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Value Investor
Wealth Building Opportunites for the Active Value Investor

November 14, 2023

Last week, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority hosted hundreds of bankers including the heads of 90 global financial institutions to discuss the current status and future outlook for the world’s capital markets. Despite the increasingly tight grip that China has on Hong Kong, which is leading to a diminished relevance for the island state, notables including Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and Goldman Sachs head David Solomon participated in the in-person meetings. The draw: Hong Kong remains an important gatekeeper for access to mainland China’s financial markets.

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What Is on the Minds of Global Financial CEOs?

Last week, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority hosted hundreds of bankers including the heads of 90 global financial institutions to discuss the current status and future outlook for the world’s capital markets. Despite the increasingly tight grip that China has on Hong Kong, which is leading to a diminished relevance for the island state, notables including Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and Goldman Sachs head David Solomon participated in the in-person meetings. The draw: Hong Kong remains an important gatekeeper for access to mainland China’s financial markets.

We read several reviews of the meeting. While much of what is said at these types of conferences is mere posturing, we found some of the material worth passing along. Morgan Stanley chief James Gorman and Deutsche Bank head Christian Sewing said that the next major market disruption could be spawned by another geopolitical event. Citadel head Ken Griffin spoke about the risk of higher inflation from deglobalization and that the U.S. government’s aggressive spending is “pulling in consumption in the here and now, at the expense of future generations.”

Mega hedge fund Bridgewater Associates’ co-chief investment officer Bob Prince commented that markets are underestimating how long it will take for the full impact of the rate-hike cycle to be felt. And, he said that the U.S. government will be issuing a combination of new debt and refinancings of existing debt each year that is equal to 25% of the country’s GDP.

Several executives commented on the growing shift of assets from public markets to private markets and the effects this might have on banks and risks. UBS Group chairman Colm Kelleher said that private markets now account for half of global financial assets, and that “the next crisis, when it happens, will be in that sector.” Peter Harrison, group head of Schroders, said that public and private markets will converge and that it’s “the thing that we have to watch most among others.”

We didn’t read about much discussion around cyber-security, despite last week’s hack that shut down Treasury trading at a Chinese bank in New York.

Nobody knows exactly what the future holds, but the attendees have a front-row seat to the capital markets and some of their comments about risk provided worthwhile perspectives.

Share prices in the table reflect Monday, November 13 closing prices. Please note that prices in the discussion below are based on mid-day November 13 prices.

Note to new subscribers: You can find additional color on past earnings reports and other news on recommended companies in prior editions and weekly updates of the Cabot Value Investor on the Cabot website.

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This Week’s Portfolio Changes

Last Week’s Portfolio Changes
Sensata Technologies (ST) – Moved shares from Buy to Hold.

Upcoming Earnings Reports
Wednesday, November 15: Cisco Systems (CSCO)
Thursday, November 16: Aviva plc (AVIVY)

Growth/Income Portfolio

Cisco Systems (CSCO) is facing revenue pressure as customers migrate to the cloud and thus need less of Cisco’s equipment and one-stop-shop services. Cisco’s prospects are starting to improve under a relatively new CEO, who is shifting Cisco toward a software and subscription model and is rolling out new products, helped by its strong reputation and entrenched position within its customers’ infrastructure. The company is highly profitable and generates vast cash flow (which it returns to shareholders through dividends and buybacks). Its announced deal for Splunk will drain most of its cash hoard but we see this as being replenished relatively quickly.

Cisco reports earnings on Wednesday, November 15, after the market closes. The consensus earnings estimate is $1.03.

CSCO shares slipped 1% in the week and have 26% upside to our 66 price target. Based on fiscal 2024 estimates, unadjusted for the Splunk acquisition, the valuation is attractive at 9.6x EV/EBITDA and 12.4x earnings per share. BUY

Comcast Corporation (CMCSA) Comcast is one of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies. Its properties include Comcast cable television, NBCUniversal (movie studios, theme parks, NBC, Telemundo and Peacock), and Sky media. The Roberts family holds a near-controlling stake in Comcast. Comcast shares have tumbled due to worries about cyclical and secular declines in advertising revenues and a secular decline in cable subscriptions as consumers shift toward streaming services, as well as rising programming costs and incremental competitive pressure as phone companies upgrade their fiber networks.

