My friend Frankie posted an aptly titled piece (Beware the Broker BullS#!T!) on analyst’s actions awhile ago (along with a followup) which struck a nerve as my early investing career had several of the pitfalls mentioned. While I did evolve to settle primarily on a modified DGI strategy, I have to wonder as to the due diligence exercised by some of the broker’s clients. In the US, there are some shops that are essentially pay for play schemes, meaning pay us money and we’ll cover your business. One of these is Taglich Brothers (which has a clearing business relationship with Pershing, LLC in which I am a shareholder (BK)). Taglich, through it’s press release with NXNN (a spec holding of mine) disclosed, “In October 2017, the company paid Taglich Brothers a monetary fee of $4,500 (USD) representing payment for the creation and dissemination of research reports for three months. After the first three months, the company will begin paying Taglich Brothers a monthly monetary fee of $1,500 (USD) for the creation and dissemination of research reports.” Unbiased? Unlikely. Another take on them was provided by D/M/O. Point of reference, Orchids Paper (TIS), mentioned in the article was formerly in my portfolio and subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection (I had sold prior to the filing).
Another angle on alternative strategies was brought front and center this week with the publication of Spruce Point’s analysis on Church & Dwight (CHD). Spruce Point is a small, short focused firm similar to Muddy Waters Capital or Kerrisdale Capital that use Seeking Alpha, Twitter and other social media to broadcast their research. Spruce Point takes a short position, runs a campaign and determines the traction being gained. In the words of the founder Ben Axler, “Because I run a small business, we don’t have a lot of time to waste going down rabbit holes where there’s a dead end,” he says. “I can generally sniff out a company pretty quickly.” OK, then.
I admit that CHD is richly valued and perhaps they overpaid for some acquisitions. I also submit that Spruce Point is highly vocal for their smallish size. They have, however, been building a little bit of a track record in this bull market. On first blush, it appears the Spruce Point results have been stellar thus far in 2019 with a by moving the market in their intended direction 77% of the time on the day their report is released – translating into an average market loss of their targets of 3.78%. I would posit their gain is even greater as I suspect their investors and subscribers get a first look at the reports. My guess would be a 5-10% short term gain.
In the shorting game, the real money is to be had by riding a target down, but to do so requires conviction, stamina and staying power. Based on Ben’s comment, I doubt they are riding the targets down other than a select few high conviction ones. My reasoning being that they would be booking a loss for 2019 as their targets, in aggregate, are 2.88% higher post call. The three that would have rocketed their results lost 49%, 26% and 25%. Conversely the three they should have exited quickly gained 86%, 51% and 12% for the longs.
Over the weekend Spruce Point has continued their campaign against CHD using Twitter to gleefully proclaim success as CHD has not chosen to engage in their antics. Although some of Spruce Point’s issues have some validity, in large I feel they are overstated – essentially a headline grabber.
One issue they raise is the use of factoring to manipulate results. Possible, but it depends on whether it is recourse or non-recourse. Spruce Point also takes issue with an undisclosed UK acquisition. My take is with sales in the £764,000 range this is negligible. The current year “slowing dividend growth” could be explained by prudence in digesting its last two acquisitions. I suspect this dividend trend may be the new normal for a period of time if management executes on their goal of expanding their “power brands” to twenty.
In summary, they could very well be right. They could also be playing a manipulation game. If weakness intensifies my thoughts are that a buying opportunity may be at hand. Then again – I may be wrong 🙂