Monthly Archives: July 2014

Performance review June 2014

Performance June

In June, the portfolio gained 0,9% against -1,2% for the Benchmark (Eurostoxx50 (Perf.Ind) (25%), Eurostoxx small 200 (25%), DAX (30%), MDAX (20%)) an outperformance of +2,1%. YTD, the score is +10,2% against 4,1% for the Benchmark.

For June, positive contributers were IGE+XAO (+13,2%), Sistema (+7,5%), Admiral (+6,2%). Main loosers were Van Lanschott (-4,2%), KAS Bank (-4%,0%) and Energiedienst (-2,5%).

Interestingly enough, June was the fourth month in 2014 with negative BM performance and significant outperformance of the portfolio. This is how 2014 looks on a monthly basis:

Bench Portfolio Perf BM Perf. Portf. Portf-BM
Jan 14 8.849,21 181,48 -1,9% 3,7% 5,5%
Feb 14 9.306,80 186,34 5,2% 2,7% -2,5%
Mrz 14 9.228,53 187,18 -0,8% 0,5% 1,3%
Apr 14 9.203,99 189,76 -0,3% 1,4% 1,6%
Mai 14 9.499,94 191,22 3,2% 0,8% -2,4%
Jun 14 9.387,95 192,98 -1,2% 0,9% 2,1%

So whenever the market performs strongly, the portfolio underperforms significantly and when the market retreats it more then compensates. There is certainly some time lag involved here but I cannot completely explain what is happening here. At least it doesn’t look like a lot of beta 😉

Portfolio transactions

June was a very quiet month, the only transaction was to sell the remaining April SA stake. Although I introduced Admiral in June, I had invested already in April. The current portfolio as always can be seen here.

Including all the earned dividends, cash is now at ~11,8% plus the 5% in the Depfa LT2 which I consider very close to cash.

Currently, Portugal Telecom is “under review”. I bought a small position in order to keep my interest in the PTC/OI merger, the recent news about the undisclosed Rioforte investment caught me by surprise. I have sent an Email to PTC IR in order to clarify the accounting, but overall I think this is not a comapny to invest in after this incident.

As I have already written, in early July I already invested another 2,5% of the portfolio into NN Group, the Dutch IPO and insurance subsidiary of ING.

NN Group NV – “Hands off” IPO or interesting special situation ?

NN Group is the name of the soon to be just IPOed Insurance subsidiary of Dutch ING Group. NN Group sounds a little bit strange but is the “traditional” name of the Dutch Insurance company, “Nationale Nederlanden”.

As a value investor, normally, IPOs are an absolute “No go”. Benjamin Graham famously said that one should never touch an IPO because almost always, the stock price is overhyped and the risk return relationship is not good. Especially now with the market reaching new highs, buying IPOs doesn’t seem a good idea.

So why could this IPO be different ? In my opinion there are some good reasons:

1. ING is obliged to sell.

ING had to be rescued in 2008 by the Dutch Government under the condition that they dispose their full insurance activities. They cannot simply spin off the business because they need the money to pay back the Dutch Government and shore up the bank balance sheet.

This is form a recent Bloomberg article what they have done so far and what they committed to:

ING, the recipient of a 10 billion-euro bailout from the Netherlands in 2008, agreed with EU regulators to complete its disposal program by the end of 2016 and to sell more than half of NN by the end of next year. ING also still owns about 43 percent of Voya and a stake of about 10 percent in Sul America SA (SULA11) in Brazil.

The company is open to selling the Sul America stake, worth about 566 million reais ($253 million) based on the Rio de Janeiro-based insurer’s market value, in a block trade, Chief Executive Officer Ralph Hamers said in an interview in Sao Paulo yesterday.

2. The company is an “ugly duck” at first sight

The remaining insurance compqny is a strange combination of Netherlands, Eastern Europe and Japan with some Investment Management thrown in. In German, one would call the business mix a “Resterampe”, so the remains of what could not be sold directly. The majority of the business is Life insurance, which itself is clearly suffering from low interest rates.

The company shows more or less zero profits for 2013, however a couple of items could be considered true “One offs” in order to look better in the future, for instance the large charge against the closed Japanese VA business. Also Q1 2014 showed a loss, this time because of a charge in relation to pensions.

