Q3 2018 Update

Q3 Performance

Overall

Another quarter, more underperformance.

Value investing continues to underperform, and I continue to make mistakes. Regarding value’s underperformance, YTD to the 50 cheapest stocks in the S&P 500 has returned 3.62%. The 50 most expensive have delivered a 17.95% YTD return, outperforming the S&P 500.

I believe this will end, but I have no idea of when or how this will happen. The current cycle has looked like 1999 to me for nearly three years. I always suspect we’re close to that magical March 2000 moment, but it never seems to happen and expensive stocks continue to rip.

It looks like we’re late in the bull market to me, but no one really knows. There are no clocks on the walls, and everyone is flying blind, despite their assertive declarations to the contrary.

The only thing that I can do is continue to pursue my strategy: cheap stocks, good balance sheets, high probability of mean revision.

As for my mistakes, the biggest one appears to be abandoning my strategy a year ago for 20% of my portfolio and buying a bunch of international indexes that wound up vaporizing my money. The meltdown in Turkey caused me to wise up (or capitulate, depending on your perspective) and get back to the basics – buying individual value-oriented U.S. stocks.

Trades

This quarter, I sold all of my international indexes and bought specific U.S. stocks that I thought were undervalued. I was also paid out for my shares of the net-cash situation Pendrell. I reached a one year birthday on my position in Foot Locker and re-evaluated the position. The stock has been fantastic to me, and I’ve taken many of my gains off the table as it ran up over the last year. Evaluating the position on its birthday, it looked much more expensive than when I bought it a year ago, so I exited the position. I still think it’s a reliable company, but it is too rich for my tastes.

With the money from these sales and portfolio events, I purchased the below positions. Each position is linked to a blog post in which I outlined my reasons for buying it.

  1. Sanderson Farms
  2. Thor Industries
  3. United Therapeutics
  4. Reinsurance Group of America
  5. Micron
  6. MetLife

Of these buys, I am most excited about Micron, which strikes me as absurdly cheap. It is, in fact, the cheapest stock on an EV/EBIT basis in the entire S&P 500.

Overall, I still think Argan is the most compelling bargain in my portfolio, and the thesis continues to pan out.

Goodbye, Cruel World

I initially pursued my international strategy for two reasons: (1) In Q4 2017, about 60% of the cheap stocks I was screening were in the retail sector, and I didn’t want to have that level of concentration in one industry. (2) The US valuations look terrifying to me, so I thought an excellent way to diversify would be to buy cheaper foreign markets.

So what happened?

Many of the cheap retail stocks I didn’t buy went on to perform magnificently. Here are a few picks I didn’t invest in because I had 20% of my portfolio devoted to international indexes:

Williams & Sonoma (up 32% YTD)
Best Buy (up 16%)
DSW (up 31.26%)

I ignored my thesis about the retail sector (that the popular “Amazon eats the world” hypothesis was wrong, and retail valuations were unusually cheap) and pursued another strategy that wound up falling apart.

Experience the carnage:

international indexes

Nearly every one of them declined, due to a combination of weakness in those markets and strength in the US dollar. I lost $1,090.30 overall on the experiment, which is 2% of my portfolio. Meanwhile, the stocks that I otherwise would have invested in did better.

I abandoned my strategy and underperformed as a result.

With all of this said, I still think that low CAPE ratio international indexing is a viable option that will outperform in the future. I also know it’s not for me. I need to understand my investments. I don’t know anything about the monetary policy or political situation of Turkey or Russia. I don’t know anything about foreign currency speculation. In short, I don’t know enough about the positions to stick with them when times get tough, as they are right now.

I also bought these indexes for all of the wrong reasons. Mainly, I am freaked out by the valuations of US stocks and thought this would be a way to diversify away from the risk of US overvaluation. The truth is, with the US comprising over 50% of the global market cap, when the US pukes, everything else is going to go down with it. There won’t be a place to hide, even among cheap international markets. And that’s what I’m terrified of — I’m not concerned about a gradual underperformance of the U.S. versus the world, I’m worried about the markets puking in a 2008 style event. Aside from hedging strategies, there isn’t much way to avoid this inevitable pain.

Should I just shut up and buy the damn screen?

I tweeted this back in April, and I think it’s true:

tweet

For my stock selection, I need to understand the companies to remain invested in them. I know if a sell-off is related to an actual problem (i.e., the woes of my sold Francesca position) or if it’s pure market noise (i.e., volatility in Argan). My understanding of the companies helps me stick with the strategy. Research helps me behaviorally.

