Posts Tagged ‘Net Cash Stock’

Yesterday I ran a post on Dr. Michael Burry, the value investor who was one of the first, if not the first, to figure out how to short sub-prime mortgage bonds in his fund, Scion Capital. In The Big Short, Michael Lewis discusses Burry’s entry into value investing:

Late one night in November 1996, while on a cardiology rotation at Saint Thomas Hospital, in Nashville, Tennessee, he logged on to a hospital computer and went to a message board called techstocks.com. There he created a thread called “value investing.” Having read everything there was to read about investing, he decided to learn a bit more about “investing in the real world.” A mania for Internet stocks gripped the market. A site for the Silicon Valley investor, circa 1996, was not a natural home for a sober-minded value investor. Still, many came, all with opinions. A few people grumbled about the very idea of a doctor having anything useful to say about investments, but over time he came to dominate the discussion. Dr. Mike Burry—as he always signed himself—sensed that other people on the thread were taking his advice and making money with it.

Michael Burry’s blog, http://www.valuestocks.net, seems to be lost to the sands of time, but Burry’s techstocks.com “Value Investing” thread (now Silicon Investor) still exists. The original post in the thread hints at the content to come:

Started: 11/16/1996 11:01:00 PM

Ok, how about a value investing thread?

What we are looking for are value plays. Obscene value plays. In the Graham tradition.

This week’s Barron’s lists a tech stock named Premenos, which trades at 9 and has 5 1/2 bucks in cash. The business is valued at 3 1/2, and it has a lot of potential. Interesting.

We want to stay away from the obscenely high PE’s and look at net working capital models, etc. Schooling in the art of fundamental analysis is also appropriate here.

Good luck to all. Hope this thread survives.


Hat tip Toby.

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Jae Jun at Old School Value has updated his great post back-testing the performance of net current asset value (NCAV) against “net net working capital” (NNWC) by refining the back-test (see NCAV NNWC Backtest Refined). His new back-test increases the rebalancing period to 6 months from 4 weeks, excludes companies with daily volume below 30,000 shares, and introduces the 66% margin of safety to the NCAV stocks (I wasn’t aware that this was missing from yesterday’s back-test, and would explain why the performance of the NCAV stocks was so poor).

Jae Jun’s original back-test compared the performance of NCAV and NNWC stocks over the last three years. He calculated NNWC by discounting the current asset value of stocks in line with Graham’s liquidation value discounts, but excludes the “Fixed and miscellaneous assets” included by Graham. Here’s Jae Jun’s NNWC formula:

NNWC = Cash + (0.75 x Accounts receivables) + (0.5 x  Inventory)

Here’s Graham’s suggested discounts (extracted from Chapter XLIII of Security Analysis: The Classic 1934 Edition “Significance of the Current Asset Value”):

As I noted yesterday, excluding the “Fixed and miscellaneous assets” from the liquidating value calculation makes for an exceptionally austere valuation.

Jae Jun has refined his screening criteria as follows:

  • Volume is greater than 30k
  • NCAV margin of safety included
  • Slippage increased to 1%
  • Rebalance frequency changed to 6 months
  • Test period remains at 3 years

Here are Jae Jun’s back-test results with the new criteria:

For the period 2001 to 2004

For the period 2004 to 2007

For the period 2007 to 2010

It’s an impressive analysis by Jae Jun. Dividing the return into three periods is very helpful. While the returns overall are excellent, there were some serious smash-ups along the way, particularly the February 2007 to March 2009 period. As Klarman and Taleb have both discussed, it demonstrates that your starting date as an investor makes a big difference to your impression of the markets or whatever theory you use to invest. Compare, for example, the experiences of two different NCAV investors, one starting in February 2003 and the second starting in February 2007. The 2003 investor was up 500% in the first year, and had a good claim to possessing some investment genius. The 2007 investor was feeling very ill in March 2009, down around 75% and considering a career in truck driving. Both were following the same strategy, and so really had no basis for either conclusion. I doubt that thought consoles the trucker.

Jae Jun’s Old School Value NNWC NCAV Screen is available here (it’s free).

