Category Archives: Value Stocks

Banking update: Handelsbanken, Lloyds Banking & Gronlandsbanken (sale)

Although I usually don’t care that much about quarterly earnings, let’s start with two interesting ones:


Handelsbanken is on my watch list, I consider them as one of the best bank franchises globally but still a little bit too expensive. Officially, “Mr. Market” was disappointed because earnings were below expectations. The stock dropped around 8% on that day:

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Fossil Group (FOSL) – A great value stock with only temporary problems ? (part 1)

Fossil is a relatively well-known, US-based company which sells mostly watches and other accessories across the world, under its own brand but also under licenses from other famous labels (Michael Kors, Armani etc).

The stock has been hit hard in the last months and has lost more than 50% since its peak in 2012/2013. The Stock chart is a typical “falling knife”:

Fundamentally the stock looks very cheap, especially compared to historic profitability and growth:

Market cap: 2.660 mn USD (55 USD per share)
P/B 3,2
P/E Trailing 7,8
P/E est (2015) 10,7

10 year averages:
– P/E 17,7
– Profit margin 9,9%
– ROE 23%
– EPS growth 19,1%

So only looking at those historic numbers, Fossil looks like a high growth, capital light and highly profitable company at a bargain price. But as I have written before: Especially in an environment like now, cheap stocks are cheap for a reason.

Why is the stock cheap ?

There is a pretty decent Value Investor’s Club short thesis from late 2014 which lists a lot of the issues issues nicely. I would summarize it as follows:

1. The watch market in general is cooling down rom a high growth period
2. One of the main drivers, the Michael Kors brand (~1/4 of Fossil’s total sales) is having problems and the license agreement was expiring
3. The potential impact of Smart Watches.

I would personally add another fundamental issue which is:

4. Changes in the distribution structure & Social media branding

Let’s look Smart Watches first

Smart watches (and other wearables) are clearly a threat for established watch makers. It is hard to say if they will replace a significant share of traditional watches. With regard to Fossil one can make however the following observations:

a) Fossil is clearly NOT a first mover. They unveiled some first models in August and want to be on the market before Christmas but Sony ,Samsung, Motorola and of course Apple were much faster. Samsung now has 2 years experience and the new Gear S2 looks pretty good.

b) However the BIG question for Fossil is: If Smart Watches are succesful, will “Branding” work for Smart Watches the same way as for normal watches ? Fossil makes most of its money with branding, i.e. buying the stuff cheap in China, getting a license and putting a fancy name like Michael Kors on it and sell it expensively.

If you look at smartphones, branding for smartphones doesn’t really work. There was the Prada phone from LG but this seems to be not worked very well as I haven’t seen any new Prada phones since 2012. Most phones are sold under the name of the producer more like “regular” electronics. Why doesn’t branding work for smart phones ? I am not sure but I think it has to do with several factors such as rapid technological change. A brand like Samsung or Sony stands for technical excellence and people won’t pay more for a fancy name. If you want something fancy then you buy yourself maybe a Hermes Iphone case for 340 USD but not a Hermes branded phone.

I could imagine that Sports branding could work, as Smart Watches seem to focus on health and activity. For some reason however, adidas seems to have launched their first version of a smart watch already 2 years without the help of Fossil. So it seems that the Adidas license does not cover automatically all kind of watches.

Finally an interesting quote from the Michael Kors CEO with regard to slowing watch sales under the Michael Kors brand (from Bloomberg):

“A slowdown in our watch business, that has been significant and it happened very, very quickly. While I think many people think it is a result of the Apple Watch, it’s actually not. I think it is a result of the iPhone 6 where we did see some softening in our business when iPhone 6 was introduced. There’s clearly a younger customer, in particular, in America who is wearing watches less because they view the iPhone as something that they tell time with and watch becomes slightly less relevant.”
John D. Idol – Chairman, CEO, Michael Kors, Deutsche Bank db Access Global Consumer Conference, June 11, 2015

It could easily be that the Michael Cors CEO tries to blame the Iphone for the decline of his own brands but interesting nevertheless.

Changes in distribution & Social media branding

Historically,the distribution system of Fossil was clearly one of the competitive advantages. They did have own stores but most of their watches were sold in department stores like Macy’s or JC Penney plus Walmart. However as the department store format works less well, they have to adapt. They seem to do this by opening more and more own stores. They also clearly try to sell more online. However, as I experienced with Piquadro more than 3 years ago, moving from a more wholesale oriented model to a direct one is not easy.

Renting and running own stores is very different from delivering watches to a department store. It is riskier, you need more inventory and you need expertise in real estate.

