During the last few days when I was traveling to and reporting from the Value Investing Congress for the Irregulars (some great presentations, by the way, my notes from day one and day two are up now and I’m hoping to get some more thinking time in regarding these ideas soon), the most-requested teaser for the “Gumshoe treatment” has been this pitch from Sid Riggs for his “Small-Cap Rocket Alert.”
And I can see why. The ad is full of great little animations showing the huge gains of “Rocket Stocks” in the past, and you almost can’t help but get worked up as you are teased about the great new small-cap ideas Riggs is hinting at.
But, of course, most of the ad is crap — in any year, in any market, you can go back and find a dozen spectacular stock performers, and most of them will be smaller companies that did, in retrospect, have key inflection points and catalysts that drove them higher.
You can also find many more small cap stocks that had blah performance in line with the market, or had key inflection points and catalysts that drove them far lower. That’s just the nature of the stock market — small stocks are, on average, far more volatile and unpredictable, particularly those that are in exploration or discovery or “emerging” sectors like technology, biotech or natural resources.
Riggs does not claim that he recommended those dozen or so stocks that were great examples of “rocket stocks”, but if you’re the average market novice scanning through his presentation the implication is that these are just the kinds of recommendations he’ll be making. And who knows, maybe he’ll be a growth stock savant who does pick dozens of 1,000% gainers and make subscribers of his pricey ($1,950 a year) newsletter very happy… but I’d suggest, if you’re inclined to give Mr. Riggs a try, that you have much, much more muted expectations, as far as I know he’s got no track record at all.
The publisher describes the newsletter’s promise this way:
“In his thousands of hours of number-crunching, editor Sid Riggs discovered a pattern of profits that’s almost foolproof. He identified seven ‘sparks’ – catalysts – that consistently propel small-cap stocks to new highs, making investors potentially life-changing gains in the process. Now he’s showing members exactly how this works – what to buy, how to buy, what to sell, and when to do it. This blows the small-cap market wide open for retail investors.”
Those “game-changing sparks” he talks about are the catalysts that every investor looks for — key management changes or decisions, big contracts or “game-changing” deals, new institutional buying interest, upward profit revisions, biotech clinical trial results or breakthrough technology developments, etc.
And his new “spark” is apparently pointing him to small energy stocks, which is where he has some hints to drop for us about his fabulous new stocks:
“Of course, one of the fundamental truths about the stock market is that money is always moving somewhere…
“And, even though it’s not making the headlines yet, the evidence is clear:
“Billions of dollars in ‘smart money’ is clearly moving into energy stocks….
“It’s been flowing there since early February when research from some of the biggest and smartest analysts around the world indicated profits from this sector were about to explode…
“And lit a spark, even bigger than the Upward Profit Revision Spark’ that rocketed so many biotech stocks higher in the past 18 months.”
That “clear evidence” is that the energy index (he uses the Vanguard Energy Index mutual fund in his example chart, which tracks a large cap energy stock index including both producers and oil service companies) climbed 20%+ from the bottom in February to the top a couple months ago when oil peaked. The chart is accurate — though saying that means the “smart money” is definitively moving into energy is probably akin to reading tea leaves, the whole market was up nearly that much and, if you go back a full year, that energy index has basically matched the performance of the S&P 500, though with more volatility.
So he apparently has a bunch of stocks he wants to recommend to you…
“In each case, profits are predicted to soar… by five, 11, 18 even as much as 35 times over the coming three years…
“Top national analysts – some of whom work for the biggest institutional investors in the world – have upgraded full year profit estimates multiple times.
“Big institutional investors are pouring in. Some are establishing positions for the very first-time. And, we can only assume it’s in anticipation of these profit surges paying off big time in the near future.
“But here’s the best news:
“There’s still time for you to get in on this historic profit run…
“Before institutional investors finish establishing their positions…Are you getting our free Daily Update
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“Before the mainstream media takes serious notice of this story…
“Before regular investors start pouring in…
“Long before the biggest gains have been made.”
So… will his “Rocket Stocks” be big winners that have great growth catalysts? Beats me, but I can sift through the clues and tell you what the stocks are so you can decide for yourself. Let’s jump into those hints and clues — there are several stocks teased, so I’ll try to be brief on each one:
“MEGA Spark” Energy Play #1:
“There’s one company I want you to see. I believe it’s your single best opportunity to cash in on the American oil boom, given its:
“HUGE institutional buying…
“ULTRA LOW-RISK production…
“And the potential for near-term MULTI-CATALYST EVENTS stemming from six important new oil wells going ‘live’ this year.”
And some specifics on “#1”
“It’s a small ($360 million market cap) Texas oil and gas exploration and production company with primary operations in Oklahoma, Texas, and the Gulf Coast Basin.
“Since 2003, it’s grown production by 294%… increased estimated proved reserves by 262% – and has realized a 95% drilling success rate on 918 gross wells drilled….
“In the last 30 days, the company has experienced no fewer than 15 upward profit revisions….
“From the 25 cent per share current profits, analysts are calling for profits to spike as high as 72 cents this year… and $1.02 next year! Assuming a growth rate of 114.8%, my calculations show their profits will continue to spike to $2.19 the year after… and as high as $4.71 in 2017….
