Thursday, May 29, 2008

latest thoughts

Market -- pretty close to the top with last week's comments huh? Anyway, going to stick to stocks today:

FLIR -- wow - news keeps getting better and better for them. Big gov win that's almost as big as the business is now! no firm orders but they will come over the next year or so. stock has been moving up persistently so no chance to get in yet but there will be.

MCO -- wow again -- a cover up would be about the worst thing that could happen unless it turns out to be just an isolated incident which is what anyone owning or buying the stock is betting on. If it turns out to be widespread behavior, then the firm is gone -- a scapegoat for the ratings troubles. People seem to be overlooking the fact that despite the errors Moody's had the same ratings as S&P, which supposedly didn't have errors or a cover up.

ILMN -- conference and some other commentary suggest innovation is occuring faster than expected. they have released data about the performance of their 2nd gen system that was better than anyone expected. Cowen did a survey of smaller labs -- the ones buying about 60-70% of units so far and concluded that the market for next gen sequencing was bigger than thought and much more sticky -- people in small labs were going to choose a provider (generally either ILMN or ABI) and stick with them with subsequent units because the training and start up costs were too great to repeat. that means ILMN's 6-9 month lead is very important to the size of this business. Feeling better about the business -- strong as can be is my guess but with the stock flattening out much of this good news is already reflected. not sure what will get the stock moving again other than dramatically higher numbers.

TSRA -- small DRAM shop that was part of the DRAM suit set for September at the ITC has settled. This is good news is the sense of validation of the IP but not a big deal because they were small. Probably not much meaning in terms of what the big guys will do. That's why the stock popped but only back to $20. A real win will get this up to $30 or higher.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


They say that the market always does what will frustrate the most people. I would say that over the last few weeks the persistent upward bias has probably frustrated most everyone -- very few people have had the guts to be aggressively long since March 17th knowing that the market was going up more than others expected.

I think quite a few have been cautiously bullish figuring the next correction was always right around the corner. Others have been downright bearish -- figuring the housing and consumer troubles would bring about a deep recession that the market wasn't prepared for. The stocks posting the best gains have been those tied to energy and global demand -- its a broad group that includes more areas of the market than most realize. I haven't kept track in the last week of all financials but I suspect that moody's performance is in the minoritiy -- most are probably flat.

Health care stocks -- too US driven so they don't benefit from overseas demand. They also don't have the product cycles to boost demand -- that business is finished because the generics and PBMs make growth difficult. The life sciences area is different -- lots of product cycles. Labs too -- not enough of the cost structure for the managed care and medicare people to attack like they have the hospitals although bad debt expense is something we will have to watch (consumer related).

everything consumer is suspect given all the issues.

lots of industrials though -- Emerson for one have strong demand. Energy is obvious. Technology -- its about product cycles and global demand and some techs have it and some don't.

At some point this rally will run out of gas -- the short covering will be over; the long only funds will have been pressured into buying; etc. Could be soon given yesterday's reversal. Are we headed lower again like January and March? That depends on whether there are more problems lurking within financials, whether overseas economies slow down, whether the dollar takes another plunge; rates rise; etc. we are like ducks on the water -- above everything looks calm and that is one reason the market is rising. below the water there is a lot going on and that is why we are likely to pull back at some point -- very useful prediction huh? right now I don't think we are headed for new lows. I expect the double bottom to work -- maybe it becomes a triple bottom. that said, I think I said similar bullish comments in october the last time the S&P was over 1400 (closer to 1550 actually).

once again its best to stick with stocks -- my musings on the market are for fun. stick with attractively priced stocks with strong secular tail winds and the competitive advantages to benefit from them.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Did you see that WSJ editorial about the sniper in Iraq never saw it coming when he was blown up? Fascinating story of the use of predator unmanned planes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The marines called in for help and the air force sent a remote controlled (from Arizona) plane with a Hellfire missile.

The plane used an infrared camera just under the nose to locate the sniper's muzzle fire and locked in on that location. The missile took him out while he was still firing. FLIR makes those infrared cameras and I'm pretty sure has some of the ones in those predators.

Cool stuff.

I know I said UEPS is my biggest opportunity -- depends on time horizon. I believe FLIR has the chance to be a big winner too but I don't see the same gains in the next 3-5 years -- might take them 10 years -- partly driven by the valuation since FLIR has a PE that is about 2X UEPS. Starting point matters -- the cheaper at the start the more money you can make.

One aside on Bill Miller too -- His issue is arrogance in my mind -- read his writings they scream of someone that can't imagine they could be wrong. But another point is I wonder if he was so focused on being different that he forgot that for his investments to be successful other investors have to follow him and bid the price up. Sometimes investing with the consensus can be very profitable -- energy stocks being a prime example. He has avoided them from the beginning -- missed them at the bottom and didn't want to chase. That's fine -- he has to stick to his discipline but on the other hand...... he has continually underestimated how big this cycle was going to be -- in 2005 he could have easily bought in and though he would have missed the first couple of years he would have captured the last 3. Look at Buffett buying those railroad stocks AFTER they had already doubled.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

more on UEPS but first......

