Category Archives: Investing Lessons

Getting caught off guard; Recro Pharma ($REPH)

If you’ve been in this game long enough you are going to get caught off guard once in a while (unless you are part of Fintwit where everyone bats 1.000). I would say that of all the executive functions, emotional regulation is probably my weakest. It is kind of funny given that I realize that it takes a higher EQ than IQ to be successful at this investing thing.

There are usually some minor positive or negative surprises on quarterly or annual financial statements. More often then not these lead to a minor reaction in the share price, say 5-10%. These “surprises” are usually easily explained on the conference call or in the MD&A. Once in awhile, you really get a surprise and the stock rises or drops by 25+%. The company releases numbers and the stock gaps up or down. You had no idea and where caught off guard. These are the moves that test your conviction in the company and in your process. It’s easy to take credit for the positive surprises and blame management for the negative ones. In reality it doesn’t matter who’s “fault” it is, but how you pick up the pieces and move forward is what is important. It’s so hard to remember that in 2 or 3 years, you won’t care about this specific quarter unless you did something you regret based on the results.

This recently happened to me with REPH as they released numbers and the stock gapped down 40%. I’m going to share how I am approaching the situation now.

Here is a good post on REPH. The author does a great job going over the business and valuation. Check it out before continuing.

Despite not being in an industry that I’m familiar with, the REPH investment thesis was fairly easy to articulate:

  • decently high barriers to entry
  • deep relationships with customers
  • producing drugs that are not going away anytime soon
  • split of the 2 businesses (CDMO and specialty pharma) to focus on core competencies
  • not immediately or materially affected by COVID (at least from what I understood)
  • discount to peers and previous buyouts
  • issued guidance for the business and previously beat guidance
  • there is likely to be a push for drugs to be produced in North America given some supply shortages of certain critical drugs during the Covid pandemic

There were some things to get comfortable with:

  • high cost debt
  • no CEO for the CDMO business
  • not cheap on an absolute basis
  • not expecting stellar growth (though I am not expecting negative growth either)
  • management communication has not been great
  • compensation seems high for a business of this size, but that does seem to be normal for pharma companies

Given all this, I took half a starter position or about 3%.

Now with shares about 45% lower than when I bought, I’m left with a pretty small position.  At a this point REPH is about 2% of my portfolio. When the shares crashed, REPH occupied way more than 2% of my bandwidth. I needed to take a step back and reassess. I could average down, hold or lick my wounds and blow out the position.

Here are some questions I ask myself whenever I get one of these surprises:

  1. Is this a temporary bump in the road or is this quarter indicative of the long term prospects of the business getting worse?
  2. Is there a reasonable explanation for the surprise? Did management do everything in their control?
  3. When communicating bad news, did management take accountability?
  4. If you didn’t already own shares, what would you do?

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. I don’t think the long term prospects of the business have changed and the barriers to entry have lessened.
  2. Yes and No. They were expecting a re-entry of a competitor into their market (Mylan) and seemed to have the underestimated the impact. Covid has led to delays in reorders as customers have worked through some inventory on hand. As well, business development efforts were paused due to Covid.
  3. I do feel that they took accountability for what they could control and revised guidance was issued. They have set up a Covid task force to help navigate the pandemic. They adjusted costs and are looking to save 2 mil.
  4. If I didn’t own shares, I would likely wait on the sidelines.

Given that the position is quite small and I don’t have a better use of the capital at the moment, I’m going to hold on to my shares and not add or sell. I realize that this means that I am missing out on a potential rally in the shares.

I have come up with tangible milestones to build confidence in management before adding to my stake and working towards a full position. To me, these should all be complete by the end of the year.

  • Have a better idea of how the new competitor in one of main markets
  • Hire new CEO for the CDMO business
  • Refinance high cost debt
  • Signs of significant growth in new products to fill existing capacity
  • Meet previously issued guidance

When’s the last time you got a negative surprise? What did you do?

Dean

*the author owns shares of REPH at time of writing

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Why I Sold MUEL

I recently sold Paul Mueller Co. I thought I would go into a little detail on the decision. The decision relates to how I have evolved as an investor. For those who want the history, please read my previous post.

