Harvesting the archives (1): AS Creation, Medtronic, Netflix

Introduction:

Keeping track of all the companies one has ever looked at is pretty hard. It is pretty easy to update the companies which are in the current portfolio, but in my case, I often forget about the companies which I have looked a couple of years ago but didn’t buy for one reason or another or sold them. One of the great things of blogging is that you can easily look at everything you have ever written. Especially in the current environment, where good value investing ideas are pretty hard to find, it might make sense to look back at companies one has researched sometimes ago and either sold or not bought. Maybe they have become interesting again ? For me it is a lot easier to update myself on a stock I have looked 3-4 years ago compared to looking (and digging) into a completely new stock.

So in this new series, I will look into stocks I have written about and either sold or rejected and try to find out if something has changed or if some lessons could be learned.

AS Creation

AS Creation was the first detailed stock analysis on the blog in December 2010 (in German). The company back then looked cheap: Single Digit P/E, historically a single digit p.a. grower, 30% market share in Germany and the potential upside of a Russian JV (Russia was supposed to be a growth market back then). After some quite significant ups and downs, the stock was sold in August 2013 because the margins didn’t mean revert and the Russian JV was already in some trouble under “non crisis” conditions.

Looking back, the decision to sell in June 2013 at ~34 EUR looks smart if we consider the chart although in between the stock went up to 40 EUR again:

Operationally, AS Creation was hit by several negative events: First, the bankruptcy of Praktiker impacted them in the German core business, secondly, their French subsidiaries suffered and finally, the Russian JV which had to suffer from delays has been clearly hit by by the current crisis. With regard to the German business I have the impression that they never really rebounded to their historical average, maybe they did profit from some kind of anticompetition arrangements, for which they were fined. An interesting detail: They were convicted to pay 10,5 mn EUR in 2014, but they seem to have appealed the decision. To my knowledge, no appeal was ever succesful.

In any case, I don’t think AS Creation is interesting at the current level of 30 EUR. At a 2014 P/E of 15-20 (before any extra write-offs on Russia) there seems to be quite some turn around fantasy being priced in.

From my side there were 2 important lessons:
1. Mean reversion on single stock basis is nit guaranteed
2. If you buy cheap enough, you don’t lose much if things go wrong.

Medtronic

Medtronic was introduced (in German) on December 31st 2010 and then kicked out in August 2011 because I didn’t feel comfortable with a large cap US stock.

Looking back, this clearly doesn’t look like the smartest decision I ever made. Back then, I sold Medtronic at a loss of around -19%. Since then, the stock showed a total return of 167% in EUR. One of the interesting things about Medtronic is that a lot of the performance came from multiple expansion.

When I sold the stock at around 32 USD, the stock was trading around 10 times trailing earnings (3,27 USD per share 2010). 4 years later, reported earnings 2013/2014 have been ~20% higher per share at 3,80 USD, but Medtronic is now trading at around 18,5 times trailing earnings.

What is even more interesting than that is the fact that in absolute terms, 2013/14 earnings are at exactly the same levels as 2010/2011. Profit margins are even lower than back then. What happened ? Well, as in many cases for US stocks, the company bought back shares aggressively. Still, both ROE and ROIC declined but shareholders don’t seem to bother.

So despite the big run up of the share price, I don’t think that selling the shares has been a mistake. From a fundamental view the company looks worse than back then, however investors seem to be so happy about buyback driven EPS gains that they are willing to pay a pretty high valuation for this.

You could have speculated on such an outcome but as a fundamental investor, this would not have been in line with my investment philosophy. And clearly, You cannot increase the value of the company forever just by reducing the share count.

Stand-alone I would argue that Medtronic is clearly overvalued, based on the stagnating profit and deteriorating profitability. However with the current Healthcare “merger mania” I would not want to short the stock either.

Netflix

I briefly considered to skip the whole Netflix episode but then decided against it. Looking back, this clearly shows that one can do stupid things and still make money….

I shorted Netflix in January 2011 after a short thesis from Whitney Tilson. Luckily I was able to cover the short with a gain in September 2011.

Looking at the chart, we can see that despite extreme volatility, Netflix is now trading 3 times higher than when I covered the position:

The lessons here were pretty simple:

1. Don’t short “hot stocks” based on fundamentals. It is too volatile and just not worth it-
2. Stay away from whatever Whitney Tilson is recommending

Fundamentally, Netflix is on my “too hard” pile. I do think streaming is a big thing and will be even bigger in the future. However I have no idea how much money Netflix will actually be able to make.

3 comments

  • Stay away from whatever Whitney Tilson is recommending

    That’s a little bit hard, isn’t it? As far as I now he changed his opinion and then went long the stock, which played out nicely for him.

    Although… is Tilson the guy that didn’t know about accounting differences in european and american banks?

  • A little technicality: you can increase the price of a share (as opposed to the EV) by decreasing the share count essentially forever. If a company pays a sustainable proportion of earnings as share buy backs (and no dividend, or a sustainable total), it can go on forever.

    The only trouble comes if the share count goes so low that 1 share is worth more than you want to pay out but for that to be a problem you need the share count to hit a very low number, like below 100, and then a split will solve it. In Medtronic’s case it would take 494 years of paying a say 4% “buy back yield” to get to 100 shares.

    See Damodaran’s comprehensive coverage on buybacks: http://aswathdamodaran.blogspot.de/2014/09/stock-buybacks-they-are-big-they-are.html

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