Great advice, but with bonds plunging on higher rates and stocks bouncing higher as the rest of the market becomes greedy, what is an investor to do? Being fearful means bond losses, but being greedy means leaving yourself open to the next market sell-off.
Maybe what the Oracle of Omaha should have said was, "Be fearful in sectors where others are greedy and greedy where others are fearful."
Of all the sectors to feel the weight of the Great Recession, shipping may have been the hardest hit. Global trade plummeted 23% in 2009 for a loss of $3.8 trillion in import value, the biggest one-year drop on record.
Trade bounced briefly but fell again last year as weak global growth held back exports. Unlike the rest of the market, which has fought through concerns of sluggish global growth to post returns of 15% since the beginning of the year, global shipping has been falling like a rock since February and is down double digits.
Global merchandise exports have grown by an annualized rate of 7.7% since 1990, according to the World Trade Organization, with the average increasing to 10% over the past decade.
In fact, trade growth has been negative in only four years out of the past three decades. If others are fearful for stocks of shipping companies, I'm going to be greedy.
Real GDP in the 17 economies of the eurozone grew by a 1.2% annualized rate in the second quarter after six consecutive quarterly declines. Even better for shipping companies is that real exports of goods and services exploded higher at a 6.8% annualized rate.
A jump in August export orders helped push China's purchasing managers' index to its highest level since May. Exports increased 7.7% over the previous year, well ahead of the 3.8% growth reported in July.
A rebound in global trade should lead to some decent gains for investors in the general sector, but I wouldn't spend all my time analyzing stocks for decent gains. I only invest a small percentage of my personal portfolio in stocks with strong upside. I want to see returns of 20% or more a year.
There is one particular shipping company of which investors are being especially fearful, to the point of hating it. I'm talking about Textainer Group Holdings (NYSE: TGH), a container leasing company with 2.6 million 20-foot equivalent containers, the largest fleet among its peers.
Textainer is one of the most heavily shorted in the sector, with traders betting on further weakness ahead and institutional investors neglecting the shares. This widespread pessimism is not completely without merit. Management made some missteps last year and didn't manage the company's cost structure well. While revenue grew by 15%, cost of goods jumped by 29% and operating expenses surged by 37%, which sent profitability margins down hard.
But the company is also being beaten down for doing the right thing. Management has taken advantage of weak global trade and lower asset prices to double its annual investments in property and equipment. This should translate to a huge boost to cash flow and income when exports turnaround. Cash flow could also see support when the company scales back capital expenditures from the current buying binge.
The company almost doubled its long-term debt outstanding last year to $2.2 billion. While an abrupt increase in debt always raises a few eyebrows, the move was a smart decision considering a return on equity above 23% and interest rates around 5% on debt.
The company derives more than half (56%) of its revenue from Asia and one-third (32%) from Europe. More than 75% of the company's containers are on long-term leases, making future cash flow fairly easy
The company has increased the quarterly dividend 135% over the past six years and pays a generous 5.4% yield. In fact, investors buying the shares on the IPO in 2007 would now be receiving an 11% cash return on their original investment and a total return of 187%.
As you can see from the summary data, my model doesn't depend on the company making any huge leaps in terms of efficiency or sales. Sales should grow by better than 9% a year on marginal improvement in global trade, and the margins I've used are close to long-term company averages. Higher depreciation expense from the jump in asset purchases should be offset by higher revenues from leasing these assets. Interest expense will increase dramatically but will also save the company millions in taxes.
My model estimates $3.59 per share for this year, 6% higher than the average consensus, and for earnings to jump higher next year to $4.08 per share. If this happens, the shares could easily test the recent highs for a total return of almost 32% over the next year and a half.
Icing On The Cake
Beyond the 32% upside target, there is a good chance this stock could quickly go much higher. Because of management's missteps, the company is one of the most hated in the space. Investors have borrowed and sold short 2.3 million shares, amounting to almost 11% of the shares available for trading. That compares with short interest of just 3.9% in closest peer CAI International (NYSE: CAP).
Shorted interest, which must eventually be bought to cover the position, could be unwound gradually as the global trade environment improves, pushing the shares up slowly. On the other hand, this level of borrowed shares has a good chance of becoming a short squeeze where all the shorts cover their positions quickly, sending the price surging.
To see how the situation could quickly turn into a short squeeze, consider the ownership in the shares. Almost half of the shares (48% ) are owned by Halco Holdings, which will probably not sell. Another 33% are owned by institutional investors who know the stock's potential and will wait for big upside. Another 18% of the shares outstanding are owned by mutual funds that do not trade often.
This ownership amounts to 99% of the shares outstanding, leaving the 2.35 million short positions in trouble if they have to buy back the borrowed shares in a hurry. The shareholders will be able to demand a very nice return.
Risks to Consider: Global trade has yet to fully recover and could see meager growth this year. Investors may need to wait for demand in container shipping to turn around but will receive a strong dividend in the meantime.
Action to Take --> Shares are worth $42.84 based on 2014 estimated income and could go higher on a change in ownership and sentiment. This could be a potentially great buy at current levels with profits taken if shares approach my target price of $42.83 per share.