So now one can accuse ING of “dressing up the bride”, rather the opposite.

3. European Insurance is one of the sectors with the lowest valuations anyhow

The Stoxx 600 has currently a P/E of 24,8 and a P/B of 1,9. Compared to this, the Insurance sector trades at a trailing p/E of 12,4 and P/B of 1,21. This is even cheaper than banks and utilities. Within the insurance sector again, the Life Insurance sector is even cheaper. There are clearly many reasons for those low valuations, especially that interest rates are so low which makes it hard for life insurers to earn their guarantees and a spread on top if this.

4. The IPO valuation looks cheap compared to the sector.

The company comes to the market at around 50% of book value. Considering that they don’t have a lot of Goodwill, this looks cheap even compared to the generally low valuations for life insurance companies. Dutch competitors Aegon and Delta Llyod trade at P/Bs of 0,7 and 1,3, the average for European Life insurers is ~1.4 including UK, and around 1 excluding UK.

5. The company looks like a target

Looking at this IPO, there seems to be a big sign on the company saying “split me up”. This strange combination of businesses is clearly not value enhancing. Splitting the company up for instance into a Dutch entity and selling down the rest could be a pretty easy exercise for an activist Hedge fund. I could also imagine that some Asian financial companies would be interested in acquiring a solid Dutch “brand”-.

6. The company is relatively solid

If one looks at the “usual suspects”, like Goodwill, pensions etc. there is not much to be found. The company had 6 bn of defined benifit liabilities in 2013 but actually got completely rid of them in early 2014 against an extra charge. I consider this as very positive and a good sign that they really cleaned up a lot of stuff befor doing this IPO. Additionally, another insurance specialty, so-called “DACs”, which are capitalized distribution costs only play a very minor role at NN compeared to other life players like AXA.

They do have some leverage but overall I would rate the balance sheet quality as “above average” for the sector.

7. The US IPO went relatively similar

There is a blue print for this transaction: Voya, the former ING US IPO. The US business was also supposed to be pretty ugly, so ING placed the first tranche very very cheap at below 0,4 times book value. Since then however the valuation seems to slowly approach those of other US life insurers and the stock almost doubled since IPO:

Other thoughts:

Management incentives
What I didn’t find out in the annual report or in the IPO prospectus was how the NN Group management is aligned with shareholders going forward.

In situations like this, a lot depends on Management, especially if they want to actually increase sahreholder value or if they want to maximise salaries which is easier in a bigger company and which would make reasonable spin-offs and disposals unlikely. So this is something to be watched.

Management has committed to a quite aggressive dividend payout ratio of 40-50%, starting with a large payout already this year in autumn. I am not a dividend investor, but this greatly reduces the risk of stupid acquisitions.

Distribution agreements with ING Bank

Life Insurance is mainly distributed via banks these days (often along with a mortgage loan). NN has an exclusive agreement with ING Bank according to the IPO porspectus until 2022. Although this is a limited time frame, this is very valuable as banks now charge high upfront fees in order to access their distribution channel.


In my opinion this “IPO” of NN Group is much more similar to the classic “spin-off” than a “real” IPO. ING has to sell, the underlying business looks ugly at first sight and there is a lot of overall negative headline news for the sector and the specific business fields. As a result, other than with a normal IPO, the valuation is very cheap.

As I feel comfortable with the headline risks at this price level, I will invest a “half position” (2,5%) of the portfolio into NN Group at current prices (21,70 EUR). The short form investment thesis is that one gets an above average quality insurance business for a below average price.

Again, this is clearly not a “no brainer” and will need (lots of) patience, but over 2-3 years, the price of the shares could be easily 50% higher (including dividend distributions) if they reach average valuation ratios and the one-offs turn out to be real one-offs.

Book review: “Dream Big” (The 3G story) – Christiane Correa

To be honest, when Waren Buffet last year announced his intention to team up with the Private Equity company 3G in order to buy Heinz, I didn’t know anything about those Brazlian guys behind that company. Especially, the “Mastermind” Jorge Paolo Lemann who is now the 28th richest guy in the world with a net worth of around 25 bn USD was amlmost completely unknown to me.

