Newsletter copywriters are no different from other marketers: they will do whatever it takes to get attention by playing off of something or someone that has celebrity or notoriety.
In the past that’s meant implying that some big celebrity investor has a connection to a “secret” stock or technique, or that someone high up in government (usually the president or a presidential candidate) is earning money using some secret idea that you can also profit from.
Adding Obama or Bush or Clinton to your headline gets it more attention, and it almost doesn’t matter whether you love or loathe the name used — what matters is attention, since the first huge hurdle that any advertisement has to leap is your indifference. Getting you to read a pitch, watch a video or even open an email is hugely valuable to a marketer. Getting you to open their proverbial door is more than half the battle, once you’re in the door they think they can talk you into buying both the rust-proof undercoating and the premium floor mats.
And now, of course, the biggest spurt of easy attention comes when you invoke the name “Trump” — even if, as we’ll see in a moment, the connection is tenuous or irrelevant. So that’s what the Oxford Club is doing now, hinting at a “secret stock” that Donald Trump owns (or owned), and implying that it’s somehow a big personal bet from the candidate.
The ad letter comes from Chris Matthai, and this is how it gets your attention:
“The Shocking Surprise I Found in Trump’s Personal Stock Portfolio….
“… when one of the world’s richest men releases confidential information to the public about making money – loads of it – we sit up and take notice.
“Inside these pages is a disclosure with some very unusual content submitted by Trump one month after he became Republican candidate for president of the United States.
“You see, in order to get his name in the ring, Mr. Trump had to reveal all of his personal investments to the Federal Election Commission.
“Everything! And through our extensive financial network, we got a hold of it.”
You don’t need an “extensive financial network” to read disclosures from presidential candidates… Trump’s filing, which is not terribly illuminating, is right here and has been published by lots of folks. It represents what he disclosed in his conflict of interest filings with the the Federal Election Commission early last year, when he was first running for the Republican nomination.
And though I’m sure Trump will tell you that his stock portfolio is “fabulous,” he’s not wealthy or famous because he’s a great stock investor, and I have no idea what his portfolio’s performance is like when it comes to the publicly traded investments he owns… or who makes the investing decisions. None of his equity positions are of a meaningful size compared to the businesses he controls, almost all of which are primarily real estate (or golf) investments. Much of the income he reported earning comes from golf operations and condominium sales.
But as with the pitch we saw many months ago that was about General Electric, implying that GE was a great buy because it was Trump’s “Make America Great Again” investment, we’ll try to look past the silly Trump connection and give you the chance to look into the actual stock and make your own decision about the investing merits thereof.
What else does the Oxford Club tell us about this stock? A bit more from the intro, then we’ll get into the clues…
“According to The New York Times, Trump holds at least $78 million in assets in a portfolio of hedge funds, mutual funds, traditional stocks and a small amount of gold.
“But it’s his personal stock portfolio you’ll find most interesting…
“The government document I just showed you with his signature exposes every single stock Trump owned as he started his campaign.
“It reveals how Trump sold shares in a range of Fortune 500 companies – including Amazon, Apple, General Motors, GE and Microsoft – yielding him a gargantuan profit of $27 million in a single month!”
Trump did report that he sold some stocks at a profit, as described in this article, though we should take the claims with a grain of salt since this is all FEC reporting, not SEC, so the disclosures are not very precise — they’re just meant to show holdings that might be a conflict of interest for seekers of political office (and frankly, even SEC filings are not terribly illuminating in terms of guessing at the profit someone might have made).
Then we get to this “secret” stock:
“However, poring through the entries, something unusual caught my eye – just below the top tier.
“Hidden on Page 39, one company didn’t seem to fit the mold. It appeared at first to be an ‘outlier’ of sorts. But the closer I looked – and the more familiar I became with its business model – the more I came to understand why Trump was loading up on shares.Are you getting our free Daily Update
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“This ‘Mystery Holding,’ as I like to call it, is in Trump’s portfolio for one reason only: to win – and win BIG!”
OK… what other clues do we get about this “Mystery Holding?” This is what the ad drops by way o hints:
“Found It – a ‘Near-Perfect Stock’ for a Late Bull Market
“I’ve never met Mr. Trump, and we certainly don’t work together… so I have no idea how he found this gem.
“Perhaps an advisor whispered in his ear…
“Maybe he knows the company’s top management…
“But there’s a 99% chance you’ve never heard of it.
“This is a secretive, under-the rader company with a stranglehold on a super lucrative niche. It lies deep within a non-descript business park in California.”
And we get the good ol’ “secret” photo of a nondescript business park building that these newsletter ad copywriters love to toss out, since it gives you the feeling that you’ve hired a PI to do his in-depth research.
But you know what, I have that huge research budget and the staff of PI’s on hand as well… so here’s the photo of that same nondescript building in a California office park that I’ve got for you:
OK, I’ll admit, I just borrowed that image from Google Maps. Probably the same place the Oxford Club folks got their picture.
