This article was originally posted on July 8 as part of the Friday File for the Irregulars. It has NOT been updated or revised, but we’re re-sharing it here and opening it up to all readers because we’re seeing the same ad again in heavy circulation from Dr. Kent Moors (still with a June 2016 signature line, so presumably the ad is also unchanged). Enjoy!
Dr. Kent Moors has a new ad rolling for his Energy Inner Circle ($1,950), so we’re getting questions… and since it’s Friday, our answers go to our friends in the Irregulars. No big news on my portfolio this week, or updated thoughts on our other stocks to speak of (except for REIT equity offerings… pretty much every REIT is reaching almost absurd pricing levels now thanks to low interest rate expectations, so much so that they’re almost all raising capital, but REITs and gold continue to provide pretty solid ballast for diversified portfolios so I’m not selling these high valuations just yet)… so we’ll dive right into the teaser solution…
Moors comes in with some checkered history in the annals of Gumshoedom — both because of the picks he has shared in the past year or so, and, to be fair, because his publisher has been hyping those picks up and advertising them more heavily than just about any other publisher out there, and trying to make it appear that he’s the king of the energy world and can do no wrong. Which, when the stock you’re hyping as the next huge winner goes bankrupt (like SunEdison), likely leaves your subscribers with a nasty taste in their mouths.
But part of our goal here at Stock Gumshoe is to give readers the chance to focus on the investment, not on the pitchmen behind it — overpromising and ridiculous hype by newsletter ad copywriters doesn’t make a stock bad unless you believe the crazy promises, and sometimes the investments have some real potential if you can keep your expectations more realistic. So you can apply whatever skepticism you like (skepticism is one of the few really valuable superpowers in an individual investor’s arsenal), but let’s see what he’s touting these days and give ourselves the opportunity to think on those ideas.
And speaking of overpromising, here’s the headline from Dr. Moors:
“The Great Saudi Oil Jihad just handed you the biggest energy play of the last decade…
“Now you can turn your next two paychecks into $109,845 or more… in one simple move.”
I guess the level of hyperbole depends on just how big your next two paychecks will be, but, as we learn later in the ad, Moors is clearly talking about some pretty high-leverage investments and he’s using $2,500 as his “initial investment” to get to that $100,000+ profit… which usually means highly levered and speculative bets on options.
And he’s got bets on both the bullish and bearish side, which very likely means that he’s recommending buying put options on some stocks and call options on some others. Here’s a little taste of the ad so you can get an idea of his big picture pitch:
“… for as long as I’ve been in this business, I’ve seen the situation we’re in now exactly TWICE…
“The first time was back in the 80s when oil plunged 67%… and turned 54% of U.S. oil companies into dust… and handed the companies that were left the entire oil market on a silver platter.
“The second time is unfolding right now.
“And no, it’s not ‘different this time.’ It never is.
“Of course, no two markets are exactly alike… but it’s my firm belief that the underlying boom/bust cycle is always the same.
“Now we’re looking at the single greatest set of investment opportunities I’ve ever seen…
“Much bigger than the ones I witnessed over 40 years ago… the last time the Saudis destroyed oil prices like this.
“And with the research I have in my hands right now, I believe I can tell you with confidence who the winners and the losers are going to be in the next 12 months.”
I will withhold my belief on that, but let’s hear him out…
“You see, the money in the oil patch works the same as it does everywhere else in the world.
“You either have enough cash flow to execute your business…
“Or you go bankrupt.
“And after all your competitors are wiped out, you feast like a king, quadrupling – and sometimes sextupling – your market share and profits….
“Let’s face it, there’s big money to be made right now…
“But only if you understand with absolute conviction which oil producers are strong enough to weather this epic crisis – and who is heading for the ash heap of bankruptcy.
“That’s why for the past nine months my research team and I have been tracking the real-time numbers from over 45,000 data points covering 132 publicly traded oil and gas producers….”