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In his Are Japanese equities worth more dead than alive?, SocGen’s Dylan Grice conducted some research into the performance of sub-liquidation value stocks in Japan since the mid 1990s. Grice’s findings are compelling:

My Factset backtest suggests such stocks trading below liquidation value have averaged a monthly return of 1.5% since the mid 1990s, compared to -0.2% for the Topix. There is no such thing as a toxic asset, only a toxic price. It may well be that these companies have no future, that they shouldn’t be valued as going concerns and that they are worth more dead than alive. If so, they are already trading at a value lower than would be fetched in a fire sale. But what if the outlook isn’t so gloomy? If these assets aren’t actually complete duds, we could be looking at some real bargains…

In the same article, Grice identifies five Graham net net stocks in Japan with market capitalizations bigger than $1B:

He argues that such stocks may offer value beyond the net current asset value:

The following chart shows the debt to shareholders equity ratios for each of the stocks highlighted as a liquidation candidate above, rebased so that the last year’s number equals 100. It’s clear that these companies have been aggressively delivering in the last decade.

Despite the “Japan has weak shareholder rights” cover story, management seems to be doing the right thing:

But as it happens, most of these companies have also been buying back stock too. So per share book values have been rising steadily throughout the appalling macro climate these companies have found themselves in. Contrary to what I expected to find, these companies that are currently priced at levels making liquidation seem the most profitable option have in fact been steadily creating shareholder wealth.

This is really extraordinary. The currency is a risk that I can’t quantify, but it warrants further investigation.

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Since last week’s Japanese liquidation value: 1932 US redux post, I’ve been attempting to determine whether the historical performance of Japanese sub-liquidation value stocks matches the experience in the US, which has been outstanding since the strategy was first identified by Benjamin Graham in 1932. The risk to the Japanese net net experience is the perception (rightly or not) that the weakness of shareholder rights in Japan means that net current asset value stocks there are destined to continue to trade at a discount to net current asset value. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m a little chary of the “Japan has weak shareholder rights” narrative. I’d rather look at the data, but the data are a little wanting.

As we all know, the US net net experience has been very good. Research undertaken by Professor Henry Oppenheimer on Graham’s liquidation value strategy between 1970 and 1983, published in the paper Ben Graham’s Net Current Asset Values: A Performance Update, indicates that “[the] mean return from net current asset stocks for the 13-year period was 29.4% per year versus 11.5% per year for the NYSE-AMEX Index. One million dollars invested in the net current asset portfolio on December 31, 1970 would have increased to $25,497,300 by December 31, 1983.” That’s an outstanding return.

In The performance of Japanese common stocks in relation to their net current asset values, a 1993 paper by Bildersee, Cheh and Zutshi, the authors undertook research similar to Oppenheimer’s in Japan over the period 1975 and 1988. Their findings, described in another paper, indicate that the Japanese net net investor’s experience has not been as outstanding as the US investor’s:

In the first study outside of the USA, Bildersee, Cheh and Zutshi (1993)’s paper focuses on the Japanese market from 1975 to 1988. In order to maintain a sample large enough for cross-sectional analysis, Graham’s criterion was relaxed so that firms are required to merely have an NCAV/MV ratio greater than zero. They found the mean market-adjusted return of the aggregate portfolio is around 1 percent per month (13 percent per year).

As an astute reader noted last week “…the test period for [the Bildersee] study is not the best. It includes Japan’s best analog to America’s Roaring Twenties. The Nikkei peaked on 12/29/89, and never recovered:”

Many of the “assets” on public companies’ books at that time were real estate bubble-related. At the peak in 1989, the aggregate market price for all private real estate in the city of Tokyo was purportedly greater than that of the entire state of California. You can see how the sudden runup in real estate during the bubble could cause asset-heavy companies to outperform the market.

So a better crucible for Japanese NCAVs might be the deflationary period, say beginning 1/1/90, which is more analogous to the US in 1932.

