Big Question Mark for Facebook: Profit Margins (Not Advertiser Behavior or User Engagement)

There has been a lot of commentary in recent days about how user engagement will change, if at all, in the wake of Facebook’s user data privacy hiccups, as well as how advertisers will react and whether they will shift dollars to other social media platforms. I actually do not think either one of those metrics will materially change in the coming months. What is more important in my eyes is how Facebook’s margin structure could be permanently different in 2018 and beyond.

Sure, there will be some users who stop using Facebook and blame the recent issues, but those users were probably not using the platform much to begin with, and as with most things, people tend to have a short memory. Diners typically return to restaurant chains even after illness outbreaks and shoppers did not abandon Target or Home Depot after massive credit card data breaches.

I also would not expect material advertiser migration. It reminds me of the NFL ratings drama over the last season or two of professional football. Television ratings have declined, in part due to an abundance of games (Monday, Thursday, Sunday), more viewing options that are not easily tracked by Nielsen (streaming services, mobile apps, etc), and more competition for eyeballs (Netflix, etc), but the NFL is quick to point out that despite lower ratings, NFL telecasts still get more viewers than most every other television program. As a result, if you want to allocate ad dollars to TV, the NFL will remain one of the best ways of doing so.

The same should be true with Facebook. If both the user base and the average time per day spent on the app drop a few percentage points, Facebook will not lose its spot as one of the best ways to reach consumers on social media.

The bigger question from an investor standpoint is what Facebook’s margin structure looks like going forward. More specifically, how much expenses are going to rise and whether those costs are on-time or permanent. I suspect they will rise dramatically and will be permanent. After all, up until recently the company really just built the platform, turned it on, and let anybody do pretty much whatever they wanted with users and their data. It is obvious now that in order to maintain trust and their dominant position in the marketplace, they are going to have to [police the platform on an ongoing basis and limit the exposure to bad actors. This will cost money, lots of it, and will not bring in any incremental revenue. As a result, profit margins will fall and stay there, in my view.

This is critical for investors because the stock’s massive run-up in recent years has been due to a growing user base leveraging a scalable cost base. Facebook’s EBITDA margins grew from 48% in 2013 to 57% in 2017, and the stock price more than tripled. That margin expansion is likely to reverse beginning this year, to what extent remains unknown. Could those 9 points of margin leverage be recaptured by rising expenses of running the platform? I don’t see why not.

In that scenario, investors may no longer be willing to pay 10-11x forward 12-month projected revenue for the stock, which has been the recent range. If that metric instead drops to 8x (~$149 per share), it will have implications for the stock (currently fetching $160) even if advertisers and users stay completely engaged with the platform.

Full Disclosure: No position in FB at the time of writing, but that may change at any time

Facebook Could Become Solid GARP Play If Near-Term Pressures Continue

Facebook (FB) stock debuted less than six years ago at $38 per share and went through two very distinct sentiment shifts. The current environment, as the company faces pressure from multiple sides to better control use of its massive platform, could very well mark yet another shift.

In May 2012, Facebook IPO’d and flooded the market with stock, so much so that anyone could buy shares at the offer price. Investors were skittish that the company could move quickly to capitalize on the move from desktop to mobile usage and the stock quickly fell into the teens. That turned out to be one of the best growth stock investment opportunities in recent memory, because back then very few people understood just how much money the company would earn in just a few short years.

For instance, what if you knew that Facebook would grow revenue from $5 billion in 2012 to $27.6 billion by 2016, and that free cash flow would go from negative to $4 per share that year? Well, the stock probably never would have traded under $20 and I would bet that investors would have gobbled up every IPO share they could at $38 each.

That was very reminiscent of the Google IPO, which many people thought was wildly overpriced, only to be shocked a few years later when the company’s profits made the IPO price look like an enormous bargain (in hindsight only, of course).

As a result of huge profit growth, sentiment in Facebook has shifted dramatically in recent years and the stock had surged to $176 per share by the end of 2017, as free cash flow reached nearly $6 per share last year. While not overpriced necessarily, the bar has certainly been reset quite high, and therefore Facebook is more susceptible to near-term problems, such as how they are controlling the use of their user data and advertising platform.

