Category: Featured

In-depth analysis or commentary on companies, securities, or the economy

Different Way to Play Housing: Manufactured $CVCO $SKY

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I did a recent post on Sun Communities, a manufactured housing and RV park manager. I liked the core business and outlook, but returns on capital seemed too low and the the REIT structure made them over reliant on capital markets for growth. I could be wrong on that name, but I think I found where I’d prefer to play: manufactured housing stocks. And there are two stocks in the space: Cavco (CVCO) and Skyline Champion (SKY). The Oracle of Omaha owns the other, biggest player in the space, Clayton Homes.

Why Manufactured Housing?

Bottom line: Manufactured housing has improved considerably over the past 30 years (both from a product perspective and an industry perspective). With home prices moving higher with tight supply vs. demand, I think we will see considerable demand for something more affordable for years to come. I also think these stocks are “off the radar” for most people. COVID also masked a very large build in backlog.

Why is Housing in a Shortage? Following the last downturn, where we clearly overbuilt housing supply, we went too far in the other direction. We’ve been underbuilding arguably since 2010 when the housing market started to bottom.

If you look at the long-term average of construction starts (pictured below), its around 1.5-1.6MM average starts per year. We just got back to that level 11 years after the bottom. So we just got to long term averages. In 2012-2013, we were still building in line with the lows of 1980’s and 1990’s recessions (I’ll add that the average mortgage rate in the 80s was in the teens percent range… not below 4%).

Another simple way I think about it is, if there are 120MM households in the US and that grows 1% per year, we need at least 1.2MM new housing developments each year, and that is before any teardowns or second homes.

In reality, household formations over the past 10 years have been held back. We all remember the stories of millennials moving back in with mom and dad. Well, that is a deferred housing formation. And that is finally starting to unwind as millennials age, get married, and have higher savings.

Another way to look at it is from “months supply of inventory.” Months supply of single-family homes hit a new all time low recently at 1.9 months. This means at the current sales pace, all of the housing inventory available for sale would be sold in less than 2 months – a new record low.

Tight supply + strong demand = increased prices. Econ 101. And that is bearing out. CoreLogic reported home prices increased 10% Y/Y in January 2021. Low interest rates also haven’t hurt to spur demand…

Could housing cycle down again? Yes. Absolutely. In 2018, when rates were rising, people paused their purchases. You can kind of see the surge in months supply of inventory on that last chart in 2018. However, that just deferred demand.

I encourage you to scan your local market for “entry level” homes. There just aren’t any available. Part of that is also because of investors scooping up rental homes, too. We also now have 3 publicly traded REITs that play in the single-family home market that didn’t exist prior to the financial crisis.

All of this tells me that housing will remain unaffordable to a large swath of the population.

Enter: Manufactured Housing

In areas I look at real estate, the $150k entry-level home doesn’t exist anymore. At least, not within an hour’s drive. Heck, even $250k is becoming more scarce.

SKY had an interesting stat from 2018 that noted, 80% of homes sold below $150k are now manufactured homes. The average price SKY sold homes at was ~$63k, so there is a huge disparity between entry-level single family home and buying manufactured housing.

We also can’t forget that ~37% of American’s earn less than $50k per year. One out of four Americans make less than $35k per year. And that’s the market for manufactured housing.

Statistic: Percentage distribution of household income in the U.S. in 2019 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Some Quick History

This might be a good time to explain some history on manufactured housing. In short, MH saw a mini-preview of the Great Financial Crisis in the 1990s. Both consumers AND retailers were able to get ultra-easy financing. When you think about that in relation to supply / demand, it basically meant demand from consumers was artificially propped up AND retailers were able to stockpile inventory cheaply.  This eventually caused the industry to implode and it still hasn’t recovered from a shipments perspective.

Recovery to these levels isn’t my thesis though. It is pretty hard to argue shipments will go back to bubble levels.

The share of manufactured housing as % of housing starts has been pretty constant though over the past 15 years, which I think could improve some in an affordability crisis. I think it could also exceed recent levels because of this. I also think starts will continue to be above long-term averages.

So we may not get to 222k shipments as highlighted in the chart above, but we could come somewhere in between.

As with any downturn, this led to consolidation. Berkshire is the behemoth, followed by Skyline (which merged with Champion) and Cavco. The latter two still roll up any players that come for sale, but its pretty well consolidated at this point.