To see how the strategy has performed more recently, I’ve taken the Japanese net net stocks identified in James Montier’s Graham’’s net-nets: outdated or outstanding? article from September 2008 and tracked their performance from the data of the article to today. Before I plow into the results, I’d like to discuss my methodology and the various problems with it:

  1. It was not possible to track all of the stocks identified by Montier. Where I couldn’t find a closing price for a stock, I’ve excluded it from the results and marked the stock as “N/A”. I’ve had to exclude 18 of 84 stocks, which is a meaningful proportion. It’s possible that these stocks were either taken over or went bust, and so would have had an effect on the results not reflected in my results.
  2. The opening prices were not always available. In some instances I had to use the price on another date close to the opening date (i.e +/1 month).

Without further ado, here are the results of Montier’s Graham’’s net-nets: outdated or outstanding? picks:

The 68 stocks tracked gained on average 0.5% between September 2008 and February 2010, which is a disappointing outcome. The results relative to the  Japanese index are a little better. By way of comparison, the Nikkei 225 (roughly equivalent to the DJIA) fell from 12,834 to close yesterday at 10,057, a drop of 21.6%. Encouragingly, the net nets outperformed the N225 by a little over 21%.

The paucity of the data is a real problem for this study. I’ll update this post as I find more complete data or a more recent study.

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Zero Hedge has an article Uncovering Liquidation Value… In Japan? discussing SocGen’s Dylan Grice’s Are Japanese equities worth more dead than alive. The title is a nod to Benjamin Graham’s landmark 1932 Forbes article, Inflated Treasuries and Deflated Stockholders, where he discussed the large number of companies in the US then trading at a discount to liquidation value:

…a great number of American businesses are quoted in the market for much less than their liquidating value; that in the best judgment of Wall Street, these businesses are worth more dead than alive. For most industrial companies should bring, in orderly liquidation, at least as much as their quick assets alone.

Grice writes:

In the space of a generation, Japan has gone from the world economy’s thrusting up-and-coming superpower to its slowing silver-haired retiree. Accordingly, the Japanese market attracts a low valuation. The chart [below] shows FTSE Japan’s equity price to book ratio and enterprise price to book ratio, since equity P/B ratios alone can be distorted by leverage. Both metrics show Japan to be trading at a low premium to book compared to its recent history. So it’s certainly cheap. But does it offer value? The answer can be seen in the chart above, which shows corporate Japan’s RoEs and RoAs over recent decades to have averaged a mere 6.8% and 3.8% respectively. This is hardly the sort of earnings power which should command any premium over book value at all. Indeed, to my mind the question is one of how big a discount the market should trade at relative to book.

The fundamental problem in 1932 America, according to Graham, was that investors weren’t paying attention to the assets owned by the company, instead focussing exclusively on “earning power” and therefore “reported earnings – which might only be temporary or even deceptive – and in a complete eclipse of what had always been regarded as a vital factor in security values, namely the company’s working capital position.” Graham proposed that investors should become not only “balance sheet conscious,” but “ownership conscious:”

If they realized their rights as business owners, we would not have before us the insane spectacle of treasuries bloated with cash and their proprietors in a wild scramble to give away their interest on any terms they can get. Perhaps the corporation itself buys back the shares they throw on the market, and by a final touch of irony, we see the stockholders’ pitifully inadequate payment made to themwith their own cash.

In his article, Grice makes a parallel argument about valuations based on earnings in Japan now:

Regular readers will know I favour a Residual Income approach to valuation. It’s not perfect, and it’s still a work in process, but anchoring estimates of intrinsic value on the earnings power of company assets (relative to a required rate of return, which I set at an exacting 10%) helps avoid value traps. Things don?t necessarily come up as offering value just because they’re on low multiples. The left chart below shows Japan’s ratio of Intrinsic Value to Price (IVP ratio, where a higher number indicates higher value) to be only 0.6, suggesting that in an absolute sense, Japan is intrinsically worth only about 60% of its current market value.

