On a day when the faces walking by my house on their way to work at Fannie Mae headquarters are looking a little bit glum and uncertain, let’s stroll over to an entirely different section of the investing neighborhood.
This is the subject line that has been filling up my inbox of late:
“Controversial ‘Relief Fund’ Makes BIG MONEY Payouts to Charitable Americans!”
This is another ad for a newsletter we’ve looked at quite a few times before, but things have changed a little bit. BreakAway investor was for quite a while edited by Andrew Mickey, but apparently a few years of failed teaser stocks (and, I imagine, some weak performance by the newsletter as a whole) has led to a changing of the guard. Christian DeHaemer, who edits or contributes to many other Taipan newsletters (Red Zone profits, Crisis Trader, Material Profits, etc.), is now at the Breakaway Investor helm. Will his picks do any better?
(I don’t actually know anything about why Mickey left, just guessing — he’s still in the business and is now investment strategist for a much smaller organization called Q1 Publishing.)
This time around, the promise of the ad is a bit novel — they tell us that you can do well by doing good. That you can contribute to what they call “Operation Global Rescue” by investing in this “Global Relief Fund” and help feed the world, and also get rich. You don’t have to read between the lines too much to notice that, of course, they just made up the terms “Operation Global Rescue” and “Global Relief Fund” — what they’re talking about is investing in the companies that help modern agriculture run. I guess you can make the argument that these investments will help to feed the hungry if you like, though they do go a bit aboveboard comparing investing in Potash and John Deere to making a charitable contribution.
And they make you feel like you can be “controversial” in making money by doing good — which, of course, conjures up images of big returns (why else would there be a “controversy?”).
If you want to save the world or feed a family, send your money to Heifer Project International or whatever your favorite charity might be … but perhaps you can still make some money with agricultural stocks, and have more money to fuel your generosity. Let’s have a look:
“‘Operation Global Rescue’ Stock #1: Feeding the World!”
Here’s an excerpt from DeHaemer’s spiel:
“If you could only own one stock for the next five years… this would be the one. Kiplinger’s calls this company a “real growth stock”… .
“This company is a leader in agriculture biotechnology. They produce seeds and herbicides …
“According to a survey by Thomson Financial News, their earnings are expected to grow 37% annually over the next three to five years.
“And they can charge a pretty penny for seeds that grow corn that is resistant to pests.
“In fact, in June this company launched a new push to help feed the world by funding wheat and rice research projects, handing out seeds to African farmers and pledging to double corn and soy yields over the next 22 years.”
We get some specifics, too, thankfully — so the Thinkolator needn’t go hungry today.
Net income grew 107% year over year in the last quarter.
Profit margin is 18%.
Trades at a PE of about 30.
Big mutual funds have been adding to their positions.
DeHaemer doesn’t softpedal the promise — he sees 250% gains for this one, and says that you should … “put this company in your portfolio now. It’s the buy of the decade — and you don’t want to miss out!”
So what is it?
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Well, as you may well have guessed if you’ve spent any time looking at ag stocks, this is …
Monsanto is essentially a biotech company that focuses on seeds — they develop genetically engineered seeds that can grow in harsh conditions, or that won’t be affected by their herbicides, or otherwise will help to increase yields, save money, or allow farming in areas that are not particularly suited to it.
In the big picture, I think technology like this is critically important — but there are certainly folks who disagree, some quite vehemently. Just picture the “frankenfood” protests in any country in Europe over the last ten years, there are some places that just don’t want these seeds, or any crops grown with them.
That said, Monsanto is making an awful lot of money, and I can’t imagine that we’ll be able to effectively feed a growing population without more and better genetically engineered crops, though of course there’s always a risk that this gets pushed too far and we all start growing rabbit ears or having our toenails turn green. Personally, I see this as primarily an extension of the hybridization that farmers have been spearheading for hundreds of years, and that my recent ancestors worked on every day on their corn and soybean farms in Illinois. On the other hand, stuff like growth hormones in dairy cattle, which Monsanto was also involved with a few years ago (and may still be, I don’t know), give me the heebie jeebies. Didn’t say I was consistent, just sharing my opinion.
But my personal feelings about “frankenfood” don’t mean much — what’s the investment potential for Monsanto?
Well, DeHaemer is clearly not alone — lots of folks think the promise is huge here. Morningstar pegs the fair value at $145 and thinks you should consider buying at these levels (it’s at $107 before the open today, looks like it will probably open higher than that).
The news has been fairly thick for Monsanto lately, too — they got permission to export their latest “Roundup Ready” Soybeans to China just last week, and they got an upgrade on Friday by Credit Suisse, along with plenty of articles recently on what a value these shares represent (one from from Investopedia here, just to get you started). Kevin Kerr, who has made a name for himself with some great picks in various commodity sectors over the years, also thinks Monsanto is a good bet.
Keep in mind, if it’s this “operation global rescue” stuff that appeals to you, that Monsanto is in the act of actively preventing the most basic farming practice, seed saving. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that — Monsanto has to protect their intellectual property and patents, and the only way for them to do that is by preventing farmers from making their own seed, so that they can force them to buy seed from the owner of those patents, but it does make them look bad on occasion when they have to sue farming cooperatives. And it does mean that as their technology spreads around the world, it may be tougher to keep a handle on that intellectual property — if you think it’s hard to keep a teenager from uploading a CD to bittorrent, imagine how hard it is to make sure farmers don’t let plants reproduce themselves. I’m not an ag expert — I remember the Llama that my second cousin owned much better than I remember what his corn fields looked like — this is just my personal take on one of the company’s challenges.
If you’re interested in this part of the agricultural space — seeds and herbicides and the basic inputs for agriculture (except fertilizer), there are also a few other places you can look. The closest competitor to Monsanto is Syngenta (SYT), which is growing more slowly and doesn’t have some of the powerhouse products like Monsanto does (Roundup in particular), but is much cheaper and in the same agricultural biotechnology business, or you could also look at a diversified and perhaps more stable company that has a big seed and agricultural protection (read, pesticides and herbicides) business like DuPont (DD), which is relying on its ag business for growth in some ways but is cheaper still (thanks in part to cost pressures in their basic chemicals businesses).
Most ag companies have had some big moves up in the last couple years, but I do like that the seed companies at least rely less a massive price climb than have the raw fertilizer companies, the Potash Corps and Mosaics of the world, and it is nice to have a product that is patent protected, not just a commodity whose price can swing wildly.
And don’t worry, you’ll get the fabulous opportunity to read some Gumshoe chatterboxing about the several other ag companies touted as the investments for this “Global Rescue Fund,” too — I’ll be looking at them soon.
But it’s your money … what do you think of Monsanto?
P.S. I do actually live just a few blocks from the palatial Fannie Mae headquarters … I normally see the employees all come swarming out for lunch in the neighborhood eateries with lanyards around their necks and smiles around their faces. I wonder if the bars will be a little fuller at lunchtime today (not that I would know), and I hope there weren’t as many employees who had their full retirements socked away in FNM stock as there were at Bear Stearns or Enron. I know the news crews are certainly gumming up traffic quite a bit as the stern reporters do their standups in front of the building, I’ll let you know if the circus gets exciting in these parts.