Of the myriad of reasons proffered daily as to why we are the verge of stock market doom, a “decline in share repurchase” has come up a lot. We would note the following:
As the below chart suggests, shares outstanding for most of the S&P 500 as a whole have not changed in a decade. Material share repurchase that actually reduces shares outstanding is not the majority rule. If it has been the prop for the market going up, it will not be the reason for a decline.
So where do all these hundreds of billions of dollars of share repurchase go as a whole? It is a correct statement that many Boards and management simply don’t understand the corporate finance behind effective share repurchase and use it to disguise the very high cost of dilution to shareholders from aggressive compensation programs. See the chart again.
Boards and management are like many investors — they buy at the top when they are “confident” and freeze at the bottom when things are “uncertain.” Sad but true and very difficult in practice to change. It is tough to say en masse that share repurchase “signals” anything anymore as it has become so widely used as a PR prop.
What an intelligent share repurchase plan does is buy small pieces of a business below a reasonable estimate of intrinsic value. When pursued like this, there is no debate — how can you argue with its logic? As a secondary effect, how can you argue with using free cashflow to return cash to shareholders and enable those who stay to own more and more of a worthwhile business on a tax free basis?
After 30 years of talking to CEO’s, I am not sure I can count on one hand CEO’s that have told me they are NOT going to make a worthwhile corporate investment in order to buy stock. What I have seen hundreds of times is management pursue out and out silliness to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in wasted and inopportune spending on corporate acquisitions, capital spending at the top of cycles, R+D wasting ventures, and other grand scheme, consultant-driven ideas that get hatched in apparently very fertile boardrooms. THAT is the bigger destroyer of value — NOT intelligent share repurchase.
Politics aside, we are regularly asked by large institutional clients, “How is Climate Change affecting the way you invest?”
Our short and practical answer is “It doesn’t.” This piece by longtime favorite economic and environmental thinker Bjorn Lomborg is a more detailed version of that answer. It also suggests some subtle moral ambiguity in what some would consider to be “conventional wisdom” on the topic.
CLICK HERE to download PDF
In regard to Tesla…
Having defended our more cautious stance for over a year, we find ourselves torn in upgrading as it is clear substantial risks remain. This is, in part, given (1) the lack of available data to question management’s claims with respect to battery pack durability (among other long-term warranty / residual / service / charging infrastructure related issues), and/or (2) despite lofty expectations, Tesla has never generated even one-sixth of the profitability per share based on the Street’s 2016 EPS outlook (even less based on our updated 2017 estimate), while tax incentives are waning and Gigafactory construction is looming. We have no clarity on battery input costs and take management at face value relative to the estimated $200-300/kWh (kilowatt-hour) starting point while targeting $100/kWh ICE (internal combustion engine) cost parity inside of a decade. We are also relegated to performing various mathematical gymnastics to ascertain the cadence of Model S demand in its most mature market, the U.S., each quarter.
While there are no fewer than a half-a-dozen other key concerns we share with industry purists, the reality is that these issues simply do not matter with respect to Tesla’s stock. Tesla sentiment is like a freight train, in our view, benefiting from a well-manicured growth story that has caught the eye of a much broader investor base relative to most auto stocks. Tesla has positioned itself as the smart vehicle of the future, with a glimpse into smart purchasing and smart infrastructure. Tesla has captivated a global audience, some of whom have lost interest in distinguishing horsepower ratings among the dozens of $100k-plus luxury vehicles, others that would have never considered spending six-figures on anything but a house. Like Tesla’s right place/right time purchase of the NUMMI facility, or the astounding political energy around renewables (again), our call ultimately comes down to timing. We believe our risks remain legitimate, just much further out than we anticipated. Tesla will eventually face stiffer competition from traditional OEMs, we think, and will reach a ceiling of consumer support. But it is clear from our recent factory visit and conversations with investors, customers, and management that these concerns are at the earliest, late decade issues at best.
To that end, we note our call does not hinge on Gigafactory timing, nor Model III pricing/volume expectations for 2020 and beyond. We are focused on the Model S and X alone. We are simply more optimistic of Tesla’s success as a “slightly bigger than niche” global luxury auto manufacturer, and like the head start management has carved out for the brand.
(from Stifel Nicolaus Analyst James Albertine)
by Ben Claremon | Research Analyst
As long term-focused investors, we have a certain disdain for the quarterly earnings rigmarole and the associated maniacal focus on “beating” what are somewhat irrelevant earnings per share estimates. The truth of the matter is that, more often than not, what happens during an arbitrary 90 day period has very little bearing on the long-term opportunity for a company or on its intrinsic value. As such, the huge price moves—both up and down—that occur as a result of singular quarterly earnings reports are always somewhat amazing (and sometimes amusing if we don’t own the stock) to us. The most unfortunate outcome of this focus on the short run performance is that certain management teams succumb to the pressure they receive from certain members of the investment community. In doing so, they risk managing the business to achieve near term results and thus not thinking enough about what they want the company to look like in five years. In a perverse way, the desire to meet probability expectations on a quarterly basis and avoid a potential drop in the stock price actually can impair the value of the franchise if the management team is too focused on this month’s margins as opposed to investing for the future.