The chart above shows the entire history of Facebook’s public stock performance and therefore the recent decline barely registers as a blip. If we look at the last year, we see that the shares have largely been moving sideways, and the recent drop is only about 15% from the highs:

So are the shares getting close to an attractive level? It likely depends on two factors; what valuation methodology you use, and whether you think the company can continue to grow per-share cash flow, or if future growth will be hampered by user base maturation and increased costs associated with policing the platform more heavily.

My base case is that they grow, but at materially slower rates, and margins come down some but remain quite high. As far as valuation, I prefer to use free cash flow per share, but I deduct non-cash, stock-based compensation. That metric for 2017 came out to roughly $4.65 per share (versus $5.91 if you ignore SBC). My estimate for 2018 is roughly $6.50 per share, but I realize there is risk in this figure because we really don’t know how much expenses are going to increase in the face of current political and social pressures.

For Facebook to get into the sweet spot as a GARP (growth at a reasonable price) investment, I would have to see a multiple of 20-25x free cash flow less stock-based compensation. On my 2018 estimates, it equates to $131-$164 per share. The current quote, after a 5% drop today, is $163 per share. In other words, FB stock is arguably now finding itself in GARP territory.

Given that near-term sentiment could very well accelerate to the downside, and considering that modeling 2018 growth rates of 35% in both revenue and free cash flow (the current consensus) are probably skewed to the aggressive end of the spectrum, I would probably want to pay less than the current price. However, if the stock reaches the midpoint of my 2018 range ($150-ish), it could very well make for a strong GARP investment from my vantage point.

Full Disclosure: No position in FB at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time 

 

New CEO Moving Quickly To Stabilize Wynn Resorts Shares

In the three months since my last post on Wynn Resorts (WYNN) a lot has happened. Steve Wynn has resigned as CEO and Chairman of the Board amid sexual misconduct allegations, long-time executive Matt Maddox has taken over the CEO role, two other directors of the company have vacated their positions, the board increased the annual common stock dividend by 50% (to $3.00 per share), and the company announced a settlement agreement to bring to a close a long-time litigation.

As you can see from the chart below, WYNN shares have found some support and are in the midst of climbing back, as Mr. Maddox settles into his new role and tries to turn the page:

In what turns out to be fortuitous timing, I began to trim back my WYNN positions in late January (around $195) as the stock approached my conservative $200 fair value estimate. Just days later the Steve Wynn news broke, which complicated matters with what to do with the rest of the shares.

Since then I have been sitting tight, waiting for more clarity as to the company’s next steps. Recent days has brought some insight on that front, but two big questions remain in my mind. One, how are Wynn Las Vegas bookings shaping up in the weeks since the news reports made national headlines? And two, what is the fate of the under construction Boston Harbor project?

Although I do not think the company’s Macau business will be impacted, the U.S. market is a different story. As long as Steve Wynn’s name is on the door, even if he is no longer with the company, I could see convention business contract materially, as well as tourist bookings. As far as Boston goes, it would be surprising to me if they put the Wynn name on that property when it opens in the middle of next year. So that begs the question, will they sell it, or get to keep their gaming license and simply rebrand the property?

The answers to these questions are likely to take several quarters to be crystallized. Wynn reported 2017 free cash flow of $942 million, which included roughly $650 million of construction costs for the Boston project. If the company can really generate free cash flow of $1.6 billion from its existing three properties, the stock today remains a great value ($19.3 billion equity value) and could easily fetch $230 per share (15x normalized free cash flow). And that does not even include Boston (the worst case scenario there would probably be them having to offload it at cost). Of course, that assumes that the Las Vegas business stays strong despite the negative headlines, which is a big unknown. I will be watching the data closely on that front in the coming quarters.

There has been speculation that the company may be up for sale, or that Steve Wynn might try to take it private. I think it really depends on whether he plans on holding onto his shares or not. He is 76 years old and could very well decide to retire from the business. If he was open to selling his shares I think the company would look to maximize value for shareholders and auction off the entire business to the highest bidder (and there would be plenty of interest).

