Category Archives: Investing Lessons

Sangoma Technologies Corp – $STC.v

Well well well….

I am doing my best to prioritize writing in schedule. I can’t say that I’m getting better, but the inertia of starting and working through a post has reduced.

I’ve owned Sangoma for years (since 2013) and have averaged up a few times. I have a running word doc that I use to keep track of news that is well over 100 pages long now.

This post is meant to illustrate the path of one of my more successful investments. I will be a tour guide through the last 7 years of history of this business and the share price. I’ll share my thoughts and some insights that you can only gain by experiencing the ride. It demonstrates some of my evolution as an investor. I believe that investments like Sangoma represent what an average investor can obtain with the right mix of research, luck and (most importantly) patience. It should be noted that this investment did not rely on a drill bit, a phase 3 trial, some new technology adoption or a sky high valuation to be successful. Not to say that you can’t make money following any of those strategies, I’m just going to focus on what works for me.

Start with low expectations

When I first wrote up Sangoma in 2013 it was trading less than liquidation value, it was actually trading at less than net cash. It was a lumpy product business that was on the (slow) decline. They managed to grow top line a few million by launching new products that eclipsed the slow decline of legacy products (PSTN analog phone cards), while running a small profit. At the end of 2013, new products had grown from 0 to 5mil in a little over 2 years. The CEO (who is still on board today) was focused on growing top line without needing to continuously raise money to support a business that doesn’t generate cash. At this point the risk was dead money.

Continue with business improvement without the market caring

For 3 years the business continued to improve and the stock went down or sideways at best. 3 years. And it actually started in 2011. So really 5 years of slow business transformation without share price moving. I wrote about in an update here.

During these 3 years, the business was restructured and 3 acquisitions were made. There was always something to muddy each quarter’s results. Inventory levels, age of receivables, margins, acquisition integration, not spending the cash quick enough, etc. In the meantime, they continued to build the business strategically and gain more share of wallet from about 10-20% to 50% of a business’s connectivity purchases. Recurring revenue continued to climb higher each quarter as they focuses on cloud based and services. I was starting to see the long term potential of the business and was happy with management’s ability to grow the business without diluting shareholders.

Success after years

The work started to bear fruit. The share price responded (finally) at the end of 2016. I ended up adding a little in early 2017.

I think it’s important to note that as an investor I could have sold out a reasonable gain. It’s tempting to take the money made and distribute it into other opportunities.

The business had successfully shifted and expectations have changed. This was not the net-net from 2013. This was a larger, more complex organization and your measure of success needs to change.  Quarterly lumpiness was really reduced and visibility increased to the point where they could issue guidance in fiscal 2017.

Their biggest and most complex acquisition to date was executed (VoIP Supply). This was the 5th acquisition they made since I had followed the business (MicroAdvantage, Schmooze, RochBox, VegsStream). I will admit I was usually skeptical of the acquisitions on the surface, but I had seen enough examples of well executed acquisitions and integration to continue to hold the majority of my position.

Continued execution and share price appreciation

Sourcing and executing deals continued with CCD, Digium, VoIP Innovations. The share price has responded, although it still trades at a discount to peers.

Operations were humming along nicely. Continued share price appreciation was driven by the ability to source and execute acquisitions with minimal dilution. The scale and complexity of each acquisition grew bigger incrementally. It was reassuring to see that the CEO was able to keep the pipeline as robust as he did.

Performing continued due diligence is a must. Once you realize that you have a multibagger potential in your portfolio, the last thing you want to do is sell after a rough quarter when it won’t matter several years down the road. As the price grew, the company took up a larger and larger percentage of my portfolio. Things like culture, ego, foresight, customer focus are now the most important things.

Sangoma Today

Obviously I don’t think Sangoma will be a 10 bagger from here, but there are still many things to like about the business. They have been quite insulated from covid, their shares trade at a discount to peers, the are a well run organization, over half of their revenue is recurring, and they still have the ability to up-list on the the TSX from the Venture. I will continue to hold.

Summary

The journey to multibagger is colorful. I have about 30 different data points on their financial results over the years. 7 quarters have been softer than anticipated, 15 have been stronger than anticipated and  8 have been kind of meh. I think each multibagger comes with it’s own merit badges or battle scars that you have to earn and endure.

  • stock price drops of 15-20% after a “bad” quarter
  • 1-3 years of no price appreciation
  • naysayers telling you that it won’t work out
  • market prognosticators predicting another recession worst than all the other ones put together
  • everyone else getting hilariously rich off bitcoin

Anyone care to share a multibagger story?

 

 

Dean

*the author is long shares of Sangoma Technologies ($STC.v) at time of writing

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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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Filed under Company Analysis, Investing Lessons, Random Thoughts

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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