First off, I want to thank my subscribers for another great year and wish you all a happy holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or none of the above, the end of the year is a time to embrace family and friends and remember what’s really important in life. Making solid returns on your portfolio matters, and how to do that is what Revolution Investing is all about—but don’t lose perspective. Make sure to call an old friend and hug your mother/father/lover/sister/
brother/aunt/uncle/etc. this week. I know I will.
Now, back to business. There are certain companies in the portfolio that are so high profile we could write about them every day. But we don’t trade any of our names every day, and some of our companies simply don’t get as much talking head time as others. I want to take this week to give you an update on a few names that we haven’t talked too much about in recent weeks.
Our PSO short is flat in the six months since we initiated the trade, but a number of recent headlines reaffirm my thesis that the media behemoth is floundering. Pearson is undergoing major leadership changes—CEO Marjorie Scardino will leave next week and Rona Fairhead, ceo of The Financial Times, goes at the end of April—and there has been widespread speculation that under new leadership The Financial Times may soon be on the block. Earlier this month the New York Times reported that Michael Bloomberg is considering a bid for the FT, but he reportedly is on the fence, asking one associate, “Why would I buy it?”
Why, indeed? Print media has been floundering for a decade, and while FT’s online edition has met with relative success, the bottom line is that print still accounts for a substantial portion of its income. That income will continue to be squeezed by digital marketing strategies a la Facebook and mobile advertising. In its most recent earnings report, Pearson said it expected profit to decline because of a sluggish advertising market and “the shift from print to digital.” Same story at Penguin books, where print still represents the vast majority of revenue.
Meanwhile, in the education market, Pearson’s K-12 technology group head Luyen Chou said at a conference in November that his company needs to become an “Electronic Arts for education.” In other words, content is going digital—remember all those iPads that schools and universities are buying?—and in order to remain competitive, Pearson needs to make the shift from paper to digital. But where other education publishers have folded rather than make the leap—McGraw Hill announced just last month that it sold its education division to private equity firm Apollo Group—Pearson has made $1.6 billion in education related acquisitions this year.
It’s an ‘all-in’ strategy but with education spending down in the broken first world economies, the company will have to count on both emerging markets and a major platform shift over a few short years in order to survive. That’s a big gamble in my opinion and the company’s 13x forward P/E ratio leaves little room for error. We’re patiently holding our PSO short.
JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley – Short
We initiated short positions in these two financial names back in July as hedges to a portfolio that is largely aggressively long. We may have been early on those initial tranche buys, particularly after both companies beat third quarter earnings expectations, but we’ve added to the JPM short more recently and both stocks appear to be stuck in a pretty narrow channel for now.
Longer term, JPM is still weathering the aftermath of its $6 billion trading loss earlier this year and now the Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is demanding that the company take formal remedial actions to fix its risk control systems. Eight other regulatory bodies/agencies are conducting investigations into the trades and the internal control systems of the bank.
The Jamie Dimon halo is gone and the company could face fines as the regulatory bodies work their way through the chain of events that led to the big losses. Meanwhile, charge-offs on mortgage loans have continued to swell: in the third quarter incremental net charge-offs were $825 million and net charge-offs totaled $1.4 billion. Home equity net charge-offs were $1.1 billion, up from $581 million a year earlier.
Finally, just last week the National Credit Union Administration sued J.P. Morgan securities for misrepresenting mortgage backed securities worth more than $3.6 billion. The securities were sold to four federal credit unions that later became insolvent. The suit claims that JPM didn’t adequately disclose the risk involved; the company was also accused of ignoring underwriting guidelines in the offering documents. This is the second time JPM has been sued by NCUA and the agency is seeking to recover $840 million in losses in this suit.
Combine the litigation risks with the squeeze to its consumer business in the form of falling overdraft fees and a retail business that is essentially maxed out, and I continue to believe JPM will be substantially cheaper a year from now.
As for Morgan Stanley, something is going on there. I’m hearing more and more anecdotes about long-term clients in investment banking and trading counterparties fleeing. Plus the showdown with Citigroup over the valuation of Smith Barney is scaring wealth management clients. My analyst in the CDS market informs me that there are ever more sovereign wealth funds hedging their exposure to Morgan Stanley. The earnings call was terrible, their revenue from trading is going away and they risked more of their capital and made less on it than any other big bank.
Both JPM and MS are valued too highly given the overhangs, and should the market take a fiscal-cliff related dive, these financial names could be hardest hit. Either way, longer term I see them going down.