Given all of that, it was very refreshing to read Jamie Dimon’s comments on JP Morgan’s Q2 earnings call. After being barraged with questions from the sell side community regarding millions of details that likely had no bearing on the value of the company, Dimon responded with the following (emphasis added):
No. No, look, I can’t overemphasize this. We do not run the company for quarterly profits. We make long-term decisions on people, systems, technology, products, services, stuff like that. And a lot of things drive short-term profits, but the profit you have at any one quarter relates to the decisions you made for the last 5 years, and so we feel great about these companies. The big weak spot, which we all acknowledge, is mortgage, and we’re going to put the — we’ve got great people there. We’re going to put elbow to the metal there. We’re going to invest some more money in their systems. We’ve got some catch-up to do. We got caught in the middle of, as you know, WaMu, Bear Sterns, origination platforms. But usually, if you look at these businesses, they’re all doing fine, and we’re looking at how we can grow them over the next 5 to 10 years. And that’s what we’re going to do, and I honestly mean it. I don’t care whether FICC is up 10% or 15% or down 10% or 15% in the next quarter. I think — I actually think that this is a complete waste of time.
Channeling our inner Charlie Munger: we have nothing to add.
CLICK HERE to download Cove Street Capital’s July 2014 Strategy Letter Number 17, “Hockey is Nothing Like Investing”
Our takeaway on this speech is three-fold:
- We paraphrase: “Wise regulation, which is mostly now in place globally, will ensure that future financial crises will not billow out of control.” Wow, I didn’t realize that until 2010 the world didn’t have any regulators—no wonder why we have had periodic problems.
- Mrs. Yellen seems oblivious to enormous distortive effects of her institution’s suppression of interest rates below “market.”
- A lot of people are counting on the Federal Reserve. We wouldn’t.
CLICK HERE to download Janet Yellen’s July 2, 2014 speech
The “Entertainment Business” is well known for having a callous disregard for other people’s money. The origins of Live Nation (LYV) and some of the Board principals involved—current and former—include some of the more egregious examples we’ve seen in our career.
Liberty Media, represented on the Board by Greg Maffei and Mark Carleton, has clearly been an adult influence on what was truly a cacophonic beginning for LYV. While Greg Maffei gets some very mixed reactions in some circles, we are 100% on the Liberty bandwagon of shareholder value creation, and thus we are truly stumped by the recent shareholder vote for the election of directors (results below). We nearly tripled our money in Live Nation—and still missed the last 30%. So we are UTTERLY stumped that the logical conclusion is that Liberty gets the biggest no vote.
The opinions expressed herein are those of Cove Street Capital, LLC and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is not a guarantee or indicator of future results. Consider the investment objectives, risks and expenses before investing. The information in this presentation should not be considered as a recommendation to buy or sell any particular security and should not be considered as investment advice of any kind. You should not assume that the security discussed in this report is or will be profitable, or that recommendations we make in the future will be profitable or equal the performance of the security discussed in this presentation. The report is based on data obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed as being accurate and does not purport to be a complete summary of the available data.Recommendations for the past twelve months are available upon request. In addition to clients, partners and employees or their family members may have a position in security mentioned herein. Cove Street Capital, LLC is a registered investment advisor. More information about us is located in our ADV Part 2, which is available upon request.
by Jeff Bronchick | Chief Investment Officer
Fender tried to go public in 2012. It failed and here is why.
In how the world should work, the prevailing private equity investors bit the bullet and raised new capital at levels well below what was being offered to the public. “New” CEO Larry Thomas retired. Private equity buyer TPG Growth is the new sheriff in town. “New” models are being introduced and most interestingly, Fender is tentatively experimenting with the Direct-to-Consumer scene. Oh, and Board meetings have suddenly gotten a lot more interesting with the addition of two U2 band members.
I don’t think a single thing has changed since my initial piece…but there is a price for what will inevitably be another chance to take our money.
The opinions expressed herein are those of Cove Street Capital, LLC and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is not a guarantee or indicator of future results. Consider the investment objectives, risks and expenses before investing. The information in this presentation should not be considered as a recommendation to buy or sell any particular security and should not be considered as investment advice of any kind. You should not assume that the security discussed in this report is or will be profitable, or that recommendations we make in the future will be profitable or equal the performance of the security discussed in this presentation. The report is based on data obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed as being accurate and does not purport to be a complete summary of the available data. Recommendations for the past twelve months are available upon request. In addition to clients, partners and employees or their family members may have a position in security mentioned herein. Cove Street Capital, LLC is a registered investment advisor. More information about us is located in our ADV Part 2, which is available upon request.
by Jeffrey Bronchick | Chief Investment Officer
Read this article from the New York Times and replace many of the nouns with “investor,” “stock,” and “investment industry.”
Long before social media, Wall Street and its predecessors had a wildly viral network of passing rumors around that may or may not have any basis in reality. Historical readings back a few hundred years show that little progress has been made to date.
“The analyst said…”
“I read somewhere in the Wall Street Journal…”
“Do you see that x smart guy bought y security?”
“I went to an idea dinner and they were really pushing xyz.”
“Did you see Barron’s this weekend?”
While it is possible to find real information to rely on, I never cease to be amazed when I push a little through the veneer and see how little work was done by the current announcer of said idea.
Reading primary material is slow and painstaking, and obviously that is why few actually do it. Legal and SEC mandates that have created 600-page 10k’s have not made our lives any easier. Internet access has made some things easier but it also raises idle chatter to a deafening level. And then there are those kittens.
Conservative Investors Sleep Well – Philip A. Fisher
Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters – Richard Rumelt
Organizational Intelligence: Knowledge and Policy in Government and Industry – Harold L. Wilensky