Friday, June 28, 2019

Mid Year 2019 Portfolio Review

The calendar can sometimes play tricks on the way returns look, now in hindsight 12/31/18 was a tough determination date skewing my 2018 results to the downside and now is skewing my 2019 results to the upside.  Through the end of the second quarter my blog portfolio is up 58.3% versus 17.9% for the S&P 500, the big first half has pulled up my lifetime-to-date IRR to 22.5%.  Outsized winners this period included KAR and SMTA due to sizable call option positions and then to a slightly lesser extent big wins in CZR, HHC and MMAC.
Often when I post an idea it's sort of an initial indication of interest, usually starting with a 3-5% position for me, and then in the comments section I get more bullish or bearish on an idea.  KAR Auction Services (KAR) was one of these, I liked the idea and the spinoff of IAA in January, posted on it, received some feedback so when the company conducted an odd conference call in February and the stock subsequently sold off, I was ready to act.  Ended up buying a large (for me at least) position in call options that paid off handsomely, although I sold too soon (last week) given the price movements today on the first day of regular way trading.  IAA looks fully priced to me.  KAR looks potentially cheap depending on how you value TradeRev and RemainCo's closest public peer, BCA Marketplace in the UK, was sold this week to private equity for 12x EBITDA.

Other Closed Positions:
  • Caesars Entertainment (CZR):  Eldorado Resorts (ERI) and Caesars inked their cash and stock deal earlier this week with a headline price of $12.75 per share, with much of the cash coming from VICI Properties (VICI) via the sale leaseback of three casinos.  The deal price isn't too far off of what I paid in 2017 for my initial position in CZR through CACQ, but it is a big move from the 4Q lows when the world was potentially falling apart, what a difference 6 months can make in the markets.  Now seems like a good time to back away from the gaming sector, I'm interested to see how the industry does through the next recession, especially with the PropCo/OpCo model that's all but rolled out across the entire group.  I suspect we'll see some opportunities and dislocations there in the future, but for now I'm going to wait on the sidelines. 
  • Spirit Realty Capital (SRC): When the news broke that SMTA had sold the assets in their master trust to HPT, I took the opportunity to exit SRC and roll some of that into SMTA.  SRC will be a vanilla net-lease REIT by the end of the year and it'll probably trade up a bit higher from here as the multiple plays catch-up, but an acquisition by one of the larger net-lease names is likely off the table.  There are enough net-lease properties in private hands that there's no reason for someone like Realty Income (O) to buy SRC, they could issue their expensive shares in a secondary and buy cheap assets directly without the headache and expense of a merger.
  • Mitek Systems (MITK): Mitek Systems ended up dropping their strategic process, they have new management that presumably wants to create value independently (and not lose their jobs), the company has a strong niche, but investing in a small software growth stock wasn't my initial thesis so I sold it for a small gain.
  • Hamilton Beach Brands (HBB):  I was still holding onto a stub position in HBB as a result of its 2017 spinoff from NACCO Industries (NC), ended up selling it as I just didn't have conviction enough in the company meeting its long term revenue goals in the face of increasing pressure from Amazon.  Amazon's advertising model to get into the top of the search results is going to pressure margins going forward.
  • OncoMed Pharma (OMED):  Mereo Biopharma has been a disaster since the reverse merger with OncoMed, it's notably tied up in the Woodford Patient Capital Trust mess and likely has an overhang as a result.  Celgene also decided not to exercise their option on a drug that was 2 of the 3 CVRs in this transaction, chalk this one up as a loss.
  • Voltari Corp (VLTC):  This tiny NOL shell ended up being a home run for those small enough to get into it, the final price was $0.86/share versus the initial $0.58/share offer Icahn made to start things off.
Portfolio as of 6/30/2019:
Disclosure: Table above is my blog/hobby portfolio, I don't manage outside money, it's a taxable account and a only portion of my overall assets.  The use of margin debt, options, concentration doesn't fully represent my risk tolerance.

Speedway Motorsports: Going Private Offer, Bump Coming?

Speedway Motorsports (TRK) is the owner of 8 racetracks around the United States, they primarily host NASCAR events and other smaller motorsports promotion races.  The company is 71% owned by founder Bruton Smith and his family, earlier this year a entity controlled by the Smith family (Sonic Financial) offered to buyout the minority shareholders for $18 per share.  This follows a similar path as TRK's larger peer, International Speedway (ISCA) which has agreed to be taken private by the controlling France family (who also own NASCAR).

Similar to other sports, TV broadcasting rights are a major source of revenue for NASCAR, they entered into a 10 year deal with Fox and NBC that runs through 2024.  NASCAR's structure is a little different than others, the governing body is privately owned and receives approximately 10% of the TV revenue, the racetracks themselves are owned by three publicly trades companies (ISCA, TRK, and smaller DVD) which receive approximately 65% of the TV revenue, with the remaining 25% going to the drivers and their teams.  The France family will be merging NASCAR and International Speedway once the deal closes.