“You could make money two ways:
- First, on the downside, actually banking immense, repeating gains with one simple technique…
- And then on a different type of trade as the shares of the survivors rebound and go berserk, which I believe they most definitely will.
“In fact, you have an opportunity right now to snatch up some of the best oil companies on the planet at rock-bottom rates… grabbing shares at up to 90% off where they SHOULD be trading at.
“So if you’re one of a small group of readers willing to take advantage of what I’m going to show you today…
“Get ready for your shot at what could easily be the biggest payday of your life time.
“It’s so big, it could transform every $2,500 you invest into $109,845 with just a handful of moves I’ll explain in a moment.”
Moors says that of the 132 companies he’s following, 53 are so “starved for cash” that they’re likely to go belly up, adding to the 21 bankruptcies last year.
And that he has identified how to trade some of these to profit from the falling price… more from the ad:
“These Trades go UP when Oil Companies go DOWN.
“Now to be clear, we’re NOT suggesting you invest in failing companies.
“In fact, the move I’m going to show you is not an investment. It’s a trade. Plain and simple.
“What I love is that, the gains potential is almost always EXPONENTIAL, especially in situations just like this.”
So we’re starting with his bearish bets… what does he think is going down, and how would he trade that?
He says he has a data model that’s new, and that would have accurately predicted all 15 bankruptcies in their model, and that it was also very good at timing those bankruptcies…
“In 14 out of those 15 cases last year, our analysis was so accurate it anticipated WHEN each bankruptcy would occur within 4 to 12 weeks.”
That strikes me as a pretty small data set to rely on for your backtesting, but I guess it’s better than not being accurate last year. So what are the specific trades? We get some hints about what kinds of trades these are…
“When you use this simple move the way I’m about to show you, you’ll never have to risk more than $2,500 at any one time to do it.
“You see, the downside with this move is strictly limited.
“In fact, it’s so safe in this regard, you can even use it as part of your government approved 401(k) or IRA.”
Which basically just means that, yes, the recommendations are “buying options” — if you buy a call option (to speculate on a stock rising) or a put option (to speculate on a stock falling), you do define your risk precisely: You can lose 100% of your investment quite easily, but you can’t lose more than that.
And yes, you can buy options in retirement accounts even if most people probably shouldn’t be taking those kinds of risks with their core retirement savings (you might need specific permission from your broker, which usually involves filling out an online questionnaire to indicate that you understand and can handle the risks).
The $2,500 to $109,845 Moors is talking about is not the result of a single trade, but is based on a series of five options trades on Ivanhoe Energy that he gives as an example — trades that they don’t claim Moors actually made, despite the fact that his newsletter certainly was around and making recommendations last year, but that Moors says are the “best plays” he calculated in Ivanhoe based on his “extensive backtesting.”
Basically, they’re a series of put option trades that would have made big money, with the same $2,500 recycled into each new trade but the total returns all added up at the end (turn $2,500 into $45,280 in 37 days, take profits, then turn $2,500 into $39,000 in 48 days, take profits again, etc. etc. and it adds up to $109,000 and change) So yes, you only risked $2,500 (though you risked that same $2,500 five times in a row and won big each time, which would be pretty remarkable).
And, of course, there’s the paragraph that presumably their lawyers advised them to include:
“Now, I admit making 43.9 times your money is rare. And these are examples of trades that would have been possible based on our calculations. Picking a perfect stock string like this would take perfect timing and undoubtedly a good amount of luck.”
I’d suggest taking that paragraph much more seriously than the claims of possible backtested past results… how many times have you been right about a stock’s movement within a space of a month or two and with a great deal of precision in selling at the top? Do you get it right five times in a row very often?
I don’t know who is helping Moors with his options trades, presumably they have some sort of experienced options trader in their group, but if Moors has valuable expertise I expect it’s from his historical consulting with various governments and his academic work in energy policy… he might have unusually good insight into global energy strategies (or not), but I’d argue that doesn’t have much bearing when recommending precise options trades.
