Stock Sonar

  • Each week, we post interesting highlights from our bottom-up research
  • If we come across a tactical trade idea (about twice a month), we post it here
  • Most posts are meant to be informational

Stock Sonar #50 - 3/27/2024

SIFY Technologies (NAS:SIFY) — mrkt cap $240mm; Price $1.3; EV/EBITDA 7

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED. SIFY is the fourth largest data center provider in India and was one of the few reasonably priced companies on our AI screen. As the notion of Sovereign AI (the idea that countries will want to have their own AI in domestic data centers) gains momentum, we believe data center providers in other nations stand to benefit from this centralization of data and computation.  However more research needs to be done on the growth of demand and the infrastructure to be able to ascertain future economic prospects of the data center industry.  

CXApp (NAS:CXAI) — mrkt cap $35mm; Price $2.3; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS.  CXAI went public via SPAC and is another name that surfaced on our AI screen. Despite the cleverly named ticker, the company does very little with AI and is a SaaS business that is developing a “workplace super app.” While there are undoubtedly technological needs that employers could use to facilitate a WFH world for the laptop class, the CXApp currently fills only a small portion of those needs – helping employees order from the company cafeteria and book desks and conference rooms. They focus on firms with > 500 employees, and each contract requires significant custom build. The company is still in nascent stages, with revenue forecasted at an optimistic $30mm in 2025. We will pass for now and potentially revisit later on.

Hugo Boss (BOSS-DE) — mrkt cap €3.9B; Price €54.94; P/E 14.5

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED. Hugo Boss (BOSS), a renowned German fashion brand, has seen stagnant growth since 2015, with revenues hovering around €2.8 billion through 2021, attributed to lost consumer relevance and misaligned strategies under CEOs Claus-Dietrich Lahrs and then later, Mark Langer. Lahr’s luxury positioning in China and pricing strategies led to complications and impairment of revenue from the European wholesale channel, while Langer’s focus on operational efficiency over brand investment resulted in further stagnation. The appointment of Daniel Grieder as CEO in 2021 signals a promising turn, with strategies aimed at modernizing the brand and leveraging European wholesale relationships. The valuation is somewhat attractive but we have more work to do to understand how the brand revitalization is progressing.

Stock Sonar #49 - 3/20/2024

Red Robin (NAS:RRGB) — mrkt cap $100mm; Price $6.5; EV/EBITDA 3.7

SPECULATIVE POSITION INITIATED. Red Robin is an overly indebted U.S.-based casual diner with roughly 500 restaurants located predominantly on the west coast. We passed on this name late last year but have recently had another look given the stock is down 45% YTD on higher-for-longer rate outlooks (RRGB debt costs are variable) and an overall challenging environment for restaurants as consumers shift spending to grocery stores. In November of last year, we spent time with the CFO discussing their “back to roots” strategy. New management has done away with Virtual Brands, discounting, and lack of investment. The company is guiding for 65mm EBITDA for FY 2024, with about ~30mm of that going to capital expenditure and ~22mm going towards interest payments. Sale-leasebacks will continue to reduce debt this year and are in part responsible for lower EBITDA targets (additional lease expense). We think highly of management and they have taken appropriate steps to improve RRGB. Given the recent sell-off, the risk/reward skew is attractive, and we are happy to initiate a position.

Zillow (NAS:Z) — mrkt cap $11.1B; Price $47.9; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS. Zillow has ambitions to become the housing super app. The name sold off ~16% after a seismic news event dropped in the real estate world (NAR Settlement 418mm). To summarize, buyers’ agents’ commission will likely have to negotiate fees directly with the buyer instead of being entitled to a commission on the sale. This will totally upend the way buyers’ commissions are currently paid. Roughly 65% of Zillow’s revenue is generated from buyers’ agents. Zillow generates leads, and agents pay monthly fees to receive these leads. Zillow generates additional revenue from their Rentals and Mortgage segment. And although they exited iBuying (instant buying), they have partnered with Opendoor as a risk-free way to reenter this market. We think there could be significant impacts to the ruling that have yet to reflect in Zillow’s stock price, and we will be patient, waiting for a better opportunity. (After any significant news event, we take a fresh look at names that are impacted – this is a good example).

Vimeo (NAS:VMEO)  — mrkt cap $937mm; Price $5.58; EV/EBITDA 22

PASS. VMEO was founded in 2004 and is a niche alternative to Youtube. It caters to high quality content creators, businesses, and Youtube outcasts (either they have been kicked off the platform or convert people to Vimeo given the lower revenue share). Users that upload videos pay Vimeo with different tier subscription plans as Vimeo does not serve advertisements. Although its TAM is limited, VMEO has a robust business model and generated positive cash flow in 2023. We will wait for a pullback in price before considering a position.

