Crispin Odey's Latest Market Commentary: Stockpicking Is Still Working ~ market folly

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Crispin Odey's Latest Market Commentary: Stockpicking Is Still Working

Crispin Odey of UK hedge fund Odey Asset Management is out with his most recent market commentary, advocating that it is still a stockpicker's market.

Earlier this morning we posted that Odey started a stake in RSM Tenon and his missive below reveals additional purchases in shares of AXA and Zurich Financial.

His commentary also draws comparisons between the cost of home ownership in the US and UK and he implies that house builders are good value in the UK.

Crispin Odey writes,

"Over a month most of the macro-economic news has appeared to be disappointing. The unemployment rate in the USA has failed to fall, China has slowed down, the Japanese tsunami has turned out to have a greater influence on world industrial production than was hoped and banks have produced worse numbers than anticipated. The stockmarkets are down, government bonds are up and people are generally more nervous.

Equity markets have performed better than I could have expected in the face of these uncertainties, especially with Greece still being a problem. Stock picking is still working.

Our thesis of steamy convergence of third world to developed world incomes remains the template by which we measure recovery. The overheating of the emerging market economies, thanks to the rise in energy costs, has now been followed by a slow down but we still remain happy that the 20% wage increases in emerging markets against the flat wage growth in the west will continue to power world growth. The 5% cost inflation in the west that we suffer for now, will ultimately rebalance the world economy.

I continue to find companies to invest in. This quarter saw Henri de Castries of Axa approve the sale of their Canadian life business, and pull out of the life business in the UK, too. With such a new commitment to a 12% return on capital across all business lines so evident in management's mind, a discount to book value of 25% seems harsh. Meanwhile Zurich Financial, who have long practiced virtue, yields 8% in Swiss Francs.

Banks are as yet not allowed to have a business model but they are certainly cheap enough if a business model evolves in the future. House price moves in the USA which have ensured that the average house sells on only 2.4 times disposable incomes makes this an interesting market for bottom feeding. The ending of Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac's reign in the third quarter of this year should allow commercial banks to re-enter this market. Even if net interest margins rose to 400bp, buyers would still be paying less than they would be if they were renting, and that after paying a 4% redemption yield!

In the UK, affordability is still a problem with house prices 4.4 times disposable income vs. USA's 2.4 times, but interestingly prices only reflect the fact that in the USA, mortgage repayments include a 4% repayment of principal and so average cash costs are 7% of 240 or 16.8% of disposable incomes. In the UK, interest only mortgages are around 4%, and 4% of 440 =17.6% of disposable incomes. Rent typically costs around 22% of disposable incomes. So in both countries it is cheaper to own than to rent, provided that interest rates do not rise before wages rise. Since this is our view it makes sense to investigate further.

House building is running at around 110,000 down from 220,000 three years ago. Supply is running far behind national demand. House prices are no longer at a premium to old house prices, despite much lower running costs. With the house builders you are seeing 27% profit margins of 2007 now down to 7%, thanks to the need to swallow a 10% loss on 3 year old land banks. The shares are typically trading on 70% of sales, 10 times pre-tax profit. New land purchases at lower prices, should allow margins to rise to 17%. To find a business which is doing okay now, when real wages are falling, and not having to overpay, makes me excited. The day that we become competitive globally, these house builders should benefit from rising wages.

Meanwhile, the good news with the fund is that companies in our portfolio continue to be bid for. News of Avis, the American 'parent', bidding 60% more than the last share price for its European 'child', was welcome news for a holding that was worth just over 1.3% of the fund. No hooks, no fish. 31st May 2011."

For more insight from this hedge fund manager, we've also previously posted up Odey's thoughts on agricultural commodities and farming.

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