by Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe | April 10, 2019 10:01 am
The ad we’re looking at today starts out with all sorts of braggadocio about how Jeff Brown at Bonner & Partners is “arrogant” or “pompous” and “egocentric” and “in your face,” and in general just not a very nice guy… the headline is “America’s Most Arrogant Investor.”
That’s all malarkey — I don’t care whether or not he’s a prickly dude, but it’s irrelevant, that’s all done in service of the marketing. In this case, marketing Jeff Brown as an iconoclast who can see the future of technology and make bold bets that other people won’t, and the cost of joining him and reading his research is a $4,000 subscription to Exponential Tech Investor (nonrefundable, of course, since if you don’t like it or believe you were sold something different than they delivered it could only be because, in Brown’s words, “you turn out to have terrible judgment.”)
I’ll get down to business and ID the stock he’s focused on in a moment, but let me riff on that “refund” bit quickly first. As with many other high-cost newsletters, the idea of refunding money must be terrifying to publishers, but they also know that offering a “guarantee” is important in getting people over that hurdle to type in their credit card number — so they offer the “iron-clad performance guarantee” that, in this case, if you don’t get 1,000% returns from at least five of his recommendations, they’ll add an extra year to the membership for free (if you call in to complain).
Which, speaking as a publisher of sorts myself, is pretty much the ideal guarantee — if you’re grouchy enough to call them, which is a hassle, then you weren’t going to renew anyway, so it’s a promise that costs them nothing. The good ol’ “If you don’t like it, we’ll give you more, free!” guarantee… ideal for those who complain about the food being too terrible to eat and the portions being too small.
So is this Jeff Brown really “America’s Most Arrogant Investor?” Probably not, not that it matters. There’s a myth that people like to perpetuate of the lone investor, the man who stands by himself like a grouchy cowboy (it’s pretty much always a man — there’s never a line for the women’s room at an investment conference), and who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks and just wins by sheer orneriness… but when you hear newsletter pundits described that way, it’s pretty much just “brand building” on their part. You have to be a character and convince people that you’re different and cantankerous and don’t run with the herd if you want to get the attention of us little investors. We all dream of riding with the stubble-faced cowboys who have dirty spurs and fire drunkenly at bandits, not passing canapes with the investment advisors with french cuffs and pinstripes who want to charge you 1.5% for an index fund (and, of course, the actual conservative choice of buying cheap index funds and closing your eyes is just too boring).
Boring people who pick middle of the road investments or admit to their failings don’t get invited on CNBC or sell lots of newsletters, that’s reserved for the folks who “think different” or pick fights and tell you that they can see the future and pick the perfect technology stocks… or, on the other side, who tell you that they know when the world is going to come to an end (and take advantage of the fact that memories are short, so they can keep telling you the same thing with new dates every few months, eventually being proven “right”).
Brown is being sold on the bullish side of that spectrum — a tech soothsayer, not a prophet of doom. He runs through a long list of companies on which he claims huge returns — one of them, NVIDIA (NVDA), was a verified pick of his a few years ago and he re-touted it a couple times, with good performance, as was AMD (AMD), but most of the others he cites as huge winners are private companies… Coinbase, Abra, Grabango, SkySafe, Via, Moltin. Many of them are cryptocurrency tagalong companies, offering a wallet or trading platform or similar blockchain-related product.
Yes, I expect he has participated in financing these companies… but claiming returns based on your own estimates of the value of a private company is a little iffy. If there’s no public and liquid market, you don’t really find out what something is worth until you have to sell it. So yes, I’m sure he has probably made some good money on private investments, but I wouldn’t take his claim that “I’ve won on 95.3% of my 111 investments” as being particularly meaningful, generally money invested in those kinds of companies is locked up for a few years and illiquid and a good number of them end up withering away to nothing.
Among the teaser stocks he has promoted over the past few years in selling his newsletters, he’s probably doing a little better than average — though he hasn’t been in the business very long, he launched his first newsletter in 2015 and both his biggest winner (Square) and his biggest losers (EDIT and NTLA) on the tracking spreadsheets were picked in early 2016.
So before we get to the 5G stock he’s touting, what is it this “Arrogant” Jeff Brown is looking for?
He lists a few of his iconoclastic rules that he says make him stand out:
“BROWN’S RULE always requires a disruptive product… because that means the company behind it will enjoy a massive competitive advantage, crushing its competitors and making early investors like me rich.
“Rule #1: I don’t buy and hold for the long haul. Rather, I speculate in explosive, breakthrough opportunities that can deliver huge, accelerated gains over a relatively short period of time….
“Rule #2: I only look for small businesses to speculate in.
“Rule #3: You should look for exponential growth.”
Umm, OK. “Small and disruptive!” Got it.