Stock Sonar #48 - 3/13/2024

Card Factory (LON:CARD)  — mrkt cap £323mm; Price £0.94; EV/EBITDA 3.6

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED. A UK vertically integrated specialist retailer of greeting cards, gifts, and celebration essentials. The business struggled post-COVID as they shut down their 1,000-store retail footprint and the sale of greeting cards moved to grocery stores. Since then, the company has slowly regained its footing, with revenue growing steadily since FY ’21. The market doesn’t think too highly of the retail greeting card business, probably due to online competition, e-cards, or a general belief that fewer people are buying greeting cards. We have a few reasons to disagree but still have research to do on the industry. Additionally, more research needs to be done on CARD’s growth drivers. But so far, we like what we see.

PubMatic (NAS:PUBM) — mrkt cap $1.1B; Price $23.0; EV/EBITDA 23

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED. PubMatic runs an online marketplace that connects digital content creators with advertisers. They make it convenient for buyers (advertisers) to review ad space supplied by publishers and then have a bidding structure in place that allows for purchase. They generate a large portion of their revenue not only by selling ad space to advertisers but also by selling this ad space to other platforms. The digital ad space is complex and seems to be in a state of constant evolution. We have previously discussed how media fragmentation is an underfollowed megatrend. CMOs are struggling with complexity such as where to advertise (Google, Meta, OTT, Linear TV, etc.). PUBM is solving some of these problems by selling ad space on a variety of formats, including streamed content. The valuation does seem rich but perhaps the business model and market opportunity warrant it. Still more digging to do.

Graftech (NYSE:EAF) — mrkt cap $480mm; Price $1.87; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS. We first wrote about EAF in September of last year. More research was needed to determine how their business was evolving with EV demand. Since then, it has fallen by more than 50%. To recap, EAF is a vertically integrated manufacturer of graphite electrodes. These are used in electric arc furnaces (EAF) to produce steel. Potential green shoots for them involved converting their needle coke into anodes for EV batteries. However, there has been no headway here (with prospects likely years away) and supply from India and China will continue to keep prices depressed in the electrode segment. Coupled with their high margin long-term agreements expiring this year, EAF is in for a tougher time ahead.

Stock Sonar #47 - 3/6/2024

Guess, Inc (NYS:GES) — mrkt cap $1.4B; Price $25.76; EV/EBITDA 6.8

PASS. Guess is a global brand and retailer that sells apparel and accessories. They have made recent strides to improve profitability, including closing ~280 stores. While this is positive, cost cutting is now most likely in its final innings, and the business does appear to be fully mature—it is hard to determine where their next growth opportunity lies. In many cases, an acquisition by management is effectively an admission that they lack growth opportunities. We believe Guess’ acquisition of Rag & Bone is an indication of this. We maintain a bias towards organic growth, and although Guess is most likely slightly undervalued, we cannot gain conviction in the business’s future strength. We will wait for a better opportunity elsewhere.

KKR & Co (NYS:KKR) — mrkt cap $86B; Price $97.2; P/E 24

PASS. KKR is a large Private Equity (PE) firm that has grown its assets to 550 billion (up 10% yoy). Private Equity companies enjoy an (unfair?) advantage over public equity managers in that their underlying investments have stable market values, giving LPs the illusion of security. Even if PE expected returns edge downwards, we believe institutions and HNW individuals will continue to increase exposure. Additionally, larger managers enjoy access to large bases of LP capital and have the ability to charge fees on uncommitted capital. In short, these are durable advantages that make them great businesses. It’s important to remember, despite the rebrand, Private Equity firms are LBOs, and as a result, their opportunity set is a function of debt markets and the broader economy. Higher interest rates and a weaker economy will reduce investment opportunities. Fundraising has been challenging for private equity markets over the last year; however, KKR’s geographic diversity has acted as a stabilizer. Unfortunately for us, KKR’s stock price has run up ~75% in the last four months, and we will wait for a better entry point.

Marvell Technology (NAS:MRVL) — mrkt cap $68B; Price $78.73; EV/EBITDA 70

PASS. MRVL is a leading fabless semiconductor company that designs and develops a wide range of components that facilitate the movement, storage, processing, and security of data. This ranges from Hard Disk Drive processors to DPUs to switches. MRVL holds significant market shares across these categories. As data center demand for larger data storage, lower latency switching, and faster data transfer compounds, MRVL will be a large beneficiary. However its lofty valuation, especially given it has legacy segments that are declining, will keep us on the sideline. 

