My trading objective: To increase net worth as a function of book value

Yesterday we attended a seminar with Jason Ayers of Optionsource.net on how to create cash flow using options.  He spoke a little about his trading and how his company has taken their holdings to 50% cash before this recent downturn and how they plan to buy back in at reduced rates.  Sometimes I regret not being a better trader and having such superb market timing.  Kudos to Jason!  If you have an opportunity to learn from this guy, it’s really worthwhile, for he’s an excellent speaker and knows his stuff.

I have a different trading strategy.  If you ask me if my portfolio is up or down, I’d have to admit that my “net worth” based on market capitalization is down 7% since February peak.  Ouch!  But what if my goal is not to increase my net worth in market capitalization–but instead to increase it in book value?  Book value is itself not an indicator of the market value of a company, which is really about the profitability of that company in the years to come, but of the total assets (cash, real estate, lands, equipment, inventory) minus liabilities.  Book value is much more stable than market capitalization because it points to the value of the company as a company:  i.e., if another company were to buy out your company you would expect that company to pay book value plus a premium based upon the future profitability of the company:  you will only sell if you think that the premium–i.e., the cash in hand today is more valuable to you, for whatever reason, than your own ability to extract profits from the company in the future.  If the potential buyer offers less than book value then either there is something terribly wrong with your company (Nortel) or you just simply show them the door.  Why would you sell your company at less than book value?  You would only do that if you were insolvent and were forced to sell.

I like junior oil companies and I discovered a means to de-risk them–pay attention to the book value.  This requires looking at the quarterly reports because it changes regularly–as the oil companies use cash to develop their lands.  If the reported book value is higher than the market capitalization, then you are buying the assets of that company at a discount while obtaining its future profits for nothing.

As a strategy, buying junior oil and gas companies at below book value has worked for me with Midway Energy, Crocotta Energy, Prospex (just bought out by Paramount) and Great Plains Exploration (bought out by Avenex).  These were the first junior oil companies that I bought and their share prices are now all well above what I paid despite the recent weakness in junior oils.  Each one was originally purchased below book value.

So while I am down 7% in terms of net worth as a function of market capitalization, as a result of averaging down on junior oil companies, I now own more book value than ever before.  So I consider myself to be doing well despite the current market.

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Bernanke the almighty and What are oil stocks worth anyway?

Andrew at City of God has posted that the Watcher called into question Sue Richard’s calling the Silver Surfer all powerful:  “‘all-powerful? There is only one who deserves that name! And his only weapon… is love’ (Fantastic Four #72; Mar. 1968).”  Well for us investors, we worship at the feet of one and only one, his high and mightiness, Benjamin Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank.  He is the one who determines what our assets are worth and he wields a weapon called “QE” and another called interest rates  with which he increases our power, our net worth, and we become mighty warriors of investing–but when he refrains from wielding them, suddenly we are all grovelling in the dirt like worms eating skubala (a.k.a., the margin call).

So I wrote to my good friend Mich at Beating the Index, who is fretting about running out of powder for his battle on the investment front:

Bernanke is the first cause of everything in the market today. He is exercising his omnipotent power as head of the Federal chair to influence risk appetite. Well, there will be either more monetization soon or watch hundreds of thousands of government workers in Washington not get their pay cheques and be sent home crying. My Schadenfreude would be so high at that point, it would almost be worth a 50% cut in my portfolio to see it. But it ain’t never gonna happen! Believe me, by August or September, the pols in Washington are going to lose nerve and there will be new debt ceiling (and QE3), based upon a compromise between the left-wing republicans and the democrats in the House.

Meanwhile, fear is palpable.  The companies  in which I am invested have increased their asset values through the development of oil fields but their share prices are way down because the lack of QE3 has diminished risk appetite.  People are rightly afraid to be caught with their margin pants down, like what happened to silver investors when the margin requirements were magically increased.

Devon Shire chides Petrobank (last $14.30)/Petrobakken (last $13.63) for not having a share buyback at these low prices, which puts their market capital at serious multiples below the Net Present Value.  Shire wants them to reward shareholders with a buyback of shares, but of course the management spent that cash on PBN shares starting at $21 and who knew that the price would plummet to these levels? These prices  are not only at multiples below NPV but well below book value (=shareholder’s equity).  I wrote to Mr. Shire the following response:

Net Present Value for other junior and intermediate companies is also currently at extremely high ratios to market value. Midway Energy is reporting NPV10 of 1.7 billion while its market capital is 274.9 million.

