Large, growing markets present obvious appeal to business leaders and investors, but the pursuit of these shiny objects can be fraught with risks of lost time and money. The scenario reminds us what specific behaviors we value in our executives.
Within all industries there is the opportunity for companies to acquire their competitors or other companies in related markets. Some may naturally be better at it than others. Andvari acknowledges that M&A is unlikely to add value, yet we hesitate to say “all M&A” is bad. If a management team has the skills and track record of creating value through M&A, it’s a rare thing worthy of attention. Enter Constellation Software (CSU:CN), a brilliant example of a company that has become the acquirer of choice for owners and founders of software businesses.
Within a single FTC-forced divestiture, there’s potential to examine not one, but two investment opportunities. One is the company that must sell. If it was dominant enough to merit an FTC action, it's likely to remain the dominant one in its market post-divestiture. The other is the acquiring company because it might be picking up a high-quality asset at a cheap price. The forced nature of the sale is likely to make the price cheaper than it might be in market-driven environments (and, in reality, these types of assets would not come up for sale otherwise). In both cases, the forced divestiture can be fertile ground for finding excellent businesses.
Let’s imagine a contest between a relatively obscure company founded in 1969 and Google, both battling for supremacy in providing digital mapping services and software to enterprises. Google has the benefit of hundreds of billions in revenues and the ability to hire the best engineers in the world while the older company has zero recognition outside its industry and a fraction of the earnings power. Who wins and why?
For the first six months of 2019, Andvari is up 38.7% net of fees while the S&P 500 is up 18.5%.1 The table below shows Andvari’s composite performance figures against two benchmarks while the chart shows the cumulative gains of hypothetical $100 investments.
Instead of beginning with a summary of investment performance, I begin with even more important news. As many of you know, my wife Leann has cystic fibrosis, a rare and life-threatening genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. After being in the hospital six times in 2017, Leann and I traveled to Duke University so she could be evaluated for a double lung transplant. It was an exhausting five days of tests and meeting with everyone on Duke’s transplant team. Duke later told Leann she is a good candidate for their program and Leann decided to join.
Last December I submitted a research report on the British software company Micro Focus—a holding of Andvari clients since late 2015—to SumZero’s “Top Stocks for 2017” contest. Given the company’s recent transformational deal to acquire Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s software division, the contest was the perfect opportunity to update my research and present the Micro Focus investment case to an esteemed community of colleagues.
With change accelerating in the media/telecom world seeming to accelerate in the past few years, I finally got around to reading Walt Hawyer’s history of Capital Cities (I read the paperback edition and through this post I will reference the page numbers in case you have the book and want to follow along). I was already a little bit familiar with the company as a result of reading the Berkshire annual reports and knowing that Buffett has always said great things about Tom Murphy and Dan Burke (the two main leaders at Cap Cities following the death of its founder Frank Smith). I then learned a little more about the extent of the phenomenal returns Cap Cities produced for shareholders when I read William Thorndike’s book The Outsiders.
With Charter Communications one of our largest holdings (via Liberty Broadband), I've continued to look for reasons why I am wrong about the value of the company. During this ongoing process I've come across a few writeups that advocate selling Charter short. The crux of the bull thesis is cable companies in general will be one of the primary beneficiaries of the increasing consumer demand for greater internet speed and capacity as they are better positioned than the traditional telcos. Charter in particular should be able to derive greater benefits as it will be the acquirer of choice to further roll-up the smaller players in the cable industry and thus create a lot of value from synergies and cost savings.
I had the privilege of attending the annual Markel Corporation shareholders’ meeting on May 11, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. I did my best to take notes of management’s prepared remarks and presentations which I present to you in outline format. The Q&A session is missing because I did not take notes during that time. Following my outline are some of my personal thoughts about what I heard.
After listening to Motorola Solutions’ 2015 Financial Analyst presentation this morning and thinking about the actions the company has completed in the past year, I am even more convinced the company is ripe for a takeover by private equity or by a larger company in the defense industry. Even if a takeover does not materialize, Motorola is in an excellent position to continue delivering good returns to public shareholders. Here’s an outline of my thoughts.
Danaher (DHR) early this morning announced plans to acquire Swiss-based Nobel Biocare for $2.2 billion (CHF 2bn / EUR 1.7bn). Nobel is a leader in the dental implant industry and will become a "cornerstone" of Danaher's dental platform.
I've personally owned shares of Markel for nearly five years and have been to several of its annual shareholder meetings. It's high time I updated my thoughts and feelings with a fresh report on Markel. If you're an investor, I doubt you will find any new or unique insight into the company, but you might appreciate how I look at Markel's historical figures.