Another threat is that the internet and social media seem to have lowered the barriers to entry. I had linked a few days ago to a story about Brandtech, the way some companies like Tesla use social media to create powerful brands.

If you go on Amazon and search for watches, the first page is dominated by “Daniel Wellington” watches. On the German site, the 20 most sold Watches are dominated either by super cheap no names below 10 EUR or Daniel Wellington. 6 of the 20 most sold watches are Daniel Wellington with an average price of 100 EUR, only 2 are Fossil watches. Amazon’s US top selling watches are interestingly allmost all very cheap models with Casio dominating the rankings.

Daniel Wellington is an only 4-year-old Swedish company which managed to go from zero to more than 200 mn USD sales in 4 years. The trick seems to be aggressive promotion via social media as outlined in the Brandtech article:

Tysander refuses to pay for traditional advertising, instead working with thousands of bloggers, celebrities, and other “influencers” worldwide. One of them, Blake Scott, 27, has been collaborating with Daniel Wellington for a little more than a year, sharing the watches with his 318,000 Instagram followers. “I first found out about Daniel Wellington via Instagram: Everyone outside the States was wearing one, and it seemed so cool,” he says. Soon after, someone from the brand reached out and said he wanted to give Scott a couple of watches to post on his feed. Eventually he negotiated a deal with the company, which paid a few hundred dollars for a multiweek campaign.

Other than that, they do exactly the same thing as Fossil:

Although DW bills itself as a Swedish company, the watches are manufactured in China, which is how the company keeps prices so low. The internal quartz movements—a battery and vibrating crystal to keep the time, essentially—come from Miyota, a Japanese supplier popular with lower-price brands, because their products are reliable and they always have a massive inventory. The rest of the components are made and assembled in Shenzhen, a manufacturing hub.

So clearly Fossil does not have anything like a moa
t, even the wholesale distribution network seems to be quite open for newcomers like Daniel Wellington. If you can build fresh brands as quickly as that, one also needs to think about how this changes the value of licenses of “famous” brands at least in the fashion category. One needs yet to see if Daniel Wellington is only a short-lived outlier or if more is to come.

What I like about the company

In general I found their annual reports pretty good and informative. If a company is in a situation like Fossil, with growth going away and cash flows still coming in, the danger is always that they do something stupid and/or incentives of management and shareholders are not aligned.

At Fossil however I found two statements which are quite impressive and indicate an above average management quality of the company.

This is a statemnt from the annual proxy statement about Kosta Kartsotis, Co-founder, CEO and 13% shareholder:

The Board believes that this structure is effective and best for the Company at this point in time for several reasons. Mr. Kartsotis joined the Company in 1988 and has been a director since 1990. He holds a significant number of shares of our Common Stock, and since 2005 he has refused all forms of compensation for his service as an executive officer, expressing his belief that his primary compensation is met by continuing to drive stock price growth.

Compared to this, Warren Buffett looks quite greedy in earning 100 K a year for being CEo. Mr. Kastsotis is basically working here for free. He has reduced his stake over time but in the last few years very little. Clearly without a salary he needs to sell some shares in order to get cash, but it would be quite easy for him to command a normal salary which could be at lest a mid single million USD number and no one could complain.

There was another great statement in the annual report on capital allocation and dividends:

Cash Dividend Policy.
We did not pay any cash dividends in fiscal years 2014, 2013 or 2012. We expect that for the foreseeable future, we will retain all available earnings generated by our operations for the development and growth of our business and for the repurchase of shares of our common stock

Fossil has bought back massive amounts of its own stocks in the last few years, around 1/3 of the outstanding shares have been bought back and they continue to buy more. Although part of thse stocks have been bought at 100 USD or more, I prefer this kind of capital allocation to doing stupid M&A transactions.

Summary part 1:

Fossil clearly has some fundamental issues to cope with. A general slow down in the industry combined with expiring license agreements has had direct and short-term negative effects on margins. The thread of smart watches adds further uncertainty. On top of that new competitors like Daniel Wellington seem to have no problems to enter the market and quickly gain market share.

Such a uncertain situation would normally be a clear reason NOT TO INVEST and stop researching as any margin of safety could quickly disappear.

On the other hand, Management seems to be properly incentivised and the capital allocation looks top notch. So I will digg a little deeper and try to come up with a valuation in a second post.

Value Investing Strategy: Cheap for a reason

Value investing is all about investing into stocks where the current price is “cheaper” than the underlying value.