Some are angry with Petrobakken for continuing what they consider to be an ill-advised dividend program. Evidently, the buy back of shares is an equivalent use of cash as a dividend–I suppose that the real need is to spend money on developing their resources in order to deliver growth. The sad part is that PBN started the repurchase program at $21 while the price was so high vis-a-vis the current price.

At some point either you and I are going to be considered really stupid for thinking we had found value in the Canadian oil sector, or there is going to be a major correction drastically decreasing the NPV/market capital ratio.

Yet Mich warned me about taking the NPV10 that Midway had presented as a serious indicator of their value and I reproduce here our dialogue:

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Jeet kune do investing I: the case of Canadian junior oil and gas

I have great admiration for Beating the Index.  The website provides very valuable analysis of the Canadian junior oil and gas sector, the major plays (esp. Bakken and Cardium), and the macro issue of why the price of oil will likely rise in the long term investment horizon.  In addition, Mich, the website’s sole proprietor, reveals to us a part of his self-managed portfolio, what moves he makes as he beats the index.  His style is his own, adapted to suit his particular portfolio.  For example, because he is using leverage, he has to cash in on his winners–sometimes he also drops losers and holdings which remain  static.  In one post, his commentors on his blog praise him for being willing to take losses and move on, saying that this is the mark of great trader.

But then one has to wonder, if an analyst has done his due diligence and decided that a company is a good buy, and then the market decides to dump the stock, whether that stock just became a better deal.  So in my trading, I very rarely dump losers, though I have sometimes done so to realize a tax loss or to implement a change of strategy.  Rather, I’ve averaged down on losers, and most of the time it works, as I shared in a post critiquing Dennis Gartman’s first rule of trading, “Never, under any circumstance add to a losing position…. ever!”  Gartman says to add to winning positions rather than to losing positions.  Generally speaking, I ride the winners, but I don’t often add to my positions.  Gartman’s rigid style seems to be flawed, and his own HAG fund is still going nowhere.

Now Keith Schaeffer, one of the leading independent analysts of the Canadian junior and intermediate oil sector, provides a compelling argument why it is better to add to the companies with momentum:

When it comes to the junior and intermediate North American oil and gas plays, I want to buy expensive stocks. I rarely buy cheap stocks. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense.

When a company trades at a high valuation it can raise money with less dilution, and can use its stock as currency to take over other companies. They can grow more quickly and more efficiently than companies with low valuations.

“Dilution” is one of the terms that junior oil and gas investors seem to fear.  Indeed, share price usually seems to drop after a public offering.  Crocotta Energy’s recent share offering is a great example:

CTA share price fell on Feb 3 after announcing a $25 million bought deal

One day on an airplane on the way to Barbados, I met A. Zoic, an experienced entrepreneur, who explained “dilution” to me:  He said, “The number of shares are increased, but the size of the company also increases.  So you have smaller percentage of the whole, but the company is much larger.” Zoic’s words came back to me, the inexperienced investor, time and time again as I watched Midway Energy, my largest holding, take on more and more new shares; and Zoic’s advice helped me over the last couple of years to understand that when a junior oil raises money in a public offering that that is a really good thing because it increases the overall size of the company.  This has the added benefit of increasing the average volume of shares traded which in turn makes all shares more liquid.  A great CEO with an established reputation, like Midway Energy’s Scott Ratushny, has been able to raise the investment dollars to create the momentum that makes a good value into a great investment.

In the end, the best strategy for trading junior and intermediate oil and gas is neither the value nor the momentum strategy alone.  Rather, in my view, the two strategies should be implemented together in an artful Jeet Kune Do of  (1) Momentum–buy winners:  I keep adding to my position of CPG; (2) Averaging down seeking value:  I kept buying MEL (when it was still TFL) as it plummeted in price; (3) Buy and hold:  I watched MEL go from 0.39, my lowest price, to $5.19 (and am still holding).   Junior oils are too volatile to cut losses early, and I’ve found for the last four years as a junior oil investor, that my overall gains far outweigh my losses.