If Mr. Wynn wants to hold onto the stock, then Mr. Maddox will have to figure out how to preserve the business value. That would possibly mean taking the Wynn name off of the door (if business does suffer here in the U.S.), or maybe even a more bold move (selling the U.S. assets and focusing on Macau and future growth opportunities like Japan).

In either case it looks like there are plenty of levers for the company to pull to realize full intrinsic value for the business. In that scenario, holding the stock and waiting for even more clarity will probably work out quite nicely. Heads we win (the company is sold and the resorts rebranded), tails we win (they rebrand it themselves with Steve Wynn nowhere to be seen).

Full Disclosure: Long shares of WYNN at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time

 

Not All Media Companies Are Created Equal: A Closer Look at Charter, Comcast, and Disney

A client reached out to me after reading my past post regarding the media industry landscape to point out that Comcast and Charter, while both in the business of providing video, data, and voice services to customers, are far from equal when it comes to revenue diversification.

This is a point that is certainly true. I probably should have been more specific in my prior post that my comments were meant to be focused on the TV business. With Comcast’s NBC Universal acquisition about eight years ago, the company became far more than just a cable company offering triple play packages to mostly residential customers.

Along those lines, Charter is a far more one-sided investment bet than Comcast is these days, and would be more susceptible to people who are cancelling their cable service and instead opting for Netflix and/or Prime Video.

Since these companies, along with Disney, have various business segments, I thought it would be helpful to illustrate where each gets its revenue from. The answers are a bit surprising.

Below is a chart that shows the percentage of total revenue that each media company gets from various businesses. Since Disney’s 2017 fiscal year is already over, I am showing data for their latest 12 months. For Comcast and Charter, only the first nine months results for 2017 are publicly available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my mind, there are a few notable things about this data:

  1. Disney is the most diversified of the three, as one might expect. More than 55% of their revenue comes from sources other than television.
  2. 40% of Charter’s subscriber revenue comes from TV packages. This is comparable to, but lower than, Comcast’s non-NBCU division (44%).
  3. Because of Disney’s large parks/resorts segment (33% of revenue), they have less exposure to cable despite owning ESPN. Still, it is a large portion of the company at roughly 30%.
  4. If you want to play increased broadband adoption and higher speeds/prices over the longer term, Charter is actually the best option, as 34% of their subscriber revenue comes from high-speed internet services. The comparable figure for Comcast is just 17% (28% if you exclude the NBCU division).

As with any publicly traded security, price should play a material role in drawing conclusions about the merits of an investment. When I look at the valuations, Charter trades at a similar level to Disney, despite having no content library or dominant consumer franchises. Comcast trades at roughly a 10-20% discount to them, even though one might expect it to trade at a premium to Charter given the diversification of their revenue stream in an uncertain and ever-changing media landscape.

As a result, my personal rankings considering valuation, revenue diversification, and franchise positioning, would be 1) Disney, 2) Comcast, 3) Charter. If I was into the paired trade strategy, long Comcast/short Charter would look interesting over a multi-year period. Of course, the big question is whether Charter will make a play for a content business, or wireless provider, or something else to expand their horizons. In that scenario, the outlook would really depend on who they bought and how much they paid, not surprisingly.

Content Providers Take Leadership Role in “Unbundling” of Cable

As we head into 2018, one of more interesting sectors among those I watch closely would have to be the media space. This year has seen a huge amount of deal activity (both discussed and completed), as well as a continued secular shift in the way content is distributed and purchased.

For years consumers and industry watchers contemplated if and how the cable bundle would come undone. The idea of paying for 100 or 200 channels, while only actually watching a dozen or so, seemed like an obvious target for disrupters, but for a long time nothing changed. The cable and satellite pay-TV providers would have been obvious candidates to initiate a change in how content is sold, which easily could have increased satisfaction scores and retention rates among consumers, but they balked at potentially bringing down their “monthly ARPU” (monthly average revenue per user). Now with so-called “cord-cutting” becoming a reality, it appears that perhaps that lack of action was a mistake.