And then we get into this April 25 stuff…
“… there’s a secret to how I find these opportunities…
“And right now, it’s pointing to a critical event that’s happening on April 25th that only a complete idiot would ignore.”
So what’s the ad about this time around? 5G, again.
“… it will soon give wireless devices access to incredible bandwidth and speed.
“Enough speed to suddenly unleash some of the most explosive technologies on the planet. It will make investors who know about BROWN’S RULE potentially a fortune beginning this year.”
And we’ve heard about the huge industries that can explode with 5G in the years to come, and covered many teasers on 5G over the past year or so, but here’s a little snippet of this latest runthrough…
“I’ll be applying BROWN’S RULE every step of the way, looking for the biggest opportunities—beginning with the April 25th event I’ll tell you about.
“And that’s just a sample of the technologies 5G can unleash…
“The “Internet of Things”…
“Dozens of medical technologies…
“They all NEED 5G technology to realize their true potential.”
So what’s the story with this deadline?
“Right now, the timing couldn’t be better…
“All of the major carriers…
“AT&T, Sprint, Verizon…
“Are about to ‘flip’ their 5G networks on…
“And you don’t want to be on the sidelines when they do.
“But you need to get in the game NOW. Today.
“The announcement is set for April 25th. And I believe this, my friend, will be a historical day for 5G.”
So what is that announcement? He gives some more detail:
“I predict this big player will report a HUGE earnings surprise that day…
“Thanks largely to their 5G orders…
“It will cause even MORE institutional money to flow into 5G stocks… which will cause other companies to flip the switch as well.
“In other words, I expect this company’s April 25th announcement will set off a slew of even bigger announcements…”
Which “big player” is he talking about? Well, that’s going to be a busy part of earnings season, and I imagine 5G will get quite a bit of lip service from both Verizon and AT&T, who are likely to report on April 24… but the big 5G supplier that’s expected to report on April 25 is Nokia (NOK), and that’s probably the company he’s referring to — not least because it’s also a stock he has touted several times in the past.
Will Nokia beat and report huge 5G orders in a couple weeks, getting everyone excited? I guess it’s possible, though my expectations are quite a bit more muted (I’m a Nokia shareholder). Expectations are pretty low in general for this quarter and the first quarter is always their slowest, so you never know, but the general expectation is that orders and revenue will pick up for Nokia and its competitors late this year — so more than the quarterly results, the guidance and commentary about order flow will probably be listened to very carefully and could drive the market. Competitor Ericsson (ERIC), which I also own, is reporting next week and will also provide some signal of where order flow is headed for 5G… as could Samsung, which is the only other really major 5G infrastructure equipment provider other than Huawai (Samsung Electronics should report shortly after Nokia, around the 26th).
So whether or not the report from Nokia changes perceptions in the near future, what’s the stock for “winning” 5G? Here’s some more of Brown’s “arrogance” ….
“Well, you can’t just pick any old 5G company. For starters, quite a few out there are garbage.
“For example, most hotshot Wall Street analysts would say Qualcomm, Intel, and Juniper are good investments.
“Baloney. I’ve worked at 2 of them.
“They’re terribly managed.
“Intel has become a joke in the industry…one misstep after the other.
“Juniper’s share price is exactly where it was 5 years ago. That’s right, a 0% gain in one of the strongest technology markets in history.”
So which ones does he like? We finally get to some clues…
“… we need to look for tiny 5G companies with disruptive products…
“And I’ve found several… ”
Here are his clues for the first one:
“… the phone in your pocket will require several times more filters than it’s ever had before. And I’ve found a tiny company that owns the highest performing filter technology on the market — by far.
“They have developed a crystal filter technology that no one else is even close to matching right now.
“They’ve got all of the intellectual property around this development…
“A total of 21 patents…
“With another 36 pending.
“If you want to use their technology, you either have to buy it or license it from this tiny 5G filter company.”
And Brown says he has met with the company’s CEO and has seen some progress already…
“This tiny company recently signed two 5G contracts.
“So far, they’ve refused to name their partners in public. Which means they’ve probably locked down contracts with multibillion-dollar players…”
“This business is only worth about $200 million in the stock market today.”
There aren’t a lot of “pure play” RF filter companies, though RF filters are a major product for some very big chip companies (Broadcom, Qorvo, etc.), so I can’t say that I have much of an idea about who the winners might be in this market, and I’m sure I’m less connected to the tech sector than Jeff Brown is (and, of course, I try to keep my arrogance in check), but I can, at least, tell you that the Thinkolator ID’s this stock as… Akoustis Technologies (AKTS).
