Change of plans

Change of plans

Just a quick note to disclose that I’ve sold (almost) all of my stocks in the past few days to make an investment outside the stock market. (I won’t be writing about that one). I don’t think I’ve not had almost all my money in stocks since I was 17, so I feel a bit strange.

Here’s a list of pre-existing positions and approximate gains or losses, as well as some closing thoughts on two long held positions I’ve not addressed previously.

Sold Positions Returns (not adjusted for position size):
Xero 26.3%
Nearmap 118%
NGE Capital 33%
Experience Co -17%
Oliver’s Real Foods -36%
Tower Limited 42%
Base Resources 1.8%
Just Group plc -52.5%
British American Tobacco -9.8%
Altria 3.5%
Undisclosed 8.5%
Greenlight Re -31.5%

The above returns exclude dividends and position size and just measure stock price. Xero and Nearmap returns correspond to the price at the time I added them to the portfolio (Jan 2019) not their actual price at purchase several years ago. Oliver’s and Experience Co returns are substantially higher due to bargain purchases at approximately 2 cents and 17 cents after their recent collapses. I think I’ll be proven right on Experience Co, and likely proven wrong on Oliver’s. As noted previously, position size is the largest contributor to the overall mediocre performance of the 10foot portfolio.

I still hold Scorpio Tankers (STNG) (up 33%) and Despegar (DESP) (down 3%) and have made no changes to those small positions.  Here is a list of latest position sizes for context – although i’ve sold almost all of these positions except STNG and DESP, as noted.

I published my latest quarterly thoughts a month ago and not much has changed since then, so you can read that for updates on the other positions. I want to do a quick commentary on Xero and Nearmap, and below that I’ll publish the CAGR performance of the portfolio.

Xero and Nearmap: 

Xero and Nearmap are very different businesses; my comfort is much greater with Xero than Nearmap due to valuation, the perceived quality of the executive team, and how far along the journey each company was at the time of purchase. However, the theses were very similar: A fast growing business with a genuinely valuable/new product that was sold off heavily/avoided (in my opinion) over fears relating to cash burn. I first bought a small “watching position” in Xero at $42 (a story for another time) then purchased it several times below $20 before loading the boat at $12. I bought Nearmap originally at 52 cents and doubled and then tripled the position at 39 and 38 cents respectively. These prices were only available because people were sceptical about whether the companies would ever make money, and you could have bought these companies for several years during which it was possible to see customer lifetime value improving and new customers being added.

With Xero it was very clear to me that the company would make a lot of money – the company was “underlying” profitable excluding growth marketing expense and a number of metrics (such as one I called “marketing ROI” – a measure of new revenue added by marketing spend) suggested the expenditure was generating a very high return especially if you believed the customer retention numbers were real. In my view most customer retention numbers are a bit of a false construct – MYOB’s customer lifespan was very long until it wasn’t – but with a new product taking share from incumbents the bet seems to be more that the new product is so good that it will take several years for competitors to catch up. In Xero’s case let me feel comfortable enough to bet on the growth story despite bad high level metrics like cashflow. I was also comforted by the fact that management ran the business towards cashflow break even instead of raising more money to scale the company further. There are some views that this strategy was suboptimal from a maximisation of value perspective, and I agree, but for my level of conservatism, managing the business towards break even gave me extra comfort with having a very large position in Xero. I would have struggled to hold if the company had raised more money and borrowed heavily in order to scale further.

It is a similar story with Nearmap and there what swayed me was a number of new problems that were being solved that previously could not be solved in a digital way. The “optionality” (I hate that word) in the business was very high and also the businesses where problems were being solved were not sexy – digitally measuring roof tops for solar panel installations – but clearly added a lot of value. One of my old colleagues, the fellow who once gave 10foot its name, sadly not with us anymore, once introduced Nearmap to local councils to help them establish whether residential pools were compliant with new fencing regulations.

Ironically despite its performance, Nearmap was extremely hard to hold, far more so than Xero. Nearmap has had a few executive upsets and told the occasional lie (in my view) such as the ol’ “we’re not gonna raise capital” a few days before a cap raise comes out. I sold some Nearmap a lot earlier than Xero due to these concerns, but overall NEA has been the bigger winner by a factor of 3.

Portfolio summary:

For the 10foot portfolio, inception was on 30 March 2017 – 2 years and 3 weeks ago until last week when I sold all my stock. The portfolio generated a 6.8% CAGR over this time, including an average of around 33% in cash (year 1 was >50% cash) and effectively 3% brokerage. As I noted here it wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped but it’s also not a bad overall start. I feel that the learnings are likely to accelerate my progress in the future, which is not a bad outcome.

What’s next?

I’ll still write about stocks. I’d like to do more scuttlebutt-style posts, but I don’t do a lot of deep stock-specific research these days so that’s a bit challenging. What I definitely do is look at lots of stocks – probably well over a hundred a day – but only in passing. I currently maintain a paper long-short portfolio attempting to pick stocks by identifying a more high-level thesis without asking anything more than “can this type of business in this situation, at this enterprise value, generate outsized returns?”. I’d like to get say a hundred long ideas at tiny position sizes and see how it goes.  It’s an open question as to whether that ever generates an above-market return.

Those wanting two interesting international ideas should have a squiz at TSX:TGO, a spectrum owner with a $200m mcap and most of the 24GHZ and 39GHZ spectrum licenses in Canada. Then there’s SWX:ABB, which looks like a high quality robotics company in Switzerland. No promises (in fact no idea) on whether either of them are any good but they are two interesting ideas that turned up lately. I guess I’m still trying to figure out how 3-5 minutes on a hundred stocks a day can be turned into useful information. Beyond that, I fully intend to return to buying stocks and writing portfolio updates once time and finances permit. There have been a couple of good opportunities recently that really hurt to miss.


I own shares in Scorpio Tankers and Despegar. This is a disclosure and not a recommendation. 

Comments: 3

  1. Avatar Lee says:

    Hi 10foot. I’m wondering how you generate ideas on what stocks to research initially? Do you use a screening tool? Idea generation is kind of hard to an amateur investor looking for the future wealth winners.

    • Hi Lee. I don’t think I’ve ever got a good idea from a stock screener (I now work with screeners a lot these days so that could change) but over the last 5 years my best ideas have come from a) reading a lot of investor letters and b) reading enough investor letters to prove/disprove the ideas that were actually good.

      Another thing I do is read a lot of annual reports, and I can sometimes generate ideas from these. For example I recently read the reports of every listed tobacco company in the world, and I saw that Imperial Brands is going to divest its premium cigar business (Cohiba, Montecristo etc) so someone will be acquiring this. Depending on the size of the acquirer, it could be an interesting business in the right hands. So maybe nothing comes from that idea – but maybe something does. Enough of these “leads” and eventually (I hope) I find some interesting/actionable ideas.

      I still struggle a lot with idea generation. Previously I struggled to generate ideas but had a lot of time to research them – now i generate a decent number of ideas but haven’t got the time to know any of them comprehensively, so it is very hard to know if they are any good. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the main challenges you face with idea generation?

    • Avatar Lee says:

      Totally agree with your sentiments. When you aren’t doing this for a living you need to find time for it along with all your other “life challenges”. I guess one could pay for a stock tipping subscription service however it would depend on how large your portfolio was as you are effectively giving away a certain percentage in “fees” for the research. And then you would have to weigh up whether it is just easier/better to pay someone else to manage your money or invest in low cost ETFs?

      In essence we are all doing this for the fun of it right? I hope so. I think if you are an amateur private investor only because you want to make money you are doing it for the wrong reasons (perhaps like any job).

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