But now that we’ve tried to cool your jets a little bit, let’s see if we can ID the trades Moors is likely to be recommending.
The bearish trades come along with a few “trigger points” — namely, that asset values have crashed so companies can’t sell properties to fix balance sheets, bond rates have gone up dramatically for junk debt (especially for low-rated oil companies) so they can’t refinance, banks don’t want to give oil companies any flexibility on credit lines, something like half of all the oil companies they follow are losing money on a cash basis, and oil companies are going to have to continue writing down reserves that are too expensive to produce.
And then we get our specific “stacked trade” hints…
“Stacked Trade #1…
“Starts with the company at the very top of my “trigger” list.
“It’s an offshore oil driller whose time is running out fast. And I can prove it….
“These guys have been bleeding nothing but red ink for the last 730 days.
“And don’t think for a second their fortunes are about to change, either.
“According our data, they will be bleeding millions for as far as the eye can see… all the way into 2018.
“To make matters worse, they put $340 million on their “credit card” with the bank right before their credit line was cut 57% two months ago…
“Now the bank wants $191 million of this money grabbed back.
“And as a Gulf Coast driller, they even have Uncle Sam hitting them up for another $260 million in bond money to cover for the possibility of a catastrophic oil spill.
“According to our model, if they don’t do anything to offset their current situation, that $260 million alone will be enough to send them into bankruptcy by the end of this year.
“If not, the $76 million dollars they expect to spend plugging their abandoned wells, will be enough to finish them off by March of 2017.”
I don’t have any kind of “proprietary data” that tells me exactly when this company will be circling the drain, but certainly the world has low expectations for the stock today — this is W&T Offshore (WTI), which was in the high teens before oil started falling in mid-2014 and is now trading at about $2 a share. They did indeed take down $340 million on their credit line right before the bank pulled their credit a few months ago, and they are on the hook to return that $191 million.
So… if you were convinced that WTI was going to go bankrupt soon, what would you do? Buy puts options, which give you the right to sell the stock at a specific price before a specific expiration date.
The latest expirations available for WTI are in January, so we can’t go all the way out to Moors’ predicted March 2017 deadline for bankruptcy, but the biggest put positions in WTI, by far, are in the October 2016 $1 and $2 puts, neither of which is in the money today with the stock at $2.20. If any newsletter with more than a dozen subscribers is recommending that you sell puts on a particular small cap stock like this, that trade recommendation is very likely to show up with a dramatically higher open interest than the other put options traded on that stock, so presumably Moors is recommending that you buy put options at one of those strike prices.
The puts are expensive, so Moors is not the only person who thinks WTI doesn’t have a great chance of survival. As of today it will cost you about 80 cents to buy the right to sell WTI for $2 before expiration in October, which essentially means that you’re betting WTI will fall by 40% or more in the next three months (you pay 80 cents, so you need the stock to fall to $1.20 for your trade to be “in the money,” and the stock is at $2.20 today so that would be a 45% drop in share price).
If WTI does go to zero by October, then your highest possible return is $2 from an 80 cent bet ($1.20 profit), which would be a return of 150%. Not bad, but, of course, that means you’re matching up a possible 100% loss against a possible 150% return, so you have to figure out whether you think the odds are with you.
That doesn’t seem like a great calculus to me, if only because the potential gain is fairly limited and it requires the company going bankrupt within a few months — even if they do end up circling the drain, it could take a lot longer than that (Moors says that his three “stacked trades” have the potential to earn total gains of 477%, so this would be perhaps a third of that if everything works perfectly). If you push the expiration date out to January, the returns would be slightly worse — that $2 put option, which has far smaller volume and open interest, would probably cost you about a dollar now, so the maximum return would be 100%.
That means if you do two trades that are similar to this, and get one of them spot on and the other one is wrong and loses all your money, you’ve broken even. I don’t think I can count on myself to be right about speculative options buys half the time, so this seems unlikely to work unless Moors is really right and has some serious insight into the future for this particular company, and can really be fairly certain that the company will fall by more than half in the next three months.