But yes, I do know what “mystery holding” it is they’re referring to — and after you see these clues, you’ll know too:
“Trump’s Mystery Holding is King of the Block
“According to Barron’s, this company blazed out of the gates to seize a commanding 94% share of its primary market today.
“That’s a virtual monopoly.Even the world’s biggest ‘category killers’ can’t make that claim…
“Apple, with its iPhone, owns just 40% of the U.S. smartphone industry.
“Google commands only 64% of the organic search market.
“Okay, so Trump’s Mystery Holding has tremendous penetration in its initial market….
“It is breaking one sales record after another. The Wall Street Journal reports its top two products posted remarkable sales of $4.8 billion in Q3 2015. That’s just one quarter. (By the way, it just raised its latest annual sales target by another $1 billion.)”
Time to see whether your guess was correct? Yes, this is Gilead (GILD), the large biotech company that’s currently riding largely on the phenomenal success of its Hepatitis C treatments Harvoni and Sovaldi.
And it’s one of the largest companies in the world, and certainly one of the more followed biotech companies out there. It has a market cap of over $100 billion, and, to give you some idea of the relative size, has roughly the same weighting in the S&P 500 index as giants like Wal-Mart, Bristol-Myers Squib, McDonald’s and Amgen. If you hold the S&P 500 as your core market position, as many folks do, then about six tenths of one percent of your portfolio is made up of Gilead shares… your GILD position would be about half the size of your JP Morgan or Facebook position.
So is Trump massively overweight GILD? Is this a big bet of his? Almost certainly not. The FEC disclosure indicated that at some point early last year he owned somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of GILD shares in one account, and something between $250,000 and $500,000 in a second brokerage account. So it’s possible that at some point last year Trump controlled as much as $750,000 worth of GILD shares.
That’s obviously not very much, on a relative basis — it might put GILD in the top 20 or 30 individual stock positions Trump held, and it’s probably at least in the top 50 or so, but equities aren’t a big part of Trump’s fortune… and his position in GILD is not a big enough part of GILD to be measurable. Assuming the high end of ownership, that would be roughly 8,800 shares at today’s price, though the number would have been lower because the price per share was higher back then (GILD shares are down almost 30% from last year’s high). There are 1.5 billion shares outstanding, lots of big mutual funds own eight million or more shares, and plenty of institutions own 20 million shares or more. So… I can’t see inside his operations to know how he invests, of course, but my assumption would be that Trump has no particular personal interest in or connection to Gilead, since he has sold plenty of individual condos that are worth ten times more than his Gilead position, and that Gilead wouldn’t have known he held the shares if it weren’t for the FEC filing.
Put differently, if Trump is really worth $4 billion, then those GILD shares (assuming the maximum possible value) would be roughly 0.018% of his net worth. About two hundredths of one percent. The same could be said, roughly speaking, of a couple dozen other stocks — including fellow travelers in the health care sector like Amgen, Sanofi and Regeneron.
Trump’s portfolio is overwhelmingly in mega-cap stocks, most of which pay dividends (including Gilead, which has a payout of about 2% now), and I would assume that the performance of the individual stocks in his portfolio has been extremely similar to the performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. You can’t really own 50 or more huge (mostly $100+ billion) stocks across pretty much all sectors like Trump does and have performance that’s very different than the overall market. If Trump had all of his holdings in stocks and GILD represented .02% of his holdings, (neither of which is necessarily accurate or reasonable as a starting point for analysis,) then he’d be underweighting Gilead dramatically compared to the S&P — in that instance, the S&P weighting in GILD would be about 30 times higher than Trump’s weighting in GILD.
But I said I wouldn’t focus overly much on the Trump connection — sorry. I just want to point out how transparently misleading the ad is. Go ahead and buy Gilead if you’re interested… but don’t do it because it’s somehow connected to Trump.
So… should you be interested in Gilead? Well, lots of folks think so… the stock is absurdly cheap based on most of the basic valuation measurements (PE, price/sales, PEG ratio), but their success is also the source of most of the risk in the stock, because they have two huge products that make up the vast majority of their sales, and they’re both very expensive and somewhat controversial because of that expense (which means they’re heavily scrutinized for reimbursement by insurance companies)… and they’re also curative in nature (so there’s no recurring treatment or recurring revenue).
There is a huge and still largely untapped market for Sovaldi and Harvoni and their competitors — there are millions of people with untreated (and often undiagnosed) Hepatitis C in the US, and many more around the world… but it seems to still be up in the air what percentage of them might get Harvoni or Sovaldi while they’re relatively healthy or showing few symptoms of the disease, as many are. There are competitors in HCV, particularly from AbbVie, and there will be new drugs released in the future that could dislodge Gilead’s Sovaldi and Harvoni, so that’s probably an area of some concern as well if you think that competition could provide pricing pressure… but really, a company that triples sales in two years (to over $30 billion in 2015) should not be trading at this kind of huge discount to the market unless there’s a lot of investor uncertainty about the future.
