Bill Miller on What Stocks He Likes Now: CIMA Conference ~ market folly

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bill Miller on What Stocks He Likes Now: CIMA Conference

Continuing the series of notes from the CIMA Conference (Columbia Investment Management Association), we move on to the presentation and Q&A from Legg Mason's Bill Miller.

Bill Miller on What Stocks He Likes Now

He started out discussing how he is different from traditional value investors. Low P/E, low cash flow not enough. Focus on long-term creation of business value, the future, not just the past. Allowed them to avoid the terrible returns of value investors. How does he invest in tech? There are a few platforms that are locked in long-term. They did do 10-year projections on Amazon. If you think through it carefully, you CAN make long-term projections on tech. (They are doing it with Facebook now).

AMZN example: high growth, high valuation companies, in aggregate, have small chance of maintaining that rate. But some can. What is the probability that this is an exception to the base rate? Once companies get a certain level of market share, it is very difficult for that share to be eroded. (Network effect). True even with low barriers to entry. You want a business with low switching costs that nobody switches from. GOOG/MSFT search example- GOOG has 66%; MSFT has 14%, even with spending. Once you have stable market shares, and large market. It’s judgment, understanding the industry, not just looking at P/E ratios. They are looking at Facebook now.

AMZN: low 20s GMs, and high cost structure. Bezos exploited technology and customer-focus, to achieve critical mass, costs all up front, market would finance it. When stock was down, Bezos said he was focusing on new markets and customer service. They had a dominating presence by then. Issue now is what is the level of OM long term? Bezos says it will still be a double-digit OM business long-term. Bezos said, “I’m not going to make the Steve Jobs mistake of pricing the iPhone to subsidize the rest of the world R&D by pricing it so high.” IPad is priced much more competitively, so they have total share.

Bruce Greenwald says cloud isn’t that profitable because they have to provide capacity when everyone needs it, so it’s not really just using their excess capacity. The device business is bad, too. Miller says the device business is defensive. All of retail is realizing that AMZN is a threat to EVERY segment. AMZN has all the data about what you buy, like, etc. Ease of use. End market is so large. GOOG: internal discipline issue on capital spending.

How he does valuation? Build probabilistic models. No predictions: what does the market believe, what is embedded in the price, what is the trajectory of the business? INTC, CSCO, AAPL, MSFT, good business with reasonable valuations today.

Macro is fading as an important thing for investors. People have adequately discounted the macro risks.

Biggest Lesson He's Learned: if building an investment business, you need to be different, and right. That will attract assets. He went from zero to 75B in assets. Those assets will also fly out when you are different and wrong. To build a business, be different and right, to retain the business, you have to be a closet indexer.

Things change. Understanding and recognizing them is the key. They were late in the game in recognizing how far valuations would be squeezed by the financial crisis. “Don’t rule anything out.” When in a crisis, wait for the global coordinated action.

Stocks Miller Likes Now

2008 was a lot of permanent loss, 2011 was temporary losses.

1. Bullish on housing already, all data-driven. KBH up 80% for the year! Still lower than it was a year ago. Housing cycle in process of bottoming, orders are up, better business models. Massive cyclical turn, with profound implications for the US economy.

2. Genworth: Mortgage business down, 50-100% gain in 12 months.

3. Financials: C, BAC below tangible book.

4. Insurance companies: below book value.

5. Airlines: Worst industry in the history of the world. Here’s the difference now. Was commodity business, unionization, high regulation, and fuel costs volatile, fragmented. Highest share was 12% in the US. United now 26%, DAL 25%, so story is consolidated business with better pricing. Positive FCF for 3 years straight now. UAL 40% ROIC. $5 FCF, will be investment grade in a year, trades at 3.5x earnings. Small, risky position.

6. Techs: AAPL, largest position. What kind of company is it? Debate is if Apple is just a really good tech company, what’s it worth? Not much, these things change rapidly. If Apple is a recurring revenue company, consumer products company, then it’s radically mispriced. Bill makes the case that it is a consumer products company; the repurchase rate on the iPhone is 95%. Very few SKUs in line-up. Only 375 stores, only in a third of the carriers worldwide. Share in iPhone doubled from a year ago. Stock is 10x eps and low earnings estimates. 90B in cash, dividend possible. In short term, very low risk. Value it at the least, like a cable company. Compare to KO, or NKE.

7. Facebook: actually, the higher it goes, the more the probability of winning. You can’t look at it like paying $85B for $1B in operating profit. That’s what they DID; they’ll do $2B this year, more than AMZN ever had in history, higher margins, less competition.

Q&A Session:

Why banks? How can you trust the B/S? Have to compare categories to overall market prices. Consolidation means top 6 banks are 63% of GDP. It’s impossible for the US GDP to grow without the assets of the banks growing. Banks as a whole are mispriced, but not compared to each other. BAC has 70B market capital; they were earning 40B a year ago pre-tax, pre-provision. Biggest beneficiary of housing recovery. Can’t get comfortable at the micro level on all their assets, but you can get comfortable about the direction of those assets.

AMZN: can it wipe out other business? Way too early to say. No threat to WMT, COST, JCP.

Market: Best thing for the stock market would be for the bond market to sell off; indicates fear about tail events is dissolving. Biggest risk to the market is Israel attacking Iran. Policy errors. Like in 2008, they wiped out capital as they told people to raise capital.

For the rest of the notes from the CIMA Conference, head to these posts:

- Dan Loeb: Lessons He's Learned as an Investor

- David Einhorn Question & Answer Session

- Bruce Berkowitz's Basic Checklist for Investing & What He's Learned

- Distressed Investing Panel (Dan Loeb & Daniel Krueger)

- Long/Short Equity Investing Panel (Whitney Tilson)

- Michael Karsch on Risk Management

- Bruce Greenwald's Market Comments

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