Grice arrives at the same conclusion about Japan as Graham did in 1932 about the US:

But here the tension between “going concern” valuation and “liquidation” valuation becomes important. Let’s just imagine the unimaginable for a second, and that my IVP ratios are correct. Japan currently trades on a P/B ratio of 1.5x, but if it is only worth 60% of that, its “fair value” P/B ratio (assuming we value it as a going concern) would be around 0.9x. Of course, that would only be true on average. Nearly all stocks would trade either above or below that level. And of those trading below, some would trade slightly below, others significantly below. And of those which traded significantly below, some might be expected to flirt with liquidation values which called into question whether or not the “going concern” valuation was appropriate. Indeed, this is exactly what is beginning to happen.

It seems that there are quite a few stocks trading at a discount to net current asset value in Japan:

Grice likes the net current asset value strategy in Japan (sort of):

Not only are these assets cheap but, unlike the overall market, they probably offer value as well. My Factset backtest suggests such stocks trading below liquidation value have averaged a monthly return of 1.5% since the mid 1990s, compared to -0.2% for the Topix. There is no such thing as a toxic asset, only a toxic price. It may well be that these companies have no future, that they shouldn’t be valued as going concerns and that they are worth more dead than alive. If so, they are already trading at a value lower than would be fetched in a fire sale. But what if the outlook isn’t so gloomy? If these assets aren’t actually complete duds, we could be looking at some real bargains…

So should we be filling our boots with companies trading below liquidation value? Not necessarily. But I would say the burden of proof has shifted. Why wouldn’t you want to own assets that have been generating shareholder wealth yet which trade at below their liquidation values?

It is interesting that this article echoes another SocGen article, this one a September 2008 report by James Montier called Graham’’s net-nets: outdated or outstanding? in which Montier looked at Graham sub-liquidation stocks globally. Of the 175 stocks identified around the world, Montier found that over half were in Japan.

Now all we have to do is figure out how to invest in Japan.

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CoSine Communications Inc (OTC:COSN) has released its 10Q for the quarter ended September 30, 2009.

We’ve been following COSN (see Greenbackd’s COSN post archive) because it is a cash box controlled by activist investor Steel Partners. Steel Partners own 47.5% of the stock and sits on the board. The stock is up 11.4% since our initial post to close Friday at $1.95. I initially estimated the net cash value to be around $22.2M or $2.20 per share. After reviewing the 10Q I’ve slightly reduced it in line with the ~$0.3M cash burn for the last two quarters to $21.9M or $2.17 per share. The net cash value has remained relatively stable through 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. COSN presents an opportunity to invest alongside Steel Partners at a discount to net cash in a company with substantial NOLs.

The value proposition updated

Little has changed over the last two quarters. The valuation on COSN remains straight-forward: It has around $22.7m in cash and short-term investments, $0.2M in liabilities and 10.1M shares outstanding. I’ve set out the valuation below in the usual manner (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):

COSN Summary 2009 09 30

Balance sheet adjustments

I’ve made the following adjustments to the balance sheet estimates above:

  • Cash burn: The company used $0.58M in cash in the last three quarters, which we’ve annualized to $0.6M.
  • Off-balance sheet arrangements and contractual obligations: According to COSN’s 10Q, it has no off-balance sheet arrangements.


A quick primer on net operating loss carry-forwards (“NOLs”) from the most 2009 10K:

NOLs may be carried forward to offset federal and state taxable income in future years and eliminate income taxes otherwise payable on such taxable income, subject to certain adjustments. Based on current federal corporate income tax rates, our NOLs and other carry-forwards could provide a benefit to us, if fully utilized, of significant future tax savings. However, our ability to use these tax benefits in future years will depend upon the amount of our otherwise taxable income. If we do not have sufficient taxable income in future years to use the tax benefits before they expire, we will lose the benefit of these NOLs permanently. Consequently, our ability to use the tax benefits associated with our substantial NOLs will depend significantly on our success in identifying suitable acquisition candidates, and once identified, successfully consummating an acquisition of these candidates.