As pictured at the beginning of this post, the inventory available has really improved. And they come in all shapes and sizes…..

I Like the Business Model

The business is vertically integrated. A SKY or CAVCO typically manufacture the home, but also operate the retail side as well (though there are individual retailers, too).

Need financing? Cavco and Clayton have retail financing arms, too (and they are GSE approved). Both Fannie and Freddie offer financing support, which is relatively new and I personally view as a game-changer. There was a recent WSJ article on this as well. Now consumers can get access to cheap financing with as little as 3-5% down – very helpful to a consumer who may not have a high degree of net worth. I’ll circle back to the limits of this, though (permitting).

How do they transport the homes? They operate trucking businesses, too.

Anyway, I think the manufacturing side of these homes is interesting. Homebuilding is actually moving more and more to these sorts of “off-site construction” given labor constraints and a desire to speed up build times.

Why Permitting is an Issue

A benefit to Sun Communities is a detriment to Cavco and Skyline. Manufactured housing suffers from “NIMBY” or not in my back yard. So permitting for new communities that allow these types of housing is tough and this has clearly been a governor on growth. That is essentially why Sun has to acquire for growth versus anything organic.

However, with improved aesthetics and a broader realization that housing is unaffordable, we could see some changes here on the margin.

Cavco and Skyline are very similar, so I’ll just show CAVCO highlight below. While EBITDA margins are relatively low, capex is too. So for each dollar of EBITDA earned, they actually convert a decent amount of that into unlevered FCF (excl-taxes, excl-interest). It seems pretty clear to me that the company can scale up earnings without needing to invest too much.

For example, Cavco acquired some commercial real estate in 2020. Otherwise capex would have been $8-$10MM. Said another way, they increased EBITDA from 2016 by $42MM, but recurring capex only went up by $4MM…

Backlogs are Big

In March 2020, Cavco had a backlog of ~$124 million. Today… its $472 million. But if you looked at 2020’s results, it doesn’t look like Cavco really benefitted too much. LTM sales are up 1%. But the reason has been manufacturing disruption. So the results are really more on the come.

Skyline is in a similar place: Their backlog before the pandemic hit was $128MM… now its nearly 4x that. 


Admittedly, Cavco and Skyline don’t screen as cheap stocks. Each trade around 15.5x March ’22 EBITDA and 25x FCF based on consensus estimates. Number one, I think the higher multiples are warranted as these businesses can generate good FCF and they also are essentially debt-free (kind of like WD40). I also think growth will be above average for years to come.

I also think consensus is way too low.

Again, these are manufacturing businesses with backlogs that are up 4x from pre-COVID and we really haven’t seen that roll through yet. Therefore, consensus estimating sales up 12-15% for CY2021 seems way too low to me. While labor and raw material increases could squeeze margins, if capacity utilization on the plants are running flat out, that fixed cost leverage will improve EBITDA considerably.

Time will tell. I like both Cavco and Skyline and am just playing it via a basket.

KAR Auction Services is Not in Secular Decline $KAR

Reading Time: 7 minutes

KAR auction services, the company that runs used car auctions, looks on sale right now.

KAR has been under pressure from COVID impacts to the business, but unlike other COVID-impacted names (where investors are seeing through the clouds), the stock is still down meaningfully.

KAR reported earnings Q4’20 earnings and guidance last week (on Feb-16) and the stock is down about 24% in the past week.

KAR Auction Services Stock

It seems to me investors do not realize KAR Auction Services current pressures are cyclical, not secular. Today, we’re able to buy a really good business at ~10% FCF yield on depressed earnings.

KAR Auction Services FCF Yield

Why is the stock getting hammered?

For one, disappointing guidance. The company expects EBITDA of at least $475MM in 2021 as they continue to recover from COVID.

Consensus was expecting $566MM – ouch.

Kicking the Can? The other issue with guidance is it is 2H’21 weighted.

In my experience, this can be a “kick-the-can” move for management. In other words, they know 2021 EBITDA has the chance of being lower, but they’ll wait for Q2 earnings to break that news or maybe things will turn around.

Fingers crossed. This isn’t always true, but just my experience.

Management left wiggle room – they did say at least $475MM. They also explicitly said the guide is conservative. That’s not something I’m banking on. I also don’t really care about 2021 earnings in isolation. That’s way too short-term focused in a year that will continue to be impacted by COVID, as noted further below.

Why the weak guide?

