A Wealth Creation Journal

Author: XC (Page 2 of 5)

51Job Privatisation Deal Update

When I initiated the position in 51Jobs (see previous post here), I expect the deal would likely close within 3-6 months. And now 8 months have passed by and the deal is still work-in-progress. So much for my forecasting skill!

But I did get something right when I wrote that:

My guess is that mgmt team will join them in the privatisation deal at some point and hence they only have to buy 50% of the shares outstanding.

That finally happened on 4th May 2021. 51Job announced that the CEO, who owns 17.6% of the shares outstanding, would join the buyer consortium together with another PE fund – Ocean Link. Let just say that Ocean Link as a PE fund is not new to this privatization game.

https://ir.51job.com/ir/php/2021/PreRelease20210504.php?0504

Currently, there is still a 9% spread available based on the current share price. I think the risk-reward is extremely good from here since the management participation in the deal increased the probability of success significantly.

If I have to make a guess here, the buyer group needs to convince Recruit Holding to either join the buyer consortium or sell out. Once the buyer consortium can reach some kind of agreement with Recruit, then the deal is a done deal. See this Nikkei Asia article here.

While these privatization deals generate small profits in the bigger scheme of things, I enjoy the analytical process of guessing the probability of success.

Nintendo Investment Update – The End of the Beginning

Nintendo reported, in my view, excellent results for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 and it is a real pleasure to be a business owner (and customer) in this fantastic business.

My core investment thesis for Nintendo remains the same: Nintendo Switch is a sustainable gaming platform because it is anchored by Nintendo’s world-class games and supported by a mix of long life-cycle games and new games by both Nintendo and third-party game developers. Nintendo Switch is in a positive feedback loop now where its large install base is attracting more third-party game developers which in turn attract more Switch buyers. If my assumption that the Switch gaming platform would defy the previous console lifecycle of peaking in year 5 and ending in year 7, then I assess Nintendo’s intrinsic value with the following factors: 1) Switch install base, 2) software revenue per install base, and 3) gamer engagement with Switch platform. Continue reading

Live Portfolio Update – 2021 – #11 (Tandy Leather Factory)

Investment action: add ~1.3% to Tandy Leather and make it a 3% position. Bought at an average price of USD 4.2

I first purchased Tandy Leather Factory shares in Dec 2019 and it has been a bumpy ride since then. They are still mired in the accounting restatement crisis while being hit by COVID-19. This resulted in delisting and now still trading on the OTC market.

They finally announced a final bit of positive news on 21 Apr 2021. See link here

Tandy Leather announced that its sales for 1Q 2021 is USD 21.3m & have a net cash position of USD 10m. This is a very favourable quarterly revenue trend coming out from covid-19. Generally speaking, Tandy managed the COVID situation well and grew its eCommerce operation significantly.

Strong revenue recovery implies a few things:

  • Healthy demand for leathercraft
  • Strength of online channel and specialty retail category such as leathercraft is very well suited to eCommerce

What I don’t know is how much revenue is driven by retail vs wholesale activity

There is a scenario that Tandy use online as an efficient sales channel to expand the reach and only use stores for customer service. In this scenario, we could see higher organic growth even post-pandemic.

But the risks are still clearly there. 1) financial restatement still not done yet & 2) two CFO resignations within one year

However, given that Tandy was able to execute a USD 1m share buyback in Jan 2021 and still maintain a sizable cash balance. Plus they actually survived COVID. The risk of fraud is reduced.

Based on q1 numbers, it seems like Tandy could be doing 80-85m annual revenue in 2021. assuming 7.5% net margin (historical margin is 5-10%), then Tandy could be making 6-8m of net profit this year. The current market cap is USD 36m with 10m of net cash, the implied earning multiple is 6x. Hopefully, once restatement is done, we could see substantially higher share buyback activity

Live Portfolio Update – 2021 – #10 (Avanza)

Investment Action: Sold all Avanza shares @ SEK 304 which is roughly a 3% position now

Despite a set of very strong Q1 2021 results, I am going to sell Avanza shares and very unfortunately no longer be part of Avanza’s growth journey from here. I sold a large chunk of the Avanza investment in Oct 2020 at around SEK 185 and clearly my ability to time the market is terrible because Avanza shares trade around SEK 300.