However, Comcast is a well-run, solidly profitable and stable company that will likely continue to successfully fend off intense competition while increasing its revenues and profits, as it has for decades. The company generates immense free cash flow which is more than enough to support its reasonable debt level, generous dividend and sizeable share buybacks.

Comcast will present at the UBS Investor Conference on December 4 at 9 am EST. The presentation will be live-streamed on the Comcast investor relations website.

Comcast shares fell 2% in the past week and have 11% upside to our 46 price target. BUY

Philip Morris International (PM) Based in Connecticut, Philip Morris owns the global non-U.S. rights to sell Marlboro cigarettes, the world’s best-selling cigarette brand. Cigarettes comprise about 65% of PMI’s revenues. The balance of its revenues is produced by smoke-free tobacco products. The cigarette franchise produces steady revenues and profits while its smoke-free products are profitable and growing quickly. The upcoming full launch of IQOS products in the United States, a wider launch of the IQOS ILUMA product and the recent $14 billion acquisition of Swedish Match should help drive new growth.

The company is highly profitable, generates strong free cash flow and carries only modestly elevated debt (at about 3.2x EBITDA) which it will whittle lower over the next few years. The share valuation at about 13.5x EBITDA and 15.6x per-share earnings is too low in our view. Primary risks include an acceleration of volume declines and/or deteriorating pricing, higher excise taxes, new regulatory or legal issues, slowing adoption of its new products, and higher marketing costs. A strong U.S. dollar will weigh on reported results. While unlikely, Philip Morris could acquire Altria, thus reuniting the global Marlboro franchise.

There was no significant company-specific news in the past week.

PM shares fell 1% in the past week and have 33% upside to our 120 price target. The shares offer an attractive 5.8% dividend yield. BUY

Buy Low Opportunities Portfolio

Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc. (ALSN) Allison Transmission is a midcap manufacturer of vehicle transmissions. While many investors view this company as a low-margin producer of car and light truck transmissions that is destined for obscurity in an electric vehicle world, Allison actually produces no car or light truck transmissions. Rather, it focuses on the school bus and Class 6-8 heavy-duty truck categories, where it holds an 80% market share. Its EBITDA margin is sharply higher than its competitors and on par with many specialty manufacturers. And, it is a leading producer and innovator in electric axles which all electric trucks will require. The company generates considerable free cash flow and has a low-debt balance sheet. Its capable leadership team keeps its shareholders in mind, as the company has reduced its share count by 38% in the past five years.

There was no significant company-specific news in the past week.

ALSN shares rose 2% in the past week and have 11% upside to our $59 price target. The shares offer a reasonable 1.7% dividend yield. BUY

Aviva, plc (AVVIY), based in London, is a major European company specializing in life insurance, savings and investment management products. Amanda Blanc, hired as CEO in July 2020, is revitalizing Aviva’s core U.K., Ireland and Canada operations following her divestiture of other global businesses. The company now has excess capital which it is returning to shareholders as likely hefty dividends following a sizeable share repurchase program. We expect that activist investor Cevian Capital, which holds a 5.2% stake, will keep pressuring the company to maintain shareholder-friendly actions.

Aviva will provide its third-quarter trading update on Thursday, November 16. The trading update is revenues-only, as earnings are reported only semi-annually.

Aviva shares increased 2% this past week and have 35% upside to our 14 price target. Based on management’s guidance for the 2023 dividend, which we believe is a sustainable base level, the shares offer a generous 7.7% yield. On a combined basis, the dividend and buybacks offer more than a 10% “shareholder yield” to investors. BUY

Barrick Gold (GOLD), based in Toronto, is one of the world’s largest and highest-quality gold mining companies. About 50% of its production comes from North America, with the balance from Africa/Middle East (32%) and Latin America/Asia Pacific (18%). Barrick will continue to improve its operating performance (led by its highly capable CEO), generate strong free cash flow at current gold prices, and return much of that free cash flow to investors while making minor but sensible acquisitions. Also, Barrick shares offer optionality – if the unusual economic and fiscal conditions drive up the price of gold, Barrick’s shares will rise with it. Given their attractive valuation, the shares don’t need this second (optionality) point to work – it offers extra upside. Barrick’s balance sheet has nearly zero debt net of cash. Major risks include the possibility of a decline in gold prices, production problems at its mines, a major acquisition and/or an expropriation of one or more of its mines.

