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Archive for the ‘Barnwell Industries (AMEX:BRN)’ Category

Greenbackd Portfolio Q1 performance and update

March 1, 2009 marked the end of Greenbackd’s first quarter, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to update you on the performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio and the positions in the portfolio, discuss some changes in our valuation methodology since our first post and outline the future direction of Greenbackd.com.

First quarter performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio

We get many questions about the content and performance of the portfolio. We had originally planned to report on a six-monthly basis, but we have now decided to report on a quarterly basis so that we can address these questions on a more frequent basis. Although it is still too early to determine how Greenbackd’s strategy of investing in undervalued asset situations with a catalyst is performing, we’ve set out below a list of all the stocks we’ve included in the Greenbackd Portfolio and the absolute and relative performance of each at the close on the last trading day in our first quarter, Friday, February 28, 2009:

greenbackd-portfolio-performance-2009-q13The absolute total return across the current and former positions as at February 28, 2009 was -3.7%, which was +7.0% higher than the S&P500’s return over the same periods. A negative return for the first period is disappointing, but we are heartened by the fact that we outperformed the market by a small margin.

You may have noticed something odd about our presentation of performance. The S&P500 index declined by 18.0% in our first quarter (from 896.24 to 735.09). Our -3.7% performance might suggest an outperformance over the S&P500 index of +14.3%. We calculate our performance on a slightly different basis, recording the level of the S&P500 index on the day each stock is added to the portfolio and then comparing the performance of each stock against the index for the same holding period. The Total Relative performance, therefore, is the average performance of each stock against the performance of the S&P500 index for the same periods. As we discussed above, the holding period for Greenbackd’s positions has been too short to provide any meaningful information about the likely performance of the strategy over the long term (2 to 5 years), but we believe that the strategy should outperform the market by a small margin.

Greenbackd’s valuation methodology

We started Greenbackd in an effort to extend our understanding of asset-based valuation described by Benjamin Graham in the 1934 Edition of Security Analysis. Through some great discussion with our readers, many of whom work in the fund management industry as experienced analysts or even managing members of hedge funds, we have had the opportunity to refine our process. We believe that what started out as a pretty unsophisticated application of Graham’s liquidation value methodology has evolved into a more realistic analysis of the balance sheet and the relationship of certain disclosures in the financial statements to asset value. We’re not yet ready to send it into space, but we believe our analyses are now qualitatively more robust than when we started and that has manifest itself quantitatively in better performance (more on this below).

The two main differences between our early analyses and our more recent ones are as follows (these are truly cringe-worthy, but that’s why we undertook the exercise):

  1. We didn’t take account of the effect of off-balance sheet arrangements and contractual obligations. This caused us to enter into several positions we should have avoided, including BGP and VVTV.
  2. We were using overly optimistic estimates for the recovery rates of assets in liquidation. For example, we started using 50% of Gross PP&E. We now use 20% of Net PP&E. We now apply Graham’s formula as the base case and deviate only when we believe that Graham’s formulation doesn’t reflect reality.

The effect of these two broad errors in analysis was to create several “false positives,” which is to say that we added stocks to the portfolio that wouldn’t have passed our current, more rigorous standards. The performance of those “false positive” stocks has been almost uniformly negative, and dragged down the performance of the portfolio. As an exercise, we went back through all the positions we have opened since we started the site and applied our current criteria, which are more stringent and dour than our earlier standards. We found that we would not have opened positions in the following eight stocks:

  • BRN (-13.1% on an absolute basis and +4.9% on a relative basis)
  • BGP (-10.8% on an absolute basis and -21.6% on a relative basis)
  • COBR (-17.1% on an absolute basis and +3.6% on a relative basis)
  • HRT (-25.3% on an absolute basis and -9.7% on a relative basis)
  • KONA (+87.8% on an absolute basis and +81.9% on a relative basis)
  • MGAM (-24.2% on an absolute basis and -5.0% on a relative basis)
  • VVTV (-25.0% on an absolute basis and -23.1% on a relative basis)
  • ZLC (-72.0% on an absolute basis and -61.1% on a relative basis)

It seems we got lucky with KONA, but the performance of the balance of the stocks was wholly negative. The performance across all stocks listed above was -12.5% on an absolute basis and -3.9% on a relative basis. Excluding these eight stocks from our portfolio (i.e. treating the portfolio as if we had not entered into these positions) would have resulted in a slightly positive absolute return of +0.7% and a relative performance over the S&P500 of +12.5%. This is a compelling reason to apply the more dour and rigorous standards.