The main reason for selling is the same as before: Avanza’s earning is cyclically high due to higher than usual trading activity from its customers (mostly retail customers). Continue reading

Investment Memo – Stitch Fix – AI-first fashion retailer

Stitch Fix is a fashion retailer in the sense that they take inventory, do merchandising, buy at wholesale price and sell at retail price. But that is about where the similarity with a traditional retailer ends.

Stitch Fix’s business model involves users submitting detailed body measurement data and style preferences which is then used to feed into the Stitch Fix machine learning model. Stitch Fix will combine algorithm recommendation and the wisdom of a human stylist to pick out 5 pieces of clothing and sent them to users in a box which is called a Fix. Users don’t know what clothes they are going to get until they receive it. So there is a surprise and delight element. Users will pick what they like and return what they don’t like. Continue reading

Live Portfolio Update – 2021 – #8 (Everyman Media)

Bought a 1% position in Everyman Media, a boutique UK cinema chain, with an average price of GBP1.5.

I have been trying to buy this stock for over 2 months now but the liquidity is terrible and the price has gone up too much. Would have been a bigger position (3-5%) if liquidity is better.

For a detailed investment thesis, please see here – https://pembridgecap.com/?p=11077

Live Portfolio Update – 2021 – #6 (Nintendo)

Added to existing Nintendo position @ JPY 58800 per share by ~1% position weight.

For the past 12 months, Nintendo is doing a great job in terms of updating Animal Crossing with new content and events. It shows that Nintendo is starting to get game as a service concept as an organisation.

In that backdrop, I added as the valuation looks attractive.

Investment Memo – Tencent (WeChat)

This investment memo is a detailed explanation of my investment in Tencent as documented in this post – Live Portfolio Update – 2021 – #3 (Tencent)

Tencent is a company that defies categorisation. It is so many things all at once – gaming, social network, fintech, media and cloud. At almost USD 700bn market capitalisation, it is the biggest company in China and one of the biggest companies globally. But I think it still has a very long growth runway ahead and likely to offer an excellent risk-adjusted return.

On a high level, my favourable outlook for Tencent is anchored on four parts:

1) WeChat is the equivalent of a modern-day digital utility in the sense that it is almost irreplaceable because it is both a utility app and a social networking app. The combination of utility-driven high switching cost and network effect creates an almost impregnable moat for the foreseeable future. It is currently under-monetised relative to the value created for its users. More importantly, WeChat continues to create new value for its users by expanding use cases on WeChat. For the next 5 years, WeChat’s advertising revenue growth rate will accelerate as its eCommerce ecosystems mature.

2) Tencent’s vertically created gaming business enjoys a very long growth runway as the video game is on a multi-decade march of gaining share of the entertainment budget.

3) Tencent’s corporate DNA, user-centric and bottom-up culture, is robust enough to deal with ever-changing technology changes and shifting consumer tastes.

4) Tencent has laid the seeds of future growth in Cloud, Fintech and enterprise software

For this blog, I just want to focus on the WeChat part of my investment thesis and I will write about other parts of the Tencent investment thesis separately.

WeChat

With 1bn of users, WeChat has transcended its inception as a messaging app and become a modern-day utility in digital life. People use WeChat to message, socialise, pay, read blogs, buy grocery and play games. In very practical terms, one cannot live life in China without WeChat just like one cannot live life without electricity in the modern era. No other social network, even Facebook, comes close to being as much a utility in people’s daily lives as WeChat does.

