using days sales to measure inventory: a dangerous method

an example

I started out on Wall Street as a securities analyst covering the oil industry during the oil and gas boom caused by the second OPEC “oil shock” of 1978-80.  The sharp rise in prices (which today looks a bit ludicrous) from $7 a barrel to $14–implying a spike in gasoline prices above $.50 a gallon!!!–caused a huge increase in drilling for new deposits.

One key shortage element was the steel pipe used to line the well hole already dug, to prevent the hole from collapsing in on itself.  Without steel pipe to line the well you couldn’t drill.  So one of my standard questions during the interviews I did with company managements as I was preparing to write evaluations of their stock prospects was how much steel pipe they had on hand.  It was usually only two or three months’ worth.  It was never enough.  And the makers of the pipe were never able to ramp up capacity fast enough to meet demand, no matter how fast they put up new plants.

Anyway, one day I was talking to the CFO of a small exploration company in Texas.  When I had last talked with him, a couple of months before, he had said his company had about two months’ worth of pipe on hand.  I asked the question again.  He said, “We have a year’s worth of pipe on hand.”

I said, “You must have finally gotten a big shipment in.  How did you do it?”  He replied. “No.  Our drilling plans have changed.”

This was my first concrete indication that the commodity bust, which often follows a big boom, had arrived in the oilpatch.  What the CFO in my story meant to say was that prices had already fallen to a level where the wells his firm had been planning to drill were no longer economical and he could no longer get financing to carry out the projects.

the cash conversion cycle

This is a measurement of how much cash a company needs under current conditions to turn a dollar invested in working capital to make a new product back into cash.  It’s the sum of three parts:  the time it takes from purchasing raw materials until the sale of a final product is made + days credit extended to purchasers – days credit extended by suppliers.

In most cases, the key time element is the first element, the time in inventory.  Hence, the focus on inventory days.

supply and demand is much more important

…as my oil company example shows.

housing

Just as the situation of extremely constrained inventories can prompt one to draw the misleading conclusion that conditions will always be tight, the situation where inventories are massive can also be deceptive.  Housing in the US may well be a current case in point.

Despite the evidence that the housing market has been picking up in the Us for the past year, until just the past two or three weeks media reports have been strongly biased to the negative side.  One of the key figures being cited is the large inventory of unsold homes available for sale.

Two elements are wrong with this analysis, in my view:

–after many years of languishing on the market, and presumably not being maintained, I think it’s questionable whether all the dwellings counted in that inventory number are actually salable.  Maybe a quarter aren’t.

–even small changes in demand can make large differences in the days- sales measure.  For example, the latest Department of Commerce figures show that the inventory of new homes available for sale in the US has shrunk by 29% in the past year to 4.7 months.  Half of that decline is from builders creating fewer new homes.  The other half is from an increase in demand.  It wouldn’t take much more demand to push that figure into shortage territory.

I’m not saying that demand will increase (although I suspect it will).  I just want o point out that relying on days-sales figures for conclusions is potentially dangerous.

 

 

 

2Q12 for Wynn Resorts (WYNN) and Wynn Macau (HK:1128)

the results

After the New York close on July 17th, WYNN reported its financial results for 2Q12.  Revenue for WYNN, which includes 100% of the revenue of Wynn Macau, was $1.253 billion vs. $1.374 billion in the comparable period of 2011.  Earnings were $139.0 million vs. $200.8 million in last year’s 2Q (before subtracting a $107.5 million charge for the present value of a planned charitable contribution by Wynn Macau to the university there).

EPS were $1.38 in 2Q12, compared with $1.60 in 2Q11.  The reason the eps comparison looks better than the net profit comparison is that the forced sale of Aruze USA’s 24.5 million shares in WYNN to the company reduced the number of shares outstanding to by about 25% 101.0 million.

The immediate reaction of the market to the results was relief that the numbers weren’t weaker than they were.  Of course, on the other hand, it’s not that long ago that WYNN was closing in on the $140 mark, as Wynn Macau received permission to build a new casino in Cotai.

details

Las Vegas

Business is up around 5% year on year, both in the gambling and non-gambling parts of WYNN’s operations.

The hotel/entertainment/shopping gain is straightforward.  It’s not so easy to see the improvement on the gambling side, however.  The industry accounting convention is not to measure revenue by the amount that gamblers bet–which was up around 5% yoy for Wynn in 2Q12–but rather by the share of that amount that the casino wins from them.

