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.

Blogging Is Hard (Q2 Update)

I hope everyone has gotten to enjoy the long holiday weekend. This time of year, we get to celebrate America and appreciate all the freedoms we are given. On the investing front, we should acknowledge how fortunate we are to invest in a country that has provided long term annual market returns of 8-10%. If you can just keep up with the market over the long run, you’ll end up pretty well off.

Just like the market though, running a blog has its ups and its downs. Sometimes you feel the jolt of inspiration, a never ending flow of thoughts simmering at the surface just waiting to be written down. At others, writing a post can seem like the greatest hassle in the world.  Recently, writing for the blog has frankly been a challenge. This is my first post in three months, since my last portfolio update. What starts as a one week lapse, quickly turns into two, which inevitably carries on for many more. Just like investing, the weeks tend to compound.

It isn’t like I haven’t had any good ideas, I just haven’t been able to muster the energy to sit down and write out a full post. The year 2019 gives us a never ending supply of distractions, whether it was watching the NBA Playoffs or browsing through Reddit and Twitter, I always found something inconsequential to occupy my time. I can now say I understand how a famous author can keep fans waiting year after year without ever finishing a series(well maybe I don’t understand the whole having fans part). George RR Martin, you have my sympathy.

On the financial side of things, 2019 never ceases to surprise. After a calamitous end to 2018, 2019 started the year sprinting out of the gate. By the end of the the first quarter, I was sure the market had to give some back. Instead the market has continued its steady onward march. Luckily for me, my portfolio has been fully invested and my companies have continued to grow.  I’m not however ready to be too confident. The bottom could fall out at any moment, so who knows what will happen, I’m just along for the ride.

2nd Quarter Performance 2019

Reminder my 10K Portfolio started with $10,000 on and was bench marked against the SPY at 285.06 which as of the open on 7/1/19 stood at 293.

         Return(1)          SPY Return(2)         Difference(1-2)

Portfolio value $10,620.89:             6.93                          2.78                         4.14

My portfolio has continued to do well and I now outpace the SPY by over 4%. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, I am still shy of the 1 year anniversary of the portfolio. I’ll chalk this up to luck, but if I can still be beating the market 5 years from now, I’d like some credit! I am unlucky and perhaps a bit stupid for when I started the portfolio. Had I waited just a few months, that nearly 7% return would easily be double that amount.

More important than the stock returns however, the performance of my portfolio companies have been quite good. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on.

Best Performers

MSFT- Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft continues to dominate. They may have taken a break from growth in the early 2010’s, but they are back and hungrier than ever. You would think that a company with a market cap over 1 trillion would have trouble growing. Right now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This past quarter, MSFT grew operating income by 25% and diluted EPS was up 20%(both YoY). Buoyed by their cloud division, Azure, Microsoft’s dominance looks inevitable. Azure had revenue growth of 73% compared to last year. The company also now sits on a treasure chest of 131 billion dollars of cash and short term investments. Their balance sheet is rock solid and they are well positioned for years to come.

ODFL- Old Dominion Freight Line is much smaller than Microsoft, but their recent success is no less impressive. This past quarter they were able to grow EPS 23.3%, while also reducing the overall share count by 1.5%. It is almost always a good sight when you see EPS growing rapidly and the overall share count falling. You can get in trouble if the company is paying a price well above intrinsic value for those shares, but I do not believe this to be such a case.  I now own a greater percentage of a company that is performing excellently. Debt levels remain almost nonexistent and I feel comfortable holding onto this company well into the future. I am down about 7% in the company even though the market has gone up and the company has performed extremely well. This is probably a pretty good indicator that ODFL is trading at an attractive price.

Worst Performers

LEA- Unfortunately, not all of my companies have been great performers. Lear Corporation has had a couple of bad quarters in a row and my holdings are now down almost 20% in the company.  Sales were down 5% and adjusted EPS fell from 5.1 to 4. These are never good signs, I like to see companies going in the opposite direction. GARP investing is about finding growth, not watching sales fall. Lear is being impacted by the cyclical nature of automotive sales. We seem to have hit a peak and auto sales have fallen in recent quarters. On the bright side, the company continues to drive down the share count. On a P/E basis the company looks pretty cheap, trading around 8.5 but that isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to hold onto the company.

HII – Unlike Lear, Huntington Ingalls was able to grow revenue, up 11% YoY. It wasn’t all good however, operating income fell from 191 million to 161 million. This was primarily due to lower margins and how penchant expenses are accounted for. Either way, earnings were down considerably. The company also took on a substantial amount of debt and the balance sheet doesn’t look nearly as strong as it used to. Not all is bad though, HII did win some crucial contracts and the backlog now stands at a record 41 billion.  The company remains a high moat competitor with long term contracts locked in. I just have to wonder if this is the best investment opportunity available.

For the time being I am going to hold onto these companies and monitor how they do in the next quarter or two. Should things not improve, don’t be surprised if I sell out of one or even both of these. I like the future prospects of HII more at the moment, but they still need to be paid close attention. I don’t care how much a stock moves in the short run, if the business doesn’t perform up to expectations it may be time to move on. I would rather put my money into a company with better industry tailwinds.

As always thanks for reading, I appreciate it! Be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow me on twitter @TheGarpInvestor.