This means that WeChat’s risk of disruption by another social network is actually even lower than the like of Facebook and Instagram. In fact, WeChat will become more relevant to people’s lives by providing even more valuable services such as discovering restaurants, local services and financial services (payments, wealth management, personal loans).

Given WeChat’s importance in Chinese people’s lives, it is incredibly under-monetised. Tencent’s ~ RMB 80bn of advertising revenue is actually smaller than Bytedance’s advertising revenue. I think I am safe grounds if I say that advertising dollars follow user time spend. Below is a chart that maps ad spend to time spend. This data is from 3Q 2019 but it is still valid.

Tencent under index on its share of total ad revenue in China

Interestingly, Alibaba has the largest share of the advertising dollar with ~1/3 of the total China online ad spend. Bytedance’s ad revenue also saw a meteoric rise. Both Ali and Bytedance have the most mature and sophisticated monetisation infrastructure. Bytedance’s well-tuned algorithm can deliver unparalleled precision while Ali has the most comprehensive eCommerce marketplace.

Tencent is lacking behind in ad revenue because:

  1. the creator of WeChat, Allen Zhang, is resistant to introducing commercial activities on WeChat in fear of dealing permanent damage to the ecosystem
  2. for a very long time, Tencent lacks a coherent advertisement infrastructure (but that has been largely fixed now)
  3. there was no proper medium to carry ads on WeChat
  4. for a long time, games is in itself a strong enough growth driver

But all of the above are changing. And I believe that Tencent’s ad revenue will reaccelerate in the next 5 years and could reach RMB 200-300bn in the next 5 years.

On a high level, I believe the growth of WeChat’s e-commerce ecosystem will drive Tencent’s ad revenue. But why is Tencent able to crack eCommerce this time around? Tencent made a go at eCommerce in 2014 which did not go well. They end up selling their eCommerce business to JD.com. So what has changed?

Since 2014, China’s eCommerce infrastructure has grown significantly where the payment and logistics are becoming APIs that anyone can plug-in and start an online business. A vast ecosystem of service providers such as Youzan and Baozun has surfaced to provide software and operational competences to run an online eCommerce business. Most importantly, Chinese merchants have accepted eCommerce as the default way to do business and the majority have decent know-how when it comes to running an eCommerce business.

So it is in this context that Tencent decides to have another go at eCommerce and this time through WeChat and more specifically WeChat mini program (MP).

Merchants will be able to set up shop using WeChat MP to market and sell their products. WeChat MP has a built-in payment API (WeChat pay), a logistics API link and other useful modules such as live streaming and eCommerce software. This means that WeChat is a closed-loop transaction platform just like Taobao!

And this is VERY important. For a very long time, merchants have advertised on Tencent properties but the transaction is typically completed either on Ali or JD or PDD. As merchants now have the option of directing transaction to WeChat MP, merchants will be able to acquire customers, complete transaction and provide aftersales service within WeChat. This ability to close the transaction within Tencent’s walled garden has two huge implications for its advertising business.

1) Tencent can finally provide a true performance advertising product which means merchants can measure their RoI with incredible precision. We have seen many times that the ability to demonstrate a clear marketing RoI is an excellent way to persuade merchants to shift their advertising budget. Facebook is a good example here.

2) Tencent will be able to collect better data and, with its improved advertising infrastructure, it can finally be able to match its peers in terms of precision and accuracy. Here there is a very fine line to draw between protecting user privacy and advertising efficiency. I trust that Tencent will approach this balance with an abundance of prudence. I think it would be naïve to believe that there is no loss of user privacy but I think it will be moderate.

One of the biggest challenge in terms of growing ad revenue on WeChat has been this: how to show users more ads while not completely destroying their user experience. Just imagine how annoying it would be if you keep seeing ads while messaging your friends. So WeChat has to create a completely independent public domain for commercial activities while keeping the core messaging user experience simple and pleasant within the private domain.

