Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why I Bought Karelia Tobacco

I believe the biggest hardest thing to do for the average advanced investor is to put matters in perspective and being objective. Warren Buffett used to ignore all outside analysis when he evaluates a stock. And he would make relative comparisons of two comparable investments, so that the analysis is more objective than in a vacuum.

I've owned Philip Morris International (PM) for 15 years, although in the last few years I have reduced my position considerably. The market used to regard tobacco as a sickly industry with a lot of litigation and regulation risk. But today PM has grown to 17 times earnings. This large a PE means the market sees tobacco as a growth industry, at least in the international markets where PM operates. Worldwide cigarette consumption is almost 6 trillion cigarettes per year. The international tobacco industry has grown steadily in recent years. But more importantly cigarette makers now have the pricing power to grow faster than inflation. That is in no small part due to the addictive properties of nicotine.

With PM so richly priced I turned to look at other public tobacco companies and noticed that they had even higher valuations: for example, American Reynolds (NYSE:RAI) trades at 27 times earnings! The one exception to the nosebleed valuations is Karelia Tobacco (ATH:KARE), a small cigarette maker in Greece. The company has a hundred year history, and when it joined the EU it began to expand globally. Today Karelia gets 85% of its sales internationally. Karelia has 0.3% of the world market versus 15% for PM. So obviously Karelia has much more room to grow than PM. This is the size handicap that Buffett so often talks about.

Karelia PM
Price € 225.000 $ 84.500
Market Cap € 621.00 M $ 130.71 B
P/E TTM 9.8 x 17.1 x
Div yield 4.1 % 4.6 %
ROIC 61.1 % 23.1 %
Both Karelia and PM have increased sales at the same rate over that last five years — about 20-30% total. However, PM has increased EPS only 20% over the last five years while Karelia has almost tripled! The difference is from improved margins at Karelia. Karelia has worked to improve efficiencies through automation and sales channels. PM on the other hand increases earnings through a ton of share buybacks. Share buybacks trade equity for earnings. It's equity is now –$11B! Also comparing PM and Karelia is not all straightforward as PM reports in USD and Karelia reports in Euros. PM's bottom line has suffered from the strong dollar while Karelia has benefited from the strong dollar.

I like tobacco because it is a simple industry. Tobacco companies sell an addictive product, so they have steady reliable demand. And contrary to what some may believe, world cigarette consumption has not decreased in the past. I would guess that will continue for the next 10 years. Sure, it is down in developed countries, but the crucial market for tobacco is going to be developing countries. Just like many other industries, emerging markets is where growth will come.

The one downside to tobacoo is litigation risk. But I don't see a litigation risk discount. The other risk is illict cigarette sales that circumvent excise taxes. Taxes are the biggest part of cigarette sales, and the governments that impose it are also the biggest nemesis to tobacco companies. So the nemesis is also the biggest financial beneficiary of tobacco. That's why I am confident that governments will protect their golden goose by keeping a lid on illicit cigarette sales.

Within the tobacco industry I only see Karelia as cheap. Compared with PM, Karelia earns much more per share. Karelia has € 263M of cash and no LT debt. But PM has $27B of LT debt and negative equity.

Karelia could also be an attractive buyout target. The tobacco industry worldwide has only a few huge players. I am sure the company has had offers in the past that no one knows about. But it is 90% owned by the founding family, so that makes it an unlikely prospect. But who knows, it can happen.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Earnings on Tap: Senvest, Seaboard and Installux

Senvest 2015 Q1 earnings showed that book value per share went to CDN$312 from CDN$264 just 3 months earlier. The company attributed some of the gains to favourable currency effects. The Canadian dollar was worth USD$0.79 at Q1 period end and today it is worth about USD$0.80. On the other hand, the Senvest Israel hedge funds is up 8% in April. So I can loosely say that Senvest further gained value up to today. So, the stock today at CDN$181 trades at around 55% of book! In my experience as a DIY investor, companies with liquid assets rarely trade below 60% of book. So the 50-60% range is my floor on Senvest stock. And typically, companies that trade at those levels reside in countries that have questionable corporate governance. But I don't think Senvest has such severe corporate governance issues to warrant such a discount.

The company's funds mostly focus on small and mid-cap companies. And they have outperformed the Russel 2000 index. The company also has CDN$736M in short positions. That is 29% of the balance sheet versus 27% the quarter earlier. This partially explains how the company can outperform the market. They mentioned one successful short of a financial company. The company was exposed to the Swiss de-pegging to the Euro. The management did not take credit for predicting the Swiss de-pegging and their short was based on other factors. But to me it shows that they did their homework and put in a sufficient margin of safety, and odds are things like that will happen.

Seaboard Corp reported Q1 earnings of $28.49 per share versus $40.55 per share a year earlier. The earnings was a disappointment but not a surprise when considering that pork was one of the worst performing commodities in Q1, even worse than oil. Pork prices reached a high of $1.20 last year during the swine flu epidemic, but last quarter had fallen to $0.60. Now it is back to around $0.80. The pork segment earned an operating profit of $19.1M versus $60.5M a year earlier. But this is not an apples to apples comparison as the company sold a 50% stake in a pork subdivision to Triumph. Management also mentioned that low feed prices were helpful for the results. Corn prices are at 8 year lows and I am hopeful that it will stay that way.

Seaboard's Marine Division earned an operating profit of $7.5M versus -$7.4M a year ago. This is one area where the company's performance exceeds the performance of a commodity industry. The company hopefully will benefit from increased trade with Cuba as they operate a huge facility Miami with a new 25 year lease.

Price € 233.000
Market Cap € 70.72 M
(USD $ 80 M)
P/E TTM 8.3 x
Div yield 3.4 %
P/BV 0.99
ROE12.0 %
ROIC 13.1 %
LT Debt/Equity0.07
The Searboard Trading and Milling Segment had a $9.2M loss from a affiliate in Brazil. This affiliate looks to be a continuing problem. We shall see how management handles it in the coming quarters.

Installux reported year end 2014 results that shows an improvement in profits despite a difficult economic climate. Sales were basically flat. My contrarian mind tells me that Europe could be the surprise in the coming several years. With the continuing QE by the European Central Bank money will flood Europe just like it did for America. I believe this will result in multiple expansion throughout Europe. Installux at 8.3x earnings is certainly a candidate for significant expansion. An expansion to 12x is very reasonable, and that would mean a 50% rise in stock value.