There was no significant company-specific news in the past week.

Over the past week, commodity gold fell 3% to $1,938/ounce. Gold prices seem stuck between about $1,800 and $2,000. Until the price shifts meaningfully outside of this range, in one direction or another, we consider most of the movements to be noise. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 4.67%.

The structural forces behind inflation may be permanent – war, government spending, crime, oil prices and past-the-peak fading of the benefits of global free trade, in addition to a tight labor market – which could keep inflation at the 3-5% pace indefinitely. Permanent inflation would imply permanent 4-6% interest rates. We see this as a reasonably acceptable normal, which is more in line with history than the 0-3% rates of the past decade. The market has yet to fully digest this new normal.

The U.S. Dollar Index (the dollar and gold usually move in opposite directions) rose 1% to 105.85. Rising yields and relative safety are maintaining demand for the dollar. The U.S. Dollar Index reached a peak of 119 in early 2001, a price that is around 10% above the current level. The world is a very different place than it was in the pre-9/11 era, so we have no way to effectively compare conditions across this time span. However, today, we see global capital moving to the safety of US dollar assets relative to most other developed nation currencies. Gold may be seen as a lesser source of safety, partly due to its illiquidity.

Investors and commentators offer a wide range of outlooks for the economy, interest rates and inflation. We have our views but hold these as more of a general framework than a high-conviction posture. Investing in gold-related equities is a long-term decision – investors shouldn’t allow near-term weakness to deter their resolve.

Barrick shares fell 6% this past week and have 76% upside to our 27 price target. BUY

Citigroup (C) Citi is one of the world’s largest banks, with over $2.4 trillion in assets. The bank’s weak compliance and risk-management culture led to Citi’s disastrous and humiliating experience in the 2009 global financial crisis, which required an enormous government bailout. The successor CEO, Michael Corbat, navigated the bank through the post-crisis period to a position of reasonable stability. Unfinished, though, is the project to restore Citi to a highly profitable banking company, which is the task of new CEO Jane Fraser.

There was no significant company-specific news in the past week.

Investors have lost hope in Citigroup. The shares trade essentially unchanged from 2010 prices and are at or near lows not seen since 2012, only a few years after the worst of the global financial crisis. Valued at roughly 50% of tangible book value, Citi shares are pricing in what amounts to a ceiling on its earnings power of about $4.50-$5.00/share, based on the assumption that a roughly 8x multiple is “about right.” This perhaps is based on the 4Q23 estimate of $1.18/share being the permanent run-rate ($1.18 x 4 quarters = $4.72).

We find it hard to believe that Citi’s earnings won’t improve over the fourth quarter run rate. Not only are consensus annual estimates at $6/share, but the company is taking a more aggressive cost-cutting stance and its stronger segments continue to show growth.

Another way to look at the valuation: using the general rule of thumb that banks trade at a P/TBV that is 10x its return on tangible common equity, Citi shares are pricing in roughly $4.35/share of earnings. The rough math is that by valuing the shares at 50% of tangible book value, investors are assuming a 5.0% return on tangible common equity [5.0% x $87 TBV = $4.35 EPS]. While anything is possible, it would seem exceptionally unlikely that Citi would be stuck at $4.35/share of earnings.

The recently raised $0.53/share quarterly dividend looks sustainable outside of a devastating market calamity.

Citi shares rose 2% in the past week and have 98% upside to our 85 price target. The shares remain attractive as they trade at less than 50% of tangible book value of $86.90. The dividend offers investors a 4.9% yield.