Stock Sonar #46 - 2/28/2024

Farmer Bros (NAS:FARM) — mrkt cap 76mm; Price $3.59; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS. Farmers Brothers provides a portfolio of coffee supplies for approximately 40,000 businesses, mainly convenience stores and restaurants. Our research on FARM towards the end of last year suggested that “more research was needed” following the sale of their low-margin segment and management replacement. Since then, we’ve had several calls with the new management. While they seem highly competent, it’s evident that significant operational enhancements are necessary for sustained profitability. If successful, these improvements could yield significant operational leverage. However, gaining a concrete understanding of how effectively management will address the numerous operational overhauls required remains challenging for us.

Bayer (OTC:BAYRY) — mrkt cap $32B; Price $7.88; trailing EV/EBITDA 12

PASS. BAYR has had a tumultuous period with zero share price appreciation over the last twenty years. The reason for this is an ill-timed acquisition of Monsanto which saw them pay legal bills to the tune of 11 billion due to a class action suit claiming that Roundup was carcinogenic. Bayer has dropped roughly 70% since that acquisition. At the current valuation, the market is ascribing little value to the 32 pharma drugs in the pipeline which cost BAYR roughly ten billion dollars. There is still some litigation overhang and coupled with a decline in profitability from the crop science segment due to a normalization of prices, we believe a more attractive entry point can present itself in the near future.

Vital Farms (NAS:VITL) — mrkt cap $740mm; Price $17.88; trailing EV/EBITDA 17

PASS. Vital Farms is a company that specializes in producing ethically sourced pasture-raised eggs. VITL has grown revenues at a 30% CAGR for the last five years and currently is in over 25k stores nationwide.  VITL’s brand allows for premium prices which is why their gross margins are almost 2x that of other egg producers. Ethically produced is a core value for VITL; their eggs consistently rank among the healthiest (VITL allows for more than 100 sqft of pasture for each chicken while competitors allocate <1 sqft). VITL has ambitious targets and is aiming to reach 1B in revenue by 2027 with 12% EBITDA margins. We believe it is likely they can reach this however the multiple is a little rich for us and we will wait for a pullback to initiate a position.

Stock Sonar # 45 - 2/21/2024

Yellow Corporation (YELLQ) — mrkt cap $234mm; Price $4.5; trailing P/E NA

EXIT. We have exited this speculative trade. We first entered Yellow Corporation at less than a dollar a share and our returns have been several hundred percent (we wrote about entering YELLQ originally on 7/19/2023 at $.99c). Clearly, this has worked out unbelievably well and we were fortunate with our timing. Our latest thesis was that asset sales would generate north of 1.5B which would more than offset balance sheet liabilities. However, the risk still remains, and one we were willing to underwrite, that large off-balance sheet liabilities could wipe out equity holders. We have taken gains and are looking to recycle proceeds into other opportunities. Generally, speculative trades are not something we go looking but something that arises naturally from the bottom-up research process.

Coursera (NAS:COUR) — mrkt cap $2.5B; Price $16.52; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS. COUR operates in the online education industry. This is an industry that has almost unlimited supply capacity and has platforms like youtube to udemy to universities having their own online courses. As a result, the only means to bring revenue through the door is with heavy marketing which is why COUR and UDMY spend almost half of their revenue here (this is an advantage that top universities will always have as they already have share of mind and social proof). Although COUR is well capitalized, unit economics will unlikely ever improve given these industry dynamics.

Select Water (NAS:WTTR) — mrkt cap $945mm; Price $7.85; EV/EBITDA 9

More Research Needed. WTTR is a water solutions provider for the O&G industry. A necessary input and byproduct of fracking is large amounts of water. It is estimated that almost 2T gallons of water has been used for fracking since 2011 with about 50% of current needs met by recycled water. These water amounts will only get larger as horizontal fracking methods continue. WTTR is building the infrastructure needed to supply and treat water for these players from the pipelines to treatment facilities to storage tanks. Although the trends of the industry are in WTTR’s favor, long term unit economics to be assessed as a large part of WTTR’s current expenses and capex are in building out their infrastructure.