How about the next trade he hints at?
“Stacked Trade #2…
“If you thought the last cash burn chart I showed was bad…
“This goner has been burning through cash for over three years now.
“With the exception of this tiny miracle circled in red last year.
“To make matters worse, the bank just cut their credit line by $250 million!
“Now they have just $134 million in accessible capital compared to $337 million as of the end of last year.
“With a current expected burn rate of $14.2 million a quarter, that gives them 8.5 quarters until they kick the bucket.
“And that’s being generous since the banks will probably cut their credit again in September.
That’s setting up the chance for you to make a quick 477%.
“Or enough to turn $2,500 into $14,425.”
That sounds very much like it must be Memorial Production Partners (MEMP), which is one of the producing partnerships, like Linn Energy or Legacy Reserves, that have either already gone into bankruptcy or are widely expected to go bankrupt in the current environment thanks to their hefty leverage and failure to cut back dividends fast enough over the last two years. So predicting bankruptcy for another producing MLP doesn’t seem that crazy… but, as with WTI, that doesn’t mean it will automatically go to zero in any particular time frame.
If we use the September debt-rerating by banks as a point when MEMP would be expected to be in extra trouble, then we could look for put options to buy near that date. There’s an October expiration available in MEMP’s option chain… anything that looks like it could generate a 500%+ return like Moors is hinting at?
In a word, “no” — once your stock price is down below a few dollars and a lot of folks think you’re circling the drain, the put option prices tend to be quite high, and the possible return is limited because the share price can’t go below zero. You could buy the most speculative of the puts in October, the $2.50 puts, but it would cost you about 90 cents. That leaves only $1.60 of possible profit for you if the stock goes to zero before the expiration date… which is a lovely return of better than 150% in a few months, but far from the 500%+ returns dreamed of by Moors.
So is he talking up a different stock with a higher share price? Could be. This is an instance where the share price really does matter, betting on bankruptcy and a stock going to zero when the shares are at $10 or $20 tends to give more possibility for high returns from speculative put buys than a share price of $2. MEMP is the best match for our clues that I’ve seen, since they did just have their credit line cut by $250 million and, as of that press release in late April, had $134 million of borrowing capacity left, but that’s not enough for me to tell you that I’m 100% certain of the match. If you’ve a better idea, feel free to shout it out with a comment below.
And in case you don’t feel like cheering the arrival of the undertaker, what is Moors pitching on the bullish side?
His argument is essentially that the washout of weak companies is still happening, but that he can predict when the market will turn with enough accuracy to get you into bullish options trades to get leverage on the back of what he thinks will be the best performers. So how does he think you can generate some profit from a stock moving up?
His first bullish pick is someone in the Permian Basin… here’s some intro:
“Rocket Pick #1: Grab Your Share of the Richest Land on Earth….
“Put together, the Permian’s oil formations are 4,000 feet thick and hold more crude than any other region in the nation.
“And it’s cheap to produce, too… with the cost in some counties under $35 a barrel.
“So it’s the last place in the U.S. you can drill at today’s prices and still make money.
“With an API gravity in the 38–45 range, the crude in the Permian is light, sweet, and highly desirable.
“That’s why Permian production has actually INCREASED by 43% since the Saudi’s tanked the markets in 2014.”
I think most energy investors are aware that the Permian is home to some of the lowest-cost wells in the US, and it’s one area where investment and activity has not fallen off as dramatically as it has in the Bakken and elsewhere because of those generally lower costs (though things have obviously slowed since the drop in oil prices, and operators are presumably being fairly cautious).
But which company is Moors bullish about here? More clues:
“… not only do they have 170,000 contiguous acres of some of the best land I’ve ever seen in the region…
“Along with over 1,000 prime sites set to be drilled within the Permian Basin and areas nearby…
“They also just boosted their cash position by 2,270%…
“Increasing their cushion from $7.8 to $184.9 million.