When comparing Citi shares with a U.S. 10-year Treasury bond, Citi offers a higher yield and considerably more upside price potential. Clearly, the Citi share price and dividend payout carry considerably more risk than the Treasury bond, but at the current valuation, Citi shares would seem to have a remarkably better risk/return trade-off. BUY

Gates Industrial Corp, plc (GTES) – Gates is a specialized producer of industrial drive belts and tubing. While this niche might sound unimpressive, Gates has become a leading global manufacturer by producing premium and innovative products. Its customers depend on heavy-duty vehicles, robots, production and warehouse machines and other equipment to operate without fail, so the belts and hydraulic tubing that power these must be exceptionally reliable. Few buyers would balk at a reasonable price premium on a small-priced part from Gates if it means their million-dollar equipment keeps running. Even in automobiles, which comprise roughly 43% of its revenues, Gates’ belts are nearly industry-standard for their reliability and value. Helping provide revenue stability, over 60% of its sales are for replacements. Gates is well-positioned to prosper in an electric vehicle world, as its average content per EV, which require water pumps and other thermal management components for the battery and inverters, is likely to be considerably higher than its average content per gas-powered vehicle.

The company produces wide EBITDA margins, has a reasonable debt balance and generates considerable free cash flow. The management is high-quality. In 2014, private equity firm Blackstone acquired Gates and significantly improved its product line-up and quality, operating efficiency, culture and financial performance. Gates completed its IPO in 2018. Following several sell-downs, Blackstone has a 43% stake today.

There was no significant company-specific news in the past week.

Gates shares rose 1% this past week and have 41% upside to our 16 price target. BUY

NOV, Inc (NOV) – This high-quality, mid-cap company, formerly named National Oilwell Varco, builds drilling rigs and produces a wide range of gear, aftermarket parts and related services for efficiently drilling and completing wells, producing oil and natural gas, constructing wind towers and kitting drillships. About 64% of its revenues are generated outside of the United States. Its emphasis on proprietary technologies makes it a leader in both hardware, software and digital innovations, while strong economies of scale in manufacturing and distribution as well as research and development further boost its competitive edge. The company’s large installed base helps stabilize its revenues through recurring sales of replacement parts and related services.

We see the consensus view as overly pessimistic, given the company’s strong position in an industry with improving conditions, backed by capable company leadership and a conservative balance sheet.

There was no significant company-specific news in the past week. Demand for drilling gear and services in the United States will likely remain weak. Most domestic-only oil and gas companies have spent their 2023 budgets already and are unwilling to spend further. Plus, mega-mergers like ExxonMobil’s acquisition of Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) and Chevron’s acquisition of Hess (HES) will likely reduce demand further. However, demand outside of the U.S. is healthier and improving and NOV has a large international presence to bolster its overall prospects.

The price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil fell 5% to $77.84/barrel. Oil prices appear to be quiet and largely unmoved by the Israel-Gaza conflict, but the potential for sharp volatility seems higher with the increasingly complicated game of shifting geopolitical and economic alignments. A major new catalyst, in addition to all of the others, would be export or production cuts from the Middle East should Iran become directly or even explicitly indirectly involved (including if the U.S. restores its sanctions).

The price of Henry Hub natural gas ticked lower to $3.56/mmBtu (million BTU). Investors are pricing in a possibly cold winter. Also, some traders worry about low storage volumes headed into the winter, as well as the possibility of a closure of Israeli offshore gas fields.

NOV shares slipped 2% in the past week and have 28% upside to our 25 price target. The dividend produces a reasonable 1.0% dividend yield. BUY

Sensata Technologies (ST) is a $3.8 billion (revenues) producer of nearly 47,000 highly engineered sensors used by automotive (60% of revenues), heavy vehicle, industrial and aerospace customers. About two-thirds of its revenues are generated outside of the United States, with China producing about 21%. Investors undervalue Sensata’s durable franchise. Its sensors are typically critical components that generally produce high profit margins. As the sensors’ reliability is vital to safety and performance, customers are reluctant to switch to another supplier that may have lower prices but also lower or unproven quality. Sensata has an arguably under-leveraged balance sheet and generates healthy free cash flow. The relatively new CEO will likely continue to expand the company’s growth potential through acquisitions. Electric vehicles are an opportunity as they expand Sensata’s reachable market. Our Sensata investment remains an underperforming (from a business fundamentals perspective) work in progress.

