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Archive for the ‘Zale Corporation (NYSE:ZLC)’ 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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Zale Corporation (NYSE:ZLC) has released its results for the quarter to January 31, 2009. After reviewing the results, we have significantly reduced our original estimate for the company’s liquidating value since we initiated the position at $4.82 on December 3, 2008. Our initial analysis of ZLC’s balance sheet was overly optimistic. We’ve now applied more dour assumptions to ZLC’s results and, as a result, we’ve decided to close the position.

We started following ZLC believing it to be an undervalued asset situation. With former Chairman of the SEC turned activist investor, Richard Breeden of Breeden Capital Management LLC, holding two seats on the board, we thought it looked like a reasonable opportunity. At its $4.82 closing price on December 3, 2008 the company had a market capitalization of $154M. We estimated ZLC’s liquidation value at that time to be around $243M or $7.63 per share. After reviewing ZLC’s Q2 financial results and applying more dour assumptions for the value of the assets in liquidation, we now believe there is a risk that ZLC has no value in liquidation.

The value proposition updated

Set out below is our summary analysis of the balance sheet (the “Book Value” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating Value” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

zlc-summary-2009-q2Conclusion

At its $1.35 close yesterday, ZLC has a market capitalization of just $43M. When we started coverage in December last year, ZLC traded at $4.82 and had a market capitalization of $154M. Our ZLC position is down a punishing 72% on an absolute basis. The S&P 500 Index closed at 848.81 on December 3, 2008 and closed yesterday at 764.90. That’s a return of -9.9% for the index and means we’re off 62.1% on a relative basis, which is still very disappointing. The simple fact is that this was an unforced error. Our original analysis of ZLC was overly optimistic. We’ve been applying more dour assumptions about the recovery values of assets in liquidation to our most recent analyses. If we had been applying the more dour assumptions at the time we made our original assessment of ZLC, we would not have initiated the position.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in ZLC. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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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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The Official Activist Investing Blog has published its list of activist investments for November:

Ticker Company Activist Investor
ABTL Autobytel Inc Trilogy Inc
ACF AmeriCredit Corp Fairholme Capital Management
ACTL Actel Corp Ramius Capital
ADPT Adaptec, Inc Steel Partners
ARCW Arc Wireless Solutions Brean Murray Carret Group
ATSG Air Transport Services Group Perella Weinberg Partners
AVGN Avigen Inc Biotechnology Value Fund
BBI Blockbuster Inc Marlin Sams Fund
BEE Strategic Hotels & Resorts Security Capital Research & Management
BITI Bio-Imaging Technologies Healthinvest Partners
CHG CH Energy Group Inc Gamco Investors
CHIC Charlotte Russe Holding Inc KarpReilly Capital Management
CPN Calpine Corp Harbinger Capital
CRXX CombinatoRX, Incorporated Biotechnology Value Fund
CTO Consolidated Tomoka Land Co Wintergreen Advisers
CWLZ Cowlitz Bancorporation Crescent Capital
DBD Diebold Inc Gamco Investors
DCAP DCAP Group Infinity Capital Partners
DVD Dover Motorsports Mario Cibelli
ENTU Entrust Inc. Empire Capital Partners
FACE Physicians Formula Holdings, Inc Mill Road Capital
FSCI Fisher Communications Gamco Investors
FTAR.OB Footstar Inc Schultze Asset Management
GBE Grubb & Ellis Company Anthony Thompson
GGP General Growth Properties Pershing Square Capital
GSLA GS Financial Corp FJ Capital Long/Short Equity Fund
HCBK Hudson City Bancorp Gamco Investors
HFFC HF Financial Corp PL Capital
INFS Infocus Corp Nery Capital Partners
INFS Infocus Corp Lloyd Miller
ISH International Shipholding Corp Liberty Shipping Group
KANA.OB Kana Software KVO Capital Management
KEYN Keynote Systems Ramius Capital
KFS Kingsway Financial Services Joseph Stilwell
KONA Kona Grill Mill Road Capital
LCAV LCA-Vision Inc Stephen Joffe
LDIS Leadis Technology Inc Kettle Hill Capital Management
LNET LodgeNet Interactive Corporation Mark Cuban
LTM Life Time Fitness Green Equity Investors
MCGC MCG Capital Corporation Springbok Capital Management
MGAM Multimedia Games Inc. Dolphin Limited Partnership
MGI Moneygram Interntaional Inc Blum Capital
MIM MI Developments Greenlight Capital
MYE Myers Industries Inc Gamco Investors
NAV Navistar International Owl Creek
NLS Nautilus Inc Sherborne Investors
NOOF New Frontier Media Steel Partners
NYT New York Times Harbinger Capital
OEH Orient-Express Hotels SAC Capital; DE Shaw
ORNG Orange 21 Costa Brava
PBIP Prudential Bancorp Inc. of PA Joseph Stilwell
PGRI.OB Platinum Energy Resources Inc Syd Ghermezian
PHH PHH Corp. Pennant Capital Management
PNNW Pennichuck Corp Gamco Investors
PPCO Penwest Pharmaceuticals Co Perceptive Advisors
PRXI Premier Exhibitions, Inc Sellers Capital
PWER Power One Bel Fuse
PXG Phoenix Footwear Group Reidman Corp
RDEN Elizabeth Arden Shamrock Activist Value Fund
SCOP Scopus Video Networks Ltd. Optibase Ltd
SECX.PK SED International Holdings Hummingbird Management
SLTC Selectica Inc Trilogy Inc (Versata Enterprises)
SNG Canadian Superior Energy Palo Alto Investors
SNSTA Sonesta International Hotels Gamco
SUAI Specialty Underwriters Alliance Philip Stephenson
SUMT SumTotal Systems Discovery Capital
SUTM.OB Sun-Times Media Group Inc. K Capital
SUTM.OB Sun-Times Media Group Inc. Davidson Kempner Partners
SWWI Simon Worldwide Inc Everst Special Situations Fund
TIKRF.OB Tikcro Technologies Ltd Steven Bronson
TXCC TranSwitch Corp Brener International Group
TXI Texas Industries Shamrock Activist Value Fund
UIS Unisys Corp MMI Investments
UTEK Ultratech Inc Temujin Fund
WBSN Websense Inc Shamrock Activist Value Fund
WEDC White Electronic Designs Wynnefield Capital
WINS SM&A Mill Road Capital
YHOO Yahoo Carl Icahn
ZLC Zale Corp. Breeden Capital Management