“The cash plus their undrawn revolver gives them $283 million in liquidity….
“And with shares now selling at an 89% discount from where they were in 2014… now is the time to pounce…
“If you make only one ‘rebound’ investment… THIS IS IT.”
This is almost certainly Clayton Williams Energy (CWEI), which did indeed have $184.9 million in cash on the books as of the last quarter, and which also reported $283 in liquidity including their undrawn line of credit. They’ve also reported having 170,000 net contiguous acres in the Permian in the past, though I don’t know if that’s still accurate.
They’re not quite at an 89% “discount” to the highs of 2014, but that would be a share price of about $16 and they were there just a couple months ago (the shares are in the $25-30 range now, though the stock has been very volatile in just the last 24 hours so I’m not sure where it’ll be when you read this — it closed on Thursday below $26 on a down day, then shot up to above $29 after hours).
But there are no call options trading on CWEI, so is there another, better match out there? If not, how would one get leverage on the possible recovery of the shares? Moors indicates that there’s a short-term play that could generate huge returns…
“As oil inevitably heads higher, I believe the short term gains on this play could be as high as 1,087%.”
I’ve got nothing on that. It would be possible to get 1,000% gains from the lows of a couple months ago if CWEI gets to new all-time highs, a bit above where it was trading before the bottom fell out of the oil market in 2014… but it would be a bit disingenuous to both say that the Saudi’s are crushing some stocks and driving them to bankruptcy within three months as they engineer low oil prices, and that other oil companies are going to return to all-time highs in the “short term.”
CWEI did recently issue some warrants, so there is a levered play on CWEI out there… but those warrants aren’t likely to be publicly traded, they were issued to big money manager Ares Management (ARES) as part of the refinancing that CWEI did in March, and I’d guess ARES will hold them… if they do get listed at some point, that would be substantial leverage and I’d be interested in the warrants at the right price (they’re ten year warrants with a $22 strike price, 10 year warrants are hugely valuable).
You also can’t really buy ARES just because of that CWEI position, that’s a big alternative asset management company with almost $100 billion in assets and CWEI exposure represents a very small part of their funds, so you’d have to like them for some other reason too. Which is possible, but it seems unlikely that Moors would be recommending ARES (and yes, I checked — there is no action at all in ARES options).
So that’s what I’ve got on that one — I can’t find another better match than CWEI, and it should be in OK shape on the balance sheet for at least the next year or two, and nicely levered to higher oil prices if we do get higher energy because it’s still carrying way too much debt: the market cap is only $300 million or so, but they have more than $900 million in debt. It is not, however, so levered that you could anticipate 1,000% gains in the “short term,” not unless you’ve been drinking, and there are no options available on CWEI. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing out there, but that’s the best the Thinkolator can do on this one.
And one more?
“Rocket Pick #2: A Potential 1,055% Gainer in the Marcellus and Utica Shale.
“With over 200,000 net acres and 180 producing wells in the Marcellus and Utica Shale…
“This diamond in the rough is one of the best positioned drillers and midstream operators I’ve ever seen.
“Now you can buy all of the shares you want for what I expect to be a tiny fraction of their future potential value.
“You see, despite the slump, this firm is actually one of the few pillars of strength.
In fact, according to the hard data, its operating cash flows are still positive by over $100 million a quarter.
“And with the hedges it now has in place, it’s practically bulletproof going forward.
“A full 87% of its 2016 production is hedged 55.25% above the current market price…
“While the majority of its 2017 production hedged 49.52% higher than the going rate.
“So it’s one of the few companies that should be able to turn a very nice profit going into 2018.
“Finally, it has a massive $1.3 billion liquidity cushion currently in place… so it’s not in danger of default.
“It also pays a hefty 4.51% dividend.
“So it’s no surprise 94% of its shares are still tightly held by institutions and mutual funds…. even though its share price is off by more than 75% from its peak in 2014.