The problem is clearly that although we know the price of the stock at any point in time, we can never be sure about the “true” value of a company as the future is uncertain.

So quite logically many value investors start searching for undervalued stocks within the group of “optically” cheap stocks. I often get emails like ” What do you think of stock xyz, it’s only trading at a P/E of 3 or P/B of 0,2 – isn’t this a great opportunity ?”. Isn’t it a great BARGAIN ?

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Driverless cars + Uber –> Death of Car Insurance ?

As this became a long post, a quick management summary upfront:

The case for 100% self driving cars without accidents is not so clear for me
1. Based on current facts, the Google car doesn’t seem a lot better than human drivers
2. From other areas (Airplanes, chess) we can learn that a human-machine combination is often better than a “machine” alone
3. Driving cars is also an emotional experience, many people might not fully sacrifice this
4. Some innovations take longer than one thinks, especially if they take away freedom from consumers
5. A gradual decrease of claims could actually be positive for car insurers over an extended period of time

Additionally, I don’t see a combination of driverless cars with a service like Uber replacing private cars anytime soon. There are a lot of practical issues with renting out private cars to complete strangers. However, taxi driver might not be a job with a big future either.

So from my perspective, as shareholder of a car insurer like Admiral there is no reason to panic, however for traditional insurers this might be one more nail in their coffin.

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Bouvet ASA Update – Annual report & Q1 2015

Bouvet is a Norwegian IT consulting company which I unfortunately “discovered” last year in August before the oil price began its free fall in autumn 2014.

Not surprisingly, the stock price suffered along the other oil dependent stocks. Despite the recent small rebound, the stock is still a relative loser for me, especially compared to the huge rally taking part in German stocks:

To add insult to injury, I lost even on the currency side as the NOK became even weaker than the EUR:

Annual Report 2014:

Let’s look at the 2014 annual report first.

Diluted EPS fell in 2014 from 6,75 NOK to 5,45 NOK. If we look at quarterly earnings over the last 2 years, we can see that already Q2 2014 showed a clear decline which then continued the rest of the year. The profit is now at 2012 levels. With a current P/E of around 14 and EV/EBIT of ~10 Bouvet is not that cheap anymore,.

Also, receivables and “work in progress” increased, resulting in a Free Cash Flow before acquisitions of only ~80% of net profit which is very low for Bouvet.

The most interesting part of the annual report was the info on the CAP Gemini acquisition. They paid 12,5 mn NOK, mostly Goodwill for Cap Gemini’s Norwegian business. This is what they say is the impact:

The acquired company has an estimated contribution with NOK 6.0 million to the Group turnover and NOK 0.6 million to the Group’s profit before tax in the period between the purchase and the balance sheet date.
Included in the value of goodwill are employees and expected synergies with Bouvet Norge’s existing business.

Had the acquisition been carried out on 1 January 2014, the Group’s estimated total turnover for the entire period would have been NOK 1 159.4 million and the Group’s estimated profit before tax would have been NOK 85.5 million.

With this information,we can easily calculate the acquisition multiple:

Stated 2014 sales of Bouvet were 1.132 mn NOK and EBT 81,6. So without the “partial” contribution, Sales would have been 1.126 and EBT 81,0. So the 12,5 mn NOK bought 33,4 mn NOK Sales and 4,5 mn NOK EBT.

Overall this looks like a pretty good deal for Bouvet. Buying at a trailing EBT Multiple of 3,5 is clearly a "bargain purchase" although it's clearly relatively small.

Q1 2015

After the pretty bad last months in 2014, I was quite surprised that they showed really strong Q1 figures for 2015. At 2,32 NOK, Q1 profit is +26,5% against Q1 2014 and EBIT margin was 9,8%, pretty close to their target.

However, Q1 always looks volatile at Bouvet, from 2012 to 2013 for instance, Q1 results dropped by 23% and Q1 2014 was around +16% against 2013.

So I do think it is too early to call a “turn around” at Bouvet, although their tone is quite optimistic:

Demand for Bouvet’s services is good and stable in Norway, and growing somewhat in Sweden.
Bouvet’s turnover is highest in the oil and gas sector, where the company has tailored its range of services and increasingly delivers to the core processes of its clients. That means the decline in sales to clients in this industry has flattened out

I found this quite interesting, as in other oil related industries (drilling etc.) we only start seeing cost cuts and project delays now in 2015. In the Q1 presentation, Bouvet gives additional information.

From my side, the most interesting developments were:

– they diversified their client base

Client portfolio

The 10 largest customers represent 39.3 percent of total revenues – down from 48.8 percent in Q1’14
The 20 largest customers represent 52.5 percent of total revenues – down from 63.6 percent in Q1’14

– they used less “hired” consultants which might explain the increase in margins to a certain extent.