What works depends as much on the investor, his liquidity, credit limit, available margin, size of portfolio, as it does on the style of investing.  I rarely cut my losses.  I don’t see that ability as the mark of good investor.  The mark of good investor is perhaps better described as an even keel temperament to do the right thing without allowing the market to determine his next trade for him.  According to the legendary martial artist, Bruce Lee, the best style is no style–consider how these words fit investing:

Too much horsing around with unrealistic stances and classic forms and rituals is just too artificial and mechanical, and doesn’t really prepare the student for actual combat. A guy could get clobbered while getting into this classical mess. Classical methods like these, which I consider a form of paralysis, only solidify and constrain what was once fluid. Their practitioners are merely blindly rehearsing routines and stunts that will lead nowhere.

I believe that the only way to teach anyone proper self-defence is to approach each individual personally. Each one of us is different and each one of us should be taught the correct form. By correct form I mean the most useful techniques the person is inclined toward. Find his ability and then develop these techniques. I don’t think it is important whether a side kick is performed with the heel higher than the toes, as long as the fundamental principle is not violated. Most classical martial arts training is a mere imitative repetition – a product – and individuality is lost.

When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style.

Are Canadian junior and intermediate oil stocks in a bubble?

In 2008, those of us who were invested in the junior and intermediate Canadian oil and gas sector, experienced the collapse of a bubble.  I had bought 500 Enerplus, e.g., at $48, and I watched it collapse to $18.20 by March 2009 for $14,900 (62%) loss.  Losses for 100% natural gas Perpetual (pmt) were similar, only it hasn’t recovered much of its lost ground.  Midway Energy Ltd (then Trafalgar Energy) plummetted to a tenth of my original purchase price, but is now back up to $4.33, which is above the highest price that I ever paid for it.

As a result of an aggressive averaging down, oil and gas holdings in my current portfolio are now 65% above book–and that doesn’t take into account profit taking along the way, as I’ve taken the opportunity of the extreme volatility of the last two years to buy low and to sell high.  But with the buy and hold part of the portfolio, diligence is necessary.  Is there any sense in which there is a bubble–that these stocks are just too high and that it is now time to bail, or at very least to reduce?  This is a particular concern to me since my portfolio is 87% weighted towards Canadian junior and intermediate oil and gas companies.

The first consideration is commodity prices.  Natural gas is at a nadir.  Therefore, it is hard to imagine that natural gas weighted companies can go much lower.  These would include Terra Energy, Prospex, and Perptual (TT, PSX, PMT).  Oil is high at $80 but nowhere near where I believe it can go with a rapidly rising demand from emerging markets (esp. China and India) and the constant inflation being forced upon us by our central banks.

A second consideration is low interest rates.  At the moment, most of the intermediate stocks pay dividends far in excess of currents rates in savings accounts, GICs and short term bonds.  Thus, the sector is still attractive as investors seek yield.

A third consideration is fear.  About once a week I read an article indicating that retail investors, if not institutional funds, are still afraid to get back into the stock market, indicating that billions of dollars are still resting on the sidelines.  There won’t be a stock market bubble until more people are all in.

So let’s look at a few of the companies to determine if they are in a bubble.  Statistics are from the TD Waterhouse Market & Research, which I find is often inaccurate, but lets say for now that the numbers are representative of the larger trends.  Market price is as of close yesterday.

Petrobakken (PBN) $18.96 book 17.18 Price/Cash Flow 6.1x

Crocotta Energy (CTA) 1.77 book 2.52 Price/Cash Flow 9.1x

Midway Energy (MEL) 4.33 book $1.44 Price/Cash flow —-

Crescent Point 40.51 book $19 price/cash flow 11.2x

Prospex (PSX) 1.37 book 2.00 P/cash flow 9.4x

Now part of the story is that almost every company in the sector is ramping up its development costs in order to increase production and reserves.  Midway, for example, is on a fast pace of developing its Cardium holdings.  They have 150 drilling sites with an estimated netback of 4 million each (see their corporate presentation), which would provide a potential profit from these holdings alone of $600 million.  That is double its 294.6 million market capital.

Nothing yet indicates to me that there is anything remotely like a bubble in this sector.  Indeed, I am still bullish and think that there are still buying opportunities despite the recent surge in the sector.  In consideration also that the Obama administration has shut down future competition from new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico–putting production behind by at least six months–the Canadian oil and gas sector begins to look extremely attractive.

Deflation or hyperinflation, an investment for both at the same time

During the market crash that began in June 2008 and ended in March of 2009, the TSX lost 50% of its peak value; the US indexes (cf. S&P 500; NASDAQ) experienced similar losses.  Other asset classes such as gold and the loonie suffered similar  losses against the mighty US dollar, as investors took a flight to “safety”.  Arguably this was a period of deflation, when most asset classes plummeted in value while the US dollar itself benefited.  It was also deflation caused by a shrinkage of credit, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, which had the effect of reducing the quantity of money.