MCO -- yes I know this is one of the few non-energy stocks out there that is going up consistently and yet I've sold away my upside through the calls I wrote. oh well. I still have till June so no telling what kind of pull back we might see between now and then. Reality is that AFTER I sold my calls I realized that about 25% of the non-Buffett owned float was short the stock. that pretty much limits the downside. business is picking up but its still pretty slow and it has to pick up some just to make current estimates. so now we are around 21-22X estimates, which would seem to be the high end in this environment but who knows -- fundies are improving so should the valuation.

DFR -- key question -- what is forward earnings potential given all the changes to the company? some argue its 40 cents per year. that is possible but unlikely that too many others believe it given the $1 stock price. certain aspects worse than I thought so that is a little worrisome.

FLIR -- just saw a commercial about franklin resources (mutual funds) and they claimed to have made money owning an infrared supplier -- most likely FLIR. DRS Tech was a competitor too so the deal should help support FLIR's stock too.

I have owned UEPS for about 2 years now and so far the stock has done nothing. The business has continued to get more valuable and that is key but this is testing my patience. The stock has bounced since the earnings report but is still relatively flat with the last few years around $28.

When MA pulled back towards $100 some time in the last couple of years I wondered if I should buy some. I decided not to primarily because I thought UEPS had far more opportunity. Well the market has its own thoughts on opportunities.

This is an important lesson -- one which I continually relearn. Expanding margins and increasing returns on capital are key drivers of big returns in stock prices. MA's margins and returns have soared since they came public (Visa is working on similar improvements). MA has enjoyed strong earnings relative to expectations driven by higher margins. Revenues have been good too but they are not growing at the rates that UEPS has the potential to produce over the next couple of years. Between wage payment in SA, Nigeria, Ghana, Iraq, etc. UEPS has huge opportunities that should triple the earnings in 5 years. Margins though are already above 40%.

But the main issue for UEPS is timing -- it takes a long time to negotiate a contract and then to implement the process/strategy and then have enough new cards with people choosing to use them at merchants (rather than just getting cash). But once the cards are in place and people are using them for their shopping and their bill paying and other services, those cards are likely to be in place for many many years.

no reason for most to switch so UEPS ends up with a long term annuity on the growth and usage of their cards -- same business model as Visa and Mastercard although because UEPS is a smart card there are many more services that can be performed on these cards than on regular credit cards. More services per card offsets at least somewhat the disadvantage that UEPS is at from a spending per card basis -- obviously first world consumers spend more on their cards than third world types.

Once the SA contract is resolved and some of their current countries reach critical mass (i.e. enough cards and merchants that people that don't have one feel a pull to get one) the business will be very profitable (little incremental costs post set up) with high free cash flow and still pretty good growth potential. They will have a long term annuity from all their existing cards that will make this business very valuable -- I find it hard to believe they won't have a 20's PE.

The hard part is the wait -- a new country announcement is very exciting and everyone's first instinct is to ask how much is that going to help EPS -- that's a good question but don't forget the timing -- it may take 5 years for a country to be up and running and have a critical mass of users. When I first bought the stock in the summer of 2006, analysts were already talking about wage payment in SA and Nigeria as big catalysts. Here we are almost 2 years later and those are only now starting to build customers. Iraq is just finalizing the contract so it could take quite awhile to build out the infrastructure and start really having an impact on the overall P&L.

But Iraq could double the size of the company as it stands now -- so could wage payment and nigeria. Ghana continues to get bigger and they are trying to add more countries all the time -- especially because of what Ghana is doing. With all the catalysts I am comfortable they will be earning $4-5 per share in 4-5 years and receiving a 20PE on those earnings for a stock price close to $100.

This is without a doubt my biggest opportunity-- in terms of cash cost basis its one of my largest bets in the portfolio too -- I have larger positions but that is because those stocks have gained in value after I bought them. I would have bought even more of UEPS but I realize the timing of the business means catalysts can always take longer to play out. its hard in other words even though I have a lot of patience and enthusiasm for the story but in 2 years to have not much happen -- that's hard. I am confident the patience will pay off.

Bought some more CLB on Monday to get close to a full position. Thankfully I timed it well -- $123.50 so I enjoyed yesterday's pop to $133.

Monday, May 12, 2008

still here

I realize its hard to believe but I'm still here. only 9 days since my last post -- that sucks. I'm hoping this week will be better. This will have to be a short one too -- running late for work.

