Anyone that has visited this blog before knows that I’ve provided some detailed analysis on positions that I’m already long on, and my thoughts on why I might be staying long (or not). However, in this post I wanted to go through the process as to why I initiate a long position in a company at all, and what factors get me to that point. While I’m sure that many of you are seasoned investors, I thought that some of you might not have as many wrinkles as myself, and therefore might be interested in what I call “the weeding out” process.
That being said, I should probably issue a caveat, in that I have already been long on Titan for a while – specifically, I built my position in Q1 and Q2 of 2018. Therefore, depending on what type of investor you are, you may view this post as entirely educational, given that “the price has moved, and it’s too late to buy into this story”, or you may view it as an opportunity, since “the technical chart is better today than it was back then”. Whatever your perspective, my intent is not to convince you to buy into the Titan story, but rather to “show you the tools I use and how I use them”, for those that are interested. Note that once I start describing the detailed process, I color code the headings green, amber or red to indicate how a particular part of the data influences my decision.
With that out of the way, let’s get started….
Who is Titan Logix, and what do they do ? Titan, headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, falls into the category of “oil & gas services”, so they don’t actually produce any oil or gas, they help the producers in that process. As per their website, their mission statement is “….to provide our customers with innovative, integrated, advanced technology solutions to enable them to more effectively manage their fluid assets in the field, on the road, and in the office.” Or, in really simple language, Titan provides state of the art technology (gauges & monitoring equipment) for producers of oil to accurately measure, store, transport, and safeguard their primary asset – the oil itself. While this doesn’t sound very sexy, producer companies face a lot of scrutiny in how safely they move oil from point A to point B, not only because of safety issues, but also because they want to make sure that every drop that’s in the tanker ends up in the storage tank, or pipeline, or refinery. Not only is spillage frowned upon from a safety & environmental perspective, it’s literally money that’s getting spilled on the ground. So, tracking, measuring, and moving it accurately is their primary service.
How did I find them ? I’m not sure when I first became aware of Titan, but since I allocated capital in Q1 of 2018, I’m guessing I probably found them by around Q2 of 2017. In this particular instance I found an article written by Bob Tattersall, a mutual fund manager who tends to focus on small caps. The article made a compelling case for Titan, so I wrote up a note to myself, and Titan was formally placed on my “watch list”. So, the “finding” process was simply a function of me doing what I usually do, which is reading – the paper, magazines, or online content. Most of the time the headlines (or articles) don’t result in any good ideas, but occasionally one will see something interesting, which is exactly what happened in this case.
OK. So you found them. How do you make the decision to allocate money ? I look at a number of different factors, which I’ll dissect here.
Attractive technical chart. OK, this is perhaps a bit misleading, because I’m not really a technical kind of guy. However, I have learned that when buying into a position, getting in at the “bottom of the saucer” is often a good place to start. The chart below illustrates what I’m talking about, and was what I was looking at in February of 2018. From this I could make a few observations, specifically:
- From mid-2016 through to February of 2017, the chart was almost flat, which told me interest in the company was low. Most investors that were in for a quick gain were long gone, so the shareholder base should be less flighty.
- For the most part, volumes traded are also low, which is consistent with the idea that few investors are interested.
- Low interest typically means low expectations. Low expectations mean that any positive news can potentially move the share price significantly higher. On the other hand, since most everybody has already given up on Titan, negative news probably won’t drive the share price much lower.
- The moving average prices, in this case the 10 week and 30 week moving averages, had pretty much converged. However, there was no clear breakout to speak of. The share price was drifting along, neither moving up or down much.
So, at this point I established that Titan looked appealing from a very basic technical perspective. From here, I move on to fundamental analysis.
No debt, lots of cash. In most cases, my next stop is almost always the balance sheet. What I’m typically looking for is either no debt or manageable debt. Obviously, no debt is preferable, but if the company has debt, and it’s reasonable given their total cash available or their cash flow, then I’ll still consider them. In this case, the most recent financials available were for the 3 months ended November 2017. A quick look confirmed what I had already read in the prior article – that Titan was sitting on $6.4 MM of cash with no short or long-term debt.
On a book value basis, this was equivalent to about $0.22 per share in cash, and total book value (excluding intangibles) was $0.51 per share. At this point, I knew that Titan had potential, but I needed to find out how long this cash might last, as it was clear that they were still losing money. So, my next stop was the cash flow statement.
Reasonable cash burn. As I indicated, cash on the balance is nice, but if all of it is consumed within one or two quarters, it doesn’t do much good. In this instance I looked at not only the 3 month statements, but the years ended August 2017 and August 2016, as I wanted to get a range of what could happen. Cash burn from operations ranged from a low of $118,000 (fiscal 2017) to a high of $1.9 MM (fiscal 2016). The 3 month cash burn for Q1 2018 came in at $74,000, implying a full year value of approximately $300,000.
While I couldn’t predict where it would fall in the future, I could safely assume that even the worst of these ($1.9 MM) suggested that the company could operate for up to 3 years, during which time they would be looking for ways to not keep burning cash. This provided further “de-risking” information, as I was comfortable that the company couldn’t be called on outstanding debt, and was also unlikely to spend themselves to death. Additionally, the cash position and the reasonable cash burn gave me some comfort that there probably wouldn’t be a share issuance on the horizon that was going to dilute existing shareholders.