Since the beginning of this deflationary crisis, the US Federal Reserve has taken measures to reflate the US dollar through quantitative easing–which is the creation of new fiat currency.  Yesterday, Bernanke’s Federal Reserve promised to create another 600 billion greenbacks out of thin air, a spelling out of a promise that occurred already a couple weeks ago, causing the dollar to dive against gold, oil and foreign currencies.  This is probably only the beginning of the woes.  Some writers, such as Gonzalo Lira (see e.g., “How The Fed Gave Away $1.5 Trillion Through Stealth Monetization“), are predicting serious hyperinflation beginning in the first quarter of the new year.

Yet surprisingly, there remains a large number experts who believe that our biggest fear today is still deflation.  David Rosenberg issued another warning which appeared at the Business Insider on November 1:  “All This Talk Of Inflation Is Madness, DEFLATION Is Still The Big Threat“.

Clearly the investor needs a flexible strategy that hedges against inflation and deflation at the same time.  I personally believe that inflation is the way its going to go down; it is possible to create too much money and the Federal Reserve in its fear of another Great Depression is creating money to prevent it.  In my view, it does nothing helpful except to reduce debt by debasing the dollar.  All my life inflation has been the major threat and I’ve seen the dollar lose buying power consistently through the decades.  So I don’t really believe in deflation, particularly when Bernake has the creation of inflation as his goal.  He has no power to improve the economy, but he can destroy the dollar.

Yet because of Rosenberg’s (et al.) warning, I think it prudent to have a plan for deflation.  But how does an investor have a working strategy to beat inflation and deflation at the same time?  I’m not leaving my money in cash–that’s what you do when you believe that deflation is the only credible threat.  If you believe that inflation is the only credible threat, then you put everything into concrete assets like oil companies or real estate.  Debt is a marvelous asset class–provided that the debt is invested in a rental real estate (a mortgage) or dividend bearing stocks so that the interest can be paid.  So in fighting inflation I’m doing the following:

INFLATION

1. I maintain mortgage debt on a rental property.

2.  I maintain a stock portfolio which is 100% invested in Canadian oil and gas or gold-mining companies.

3. I maintain a positive Canadian cash balance and negative US dollar balance in my margin accounts.  As a Canadian investor, my total margin is calculated as a composite of the Canadian and US accounts.  I may hold Canadian equities in my US account.

4. I occasionally move assets from US dollar account into Canadian funds.

DEFLATION

In order to protect against deflation:

1.  I maintain ample margins in my margin accounts.

2. I have my lines of credit which protect against a margin call.  In case of a Rosenberg-predicted double dip, I have to have something to fall back on, and that’s where the HELOCs come in (both on the rental property and on the primary residence).  Yesterday, I was able to obtain 30% increase in these lines.

3. I will take profits on gains and increase cash positions as market improves (in loonies not greenbacks).

4. In case of market depression, I will use the unused lines of credit to average down on equities.

In many cases, after the 2008 crash, I was able to pick up stocks at well below shareholder’s equity.  For example, I was picking up shares of Midway Energy, which had a book value of $3.40, as low as $0.39, which is an astounding .115 price to book ratio.  In market downturns, the stocks will be oversold, and bargains will be available.  Thus, at least half of the lines of credit must be reserved for purpose of averaging down during a market crash.  The other half, of course, is reserved to meet a margin call.  No debt or obligation (such as a possible assignment on put option) is covered by the margin alone but by cash or an outside line of credit as well.

This is an unconventional strategy.  But these are not conventional times.  Most of the investment strategies that I’ve seen continue to call for a balanced portfolio–balanced between stocks and fixed income investments (bonds, savings accounts, treasury notes, gics, etc.).  Those who were burned by stocks twice in less than a decade are now being told to ease back into “risky” assets because of the fear of inflation (see for example, Rob Carrick).  But I worry that most financial columnists and advisers are not taking the risk of hyperinflation seriously enough, and their readers or clients will be burnt as a result.

Please see my financial disclaimer.

All This Talk Of Inflation Is Madness, DEFLATION Is Still The Big Threat 

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/david-rosenber-the-risk-is-deflation-2010-11#ixzz14JTM91NS