Investment Blog

Defying Gravity

Overall, 2019 was quite a year with most indexes increasing by roughly a third.  From a historical perspective, the period from 2010 through 2019 was the first contiguous decade in the history of the market without a recession[1].  During this period, we had only one (2018) negative year.

The gains of 2019 were phenomenal in light of the many headwinds facing investors heading into, and throughout, the year:

GameStop (GME) – “Swimming Against the Current”

A company we have been tracking and researching for better than two years now is GameStop (GME).  Our initial research on GME was predicated on the thesis that the company was highly overvalued with eroding earnings and reverse network effects.  For reasons described briefly here, we now believe there is value in the stock. However, investors will be unlikely to realize this value.

A Return to Rationality

In July, the current U.S. expansion became the longest on record. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter increased at an annual rate of 2.1% and there are still new jobs being created. While these and other government figures suggest that U.S. and global economies are continuing to expand, there is growing evidence of weakening economies internationally and signs that the current U.S. expansion is losing momentum.

Par Technology (PAR) – “Uncovering the Crown Jewels”

Company:         PAR Technology (PAR)
Sector:                Technology – Application Software
Price/Market Cap:                        $26.30/$458M
Target Price/Implied Upside:     $41/55%

Thesis

PAR Technology Corp. (PAR) is an underappreciated, cloud-based, Point-of-Sale (POS) software provider anchored by its legacy as a government contractor.  New leadership has redirected the company to be laser focused on their future in the cloud.  The Balance Sheet has been recapitalized with a $80M convertible debt raise.  Proceeds will be used to accelerate the growth of their cloud based recurring revenue, and solidify their market position through bolt-on acquisitions. Growth of SaaS recurring revenue will improve margin and profitability profile and force a multiple revaluation. The Government business will continue to be a source of cashflow until the company finds an attractive buyer leaving the company as a pure-play, cloud-based restaurant and hospitality solution. Longer-term, the real growth opportunity may be in their nascent merchant services business launching in 2H 2019.

Digging Deeper for Value

 

The New Year brought a dramatic market rebound. Performance was driven by a combination of a cautious Federal Reserve rethinking its plan to increase interest rates, and a “relief rally” during earnings season.  First quarter earnings reports weren’t impressive, but stocks rallied as investors realized that earnings, while mediocre, were not nearly as bad as they could have been. This is in contrast to just a few short months ago when markets seemed to be assured of an imminent collapse.

Waste Connections (WCN) – “Every Tuesday and Thursday”

Company:         Waste Connections (WCN)
Sector:                Industrials – Waste and Environmental Services
Price/Market Cap:                        $83/$22B
Target Price/Implied Upside:     $107/30%

Thesis
Waste Connections (WCN) is the third largest waste disposal company in North America, and the only company focused on secondary and exclusive markets.  The company has flourished behind the leadership of a seasoned management team focused on consolidating fragmented niche markets where they can streamline operations, exert pricing power, and improve profitability.

The Market Abhors Uncertainty

“Every decade or so, dark clouds will fill the economic skies, and they will briefly rain gold.” – Warren Buffett

From an investor’s perspective, 2018 was a challenging year that began with a strong first half, only to encounter a sharp reversal and decline.  Looking back to the start of 2018, if we had known that we would end the year with no major military conflicts, a major tax cut, a revised trade deal with Canada and Mexico, 20%+ corporate earnings growth and unemployment at 3.7%[1], any rational investor would have predicted a strong market for 2018.  The reality is that with the Republicans winning the White House in 2016 while already holding a majority of votes in The House and The Senate, the market expected legislation favorable to businesses and lower taxes. Expectations drove the market gains we saw throughout 2016 and 2017. The volatility we are seeing now….is based on investor expectations (and fears) for the year ahead.

Knowing When to Sell

 “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.” – Peter Lynch

We are almost 10 years into a bull market birthed out of The Financial Crisis, throughout which, economists have described the stock market as climbing a “wall of worry”. The market continues to rise, but no one believes that it can continue. I am confident that at some point we will experience a correction. I am also confident that, many years from now, the companies we own will be much more valuable than they are today.

Process Makes Perfect

In my last post, I discussed the macro issues and narratives driving the economy. Market volatility has continued and, in addition to an extended trade war, US markets are now also concerned with rising interest rates, creeping inflation, and an inverting yield curve. There will always be news that creates market concern, but it is usually something unforeseen that impacts investors the most. And for that reason, it makes sense to dedicate this post to detailing our investment strategy and process, which emphasizes understanding the individual companies rather than the broader economy. The investment process focuses on investing in outstanding companies at reasonable prices and reasonable companies at outstanding prices. If we are invested in great companies and buy at great prices, then these investments will inevitably withstand any storms, and our investments will prove profitable.

Tariffs and Taxes and Data, Oh My!

“Volatility scares enough people out of the market to generate superior returns for those who stay in.”

– Jeremy Siegel, Professor of Finance at The Wharton School

The year has started with volatility that we haven’t seen in the last two years, and it continues as I write this letter. There are two primary narratives driving current markets:

  1. A possible China/global trade war and,
  2. A broader technology stock selloff due to backlash over privacy/data lapses, and concerns over government regulation of the largest tech companies.

I will spend some time discussing both topics.