We like to think we’ve now learned out lesson and the more dour and rigorous standards are here to stay. Set out below is an example balance sheet summary (for Chicago Rivet & Machine Co. (AMEX:CVR)) showing our present base case discounts from book value (circled in red):

example-summary-2

Readers will note that these are the same base case discounts from book value suggested by Benjamin Graham in the 1934 Edition of Security Analysis, more fully described in our Valuing long-term and fixed assets post under the heading “Graham’s approach to valuing long-term and fixed assets.” Why we ever deviated from these standards in the first place is beyond us.

Update on the holdings in the Greenbackd Portfolio

Leading on from our discussion above, four of the stocks we picked using the initial, overly optimistic criteria no longer meet our more stringent standards but haven’t yet been removed from the portfolio. We’re going to take our medicine now and do just that. To make it clear, these stocks aren’t being removed because the value has deteriorated, but because we made a mistake adding them to the portfolio in the first place. As much as we’d like to treat these positions as void ab initio (“invalid from the beginning”), we’re not going to do that. We’ve made a full accounting of the impact they’ve had on the portfolio in the First quarter performance of the Greenbackd Portfolio section above, but we don’t want them affecting our future performance. The stocks to be removed from the Greenbackd Portfolio and their absolute and relative returns are as follows:

  • BRN (-13.1% on an absolute basis and +4.9% on a relative basis)
  • HRT (-25.3% on an absolute basis and -9.7% on a relative basis)
  • MGAM (-24.2% on an absolute basis and -5.0% on a relative basis)
  • COBR (-17.1% on an absolute basis and +3.6% on a relative basis)

We’ll provide a more full discussion of where we went wrong with these stocks at a later date, but suffice it to say for present purposes that all were errors from the second bullet point in the Greenbackd’s valuation methodology section above (i.e. overly optimistic estimates for the recovery rates of assets in liquidation).

There are fifteen stocks remaining in the Greenbackd Portfolio:

Eight of these positions (ABTL, ACLS, ARCW, CAPS, CRC, CRGN, NSTR, and VOXX) are trading at or below our nominal purchase price and initial valuations. The remaining seven positions (AVGN, DITC, IKAN, MATH, NENG, NTII, and SOAP) are trading above our intial purchase price but are still at varying discounts to our valuations. We’ll provide a more full update on these positions over the course of this week.

The future of Greenbackd.com

We are going to trial some small changes to the layout of the site over the next few weeks. We’ve already made the first change: the newest comments now appear at the top of the list. We’ll also be amalgamating some pages and adding some new ones, including a page dedicated to tracking the portfolio with links to the analyses. We’re also considering some options for generating income from the site. At the moment, Greenbackd is a labor of love. We try to create new content every week day, and to get the stock analyses up just after midnight Eastern Standard Time, so that they’re available before the markets open the following day. More than 80% of the stocks that are currently trading at a premium to the price at which we originally identified them (NTII, SOAP, IKAN, DITC, NENG, MATH and AVGN) traded for a period at a discount to the price at which we identified them. This means that there are plenty of opportunities to trade on our ideas (not that we suggest you do that). If you find the ideas here compelling and you get some value from them, you can support our efforts by making a donation via PayPal.

We look forward to bringing you the best undervalued asset situations we can dig up in the next quarter.

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Welcome back to Greenbackd and happy new year for 2009. We hope that you had a good break. There have been a number of positive developments in the companies we discussed last year. Set out below is an update on those positions we had open in the Greenbackd Portfolio at the close of 2008:

  • Trilogy has increased its stake in ABTL to 7.4%. ABTL is up 18.6% since our first post but we are maintaining our position because we think it’s still worth 50% more.
  • BVF has endorsed the MNOV offer for AVGN. AVGN is up 20% since our first post but we are holding on because we think the merger presents an opportunity for AVGN’s stockholders to receive around $1.20 per share in cash (almost 60% higher than AVGN’s $0.78 close Friday) and the possibility of “an extraordinary, uncapped return” if MNOV is successful post-merger.
  • BRN has filed its September 10Q and we believe that its liquidation value has increased from $6.52 per share to $6.91 per share. The stock is up 41% since our initial post. We still see the liquidation value some 40% higher than BRN’s Friday close of $4.95, so we will maintain our position.
  • CRC is down 6.3% from our initial post. Other than the retirement of the CFO, we have no other news to report. With CRC in a liquidity crisis, the retirement of the CFO is a worrying development. That said, we see CRC’s liquidation value at around $2.45 per share, which is more than 450% higher than its Friday close of $0.43, so we propose to maintain our position.
  • A group of “high-powered executives” plan to save INFS from “New York sharks.” The stock is up 15.9% to $0.73 since our initial post. Its liquidating value is still some 58% higher at $1.15 per share and so we are maintaining the position.
  • We’ve closed our position in KONA for an 88% gain in 18 days.
  • A new activist investor has filed a 13D for MATH and is lobbying the company to liquidate. MATH is up 17.7% since our first post but it’s still trading at half its liquidating value and a little more than half its net cash backing, so we’re maintaining our position.
  • ZLC is off 16.8% from our initial post. We’ve estimated its liquidation value at $7.63 per share, which is still 90% higher than its $4.01 close Friday, so we are maintaining our position in ZLC.

Although it is still too early to determine how Greenbackd’s strategy of investing in undervalued asset situations with a catalyst is performing, we’ve set out below a list of all the stocks we’ve included in the Greenbackd Portfolio and the absolute and relative performance of each. This is the standardized format we propose to adopt to track Greenbackd’s performance at 6-monthly intervals:

Current holdings (As at January 5, 2009)

greenbackd-portfolio-current-holdings-performance

Former holdings (As at date of our closure of the position)greenbackd-portfolio-former-holdings-performance

The absolute total return across the current and former positions as at January 5, 2009 is 14.2%, which is 8.4% higher than the S&P500′s return over the same periods. As we discussed above, the holding periods for Greenbackd’s positions has been too short to provide any meaningful information about the likely performance of the strategy over the long term (2 to 5 years), but we believe that the strategy should outperform the market by a small margin.

We look forward to bringing you the best undervalued asset situations we can dig up in 2009.

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Barnwell Industries, Inc. (AMEX:BRN) has filed its September 10Q and the results are encouraging. Even though the stock is up more than 40% since our first post, we believe that BRN is still undervalued and so we are maintaining our position.

We started following BRN because its liquidation value of $55M (around $6.52 per share) was some 86% higher than its market capitalization of  $29M based on its November 28, 2008 close of $3.51. Dr. Eric Jackson’s Ironfire Capital LLC had launched a “‘friendly’ activist campaign targeting the company to unlock shareholder value”.

BRN has now filed its September 10Q and we believe that its liquidating value has increased from our original estimate of $6.52 per share to $6.91 per share, which is some 40% higher than its Friday close of $4.95. Set out below is our summary analysis of the balance sheet (each “Carrying” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and each “Liquidating” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

brn-summary-q3

Conclusion

Although the stock has risen substantially, at 72% of its written down value, BRN is still cheap and we are maintaining our position.

[Disclosure: We do not presently have a holding in BRN. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only.]

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Barnwell Industries, Inc. (AMEX:BRN) is exactly the kind of opportunity Greenbackd likes to find: a company trading at a discount to its liquidating value with an activist investor agitating for change. We estimate the company has a value in liquidation of around $55M, so its market cap of $29M (based on its November 28, 2008 close of $3.51) puts the company at a 46% discount to that value. Dr. Eric Jackson’s Ironfire Capital LLC, an “equity long biased and event-driven activist investment firm”, has sniffed the value and launched a “‘friendly’ activist campaign targeting the company to unlock shareholder value”.

About BRN

BRN, according to its website, is “principally engaged in the following activities:

  • Oil and Natural Gas. Barnwell engages in oil and natural gas exploration, development, production and sales in Canada.
  • Land Investment. Barnwell invests in leasehold interests in real estate in Hawaii.
  • Real Estate Development. Established in January 2007, acquires house lots for investment and for the construction of turnkey single-family homes for sale”

Seems like an odd combination of businesses to us, which makes it a prime candidate for a bust up.

