by Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe | July 20, 2018 8:25 am
Today we’ve got a bonanza of content for my favorite people (yes, that’s you!) — a couple quick teaser solutions to close out the week, which morphs right into one little transaction in my portfolio, and then an update on a few other things that are going on with Real Money Portfolio stocks. Ready?
OK, first — I’ve had several readers write in asking about this “Miracle Mist” stock being touted by Howard Lindzon. Lindzon is a longtime Twitter-er and is a pretty meaningful presence in the fintwit community, being a majordomo at StockTwits as well as an early backer of RobinHood and other venture companies. He’s fun to follow on Twitter, though I don’t know what his success rate is with his newer investment newsletter called Peloton (though I like the cycling connection)… and it’s Peloton that’s being advertised here with his tease about a “Magic Mist” that will become a blockbuster drug.
So what’s the story? Here’s the headline from the ad:
“For 3 out of 4 People, Just Two Sprays from This Bottle Will Cure One of America’s Most Feared Killers
“And One Company is Poised to Secure a 20-Year Patent on EVERY Bottle of This Wonder Spray… Exploding Revenue and Sending Shares Soaring Up to 617%”
Sounds pretty impressive, right? Here’s a little more, just to get you revved up…
“It sounds hard to believe…
“But with just two sprays, the drug inside this bottle can cure one of our nation’s deadliest killers… with the potential to save tens of thousands of American lives each year.
“Naturally, the major news outlets are already raving about this amazing cure….
“… the FDA gave it ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ status – an extremely rare classification that puts a drug on the fast-track for approval….
“… when ‘Miracle Mist’ hits the market, it could easily make every competing drug obsolete… and send shares of the company involved soaring as much as 617%.”
OK, so that’s enough of the hype… do we get any other clues?
Buckets full, actually… there are quotes from Science magazine calling it “the most important discovery in half a century” … talk about this drug meeting up with a $100 billion market by 2020, and lots of quotes from important-sounding folks like Harvard doctors and the Washington Post… and then this:
“The company behind ‘Miracle Mist’ is poised to patent a ground-breaking delivery system for this drug… no injections, no pills to swallow — just two sprays is all you need!
“You can see why the FDA is so anxious to speed ‘Miracle Mist’ through the approval process… breakthroughs like this only happen once in a lifetime.
“Of course, I can’t say exactly when ‘Miracle Mist’ will get the rubber-stamp.
“But with positive Phase III results already out it could literally happen tomorrow.
“And, when approval does come, the company behind ‘Miracle Mist’ will control the lion’s share of what might be the biggest pharmaceutical cash-cow in history…”
So what’s this disease?
“This condition kills an American every 11.7 minutes…
“It’s the 7th leading cause of death for men in the US… claiming more lives than prostate cancer, liver disease… and even Alzheimer’s disease….
“You may be suffering from it yourself right now, and you might not even know it…
“Yet with just a few sprays of ‘Miracle Mist’, the symptoms of this frightening condition often begin to disappear immediately… and can be completely gone in as little as an hour.”
OK, so those clues about the disease all point to depression, which indeed has not seen any good new drug treatments in a long time, and which in many cases is tough to treat even with drugs.
So what’s the stock? This is, you might be a little disappointed to hear, the health care giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ). The “miracle mist” is Esketamine, a depression treatment that uses aerosolized ketamine, the party drug and veterinary anesthetic, to quickly counter depression and suicidal thoughts.
And while that sounds a little crazy at first, it’s a story that’s been around and widely covered for quite a while — the quotes about this being a huge breakthrough and an exciting “first new treatment in 35 years” are real, and they’re from legitimate people. There are some useful background stories if you want to look into this, including this piece from Forbes five years ago and stories on this and other ketamine-based drugs from Business Insider here and from Fierce Biotech here.
This is not “new news” for those who follow the pharmaceuticals business, of course, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is one of the more widely-followed stocks in the world, and their push to use ketamine as a depression drug has been talked up for several years as it worked its way through later clinical trials.