The blossoming of Netflix shows just how much “unbundling” was the right move. It turns out that the content players have now taken a leadership role in doing away with the expensive, voluminous TV bundle. If you think about the Netflix service it really is just “a skinny bundle.” Rather than pay $75 or $100 for 100-200 channels, Netflix provides enough content for consumers to be happy (I am just guessing, but perhaps 5-10 traditional cable channels worth of content library?) for $10-$12 per month. Given what industry watchers have been predicting for what seems like decades, it should not be surprising that Netflix has been a runaway success, Amazon Prime Video was created, and HBO is flourishing with its over-the-top streaming service despite more competition.

What is surprising is that the cable and satellite companies have been so slow to react. Leaders like Comcast and Charter have yet to answer with their own competing products. DirecTV did launch a $35 streaming service featuring a more limited channel line-up, so we’ll give them credit for taking the plunge.

The big question is how the Comcasts and Charters of the world are going to compete as the content companies try and eliminate them as middlemen. HBO, Netflix, and Prime Video are sold direct to consumer and other content producers are now accelerating M&A activity to gain scale in content. I recently made a list of 60 top TV channels to see exactly how the concentration of ownership has been shifting lately, especially after three recent deals were announced; Discovery buying Scripps, AT&T buying Time Warner, and Disney buying much of 21st Century Fox. Assuming all of those deals close, below is the breakdown:

Disney/Fox: 12 channels
Comcast/NBC: 11 channels
Discovery/Scripps: 10 channels
AT&T/Time Warner: 8 channels

Out of 60 channels, it is entirely possible that just 4 owners will control a whopping 42, or 70% of them, within the next 12 months.

And more deals could be ahead. A remarriage of CBS and Viacom has been long-rumored and combined they own another 9 channels. A company I am invested in, AMC Networks, owns 3 channels on my list.

To me is seems pretty clear what is going on here. The infrastructure players have been slow to adapt to suit consumers’ needs. The legacy content companies see Netflix and Amazon spending billions on content and realize that if they are not careful, those two companies could offer so much programming that households might no longer need to watch any of their shows. So rather than stand by and watch, they are getting bigger through M&A and will have enough selection to offer their own streaming service, cutting out the cable and satellite providers completely, while also becoming increasingly crucial for those who stick with a bigger bundle. Disney specifically is going to be in great shape given that they also have an unmatched movie collection that can be offered alongside TV programs.

If this is the internal corporate strategy, we can expect more M&A to be announced in 2018. From an investor standpoint, there are attractive opportunities outside of the profitless Netflix and e-commerce juggernaut Amazon.

AMC Networks trades at about 10x free cash flow, 8x EBITDA, and has been buying stock aggressively. In an age of scale mattering, they would seem to be a logical M&A participant. The post-merger Discovery trades at less than 10x free cash flow, has plenty of synergies to exploit with Scripps, and is internationally diversified. Their focus on non-scripted reality shows keeps production costs low and profit margins high. Disney is building a Goliath in the space and is probably the most likely candidate to create a service that can become as valued as Netflix or Prime Video in many households. At roughly 20x free cash flow and 11x EBITDA, the stock no longer trades at a premium to the market (based on ESPN viewership issues), but arguably should given their unmatched franchises.

The media space is not without investor fears, and it certainly is not a popular group for the current bull market, but there are plenty of strong, cash flow generating machines in the public markets whose share prices are quite attractive due to concerns that Netflix and Amazon will crush everyone and that young people simply don’t watch TV. The financial results from these companies in recent years, even as all of this industry change has been afoot, disproves those theories. Additionally, further M&A will only serve to boost competitive positions and generate accretive returns for shareholders.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of Amazon, AMC Networks, AT&T, Discovery, Disney, and Time Warner (hedged with covered calls) at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time

A Year-End Update On Wynn Resorts

While value investing in 2017 has not been an easy task, one constant bright spot in my managed accounts this year has been casino operator Wynn Resorts (WYNN), which has been on an absolute tear.

My last update was back in May when I outlined how my conservative $150 fair value estimate was likely going to prove to be just that… too low. Since then the shares have continued their ascent, rising from $125 to $165 each. My prognosis from eight months ago ($160 by 2019) is therefore outdated.