The introduction of WeChat MP and WeChat Video Account solves this problem quite well. But the deliberate separation created by WeChat MP means that discoverability is a big issue for merchants. How can merchants reach users on WeChat if they are only given a very limited opportunity to market themselves? WeChat has come up with two partial solutions. 1) they are trying to make the search within WeChat much more powerful. At the moment WeChat search capability is very limited as it cannot search for content within MPs very well. 2) the creation of a short video product within WeChat, known as WeChat Video Account, where users can watch short videos in a feed style. I suspect this would be an important portal for merchants to acquire users in the future.

In the long term, there is a question about how much activity can WeChat carry within a single app without breaking the user experience? Is WeChat trying to do too much? I think at some point in the future, it will be a big problem for WeChat. But at this point, I think the early evidence suggests that WeChat can support a vibrant commercial community on its app.

Tencent reported that WeChat generated RMB 1.6trn of GMV in 2020 with over 100% YoY growth. It also reported a 400m DAU for WeChat MP. WeChat has 1bn users and let’s assume 50% of them end up buying things on WeChat and assume an ARPU of RMB 10k which is in line with major eCommerce platforms in China. It is not inconceivable that WeChat can do RMB 5trn of GMV by 2025. If we assume a 5% take rate on RMB 5trn GMV, it translates into RMB 250bn of revenue for Tencent which is incremental to its current base of RMB 80bn revenue.

Live Portfolio Update – 2021 – #5 (Sogou)

Bought Sogou shares @ USD 8.25 per ADR. 6% position.

This is a merger arb with 8% spread over 5 months. While I focus on finding long term investments in high-quality businesses, I just cannot resist myself when short-term investment opportunity with good risk-reward arise.

Tencent is privatising Sogou with an offer price of USD 9 per ADR. This deal has reached a definitive merger agreement in Sep 2020 and hence the spread completely disappeared.

In Dec 2020, Sogou announced that they amended the merger termination date from 29/03/2021 to 29/07/2021 due to the need for antiregulatory filing and subsequent clearance from Chinese regulators.

“In late November 2020, THL and Parent made an antitrust filing with relevant PRC regulatory authorities in connection with the Sohu Share Purchase and the Merger. Considering the time needed for the clearance of such filing, the parties decided to extend the termination date under the Sohu Share Purchase Agreement and the Merger Agreement. On December 1, 2020, (i) Sohu.com, Sohu Search, and Parent executed an Amendment No. 1 to Share Purchase Agreement, to extend the termination date under the Sohu Share Purchase Agreement from March 29, 2021 to July 31, 2021, and (ii) the Company, THL, Parent and TML executed an Amendment No. 1 to Agreement and Plan of Merger, to extend the termination date under the Merger Agreement from March 29, 2021 to July 31, 2021.”

I am confident that Sogou deal will get approved by Chinese regulators because:

1. Tencent is not dominant in search

2. Sogou is very important to WeChat commerce ecosystem that Tencent will go out of its way to make Sogou deal happen

I expect them to get approval before 29/07/2021 and hence the expected time to completion of 5 months.

Live Portfolio – 2020 Review

What a year! Despite being stuck at home for most of 2020, it has been a very eventful year.

The portfolio delivered a net return of 15.6%[1] in 2020 while FTSE Global All Cap index’s return is 16.8% during the same period. Our portfolio’s cumulative return since 2016 is 100% while the above-mentioned index’s cumulative return is 81.9%. Cash is 32% of the portfolio.

I prefer to show the investment return net of imaginary fees because any aspiring investment manager should be able to generate excess return net of fees.

[1] Assuming a fee structure of 1) no management fee, and 2) a 20% performance fee above 5% threshold i.e. 18.3% – (18.3%-5%)*(20%) = 15.6%

Live Portfolio’s 2020 Investment Return

Live Portfolio Investment Positions as of 31 Dec 2020

The 5-year milestone

During Warren Buffett’s early years operating his investment partnerships, he encouraged his partners to evaluate his investment performance on a 5-year basis and “preferably with tests of relative results in both strong and weak markets”. And so at this 5-year mark, it is time to take stock and reflect.