Stock Sonar # 44 - 2/14/2024

Powell Industries (NAS:POWL) — mrkt cap $1.77B; Price $147.94; EV/EBITDA 20

PASS. We wrote about POWL in our January 17th stock sonar. We were still in our diligence phase and unfortunately the stock has run away from us on good earnings and is up almost 100% since. We believe that Powell Industries fundamentals will likely continue to do well but it is hard to underwrite the multiple with considerable cyclical exposure. To recap, POWL is a leader in custom design and servicing of electrical distribution solutions and although a large part of its business has been historically tied to the O&G sector, it has recently seen demand from the electrical infrastructure upgrade and data centers.

Everquote (NAS:EVER) — mrkt cap $508mm; Price $15.50; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS. When originally researching this name, we thought that Everquote was a comparison platform for insurance quotes. Think something like a Booking.com but for insurance. Instead, Everquote is a lead-generation platform. They spend significant amounts of ongoing marketing dollars to drive traffic to their site and then turn around and sell this customer information to insurance carriers – primarily to Progressive and State Farm (~30% of revenues). For Everquote to be successful, there would need to be evidence that they are growing into a consumer brand and providing value to customers by helping them compare and save money on premiums. Furthermore, they have unsuccessfully tried to expand into different insurance verticals and are heavily weighted to the auto insurance cycle.

Cryoport Inc (NAS:CYRX) — mrkt cap $730mm; Price $14.90; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS. Cryoport Systems is a market leader in temperature-controlled supply chains for the life sciences industry. CYRX caters to the growing cell and gene therapy market which in particular needs cryogenic solutions. This market is set to grow 15% annually for the next ten years. Being the IBM of temp controlled solutions, CYRX is chosen as the defacto provider and the growth of the gene industry should accrue to CYRX. CYRX currently does not generate profits and trades at over 5x revenue. Coupled with their pro cyclical share buybacks in which they repurchased shares at almost 3x the current share price, this gives us pause. We will wait for a further drawdown before considering a position.

Stock Sonar # 43 - 2/7/2024

Vertiv Holdings (NYSE:VRT) — mrkt cap $22.6B; Price $59.12; EV/EBITDA 29

PASS. Vertiv has gone up more than 300% in the last year as data center overhauls driven by AI have exploded. The rise of GPUs has increased the energy consumption of data centers (GPUs can consume about 5x more energy than a CPU). As a result, this has greatly increased the capex spend on anything from new uninterruptible power systems to new cooling systems. Vertiv offers a number of these solutions and has seen revenues increase by almost 30% yoy. SMCI is the other large competitor in the space (it has run up 25x in the last 4 years) and as of yet, the data center capex spend is accruing to these two players. Although in the short-term, demand will exceed supply, in the long term it is hard to predict the long term economics of VRT as the industry becomes commoditized.

Eventbrite (NAS:EB) — mrkt cap $851mm; Price $8.46; EV/EBITDA NA

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED. Eventbrite is an online platform connecting creators and event goers for live experiences. They are the leading platform in facilitating local events and have a marketplace that enjoys network effects as more creators and audience members are added. The company is not currently EBITDA profitable but has taken concrete steps in pursuit of their 20% EBITDA margin goal by the end of 2024. They have increased their take rate to 9%, cut 8% of their workforce in 2023 and should be close to completing their goal of relocating 30% of the remaining workforce. They have issued roughly 360mm of convertible notes which will likely translate to a ~7% dilution over the next three years– a significant overhang but not a dealbreaker. We have a call scheduled with management and will continue to diligence.

European Wax Center (NAS:EWCZ) — mrkt cap $925mm; Price $14.83; EV/EBITDA 31

PASS. European Wax is the largest franchisor of waxing services in the US with over 1k locations. This industry is largely dominated by small operators and being a larger and more sophisticated player, European Wax has local advantages such as marketing and is more operationally efficient. Store unit economics are profitable and shown by existing franchisees making up the majority of new builds. Although this is a good business, we do not believe European Wax will grow fast enough to justify its lofty multiple.

Stock Sonar # 42 - 1/31/2024

Zumiez (NAS:ZUMZ) — mrkt cap $349mm; Price $17.64; EV/EBITDA 5.4

We have exited ZUMZ. We discuss our exit here.

Carriage Services (NYS:CSV) — mrkt cap $378mm; Price $25.21; EV/EBITDA 9.6

PASS. Carriage Services is a roll-up that owns and operates 173 funeral homes and 32 cemeteries throughout the United States. The funeral home and cemetery industry remains heavily fragmented, with 80% of the market still in the hands of individual operators. The company was formerly led by its long-time founder and CEO Mel Payne, who recently faced health challenges with a stroke. The current management in place has held former positions at Service Corporation International – by far the largest player in the space. Given the industry’s predominant ownership by individual operators, there’s ample room for roll-ups like CSV. Despite our efforts, the impact of the COVID-induced surge in death rates and the growing preference for cremations over traditional burials—priced at a third of the cost—results in an unclear forward-looking profit picture. While this could make an interesting acquisition target for a PE firm, we cannot gain conviction and are passing.