“No wonder mutual funds and institutional investors are piling in.
“They’ve snapped up over seven million shares since the Upward Revision “spark” began. And when you consider the company has just about 65 million shares outstanding – that represents a buy of better than 11% of the total float… just in a single quarter.
“We’re talking very influential players too: Vanguard, Blackrock, and more.”
So that institutional buying is apparently one of his catalysts, and there’s one more:
“The company’s about to turn on the spigots at six more very promising horizontal wells in East Texas by the end of the year.”
So what is this “single best opportunity” stock? According to the machinations of the Mighty, Mighty Thinkolator, this is Petroquest Energy (PQ).
Petroquest is a gas producer with a bit of natural gas liquids (NGLs) and oil to boost results, they primarily produce from Louisiana and the shallow Gulf of Mexico, where they were focused on being an offshore gas company over the past decade, and now from the Woodford Shale in Oklahoma, which generate pretty good cash flow for them, and they’re putting some of that cash flow into exploiting their reserves in East Texas, buying into larger offshore projects, and expanding the Woodford Shale projects as they attempt to transition to longer-lived projects.
The teased numbers for their past decade of success, by the way, come straight from the last 10-Q which you can read here if you’re interested — here’s an excerpt:
“As part of the strategic shift to diversify our asset portfolio and lower our geographic and geologic risk
profile, we refocused our opportunity selection processes to reduce our average working interest in higher risk projects, shift capital to higher
probability of success onshore wells and mitigate the risks associated with individual wells by expanding our drilling program across multiple basins.
“We have successfully diversified into onshore, longer life basins in Oklahoma and Texas through a combination of selective acquisitions and
drilling activity. Beginning in 2003 with our acquisition of the Carthage Field in East Texas through 2013, we have invested the majority of our capital into growing our longer life assets. During the ten year period ended December 31, 2013 , we have realized a 95% drilling success rate on 918 gross wells drilled. Comparing 2013 metrics with those in 2003, the year we implemented our diversification strategy, we have grown production by 294% and estimated proved reserves by 262% . At June 30, 2014 , 86% of our estimated proved reserves and 55% of our second quarter of 2014 production
were derived from our longer life assets.”
So they have been growing production and earnings pretty rapidly, which is why the stock has done very well this year after a flat 2013. And yes, those institutions teased do own shares (though much of the institutional ownership is really just index fund or similar broad-based ownership), and analyst estimates have gone up and growth expectations are pretty high. Analysts are now projecting that they’ll grow at 29% a year for the next five years, which would be extremely rapid growth, and if they can actually do that (which depends both on their drilling performance and on natural gas prices), well, then the current price of the stock looks awfully reasonable — they’re trading at about 24X their earnings over the last four quarters but less than 10X their expected earnings in 2015.
So if you’re optimistic about gas prices and about their ability to continue getting good production from their new wells, sure, it might be worth researching further… but from what I’ve seen no one aside from Sid Riggs is telling us that they’ll be increasing their earnings at better than 100% a year each year going forward (which would be crazy earnings growth for a little nat gas E&P company). That’s about all I know about them — they have a decent overview in their latest investor presentation if you want to give that a whirl.
How about the other ones he teases and hints at? Let’s take a quick look one at a time…
“‘MEGA Spark’ Energy Play #2:
“It’s a little NYSE-traded oil explorer that’s snapped up over 1.9 million acres of oil-rich property in South America – including six new oil field discoveries that have quadrupled the company’s oil production the last three years….
“From 2006 to 2013, its average daily production increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 58% to currently around 20,000 boepd (barrels of oil equivalent per day). Plus, as of May 2014, the company reported proved reserves of 29.1 million boe with total reserves of 131 million boe.
Those are big numbers for a little company. Assuming a 167% growth rate I expect profits to soar, from around 40 cents a share today – to as much as $15 in 2017…”
This one is GeoPark (GPRK), a pretty diversified South American oil and gas company, their production is primarily in Chile and Colombia and their proven reserves are split pretty equally between Chile, Colombia and Brazil — they also have other earlier stage projects, including some in Argentina and Peru. I’ve never heard of them before today, but they’re reasonably substantial with a market cap around $600 million (plus a couple hundred million in debt) and just got their NYSE listing in February this year (they’ve been public for at least eight years, were listed on the small-cap AIM in London previously).
If analysts are right (a huge IF for a new company with three analysts, whose estimates vary widely), then GPRK is trading for about 8X current-year earnings of $1.25 or so (shares are in the $10.50 neighborhood) and will grow earnings by about 20% next year. Those are certainly reasonable metrics, but I know nothing about their projects or prospects other than that the reported a profit last quarter and have been growing cash flow and production for a few years. Their latest investor presentation from May is here, it appears to be the source of much of the info in the teaser pitch, and the most recent quarterly press release is here from late August. With that, I’ll let you go and research GPRK to your heart’s content — let us know if you see something worthwhile there. It’s a decent-sized company but trades in extremely low volume in NY, so be careful if you do get excited about it.