After Rolls-Royce (RYCEY) shares fell earlier this year, I mentioned on Twitter how I thought it was a good buy. It is one of the top players in the oligopolistic aero engine market (which has huge barriers to entry), has a huge backlog, growing service revenues, and a strong possibility for margin expansion as it starts to deliver engines for the newest generation of widebody aircraft from Boeing and Airbus.
With Grace (GRA) down about 4% today (apparently analyst expectations were too high), I thought it would be a good time to do a short post on why I think Grace will provide shareholder returns in the 10-13% range for the long-term. The short answer is the company's absolute focus on returns on invested capital. I will borrow a lot from Grace's investor day presentation this past March.
Motorola Solutions (a current holding of ours) announced this morning they would be selling their Enterprise unit to Zebra Technologies for $3.45 billion. With EBITDA of $284 million last year, Zebra is paying about 12.1x, a whole lot less than what Motorola has spent in putting together a division that has just failed to meet high expectations.
BeyondProxy has published another report of mine on StarTek, a current holding of Andvari. StarTek is a company in the middle of a successful turnaround and that I feel is worth 45% to 100% higher than current prices and is also a potential acquisition target in the next two or three years. Visit BeyondProxy to learn more and download the actual report. If you have any questions or comments about the report, feel free to contact me.
Phil Goldstein's Special Opportunities Fund released its 2013 annual report. The fund did very well in 2013 and kept up with the S&P 500 but with (what I also believe) substantially less risk as the fund was invested in a significant amount of assets that undoubtedly returned much less than the market. For example, 12% of the portfolio was devoted to special purpose acquisition vehicles (SPACs) and 10% to cash/money market funds had to drag overall returns of the fund down.
Last Friday, Liberty Media proposed to acquire the remaining 48% of SiriusXM it didn't already own via a tax-free stock swap. In it's conference call regarding the transaction, Liberty described several benefits, but in my opinion the largest benefit will be the enhanced capital structure of the combined company. Liberty will be able to borrow a larger amount against Sirius and use the proceeds for other investment opportunities as it sees fit.
For the past six months, and probably longer than that, investors and the financial media have been asking themselves or have been asked whether the market is overvalued. The market has marched higher and higher and the S&P 500 is now up 29% for the year. There also seems to be signs of a return of ridiculously-priced IPOs, mostly dot coms and bio-tech stocks in my opinion. People have explained why the market is overvalued by citing Schiller's CAPE ratio or that abnormally high profit margins will eventually revert to the mean.
Towards the beginning of this year I put together a research report on TransDigm (TDG) for my clients. TransDigm is an exceptional company that operates in the aerospace parts industry and is unique among virtually all other public companies in that operates on a private equity business model. I've recently updated the report and you can read the bulk of it by visiting Beyond Proxy.
BeyondProxy, a publisher of investment research for the professional value investing community, recently added Doug Ott to its exclusive list of contributors for their website. The first contribution was Doug's thoughts on Motorola Solutions (MSI), a company in which Andvari clients are currently invested. You may read the post on BeyondProxy by clicking here.
Motorola Solutions (MSI) reported results and guidance that disappointed the market. The stock has been down 8%–10% today.
However, I think this overreaction provides an potentially attractive entry point for an investor, especially in light of the fact the company is under-leveraged and continues to return large amounts of capital to shareholders in the forms of dividends and share repurchases.
I can remember last year several individuals voicing concerns regarding the "fiscal cliff" (a buzz phrase that has hopefully been excised from the vernacular) throughout November and December of last year. They were concerned that government spending would be curtailed and the stock market would suffer, therefore wouldn't it be prudent to raise a substantial amount of cash in portfolios?
On April 15 this year, Phil Goldstein and his Bulldog Investors group filed another Schedule 13D as owner of 9.67% of the outstanding shares of the Firsthand Technology Value Fund (SVVC). Shortly thereafter, the Bulldog group reported they owned 9.8% of outstanding shares. SVVC is a closed end fund “that invests in technology and cleantech companies, disclosed today that its top holdings as of April 30, 2013 were Twitter, Facebook, SolarCity, Silicon Genesis, QMAT, and Wrightspeed.”
Mortgage servicer Walter Investment (WAC) fell 20% yesterday after missing analysts' expectations. For the fourth quarter of 2012, Walter only achieved 0.64 in EPS versus (14.3% growth year over year). Analysts expected 0.67 in EPS. Big whoop.
In his annual letter to Sears Holding (SHLD) shareholders, Eddie Lampert reviews the progress of SHLD on its journey to transforming into an integrated retail experience via their Shop Your Way membership program. He also expounds upon the reasons for the turnover of top management across all major retailers (not just Sears).
Yesterday, the Justice Department filed suit against S&P (owned by McGraw Hill) alleging that the largest U.S. rating firm "falsely" represented that crisis-era credit ratings on complex securities "were objective, independent" and "uninfluenced by any conflicts of interest." Deal Journal has some excellent excerpts from the complaint.