Wednesday, February 20, 2008

2007 Look-through earnings

As usual, I have to wait for Warren Buffett to release Berkshire's earnings before I can tabulate mine:

EPS              2008* 2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
Oracle           0.15  0.27  0.13  0.21  0.30  0.44  0.34
Canon            0.37  0.31  0.28  0.49  0.34  0.08 
Select Comfort   0.18  0.19  0.19  0.27   
Berkshire        0.22  0.30  0.25    
Alberto-Culver   0.02  0.02  0.08    
Sally Beauty     0.05  0.04  0.00    
First Marblehead 0.41  0.14     
Look-through     1.00  1.13  0.93  0.97  0.64  0.52  0.34

* 2008 numbers are consensus analyst estimates.

I keep track of my IRA like an open-ended mutual fund and this is the look-through earnings per "share" of my IRA "fund". As I buy and sell stocks, my portion of their earnings fluctuates and when I add cash, it alters the percentage of portfolio's total value comes from look-through earnings. So when I sold Oracle shares over the year, I reduced the earnings I give myself credit for and when I bought Select Comfort, I increased my share of earnings.

Thanks in very large part to Oracle, my look-through results actually improved. When you add in call option premiums and capital gains on selling shares, my results are even better. But my relative share of the company has been reduced and I won't get anywhere near those returns in 2008.

My two troubled positions look ok in this table, but that is mostly an illusion because I've increased my holdings to a large degree. In his just released letter, Mr. Buffett lays out four criteria he looks for in buying a business: "a) a business we understand; b) favorable long-term economics; c) able and trustworthy management; and d) a sensible price tag." The CEOs First Marblehead and Select Comfort have earned my respect anew by taking voluntary pay cuts for poor results that are largely out of their control. Also, the stock market has cut share price of these companies from cheap to practically free, in my opinion. The reason in both cases is largely a result of worsening economic conditions. In both cases, there are internal changes that need to be made if the companies are going to thrive, but they continue to have advantages compared to competitors that are not likely to disappear. If I weren't already up to my ears in these companies, I'd be buying at these prices.

Canon and Berkshire continue to earn about what is to be expected. They are both too large to grow quickly, but have very wide and clear moats that ought to preserve the businesses for decades to come. Unlike Oracle, the market has not come close to recognizing these company's intrinsic values, so I have not been tempted to sell.

Sally Beauty earned very little this year because it has needed to pay so much in interest expenses since splitting with Alberto-Culver. This year and next ought to be pivotal for the company, so it's very encouraging that directors have bought $3 million of shares to the $1 million worth they purchased with their own money last year. When the restrictions on selling agreed to by the principals of the spin-off transaction expire at the end of the year, I expect management will begin to trumpet business growth instead of underplaying it. I've noticed there are plenty of mom-and-pop beauty supply shops here in Southern California, and I expect there will be plenty of opportunities to consolidate the industry while paying down the debt.

Interestingly, 2007 looks similar to what analysts predicted last year, but that result is misleading because I'm more invested in these stocks than I was at that time. Looking at operating earnings, which includes various cash returns and costs, shows a fuller picture of my results:

Interest    0.01    0.03    0.16    0.01    0.03    0.02    0.00
Dividends   0.00    0.08    0.06    0.08    0.03  
Costs      (0.01)  (0.14)  (0.19)  (0.04)  (0.06)  (0.22)  (0.12)
Arbitrage   0.00    0.50    0.41    
Options     0.07    0.14     
Operating   1.07    1.79    1.37    1.01    0.65    0.32    0.23
Gain      -38.18%  25.76%  35.66%  56.70% 100.59%  41.50% 

I'm fairly pleased with these results, but I can't expect them to continue into the future. In particular, I likely will not have any arbitrage earnings this year, since I've invested most of my cash into businesses that I feel are too cheap to pass up and which might not pan out for a few years. Finally, here are my net results juiced by large realized gains that will not be repeated this year:

Realized Gain           2.88                            1.79 
Special dividend                2.99    
Net              1.07   4.60    4.37    1.01    0.65    2.11  0.23
Gain           -76.79%  5.41% 331.08%  56.70% -69.39% 827.21% 

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