Leaning into Value Traps that Everyone Hates… and a New Name, Strattec $STRT $AXL $ALSN $CATO $ANF

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There are certain businesses that investors have washed their hands of: Retailers, OEM auto suppliers, anything in the way of ESG… many others… And this trade probably worked well for the last 5 years. I recently wrote up at least three names that are counter to these trends, but there are many more.

I’m in the process of creating a “basket” of these names that I’m going to commit to buying and holding for at least 3 years.

I’m calling it: the Value-Trap Coffee Can portfolio.


Most of the time, a coffee can portfolio is set up of really good businesses that you should just set and forget. Let them compound.

In this case, the narrative around some stocks can be so toxic, you can convince yourself at any point to sell. But if find management teams that are very savvy, conducting effective turnarounds despite headwinds, and know how to drive shareholder value, sometimes you still want to align with them.

I fundamentally believe you can have bad industries, but great companies (driven by great management teams) and therefore great securities hidden within them. 

So I’m locking these stocks up and throwing away the key to see what happens.


So far, the Value-Trap Coffee Can (VTCC for short) portfolio includes Allison Transmission, Big Lots, and American Axle, but I am also adding Cato (recently discussed on Andrew Walker’s podcast with Mike Melby at Gate City Capital), and Abercrombie and Fitch (written up on VIC, but down nearly 20% since then). After looking into the latter two, I’m convinced they’ve earned their spot. They aren’t my ideas though, so I won’t be writing them up.

I am adding Strattec to the VTCC portfolio, which is an automotive supplier and I’ll get to at the bottom of this note.

Please reach out if you have any others I should be looking at!


Why the VTCC Portfolio Now?

At points in the past, this would’ve seemed nuts, but my response to that is these companies

  • have significant cash / FCF, especially compared to their market caps today
  • have a rising earnings path over next ~12+ months. Especially true now that we went through a downturn and are coming through on the other side of it, and
  • are completely unloved, so are still very cheap.

You can see it’s really more of a cycle + cheap call.


I cover cyclicals for my day job and cyclicals have been pretty much un-ownable since we had an industrial-recession scare back in 2015/2016. OK – they had a nice run when Trump first came in, tax cuts were implemented, and there was a brief sugar high – but after that, the stocks didn’t do well by comparison even if results were fine. I saw many companies I covered trade at super low multiples as everyone figured a cycle was inevitable.

I now think that since we may be entering a new cycle, permission to own is granted.

In other words, maybe value traps won’t be traps for too much longer. (Famous last words DillyD!) But seriously, you can mitigate this problem via position sizing.


A couple pushbacks to that simple thesis:

  • You could completely disagree with me that we are entering an upcycle – people are already saying what we went through in 2020 doesn’t count as a “normal” recession (whatever that means) and is more like a natural disaster. Semantics. Whatever. This is the theory I have and am going to bet that way.
  • Stocks already at all-time highs, too. So how can there be much of a recovery? Well… FANG is like 25% of the S&P500. None of these basket stocks are in tech.
  • Supply chains are a mess. This could derail the thesis, but I think it would be a temporary derailment vs. anything long-term.

It seems very hard to argue to me that any of the sectors I am going to buy a basket of are “overbid” territory. We can also reach new highs if FANG stocks stay flat and cyclicals have a really nice run, too, ya know?

I think retail is interesting because the consensus narrative was that they are dead, that we pulled forward a ton of e-commerce progress… and yet, if you actually looked at some of these player’s results, you’d see they either adapted very well (some did) or the buyer is coming back.

The anti-ESG trade is only interesting to me in names that can solve the problem – by buying back stock themselves at really attractive prices. Some names are in the ESG crosshairs, but either can’t or are unwilling to effect change in their share prices.


Why Strattec?

Strattec is an interesting little auto supplier that makes locks, power lift gates, latches, among other things. It was originally spun out of Briggs & Stratton in 1995. Here’s a [kinda hilarious] video of them trying to sell why people need a power lift tailgate.

They have their OEM concentration issues, like American Axle, but that is the name of the game. They actually have much better concentration than American Axle which you can go see in their 10-k.

Similar to my American Axle thesis, I think we are going to need a massive restocking of cars. Inventory days are ~22-23, compared to the normal 50. However, this cycle is going to take a long time to sort itself out.

Unfortunately, Strattec was impacted by plant shutdowns due to lack of semiconductors. This is disappointing as the company wasn’t able to sell as much, particularly in its award winning power tailgates in the Chevy Silverado and F-150 pick-ups.

But it’s a double-edged sword. The longer it takes to replenish inventories to “normal” the longer this auto upcycle will likely last. Yes, less sales today, but I think the tailwinds will be there for some time to come. Again, I wrote about all of this in my AXL post.

Even with these headwinds, Strattec still did $110MM in the latest FQ4 (ended June, reflecting the impact of the semi issue) and $485MM for the FY, down from $129MM in the quarter ending June 2019, but in-line for the FY $487MM. However, EBITDA increased by ~50%. Again, this was due to cost improvements and efficiencies in the business that the company says is structural.

Bottom line, I think Strettec will emerge more profitable than ever, and if permitted to run flat out (semi issue abates somewhat) then we will see awesome fixed cost leverage, too.


Strattec Valuation:

Strattec is only a $150MM market cap company, but an enterprise value of ~$147MM.

Over the past 12 months, they cut their dividend during the COVID panic and paid down $23MM in debt. If you fully count JV debt, they have $12MM in debt now, but $14.5MM in cash.

At the same time, let’s say you expect the top line to grow a bit, but they’ll give some margin back, the company is trading <3x EBITDA. And it isn’t like that EBITDA won’t convert into FCF: the company has guided to $12MM in capex, they’ll have no interest expense (basically) and taxes in the range of $8-10MM. That’s $35MM of FCF on a $150MM market cap company.

Not bad! Just last 4-5 more years and I’ll have my money back.

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