Behavioral folly is also the reason I don’t go full quant even though I am very quantitative in my approach. I start with a screen of cheap stocks, research the output of the filter, and try to identify the opportunities which I think are best.

This approach has flaws due to the “broken leg” problem. One of the best examples of this is Joel Greenblatt’s brokerage service that was designed to help people implement the magic formula strategy. Greenblatt established a brokerage firm that would automatically invest in the magic formula for clients. Some clients automated the magic formula stock selection, while others chose from the list. The clients who picked their stocks from the magic formula list underperformed. Those who purchased the screen outperformed the market. Joel Greenblatt explains it here.

Why did this happen? In short, investors avoided the scariest looking stocks, which were the ones that provided the best returns. I don’t think this phenomenon only applies to amateur investors. I think it’s the main reason that many value investors underperform simple quantitative “cheap” strategies. You’ll often hear of exceptional value investors outperforming the stock market, but they often underperform the lowest deciles of cheap. They underperform simple metrics of cheap because, to avoid value traps, they often pass over the best opportunities in the market because of how terrifying they appear.

The evidence indeed suggests that I should go “full quant” and buy the damn screen. The reason I don’t do this is that I don’t feel that I would be able to stick with a “full quant” strategy. I want to understand what I invest in so I can stick with the plan through thick and thin.

The low CAPE strategy is a quant strategy as is merely buying cheap stocks. I recognize the compelling logic of a full quant approach, but I can’t fully embrace it because I want to understand the companies themselves. It might worsen my results over the long run, but at least I’ll be able to stick with it.

I set out on this blog to pick stocks within the low P/E, low debt/equity 1970s Graham framework. That’s what I’m going to stick to despite the temptations to abandon it. I am not knocking the low CAPE index approach, the magic formula, or the Acquirer’s multiple strategies. I just don’t think I’d be able to stick with a purely quantitative approach if it ever turned against me.

Random

This is hilarious. “He just wanted to spend time with his family . . . and his robot. Like a normal guy.”

PLEASE NOTE: The information provided on this site is not financial advice and it is for informational and discussion purposes only. Do your own homework. Full disclosure: my current holdings.  Read the full disclaimer.

MetLife (MET)

fall

Key Statistics

Enterprise Value = $46.727 billion

Operating Income = $5.65 billion

EV/Operating Income = 8.27x

Price/Revenue = .70x

Earnings Yield = 11%

Debt/Equity = 36%

The Company

Met Life is a massive global insurance firm. Their $457 billion bond portfolio makes them one of the biggest institutional investors in the United States. Their business spans the globe with operations in the United States, Asia, EMEA, and Latin America.

A major focus for MetLife is group insurance for large corporations. Another important segment is pension risk transfer when MetLife assumes the pension risk of another company. Another segment is structured settlement, in which MetLife will take on large class action legal claims.

Like Unum Group, shares have languished due to concerns about its long-term care insurance reserves. In other words, with people living longer and medical care costs rising, the market is worried that MetLife doesn’t have enough capital set aside to deal with these concerns. These concerns have caused many insurance names to lag the S&P 500 in the past year and MetLife has not been immune to the pain In the last year, the stock is down 8.39% while the S&P 500 is up 15.67%.

My Take

Cheap insurance stocks are a large segment of my portfolio. I currently own Aflac, Unum Group, Reinsurance Group of America, and MetLife. I like insurance for several reasons: it is boring, it is profitable, and beaten up insurance companies almost always tend to recover unless there is a black swan event or they have been playing it fast and loose with risk management.

As for the long-term care anxieties, I have no idea if MetLife has sufficient capital set aside. What I do know is that long-term care represents only 15% of MetLife’s business and it looks to me like the concerns are already built into the stock price.

Despite the pressures on the stock and worries about long-term care, revenues and profits are up over the last year. In the most recent quarter, year/year revenues are up 38.23% and EPS is up 3.75%.

Met Life is a high-quality firm. Their Piotroski F-Score is currently an excellent 7. Their debt/equity ratio is currently 36%, implying that they have a relatively safe balance sheet.

My main attraction to Met Life is its high level of shareholder yield. In the last year, MetLife has bought back 5% of the outstanding shares and delivers a dividend yield of 3.60%. The share buybacks show no signs of letting up. In May, the company announced a $1.5 billion share buyback.