NASCAR has struggled since peaking in the early 2000s, television ratings and attendance have fallen through the floor, with many people point to changing the car to make it safer (but leads to dull racing) or to the general decline in interest in cars.  But it still garners media attention, like all sports programming it is something that needs to be watched live and has a niche loyal following that would complain if it was suddenly dropped from cable television packages.  Interestingly, the most recent television contracts were struck in 2012 and 2013 with a 30% increase from the previous deals despite clear evidence that NASCAR was already in decline.  Maybe the Smith family has an inside track on what the next deal might look like?  If so, now is an opportunistic time to take it private, retool the sport and industry structure outside of public shareholder view, with the 5 years left on the current TV contract providing much of the cash to fund the take-private deal.

I can't find any historical news on it, but Chuck Akre mentions in the podcast Invest Like the Best a history with Bruton Smith (well not by name) indicating that several decades ago when Smith took Charlotte Motor Speedway (predecessor to TRK) private and that he had his hand in public shareholders pockets, Akre vowed never to invest with him again.  But since returning to public markets, it appears TRK has acted reasonably with minority shareholders, the Smith family have maintained their ~70% ownership throughout the current iteration's history.  But there is some history here of minority shareholder abuse.

This situation likely follows that of International Speedway ($42 bid in November, followed by a $45 accepted offer in May) and there's a 5-10% bump from the $18 offer price, the market is certainly anticipating one with the stock trading around $18.50 per share.

Disclosure: I own shares of TRK

Friday, June 21, 2019

Command Center: Reverse Merger with Hire Quest, Tender Offer

Command Center (CCNI) is an illiquid micro-cap staffing company providing temporary semi-skilled and unskilled labor to light-industrial, hospitality, transportation and retail customers.  Through a network of 67 branches in 22 states they deployed over 32,000 employees to 3600 customers last year, a sizable operation given their $25MM market cap.  The company has historically struggled with mediocre management, exposure to oil and gas markets and a lack of scale, all of which led to activist investors pressuring the company to explore strategic alternatives in 2018.

On 4/7/19, the company announced a merger with privately held Hire Quest Holdings, effectively structured as a reverse merger where Hire Quest management will run the combined company and Hire Quest shareholders will own 68% (76% after the tender) of the proforma company's stock.  Temporary staffing is a fragmented industry with several large players and then many "mom and pop" type operators. Hire Quest's business is structured as a franchiser, they provide the back office support and negotiating scale on workers compensation insurance (a significant expense for this industry) to its franchisees under the brand names Trojan Labor and Acrux Staffing.  After the merger with Command Center is complete, the company plans on franchising the 67 Command Center branches to mirror the Hire Quest business model.  Interestingly, Command Center previously operated under the franchise model but bought out their franchisees in 2006.

In tandem with the reverse merger, the combined company will be conducting a tender offer of up to 1,500,000 shares at a price of $6 (versus a price of $5.45 today), in the proforma financials provided in the proxy, it shows the current cash on CCNI's balance sheet of $7.5MM being withheld for the tender offer.  They're a little short of the $9MM necessary for the tender, but given the cash build since the Q1 financials came out, I'm going to assume the company is essentially both cash and debt free.  Additionally, since the company will be franchising the current 67 Command Center locations, they should see some cash inflow from those sales.  The 2006 acquisition of 69 franchised stores which formed Command Center was done for 13.2 million shares which traded at roughly $1 at the time of the announcement (data is a bit hit and miss, this was an even tinier OTC stock at the time so my figures could be off), or we'll call it $180k per location which sounds reasonable as the buyers are going to be the store manager or someone looking to own their own job.  If correct, that's another $12MM in additional cash that could be used for buybacks/tender offer or expansion.

In the press release announcing the reverse merger, management provided the following pro-forma commentary:
"If Hire Quest revenue were determined on a similar revenue for the year ended December 31, 2018 would have been approximately $189 million.  Based on our current projections, after some period of integration and normalization, we believe the combined entities will produce annual EBITDA in excess of $15 million, exclusive of growth opportunities."
Following the tender offer, the company will have 12,968,678 shares on a diluted basis, at today's share price of $5.45 (and the assumption of zero net cash/debt, no value to the franchising), the enterprise value for the proforma company is approximately ~$70.5MM.  Against a post deal (could be messy the first year or so) estimated EBITDA of $15MM, the new Hire Quest is trading for roughly 4.7x EBITDA, well below the large publicly traded staffing companies.
Clearly some of these companies have higher quality businesses than that of a sub-scale CCNI, but with a new owner-operator management team in place, a differentiated franchise business model, post deal closing Hire Quest could have a more attractive story to tell investors narrowing some of that valuation gap.  At 7.0x EBITDA, still a discount to the group, shares would be worth $8.10 per share, or nearly 50% higher than today's trading price.  If we want to get a little crazy and use my $12MM cash number from the sale of franchises, that's just under another $1 per share, call it $9 per share total. Originally the deal was targeted to close in the second quarter, but that time frame has slipped a bit, the company is holding the shareholder vote alongside their annual meeting on 7/10/19 with the merger likely to close sometime shortly after it's approved.