“And as prices spike, the sales and earnings of this firm have nowhere to go but up…
Handing you the chance to bank gains on this sleeper as high as 1,055%.”
Well, it doesn’t currently carry a 4.51% yield, but it did in mid-May (we’re seeing a trend here, most of the data is accurate as of 6-8 weeks ago… so perhaps that’s when Moors put on these recommendations for his subscribers). This is Rice Energy (RICE), which is indeed a solid gas producer and midstream operator in the Marcellus and Utica shales in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They do have a pretty good balance sheet, they have hedged most of their production for 2016 and 2017 at $3.50 and $3.13, which were roughly 50% higher than market prices a couple months ago (with natural gas rising dramatically in the last two months, those prices are no longer looking so good — the henry hub price has gone from $2.10 to $2.80, even though $3 for a moment a week or two ago).
Rice is an interesting stock, but I haven’t dug through all their joint ventures and projects to see if there’s anything scary hiding in there — they do have one of the most thorough and detailed investor presentations I’ve seen in a long time, so that’s promising, and they do pay a solid dividend (it’s now 3.8%), partly because one of their major assets, beyond their 180 wells and their Marcellus and Utica acreage, is their 40%+ stake in (and general partner position with) Rice Midstream Partners (RMP), which owns water services in Ohio and PA and a gathering system in Pennsylvania.
The only big options positions in RICE are for the July expiration, which is just a week away, so presumably he wouldn’t be recommending that, but there is a bit of open interest spread around at the low-$20s in October and January expirations — those require a bit more capital, so you’d have to put up anywhere from $2-5 for those levered options positions, but they do require a fairly limited gain to produce returns. If you bought the January 2017 $20 call options, for example, which most recently sold for $5, you’d need RICE to rise just 10% or so by January 20 for you to break even… and if RICE returns to its 2014 highs of about $33 you’d get back $13 for your $5 investment, so a return of a bit better than 150%.
So again, not a 1,000% return possibility with this one, so either the Thinkolator identified the wrong stock or I’m making much different assumptions than Moors is. And like all other Marcellus and Utica shale operators this is a natural gas company, not an oil company, so they couldn’t care less what Saudi Arabia is doing… natural gas will eventually get some increase in demand as exporters start to take away a meaningful amount of US production, but that’s going to ramp up very, very slowly from here and take many years to become a big part of the market — for now, it’s still about US heating demand in the winter and electricity demand in the summer, as more and more electricity generation has been moved from coal to natural gas over the years. The recent spike in the natural gas price is promising for companies like Rice if it holds up, though it also means that their hedges for this year and next are much less valuable than they were three or four month ago.
And… that’s all I’ve got for you today. I struggle to understand Moors’ 1,000%+ “short term” gains imagination for these oil and gas companies, unless I’m just missing some large part of the picture, but the projections for bankruptcies and collapse at his short targets are pretty clear. It’s also pretty clear that his numbers in this recent ad are a couple months old in most cases, which isn’t that unusual for a newsletter ad… but that doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t worth considering. RICE looks to me like a pretty appealing bet in the natural gas space, I generally like the idea of buying smaller integrated companies that have some diversification from pipelines or midstream processing operations to buttress their gas exploration and production businesses, but I’d assume that it will be fairly steady performer if gas prices stay in this near-$3 range, not a rocketship to the moon — and while some analysts are looking for natural gas to get back to well above $4, they’re certainly not in the mainstream. In retrospect, it was a good opportunity back in the Winter when it fell below $10… but that was also before they did their equity offering this Spring and shored up the balance sheet a bit, and the natural gas price was far lower, so the risks were greater at the time.
Any favorites for you in the oil or gas space as you use your crystal ball to predict when the oil collapse will bottom out, or whether natural gas prices will continue to rise? Let us know with a comment below. I remain extremely non-exposed to the energy industry these days, and I should probably begin to dip a toe in the water… but I haven’t yet done so.