While I have been trimming my WYNN positions as the stock has continued higher, the company continues to impress from a financial results perspective. My original $150 fair value figure was based on 15x annual free cash flow of $1 billion, which seemed to be very achievable once the company’s second Macau property, Wynn Palace, opened last year.

Despite ongoing construction in the area, which has limited street access and visibility for the new resort, WYNN’s numbers have been staggering, as cannibalization of their legacy property in the region (Wynn Macau) has been far less than many analysts expected. In fact, over the last 12 months for which we have reported financials (Q4 16-Q3 17), Wynn has posted operating cash flow of more than $1.5 billion. If we assume maintenance capital expenditures of $300 million annually, my $1 billion free cash flow target for the three resorts now open will prove to be be too low to the tune of $200 million or more. I would say $180 per share is probably closer to the right number for the core properties, and that assumes no future growth from those assets.

And then of course we have the Boston resort currently under construction (due to open in mid 2019), as well as phase 1 of the company’s Paradise Park expansion project in Las Vegas which could be open within a year. I continue to see those two projects adding $16 per share to my valuation, which means WYNN stock could see $200 per share without being aggressive in one’s underlying financial assumptions. In gaming parlance, it probably makes sense to reduce your bets but I am not getting up from the table completely just yet.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of WYNN at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time.

Wynn Resorts Coming Up Aces For Investors

It has been about 18 months since Steve Wynn purchased more than 1 million shares of his own company’s stock, Wynn Resorts (WYNN), at prices in the low to mid 60’s. While he had better timing than I did (I initially started buying earlier in 2015 at higher prices), which would be expected, his insider purchase has been immensely profitable.

WYNN shares surged this week after the company reported strong earnings, breaking through the $125 level for the first time in more than two years. Bargains hunters like me who bought at multiple times on the way down have had to be patient, but buying great companies at discounted prices often works out very well for those who are willing to wait.

Now that Wynn’s second Macau resort has opened (last August) and is ramping up nicely, I thought it was a good time to revisit the investment. My thesis since 2015 has been that with the addition of two more resorts (the aforementioned Wynn Palace and the forthcoming Wynn Boston, set to open in mid 2019), WYNN’s free cash flow would move materially higher and justify a stock price of at least $150 per share (a relatively conservative 15x multiple on $1 billion of annual free cash flow).

Wynn’s recent results do nothing to shake my confidence in that investment thesis. In fact, it may very well turn out to be too conservative. Based on recent numbers for the company’s Macau properties, it is entirely possible that WYNN could be looking at reaching that cash flow goal before their Boston property opens.

Considering that the company could reasonably expect a 10-15% return on both its $2.4 billion investment in Boston, as well as the recently announced Las Vegas expansion (a golf course that earns $3 million of profit per year is being replaced by a $500 million development project that could earn $50-$75M per year), there appears to be nice upside potential to my price objective. For instance, an incremental $350 million of EBITDA at a 12x multiple would equate to $4.2 billion of added value, compared with estimated construction costs of just $2.9 billion. Tacking on $1.3 billion to Wynn’s valuation would equate to roughly $13 per share, making a stock price of over $160 distinctly possible by 2019.

As an investment manager position sizing is always a consideration, but that aside, I remain intrigued by Wynn stock even after its recent rise. As they say at the tables, I am likely going to “let it ride” for quite a while longer.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of Wynn Resorts at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time.

CEO Steve Wynn’s Huge Purchase Reinforces That Wynn Resorts Stock Is Dramatically Undervalued

Wynn Resorts (WYNN) announced on Tuesday evening that its Founder, Chairman, and CEO Steve Wynn purchased more than 1 million shares of stock on the open market between December 4th and 8th, bring his total ownership to more than 11 million shares (about 11% of the company). The stock reacted well today to the news, rising $8 to around $70 per share.

I posted earlier this year about my belief that shares of WYNN are very undervalued. After peaking at $249 in March 2014, I began to get interested below $110 in the spring and have been averaging down my clients’ average cost basis during the stock’s swoon.  Wynn’s purchases this month took place when the stock traded between $60 and $66. This insider buy is interesting on multiple fronts. Let me touch on some that come to mind.