Disclosure: I own shares of CCNI

Craft Brew Alliance: Speculating on ABI Qualified Offer

Craft Brew Alliance (BREW) is a collection of craft beer brands formed with the merger of Redhook Ale and Widmer Brothers in 2008, but it is best known for its fast growing Kona Brewing brand of beer.  Originally a Hawaiian craft beer, Kona is now positioned as a beach inspired mass marketed lifestyle beer.  If you're unfamiliar with Kona, they recently did a big media buy during the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, here a link to one of their commercials espousing the island lifestyle.  CBA is ~31% owned by brewing giant AB InBev ("ABI"), in August 2016 ABI entered into a distribution agreement with CBA that laid out a path for ABI to purchase the remaining ~69% they don't already own.  The agreement has a graduated payout schedule based on the date of an announced acquisition, the first two dates have passed and the last deadline for ABI to make a "qualified offer" for CBA is 8/23/2019, the qualified offer has a minimum of $24.50 per share.

Craft Brew Alliance is an unfortunate name, it's now widely agreed the craft beer segment is over-saturated with thousands of breweries, it's difficult for the mid-sized independent brewers to survive as most craft drinkers have migrated to the ultra-local inside your own zip code breweries.  It's much more fun to show up to a party with a growler of IPA from down the street than a 6 pack from a super-regional brand you can get at any Walgreens.  The original version 1.0 craft brands like CBA's stale Redhook or Widmer brands are in free fall and pioneering brands like Boston Beer (SAM) have pivoted to so called "alcopop" and spiked seltzers.  Similarly, Kona has morphed into a mass-marketed lifestyle brand, their two flagship beers (Blue Wave and Longboard) are relatively easy drinking and light.  A small anecdote reflecting that shift, my old college bar now has "$3 Big Wave Thursdays" as the weekly special, it's no longer "craft brew" if 19 year olds are playing beer pong with it.

AB InBev is viewed as over-leveraged after the acquisition of SABMiller, they also cut the dividend in half last October sending their shares to multi-year lows as they deal with declining beer volumes, but since the dividend cut shares have recovered nicely this year.   Acquiring CBA would be a relatively small check (~$325MM) for ABI to write and would fill a hole in their U.S. portfolio where they don't have the rights to the similarly positioned Corona brand.  Additionally, if ABI passes on making a qualified offer, they would owe CBA a $20MM fee and potentially open themselves up to another brewer making an attempt to purchase CBA, how would ABI feel about a competitor (Constellation Brands?) getting a free ride on their distribution system for the next several years?

But the market clearly doesn't believe it will happen, today shares trade for $13.60, the minimum qualified offer price of $24.50 would represent an 80% premium.  The downside is probably in the $8-9 range if there's no offer, so by triangulating the implied odds the market is telling you there's about a 4-1 or 3-1 chance of the deal being completed.  Let's just assume that's right, an interesting way to speculate on the deal getting done is through August $20 call options which are trading for ~$0.20 per contract.  If the deals consummates, it's likely to be all cash and at the minimum price, so we know the timing and we know the price, assuming a small spread, the calls would move up to ~$4.00 or so on a deal announcement, or a 20-1 payout structure.  I'd love to be able to invest in 30 similar trades to spread out the dispersion, but even on its own its a compelling proposition and I have made it about a 1% cost basis position in the calls.

Disclosure: I own BREW August $20 calls

Monday, June 3, 2019

Spirit MTA REIT: Sells MTA Assets to HPT, Remains Compelling

[Apologies for another SMTA update, I'm still active, but I haven't really bought much new lately.]

Spirit MTA (SMTA) this morning announced the sale of the assets contained within the Master Trust to Hospitality Properties Trust (HPT) for ~$2.4B, after redeeming the Trust's debt and other transaction expenses will net SMTA approximately $450MM (I was hoping for more like $500MM, but this is a reasonable outcome).  HPT shareholders (bagholders?) might be asking why a hotel REIT is buying net leased retail assets, but it is good news for SMTA shareholders as the transaction is for cash that has committed financing from an investment grade borrower and doesn't require an HPT shareholder vote.  HPT is externally managed -- abused -- by RMR Group (RMR), they're interested in increasing AUM and resulting management fees, closing is targeted for the end of Q3.