Car values are high right now. During the height of COVID, the manufacturers pulled back in the face of a new, deep recession. Plus, they had to reset manufacturing processes during a global pandemic. Lo and behold – demand for cars held in. This is known as the bull whip effect.

Supply < Demand = really high used car prices.

Manheim Used Car Price Index

Normally, this would benefit KAR Auction Services, because their auctions would be earnings higher auction fees on cars. But there is clearly lower volume going through the lanes.

Not just from the shortage of cars, but also when residual values are high, you will see less lease returns as the customer decides it’s a good deal to buy out the lease at the value that is better than current market. There has also been less repossessions, another volume headwind.

What is the Street Missing?

Number one, the stock looks cheap when you bridge using the current FCF guide.

Yes, there is risk the guidance, but I don’t actually think KAR’s go forward earnings potential is limited by this year’s factors. The things I mentioned all seem cyclical.

Second, they are caught up on secular changes versus cyclical.

KAR’s earnings are being hit by cyclical issues that I think will abate.

Every investor is trying to see how COVID will change the world and how technology will reshape it. A lot of investors are saying KAR’s barriers to entry have been lowered now that auctions are online. I do not think that is true.

I read one note expressing concern that a survey revealed a lot of dealers are looking to buy and sell cars via online auctions this year. Given KAR Auction Services has a strong physical presence, this caused some concern. Pardon my French, but my response to that is – No Sh*t, Sherlock.

We’re in a pandemic. Of course dealers are looking to buy and sell online. They have to. And this was definitely the case during 2020.

If you read my About Me page, I used to have a dealer’s license. I know a thing or two about buying used cars and I used to go to Adesa all the time. It truly is a great business, which I’ll go into some brief detail later.

But anecdotally, I can tell you buying cars online is not easy. You’re buying a car with limited info, no ability to drive the car to see how it feels, how it sounds, check the oil, etc. The cars I bought online (as opposed to the seeing it in person online) were some of the worst purchases I ever made and I pretty much vowed to never do it again because it was a waste of time.

“But Dilly D”, you’re asking, “can’t this be improved?”

Of course, this could be improved with technology and better disclosure. You need to realize, though, that these online platforms are turning over thousands of cars. And as much as cars may seem like a commodity, used cars really aren’t.

Think about all the options a car has and then fold in a good versus bad service record. The band of prices could easily be +/- 10%, which is thousands of dollars we’re talking about.

But Adesa is also one of the biggest players. And they’ve had an online presence for at least 15 years (just speaking from my memory). They, along with Manheim (a private competitor), do a decent job at it. Adesa also has invested heavily in inspection services to make it better and faster process, as well as other services.

So I’m not too concerned about any upstarts or anything like that. Upstarts don’t have access to the same supply the big players have. And the dealers, like I was, like Adesa and Manheim because they get the supply plus the best prices because they are essentially getting a bulk discount. And you know competition is somewhat limited as a dealer because you have to have a license to access the auction.

This leads me to why Adesa is a great business.

As I was just leading into, Adesa is a great business because it connects sellers with buyers and just takes a fee off the top. The fee goes up or down based on the sale price, but has large enough bands that if used car prices fall, let’s say, 10%, it doesn’t hurt their earnings that much.

Sellers want access to a large supply of buyers who are committed to buy their product (i.e. they are selling to dealers who need the supply). This way, they can offload slow inventory or lease vehicles quickly and achieve good prices for them. This frees up working capital to re-deploy in their business.

Buyers want access to a large swath of cars at good prices that they can sell at a profit. For me, having a wide array of cars to pick from helped me find “hidden gems” that I could quickly turn.

The same note I mentioned above (which was absurd) highlighted online competition from Copart, which has been a “competitor” for forever and is really more a competitor of IAA, the insurance-loss auction spin from KAR. Copart is no doubt a great business, but I think it’s comparing two different markets.

If you compare IAA to Copart, their results during 2020 were much closer to each other than comparing it to KAR Auction Services – just different markets. Copart outperformed KAR and IAA sales were actually up, though they were able to benefit from improved pricing despite volumes being down. Although Copart discusses their “platform” a decent amount, but personally, I’d say it’s a different market.

Here’s another anecdote to explain why they are different markets: I remember being at an auction and a totally smashed Cadillac Escalade came through. The front was actually fine, but the back looked like it was caved in by an 18-wheeler.