The big story for me last week was UEPS earnings -- everything is going great for this one except they have a major contract up for bid with the south african gov -- the total value of the contract for the next 5 years is 2 billion. UEPS is bidding on all of that as well as just parts. UEPS already serves this market so the market is nervous about them losing revenues or margins under a new contract. I think everything will balance out -- maybe not as good as now but they have so many growth opportunities that a little drop in their SA business won't slow them down too bad. I expect they could easily earn $5 per share in 2013 (5 years out) and sell for 20x earnings. not bad given the stock is only 26.

more later.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Yes I'm still alive and making money

So its been what 10 days? I have been feeling it too -- blog withdrawl -- but life has just been tooooo busy of late. Last weekend was the party for my 2 year old and then my work presentations haven't stopped. but I do have a few moments to catch up on what I have done in the portfolio and the market stuff.

MCO -- bought back the $35 options for a $2 gain and then sold the $40's for June for $1.5. So best case I can only make 20% for owning the stock about 6 months. I can live with that. I expect this rally to peter out soon and us to have a pull back -- too many indicators flashing overbought and sentiment bullish -- if we can any kind of drop I can buy back the options for a gain and look to sell another batch later. I am not as worried about a drop in MCO after their last EPS report so that's why I moved out to the $40's.

FLIR -- wow. what a report. the increase in backlog was huge. the growth in commercial was huge. their momentum is very strong. even high 20's would have been a good buy while the $24 price was an absolute gift that I passed on. Dr John mentions where do you have the big money -- this is the stock I wish I had my big money but so far it hasn't happened. Its an average size position at most for me and it should be one of my largest. just too much of a fraidy cat so far because of the valuation -- trouble is part of the story is the potential upside to the numbers -- something have to keep in mind when worrying about valuation. If FLIR earns closer to $1.5 this year instead of the $1.20, then at $30 the stock was at 20x rather than the 25 I thought it was. A pullback towards $30 and I'll try to add some more and keep trying to get this towards a bigger position.

ILMN -- I sold some May $85 calls for $1.55 on the day after the earnings report. I sold them during the day when the stock was around $80 -- it peaked closer to $82 so I was a little early. Still a few days later when the stock was around $77 I bought them back for a $1 gain. not bad for a few days work. I am working on my timing for June calls -- still looking at the $85's but hoping to get something like $2.25 or so for them. Best case then I will end up selling ILMN for $87 or so -- that's not bad. I am reasonably confident the stock won't get too much above that and therefore worst case I roll the options forward.

DFR -- they issued a press release suggesting book value of over $3 and the stock jumped quite a bit. still haven't sold any but will definitely think about it around $1.80 or so. I am waiting also for the Q1 report. I would like to see some numbers on their current situation and future earnings power. I am betting the UBS guy is right that they can make 40 cents per year, which puts them at about 3x earnings. I think more people will be reassured and buy more of the stock post earnings then will be disappointed with their earnings power and sell.

TSRA -- more revenue than expected but lots more legal -- not surprising given all the events that occurred. Amkor won't be known for another one to two months probably -- in the meantime we wait.

CLB -- wow. what volatility huh? one moment the stock is the 100-120 range and I am debating buying it and then it spikes up to $138 and then just as quick it plummets back to the 115-120 level before jumping back around $122 or so. I listened to their EPS call and it was impressive. these guys know how to run a business. they are very focused on margins and returns on capital. that's always a good thing. they have great technologies and are gaining share in the US. I will look to buy some more of this one and will think of it as a consistent grower as long as energy prices are reasonably favorable.

markets -- lots of old fuddy duddy types out talking bearish and arguing that financials are going to shrink as a percent of the economy and that the world has changed -- no more debt financed growth and all us good US citizens are going to become huge savers. A little bit of truth -- even I have said similar stuff in that mortgage volumes would plummet and that financials would not come back quickly -- that they would become like the tech's -- which remain in the teens in terms of their percent of the market cap in the S&P 500. I expect the Financials to end up there too -- not below 10% but in the teens. I don't envision the US moving huge away from debt -- otherwise I wouldn't be owning Moody's.

Energy/commodities are just about too much money being released by the federal reserve. I'm not buying that one either -- at least when it comes to energy because there just hasn't been enough increase in supply or in production. There are too many countries like venezuela that are pumping too much oil now without spending the money on maintenance and exploration that is necessary to maintain production rates or grow them. The only argument that folks make that makes me wonder is the WSJ editorial page when they talk about the 1970's and the similarities to now. They show a chart that compares oil in dollar and euro terms and it shows that in euro terms oil hasn't gone up nearly as much. This is relatively obvious though given the fall in the dollar. I think the drop in the dollar is the clearest sign the fed has been too easy and perhaps the food shortage commodity price hikes too but energy is harder.

others argue that its due to the speculators buying futures. maybe a few dollars worth but oil is too big a market to be dominated by speculators in my mind.

that's about it for now -- I hope to post again this weekend .