Wedgewood Partners letter to investors for the second quarter ended June 30, 2016.
Brexit: The Vote Heard ‘Round The World
“I think a lot of the market reaction is less about the financial impact and more about populism and what it means for the liberal economic order. The Brexit vote reflects a deep distrust of the benefits of the global economic system among a wide swath of voters in Europe and the United States, and a broadly held view that government institutions – whether in Washington or Brussels – are calcifying and don’t work well. Both of these forces have a lot of wind at their back.” — Glenn Hubbard, Dean of Columbia Business School
“The people have spoken…the bastards!” — Dick Tuck, Political Consultant 1966
Wedgewood Partners – Review and Outlook
Our Composite (net-of-fees) declined -1.82% during the second quarter of 2016. This decline compares unfavorably to the gain of +.61% in our benchmark, the Russell 1000 Growth Index and the S&P 500 Index’s gain of +2.46%.
Top performance contributors included Kraft Heinz, Express Scripts, Schlumberger, and Qualcomm. Absolute performance detractors during the quarter included Apple, Perrigo, Stericycle, and Cognizant.
During the quarter, we trimmed our positions in Qualcomm and Express Scripts. We sold shares of Perrigo and initiated new positions in TJX Companies and Ross Stores.
Kraft Heinz Company was a top performer during the quarter. First quarter adjusted EBITDA grew 21% year over year and earnings per share grew 38% year over year, as the Company’s consolidated adjusted EBITDA margins reached 30%, up a staggering 600 basis points from the year ago period. We estimate that these margins are best-in-class for the large-cap food products sub-industry, and nearly twice the median. In our view, the vast majority of large capitalization food product competitors, despite possessing great brands, are improperly incentivized, and are content to generate revenues at the expense of profits and long-term shareholder returns. In contrast, we continue to be impressed by Kraft Heinz’s new management culture, as recently brought to bear by 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway, which aggressively aligns management and employee incentives with shareholders. For example, rather than simply cutting overhead costs, the Company is intently focused on eliminating financial promotions for retailers (that frequently resulted in profitless revenues) and then reinvesting the savings into alternative product support, such as new products, form factors, and ad campaigns. We are seeing nascent evidence that this profit-focused strategy can be successfully executed without sacrificing revenue growth, as the Company posted low single-digit constant-currency organic revenue growth. As Kraft Heinz continues its aggressive new approach of reinvestment, we expect organic revenue growth to accelerate, along with continued margin expansion.
Express Scripts was a top contributor during the quarter. The stock recovered some of the poor performance from the first quarter after Anthem management noted that, despite filing a lawsuit over Express Scripts’s pricing, they believed any ruling on the lawsuit would take several years and were still open to negotiations. Express Scripts is the sole, independent pharmacy benefits manager (PBM), which we think is key for maintaining their alignment with customers. We continue to expect Express Scripts to drive mid-to-high single-digit EBITDA growth using its scale to negotiate better pricing with drug manufacturers and service providers, while increasing patient adherence. We think earnings per share can continue to grow at a double-digit rate as shares are repurchased at what, in our view, are attractive valuations. That said, as shares rallied from their previous lows, we reduced the stock’s weighting to better reflect the risk/reward of Express Scripts’s growth and valuation.
Schlumberger contributed .42% to composite performance during the quarter. Despite the dramatic decline in exploration and production (E&P) capex budgets during the past 18 months, Schlumberger continues to reinforce its competitive positioning relative to other integrated oil service companies. With one of the largest, most highly-skilled upstream workforces in the private sector, and nearly $7 billion in cumulative research and development spent during the previous up-cycle, we think Schlumberger is poised to take an increased budget share of E&P spending as the Company’s customers outsource more services to improve returns in a “lower-for-longer” oil price environment. We expect Schlumberger’s earnings to significantly rebound in 2017, driven by increased market share as well as the release of over two years of pent-up E&P spending.
Perrigo detracted –1.04% from the composite’s absolute performance. A surprising decline in Perrigo’s normally staid generic prescription (Rx) business had the company reduce full-year guidance by almost 15% in a late April pre-earnings release. In addition, the Company disclosed further write-downs and organizational changes in their nascent Branded Consumer Health (BCH) segment. Last, the Company announced the abrupt exit of long-time CEO, Joe Papa, who joined embattled Valeant Pharmaceutical. Immediately after this slew of data points, we decided it prudent to liquidate our Perrigo stake.
Stericycle was also a top detractor during the second quarter. Stericycle’s earlyyear bounce reversed itself and then some after management lowered forward earnings expectations for the second time in three quarters. Management noted further weakness in their small (~3% of revenues, we estimate), industrial hazardous waste business, and pushed the timeline of about $20 million of expected synergies from their newly acquired document destruction business into next year. Taken alone, we think the stock’s -21% reaction following the earnings release was an overreaction.
We think Stericycle’s core business of regulated waste management continues to be very attractive, throwing off strong free cash flow, with historically steady results. The Company has consistently reinvested these cash flows into smaller, regulated waste management acquisitions, as well as entering new verticals. Secure document destruction is a relatively new vertical for the Company, but we think the demand characteristics (driven by regulatory requirements) and hub-and-spoke collection and disposal model should fit well over the long term. While management noted a longer than expected timeline for converting on-site processing into off-site processing (similar to the way that medical waste is handled), we expect the Company will be successful in this conversion. As for the Company’s industrial hazardous waste business, it has proven to be highly cyclical. However, we expect the benefits of the Company’s overall hazardous waste platform (acquired in 2014) to more than outweigh the risks, as we estimate that retail and medical hazardous waste have grown to over 5% of revenues, from close to zero in 2014 – more than offsetting industrial waste declines. So while we understand investors’ concerns over the Company’s near-term earnings disappointments, we continue to be patient because we think Stericycle’s long-term opportunity for double-digit growth is intact as returns on reinvestment take hold.
Apple has been a significant underperformer not only during the recent second quarter (-11.8%), but also for nearly a year now. The stock has fallen about -28% on an absolute basis, from its high set back on July 20, 2015. This is the second time that the stock has been put through the wringer since late 2012 on fears of “peak” iPhone growth and the concomitant lack of innovation out of the skunk works in Cupertino. Given the surge of sales of the iPhone 6 in 2015 (pent up demand for a larger iPhone, plus significant demand from China), we are not surprised by the