I laughed to myself thinking, “I guess someone will try to part this thing” and lo and behold, the bids started to come in at really high levels. I want to say the car sold for over $20,000, despite being crumpled. I was in person, but the bidder was online and you could see the location. The bidder was in Saudi Arabia. That’s when I learned many of these salvaged cars are worth a lot internationally. Buyers can part them out, but some countries also have less strict rules on piecing cars together.

Anyway, as the dollar becomes weaker, this helps a Copart who sells a lot of inventory to these buyers:

Roughly 35% of Copart’s inventory is purchased by foreign buyers:

Back to that absurd sell-side note one more time: They also highlighted online competition from Carvana. Carvana uses KAR to buy and sell wholesale inventory. They do not provide nearly enough volume as a separate wholesale auction to be attractive. It really doesn’t make sense at all.

CarMax and Carvana really want to sell retail… yes, they get trade-ins they want to sell, but they want good prices on those and want to turn them quickly. Carmax has its own auction because its huge, but it still uses KAR  to fill inventory. Carmax can use their auction to sell inventory they don’t want anymore quickly.

Adesa provides that for everyone. It’s not really different than the marketplaces investors love today, they just have primarily relied on a physical presence. As stated, I think this will continue to be an industry that needs the physical presence.

KAR Auction Services ROIC

Masco: No Credit for Portfolio Transformation & Improved ROIC $MAS

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Masco is a leading building products company. If you own a home, there is a decent chance you’ve bought their products at some point. Products range from Behr and Kilz paint to plumbing products such as the Delta brand, among many others. Masco has undergone a significant portfolio shift overtime, and meaningfully improved the ROIC,  but I don’t think the market is giving them enough credit.

Masco set out on a divestiture plan a few years ago, divesting their cabinets and windows business lines. These were highly cyclical businesses with low-to-average ROICs. Now that they’ve sold those segments, they have meaningfully improved the ROIC (to top-quartile), they have a much more resilient business, and they have more cash on the balance sheet than ever.

Despite this, Masco trades at 14.8x 2022 EPS, or ~13.5x when you exclude cash. Compare this to Sherwin Williams trading at 24x or even the more industrial-exposed PPG trading at 17x. Home Depot also trades at ~20x.

Personally, I think Masco should trade at 20x EPS given how resilient / how high a ROIC business it is, which would put it at ~$74/share – nearly 40% higher than where it trades today.

Re-rating is tough to bank on, but I think a business that earns a 40-50% ROIC that is growing well should trade at least at the market level (the S&P trades at 22x forward EPS).


I won’t go into the full background of Masco, but if we rewind to pre-financial crisis, Masco was made up of 5 segments:

  • Plumbing Products: Faucets, plumbing products, valves, tubs, showers, etc.
  • Cabinets: Kitchen & bath cabinets
  • Installation & Other Services: installed building products like gutters, fireplaces, garage doors and insulation products
  • Decorative Architectural Products: Mainly paint, under the Behr name
  • Windows & Other Specialty Products: Windows and window frame components

Several of these business are not what I would view as “high quality” and some were very cyclical.

For example, in a recession, how inclined are you to change your cabinets? If income is tight and you might not feel good about the equity in your home, then you might not replace them until they fall off the wall.

Cabinets are highly exposed to new build construction or remodel projects. Same goes for windows, some plumbing products and the installation products mentioned. With the benefit of hindsight, we know how many of these segments performed: Cabinets, windows, and installation each went operating profit negative at some point during the great financial crisis:

Here is a chart of the earnings of the main segments. As you can see, the more cyclical businesses got crushed and never really recovered. Plumbing and pant just kept on chugging.

Masco's segment performance varied wildly in the last recession

Plumbing and paint really kept profitability and they are great businesses.

Paint is a great business, as many people have figured out by investing in Sherwin Williams. People love to paint their home for a general refresh, or they may paint it before they sell their home. When a new buyer comes in, they often paint right over it again. It’s a relatively cheap remodel project that can really make your home feel upgraded.

It’s also a really consolidated industry, the housing crisis really showed how resilient the business was, and also showed the industry had pricing power.

Masco essentially competes with Sherwin Williams and PPG (note, Sherwin Williams beat out PPG for Lowe’s exclusive retail business, whereas Masco’s Behr paint has Home Depot’s business. I’d prefer to have Home Depot, for what it is worth.) Sherwin Williams also has its own stores where it mainly sells to the pro paint contractors.