Clean earnings. Once I’m comfortable with the debt and cash situation, I take a look at the income statement to determine how “clean” the earnings are. What I’m looking for is either a lot of change in how revenues & expenses are classified on a year over year basis, or revenues & expenses that are difficult to understand. A quick look at the Titan income statement confirmed that things were pretty simple:
Nothing on this income statement screams “this is strange”. Costs are easily understood at a glance, and a deeper dive provides some glimmers of hope. While revenues are only up slightly, gross margins are significantly improved, & total expenses (excluding FX) are only up about 3% YoY. All in all, the income statement doesn’t offer up anything out of the ordinary, so at this point I can move on to qualitative factors.
High Insider ownership. After viewing insider holdings on SEDI, I came to the conclusion that the insider part of the puzzle was neutral for a number of reasons:
- Directors and Officers do own shares, but not a large amount. Specifically Greg McGillis (CTO – 555,891 shares or ~ 2%) & Angela Schulz (CFO – 374,473 shares or 1.3%) hold shares. Alan Pyke (CEO) was hired as of February 23 2018, so he obviously held no shares at the time I made my first purchases.
- Other significant individual shareholders on SEDI hold approximately 5.4 MM shares collectively, or about 19%. These are either shareholders that are identified on SEDI as directors, but are not identified as such on the Titan website, or persons who still hold shares but are flagged on SEDI as someone who has “Ceased to be Insider”.
- The “Article 6 Marital Trust created under the First Amended and Restated Jerry Zucker Revocable Trust dated 4-2-07” holds 7.2 MM shares, or about 25%. This is what puts the insider picture firmly in the “neutral” camp. I could make no assertions about the motivations of this entity. Are they actively seeking to maximize the value of Titan ? I hope so, but I honestly can’t say, so the insider shareholder story flashes amber for now.
No analyst coverage or institutional ownership. I could find no evidence of any recent analyst coverage, or that any mutual funds held a position. The lack of analyst coverage is consistent with what I was expecting, as I would find it unlikely that a company as well capitalized as Titan would need to do a capital raise, which in turn would go hand in hand with analyst coverage. Additionally, the lack of any institutional holdings (outside of the Zucker estate) is a plus, as this means that there is no potential for a large block of shares to be sold off if a mutual fund manager decides to liquidate. The flip side of this is that there is the potential for the shares to get repriced if a mutual fund decides to buy in once results improve.
No “self promotion”. Quite often, a company will become aware that nobody is interested in them. Lack of interest usually means a depressed share price, which some companies can find understandably bothersome. So, in order to “create a buzz”, they may hire an IR firm to engage the public, or the company itself will start issuing press releases which sound exciting, but simply inflate normal events. A classic example would be “Widget corporation completes sale of widgets to Multi-national accounting firm”, which sounds great. However, at the end of the day, isn’t every company supposed to be trying to make big sales – isn’t that their job ? In the case of Titan, all I found were “business as usual” types of press releases, which confirmed that there wasn’t any artificial inflation of the share price.
No share buy back. I could find no evidence of any share buy backs, and the fact that total shares outstanding had remained fairly static confirmed this. This being said, a share buy back is a vote of confidence by management, but lack of a share buy back isn’t necessarily a lack of confidence. If that were the case, this would mean that the vast majority of firms listed publicly would be broadcasting a lack of confidence by virtue of the fact that there was not a share buy back in place. So, rather than being red, this section ends up amber.
Out of favor sector. I think this is fairly self-evident. The energy sector in Canada, and the associated service companies, had been out of favor for a while. One might argue that this is a redundant statement, given the flat chart of Titan. In any case, the fact that the sector was clearly out of favor meant less eyeballs (and money) to compete with.
The business is easily understood. Again, this is a fairly simple concept. If I was on a plane, and had to explain to the guy next to me what Titan did, could I ? I’m fairly confident I could. While I can’t say that I’m an expert in how their monitors (or gauges, or whatever) work, the concept is easily communicated.
Potentially disruptive technology. Lastly, I’m always on the lookout for something that will shake up the marketplace. In this case, I was not aware of anything that Titan was doing that could be called potentially disruptive. That being said, if this was a prerequisite for every investment, I wouldn’t be investing in anything. So this is amber rather than red.
The final verdict – A buy at an average price of $0.52. As I indicated, I ended up buying Titan. While some parts of my research turned up a few amber lights, there was nothing that screamed “run away”. Also, I should be clear about my expecations about Titan:
- I’m not expecting a 10x return on this. What I am expecting is that the oil & gas sector will recover, as cyclical sectors always do. When that happens, in 3-5 years, Titans revenues will increase, and their valuation and share price will follow.
- I am expecting an annualized return of somewhere between 15% and 20% over a 3-5 year period. This means a recovery in the Titan share price of somewhere between $0.90 (20% annually over 3 years) and $1.05 (15% annually over 5 years).
- I believe that this a relatively “low risk” opportunity. Professional money managers will beg to differ, citing the small market capitalization of Titan. However, this is what creates price inefficiency – the perception of “because it’s small, it must be risky” vs the fact that the company is debt free and cash rich, which mitigates a large degree of risk.
- As of the writing of this (September 14th 2018), Titan has flirted with prices as high as $0.65, and has closed fairly consistently above $0.60. While these both suggest returns north of 15% over a very short hold period, I believe the oil & gas sector is slowly on the mend, and am willing to hold given the limited downside.
- Lastly, commodity sectors are cyclical, and the purchase of Titan occurred nearer to the bottom than the top. Energy demand tends to grow slowly and steadily, whereas energy production is driven by skittish producers who often shelve projects until market signals are as obvious as billboards. Although I don’t know when that time will come, I know it will, and in the meantime Titan can weather the storm.
As always, these are only my thoughts and opinions. Let me know if you found this post informative, or if you just have questions or comments. I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.