Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 in review

2006 was a great year for my IRA portfolio (up 28.50%). Not only did I outperform both the S&P 500 (13.62%) and Berkshire Hathaway (24.11%), I also posted my best calendar year performance. After 4 1/2 years of out-performance, I feel confident that my results so far are not a fluke.

Date      S&P 500  Delta     IRA   Delta BRK A  S&P 500   NAV    BRK A
06/23/02                                         992.72 10.00  72,200.00
12/31/02   -11.37% 42.32%  30.95% 30.18%  0.76%  879.82 13.09  72,750.00
12/31/03    26.38% -1.49%  24.89%  9.08% 15.81% 1111.92 16.35  84,250.00
12/31/04     8.99% -2.16%   6.84%  2.49%  4.34% 1211.92 17.47  87,910.00
12/31/05     3.00%  3.23%   6.23%  5.42%  0.81% 1248.29 18.56  88,620.00
12/31/06    13.62% 14.88%  28.50%  4.39% 24.11% 1418.30 23.85 109,990.00
Total Gain  42.87% 95.63% 138.50% 86.16% 52.34%    
Annualized   8.20% 12.97%  21.17% 11.43%  9.75%    

A significant factor in my success this year was that my patience with Oracle finally paid off. I bought at a ridiculously low price and Oracle proceeded to perform quite well and account for nearly all of my IRA's gain for the second half of 2002 and all of 2003. 2004 and 2005 represented a fair amount of uncertainty for Wall Street, which refused to believe that "tech mergers" worked. This year, the various acquisitions started contributing to the bottom line and Oracle's shares followed (up 40%). The interesting thing is that Wall Street still undervalues Oracle. Too many analysts focus on new database licenses to the exclusion of higher margin renewals. Also, I think the Oracle database is under-appreciated as a platform for other businesses to develop new products on. It's nice that Oracle the company is standing in the wings to buy startups that succeed.

Canon, at 23% of my portfolio, is tied for my largest holding in large part due to its exceptional performance during 2006 (up 44%). Once again digital cameras and printer-related consumables continue to be the mainstays of Canon's business. The digital camera revolution is nearly over in my opinion—most people have a digital that meets their needs. Canon is going to have to have a new product boom in the next year or so to keep up their revenue growth. Perhaps YouTube will do for digital camcorders what Flickr did for still cameras. I think Canon's management is counting on its new flat-screen TV product to drive revenue growth.

Select Comfort endured a rocky ride this year and ended down 4.6%. Operationally, nothing much changed in my opinion. They are still the same company with the same management operating in the same business as when I first bought shares nearly two years ago. It's entirely possible that macro factors such as the slowing housing market and credit tightening will make 2007 a disappointment, but over the next ten years Select Comfort ought to do very well. After buying more shares, it is now tied for my largest holding.

Berkshire Hathaway is up 23.5% since I bought it. 2006 was a spectacular year to be a reinsurer since claims were low and premiums high. (The catastrophes of 2005 are largely to blame so its possible premiums will head down in 2007.) Auto insurance continues to be a good business since cars continue to be built safer. Berkshire's other lines of business seemed to perform well during the year. From now on, a portion of my portfolio will match Berkshire's results, which is something to keep in mind when I compare my results to it.

The year end spin-off math for Alberto-Culver is Alberto-Culver ($21.47) + Sally Beauty ($7.86) + the special dividend ($25) = $54.33. Given that I bought at a dollar-weighted average of $49.34 a share, I've made nearly $5 a share or 10% on the spin-off. Alberto-Culver and Sally Beauty together make up 15% of my portfolio, which is fairly significant. But I haven't yet decided if they will become core positions. Both companies have now released initial 10-K reports, which I hope to have a chance to read in-depth soon. But I think I'll have a better idea of how the new companies operate after a quarter or two. Also, I'd like to know what Alberto's dividend will be.

The rest of my portfolio is a smattering of going-private transactions and cash. I'm also short January 2007 options on Oracle at $20, which should expire without value. In some ways, this "short-term" portion of my portfolio is the least important. By their nature, going-private transactions are very profitable, but also very small. Last year I completed 3 and initiated 2. But if they were to make a significant impact on my portfolio, I would have had to have completed something like 10. This year, I'll need to complete even more, since my total portfolio has grown considerably. On the other hand, since they require little in the way of effort, risk or capital, I see no reason not to continue attempting to make a little profit there.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Why I bought more Select Comfort on disappointing news

Yesterday, Select Comfort reported that it was seeing a massive slow-down in sales and lowered its 2006 estimate to 80 to 87¢ a share. Since the previous guidance was 95 to 97¢, this was a huge disappointment. Last year, Select Comfort earned 76¢ a share (after adjusting for a 3/2 split), so the growth this year is between 5 and 14%. Worse Q4 earnings look to be 21 to 46% lower than 2005.

What happened?

According to the press release:

“This quarter’s sales have been disappointing, as we’ve noted a closer correlation in our business with housing industry trends. Our sales programs and promotional offers have been consistent with prior years, and we are protecting product margins,” said Bill McLaughlin, Select Comfort chairman and chief executive officer.
For a high-end furniture company, this is actually a decent excuse (though not encouraging). People moving into a new house tend to want new furniture to go with it and have access to cash from home equity lines of credit. Also, if the soft housing market foretells a recession (and it seems to be doing just that), customers might be holding off on large purchases for the moment.

But I think the specific problem for Select Comfort is the new ad campaign, which started this year. Two of the new commercials are available on the company website ("Five Senses" and "Revere"). If you aren't paying attention, you might be forgiven if you think these are drug ads (probably for sleep aids, but maybe anti-depressants or ED treatments). The bed just isn't a big part of the commercial. Sure, the message is clear if you pay attention, but you've got to figure that the people who aren't fixing themselves a snack are TiVoing through the commercials. In contrast, the previous commercials were funny and focused on the mattress itself.

The good news it that Select Comfort has already addressed the problem by hiring a new ad agency. Poking around their website, I think Select Comfort made a pretty good choice with the one reservation that McKinney also has Southern Comfort as a client. Overall, they seem to produce polished, memorable commercials often using humor. Their Sony commercials are especially informative, because like TVs, men and women need to agree on buying the same bed.

Based on the low earning range ($42,160,000) and low growth range (20% a year), a DCF shows Select Comfort to be worth over $40 a share. $18 a share implies a growth rate of about 8%. A more conservative estimate works out to a fair value of $21. I'm concerned about a recession in the next year that could further hurt earnings, but I think the problems are likely to be temporary. In the meantime, Select Comfort will be able to buyback shares at a reasonable price, improve its advertising and find operating efficiencies.