The housing crisis really caused the industry to re-rate. Mainly because the competitors demonstrated such resilient performance, but also when oil spiked in 2008, they were able to raise praise and maintain margin. The industry realized that they could bank on pretty consistent price increases and not crimp demand.

You can see SHW and PPG traded around 8x EBITDA pre-crisis and clearly re-rated since then.

Note, I exclude Masco here because the chart gets messy since some of their segments (now divested) went EBITDA negative. Even though these segments are gone, Masco trades at a 2x discount to PPG and 7x discount to SHW today.

Masco’s paint segment is ~20% EBITDA margin and essentially takes no capital to grow (e.g. the company spent $25MM in capex for $620MM of EBITDA).

Plumbing is similar, albeit it will be more cyclical and more competitive (though its hard to even tell compared to the other segments in the chart above). It too earns really high margins — around 20% and 2% of sales for capex.

Lo and behold, that is the portfolio that Masco has today and those metrics point to really high ROIC. They are clearly solid businesses, as demonstrated by prior performance.

And here is a chart of Masco’s Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) over time and what I expect going forward:

Masco ROIC has improved meaningfully

I personally believe this housing cycle has legs, driven by the limited supply additions post-crisis and tight inventory, which I’ve discussed in the past. However, it’s hard to predict cycles.

Management gets 5 stars from me for divesting these lower margin, more cyclical business lines at arguably the best time possible (maybe not absolute peak earnings, but closer to peak than trough and selling for near peak valuations).

Why Do I Think Masco Is Discounted?

My guess is people think there was a pull-forward of demand in 2020, which is possible, though it’s not as if 2020 was a “gangbusters” year. Sales were up 7% and operating profit increased 19%. Q4 sales were up 13% as the housing market had really strong turnover. I expect this will actually be a multi-year cycle for Masco, as it appears more homebuyers are entering the market.

Masco’s brands, like Behr paint, is more focused on the Do It Yourself (DIY) market, whereas Sherwin Williams is “Do It For Me” (DIFM). The trend is in favor of DIFM right now. Painting is “tough”, or at least time consuming, and it looks as though millennials would rather hire someone to do it than paint themselves (a broad generalization).

I think this DIFM trend is overplayed. Investors / sell-side seems so focused on it, it’s like they are saying Masco’s business will shrink in the long run. If DIFM continues and gets more expensive over time, I think we start to cycle back to DIY, especially has home costs have become more expensive in general. Not hiring someone to paint for you is a quick way to save some money. At the end of the day, I think there will always be a sector of the market that is DIY to save money and to have fun with their own project.

Masco’s paint segment grew 12% top line in 2020 – do I think it will continue at that rate? Probably not. But at the end of the day, Masco is a super high ROIC business that even if it grows at GDP, I think it is worth a lot more than the market is assigning right now.

With a healthy balance sheet and $1.3BN in cash, they can buy back a lot of stock to “help the market realize the right valuation.”

Secret Saas Business: Ituran $ITRN

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Last year, I laid out a handful of “secret SaaS” businesses. SaaS companies are getting massive valuations because they have highly recurring revenues (which provides earnings visibility), have low churn (highlighting how much customers like their product), and are also asset light. Many other, non-software businesses have this too, people!

I recently did a post of International Flavors & Fragrances, which seems like a secret SaaS business. IFF’s products are mainly food additives that impart taste or fragrance. Food is highly recurring and these products are mission critical. Good margins, low churn, highly recurring.

But today’s company, Ituran, won’t seem that secret. Ituran actually sells software. More importantly, I want to show that Ituran’s stock does not reflect its strong business characteristics. 

Ituran started out in the 1990s as a provider of SVR tracking services (Stolen Vehicle Recovery). The company is based in Israel, where insurance companies mandate the use of SVR services as a prerequisite for providing insurance in medium to high end vehicles. They also grew in Brazil, where car theft is high. In fact, 70% of Brazil is uninsured due to high amounts of vehicle theft. Therefore, Ituran is a cheap solution.

As you can see, Israel and Brazil are the core markets. The company has grown subscribers organically very well and got a boost from the Road Track acquisition back in 2018, which also helped expand it into other countries like Mexico, Columbia, and Ecuador. Organically though, it’s grown subscribers at a 12% CAGR.