Updating my NAV for the $450MM sale:
With no value to the remaining NAV pieces that are in question, the value to SMTA shareholders is approximately $7.90, so at today's price of $8.30 (and assuming the deal closes), you can buy the remaining assets for $0.40 with upside of potentially up to ~$2.50-3.00 of value on the workout and other assets.

Old news to those deep in the comment section of my earlier SMTA post this year, but here are additional thoughts on the remaining NAV components/risks:

As part of the spinoff, SRC via SMTA loaned Shopko $35MM via a term loan to receive access to ShopKo's periodic financials.  When Shopko filed for bankruptcy in January, SMTA wrote off the term loan and as a result, it doesn't appear in their NAV table, however, per the liquidation waterfall in the almost wrapped up Shopko bankruptcy, the term loan should be paid in full.
The low end estimate also shows essentially a full recovery, that's approximately $0.75/share, already well ahead on the $0.40 investment in the other assets above the MTA and cash.

The Academy Sports + Outdoors distribution center in Katy, TX is another big component to the other asset category, it is Academy's largest warehouse and home to their headquarters.  Like many other retailers, the company is struggling, it's owned by KKR and has significant debt that trades at a discount.  But if they were to restructure, I'm guessing they'd keep this warehouse as again, it's their headquarters, and it serves their largest/original market in Texas.  Katy, TX is outside of Houston, home to many large warehouses including Amazon.  Industrial real estate is hot right now, just this weekend Blackstone announced another deal (they've done several including GPT and FRPH).  As part of the CMBS financing transaction, the property was appraised at $144MM in 2018, and Academy's distress was very apparent at the time of this appraisal, below is the chart of the Academy term loan going back to issuance.  It trades for 75 today, down from early 2018 levels, but was still in distressed territory back then, it's not a new story.
In my NAV, I'm putting a 8.5% cap rate on the $9.5MM NOI, call it a 20-25% haircut from the appraised value done before the spinoff.

On the workout portfolio, many want to write these off completely, much of these are actively leased, just don't fit the portfolio profile of a publicly traded REIT but still of institutional type asset quality.  From the Q1 recorded conference call:
"Starting with portfolio activity, we continued to actively manage the portfolio during the first quarter, selling three properties for $5.4 million in gross proceeds. We also executed a lease with 7-Eleven on a former non-core vacant asset which we will look to dispose of at a far improved price above its previous start value.
In addition, the leases for two non-core assets formerly leased to Neighbors Health System have recently been assumed by new operators. We plan on contributing those two assets into the Master Trust, which allows us to deploy restrictive release account cash before that cash is swept to repay ABS notes with corresponding make whole penalties. In turn, these contributions will enhance our unrestricted cash position outside of the Master Trust."
The new tenant is Diagnostic Health and according to the servicer report, entered the trust with a collateral value of $8.41MM at a cap rate of 13.6%, assuming the same cap rate across the rest of the workout portfolio plus the book value of the vacant properties nets out a $57MM value.  This number likely has the widest range of outcomes, much of the value is a multi-tenant office building leased to PwC in Columbia, SC, hard to get a read on how much that asset is worth, open to others thoughts.

Another risk people site is the Shopko CMBS lender coming back to SMTA, but it appears the CMBS lender has moved on, as mentioned in the SITE Centers (SITC) Q1 call:
"First, we signed a management agreement with Credit Suisse, providing them advisory and operational services for 83 assets leased to Shopko on which they have recently foreclosed. Importantly, the agreement came with rights of first refusal for 10 assets in the portfolio and allowed us to leverage our existing operating platform to generate nearly 100% margin on any fees we received. Credit Suisse's needs were ultimately short-lived, but we nonetheless earned the $1 million in the process which was a contributor to our strong quarterly results."
Later in the Q&A, they clarified it was a short lived asset management agreement because their client sold the portfolio quickly.

Putting it all together, I think it's pretty reasonable to come up with $10.70 NAV with some range of outcomes around that value primarily dependent on the Academy distribution center and other workout assets being sold for reasonable valuations.  The main risk from here is the timing, HPT didn't buy the SMTA holding company, so there will likely need to be a small holdback amount to address any clean up and other shut down expenses.  Maybe its $10 by the end of Q3 with the remainder sometime down the road after that?  The other concern might be the HPT deal requires a shareholder vote at SMTA, SRC is waiving their promote/incentive fee surprisingly, maybe to get in the good graces of a couple activist shareholders in Indaba and Mangrove, but surprising nonetheless for Jackson Hsieh to leave money on the table.  I find the valuation compelling today and added more, it's my largest position by a decent margin at this point.

Disclosure: I own shares of SMTA and Oct $7.17 Calls