Notes From Excellence in Investing San Francisco 2013: Burbank, McGuire, Billick & More ~ market folly

Friday, October 25, 2013

Notes From Excellence in Investing San Francisco 2013: Burbank, McGuire, Billick & More

The 4th annual Excellence in Investing: San Francisco conference took place this week and MarketFolly was there to cover the event.  Excellence SF partners with the Sohn Conference Foundation and is dedicated to the support of education and other children's causes.

It's not too late to make donations and here's a link to do so,  The success of the event has grown over time and this year marked record attendance.  Since inception, more than $1 million has now been raised in support of these causes.

Notes From Excellence in Investing: San Francisco 2013

John Burbank III -  Passport Capital

Idea: Long Digital Garage (TYO:4819) 

Thesis:  Things seem frothy now.  Like plays linked to innovation.  The QE fueled rally is likely coming to an end.  Stay away from growth coming from and derived from QE.  Tech is less sensitive to GDP.  Innovation is not EM activity, it is DM activity.  In Japan Abe says follow Abenomics.  Likes Digital Garage.  It has around a 20% stake in Kakaku (TYO:2371).  Owns small stake in Twitter (possibly $100M).  CEO owns 14% of the company.  Stock just split.  Thinks it has a 22% upside to current value PLUS optionality on the future.  Can hedge out Kakaku if you want given that company's high valuation.   Burbank also recently had a macro discussion with Kyle Bass that we've posted as well.

Kurt Billick -  Bocage Capital

Idea: Long Domestic Oil Refineries (specifically Tesoro (TSO) & Marathon Petroleum (MPC))

Thesis:  Likes Malcolm's presentation on CF (below) as his idea has a similar theme, but with refineries.  North American oil business was thought of as mature and in structural decline.  Gulf coast's ability to refine oil will be overwhelmed with supply.  Discount in price of oil for US refineries is less than that of all of the margin for many refineries in rest of globe.  Other advantages are processing costs lower due to cheaper natural gas and financial arbitrage.  Likes all refineries (ALJ, DK, HFC, MPC, PBF, TSO, VLO and WNR).  His favorites are Tesoro (TSO) and Marathon Petroleum (MPC).  TSO is still in early stages of getting discounted crude.  Dan Loeb's Third Point has also written their thesis on TSO in a past letter.  MPC is a recent spinoff with management just now getting in tune with running as a standalone refiner.   Billick also recently appeared on a best ideas panel at another conference that you can read about at that link.

Mick McGuire -  Marcato Capital Management

Idea: Long Sotheby's (BID) 

Thesis:  Owns 7% of the stock.  These are their first public comments regarding the investment.  Capital has not been allocated well.  Core business is good.  Lots of opportunity to unlock value of real estate.  There are under-utilized assets.  Thinks stock is worth $68 which is more than 30% above current price.  One of two major auction houses with Christie's.  Has been falling behind Christie's in some areas.  Opportunity for improvement there with the income statement.  Regarding the balance sheet, opportunity to unlock value with the real estate holdings.  They've been growing the lending business with after tax profits from the auction business.  Instead they should be funding this with other facilities like securitization or receivables.  Dealer segment not big, but performance there is symbolic of poor capital allocation.  $1.3B in trapped equity with poor opportunities for reinvestment.  This money should be returned to shareholders through buybacks, etc.  You can view McGuire's slideshow presentation on Sotheby's here.  

Mason Morfit -  ValueAct Capital

Idea: Incentive Based Investing

Thesis:  Many companies have perverse incentives in place right now.  He prefers to reward to performers, not caretakers.  One of the problems with financial metric based performance is that management sets targets.  They have implemented changes at Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) and Adobe with significant increases in price after the changes.  Note that ValueAct recently trimmed their ADBE stake.

Christopher James -  Partner Fund Management

Idea: Long Adobe (ADBE) 

Thesis:  Mobility is impacting marketing and advertising.  Spending is migrating to mobile, social and online marketing.  Emergence of "Marketing Cloud".  Closed Loop Marketing... key players are becoming SalesForce (CRM) and Adobe.  Both are focusing on this trend and building platforms and making acquisitions to establish dominant platforms.  Adobe has been moving from traditional software model to SAAS.  Better economics with this newer model as acquisition costs are low and renewals are high.  Thinks they can do $3 in FCF in 2015 and $4 in FCF in 2016. 

David Herro - Harris Associates

Idea: Long Select European Equities (Credit Suisse, BMW Group, Diageo) 

Thesis:  Looks for opportunities from Mr. Market where price is significantly below intrinsic value.  Use a discounted cash flow model to calculate intrinsic value.  Likes European equities.  Fixed exchange rates caused distortions.  Very different micro-economic policies by country in EU create bottlenecks to adjustment.  Unit labor costs in Europe declining.  Debt yields are dropping.  Competitiveness is increasing.  Europe trades at a discount.  Consider European companies based there, but with global or US reach.  Europe is good at luxury.  Likes Credit Suisse as it is trading at less than 10 times normalized earnings.  BMW Group has over 20% of profit from China.  EV to EBITDA is less than 6.  Weathered the recession very well.  Diageo (DEO) is the world's largest premium spirits and beverage company.  Yield is over 3%.  Great business for the long, long term.  

Malcolm Fairbairn -  Ascend Capital

Idea: Long CF Industries (CF)  

Thesis:  Based largely on dynamics relating to natural gas and nitrogen.  China is the largest producer and user of NatGas.  Nitrogen demand growing 2% a year.  Futures suggest price doesn't break $5 until 2020.  CF benefits from low prices.  CF has leading margins but trades at discount to peers.  Recently increased dividend.  Thinks price could be $250 based on the peer group's 3.8% yield with a 50% earnings payout.   We've also posted Third Point's thesis on CF from their past letter.