For slot machine play, which consists of huge numbers of small transactions, the odds almost always even out during a given quarter.  It’s not the same for table games, particularly for the high-roller segment of the market that WYNN specializes in.  The typical table game “win” percentage for Wynn is about 23%.  But in the June quarter of 2012 that figure was a mere 15%.  And the comparison is against 2Q11, when the win percentage was a whopping 27.6%.  The negative win comparison for high stakes baccarat was even worse.

I don’t think this is anything to worry about.  It’s just a fact of life.  Over the coming quarters, the win percentage will doubtless return to normal–and results will look more favorable than they do now.  The bottom line, however, is that the trend for WYNN’s Las Vegas operations is up.

Macau

Wynn Macau’s results are flattish.  That’s mostly because, for the moment, that market has run out of steam.

Two reasons:

–slowdown in the Chinese economy has translated into a flattening out in business for Macau casinos from mainland gamblers, and

–at the same time, casino floor space in Macau has expanded significantly as operators begin to develop Cotai.

The result is increasing, price-driven competition for junket operators to steer customers to a given casino.  Either customers are offered larger credit lines, or junket operators are offered higher commissions.  Wynn Macau’s position is strong enough that it isn’t compelled to participate.  However, until the economic environment in China improves, Wynn Macau will be doing well simply to maintain the current level of operating profit.

my take

WYNN is the strongest operator in an industry that I think has attractive investment characteristics.  On the other hand, I think LVS is the cheaper stock. And, although I have no desire to sell either WYNN or LVS (I have switched a little money from the former to the latter, however), I think all the Macau-related stocks will mark time until the Chinese market begins to pick up again–probably in early next year.

INTC’s strong 2Q12

strong 2Q results

After the equity market close in New York on Tuesday the 17th, INTC reported its 2Q12 earnings.  The company generated revenue of $13.5 billion during the three months ending in June.  That was up slightly from the $13.0 billion the company took in during the comparable period of 2011.  Earnings per share were $.57.  That was flat, year on year, but considerably ahead of the $.52 consensus of brokerage house analysts.

I wonder how real this positive earnings surprise actually was, although I haven’t been paying enough attention to the Wall Street consensus to be sure.  My sense is that the consensus was somewhat higher until rival chipmaker AMD reported very weak results a week or so ago. The knee-jerk reaction of analysts was to lower their INTC numbers.   As it turns out, INTC has been taking market share from AMD in the low end of the microprocessor market, where AMD tends to operate.

Despite weakness in afterhours trading right after the report, INTC responded to the earnings news on Wednesday by gaining close to 4%.  This, even though the company lowering revenue guidance for the rest of the year.

lower guidance for the second half

INTC now thinks its full-year 2012 revenue will be only 3%-5% higher than it reported for 2011.  That’s only about half the “high single digit” (read: 8%) sales gain it had anticipated three months ago.  The first half was up about 2%, yoy.

What’s changed?

The US and EU economies are remaining weak for longer than INTC had expected.  Emerging markets are slowing.  In response, as well as in anticipation of a buying slowdown before the debut of the Windows 8 operating system (slated for October 26), consumer PC builders are keeping their chip inventories very lean.

The lower revenues will probably clip about $.20-$.25 a share from the non-GAAP figure of $2.75 I had estimated INTC would earn for 2012 eight months ago.

profits won’t be hurt quite as much

The corporate business is strong.  The cloud is booming.  The traditional INTC consumer customers who are buying are tending to choose high-end PCs, which mean higher profit for INTC.  At the low end, INTC appears to be taking considerable market share from AMD.

On the cost side, the current lull is allowing INTC to satisfy demand and still close trailing-edge 32nm factories.  That way it can put that equipment into new state-of-the-art 22nm fabs, rather than buying more expensive new machines.  The company is also slowing down hiring.  All in all, cost savings could end up adding $.05 to second-half results.

2013 is much more important than 2012,

in my view.

2012 was always going to be a transition period.  It’s the last of several years of very heavy spending by INTC on R&D and cutting edge chip factories.  The investment is aimed at putting even greater distance in processing technique between INTC and its rivals, and at producing small, powerful, energy-stingy products that will gain INTC entry into the burgeoning market for smartphones and tablets.

Early results on both fronts are encouraging:

–the ramp-up of 22 nm is going faster than INTC had thought

–Ultrabooks are already doing ok.  140+ new designs are now in the pipeline, including 40+ with touch screens and 12 that will be tablet/laptop convertibles.  And entry level ultrabooks will be priced around $700 by fall.  So 2H12 Ultrabook performance stands to be considerably better.