I am very pleased to generate an annualised return 15.6% over the last five years which has a respectable 2.2% advantage relative to our performance yardstick, FTSE Global All Cap Index, with an annualised return of 12.7%.

Our high cash level, fluctuating around 20-40%, has been a significant drag on investment performance for the last 5 years. Due to a combination of high market valuation and the relatively limited scope of my circle of competence, I have not being able to find enough attractively priced new ideas. While there is nothing I can do about the high market valuation, I am steadily expanding my circle of competence which should ultimately translate into more investment ideas and lower cash level.

This investment return is generated against the backdrop of a generally rising stock market over the last five years. The portfolio did experience a violent but short bear market in March 2020 where we fared better against the general market’s 30% decline with 15+% decline. By and large, I do not believe that I have experienced a full market cycle of bull and bear market to pass Warren Buffett’s test of “relative results in both strong and weak markets”.

Our investment journey has, so far, been very pleasant as we have not suffered a loss in any year so far. But I would like to make a prediction – this investment operation is almost guaranteed to suffer a loss in at least one of out the next 10 years but I just don’t know when the losses would occur. As Charlies Munger said:

“If you’re not willing to react with equanimity to a market price decline of 50% two or three times a century, you’re not fit to be a common shareholder and you deserve the mediocre result you’re going to get.”

While I would rather avoid any losses, especially the 50% decline ones, it is better to be mentally prepared for it. Unfortunately, I am confident that my prediction would come true. Better to accept it as a fact of life.

While we are on the topic of making predictions, I believe you are entitled to know my expectations for future investment return even if it is largely based on my simple estimates. You should note that my expectations are in fact more like aspirational goals and risk of disappointment is quite high.

Over the last 100 years, the annual return for US equities averages around ~7.5% while the Chinese equity market generated ~9% average annualised return for the last 20 years. So in the long run, we should expect equity returns to be in the range of 6-9%. For our chosen benchmark of FTSE Global All Cap, it generated 7.5% annualised return since its inception in 2002 which falls exactly in the range of 6-9%. Since the goal of this investment operation is to generate above average return, it is reasonable to expect 6-9% return as the lower end of our future return expectation.

While beating 6-9% might not seem like a very ambitious goal, vast majority (90+%) of fund managers are not able to beat the market consistently after accounting for management fees. This is true globally including US and China. Said in another way, only truly exceptional investors can generate better than average return in the long run. If you do not find an exceptional investor, you are better off with index investing.

But there are a few exceptional investors who has been able to outperform the market very consistently for a very long period of time. So it would be illuminating to evaluate their investment track record and use their track record to form the upper limit of our future investment returns.

Below are my best estimates of some of the world’s greatest investors returns based on publicly available information and I tried to use after-fees net return as much as possible.

World-class investors’ track record

These world-class investors generate long-term annualised return in the range of 15-30% and averaging around 20%. These are truly impressive performance as every one percentage point of outperformance when compounded over long period of time can lead to massive difference in cumulative return. For example, the difference in cumulative return between 10% and 9% annualised return over 10 years is 22.6%. Only world-class investors can sustain the advantage of 10-20 points above the long run equity returns of 6-9% for a long period of time.

In general, I believe it is fair to conclude that any investor who can compound at a rate of 20% net of fee for more than 10 years should be considered a highly competent one. Said in another way, any investor’s achievement of 80% return in any single year is clearly not representative of that investor’s long term performance. While 20% return may not sound like a lot, the power of compounding guarantees a very wonderful result over the long term. Just look at Warren Buffett, 99% of his wealth came only after his 50th birthday!

While I have every ambition to become the best investor that I can be, it is hubris to compare myself against the greatest of investors of all time. So I would consider myself doing a great job if I can achieve 15% annualised return net of all fees for the next 10 years. This is going to be no mean feat considering the current valuation is at alarmingly high levels.

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