Subscriber Base Growth
Israel and Brazil are core markets, though new geographies gained with Road Track acquisition are easy white space

In its core countries, Ituran uses RF network technology to do this tracking, which has some advantages over GPS. For example, GPS services require clear view of the sky with line-of-sight to at least three satellites within the GPS constellation. The terrestrial network technology that Ituran uses does not require line-of-sight and signals are not easily interrupted. It’s also much harder to jam the signal. Lastly, the system can be connected to the anti-theft system in the car, so you don’t have to wait for the vehicle to be reported stolen first.

According to ITRN, the average recovery time is 20 minutes.

However, there are some drawbacks, such as the need to install physical infrastructure in the region it operates. These base stations communicate with each other and help keep a precise location of the car. That said, capex for the company is still really low and ITRN has said they will be using a GPS platform to expand into new regions.

Fleet Management

With its technology, the company also expanded into fleet management. Fleet management would be something like tracking the usage of a corporate fleet, or letting truckers no about “no go” locations on their routes (perhaps a low hanging bridge).

Ituran’s services have been used by corporations with large fleet vehicles. Ituran uses real-time information to track driver behavior and can alert a corporation if the driver is being reckless. This is a low-cost tool for managers of fleets to set benchmarks and hold drivers accountable and in the grand scheme, likely lowers costs for the customer.

Usage-based Insurance

Finally, they also use their technology for usage-based insurance (“UBI”). Insurance companies use Ituran’s plug-in to determine how much users drive and also how they drive for custom pricing.

For insurance companies, this helps them stay competitive by saying, “hey, you could lower your insurance if you are a better-than-average driver or just drive less.” And consumers think, “hey, I’m a better than average driver and don’t drive that much, so maybe I can get a better rate than something fixed.” Truth is, everyone thinks they are a better-than-average driver.

What’s interesting about this information is that Ituran also knows when the car gets in an accident. It can see the exact location of the scene and alert emergency services. Ituran can also provide hard evidence of what actually happened in the accident (down to the G-forces, driver action-reactions, etc). Insurance companies and customers also like this because it provides clear evidence of what happened and can also save lives by cutting response times.

Significant Upside on Conservative Estimates

I think Ituran’s stock looks very cheap. As you can see from the snapshot below, Ituran has grown at a strong clip over time, has really high gross margins and EBITDA margins and generates good FCF. The other thing I should mention is that management says churn is consistently around 3%, which helps stabilize results.

On my numbers, Ituran’s stock is trading at a 10% FCF yield, which is significant when you don’t really have much debt. I also don’t assume they see 2019 revenue again until 2023, despite India launch, despite Brazil bottoming out of a recession, and despite a recovery from COVID-19.

Ituran Model Snapshot
Ituran stock looks very cheap on conservative estimates

Note: there were some accounting changes that moved expenses around + the acquisition, which is why R&D for example looks so odd over time.

Areas for Growth. SaaS businesses also get high valuations because of their growth characteristics. Ituran has a lot of white space available for growth to boost the stock awareness:

  • India.
    • India has 250M+ registered cars. If the company achieved 0.5% penetration, that would be 1.25MM incremental users.
    • The challenge with India versus some of the other locations will be what you can charge, but even at $60 a year across 1.25MM users would be $75MM of incremental revenues (or a 30% increase to where they are today)
  • Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador.
    • Ituran is already big in South America through Brazil and Argentina, but could expand the playbook into these countries which it entered via its acquisition of Road Track

  • Acquisitions
    • Ituran generates strong FCF and currently has very little debt. In my model, I assume they continue to pay down debt to zero, but they also could continue to acquire players to enter into new geographies, like they did with Road Track (albeit, that was ill-timed, as discussed below).
  • Other Optionality.
    • I like companies that have shown they can pivot. Ituran pivoted from mainly a stolen vehicle recovery business to a fleet management business to an insurance company. What else can they do?
    • With a cash rich balance sheet (net debt zero right now), this gives them a lot of optionality

Why does this opportunity exist?  Ituran stock has to be beaten down for a reason.