“‘MEGA Spark’ Energy Play #3:
“Next I’ll send you research on an innovative little company cashing in on the growing demand for more accurate and money saving “seismic” capabilities.
“A brand new ‘seismic gun’ that can locate rich, deep-water reserves much faster and more accurately than current technologies….
“With a commanding 70% market share of the seismic energy exploration segment, this company is the clear leader.
“Earnings have already increased from $0.78 to $1.12 per share over the past five quarters…
“But with their new “seismic gun” technology, and assuming a projected 52% growth rate , I expect the profits to grow from $1.12 per share today… to as much as $5.96 in 2017.”
This one is Bolt Technology (BOLT), and it’s no longer a real earnings growth story because it’s a takeover (and lawsuit) story. They announced they had agreed to be acquired by Teledyne for about $171 million, which works out to $22 a share in cash (the shares were around $16 at the time, last week, and had fallen about 25% this year after a big runup last year). So I guess Riggs caught some “lightning” (heh heh) on that one if he suggested it before last week, but the huge number of lawsuits percolating is a reflection of the angst of investors, many of whom probably bought it over the Winter when it was also around $22. The stock is trading at the takeover price, I have no idea whether it goes through or not or if there could be an overbid by someone else. It’s a very small stock, the Teledyne bid means they’re paying about 23X earnings and 3X sales for the company.
Hard to see a lot of reason to get involved with this one, not when a tiny company is being acquired by a far larger one, it’s already trading at the offer price, and the only post-offer news flow is from lawyers.
So let’s move on… next one?
“‘MEGA Spark’ Energy Play #4:
“Next up – a terrific ground floor play on the coming fracking boom in China….
“China’s leaders have set an aggressive annual shale gas production goal of 6.5 billion cubic meters by 2015. To meet it, estimates suggest that China’s going to need nearly 2,000 new wells in the next 18 months alone….
“Based in Beijing, this little company has spent the last 10 years building relationships with China’s major oil producers and government leaders. Now that the Chinese government appears ready to get serious about domestic energy production, this little company seems poised for the big time.
“According to my calculations, earnings have the potential to soar – from nine cents a share today – to as much as $1.09 over the next three years, assuming an 84% growth rate.
“Institutional investors are excited too. Even though the company’s $21 million market cap is typically too small for the big boys to even consider –– several high-profile institutions have just taken brand new positions nonetheless.
“Among them: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, UBS Financial Services, Tower Research, and Jane Street Group.”
I can’t confirm the Thinolator’s results on this one definitively, but this is almost certainly Recon Group (RCON), which is an oil technology services company in China. They’ve been around for a long time, they’ve always been tiny, but they do currently report a small profit. I have no idea whether things are really looking up for them, the story about China’s investment in more drilling and oil search is a longstanding one but the industry there is so opaque I don’t know how anyone could guess what will happen. They are controlled by some kind of insider shareholders, presumably founders or partners who I haven’t looked into — the list of institutional shareholders does include Morgan Stanley, UBS and Jane Street (not Tower Research), but that’s extraordinarily misleading, those firms in total control about $60,000 worth of shares (less than one half of one percent of a teensy weensy company).
That’s all I know about ’em, but they’re very small so if you can get ’em on the phone they’ll probably tell you their story — do be careful, they have doubled their share count over the last five years without any commensurate increase in revenue or earnings. And stocks like this, with a market cap of just $20 million, are usually absolute junk and can move dramatically up or down for no particular reason.
“‘MEGA Spark’ Energy Play #5:
“The next research I’ll share features a little company fast becoming known in the oil industry for increasing drilling efficiency and dramatically reducing drilling time.
“Grinding oil and gas out of the ground the old-fashioned way is tough work.
“This company has produced a water-based technology breakthrough that provides higher lubricity, reduced circulating temperatures, and increased rate of penetration, all while saving the environment from unnecessary harm.
“Oil and gas drillers are beating a path to this company’s door as a result. Sales are soaring both domestically and internationally – from $27 million in 2010 to $120 million in 2013… just for this one product alone!
“Energy analysts have revised the company’s earnings upward a whopping 43 times… making this one of the biggest sparks in the industry.
“That’s why I believe this ‘picks and shovels’ mainstay could be a ‘no brainer’ double by next year… with a lot more to come.”
This one is Newpark Resources (NR), a much larger (billion dollar market cap) oil services stock that focuses on fluids and drilling mats. It looks like their earnings are fairly flat this year — flat for two years, if you take out their discontinued operations — and analysts think they’ll be growing earnings by about 30% next year. I know nothing about this business or whether their fluids are unique or particularly fabulous, their core line of water-based fluids is called Evolution and it did hit $120 million in sales last year as teased, and is apparently patented. That’s about 12% of their sales for that year.
I’ll leave you to your research on that one — let us know if you think it’s junk or a gem, I’ve got one more to look for:
“‘MEGA Spark’ Energy Play #6:
“Sometimes you have to travel to some pretty obscure places to find great investment opportunities – and that’s exactly the case with the next ‘mega-spark’ opportunity I’ve uncovered.
“The company is engaged in the acquisition, exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas in Turkey and Bulgaria.