And yes, last year the folks at Informa, a research firm, did indicate that they’d probably be able to command a high price for the drug when it eventually gets approval… though the fuller quote from them in this Tonic article is perhaps more illuminating as we try to keep some room in our minds for uncertainty:
“Daniel Chancellor, the lead analyst at Informa, told Tonic that Johnson & Johnson will likely be able to command a high price for esketamine due to its fast-acting effects, although it will likely only be available to depression patients who’ve been unresponsive to other drugs.
“‘There’s no precedent for drugs like this in depression,’ Chancellor said. ‘So there’s a bit of uncertainty for how J&J will price it. They’re going for a niche, but a relatively large niche, so they’ll likely try to extract as much value out of it as possible.'”
The chart from Informa in that article indicates that they predict Esketamine, the JNJ drug, will be a $2.5 billion drug by 2024, which would certainly be a big deal… though whether that moves the needle in a dramatic way for the massive Johnson & Johnson is questionable. JNJ likely has a half-dozen drugs in development that have potential billion-dollar markets at any given time, and it might well be that Esketamine is one of the higher-potential ones… but it’s not going to make or break the company. JNJ had $80 billion in sales over the last 12 months, and will likely have $29 billion in EBITDA this year, with expectations that revenue will climb by 4-6% a year over the next couple years. It’s a big company, and it takes lots of big things to move the needle (though successful drugs do have a bottom-line impact that’s far greater than the percentage of revenue, since they will have much higher profit margins than most of JNJ’s legacy businesses).
So the possibility exists that JNJ could do far better with Esketamine than expected if it’s as powerful a “miracle mist” as Lindzon argues, with tens of billions of dollars in revenue potential in a few years instead of $1-2 billion, but that doesn’t mean the stock is going to go up by 617% anytime soon. JNJ is a great company, with a very strong pipeline and a strong branded healthcare business and great diversification, and it is huge (market cap of $340 billion) and has a very good balance sheet… and in some ways you can think of it as a one-stock mutual fund to play the healthcare sector.
But to grow by that much, assuming no stock buybacks, it would have to become a $2.5 trillion company. I’d take the “under” on that bet, even though I like JNJ just fine and think it’s a reasonable blue chip to consider, with a forward PE of about 15 and a dividend yield of almost 3%.
And teaser number two? I bring this one up partly because it focuses on a stock I’ve been hearing a lot of questions about recently.
The Wealth Advisory is pitching “The Only Pot Stock I Will Ever Own” … and since that newsletter has been touting various REITs for quite some time, including CoreSite (COR), a stock I’ve owned for years and wrote about a few times when they were pitching it as a way to profit from Netflix and other tech giants, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that they’re again pitching a REIT to play a growth sector, and it’s again a stock I’ve also been buying, Innovative Industrial Properties (IIPR).
So I’ve gone and let the cat out of the bag there, but here’s a bit of the ad to give you a taste:
“5 Reasons This is the Profit Opportunity of the Decade
- It’s the Fastest-Growing Industry on the Planet
- It’s the Biggest Untapped Market in the World
- It Has No Competition
… there is not a single other stock exclusively dealing in cannabis real estate.
This company already provides more than half a million square feet of real estate to cannabis companies around the country, and that is steadily growing.
- It Has First-Mover Advantage
- Real Estate ALWAYS Pays
At this point, we know pot companies will make us money.
But there are so many ways to play it, it’s hard to say which avenue will yield the greatest profits.
But if there is one thing I’ve learned from Briton in the last decade, it’s that real estate ALWAYS pays.
So that’s their basic argument for this “only pot stock I will ever own” — and it’s similar to past newsletters who have touted this stock, calling it the “safest pot stock” and a way for the wimpy to play this scary sector.
Which I won’t argue too much about, though it’s still a small company, still could easily face lots of competition, and is reliant for its high-profit niche on a somewhat uneasy balance between marijuana being semi-legal and fast-growing.
If marijuana were a legal business at the federal level, marijuana growers would be able to borrow cheap from banks just like everyone else, and they wouldn’t have to make deals with folks like IIPR that include above-market rents and high returns… and if other folks come into this business because risk goes down, competition could absolutely eat into those returns as marijuana growers scale up.