During the Berkshire AGM, someone (I don’t know who it was, maybe Buffet ?) mentioned that they are selling 250 hard copies of the book which describes how those Brazilian guys got so succesful. However when I went to the bookstore, the copies were already sold out.

So as a kind of additional research when I looked at GP Investments, I downloaded the available Kindle verison of the book.

Jorge Paolo Lemann started his business carreer as a classical banker/trader. Relatively soon, he was able to buy a small brokerage which he renamed to “Garantia”. Over 20 years or so, Garantia was one of the most succesful investment banks in Brazil. The book lacks a little bit in detailed description what they actually did at Garantia, however it seemed to have been a mixture of investment bank and hedge fund, generating huge profits especially in those times when the Brazilian currency was in trouble.

One of Lemann’s key strategies was that he tried to hire “hungry” people and motivated them via huge bonuses which were distributed based on actual results and not, as with many other Brazilian companies based on seniority etc. So to a certain extent, Garantia seemed to have been not unsimilar to a typical “wolf of Wallstreet” boiler room where young and aggressive traders could get rich very quickly.

However the main differentiator of Garantia was the fact that Lemann didn’t pay out the bonuses but required his employees to use the bonus in order to buy shares in Garantia from the founders. So the most susccesful employees also became very quickly major shareholders and partners. In theory and practice, this aligned the interests very well. Lemann is cited several times that he wanted his employees to remain “cash hungry” which doesn’t work well when you pay high cash bonuses.

Relatively early, he also became interested in investing in “real” companies. The first succesful attempt was the Brazilian Retailer Lojas Amricanas. Especially when more and more cash piled up at Garantia, he didn’t want to pay out huge dividends, but used the cash to buy the then struggling Brazilian brewer Brahma for an amount of 60 mn USD. The story about that transaction sounds quite funny. The didn’t do a real due dilligence and only found out afterwards that the company had a 250 mn USD pension hole. Without knowing anything about breweries, they managed to turn around the company pretty quickly.

While being occupied with Brahma, Lemann seemed to have lost interest in banking. While he was still on the board, Garantia almost went belly up and was finally sold for 675 mn USD to Credit Suisse, however the Brahma shares were spinned off before that to the partners. In the book, at thwo instances he seems to have complained about his younger partners that they paid out themselves too much cash instead of adhering to his beloved partnership model.

Going forward, Brahma managed to acquire their biggest rival in Brazil, Antarctica. Further “rolling up” the beer industry, they “merged” with Belgian Interbrew and then finally, in 2008 made the all debt financed acquisition of Anheuser Bush for a whopping 50 bn USD, creating the largest brewing group in the world.

Overall, by only reading the book, it was hard for me to understand if Lemann and his close associates (Telles, Sicupira) are really genius and visionary business men and investors or if they are just aggresive “financiers” who got lucky.

In the time when they build up Garantia for instance, a lot of financial institutions in Brazil prospered, sometimes through questionable ways of information gathering. Also the essential Brahma and Antarctica merger, creating a dominating Brewery in Brazil with 70% market share would have not worked that well in a country with a tougher anti-monopoly regulation.

At least they were more cautious than another former Brazilian superstar, Eike Batista, who stayed in Brazil with his investments and almost lost it all in the last 2 years or so.

For me, the most crucial part of the “Lemann” story is his view on how to align Management and owners. Its seems that in the long term, the owner/manager model where managery invest their salaries back into the company is able to generate exceptional value compared to a “cash bonus/option” model for management.

Interestingly, there was a story earlier this year the Brito, the Brazilian AB Imbev CEO seems to have “gamed” his targets in order to earn a massive bonus. This would not be in line with Lemann’s philosophy. Still it doesn’t seem to have impacted the stock price of AB Inbev which has trippled over the last 5 years.

Overall, the book is written OK, not exceptional like Michael Lewis but still interesting to read. I think it is worth a read especially if one is interested in the Brazilian market and its history and in the alignment of management and shareholders. It is clearly not an “how to invest” book.

Other sources:
Bloomberg story on Lemann & 3G

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