When I was in grade school, I often awaited for the release of a computer or video game. In high school and college I eagerly awaited the release of a new album or an upcoming concert. Now I eagerly await such things as annual reports and the release of FDIC data.
There are several banks out there that I want to check up on, but I suppose I should first do an update on Atlantic Southern (ASFN), one of the struggling banks in my former hometown of Macon, Georgia. One of the first big local banks to fail in that area was Security Bank, so I have used the last several quarters of Security Bank’s existence as a rough benchmark for Atlantic Southern’s likelihood of success of avoiding failure.
Here are my thoughts on the current data for ASFN:
- I don’t take it as a good sign that returns on assets and equity are still negative
- Net interest margin has declined again
- The loss allowance to noncurrent loans ratio is still in decline. This means that ASFN has potentially not set aside enough money to cover losses from their bad loans.
- The non-accrual rate for ASFN’s largest loan portfolio – construction and development which makes up 37.44% of its total portfolio – has increased again by a very significant amount, from 14.42 to 19.85 quarter over quarter.
- Tier one capital ratio has declined again.
- The Texas ratio has increased again from last quarter, rising from 105.71 to 141.41, which means the bank’s credit troubles are increasing. History has shown that banks with a ratio above 100 tend to fail at a higher rate than banks with a ratio less than 100.
Right now I’m pretty undecided about the future of Atlantic Southern. They could struggle through this difficult time and survive intact or they could very well fail, albeit in a slow motion kind of way.
I occasionally find it fun to look for “patterns” in the price movements of stocks and indexes as a way to see what might happen in the future. I put patterns in quotations because I actually tend to think that my efforts are mainly just my brain’s meager attempt to find order in what really is probably meaningless chaos. However, I have read that Jim Simons main hedge fund works on the basis of taking advantage of patterns, so I’m not really sure about the utility of spending my time on this subject…
Anyways, in the chart below you will see two boxes, the first one being the pattern, and the second box containing a rough tracing of where the index will go if this pattern reoccurs (click for larger image).
I think I will continue to regard technical analysis as something I should not entirely disregard. It will be a very minor consideration in investment decisions.
I have been trying to study and look at historical yield spreads to see how helpful they can be in describing risk and predicting market tops. For now I’ve just been downloading the historical data and manipulating it a bit in a spreadsheet, but I will try to see if there are any academic papers out there on the subject. For now, here is one of the charts I’ve created with various yield spreads and the S&P 500 price (click for larger view):
As you can just tell by looking at the chart, when spreads like the 10 year and the 3 month and the 2 year and the 3 month become zero or negative, you should be looking out for a market top as this seems to signal that there is no longer a risk premium (I think that’s the correct way to describe it). There is no fool proof way to predict tops or bottoms, but I think looking at such things as the yield curve should is a very worthwhile thing to do, for when the yield curve flattens out or inverts, that is usually a sure sign that things are getting silly.
Brown & Brown (BRO), the world’s sixth or seventh largest insurance agent/broker, recently missed estimates by a fairly significant margin. The stock is down about 6% for the week and has fallen from its 2009 high of $20 to $16.50. Here are some reasons why I think BRO is a good potential investment:
- It’s at a historically low P/E of 14 (earnings yield of about 7.1%) after ranging from the 20s to lower 30s for the past decade
- Cash flow yield is in the double digits at 11.6%
- Has grown shareholder’s equity at 28.6% annualized
- ROE is quite good — has been in the upper 20s to low 30s
- Operating margins are also good — in the mid-to-upper 30s
- Some other good value investors own the stock like Tom Gayner and Richard Cunniff
Here’s a chart of BRO’s stock price and normalized P/E ratio for the past 15 years:
As you can tell from the chart, it generally was a good time to purchase the stock after a peak in the P/E ratio, after the ratio had compressed by about 50%. It seems we are in a similar situation where the last clear peak was in 2005 and 2006 when the ratio was at 30. With a P/E now at 14, this looks like another good entry point for BRO.
Some interesting things I’ve seen in the recent batch of 13Fs:
- John Paulson initiated a position in Comcast (CMCSA); purchased 44 million shares
- Berkowitz initiated a position in Comcast; purchased 23.5 million shares
- Michael Price purchased some Citigroup (C) for his portfolio (I already pointed out to you that Berkowitz purchased a lot of Citigroup); Paulson nearly doubled his stake in Citigroup; Tepper of Appaloosa increased his Citigroup holding
Smart people are continuing to recognize that Comcast is a good investment. Comcast makes up about 18% of my personal portfolio — I think it is very undervalued. If Comcast could just improve its customer service and work on making its customers happier (thereby retaining more of them and spending less to steal them from others), Comcast will turn out to be an even greater investment. But for now I am content with them churning out cash, repurchasing shares, and paying me a small dividend.
Smart people also seem to be feel Citigroup is now a good investment. I remember reading interviews with Berkowitz in the 90s when he was ebullient about Wells Fargo being a screaming deal so I think Berkowitz knows banks and knows a good bargain when he sees one. Though many value investors are turned off by the very mention of the name, I believe this is exactly when you should be trying your hardest to understand the company. I don’t think Citigroup is the same bank it was even last year. Like Berkowitz said, the government is not going to let them fail and Citigroup is making new and better loans. I also suspect that Citigroup is going to be selling pieces of itself in the future and shareholders will benefit from this. There has to be several good reasons why the only bank Berkowitz owns is Citigroup. Citigroup for crying out loud.
I just finished the reading on income taxes. It was one of the most mind-numbing readings I have had to endure. I am pretty certain most people if forced to read it would liken it to torture. Gahh.
I’ve been listening and reading for the past few months about the possible bubble building up in China. Jim Chanos is one of the more notable persons that has been talking about the enormous overcapacity that is building up in China. He is short companies that are providing the materials to China with which to build. I’ve been trying to determine which companies might be good candidates to short if I were running a short hedge fund. My first instinct was to try to find any company that produces building materials or that mined minerals. Then I read this article on Bloomberg: “Palmer Seeks Biggest Global Mining IPO Since 2007.” If you want to short China, then finding a company like this seems like it would be a good vehicle.
I tend to believe that China is going to experience a downturn like we had in the U.S., but the question is when, and that could be a long time coming.