I don’t know what value their “first mover” status will have in the future, but they are not doing anything unique or proprietary that other REITs couldn’t eventually mimic, and there are lots of competing companies pursuing similar “alternative financing” models for marijuana companies — including lots of unlisted privately-backed pools of capital — so we shouldn’t assume that IIPR gets to automatically “win” in the end… though they’re doing quite well so far.
Here’s my current thinking on IIPR, for those who are curious…
Innovative Industrial Properties (IIPR) is a REIT that does financing deals and sale/leaseback transactions with medical marijuana growers in states where medical marijuana is legal.
They effectively pay above-market prices for the properties owned or being developed by these companies, building in enough cash in the deal to get those properties expanded or otherwise finance the operation, and in return they get a very high rent. The bargain is essentially based on the fact that marijuana companies have very little access to traditional bank or debt financing, so real estate-based financing is one of the more appealing ways to get expansion capital without issuing shares and diluting shareholders — and since it’s a risky business without a lot of capital suppliers, and with projections for appealing economics for early license-holders in medical marijuana, IIPR can demand a pretty strong return.
Real estate companies use the term “cap rate” to describe the cash return on properties — it’s basically a simplified annual cash flow return, and an industrial property might earn a “cap rate” of 6-7% or so, while a prime office building that people are bidding up to crazy prices might have a cap rate of only 4% or less during hot times, the numbers vary widely. IIPR is making deals with marijuana growers that have 15% cap rates, in addition to other fees, and that’s extraordinary.
These are also triple-net leases, which means the tenants are responsible for taxes, insurance and maintenance, so if IIPR buys a grow facility for $10 million, they get $1.5 million back in rent per year (keeping in mind that if it weren’t a marijuana grow facility, that property might only be worth $5 million… which is just a wild estimate on my part , one I use to keep some perspective).
That means after six or seven years, IIPR has had all of its capital returned and still owns the building, without a mortgage or any other carrying costs to speak of beyond normal depreciation, and these leases tend to go for 15-20 years, with annual rent increases. Most REITs load up with debt to make their returns better, either mortgages or unsecured debt, but IIPR hasn’t had access to the debt markets at good prices yet so these are also almost entirely unlevered returns — if they are able to access the debt markets in a few years as laws or regulations adjust, the returns could look even better for shareholders.
So that’s why I own the stock — lots of potential upside as they have the ability, within a couple years, to pretty dramatically increase the size of the dividend (it’s $1 a year right now, so almost exactly a 3% yield), in what I’m hoping could be a repeat of the success that CoreSite had in the very different data center business (CoreSite also started out with very low leverage, and had high and rising returns as their centers were built out, which enabled massive dividend increases that were partly fueled, particularly in recent years, by adding debt to the balance sheet). Small growth REITs in niche sectors can really explode if they catch a wave.
It’s also why I bought the preferred shares a while back, since those are effectively the senior debt (there is no other borrowing), which means they get first call on the assets — and since IIPR has a lot of cash and properties, arguably worth more than 5-10X the value of the preferred shares even if things turn ugly, they are pretty much as guaranteed as you can get outside of the debt markets.
There is a real calculus to deciding how much the preferreds should be worth, though, because the company can call those preferreds back in October, 2022 for $25 per share. So at $28.75, the preferreds actually have an annual yield of less than 5% to the call date. That’s perhaps not terrible for a really secure preferred yield, but it’s also not good enough for me anymore now that I’ve gotten a couple of the preferred dividends and the preferred share price has bumped up to this level… so this week I sold my preferreds and bought a bit more of the common stock, which means that IIPR is growing to become a meaningful player in my portfolio, with about a 1.5% allocation now.
If you value safety over long-term gains, as is perfectly reasonable if your situation is different than mine, your calculus might well be different — the effective cash yield on those preferreds is 8% now, if you ignore the fact that they can get bought back at $25 in four years, and that’s not without its appeal… and a 5% “guaranteed” return is also nothing to sneeze at. Just don’t expect the preferreds to rise much above this level, there shouldn’t be any assumption that the total return from this point will be much more than $6 per preferred share between now and the call date (~$9 in dividends between now and then, then shares should be redeemed at $25 if the company has the capital to do that at the time, so you effectively give back $3-4).
