Friday, January 28, 2011

Sold Mermaid Maritime, a disappointment

We sold our meagre holdings in Mermaid Maritime (5000 shares at $0.41), which has been a disappointment. Since the loss of key management, the company has been trying to restructure as a drilling company with the purchase of two oil rigs from Keppel Corp, but we believe that without credible management, it will be difficult for the new entity to succeed. We have reluctantly cut our losses on the stock, and the experience will serve as a reminder that companies with suspect management should not feature prominently in an investment portfolio.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sold two portfolio stalwarts - Berkshire Hathaway and Keppel Corp

We sold our 50 shares in Berkshire Hathaway 'B' on the 25th of January (US$82.65) and our remaining 351 shares in Keppel Corp on 27 January. While these two companies embody many positive things which we look for in a stock (good management, strong business franchise(s) etc) and should be considered portfolio stalwarts, we have eliminated both positions for different reasons.

Berkshire Hathaway - Buffett's stable of businessess are solid companies in most senses of the word, but the growth of these underlying companies are too dependent on the US economy and considering our relatively large exposure to Wells Fargo, a bank which is almost solely dependent on the US economy, we would prefer businesses which generate a bit more revenue from overseas. In addition, growth is likely to be slow for the "lumbering" holding company, where incremental additions of small companies are unlikely to add significant value to the overall stock.

Keppel Corp - The stock has seen strong investor interest given the strong flow of contracts, but it still appears likely that the company has seen peak profitability already - we do not expect future contract wins to match the 2003-2007 cycle. Having run up considerably over the past month or two, the stock does not look attractive if one looks at normalised profits, and we have thus taken profits on our holding.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jan 11 Sharebuilder Additions

53 shares of STI ETF at $3.32
15 shares of F&N at $6.57

18 Jan 2011

More selling from the portfolio: Time to weed out "junk"?

We sold our small position in Courage Marine on 18 Jan (18 lots at $0.215), following the sudden spike in the stock. The previous day, the company announced that it had plans to list in Hong Kong, which would improve liquidity and branding. While we still think that the company holds decent value, we remain cautious on holding "junk" in our portfolio for the longer term, and we see the rapid move in the stock price as a good opportunity to monetise our position and lock in profits.

We do not have a terribly optimistic outlook on the BDI; the measure has remained depressed by the weak global trade outlook, while the floods in Queensland will weigh on dry-bulk rates for some time. Coupled with the high price of crude oil, we think that dry-bulk shippers like Courage Marine will have to depend largely on prudent cost management for profit. While the company remains one of the most prudently-financed shipping companies available for investment, we have decided to take profits and raise our cash level to above 20% of the portfolio.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sold Memtech International; What makes a well-financed company

We sold out of Memtech International yesterday at $0.14 (25,000 shares), reaping a tidy profit on our cost price of $0.12 (in April 2010). We have also collected a $187.50 dividend on our holdings, adding substantially to total profits (over 20%). While the company still remains cheap, we are happy to take profits on a lower-quality company like Memtech (just as we did for Gallant Venture, albeit a little early).

We continue to endorse long-term investing, but will prefer to hold companies which have the wherewithal to survive economic downturns via strong business moats (as Warren Buffett would allude to), well-financed positions, or a combination of both. Such companies within the portfolio would include SPH, Keppel Corp, Noble Group and Capitaland. We would even consider a company like Fraser and Neave with its high leverage (given its property exposure) as well-financed, as we believe that the company's strategic assets and portfolio of brands would allow it to access financing even under distressed market conditions.

We identify that access to financing is far more critical than temporary balance sheet strength, as in the case of the US government's continued ability to refinance at ridiculously-low yields, despite already being heavily indebted. All things equal, we would prefer companies which have both strong balance sheets and easy access to financing, but we remain cognizant that strong balance sheets can sometimes be a temporary blip. We recall several apparently well-financed S-Chips on the local Singapore bourse whose balance sheets were suddenly burdened by trade receivables that could not be identified, or the inability to service debt obligations due to cash remmittance issues.

We are not saying that Memtech International falls into such a category; the company has a healthy track-record of keeping its balance sheet in order. Unfortunately, the company's business moat is nearly non-existent, and we buy such companies to sell once the stock price moves from "deep-undervaluation" to "slight-undervaluation".

Friday, January 7, 2011

2010 portfolio summary

2010 performance summary
Our portfolio finished 2010 higher by 8.7% (9.4% without the subtraction of performance fees), outperforming our 6% annual hurdle rate, but underperforming the benchmark Straits Times Index's 13.4% gain. We are less concerned about our portfolio's underperformance over the past one year, but will continue to focus on picking undervalued companies for the portfolio in a prudent manner, without any regard for the Singapore stock market benchmark.

Cash holdings detracted
As of end December 2010, the portfolio held a cash position of 16.2% of portfolio assets, a fairly large percentage which weighed down on performance vis-a-vis the STI. The average cash position the portfolio held in 2010 was about 12%, and while we have no target cash level for the portfolio, our sizable cash holding is indicative of the lack of good investment opportunities we can find under current market conditions. We are also cognizant of the need to keep some powder dry to benefit from distressed market conditions, instead of watching in envy while others scoop up bargain buys. Nevertheless, we are also not terribly confident of timing the market, and will remain largely invested unless the market heads into an extremely euphoric state. We do not see this happening yet though.