Paul Mueller Company is a provider of manufactured equipment and components for the food, dairy, beverage, transportation, chemical, pharmaceutical, and other industries, as well as the dairy farm market. Overall I think that the company has done a decent job running the business. Of the four segments (Dairy Farm Equipment, Industrial Equipment, Field Fabrication and Transportation); Dairy and Industrial make up the majority of the top line for the consolidated company.

MEUL_segment_split

Dairy has been stable  since the acquisitions post 2007-08. I was hoping for the Industrial segment to post some sort of turnaround in 2015. That has not happened.

MUEL_dairy_and_ind

The company’s valuation is still quite cheap without any contribution from the Industrial (or Field Fab and Transportation) segments.

MUEL_valuation

So there are a few questions to get comfortable with the company as an investment:

  1. Does the Dairy segment continue to do well?
  2. Does Industrial turn around?
  3. If yes to the first two, does the valuation of the company improve?
  4. And aside from all 3 of those, is this a business run by quality mgmt?
  5. Lastly, does the pension liability on the balance truly reflect reality?

I honestly can’t really answer any of the above. I never really could. My original thinking was that if I buy shares cheap enough, I don’t really need to answer any of these questions. That’s not a bad way to invest, it’s just not the way I have gotten the most comfortable with.

When you buy a business like MUEL, you are buying a business with low(ish) product differentiation, capital intensive, and the business is subject to shocks that are beyond the control of the current management team. As well, you aren’t getting a ton of communication with the outside investor world. When buying microcaps, you hope for a business that is somewhat nimble, you aren’t getting that with MUEL.

It should be mentioned that MUEL has recently announced a share buyback. With such low volume on the stock, it could really move the stock higher.

In order to properly accommodate all the specific risks with MUEL you would need a portfolio that has 20-30 names. As well the amount of churn in the portfolio would have to be high. Something I don’t have time nor the personality for.

You may think that I will shun commoditized businesses or a business with little product differentiation to end users, that is not entirely correct. I have been putting a lot of thought into whether or not you buy companies that are part of a market that is commoditized or with little barriers to entry, and the answer of course….it depends. I’ll try and get some thoughts down to encourage conversation.

Thanks,

Dean

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Evolution of a “Value Investor”

This post will not involve in depth company analysis, instead I wanted to catalog some things that have changed with my philosophy when it comes to picking stocks to invest in.  Recently, some good news was released on one of my top holdings that clearly displays my change.

I started purchasing Pivot Technology Solutions (PTG.v) in the summer of 2014.  The idea behind the investment was a cheap company with decent ROIC (though admittedly low margin), capable management and a large overhang in the capital structure.  There was a large amount of preferred shares outstanding that I felt were preventing the company from being properly valued by the market. The common shares are illiquid and well under $1, making it something that many institutions would ignore. Given who owned the common and preferred shares, it would make sense to do some sort of conversion of the preferred to common to clean up the capital structure. Management had mentioned several times that they had intended to do so.

I continued to purchase shares throughout the fall of 2014 as the company executed on operational promises to investors. There was still mention of some sort of conversion in the future. I was happy with management running the business and the focus on operations. I figured the conversion eventually happened whether organically or being forced by some sort of activist once the value of the business was made apparent.

At the beginning of March 2015, the company announced some good news:

  • company officially initiated a process to convert the preferred shares to common shares
  • announced a normal course issuer bid to repurchase. though many company’s announce this and don’t follow through
  • initiated a quarterly dividend starting in Q3 2015, annual yield at today’s price is around 10%

Old vs. New

The previous version of myself would have simply sold the shares on the good news and likely plowed the winnings into something that was “cheap” (likely one of my losers). I would put money into something the market doesn’t understand and likely a dinky little company that abuses the share price and struggles to execute. I would expand the numbers of company’s I own, which has two effects on the portfolio.

  1. Another company for me to keep tabs on, therefore increasing the demand on my time to maintain an understanding of yet another business with yet another management team.
  2. Increasing the number of company’s in the portfolio reduces the effect that the winners have on the portfolio as a whole.

The new version of me took a few days to reflect and reassess. I reviewed the business, the management team and what I see as the market’s expectation going forward. I have concluded that shares are still cheap, and I have recently increased my position.

Why would I sell a cheap company that is growing and shouldn’t need to dilute shareholders in the future?

Dean

Disclosure: The author is long PTG.v

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