If the preferreds drop in price, especially if they trade below $25 at some point because of some kind of panic, it would be worth taking a much closer look again — having preferred shares of a company that has real assets and no debt is generally very comforting. The upside is limited and impacted by interest rates, as with pretty much all preferreds, but the downside of the preferreds should be limited to 10% or so… while the downside on the common is more likely to be at least 50% in the worst case scenario (where marijuana is fully recriminalized, their tenants go bankrupt, and they have to find other tenants for their properties — those properties are not worth nearly as much as IIPR paid if they’re used for non-marijuana businesses).
So yes, I have trouble with the economics of most of the marijuana companies… but as long as IIPR can keep threading that needle between “illegal” and “mainstream” by doing sale-leaseback deals with the safer end of the business (medical marijuana growers), they could book a lot of profit. Hopefully the uncertainty about marijuana continues at the federal level for long enough to give IIPR the chance to build a much larger portfolio of high-profit properties, because absent that regulatory uncertainty their little niche will probably become a lot more competitive and cut into their returns… but I like what I see so far.
Altius Minerals (ALS.TO, ATUSF) reported royalty revenues this week — base metals up, potash up big, coal and iron ore down, total up 9.6% year over year. That translates to royalty revenue of 38 cents per share for the quarter, which was slightly higher than the year ago number (37 cents), and if we just annualize it (which isn’t likely to match reality given the lumpy and seasonal nature of some of these businesses, but it gives us some perspective), then that’s $1.52 per share in attributable royalty revenue. That would give us a valuation of 8.5X sales if Altius was just a royalty company and we ignore the other businesses (primarily prospect generation).
That doesn’t quite make them the cheapest royalty stock on a price/sales basis — Osisko Gold Royalties (OR) is cheaper right now at 5X sales, though there are reasons for that Osisko cheapness — but it’s pretty close. Sandstorm trades at 12X sales, Royal Gold at 13X, Franco-Nevada at 20X. Nothing shocking here, just a reminder that I think this one remains very nicely valued for the contrarian commodities investor… though it has certainly required more than its share of patience over the years.
iQiyi (IQ) reported “shared revenue for online movies shown on its platform” this week, and the growth was phenomenal — 260% higher this June than it was a year ago, driven by more Chinese hits. I don’t know that this actually means anything, since the market was already expecting wildly high growth numbers, but it’s good to see the top line growing very fast and the continuing rapid growth of the online video market in China… they need that to support their very high valuation. This is a small position that gets a lot of latitude from me, I let it blow through a stop-loss trigger a couple weeks ago and continue to hold, with huge moves up and down pretty much every day. The IPO lockup period expires in a month or so, which might bring more volatility, we’ll see.
Equinox Gold (EQX.V, EQXGF) sold off its Koricancha Mill, which was a lingering part of the spiderweb of little companies that went into creating Equinox — it was occasionally hinted at as something remarkable by Marin Katusa and others who pitched the various stocks that became Equinox (Trek, Lowell Copper, etc.), but it was never worth much… and that’s reflected in the fact that they’re selling it for basically $6 million in promissory notes over a few years plus $6 million worth of the shares of the company they’re selling to (Inca One, which is a company that’s already in this business of small-scale mineral processing in Peru). Seems like a reasonable deal, I suppose, and there’s no point in Equinox keeping that mill, but it doesn’t really move the needle for anybody.
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) had its biggest one-day pop in a while on Wednesday, when the Board for the first time authorized Warren Buffett to buy back shares at more than 1.2X book value — essentially, they changed the yardstick… instead of saying that they can buy back shares below a certain premium to book value, they said that Warren and Charlie Munger can buy back shares whenever the stock trades below their conservative assessment of “intrinsic value.”
