New Year

Happy new year everyone! I hope you are staying healthy and able to find some enjoyment during these strange times. How do you even begin to write up a recap for a year such as 2020? If you had told me this time last year that a global pandemic would bring our country to its knees, leave 375,000+ dead and force businesses across the country to close, I would have guessed that the market had fallen precipitously. Little did I know, other than a blip in March, none of this mattered and the market climbed to all time highs.

The economy has been buoyed by the combination of extremely low interest rates and a seemingly limitless level of money printing. Neither of these appear to be changing anytime soon, so the rally could carry on. I however continue to remain cautious. The market cannot go straight up without reprieve. At some point, the bill comes due. When that will be, I have no idea, but I think it is important to be prepared for such an eventuality. I remain steadfast in my decision to hold companies of the highest quality. Their businesses will perform in good economic conditions and in bad. That is my margin of safety.

2020 Performance

As of 1/1/2021, my 10K portfolio stood at $14,324.59. When I started on 8/19/18, the SPY had a price of $285.06 and my account started with $10,000. As of 1/1/2021 the SPY had a price of $373.88. In reality, the SPY has done even better due to dividends given out, so I have accounted for dividend reinvestment in the return calculation.

10K Return(1)SPY Return(2)Difference(1-2)
2018(8/19-12/31)(13.95)(13.71)(.24)
201937.3332.64.73
202021.2217.593.63
Since Inception(8/19/18)43.2537.256.00

As we can see, my investments have continued to beat the SPY. I am up 3.63% on the index in 2020 and 6% since inception. This is a modest outperformance, but nothing exceptional. If I can outperform by a couple of percentage points annually, this outperformance will compound to a large disparity over the course of many years. Time is ultimately your greatest friend. Be that as it may, all is not as great as it appears.

While my investment record looks more than satisfactory, this is really just due to the benchmark I have chosen to compare myself against. Had I instead chosen the Nasdaq as my benchmark, my results would look rather awful. Over the same time period, investing in the QQQ with dividends reinvested would have provided a 78.13% return. This beats me by a whopping 34.88%. Sure much of this is due to valuations on some tech companies becoming stretched to levels not seen since the dot com bubble, but it is still disheartening to lose.

I could have simply put my money into the Nasdaq, done absolutely nothing and obtained returns that far exceed my own. It is frustrating to see, but this is the sandbox we play in. You can work diligently, remain disciplined and still lose. Investing is hard. Sometimes your approach will get a tailwind, driving you to superior results. At other times it will feel as if you are pushing a boulder up a hill. The only solution is to just keep going. Hone your strategy, keep putting in the work and fall asleep each night smarter than when you woke up.

My stocks are now worth $13,947.72 with an additional $376.87 in cash. Let’s look at what changes I made.

Buys

EA– Electronic Arts is a company I have long followed, but only did a deep dive into in recent months. Gaming as a sector is going through a renaissance during the pandemic. People are spending more time than ever in their homes and video games are a great way to kill time. Video games might seem like an expensive hobby at first glance as you are really just buying a bunch of digital code, but actually video games can provide some great bang for your buck. A new Playstation or XBOX game will typically cost $60. Some games deliver a 10 hour experience, which boils down to $6 per hour, but I and many others have been known to sink hundreds if not thousands of hours into certain games. For those games, you are paying only pennies on a per hour basis. Few if any forms of entertainment can yield that kind of value. A good deal for the buyer and an even better deal for those making and selling the games.

EA for instance can expect to cash flow $1.5 Billion+ each and ever year. They sit on over $6 Billion in cash with trivial levels of debt. They are able to do so by owning some incredible IP that more or less generates annual recurring income. Franchises like FIFA, Madden and NHL are virtually assured to sell hundreds of thousands if not millions of copies a year. As a personal anecdote, I have bought the new FIFA each and every year for roughly the last decade. I am predictable in this action and there are millions just like me. This is great for EA, as it costs them little to reproduce. EA updates the rosters, makes some slight game play and graphic modifications and ships the new game to coincide with the new soccer season. The company has locked in long term contracts with sports leagues to be the exclusive provider of simulation games, such as the NFL whose contract was recently extended through the end of 2026. With these long term contracts in hand, cash flows are predictable and provide the company with strong margins. Gross margins typically fall in the 75% range, with net margins over 25% even given the large amount spent on R&D.