  • Ill-timed Road Track acquisition
    • The company acquired Road Track in 2018, which was going to provide them with several benefits. For one, it would expand their relationships with OEMs, whereas Ituran mainly played in the aftermarket space
    • Unfortunately, Brazil was ravaged by the COVID induced recession. At one point, Brazil car registrations were down 99.9% during COVID

Brazilian Car Registrations

    • The second impact was that OEMs wanted to save money. Typically OEMs provide a six-month free trial of the Ituran product, which led to pretty good conversion rate. Then the OEM cut the free trial to three months and then one month, which hurt subscriber conversion.
    • All things considered, the amount of OEM contracts lost is pretty encouraging. The losses look to be leveling out as well. This is probably boosted by the low churn rate (3% mentioned previously) in normal times.
    • Hopefully this recovers, but another good signal is that aftermarket subscribers, which is higher margin business, continues to grow
    • Road Track wasn’t all bad. They do still have better access to other Latin American countries mentioned previously and from the latest calls, it seems like the company will be leaning into those areas to grow.
Breakdown of Ituran's Subscribers
While OEM has faced pressure, it hasn’t been that bad in the context of the decline of OEM registrations
  • FX Headwinds Cloud Earnings Strength:
    • Most of the company’s earnings are in currencies that have fluctuated a lot
    • This includes the Israeli shekel, Brazilian real and to a degree, the argentine peso.
    • When you look at results, particularly 2015/2016 time frame when the Latin American currencies depreciated a lot, the results can seem more lumpy than reality

Common Questions

  • Doesn’t GM’s Onstar do this?
    • They do, but also much more expensive paid subscription at $350/year (around 3.5x the cost).
    • It uses GPS, which Ituran also uses in its growth areas, but again the core for Ituran is RF network
    • Ituran is actually the provider to GM in Brazil, which they originally signed in 2012.
  • Are there any comps to help us understand the value in Ituran stock ?
    • Lojack is actually public via a subsidiary of CalAmp (ticker: CAMP). They’re also a small cap, expected to do about $340MM of revenue in FY2020 and just $30MM of EBITDA (i.e. Ituron is much more profitable). They trade at ~18x ’20 EBITDA and 11.5x FY2022 EBITDA. They also have more debt.
    • Pointer was an Israel-based company that was also small, but was public and was acquired by a company called I.D. Systems for ~10x EBITDA in 2018
    • TomTom isn’t a great comp, has been shrinking and will be just slightly EBITDA positive in 2020 (though COVID had an impact). It has about 2x Ituran’s sales, but trades at 1.8x 2020 sales and 1.6x 2021 sales. This is where Ituran trades, but Ituran is expected to grow, is profitable, and generates good FCF.
  • Is Management aligned with Shareholders?
    • I follow another Israel-based company and I will say they tend to be very conservative.
      • For example, I think Ituran should probably carry a bit more debt, but perhaps the culture there frowns upon that. And Ituran’s management seems proud to be back in a “net cash position.”
      • Fortunately, for the Road Track acquisition, they did not issue Ituran stock to fund the deal
    • Management owns ~23.5% of Ituran stock via a holding company “Moked Ituran Ltd”. Moked literally means “focus” in Hebrew, so hopefully that’s a good sign

Bottom line: I think expectations for Ituran stock are pretty low. I also think it’s a cash cow with a highly recurring business model. I’ll admit, my biggest concerns are about technology disruption, but that’s true for a lot of businesses I own as well. That also probably stems from their brand not being known well in the US, where I am located.

I think Ituran’s results will improve over the year, which may mean it gets more attention and Ituran stock can re-rate. They also have enough cash to cause a re-rating themselves (i.e. buybacks) which is always positive.

Coke Stock Already Reflects Worst Case Scenario for Tax Dispute

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Coke has taken a hit due to a long-battled tax dispute with the IRS. A recent court decision is saying Coca-cola needs to pay $3.4BN in additional taxes.

The tax dispute stems from the way Coke charges royalty-rates internally. Under the IRS’ method, Coke should have earned $9BN more in US taxable income and therefore owes $3.4BN (given tax rates were higher during the in-question years of 2007-2009).

In other words, the IRS is saying Coke was trying to shift US taxable income to lower tax areas to avoid paying higher taxes. Tax disputes are no joke and Coke stock has materially underperformed.

Coke tax dispute has caused the stock to underperform meaningfully

I’ll let Taft Law explain the situation (my emphasis):

The Coke tax dispute centered on whether the price or “royalty rate” charged to the licensee was consistent with the arm’s-length pricing standard…. For the years before the court case, Coca-Cola established its transfer price using the same methodology that resulted from a prior settlement with the IRS (executed in 1996, concerning taxable years 1987-1995). The methodology used to reach that settlement was consistently applied by the company in the intervening future years, including the years before the court case. The IRS’s litigating position was that the company’s pricing methodology “overpaid” the related foreign manufacturers and thereby shifted income from the U.S. parent group to the foreign jurisdictions.