With most of my picks, I buy ugly situations and wait for significant multiple appreciation once the concerns fade away. I am looking for gains of 50-100%. With Met Life, I’m not expecting those kinds of gains. While moderate multiple appreciate is possible, my expectation is that MetLife has a low probability of blowing up and, in the meantime, it will continue to aggressively return capital to shareholders and ought to deliver an attractive rate of return.

PLEASE NOTE: The information provided on this site is not financial advice and it is for informational and discussion purposes only. Do your own homework. Full disclosure: my current holdings.  Read the full disclaimer.

Reinsurance Group of America (RGA)

measurement

Key Statistics

Enterprise Value = $10.10 billion

Operating Income = $1.159 billion

EV/Operating Income = 8.71x

Price/Revenue = .73x

Earnings Yield = 19%

Debt/Equity = 41%

The Company

RGA is a Missouri based holding company for multiple reinsurance entities all over the world.

What is reinsurance? Simply put, reinsurance is insurance for insurance companies. Typically, insurance companies buy reinsurance policies to cover themselves in the event of catastrophic losses that occur outside of the assumptions in their risk models. Insurance companies would depend on reinsurance after an extreme event – a major disaster like a historically unprecedented hurricane, earthquake, or a terrorist attack.

RGA is unique in that it focuses on insurance for claims related to health insurance and life insurance. One example of this niche is their focus is longevity reinsurance, a business where RGA insures health insurance companies for the risk that insured people will live longer than the models project. (If Ray Kurzweil’s predictions are true, RGA is screwed. I don’t think we will find the fountain of youth anytime soon, though.) Another area that they focus on is “asset-intensive reinsurance,” which insures annuities for the possibility that their annuity returns might fall short and annuitants will live longer.

RGA has often changed its ownership structure. RGA initially went public in 1993 after years as a division of General American Life Insurance Company (General American retained a majority stake in the company after it went public). It operated publicly from 1993 until 2000, at which point MetLife bought it and took it private. MetLife then spun off RGA in 2008, and it has operated as an independent public company ever since.

A key risk for RGA would be a global disaster affecting human mortality. An example would be a pandemic. Bill Gates has sounded the alarm on this issue for a long time. In addition to an event causing mass casualties, such an event would also create chaos in the financial markets, which would affect RGA’s investment portfolio. A bet on RGA is a bet that such an extreme event won’t happen in the near future.

Reinsurance is also a dull, slow-growing industry that doesn’t command high multiples. Regardless of this, it is essential for insurance companies to maintain reinsurance policies to protect themselves.

My Take

RGA operates a good business that has been steadily growing since it was spun off in 2008. It has grown premiums and investment income steadily since going public, as you can see from the below chart (in billions of dollars):

rgarevenue

While the industry grows slowly, it grows steadily and methodically as the need for insurance grows and more of the world’s population enters the middle class, creating a need for insurance where none existed in the past. Each year, 160 million people globally become middle class. As they enter the middle class, they need home insurance, car insurance, and health insurance. As demand for insurance grows, demand for reinsurance grows. Because RGA has a global footprint, they benefit from the global growth in insurance, as you can see from their results over the last decade.

RGA trades at a discount to industry averages. The average price/revenue for the industry is 1.37 compared to .73 for RGA. The price/revenue multiple implies that RGA’s stock has an 87% upside. From a P/E multiple standpoint, RGA trades at 5.37x versus an industry average of 19.48, giving the stock a 262% upside potential.

Much of RGA’s high earnings in the last year are due to positive gains realized from the tax bill. Even with temporary tax gains taken into consideration, RGA’s forward P/E of 12 is still a discount from the industry average. RGA also trades at a discount to book value, which is currently $147 per share.

RGA is not only at a discount to the industry average, but it is also posting better results than industry peers. RGA achieved a 21% return on equity last year, which is better than the industry average of 6.71%.

RGA compares favorably to two of its biggest competitors, Everest Re and Renaissance Re, both of which paradoxically trade at a higher valuation. Concerning return on assets, RGA beats both of them. RGA delivered a 2.97% ROA in the last year, compared to 1.4% for Everest and -1.55% compared to Renaissance.

comparison

In short, I think RGA represents an attractive discount to the valuation of its peers even though it is performing better than them. Simple multiple appreciation could provide an attractive return for RGA.

I also think it is a possibility that RGA could be bought by a larger insurance company, as it was back in 2000 by Met Life.

PLEASE NOTE: The information provided on this site is not financial advice and it is for informational and discussion purposes only. Do your own homework. Full disclosure: my current holdings.  Read the full disclaimer.