Stemmer Imaging (XETA:S9I) — mrkt cap €210.6mm; Price €32.40; P/E 10.8

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED. Stemmer is the largest distributor/assembler of machine vision technology in Europe. The machine vision industry has been steadily growing and could see a step change in demand with the rise of GPUs and AI algorithms such as transformers drastically improving inference ability. As a distributor of machine vision components, Stemmer would be a direct beneficiary of this trend. Stemmer is a value-add assembler with the goal to have them be plug and play. It is positioning itself to be hardware and software agnostic to reduce reliance on suppliers. It will be important to assess the leverage of the component suppliers as that evolution will determine the profitability of Stemmer. The more modularized the value chain becomes, the more value accrues to Stemmer.

Lemonade inc (NAS:LMND) — mrkt cap $1.2B; Price $16.64; EV/EBITDA NA

PASS. Lemonade, a modern insurance player, is making strides in achieving more reasonable loss ratios across various lines of business. The company emphasizes advanced AI modeling, though historical internal data was limited until recently, positioning them as a leader in AI adoption within the insurance sector. For example, Lemonade employs a comprehensive dataset of around 4,000 points for assessing homeowners policies, in contrast to the approximately 40 data points used by traditional carriers. Advanced predictive techniques are at still low penetration rates across the industry. LMND reported improved Q3 earnings, and the stock saw a quick ~50% surge. Notable improvements in loss ratios across business lines and impressive growth in the pet care insurance segment are promising. However, the intensely competitive nature of the insurance market poses a challenge, with larger carriers potentially undercutting Lemonade in larger markets. Unless Lemonade focuses on niche lines, a sustained path towards profitability will be challenging.

Stock Sonar #41 - 1/24/2024

Berkshire Hathaway (NYS:BRKB) — mrkt cap $817B; Price $376; P/B 1.6

PASS. We believe that the risk is reasonably high that Berkshire will underperform the market on a go-forward basis. Berkshire relies on two drivers of value – one is their investment portfolio, and the other is their collection of subsidiaries. It is unclear to us how the investment portfolio will continue to be a driver of value it once was, and we believe that Berkshire should officially de-emphasize the importance of the investment portfolio to focus efforts on fixing and enhancing its subsidiaries. Berkshire 1.0 was largely an investment manager and budding conglomerate. For Berkshire to address its vulnerabilities, Berkshire 2.0 would need to complete its transition into a full conglomerate. In case readers missed it, we have written about this here.

Abercrombie & Fitch (NYS:ANF) — mrkt cap $5.2B; Price $103.9; EV/EBITDA 10.7

PASS. ANF is an American lifestyle retailer that also owns the Hollister brand. They have seen an impressive re-rating of their fundamentals in a challenging environment. Recent quarters have seen year-over-year revenue growth of over 15%, with earnings also improving. This is surprising because when we originally researched ANF in 2016, it was dubbed the most hated retailer in America by various consumer surveys. This was due to a ‘models only’ hiring policy and an overall brand image that was viewed as racially alienating. Longtime CEO Franz Horowitz engineered an impressive turnaround by using consumer intelligence to do more ‘chasing.’ They succeeded in their goal of staying true to their American heritage while tactically adjusting to fast fashion trends. After achieving the proper product assortment, ANF successfully used influencers and affiliates to raise awareness about their rebranded image. Although we like the company, in this environment, the price is slightly high, and we will wait for a better price before reconsidering.

Kalray (PA:ALKAL) — mrkt cap €175mm; Price €20.65; EV/EBITDA NA            

MORE RESEARH NEEDED. Kalray is a fabless semiconductor company that designs Data Processing Units (DPUs). DPUs are specialized processors designed to offload specific compute tasks from CPUs. These tasks are workloads such as data transfer, security, and data compression. DPUs essentially orchestrate data transfer from cloud to edge to premise whereas historically data has been more fixed in a central location. Kalray recently partnered with Dell which provides them access with distribution. Kalray competes against larger player such as Nvidia and Marvell and has positioned itself to go after more specific workloads and smaller customers. KLRY has grown 60% yoy and is currently value at about 7x revenue. The DPU market is set to grow to 6B by 2031, roughly a 27% CAGR from today.