Category Archives: Investment-Gurus

Exor SpA: Buying a Reinsurance company doesn’t mean that you’re the “next Bershire”

Following my Old Mutual “sum of parts” valuation I saw the following Ira Sohn presentation of Exor Spa, the Agnelli family holding (FiatChysler, CNH etc.) as a potential  “Sum of part” value investment.

exor_logo_dec_2013

To summarize the presentation  in my own words:

  • Exor Spa is basically a “Berkshire like” company at a “Graham” valuation
  • Exor is managed by a “great capital allocator” and trades at a discount as people see it as an Italian company
  • After the acquisition of Reinsurance Partner Re Exor should trade at similar valuations as Berkshire or Markel
  • Big upside potential as FiatChrysler, Ferrari (and CNH) are severely undervalued (“Coiled springs”)

The study sees a potential upside of several times the current share price. They forecast a 150 EUR NAV per share (vs. ~50 EUR now and 30 EUR share prices), driven by a quadrupling in value of the FCA and the CNH stakes.

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Capital Allocation & Capital Management – What is good and what is bad

Everyone who has read Thorndikes book “The Outsiders” clearly knows that capital allocation& capital management is one of the most important factors in creating long term shareholder value. After I watched Thorndike give a briliant talk at Google on this topic, I decided to write down my own thoughts on the topic.

What is CAPITAL ALLOCATION & CAPITAL MANAGEMENT anyway ?

CAPITAL ALLOCATION is simply what you do with your profits/cash inflows once they are in your account. You can do a lot of things with it. Thorndike in the talk above uses 5 uses, I would add another 2 (in bold)

1. Reinvest: Maintain your existing assets/infrastructure/operations
2. Grow organically: Expand your business by buying more machines/outlets/opening stores etc.
3. Expand your business by M&A
4. Pay back liabilities (debt, payables, pension liabilities etc.)
5. pay dividends
6. buy back shares
7. just leave the cash on your account and wait for better opportunities

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Kinder Morgan (KMI): Slow moving train wreck or Contrarian opportunity ?

In late 2014 I started looking into oil related companies. I have looked at a couple of energy related companies like explorer Peyto, LNG liquification terminal Cheniere , Consol Energy and Gaztransport. I only bought Gaztransport which I then sold 6 weeks later. As I am still interested in the Energy sector, I will cover some stocks from time to time.

Kinder Morgan, the US pipeline owner/operator looks like another typical potential contrarian “Value investment”.

799px-kinder_morgan_logo-svg

What I liked at first sight: Read more

American Express (AXP) – Cheap “Buffett” Blue Chip or Value trap ?

Executive summary: Although American Express looks cheap based on their historic profitability, the company is subject to rapid technological change and fierce competition in the payment industry. To me it is not clear how this will work out going forward, so for the time being I will not invest but look deeper into the industry.

american-express

American Express is well known in value investment circles because Buffett owns ~15% of the company and made a lot of money with it.

Recently the stock price came under pressure mainly because:

  • they lost a big co-branding contract (Costco) which will materialize in 2016
  • EPS shrank for the first time since 2001
  • lost a court case (vendors steering clients to cheaper cards)
  • “fintech hype”: mobile payment & peer-to-peer lkoan platforms as disruptors

The stock price clearly has suffered and is down more than -40% from its peak in late 2014 /early 2015:

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My 6 observations on Berkshire’s 2015 annual report

One general remark upfront: The 2015 annual report wasn’t that exciting in my opinion. Actually, I didn’t plan to write a post on it. However, after reading a couple of posts on the topic, I though maybe some readers are interested because I haven’t seen those points mentioned very often elsewhere.

  1. Bad year for GEICO

GEICO had a pretty bad year in 2015. The loss ratio (in percent of premium) increased to 82,1% (from 77,7%), the Combined ratio increased to 98% and the underwriting profit fell by -60%. Buffett talks about the cost advantage a lot in the letter, but the only explanation forthe increase in loss ratios are found in the actual report:

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Buffett & Munger on Cost of Capital: Don’t listen to what they say but look at what they do

After bashing David Einhorn for his Consol Energy WACC assumption last week, by chance I read at the very good 25iq blog an article on how Buffett and Munger publicly speak about those things.

Indirectly, this is clearly a slap in my face because even the headline already says it all:

 

Why and how do Munger and Buffett “discount the future cash flows” at the 30-year U.S. Treasury Rate?