1. Owner-operators like Wynn typically sell their shares over time

Founders who continue to run their companies often have large equity stakes. In most instances these folks will sell shares steadily over time for diversification purposes. What makes this transaction so notable is that Wynn already owned 10% of the company (worth nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars) and yet he still bought more stock. This is rare. Think of the times we have heard about the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Jeff Bezos trade in their company’s stock. They almost always sell.

2. Most insider buys are small

Although it doesn’t happen as much as one might hope, when CEOs buy shares in their own company (in the open market with their own cash, not via exercising stock options) the buys are typically relatively small compared with their actual compensation. These kinds of trades are seen by many investors as merely token purchases made for the sake of optics (as opposed to a large financial bet). If a CEO who makes $5 million per year buys $500,000 or $1 million worth of stock once every 5 or 10 years, that hardly signals to investors that they really think it’s a great investment. Wynn’s purchase of 1 million shares is unusual in this respect as well. He spent more than $60 million of his personal funds. That is a lot of money (even for Wynn, who is much wealthier than the average CEO). Think about all of the things he could have bought with $60 million. While it is clear speculation on my part, I think Wynn actually made this move with financial motivations first and foremost.

3. What does this move say about the intrinsic value of WYNN stock?

So why did Wynn buy stock now? After such a huge drop (75% from the peak less than two years ago), should we assume he didn’t think it was undervalued until now? Why not buy at $150 or $100? Did he think the shares were fully valued at $75 or $80? Again, this is pure speculation, but if you buy into my argument that he already has plenty of shares, even if he wanted to signal a vote of confidence he could have done so with a far smaller buy (even $5 million would have been far more than most every other CEO purchase). I would guess that Wynn made this particular move because he thinks the stock’s decline had simply reached “ridiculous” territory. If he is making this investment simply to make money, and he thinks the stock price now is irrational, then why not make a big bet on that view? Conversely, if he was simply trying to stem the stock’s decline with a headline, why not do so after the stock fell by $100 per share? What about after it fell by $150? Instead he waited until it dropped by nearly $200 per share. Why? My guess: because it’s just too darn cheap to ignore, even when you already own 10 million shares.

4. How does my view of the stock change with this news?

It doesn’t. I thought the stock was materially mispriced the day before the news hit and I feel the same way the day of the announcement. Will I load up on even more shares now that Wynn is buying? Probably not anymore than I would have already. While his confidence is a positive signal, it’s pretty hard to objectively argue that the stock has not been undervalued for quite some time. The fact that Steve Wynn likely has the same opinion should not come as a surprise.

5. Should investors jump in now, based on this news?

Wynn stock popped 13% on this news, probably mostly due to short covering. In most instances moves like that are short-lived, either because the news is forgotten in a matter of days, or because the next material news item for the company will likely be deemed more important. I would guess that the stock gives up much, if not all, of this pop over the coming days and/or weeks. After all, the next big catalyst for the stock is the opening of the new $4.1 billion Wynn Palace property on the Cotai strip, which has been pushed back from the end of Q1 2016 to the end of Q2 2016. Until then, the same concerns that have plagued the stock for the last year (the huge slowdown in Macau gaming revenue) are unlikely to abate.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of WYNN at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time

Wynn Resorts Down More Than 50% Is A Long-Term Opportunity

The holy grail for contrarian, value investors is buying great companies at bargain prices, typically during a time when they have hit a short-term speed bump. While this is not an everyday occurrence, and it is even more rare when equity markets are elevated as they are today, you can find great investments in any market environment if you pay close attention.

Last week I initiated a new position in Wynn Resorts (WYNN), a leading gaming and resort operator with a pair of properties in Las Vegas and Macau, with two new properties in development (a second resort in Macau and one outside Boston). I paid $108 and change for the initial group of shares, which represented a more than 50% decline from the stock’s 52-week high of $222. In fact, WYNN shares actually traded at $108 for the first time way back in early 2007.

I bought on a day when the stock was trading down more than 20 points after a disappointing earnings report. In addition, the company cut their dividend to conserve cash and fund the construction of their new resorts, each of which will cost billions of dollars. Wynn’s recent struggles are due to weakness in the Macau gaming market, as China has recently enacted policy restrictions which have hampered both visitor traffic and spend over the last year.

