online photo companies have recently been threatening to delete my photos if I don’t make a purchase. For instance, I received the following in an email from Kodak Easyshare:

We’re happy to store all your memories at the Kodak EasyShare Gallery, but because you haven’t made a purchase in the last 12 months, we may begin deleting stored images from your account. Don’t risk losing your photos!

Maybe I’m the exception but deleting my photos doesn’t qualify you for my bi-annual “happy to store your memories” award. In fact, I will probably send you an email telling you that I never plan to use your service again. Here was their response:

Thank you for contacting the KODAK EASYSHARE Gallery Customer Service Team.
We wanted to let you know that we’ve just received your message. A Customer Service representative will not respond to this email. [My emphasis]

What a followup! Thanks for emailing me to tell me you won’t be responding. And what, pray tell me, is the purpose of a customer service email if no one checks it!?! I appreciate your attention to my concerns; I will never purchase another Kodak product as long as I live.

Recommendation: Short Kodak. Short bad customer service. Short automated responses.


About that $430mm Accounts Receivable owed from me…

….was that uncool?

Full disclosure to our readers; I actually owe Long or Short $430mm. In a confidence business such as the delivery of genius, our customers (you) have to be worried about whether our lack of internal controls will affect the delivery of future content, or if this will delay or otherwise hinder the release of my next set of Investing Commandments. Rest assured that this kind of thing is totally cool because we all do it. I asked our internal auditors about it and they actually used the phrase “Dude, that’s totally cool.”

According to these same auditors, the whole Refco (ticker: RFX) stock thing is totally overblown, and Tyco’s internal controls were “wicked awesome,” so our controls are probably pretty good. In light of this, we rate our own stock as market outperform. Go long the equity, but be sure to short the bonds.

Recommendation: SOX rocks!, long white collar prison sentences, short “the bonds” and private equity’s due dilligience

PS if this post was incomprehensible, start here.


Saturday Night’s Alright

I go out on Saturday night and being that I’m awesome and that my company’s eye insurance lets me buy excessively expensive eyewear, I decide to wear sunglasses to the bar. I’m on the upper east side and there are hot babes everywhere. I’m chatting up one of the hot babes when a meathead from Long Island comes over and taps me on the shoulder. He says to me:
“Hey, only two kinds of people wear sunglasses inside, blind people and assholes.”

So I quip back, “I’ll give you one guess which one I am.”

Then he punched me in the face. Now I have two black eyes and a broken pair of really expensive sunglasses, but boy was I clever. What I learned is that being skinny, clever, good looking and rich is a tough combo in a bar full of meatheads with nothing to lose.

Recommendation: Long me and my sunglasses, short poor people and tough guys.


Short Crazy Cabbies

“It’s great to be back in the cab. First day back since my license got taken away.”
-heard as I got in a taxi yesterday

He was a 55yo drugged out looking cabbie, and he managed to get me to the BCBG Max Azria investors’ meeting, while talking to himself and with his mood oscillating between jubilation and severe angritude. I survived, but I wouldn’t buy stock in the likelihood that all his passengers survive.

Recommendation: Short insane people driving me places.


Fertilizer and Fighter Jets

Scotts Miracle-Gro is a manufacturer/marketer of branded lawn and garden products. You would probably recognize some of their brands like Scotts, Miracle-Gro and Ortho as stuff you put on your lawn. Their CEO Jim Hagedorn (who owns a ton of the stock), is a retired Air Force pilot and is wont to ramble. In his closing remarks at last year’s Investor/Analyst Day, he created an epic meditation on fertilizer, the power of greed and war:

“I didn’t get out of flying fighters to be a fertilizer salesman. I got out of fighters because I think it’s a more pure form of conflict here.”

I don’t disagree.

“It’s like the purest form of conflict in that like nobody really dies, but think how many volunteers you’d have if you could go over to Iraq and you could take all the money you could find?”

Perhaps becoming President or at least Secretary of State would be an even purer form of conflict than the fertilizer business, because we need to get these ideas into policy ASAP.

“This is what it’s like! I really like this business. I may be scaring you, I’m sorry.”

No, not at all. We already said how much we agree, Jim.

“But think about it! We get encouraged to basically compete — it’s a good thing. It’s okay to win. It’s okay to take market share which is just real estate — it’s imperialistic.”

This is exactly the kind of CEO I want in charge of a $2bn revenue, $300mm EBITDA, $2.5bn market cap company. He should also own ~40% equity in the company. Thankfully, he does, that financial imperialist son-of-a-gun.

Recommendation: Long inappropriate analogies

-JD

ps. As an investor, this is a pretty stock chart.


Just Heard in My Morning Meeting

“They’re doing ok in pickles, getting their ass kicked in fish”

First person to name the company being talked about gets a link in this post. Update: Mara was the first to name the company and here is her link which you must click.

Recommendation: Long pickles and Mara, short fish.

Smooches,
JD


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