The reason GILD is trading at what looks like a bargain valuation (a trailing PE of about 7, which is phenomenally cheap in this market) is that no one is quite sure what their sales will be… and analysts seem to think that revenue has plateaued, and the days of massive growth, fun though they were, are behind Gilead. They are expected to report sales and earnings this year that are about five percent lower than last year, and then perhaps to grow earnings by a couple percent again next year (even though sales are expected to decline further). I don’t think analysts have any real confidence about what the average sales for their HCV drugs will be over the next few years, so presumably that uncertainty provides much of the risk discount you’re getting if you buy Gilead today. The five-year growth estimate for GILD, per the analysts, is 0.65% per year — so they think earnings will be flat for the next five years (five year estimates are almost always way off, of course, but you have to use somebody’s guess unless you have a good one of your own).
Gilead is not just about Harvoni and Sovaldi, of course, though they certainly have a strong focus on antivirals — the company doubled sales from roughly $5 billion to $10 billion in the five years before Sovaldi was released, it’s just that those other products and the potential from their pipeline is dwarfed by that $20+ billion in annual sales that are coming from their Hepatitis C franchise right now. It’s unclear whether that level of sales will be sustained, or for how long or how gradual the decline might be if sales do tail off… but it’s very clear that replacing that kind of revenue is almost impossible.
The good news for investors is that they don’t have to replace it with one drug, or to replace it in short order (we’re talking about perhaps a gradual decline in HCV revenue, according to most guesses I’ve seen — this isn’t necessarily a “patent cliff” situation where revenue will disappear overnight, not unless there’s some regulatory change that forces a lower price on Gilead or pulls some patent protection in the backlash against high prescription drug prices).
The bad news is that drugs that can generate even $1 billion in revenue are pretty rare, and expensive to develop or acquire, so there will need to be a lot of new drugs added to Gilead’s product list over the next decade to have the hope of re-starting revenue growth if Harvoni and Sovaldi revenue are indeed topping out. So Gilead will be spending a lot of that profit from their HCV drugs on developing new treatments, and drugs that are still in clinical trials are, of course, inherently far riskier than drugs that are already on the market.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place very often, so we probably shouldn’t expect Gilead to develop another drug family that can generate $20 billion in annual sales anytime soon… but as long as there isn’t a precipitous decline in HCV drug revenue, they shouldn’t need that kind of blockbuster. Not when they’re trading at 7 times earnings, and with a decent 2% dividend (they do have some debt, but not very much once you net out cash and investments). So really, the question for Gilead, if you don’t want to make guesses about their future pipeline, seems to be how quickly the sales will decline for Sovaldi and Harvoni.
My shorthand thinking is this (yours, of course, may differ): If sales of those two drugs fall gradually (up to 10% a year) for ten years and then disappear, going roughly to zero in 2025, then Gilead is probably dirt cheap right now because they have meaningful sales from other drugs and almost certainly will commercialize some solid drugs in their pipeline in the next decade. If sales fall 30% a year and go to near zero in five years because of competition or regulatory changes or whatever else, then Gilead is a bit iffier, and probably needs some hits to emerge from the pipeline fairly quickly to be worth owning even at this discounted price. If Gilead can really keep earnings flat for the next five years, as the average analyst is predicting, I’d buy it in a heartbeat for seven times earnings. Flat isn’t always terrible if it’s flat at a really, really high level, even if there’s a risk that some of that $18 billion a year in net income ends up being wasted on unworthy R&D or foolish acquisitions. But, of course, I wouldn’t bet too much on the analysts really being right about the next five years of earnings being flat because I don’t really understand the company or the industry very well.
I’m not a biotech investor as a general rule and don’t own Gilead shares, so that’s just my initial response after reading a bit about the company today. Frankly, I have trouble assessing most companies in this space — partly because of the lack of financial data, and the amount of guessing I would have to do to translate science into 10-years-from-now sales as I endure heartburn over every Phase 2 clinical trial that jolts a stock by 30%. So I usually leave those discussions to the biotech fans in our readership, and to Dr. KSS, our biotech columnist and discussion leader who has written about Gilead many times over the years (his most recent lengthy look at the company was in April, though he comments on the stock pretty frequently in his biotech discussion threads).
And if you’re looking for more general commentary about antivirals or you aren’t a paid member of the Irregulars (“whyever not,” he huffs), we also had a piece out earlier today from Michael Jorrin (“Doc Gumshoe”) on just that topic for your edutainment, and that also mentions Gilead’s HCV drugs.
So… fancy a piece of Gilead at this valuation? Have a sense for how their pipeline will develop, or whether their HCV drugs will decline in sales quickly or slowly? Let us know with a comment below.