Christopher Lord -  Criterion Capital Management

Idea: Long Tower Companies (American Tower (AMT), Crown Castle (CCI) and SBA Communications (SBAC)) 

Thesis:  Last years pick was Google.  Things look frothy now.  Likes "Towers".  Seen a 35x increase in mobile traffic the last six years.  Estimates the increase will have been 430x for ten year period ending 2017.  Towers are winners.  The US is going from 2 top cell carriers to 3 or 4.  Tower companies build towers and cell carriers pay most of the other costs.  These businesses can't be replaced.  Best real estate is already taken.  There are also restrictions on new towers.  Contracts also have automatic price escalators.   Given that models have high operating leverage, much of the price increases go straight to bottom line of the towers.  Picks are AMT with a target of $110, CCI with a target of $100, and SBAC with a target of $110.  Right now these companies are trading at lower multiples to other types of REITs, but they have higher growth rates.  Bonus thoughts: likes shorting 3D printers, Cree (CREE), SAAS Cloud Companies trading at greater than 20x Revenues, Cisco (CSCO), EMC (EMC), VM Ware (VMW).

Brian Zied -  Charter Bridge Capital Management

Idea: Long Brunswick (BC) 

Thesis:  Charter Bridge runs a long/short fund.  Prior to founding the firm, Zied was at Maverick Capital.  He focuses on consumer driven small and mid-size businesses.  Brunswick focused on Marine, Fitness, Bowling and Billiards.  Strong in engine business.  Attractive investment with many ways to win (depressed boat cycle, marine innovation, restructuring opportunity).  There is a 40 year history of boat sales.  For a long time new boat sales were between 300K and 500K boats a year.  Boat cycle was at 120K at the bottom of recession, now at 150K boats a year.  Participation in boating is at an all-time high.  Boats have a 25 to 30 year life.  There are 200K boats being scrapped per year.  Obviously, these trends are going to run in to each other with new boat sales rising.  Revenues still haven't come back from pre-crisis levels.  Innovation in GPS sky hook anchoring and joystick controls.  Precrisis boat revs were greater than $2B, now only at $1B...the recovery is inevitable.  Typically new boat sales are 25% of annual boat sales, right now they are only 16%.  Largest position in their portfolio.  Brunswick is currently at 7.4x EBITDA and 14.9x PE whereas most peers average 10.5x EBITDA and 17.4X PE.  Sees a free call option with 50% to 80% upside.

Carl Kawaja -  Capital Research Company

Idea: Long EADS (EAD) 

Thesis:  Flight is still a modern miracle that many don't appreciate.  Likes companies that solve problems.  Planes are BIG.  This business has a moat that won't get disrupted by three kids in a dorm room (like social media).  Majority of world flies less than once a year.  Air travel won't revert to mean, it will just continue to grow.  The business of airlines is getting better.  Fuel efficiency is driving sales of new planes and will increase profits for manufacturers.  Thoughts on valuation:  1) Earnings will grow... a lot.  Many of the upfront costs already incurred for R&D.  2) They will get more orders...addressable market is more than $1T with a $800B backlog.  Market cap is $51B... PV of future ops alone is worth more than $64B.  Sees stock doubling over time.

Michael Moe -  GSV Capital

Idea: Long Twitter (TWTR)  

Thesis:  From 1991 to 2000, there were 550 IPOs per year.  Following decade has seen an average of 113 IPOs per year.  Before market caps were around $100M at time of IPO, now they are on average over $1B.  This means VC firms must invest longer before firms go public.  In 2013, IPOs are performing very strong.  GSV is a public vehicle for VC stage companies.  Twitter is his idea.  They currently have a position in it.  It is 15% of the fund.  Ad growth of 124%.  There are 620 million shares outstanding.  At $25 a share the market cap is about $15.5B.  Positive cash flow the first half of 2013.  Participating in multiple trends including:  Social, Personal Branding, Mobile, Second Screen Watching TV, Next Gen Devices.  Mobile usage has now surpassed desktop usage.  Vine (Twitter owned) is #1 App.  Thinks it could go as high as $160 a share.  

Christopher Balding -  HSBC Business School  

Idea: Macro Call of Short China 

Thesis:  He's an Associate Professor of Finance and Economics at the HSBC Business School of Peking University Graduate School.  A lot of data from China is manipulated.  China is a huge bubble.  Example of bad reporting is growth numbers.  Growth reported from provinces aggregates to 10.8% growth whereas official GDP from China is 7.8%.  Another example: official CPI housing price inflation up 14% while real estate prices up 111%.  Price in income ratio for real estate in San Francisco is 9.4.  This seems high, but it is 32 in Shenzhen.  The official numbers say that steel companies in China have $500B in debt and only $300M in profits.  Would be very careful before simply taking financial and economic data at face value.  Banks in China are starved for capital right now.  There is risk dispersion.  2/3rds of the stocks in China have been really hurt while 1/3rd are trading at a premium.  Example is BYD trading at a P/E of 1,100.  If you don't want to short China directly, another option is shorting China derivative plays like companies in Australia heavily tied to China. We've also posted up Jim Chanos' short China thesis as well for those interested.

That wraps up notes from Excellence in Investing: San Francisco 2013.  For more coverage on top hedge funds, scroll through the hedge fund letters we've posted up recently.

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