Safe stocks to own in a coronapocalypse

Currently, the stock market is in a weird situation where most stocks have exposure to the systemic risk of COVID-19.  As it is highly likely that social distancing will become the new norm, a long list of businesses will be badly hurt: airlines, restaurants, movie theatres, music events, conventions, lenders, etc.

If the COVID-19 situation drags on for 3+ years, you don’t want your portfolio to blow up because of it.  It would make sense to put a good portion of your portfolio into less risky investments that will survive.  Because individual stocks can blow up, it is a good idea to diversify (e.g. 10-30+ stocks).  It’s also a good idea to avoid owning too many stocks with similar risks (e.g. stocks in the same industry, too much COVID-19 risk, etc.).


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Dollarama: why I’m ignoring the nepotism and related party transactions

While I don’t think that Dollarama is extremely compelling at the current P/E of 26.5, I do own the stock because I am trying to diversify.  The company’s earnings growth is impressive and I like the new CEO, even though his father passed on the family business in 2016.  And while the related party transactions continue under Neil Rossy, they haven’t meaningfully impacted shareholder returns in the past two decades.

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RH has some weird loans

The latest Restoration Hardware 10-Q discloses 2 unusual loans.  The first loan is a $14M promissory note “secured by the Company’s aircraft”.

  1. The collateralization of the loan is unusual.  I could not find FAA registration records that would suggest that there are any airplanes currently backing this loan.
  2. Secondly, it’s unclear if the interest rate is attractive for the lender.  The statement of cash flows and contractual obligations in the Q2 2017 10-Q imply that the lender will receive $14.0M back ($0.117M plus $13.883M) by 2022 or later.  On the face of it, it seems that this loan has a term of over 4 years and a cash interest rate of 0% (!!).  Now perhaps I am wrong about the terms of this loan as the 10-Q does not disclose many details on the note (e.g. effective interest rate, non-cash components, etc.).
  3. Similarly, there is a $20M “equipment security” note that also seems to have a cash interest rate of 0%.

It is a little weird that RH was able to find a party willing to lend money in such an unusual manner.

Unfortunately, I actually don’t know what’s going on… perhaps my readers can figure this one out.

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Coach’s brand transformation fake-out

Victor Luis, Coach’s CEO, has told investors about his brand transformation plans.  In practice however, many aspects of his brand transformation plan have not panned out.  Coach has succeeded in discouraging its fans from shopping at retail/mainline stores without actually reducing the discounting of the brand.

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CONN 10-K update

Key points in CONN’s latest 10-K

  1. Omitted the static loss table found in previous 10-Ks and 10-Qs.
  2. Removed the following sentence: “Under our current policy, the maximum number of months an account can be re-aged over the life of the account is limited to 12 months.”

I guess I will continue to hold my short position in CONN.  While I don’t entirely know what’s going on, this does not smell right.  (*The borrow is expensive.)

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Egregious accounting fraud in retail

I’ve been thinking a lot about how somebody could commit fraud in retail.  In my opinion, accounting fraud in retail is a bad idea.  Fraudsters cannot both (A) avoid jail and (B) inflate earnings by a meaningful amount or otherwise significantly mislead investors.  Smart fraudsters gravitate towards mining, oil & gas, pharma, etc.

While fraud is a bad idea in retail, some fraudsters are crazy enough to commit fraud even if there is significant risk of jail time.  I think some people are biologically wired to steal and cheat even if it doesn’t make sense.

For investors, detecting accounting fraud in a retailer may be extremely difficult.  I have not figured out reliable methods of independently verifying a retailer’s numbers.

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RH may be a bad short in the near term

My theory is that RH’s capex guidance telegraphs what future earnings will be.  The latest guidance is for 27-45% higher capex than last fiscal year ($140-160M versus $110M).

  1. If RH is the real deal, then the growth investments should generate high returns on invested capital.  If so, RH should rapidly grow earnings.  (Of course, anything can happen and RH may see poor or negative returns on its new investments.)
  2. Suppose you believe that RH has been aggressively capitalizing costs that should more appropriately be expensed.  Such accounting practices would inflate earnings.  The high capex guidance may telegraph high reported earnings.

In either scenario, earnings will increase in the short term.  My theory (and it’s just a theory) is that short sellers may wish to wait until the company guides capex lower.

*Disclosure:  Short RH via common shares and put options.

RH sales returns Part 2: Do they make sense?

I did a quick look at a few other retailers that post their actual sales returns in their SEC filings (WSM, AEO, and NILE).  The pattern among those three is that sales returns as a percentage of revenue fluctuates very little.  The rapidly-growing online retailer NILE shows the most variation of the three, ranging from 9.11% to 10.60%.  RH’s range is from 4.43% to 7.47%.  Without the error disclosed in RH’s latest 10-K, the range is from 10.22% to 11.14%.

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RH: How much does the company actually import?

On LinkedIn, a Restoration Hardware employee states that their department (ocean freight operations) has a consistent annual growth of 12%.  This is much lower than the company’s reported revenue COGS growth (20%+).  I would note that RH has been increasingly sourcing more and more of its product from overseas:

  • (EDIT: 4/2/2015) The 2011 S-1 states: Based on total dollar volume of purchases for fiscal 2010, approximately 73% of our products were sourced in Asia, the majority of which originated from China, 16% from the United States, 8% from Europe and the remainder from other regions.
  • The FY2013 10-K states: Based on total dollar volume of purchases for fiscal 2013, approximately 69% of our products were sourced in Asia, the majority of which originated from China, 26% from the United States and the remainder from other regions.
  • The FY2014 10-K states: Based on total dollar volume of purchases for fiscal 2014, approximately 84% of our products were sourced in Asia, the majority of which originated from China, 10% from the United States and the remainder from other regions.

Adjusting for the lower domestic sourcing would suggest that RH’s total overall buying may have grown at less than 12% annualized.

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RH sales returns

Restoration Hardware’s financial statements paint a picture of very high growth.  In the past, the financials were more or less internally consistent.  Numbers with a relationship to revenues (taxes paid, contingent rent, actual sales returns, employee count) largely tracked the growth in revenue growth.  What’s curious in the latest 10-K is that actual sales returns no longer track reported revenues due to an error identified for FY2013 and FY2012.

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