The post summarizes what Charlie and Warren have said over the years with regard to cost of capital and discounting. I try to summarize it as follows:

  • They seem to use the same discount rate for every investment, the 30 year Treasury rate
  • in a second step they then require a “margin of safety” against the price at offer
  • they estimate cash flows conservatively
  • Somehow Buffet seems to have a 10% hurdle nevertheless
  • Buffett compares potential new investment for instance with adding more to Wells Fargo

So if Buffett doesn’t use more elaborated methods why should any one else ? Was I wrong to beat up David Einhorn because he used a pretty low rate for Consol Energy ? Add to this Mungers famous quote “I’ve never heard an intelligent cost of capital discussion” and we seem to waste a lot of time here, right ?

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Dear David Einhorn: Why are your interns doing all the cost of capital estimates (Consol Energy) ?

Just to be clear: I have nothing personally against David Einhorn. I am just wondering how he comes up with his underlying valuation assumptions these days.

I already had issues with funding cost assumptions at AerCap as well as his return assumptions for SunEdison.

Now I came across his latest pitch for Consol Energy this week. This is the slide which explains the value of the coal business:

Without going into the other details, the question here is of course: How the hell did he come up with a WACC (Weighted Average Cost of Capital) of 8,4% ?

The WACC is supposed to be the blended total cost of capital of a company, including both, debt and equity. For Consol Energy however the obvious problem is the following: Their bonds are trading at a level of 12-15% p.a. Even if we us an after-tax figure of maybe 8-10%, even the after-tax cost of debt is higher than the assumed WACC.

As the cost of equity has to be higher than senior debt (it is more risky), there is no way in ending up with a WACC of 8,4%. Maybe some of my readers can help me out if I am missing here something, but I am pretty sure that 8,4% is not the right number for Consol’s cost of capital. He uses the same WACC later for the shale gas part of the company, so it is certainly not a typo:

On his website he then explains how they (or his intern) came up with the WACC (slide “A-1”):

consol wacc

The real joke however is to be found a little bit below:

consol 2

Edit: Now that I know that it was meant as a joke it reads somehow different😉

 

So he somehow believes that his WACC is actually conservative.

Let’s look at some “real world” data. This is the overview of Consol’s currently outstanding bonds:

consol bon ex

The average yield based on outstanding amount of Consol’s bonds is 14,5%, a full 11% (or 1.100 basis points) higher than in Einhorn’s calculation. As I have said above, the cost of equity has to be higher than the cost of debt as thee is no protection to the downside. So if we use Einhorn’s quity risk premium of around 6%, we would get cost of equity of around 20,5%.

Based on Einhorn’s weighting, we would get a WACC of (20,5%*0,75) + (15,5%*0,65*0,25)= 17,73%, roughly speaking double the charge that Einhorn uses. You might say this is conservative but in effect it is just realistic and based on current market prices.

Even at issuance, Consol’s cheapest bond had a 5,875% coupon, far above the assumed 3,5%, so it is not even a question of current market dislocation.

Either Einhorn assumes implicitly that cost of capital goes down dramatically or he has some “secret” that I don’t know. If I look at Einhorn’s last pitches, especially AerCap, SunEdison and Consol, there seems to be a common theme: He is always pitching capital-intensive companies with significant debt where he assumes pretty low cost of capital in order to show upside.

So what he seems to do these days is effectively betting on low funding costs which, at least for SunEdison and Consol didn’t work out at all.

In my opinion, this has nothing to do with value investing. Value investing requires to make really conservative assumptions to make sure that the downside is well protected as first priority. For those leveraged, capital-intensive businesses however, the risk that you will get seriously diluted as shareholder in those cases is significant, there is no margin of safety. On the other hand I somehow admire his Chupza. Standing in front of a lot of people who paid significant fees to hear the “Hedge Fund honchos” speak and pitching such a weak case with unrealistic assumptions is brave.

Of course a stock like Consol can always go up significantly after dropping -75% year to date, but the underlying analysis is really flawed. I would actually like to ask him if he really believes in those assumptions or if he just didn’t pay any attention to the details. This would be really interesting.

Maybe a final word on this: I am always criticising David Einhorn on his assumptions. Which is easy because he actually is very transparent about them. Many other Hedge Fund managers just tell nice stories. I am pretty sure that in many cases the assumptions behind those cases are not much better.

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