Akoustis is an interesting little company that we’ve seen trotted out in the hustings a few times before, though I don’t think I’ve written about it. Chris Wood pitched it as one of his favorite RF filter stocks in launching his 5X Profits service a while back, though I don’t think I ever published a piece on that ad, and readers have asked about it a few times. It caught my eye partly because it’s small and is trying to differentiate itself not just with intellectual property, but with manufacturing — they bought their own wafer plant in NY to manufacture their piezoelectric crystal filters and speed up their process, which will presumably add to their manufacturing costs (compared to outsourcing to a huge semiconductor fabricator) but give them a lot more control over the process.
I knew nothing about crystal filters, but apparently they’ve been a core telecom product for decades — there’s an interesting history here from IEEE a few years ago if you’re curious (it won’t help you with Akoustis, but might provide some perspective on a technology that has been iterating and advancing since well before the microchip was invented).
Briefing.com posted a quick summary of a Craig Hallum brokerage upgrade of Akoustis after their last earnings report, essentially similar to a lot of different 5G-related forecasts in saying “wait ’til later this year” as everyone seems to see rollout of investment in a variety of 5G products and services starting late in 2019 and rolling into 2020. Here’s that note:
“Akoustis Technologies: Big Market Opportunity As AKTS Scales Production In The Coming Years. Reiterating BUY Rating And Raising Price Target To $10 – Craig Hallum (7.22)
“Craig Hallum raises their AKTS tgt to $10 from $8. The firm continues to believe AKTS has a significant opportunity in the 5G base station/small cell market given their ~$100 in content per base station/small cell. The firm believes with AKTS’ proprietary single crystal technology they are able to produce filters than can handle 2x the power at higher frequencies with up to 50% better performance. The firm thinks as base stations/small cells rollout in volume for 5G starting late 2019, AKTS will see growing demand for their filters. The firm notes AKTS continues to expect to sample their first filter for the infrastructure market in Q2CY19 and go into production in 2HCY19 with revenues starting in Q4CY19.”
The stock is down 10-15% since then, and won’t report again until mid-May, but I would imagine that this is likely to be an important year for Akoustis — whether it’s good enough to drive the stock higher, of course, depends on how order flow goes and whether they can fulfill those orders. They did announce last week that they’ve filled their first commercial order for WiFi filters.
The company’s investor presentation indicates that they have delivered some filter samples as of March for 5G customers, but that they have not yet received any firm orders in 5G — the 5G goals are that they will get a design win with a 5G mobile customer (meaning they get their filter designed into the product), and that they will receive a 5G infrastructure order, both in the second half of 2019. You can also check out their investor conference call transcript from early February here if you want some more “color” on that (and as of that call, they’re up to 38 patents pending now to go along with the 21 granted).
Will they hit those goals? That I don’t know.
Akoustis is small, with no real revenue yet as they are really just beginning to transition into life as a commercial company (as opposed to an R&D startup), so it will probably be a bumpy ride. If it’s true that their single-crystal filters have advantages over the polycrystal filters (to dramatically oversimplify the distinctions), and they can pry some orders from Broadcom and Qorvo for 5G and WiFi base stations over the balance of this year to get a little cash flow going, perhaps that could be enough to get them over the hump. I have no idea what their margins will be like on these first commercial orders, or how long it will take them to become profitable — but it will presumably be at least a year.
It’s hard for a little guy to break in to a duopoly, even with an arguably better technology, and as a guy who’s distinctly not an expert in the technology we’re talking about, that makes me a little skeptical — partly because the ever-acquisitive Broadcom, for example, could have easily bought Akoustis well before now to acquire that technology if it is indeed critical… but you never know, sometimes exciting things come in small packages (Broadcom is a huge $120 billion company, Akoustis just $180 million… that does mean that Akoustis will be far more sensitive to growth in their business, but it also means that Broadcom could easily acquire Akoustis as almost an afterthought — $180 million is less than the free cash flow that Broadcom generates in just two weeks).
But anyway, that’s the skeptic’s take on Akoustis after looking over their materials for a bit — there’s reason for optimism if you think management is on the right track and they’ll hit their goals, too, but Jeff Brown supplied you with plenty of optimism… you don’t need that from me today. Balance his predictions of fabulous opportunities in 5G thanks to their unique RF filter designs against the fact that this is a just-getting-started tiny component supplier in the land of giants, and you can do your own risk/reward assessment.
Which I’ll leave you to now… if you want to share your thoughts on Akoustis, I’m sure we’d all be delighted to hear. And sure, you can be arrogant if you want to, though it won’t make me love you more.
P.S. If you’re curious, by the way, Brown has been touting 5G in general since last year, mostly for his lower-cost newsletter Near Future Report, which tends to recommend more established and larger businesses… we covered that last fall here, and then the slightly different (but not so much) teaser pitch for what he called CV-2X here.
Disclosure: Of the companies mentioned above, I am long Nokia and Ericsson through both equity and call option positions. I will not trade in any company mentioned for at least three days, per Stock Gumshoe’s trading rules.
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