While these issues were well-known to investors, the dividend cut came as a surprise (the annual payout was reduced from $6 to $2 per share). There were many investors who were in the stock for the income and wanted out, as the dividend yield has gone from over 4.5% to less than 2.0%. I like to pay close attention to dividend cuts because they often result in dramatic stock price declines, even though not every company cuts their dividend for the same reason. In addition, company valuations are not impacted by changes in dividends, but rather changes in actual earnings. Oftentimes the two are not directly related (e.g. the dividend cut is more dramatic than the earnings decline).

In Wynn’s case, which is different from many instances where companies have seen their profitability evaporate and therefore are unable to continue paying a dividend out of free cash flow, the company is merely preserving cash now that sales levels are lower in Macau and they no longer have excess free cash flow above and beyond what they need to build out their new properties. The company remains very profitable. As a result, it is entirely reasonable to expect that once Wynn’s new projects open, their absolute profit dollars will increase while their required capital expenditures decline, which will support an increase in the dividend.

We see this a lot with growth companies who are in highly capital-intensive businesses. As capital needs fluctuate, the dividend is adjusted both up and down based on where they are in their growth cycle. While this does not match up with most dividend-paying companies, which pride themselves on maintaining their dividends no matter what (including steady and predictable annual increases), a company like Wynn really uses them as a way to pay out excess cash that they don’t need to build new or expand existing properties. In fact, the company also uses one-time special dividends to accomplish the same objective.

Lastly, I think it is important to note that one future positive catalyst for Wynn will be a leveling off and eventual rebound in their Macau financial results. The Chinese government is not going to suppress gaming their forever. At some point, given the popularity of the area, we will see growth in Macau again, especially considering how much of a drop there has been in recent quarters. I am not going to pretend I know when exactly that inflection point will occur, but that is one of the perks of being a long-term investor; I am willing to be patient.

To sum up, I believe a price of $108+ represented an excellent value for a great company like Wynn. That does not mean that the stock will not drop further in the short-term (I am not trying to pick the bottom here, just a good entry point for the long-term), but I think the stock will be materially higher several years from now. If true, we will look back and say that 2015 was an excellent contrarian buying opportunity.

What do you think?

Full Disclosure: Long shares of WYNN at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time.

Investors in Biglari Holdings Now Getting Core Steak ‘n Shake Business for Free

It has been a while since I last wrote about Biglari Holdings (BH) and their efforts to diversify into a holding company far bigger than just the core Steak ‘n Shake restaurant operations. BH has acquired a 20% stake in Cracker Barrel (CBRL), as well as purchased Maxim magazine, First Guard Insurance, and Western Sizzlin outright. Accounting for a recently completed rights offering that raised $86 million, BH has around $200 million of cash and no holding company debt (the Steak ‘n Shake subsidiary does have debt of $220 million). An update seems in order now that BH shares are trading for $330 each, for an equity market value of $680 million.

Why? Well, the valuation seems off, to put it mildly. At the current quote of $103 per share, BH’s Cracker Barrel stake is worth $488 million. Add in a net cash position of approximately $200 million and you quickly realize that buyers of BH today are getting Steak ‘n Shake (a business with more than $700 million of annual sales) for free, as well as all of the company’s other assets. To give you an idea of how ridiculous this is, consider that the Steak ‘n Shake generated annual free cash flow of $60 million in 2010 and 2011 (that figure has come down in recent years as CEO Sardar Biglari has invested a lot of capital into accelerating Steak ‘n Shake’s franchising business globally). As such, it is not a stretch to value Steak ‘n Shake equity at multiple hundreds of millions of dollars (accounting for its debt load). Getting that business for free is a big deal on a percentage basis considering that BH’s total equity capitalization is currently valued at less than $700 million by the market.

I am not the only investor who sees value in BH shares. Och-Ziff Capital Management (OZM) recently filed a 13G disclosing an 8% passive stake in the company, and that filing was made when the stock was trading over $400 per share. It will be interesting to see if they increase their stake at current prices. Accordingly, you may not be surprised to learn that BH is currently my largest equity holding.

Full Disclosure: Long shares of BH at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time.