Additionally, EA has locked down the contract to produce non mobile games within the Star Wars universe. Jedi: Fallen Order was a top seller and Star Wars: Squadrons was a strong follow up. With the success of The Mandalorian on Disney+, you can bet more games are to follow. As you would expect, video gaming is a capital light industry. No need to buy all new equipment or real estate. Therefore the company is able to generate a lot of cash that management is then able to allocate as they see fit. Thus far, acquisitions and share buybacks are the primary uses of this cash. Most recently, EA announced the purchase of Codemasters, the developers behind racing games such as Dirt and Formula One, for $1.2 Billion. I expect more acquisitions in the years to come.

Do not be surprised if another name within the gaming world ends up in my portfolio. The industry is extremely profitable, predictable and has a long runway for growth. I own shares of Nintendo in my personal portfolio outside of this account and if I can find some room I might add shares in this one.

ETSY– I also decided to purchase shares of ETSY. I’ve long followed the company and been impressed, but stayed away due to fears over their high valuation. After seeing their most recent quarterly report, I decided the company was too strong to ignore. Etsy sells custom made items, great for gift giving and anything you might want personalized. The company has been bolstered by the pandemic as ecommerce sales have skyrocketed. Mask sales in particular have been a bright spot, constituting 11% of sales. Even if those sales were to fall to 0, the company would still show impressive growth.

Revenue this past quarter was up 128% YoY and adjusted EBITDA was up 259.9%. Yes, you read that correctly. These growth numbers are mind boggling. More buyers and more sellers enter the marketplace every quarter, creating a flywheel effect. Of course they cannot keep up this pace forever, but growth is hastening, not slowing down. The market cap sat at around $20 billion when I bought in. They may never get to the size of Amazon, but they don’t need to in order to make a fantastic investment. The company is already profitable and the rate of growth is on an upward trajectory.

When I saw the stock tumble after reporting a fantastic quarter, I knew it was time to pounce. Turns out, I made a timely purchase, as my Etsy shares are up 43.5% after less than two months of ownership. Can’t say I expected that, but I’ll take it.

Sells

CBOE- While I still really like the company, I had to make room for Etsy. I only held CBOE for a short time, but something had to go. As my only allegiance is to making the best returns, no company is sacred. Every investment is open to turnover should it make economic sense to do so. I lost a few percentage points on the trade, but that was more than made up for with Etsy’s gain. So far, a great move.

MKL- Similar to my sale of CBOE, I sold shares of Markel to open up room for EA. Markel will always be a world class company, run by top notch management. They will steward shareholder capital intelligently and safely. The problem is currently with the insurance business as a whole. Given the low interest rate environment, insurance is a tough business to be in. By law, they are forced to hold a large percentage of capital in bonds that can guarantee the payments on their claims. If much of your capital is tied up in low earning fixed income bonds, it is hard to earn a high return on invested capital. It is no fault of the company and one day the tide will turn, but interest rates don’t look to be rising anytime soon.

INTC- Here is where I have to own up to my misjudgement. It is never easy to admit a mistake, but it is doubly hard when you post your positions publicly and open yourself up to ridicule. I deserve criticism for this and I accept it.

I bought shares of Intel with great hopes. Upon release of their most recent quarterly report, those hopes went right out the window. Intel presented a pretty poor quarter and outlook for the future was grim. I immediately realized I was out of my depth and needed to make a change. In my Q3 update, I wrote “Intel is still an incredible business that spins off loads of cash that can then be reinvested back into the business.” While this mostly remains true, I overestimated current operations. I thought I could predict how the company would perform, turns out I could not. Later on I added “admittedly, I will never be a semicondcutor expert, far from it.” If you ever catch yourself writing something that closely resembles those words, turn back immediately. As Peter Lynch would tell you, stick to what you know.

Much like IBM, Intel appears to be a technology hardware company that is stuck in the past. Given their incredible resources, they have time to right the ship. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them regain their superiority, but as it stands they are not performing up to the standards of their past. The saving grace in all of this is that I recognized my mistake quickly. I took action when I saw the economics not playing out as I expected. If you are wrong about a stock, it is better to admit the error and move on than to dig in your heels and double down. I lost 5.68% on Intel, hardly a disaster.

As always, I would like to thank you for taking the time to give this a read! I know this was a long one, but I guess I had a lot to say. Feel free to leave some comments or questions. Follow me on Twitter @TheGarpInvestor.