Additionally, if we underwent an ownership change, the NOLs would be subject to an annual limit on the amount of the taxable income that may be offset by our NOLs generated prior to the ownership change. If an ownership change were to occur, we may be unable to use a significant portion of our NOLs to offset taxable income. In general, an ownership change occurs when, as of any testing date, the aggregate of the increase in percentage points is more than 50 percentage points of the total amount of a corporation’s stock owned by “5-percent stockholders,” within the meaning of the NOLs limitations, whose percentage ownership of the stock has increased as of such date over the lowest percentage of the stock owned by each such “5-percent stockholder” at any time during the three-year period preceding such date. In general, persons who own 5% or more of a corporation’s stock are “5-percent stockholders,” and all other persons who own less than 5% of a corporation’s stock are treated, together, as a single, public group “5-percent stockholder,” regardless of whether they own an aggregate of 5% of a corporation’s stock.

The amount of NOLs that we have claimed has not been audited or otherwise validated by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). The IRS could challenge our calculation of the amount of our NOLs or our determinations as to when a prior change in ownership occurred and other provisions of the Internal Revenue Code may limit our ability to carry forward our NOLs to offset taxable income in future years. If the IRS was successful with respect to any such challenge, the potential tax benefit of the NOLs to us could be substantially reduced.

According to the 10K, as of December 31, 2008, COSN had federal NOLs of approximately $353M, which begin to expire in 2018 if not utilized and state NOLs of approximately $213M, which will begin to expire in 2009 if not utilized. The NOLs have a substantial value as a tax shield should COSN acquire a business with taxable earnings, but assessing that value is beyond us.


Steel Partners’ most recent 13D filing sets out its 47.5% holding. Steel Partners’ strategy is to use COSN’s cash to acquire a business with taxable earnings that can be offset by the NOLs. From the 10Q:

Redeployment Strategy and Liquidity

In July 2005, after a comprehensive review of strategic alternatives, our board of directors approved a strategy to redeploy our existing resources to identify and acquire one or more new business operations with existing or prospective taxable earnings that can be offset by use of our NOLs.

Ordinarly, I would prefer a return of cash to the acquisition of a business. This situation is different from the usual case because Steel Partners’ business is investment, and so I think the risk that they might make a bad investment is low. That said, there’s no assurance that they will find a suitable candidate, or if they do, that COSN will be able to use the NOLs.


COSN initially presented an opportunity to invest alongside Steel Partners at a 26% discount to net cash in a company with substantial NOLs. With the increase in the stock price the discount to its net cash position has narrowed to around 11%. I’m maintaining the position in the Greenbackd Portfolio.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in COSN. 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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Forward Industries Inc (NASDAQ:FORD) has fired its investment and engaged another. It looks like FORD is intent on spending the cash on its balance sheet, which is a shame. Rather than make an acquisition, they should focus on the work on their desk and pay a big dividend. There’s a half chance that the bank could suggest a sale of the company, but that seems unlikely. I can’t believe there are no activists out there willing to take on this company. It’s 40% off its 52-week high. It’s net cash. There are no big holders. Management’s not doing a bad job, but an acquisition is a ridiculous idea. This is an instance of a management trying to plow a dollar back into the business and turn it into fifty cents. I could use that dollar more profitably. Then again, I’d probably just spend it on pennywhistles and moonpies.

We started following FORD (see our post archive here) because it was trading at a discount to its net cash and liquidation values, although there was no obvious catalyst. Management appeared to be considering a “strategic transaction” of some kind, which might have included an “acquisition or some other combination.” Trinad Management had an activist position in the stock, but had been selling at the time we opened the position and only one stockholder owned more than 5% of the stock. The stock is up 36.8% since we opened the position to close yesterday at $1.97, giving the company a market capitalization of $13.4M. Following our review of the most recent 10Q, we’ve estimate the liquidation value to $19.5M or $2.47 per share.

Here’s a link to the announcement (it’s just a marketing announcement by the bank so I’m not going to repost it).

FORD is trading at a substantial discount to its liquidation and net cash values. The risk to this position is management spraying the cash away on an acquisition. A far better use of the company’s cash is a buyback, special dividend or return of capital. Another concern is Trinad Management exiting its activist position in the stock. Those concerns aside, I’m going to maintain the position because it still looks cheap at a discount to net cash.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in FORD. 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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