In this edition of The Growth Factor, I'd like to explore One Up on Wall Street (1989) and Peter Lynch's second book, Beating the Street (1993), and how they apply to investing in 2012. Peter Lynch managed Fidelity's Magellan Fund from 1977 through his retirement at age 47 in 1990. Lynch wrote that his purpose for authoring these timeless books was "...to further encourage the amateur investor not to give up on the rewarding pastime of stockpicking."
At Needham Funds, we aspire to an investment style like Lynch's. We believe the markets are fair for investors whether they are individuals or mutual fund portfolio managers. We also believe that financial advisors play an important role as coaches to help determine the role of individual stocks in a strategy set by the advisor.
I will also look at the great work Carolyn and Peter Lynch have been doing with the Lynch Foundation since his retirement from the Magellan Fund.
Individual Investing Today
After the lost decade of the 2000s, individual investing in the market is hardly discussed. For five years, equity funds have experienced outflows, while bond funds have seen inflows. Most recently, in this extended zero-interest rate environment dictated by the Federal Reserve and other central banks, investors have been reaching for yield and investing in any securities with yield.
Today, most individual investors buy index or exchange traded funds (ETFs). The "fast money" crowd trades stocks, but fundamental analysis of companies and holding for long-term gains seems a lost art. Yet, we believe that fundamental analysis, including buying at attractive valuations, is the key to successful long-term investing. Investing requires homework - done right, it can be financially and intellectually rewarding.
Importantly, we believe technology makes it infinitely easier for the diligent investor to research investment ideas today than in 1989 or 1993, when Lynch wrote his books.
Use What You Already Know to Make Money in the Market
Peter Lynch advocates using what you know from your daily life to provide investment ideas or leads. Lynch writes about his personal and his family's observations about Cracker Barrel (CBRL), Body Shop (now part of The L'Oreal Group), SuperCuts (now part of RGS), Taco Bell (Yum! Brands) and others. "The best place to begin looking is close to home - if not in the backyard then down at the shopping mall, and especially where you happen to work."
In the 1980s and early 1990s, while Lynch was managing the Fidelity Magellan Fund, I was selling software used to design printed circuit boards and integrated circuits to electronics and semiconductor companies. PDF Solutions* (PDFS) was founded in 1991 and went public in 2001. Based on my experience, I believed that PDF Solutions' software and services would be needed to help semiconductor manufacturing companies ramp advanced processes. When I rejoined the Needham Funds as Portfolio Manager, we started buying PDF Solutions in the first quarter of 2010 and continued adding to our position for 1½ years. The stock traded between $4 and $6 per share for almost two years, giving investors plenty of opportunity to discover and purchase the stock. It is followed by only one Wall Street analyst. The stock is currently at $14.52.
Along similar lines, we were excited to see Exa Corp.* (EXA) go public without fanfare in June. Exa provides simulation software to the automotive industry. The company has a business model in which it is paid each time a user runs a simulation, tying Exa's revenue to its customers' use of the system. This model reminded me of many companies that I worked with in the software industry. We also like the heavy math behind Exa's products - they applied algorithms developed in MIT physics labs to their engineering. Exa is followed by just three analysts. It went public at $10 and currently trades at $9.15.
My Co-Portfolio Manager, Chris Retzler, had experience running Winterkorn, an orthopedics business, which gives him a great perspective on operations and marketing of healthcare devices and the roles of the government and other payers.
Stalking the Tenbagger
Lynch devotes an entire chapter to the tenbagger. A tenbagger is a stock that goes up tenfold. "The most fascinating part of any of these fast-growth retailing stories...is how much time you have to catch on to them." Lynch cites Wal-Mart (WMT), the Body Shop and Toys R Us (now private) as examples in which an investor had years to buy the stock and still achieve tenbaggers.
Lynch loved small cap stocks for their tenbagger potential. We are also big believers in small caps. Except during unusual market conditions, Chris Retzler's Needham Small Cap Growth Fund (NESGX) has 80% of its assets invested in small caps. As of September 30, 2012, the Needham Aggressive Growth Fund (NEAGX) had 61% of assets in small (between $250 million and $2 billion market cap) and micro cap (under $250 million) and the Needham Growth Fund (NEEGX) had 47% invested in small or micro caps equities.
In our search for tenbaggers at Needham, we look for:
Management teams that have previously created shareholder value (preferably at the company we are considering);
Businesses that participate in large markets with the opportunity to grow into much larger companies;
Unrecognized product and margin expansion potential;
Post-IPO companies with venture capital backing; and
Companies with little research coverage.
The Needham Funds currently own three tenbaggers:
Precision Castparts* (PCP) is an aerospace components supplier purchased by NEAGX over ten years ago. Mark Donegan, CEO, became EVP of Precision Castparts in 1992 and CEO in 2002. In 2002, the company earned $0.80 per share after extraordinary items. In the fiscal year ending March 2012, Precision Castparts earned $8.05 per share. The company saw a fragmented aerospace supply base and the opportunity to bring scale to the market. It has done a great job of growing and acquiring its businesses. The stock has appreciated from $10 per share to $189 per share. In 2002, PCP was a small cap equity with a market capitalization of about $1 billion; today it is a large cap with a market capitalization of $26 billion.
NEAGX has owned Apple* (AAPL) since 2006, when it had a $50 billion market cap. Today's market cap of over $500 billion is down from the $700 billion market cap of earlier this year. Apple has had continuity of management with Steve Jobs and his long-time lieutenant, Tim Cook as CEO. Looking back to 2006, Apple had unrecognized potential in new markets beyond the iPod and Mac computers and the opportunity to be a much larger company.