…[T]he IRS proposed to adjust the transfer price owing from the U.S. to the foreign affiliates in order to conform with the so-called comparable profits method (CPM). Under the CPM, the IRS determined Coca-Cola’s foreign affiliates should essentially earn a profit comparable to unrelated bottling companies. Coca-Cola responded that the change in method was arbitrary and capricious, as evidenced by the fact that the IRS had previously examined and accepted the company’s existing method for a decade, and that the CPM method was misapplied by the IRS. Ultimately, the court sided with the IRS in allowing the adjustments, holding that the IRS determinations were not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.

Look, I’m not a lawyer, but Coke probably has tons of them. And they actually hired a former US federal judge and general counsel for Boeing. I thought his statement was pretty strong:

For 20 years, The Coca-Cola Company reported U.S. taxable income from its non-U.S. operations under a methodology agreed to by the IRS and repeatedly audited and approved by the IRS. In an abrupt departure from its established position long after the tax years in question, the IRS reversed its position, disapproved that approved methodology, required a new tax calculation methodology, and now seeks to impose a retroactive tax increase on the company for past tax years.

It seems unfair to me that the IRS would agree to a methodology and then in the future say you weren’t paying enough. Indeed, the judge also has a comment on that:

American companies cannot run their businesses with the uncertainty of the retroactive application of newly minted IRS tax policies to prior tax years that are contrary to the IRS’ own previously approved policies and then be required to pay billions of dollars in unanticipated increased taxes that result from the retroactive application of these new tax policies.

Admittedly, the counter argument (i.e. the one made by the IRS) does have additional points as well.

The Judge that favored the IRS noted the transactions within Coke were clearly not arm’s length. Coke said the bottlers should not be taxed at similar returns on capital to others because of “immensely valuable intangible assets.” The Jude responded by asking then why their profitability “dwarfed” Coca-Cola’s even though Coca-Cola owned the intangibles which the profits depended.

So look, I have sympathy with Coke in this tax dispute. I bet you a lot of global American businesses are shuddering right now based on the precedent this tax dispute with Coke establishes.

But this ruling has gone against Coca-Cola so far so we need to frame the worst case scenario.

I think Coke will continue to battle this ruling, plus they will settle for a fraction of this amount owed. However, based on my estimates, I think the market is already pricing in the worst case.

Coke’s stock peaked out at around $54.84 in Dec 2020. That’s also below the $60/share it was pre-pandemic (as Coke has clearly been hit by COVID).

So at today’s price of $48.70 compared to $54.84, the market has priced in $26.4BN of lost value.

Lost value from coke tax dispute
Lost value from coke tax dispute

Wait, $26.4BN of lost value for a $3.4BN tax dispute? What else am I missing?

First, late interest. If Coke has to pay these taxes, it also has to pay interest because the government hasn’t had that money. So ~$3.4BN of back taxes from 2007, 2008 and 2009 would be roughly an additional $3BN dollars.

Ok, now we’re at $6.4BN in taxes + interest. Is that it?

If we want to estimate the worst case, then we also need to say this applies to all the other years: 2010 to 2020.

I’m going to do some estimates here:

  • I estimate the dollars of earnings misallocated to Non-US segments in the financials during 2007-2009. This amounts to ~43% of non-US pre-tax earnings (shown in the table below). I backed into this by taking the estimated back taxes owed during those years and using the 35% tax rate
  • I use that same 43% of non-US earnings going forward and 35% tax rate (except for the later years where the federal tax rate drops to 21%) to arrive at a rough number of what else was misallocated.

By my estimates, the worst case situation here is Coke owes $24BN consisting of back taxes + interest. So this is already more than priced into the market.

Estimate of Back Taxes + Interest for Coke Tax Dispute
Estimate of Back Taxes + Interest for Coke Tax Dispute

The market is pricing in much more than necessary. As the WSJ reported originally:

Mr. Willens, the tax consultant, said such transfer pricing disputes typically are resolved out of court, typically for a fraction of the amount that the IRS is seeking.

Coke will probably settle this tax dispute eventually and try to move on. If I’m thinking in probabilities, I bet it will be a lot lower than $24BN. With a price tag like that, the IRS knows that Coke is actually incentivized to “kick the can” as long as possible.