“Intrinsic Value” has been Buffett’s personal yardstick for decades now, but it’s not very easy to tie down and is not (publicly, at least) a specific number. So really, all this means is that Buffett can buy back shares whenever he thinks they’re cheap… assuming that he doesn’t have any better ideas of how to use the money, and assuming that he has the mandated “safety valve” of $20 billion or so in cash. Berkshire now has more like $100 billion in cash, and Buffett has repeatedly said in the past few years that he’s short on ideas for how to invest it (though he has also made big investments, including buying 5% of Apple), so the news brought with it lots of chatter about how “maybe the next big investment Buffett will buy is Berkshire!”
That’s probably an overreaction, but the market has been living with this “1.2X book is the floor” opinion about Berkshire for years now, so it’s understandable that the stock pops a bit when it starts to look like that floor could be rising — but the business itself has not changed, of course, and Buffett isn’t likely to suddenly buy back a LOT of stock all of a sudden, so I won’t hold out hope for a huge surge in the share price here… but I would say that paying a little bit higher price is easier now, I’ve been happy to buy at 1.3-1.4X book value in the past because I was confident that it wouldn’t drop much below 1.2X book, and the stock is still right around 1.4X book as we wait for the next quarter’s numbers (will probably come out in about two weeks), so it’s still pretty easy to buy here. Before I would have said buying in the $180s or low $190s is easy, now you could probably talk me into paying $200.
Berkshire is already my largest holding, by a long shot, so I’m not in a rush to add… but you never know. Part of the reason to hold Berkshire is that you expect Buffett to come up with some great investment ideas the next time the market turns ugly or scary, and that’s still true, but now one of those ideas might just be “shrinking Berkshire’s share count.”
Qualcomm (QCOM) seems on the verge of giving up on its NXP Semiconductor (NXPI) acquisition — they have now said that the latest extension of their tender offer, to July 25, will likely be the last, and that the deal may well have been completely destroyed by the trade war between the US and China, mostly because Chinese approval is needed for the deal to proceed and Beijing is sitting on that approval as one of their weapons in the war of words (and tariffs) with Washington.
That scuttles most of my rationale for buying Qualcomm last year, because my reasoning was that NXPI would make them dramatically more profitable on a per-share basis — mostly because they were using cash and debt for the acquisition, and Qualcomm hasn’t gotten any credit from investors for its huge cash hoard in recent years, so it’s just bonus earnings.
That story was already in some doubt because of the royalty and patent dispute with Apple, which has escalated seemingly every month over the past year or two and now encompasses multiple billion+ dollar lawsuits, and is even putting into some question the pace of 5G and next-generation wireless development (Qualcomm still has a wireless modem lead over Intel and others, apparently, but Apple has been willing to hamstring advanced technologies in order to protect their margins in the past… which could even open the door for Samsung phones to take more share if the performance differences grow more dramatic over the next year or so).
So what do we do? Well, the shares are not suffering because Qualcomm management followed up their “NXPI probably won’t go through” announcement with a statement that they plan to buy back $20-30 billion of stock if they don’t proceed with the acquisition… and huge buybacks tend to be very supportive of stock prices (Qualcomm is “only” a $85-90 billion company, so that’s a very meaningful buyback). I’m still holding my small position and my speculative options, but I find the company less fundamentally attractive if they aren’t able to acquire NXPI — the reason to buy Qualcomm flips back to “they’ll lead in 5G development,” and they might, but they are also under very heavy regulatory and legal pressure that, unlike the Android fines Alphabet (GOOG) is facing from the European Union this week, could cause meaningful changes in the business.
And in other M&A news, it looks like Disney’s (DIS) acquisition of the Twenty-First Century Fox (FOX) entertainment assets and brands will proceed — Comcast (CMCSA) has given up and refocused on trying to buy Sky. I expect this to be good for Disney in the long run, since their strategy of owning and developing the best content and the best characters will be strengthened, but I wish Comcast hadn’t gotten involved and forced them to overbid a bit. Oh, well.
Disney’s “story” in the market has gradually shifted, now that the feared cord-cutting has accelerated and they’ve confirmed that they’ll be focusing more on selling their own content through ESPN and Disney direct-to-consumer offerings — so the traction those offerings get will make a big difference in the long run, but for now I think it’s still reasonable to bet on Disney continuing to have the strongest portfolio of live video (sports, mostly) and the best portfolio of what I guess we’d call “intellectual property” in entertainment, driving their video offerings as well as their theme parks and other assets.