CEO George Paz joined Express Scripts* (ESRX) in 1998 and became President in 2003. The company provides pharmacy benefit management services. It addresses a large market and has been a winner owing to its ability to lower healthcare costs. The company has also pursued a market consolidation strategy with its most recent merger in 2010 with Medco Health Solutions. In 2002, Express Scripts had a $4 billion market cap and earned $0.32 per share. It currently has a $45 billion market cap and is expected to earn $3.72 per share in 2013.
We'd like to highlight two of Needham Funds' holdings that are currently threebaggers:
ViaSat* (VSAT) went public in 1996. Yours truly was one of the first analysts to follow the company after its initial public offering. CEO Mark Dankberg was a co-founder in 1986. In 2004, the company had a market capitalization of approximately $700 million. It designed satellite electronics equipment for defense and commercial customers.
In the late 2000s, ViaSat had an idea that would dramatically increase satellite capacity. After finding that its commercial customers did not share ViaSat's vision, Mr. Dankberg set ViaSat on course to launch and run its own satellite broadband business. ViaSat-1 was launched earlier in 2012 and the Exede broadband service is now available throughout North America. It has as much bandwidth as all other North American commercial satellites combined.
We believe that ViaSat can be successful in this new market. In 2004, ViaSat earned $0.68 per share as an equipment supplier. Preliminary estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2015 call for $2.81 per share. Of course, ViaSat is full of risks: it has never marketed a consumer product and EchoStar/ Hughes Communications and others such as Dish Networks and even Verizon could improve their own offerings.
Edward Stack has served as CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods* (DKS) since 1984, when the company had two stores. Mr. Stack has been with the company since 1977 in positions that include store manager and merchandise manager. Mr. Stack's father, Founder Richard "Dick" Stack, retired in 1984. In mid-2008 and early 2009, Dick's Sporting Goods was a small cap company with a market capitalization of between $1 billion and $2 billion. The current market capitalization of Dick's is $5.7 billion.
Dick's has gained share in the retail sporting goods market. Sports Authority is the leading competitor and was taken private by Leonard Green & Partners in 2006 and we can imagine the debt load it carries. As of October 31, 2012, there were 518 Dicks Sporting Goods stores, up from 419 in January 2009. Estimates see 589 by January 2014. We believe Dick's has an opportunity to be a much larger company.
Even in the fiscal year ending January 2009, Dick's Sporting Goods stayed profitable and earned $1.18 per share. Fiscal year 2014 estimates are for $3.30 per share in earnings. We believe the Stacks provide vision and stewardship to Dick's. We are pleased to be their partners through our investment.
However, Dick's also has its risks. While its e-commerce revenues grew at a 47% rate in the quarter ending November 2012, it represented only about 5% of sales. Will Dick's suffer the same "showrooming" fate as other retailers, where customers use the store to see ideas and then buy online? We believe Dick's provides a shopping experience driven by strong merchandising and will continue to succeed.
The Lynch Foundation
The Lynch Foundation, founded by Carolyn and Peter Lynch in 1987, provides assistance to programs, primarily in Massachusetts, with an emphasis on education; culture and historic preservation; healthcare and medical research; and religious and educational efforts of the Roman Catholic Church. The Foundation was an early backer of Founder and CEO Wendy Kopp's vision for Teach for America and was one of the original funders of City Year and Paul Farmer's Partners in Health. City Year partners with public schools to provide the extra people power to intervene and help at-risk students. Paul Farmer's life calling is to bring modern medicine to those without access, as profiled in Tracy Kidder's best seller, Mountains Beyond Mountains.
"Generally, we like to find new organizations with good ideas and help them get through the start-up phase," Carolyn explains. So, the Lynch Foundation is looking for social enterprises that can be social tenbaggers!
We believe that this can be a golden age for investors. Investing requires work, but it can be rewarding in more than a financial sense. We believe that individual investors can use their knowledge of the world, combined with some basic research to develop a competitive edge for investing in stocks.
Five years of equity outflows may have removed much of the speculation and excess valuation from the market. The available information and the opportunities for investors have rarely been better. Financial advisors play an important role along this journey. Call your advisor and pick out a few stocks to research, or a mutual fund that pursues these strategies. There's no time like the present to get started.
by John Barr
From The Growth Factor Needham Funds' Commentary
*The Needham Funds aggregate ownership as a percentage of net assets in the stated securities as of 9/30/12: PDFS 4.42%; EXA 0.10%; PCP 0.31%; AAPL 1.32%; ESRX 6.02%; VSAT 2.64%; DKS 1.03%.
The information presented in this commentary is not intended as personalized investment advice and does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell a particular security or other investments.
This message is not an offer of the Needham Growth Fund, the Needham Aggressive Growth Fund or the Needham Small Cap Growth Fund. Shares are sold only through the currently effective prospectus. Please read the prospectus and consider the investment objectives, risks, and charges and expenses of the Fund carefully before you invest. The prospectus contains this and other information about the Fund.
Investment returns and principal value will fluctuate, and when redeemed, shares may be worth more or less than their original cost. Shares held 60 days or less are subject to a short-term redemption fee of 2%. Past performance does not guarantee future results and current performance may be higher or lower than these results. Current month-end performance and a copy of the prospectus is available at www.needhamfunds.com or by contacting the Fund's transfer agent, U.S. Bancorp Fund Services, LLC at 1-800-625-7071.
Funds holding smaller capitalized companies are subject to greater price fluctuation than those of larger companies. Also, the Fund's use of short sales, options, futures strategies and leverage may result in significant capital loss. Total return figures include reinvestment of all dividends and capital gains. Needham & Company, LLC, member FINRA/ SIPC, is the distributor of The Needham Funds, Inc.