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Zale Corporation (NYSE:ZLC) is an undervalued asset situation with a well-known activist investor, Richard Breeden of Breeden Capital Management LLC, holding two seats on the board. At yesterday’s closing price of $4.82, the company has a market capitalization of $154M. We estimate the liquidation value of the company at around $243M or $7.63 per share, which means that ZLC is trading at 63% of our estimated liquidation value.

About ZLC

ZLC is a specialty retailer of fine jewelry in North America. According to its website, at July 31, 2008, ZLC “operated 1,396 specialty retail jewelry stores and 739 kiosks located mainly in shopping malls throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. ZLC operates under three business segments: Fine Jewelry, Kiosk Jewelry and All Other. During the fiscal year ended July 31, 2008 (fiscal 2008), the Fine Jewelry segment generated approximately 88% of the Company’s net revenues, while the Kiosk revenues represented 12% of total revenues. On November 9, 2007, the Company completed the sale of its Bailey Banks & Biddle brand.”

The value proposition

ZLC is an undervalued asset situation with substantial Inventory and Property, Plant and Equipment (see most recent quarterly report here). Set out below is our summary analysis of the balance sheet (the “Carrying” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

zlc-summary1

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a jewelry retailing business, ZLC’s asset value is predominantly in its Inventory and Property, Plant and Equipment. We don’t have any great insight into the jewelry retail business. We can see that consumers don’t have much discretionary cash available at the moment, so in a fire sale tomorrow the discount to the carrying value of Inventory could be substantial. On the other hand, there is no immediate need to sell the Inventory because jewelry is not a wasting asset and can even be a store of value. We lean towards the latter argument. ZLC has $984.6M in Inventory that we’ve written down by 15% to $837M or $26.24 per share. We’ve applied a 50% discount to the $728M worth of Property, Plant and Equipment (Gross) to arrive at $364M or $11.42 per share. We estimate the company’s liquidation value at around $243M or $7.63 per share, which means that, at yesterday’s closing price of $4.82, ZLC is trading at 63% of our estimated  value in a liquidation.

The catalyst

Activist investor Breeden Capital Management disclosed its holding in ZLC in its original 13D on September 17, 2007. Breeden has continued to buy shares of common stock in ZLC, disclosing in the most recent 13D filed November 28, 2008 that it controlled 28.46% of the company.

Breeden Capital Management’s Richard Breeden is a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Breeden recently led a dissident shareholder group to win three seats on the board of tax preparation and accounting services company H&R Block Inc.

ZLC appointed Breeden Capital Management’s Richard Breeden and James Cotter (Cotter is a founding partner) to its board of directors on January 17, 2008

Conclusion

With ZLC trading at a substantial 33% discount to its value in liquidation and Breeden continuing to buy stock, ZLC seems like a good bet to us.

ZLC closed yesterday at $4.82.

The S&P 500 closed yesterday at 848.81.

[Disclosure: We do not presently have a holding in ZLC. 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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