–Lenovo, Lava and Orange have already launched INTC-driven smartphones.

Success in these areas is far more important for the long-term progress of INTC shares, I think, than whether 2H12 can live up to expectations formed when the we thought the economic problems of the developed world were capable of being solved by governments more quickly.

my bottom line

I think 2Q12 results and guidance underscore the idea that INTC is doing as well as can be expected in an unfavorable macro environment.  I don’t have any great insight into how successful INTC’s repositioning for mobile computing will be.  On the other hand, I think today’s stock price still assumes the worst.  More than that, I don’t think the price fully reflects the attractiveness of INTC’s corporate, server and cloud operations, considered by themselves.  So I continue to think that the stock is a very reasonable bet.

 

dividend-paying stocks in the US (II)

the income investor’s decision–maximize current income or maximize total return

Suppose an investor can choose between two stocks:

–stock #1 has a current dividend yield of 5%, but no prospects of either earnings or dividend growth

–stock #2 has a current dividend yield of 3%, and will likely grow both earnings and dividends by 10% per year.

Let’s assume that we’re in a world where we can make long-term predictions like this with a very high degree of confidence, and that neither stock has any special risks associated with it.  Yes, these are unrealistic assumptions, but I want to make a point about the expected income stream.

Which do you choose?  In this case, investor preferences are the key.

the income stock

Someone who wants to maximize current income would probably choose the stock with the higher yield.

Why?

Figure out how long it will take for stock #2 to grow its dividend until it matches the current yield of #1.  The answer is seven years.  How long will it take for the holder of #2 to receive the same amount of current income as he would by holding #1?  Eleven years.  Eleven years to breakeven by choosing stock #2 is too long to wait, in my view.

the total return stock

Suppose our investor makes his choice today and that each stock is trading at $100 a share.

Over the next seven years, stock #1 will pay out $35 in dividends and #2 will pay out $28.40.  The difference is $6.60.  However, the earnings for company #1 will be the same as they are today, while those of #2 will have doubled.  By year 11, when the cumulative dividend payments of the two will be equal, the earnings of #2 will be almost 3x the starting level.

For the total return of #2 to exceed that of #1, all that’s necessary is that the huge increase in its earnings generate a rise of 6% in its stock price over that of #1.  In the US stock market, if events play out according to our assumptions, that’s as close to a sure thing as ever happens.

That’s not an iron-clad guarantee, however.  Just as important, it’s also not clear when any relative price gains will happen. That’s not such a good thing if you need the money by a certain date.

the point being…

…if you’re interested solely in income, it takes an awfully long time for a fast grower to overcome the influence of the starting point of its higher-yielding rival.

don’t forget about portfolios!

There’s no law that says that anyone has to make the all-or-nothing choice I’ve outlined above.  You could consider buying some of each and hedging your bets.  Of course, any diversification will mean lower current income for a period of time.

back to the real world: today’s dilemma

Stock #1 is a close as you can get in the equity world to a long-term bond.

At some point, not this week, and maybe not for two years, the Fed will determine that the current economic emergency is over and will begin to raise short-term interest rates from today’s zero.  It will have two targets.  One is to make rates positive in real terms (i.e., higher than the inflation rate, which is currently about 2%).  The second, which it wrote about a couple of months ago, is to get them to around 4.5%.  That’s right, 4.5%! 

The effect on the 30-year Treasury, which is currently yielding 2.60%, will be big–and negative.  As yields rise, bond prices adjust by going down.

During past periods of rising rates in the US, stock prices have generally gone sideways or up.  That’s because the signal for the Fed to begin to raise rates is that domestic economic growth is high–and accelerating, which implies accelerating profit growth for publicly traded companies.

So the growing profits of stock #2 give it a chance to avoid going along with Treasuries.  Stock #1 has no such defense.  The only thing it has going for it is a current yield that’s 2x that of the long bond.

I don’t think this is a worry for right now.  But pure income seekers who hold high-yielding stocks are probably in the same boat as holders of government bonds.  So they face the same portfolio rotation issues that bond investors will, when rates eventually begin to rise–or, more likely, somewhat sooner than that, when markets begin to anticipate rate rises.

I think this makes the practical decision between #1-like stocks and the #2s much more complicated now than it would normally be.