There was no significant company-specific news in the past week.

The shares will likely remain weak or stagnant for the near term. We will wait for a favorable change in investor sentiment but are poised to pull the plug. Given this, we moved the shares from Buy to Hold last week.

ST shares fell 3% in the past week, reflecting the weak results, and have 84% upside to our recently reduced 57 price target. HOLD

Growth/Income Portfolio

Stock (Symbol)Date AddedPrice Added11/13/23Capital Gain/LossCurrent Dividend YieldPrice TargetRating
Cisco Systems (CSCO)11/18/2041.3252.2326.40%3.00%66Buy
Comcast Corp (CMCSA)10/26/2231.541.4931.70%2.80%46Buy
Philip Morris International (PM)9/18/2396.7990-7.00%5.80%120Buy

Buy Low Opportunities Portfolio

Stock (Symbol)Date AddedPrice Added11/13/23Capital Gain/LossCurrent Dividend YieldPrice TargetRating
Allison Transmission Hldgs (ALSN)2/22/2239.9952.5531.40%1.80%59Buy
Aviva (AVVIY)3/3/2110.7510.32-4.00%7.80%14Buy
Barrick Gold (GOLD)3/17/2121.1315.13-28.40%2.60%27Buy
Citigroup (C)11/23/2168.142.7-37.30%5.00%85Buy
Gates Industrial Corp (GTES)8/31/2210.7111.35.50%0.00%16Buy
NOV, Inc (NOV)4/25/2318.819.483.60%1.00%25Buy
Sensata Technologies (ST)2/17/2158.5731.07-47.00%1.50%57Hold

Current price is yesterday’s mid-day price.

CVI Valuation and Earnings

Growth/Income Portfolio

2023 EPS Estimate2024 EPS
Change in 2023 EstimateChange in 2024 EstimateP/E 2023P/E 2024
CSCO 52.51 4.05 4.220.0%-0.1% 13.0 12.4
CMCSA 41.50 3.93 4.290.0%0.0% 10.6 9.7
PM 90.32 6.13 6.520.0%0.0% 14.7 13.8

Buy Low Opportunities Portfolio

2023 EPS
2024 EPS
Change in 2023 EstimateChange in 2024 EstimateP/E 2023P/E 2024
ALSN 52.93 6.96 7.27-0.1%0.0% 7.6 7.3
AVVIY 10.37 0.37 0.44-0.3%0.0% 28.3 23.5
GOLD 15.31 0.83 1.091.7%1.0% 18.5 14.0
C 42.84 6.01 5.930.0%0.0% 7.1 7.2
GTES 11.37 1.25 1.371.5%0.4% 9.1 8.3
NOV 19.50 1.41 1.72-0.4%-0.4% 13.8 11.3
ST 31.03 3.65 4.00-0.7%-1.7% 8.5 7.8

Strong Buy – This stock offers an unusually favorable risk/reward trade-off, often one that has been rated as a Buy yet the market has sold aggressively for temporary reasons. We recommend adding to existing positions.

Buy – This stock is worth buying.
Hold – The shares are worth keeping but the risk/return trade-off is not favorable enough for more buying nor unfavorable enough to warrant selling.
Sell – This stock is approaching or has reached our price target, its value has become permanently impaired or changes in its risk or other traits warrant a sale.

Note for stock table: For stocks rated Sell, the current price is the sell date price.

Current price is yesterday’s mid-day price.
CSCO: Estimates are for fiscal years ending in July of 2023 and 2024

Bruce Kaser has more than 25 years of value investing experience in managing institutional portfolios, mutual funds and private client accounts. He has led two successful investment platform turnarounds, co-founded an investment management firm, and was principal of a $3 billion (AUM) employee-owned investment management company.