The Greenlight Capital funds (the “Partnerships”) returned 6.5%,1 net of fees and expenses, in the fourth quarter of 2013, bringing the full year net return to 19.1%. Since inception in May 1996, Greenlight Capital, L.P. has returned 2,211% cumulatively or 19.5% annualized, both net of fees and expenses.
The long, short and macro portfolios contributed 10.4%, 4.0% and 0.7% of alpha respectively to the gross annual return of the Partnerships; market beta added an additional 10.4%. We do not expect to keep pace with a straight up market, and we didn’t – the S&P 500 index soared another 10% in the fourth quarter to end the year up 32.4%.
The parabolic rise of a growing number of market-leading story stocks created a challenging environment for value investors. Speculators have momentarily accepted the ruse that, for these visionary companies, profitability would be a mistake. Eventually, the market will remember that having a disruptive product that customers will happily buy if sold near cost is not the same as having a valuable business. Philosophically, since we would not expect to be long these highfliers, the best we can hope to do is not be short them at the wrong time. For the most part, we weren’t.
Technology (MU) and medium-sized positions in BP plc (BP) and Anadarko Petroleum (APC). MU is a manufacturer of semiconductor memory chips (DRAM and NAND flash). This isn’t our first go-round with MU; it was a large short position from January 2001 to February 2005. Back then, DRAM was a lousy industry with too many competitors selling an undifferentiated product, often below cost. In the first quarter of 2001 when the shares were trading in the low $40s we wrote:
At the time, the valuation was kept aloft by the hopes and dreams of sell-side analysts. In our next letter we shared the following anecdote:
In an exchange of e-mails with a leading sell-side analyst who recommends purchase of MU with a $70 per share target, we solicited his justification for the current $24 billion market capitalization (let alone the $40 billion suggested by his target.)
Our analyst friend explained he tried to use cyclical valuation methodologies to come up with a rationale for buying the stock but failed because such an approach suggests “the stock should trade in the teens.” However, he maintains, should we have a good pricing environment next year, “people will treat the stock the same way [as they have] and take it much higher than they should.” Lest we be unclear about his raison d’être, he added he “could just perennially stamp an underperform on MU because he can’t justify the $24 billion, but that would be boring.” He need not worry; we are fans of boring.
This sort of unchecked cheerleading among sell-side analysts is by no means gone. Today, they spin different fables to justify otherwise inexplicable valuations for the latest flavor-of-the-month stocks. As for MU, a decade of poor results exposed every flaw in the business and killed any love for the stock. The sell-side groupthink has reversed: the mostly bearish analysts now contort themselves to justify earnings estimates that are too low, price targets that are too pessimistic, and stock ratings that are too negative.
We established a position in MU at an average price of $16.49, marking the first time we have taken a long position in a company in which we once had a material short position. The industry has changed and so has MU. Its purchase of Elpida Memory out of bankruptcy in August 2013 marks the end of a decade of consolidation from roughly a dozen major DRAM players down to just three. Technological advances and locked-up intellectual property have made it unlikely that any new players will enter the industry in the intermediate term.
MU and its competitors have signaled that they will refrain from adding capacity and will instead prioritize economic value-add. For the first time in memory, MU intends to use its excess cash flow to shrink the outstanding share count rather than build new factories. We believe the company will approach $4 per share of earnings and free cash flow in calendar 2014, and should enjoy a better multiple as investors begin to appreciate the new dynamic. The shares ended the quarter at $21.75.
We established a position in BP at an average price of $47.39. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was nearly four years ago. Since then, investors have focused on the ensuing legal cases regarding clean-up and restitution efforts, while overlooking BP’s improved return on capital in its core businesses. Allowing for more negative legal outcomes than BP has currently provisioned, we believe the company’s net asset value (NAV) is nearly $70 per share. It can therefore create substantial value by selling assets at or above NAV and using the income to repurchase stock at a significant discount. This is exactly what BP has been doing. Further, BP has restricted capital expenditures and increased dividends – all evidence of a more shareholderfriendly approach. As the legal issues subside, we expect the market to appreciate BP’s portfolio value and its improved capital allocation. In the meantime, we own an industry leader at 9x earnings with a 5% dividend yield. BP shares ended the quarter at $48.61.
APC is a global exploration and production company with a high-quality upstream portfolio comprised of U.S. onshore resources, deep-water Gulf of Mexico assets, and interests in other high-potential oil and gas basins around the world. The company also owns 91% of Western Gas Equity Partners (WGP), a publicly traded master limited partnership created in 2012 to hold APC’s limited and general partner interests in Western Gas Partners (WES).
In mid-December the company suffered a legal setback stemming from its 2006 acquisition of oil and gas assets from Kerr-McGee, whose titanium dioxide unit went bankrupt. With APC facing potential damages of $14 billion or $5 billion, investors dumped the shares, which we then acquired at an average cost of $78.55. Assuming a worst-case legal outcome, APC’s core valuation net of its stake in WGP and its interest in an undeveloped, but valuable prospect in Mozambique, is less than 4x EBITDA. This is cheap compared to peers that lack APC’s valuable upstream assets and exciting exploration prospects, but nonetheless trade at higher valuations. Our legal analysis suggests that the ultimate payment is likely to be the lesser of the two amounts and will be partly tax deductible. APC shares ended the quarter at $79.32.
We closed out positions in Airbus Group, formerly known as the European Aeronautic Defence Space Company (France: EADS), and ThyssenKrupp (Germany: TKA).
We bought the shares in EADS during a sell-off in response to the company’s unpopular proposal to buy BAE Systems in 2012. EADS ultimately abandoned the merger and instead repurchased a lot of stock while also reorganizing its corporate structure to reduce the influence of several government shareholders. The shares rallied and we sold for a nice gain. We also bought TKA shares in 2012. Though management made significant progress in restructuring the company, a difficult external environment meant that asset sales and cash flow generation fell short of their hopes and ours. We exited with a very small loss.
On the organizational front, we added Amanda Armstrong as an executive assistant. Amanda joins us from the fashion industry and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont.
We believe that in addition to her office management experience, Amanda’s sartorial expertise will raise the caliber of our Annual Partner Dinner Tie Selection Committee. Welcome Amanda!
Jaime Lester joins Greenlight as a research analyst. Jaime spent the past nine years managing Soundpost Partners. He has an MBA from Columbia and an AB in Applied Mathematics and Economics from Harvard. Though his official start date wasn’t until January, Jaime opted to begin his tenure early and join us at our annual getaway in December where he was gracious enough not to steal anyone’s thunder on the basketball court. Welcome Jaime! Most of our operations staff has relocated from the north side of our office on the 24th floor to our new space on the 23rd floor. When you come for a visit, Justin would be happy to give you a tour.
The new digs are so nice that the staff upstairs wants their floor updated to match. Henry ‘Hank the Tank’ Lepone was born October 20, 2013 to Justin and Erin. Henry’s arrival added 1% to the global population of people with the last name Lepone. Justin proudly points out that the 0-6 New York Giants went 7-3 after Henry entered the world. We expect you will find it more interesting that the Partnerships made a third of the annual return since then.
Finally, Alexis returned from her winter getaway married. That’s the first surprise wedding at Greenlight … ever. Congratulations to Alexis and Rob!
At quarter-end, the largest disclosed long positions in the Partnerships were Apple, General Motors, Marvell
Technology Group, Micron Technology and Vodafone Group. The Partnerships had an average exposure of 125% long and 70% short.
“I did three things yesterday! Now I’m supposed to keep doing things? It’s like the things never end!”
— Allie Brosh
Greenlight Capital, Inc.