The value proposition

According to BRN’s most recent quarterly report, BRN has a reasonably healthy balance sheet and positive cash flow of operating activities of $8.7M for the three months ending June 30, 2008. Set out below is our summary analysis of the balance sheet (each “Carrying” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and each “Liquidating” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

BRN Summary

Our liquidating value estimate for BRN is around $53.9M, or $6.52 per share. As the table above demonstrates, most of BRN’s value is in its Property, Plant, and Equipment, which is carried at $25.50 per share. In our valuation, we’ve written down BRN’s Property, Plant and Equipment per share by 50% to $12.75. Our written down value for the other assets is set out in the table. These estimates are often too conservative, but it is the only way we get to sleep at night. This is especially so given that the company is carrying $26M in total debt. With its stock price at $3.51 (at its November 28, 2008 closing price), BRN is trading at 54% of its value in a liquidation, which strikes us as a sufficient margin of safety.

The catalyst

Ironfire Capital has a position in BRN but it is presumably too small to require Ironfire to file a 13D notice.  Its founder, Dr. Eric Jackson, perhaps best known for his Yahoo! campaign, has published a number of “prescriptions” for BRN to enhance shareholder value on the web. Ironfire Capital is an interesting activist investor because it uses “Internet-based social networking tools” to “amplify the impact” of its campaigns. Dr. Jackson also writes a blog about his particular brand of web-based shareholder activism called Breakout Performance and has provided his analysis of BRN in a June post. He has also written about his prescriptions for BRN on his Sharehowner Activism Wiki, which include the following:

Simplify Corporate Structure

Barnwell’s three businesses (oil and gas, contract water drilling, and real estate/land investment) have no synergy. A simpler corporate structure would better allow the market to bid up the underlying value of the oil and gas business to reflect the doubling of the commodity pricing in the last year. Barnwell should sell its water drilling business, which is small and shrinking in revenues and earnings. If the company received 1x its revenues, its cash reserves would nearly double to $14MM, allowing a stock buyback and/or upping the dividend. Selling or spinning off the real estate business might also make sense to focus Barnwell as a small natural gas pure-play.

Reduce SG&A Costs

Over the last year, SG&A costs have gone up 50% to $3.2MM. Yet, revenues and gross profit only increased 28% and 27% respectively over that same period. Barnwell is growing its costs at twice the rate of its sales and profits. As they say in Business School, that’s not sustainable. It’s also not acceptable for a 65 person company. Selling off the water drilling business, which contributes little profit, is a step in the right direction to improving things here, but much more work is needed.

Do a Stock Buyback

The company did agree to pay out a 5 cent dividend recently. Hopefully, that will attract a new group of investors to the stock. However, a stock buyback is both prudent, given that the cash position has increased over the last year and the strength of gas and land development businesses, and would make the company more attractive by lowering further its price-earnings ratio.

Bring in Some New Blood to the Board

Barnwell’s board is large and long-tenured. RiskMetrics awarded Barnwell a Corporate Governance Quotient (CGQ) score that is lower than 70% of other energy companies. The board’s composition is part of the problem. Seven of the 11 directors are older than 64. Four of the directors have been on the board for more than a decade.

It makes sense to change the composition of the board. Some of the longstanding directors should step down now to make way for some new blood, but some of them shouldn’t be replaced. An 11-member board is too large for a $100MM company. Having fewer than 10 directors would lead to faster meetings with more participation and debate.

Better Align Executive Compensation with Performance

Executive compensation policy has also likely contributed to Barnwell’s lower CGQ score. Last year, the CEO was paid $1.2MM. He explained this by pointing to how the company’s profits increased by 200% that year, yet the stock price dropped in half over that same time. Stock price is due to external market conditions, not management. If a CEO doubles a company’s profit, that should be rewarded.”

Conclusion

At 54% of its written down value, BRN is very cheap. With Ironfire Capital agitating for change, we believe BRN presents an attractive opportunity for investment.

BRN closed on November 28, 2008 at $3.51. The S&P 500 Index closed on November 28, 2008 at 896.24.

[Disclosure: We do not presently have a holding in BRN. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only.]

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