Other stuff

There has been some movement in the shareholder base in the recent week. According to Bloomberg, DNB sold down around -2,5% via several funds. Handelsbanken however increased in their funds the overall position by around +2% of market cap. So overall no big net movemnet.


2014 was clearly not a good year for Bouvet and when I bought the stock, I didn’t expect the oil price to drop and their oil related business to suffer so much. On the other hand, Q1 looks very solid although one has to look if this trend really continues. Overall I do think Bouvet is a good “hold” position and if they continue to perform well I might add to the position later in the year.

Overall their strategy to be a “local Norwegian” consultant seems to work and might help them to secure more Government contracts going forward. I do expect that Norway will try to pump money into their local economy if oil stays weak and Bouvet might profit from this.

Update: TGS Nopec Annual Report 2014 and Q1 2015

TGS Nopec is one of my larger position which I bought back in November 2013 when oil (WTI) was still trading at ~100 US and the world looked great for oil and oil service companies.

In the meantime, as we all now, the oil price fell substantially since 2014 and especially oil service companies were hit hard. In contrast to other oil service companies however, TGS share price has decoupled from oil to a large extent as we can see in the chart:

This is especially interesting as 2008/2009 for instance, TGS lost almost -70% when oil crashed back then. Almost always when I discussed TGS with other investors, the argument was like this: TGS is a great company but the price has to fall at least -50% or more as it did in the past. Well, for now they are holding up pretty well.

2014 annual report

Anyway, the 2014 annual report can be found here

I would recommend anyone to read the annual report, at least the one page letter of the CEO, which in very clear words describes how TGS operates.

The highlights from my side:

– EPS dropped significantly from 2,59 USD to 2,09 USD per share
– however there were several negative one time effects included (around 65 mn USD or 60-65 cents per share).
– interestingly they make no effort to adjust those one time effects. You won’t find adjusted numbers anywhere in the report. I like this VERY MUCH.
– Operating cashflow actually increased by 10%
– Operationally, the Americas were doing very well in 2014. Asia was growing strongly but deeply negative
– payroll costs increased by ~10% in 2014
– they are still committed to invest counter-cyclical into new data by taking advantage of low charter rates for ships

Overall, they way TGS operates, 2015 will not look good from a P&L perspective, as they expense a lot of their investments and sales might take a little bit longer than usual. However if the past is any guidance for the future, in 2-3 years time the investments will then turn into nice profits down the road.

Q1 2015 update

A few days ago, even before the official Q1 report, TGS issued a Q1 update press release. They reduced significantly the expected net revenues for 2015 as E&P companeis are delaying their projects. Additionally, they announced a significant cost cutting program:

The Cost Reduction Program will position the company for the more challenging seismic market caused by the significant drop in oil price. A key element of this program is a reduction of more than 10% of TGS’ global workforce effective from April. Restructuring charges of approximately USD 4 million will be booked in Q2 as a result of this Program. The company expects annual cost savings of approximately USD 10 million as a result of the Cost Reduction Program.

Interestingly, this 10% reduction seems to off set the salary increase in 2014. At first, the market seemed to be shocked and the stock lost around -20% intraday but since then things have recovered. Maybe the recommendation change from Goldman has lifted the stock. This is what Goldman wrote last week (via Bloomberg):

(Bloomberg) — Offshore seismic market set for structural changes as oil producers rationalize costs, optimize upstream portfolios and concentrate on efficiency, Goldman says in note dated yday.
Goldman: multi-client segment has strongest outlook; data acquisition will continue to face challenges with at least six vessels needed to leave market to achieve balance
TGS raised to buy vs sell, is best-positioned in new oil order; co.’s library has highest N. America exposure which should remain most attractive onshore area
Strong financial position can sustain div.; selloff post 1Q creates buying opportunity

So it seems that this time, TGS does get better credit for their countercyclical business model than in 2008/2009. Maybe investors have learned actually a little bit since then ?.

In any case, from my side, TGS is a clear long-term core investment. Although the industry is very difficult, TGS is very good company with strong competitive advantages. Oil companies must replace their reserves,the demand for seismic data is not going away. Maybe it gets postponed a little bit ut they don’t have a choice. Without replacing reserves, atraditional E&P will not valued as going concern but as a run-off which much lower multiples.

Even with the reduced forecasts, TGS is still very profitable and who know what opportunities show up if some of the competitors get deeper into problems.

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