What’s Disney going to end up owning? Well, mostly it’s more of the same — they get more complete control of the Marvel Universe (some of those film characters, like Deadpool and the X-Men, had been licensed to Fox before Disney bought Marvel), they get back distribution rights for the first Star Wars movie (which isn’t that big a deal, but does complete their Lucasfilm package), they get some other fairly strong franchises like the Blue Sky animation films (Ice Age, Rio, etc.), Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Die Hard, and other past film hits, and they’ll own The Simpsons and the rest of the very non-Disney Fox Animation series as well. It’s a lot of content from decades of 20th Century Fox and 21st Century Fox, so if owning content and streaming rights is critical in the future, and “reboots” of past hits continue to drive people to the theaters, Disney could have plenty more gems — though it’s hard to guess at what that back catalog will be worth, what with new content washing over the video world like a tsunami thanks to free-spending developers like Amazon (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX) in recent years.
So whether or not all of this works depends on whether ESPN maintains a strong position in live sports without overspending, and succeeds in its ESPN Plus direct offerings (they’re not buying Fox Sports, so there are still competitors out there)… and on whether Disney’s new streaming service, whether it’s a stand-alone service or a beefed up Hulu (which they’ll also control after this acquisition, with a 60% stake), can build a large subscriber base — preferably without losing as much money as Netflix. Worth a bet on Disney, I think, and I’ll continue to hold, but I haven’t added to that position in a long time and I’m not in a rush to make it a bigger holding right now.
And finally, last night Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) kicked off earnings season for my portfolio with a solid “beat and raise” quarter that, at least at first glance (I haven’t seen the actual filing yet or reviewed the conference call, just the press release), seems to indicate that they’re doing well in diversifying away from being “just an iPhone supplier” (at least in the eyes of Wall Street) and starting to see some traction in their Internet of Things and 5G offerings.
They boosted the dividend by 19%, so the stock now yields close to 1.5% (depending on where the shares open after the earnings report), and they’re guiding to good growth in this next quarter as well. Skyworks has been a bit of a disappointment over the past year or so, mostly as it has been whipsawed by all the chatter about how many iPhones Apple is going to sell, but this looks like a good growth quarter and I still like their long-term prospects — the fact that they beat both their guidance and the slightly higher street estimates, and raised their guidance for next quarter by a few percent above where analyst estimates were, is a good sign… no guarantee that they’ll make those numbers, since much of their business depends on sales volumes that they don’t control, but earnings growth is close to 10% and they’re trading at only 13X next year’s forecasted earnings, with a good chance of meaningful growth as wireless demand increases, which makes the stock pretty easy to own as we wait.
I continue to think that SWKS will work out well for patient investors if bought at these levels (near $100), and I may add to my position if we see the stock sell off a bit following the good earnings news, but that’s also fairly easy for me to say — I’ve been holding onto the stock for more than a year already, with a cost basis around $102, so my position has been “dead money” and there’s not much indication that I’ve got the timing right on this company. I can wait, but I can also be wrong.
That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear Irregulars — questions? Comments? Let ’em fly using the happy little comment box below, and have a great weekend!
P.S. I want to again say a big “Thank You!” to the many readers who have sponsored my fundraising ride against cancer, and especially those of you who’ve stuck with me for multiple years (this is my fourth ride) — I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity, and we’ve already come close to matching last year’s record, which feels great (even if my bum feels a bit sore from the training rides). If you haven’t yet sponsored me and would like to, the ride is in two weeks and you’ve got plenty of time to jump aboard — just click here for my PMC fundraising page. Thanks again!
Disclosure: I own shares of Apple, Amazon, Disney, Alphabet, Altius Minerals, Berkshire Hathaway, Equinox Gold, Franco-Nevada, Innovative Industrial Properties, iQiyi, Qualcomm, Skyworks Solutions and CoreSite in my Real Money Portfolio. I don’t own any of the other stocks noted above, and won’t trade in any covered stocks for at least three days, per Stock Gumshoe’s trading rules.
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