PRLS A Net Net that Worked Out: A Look One Year Later

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Sold this net net stock for a 20% over a one year holding period. A final update and explanation of what happened with Peerless Systems Corp. (NASDAQ:PRLS) and net net investing.

I don’t write lengthy posts about the stocks that I own as much as I used to, simply because it allows bias to creep in.

It’s much easier to stay objective and execute when you don’t publicly put your ideas out every single time and then have to “defend” yourself.

Take a look at Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF).

I strongly believe that things would have been different if Ackman chose to do things quietly. (I own HLF by the way.)

Even with my Whole Foods Market position, I enjoy hearing the opposite stories and negativity making the rounds. But the questions and comments I get are phrased in such a way that it makes it seem like I’m defending myself.

Looking right isn’t important because even the best investors are correct only 55% of the time.

But the market is full of testosterone.

It’s more important to have bragging rights than a right plan.

And Peerless Systems Corp. (NASDAQ:PRLS) is not a stock that goes well with the fist bumping group.

A company with no future.

Nothing but cash.

A net net.


But because I highlighted PRLS a year ago, I want to close out PRLS with an update.

Here’s a vain screenshot of what it did today.

But the truth is that Peerless Systems Corp. (NASDAQ:PRLS) did nothing for my entire holding duration until today.

Peerless Systems (PRLS) 2
PRLS vs SPY During Holding Period

That’s the way net nets work.

They do nothing for a year, two years or three years, and then suddenly spike on a single piece of positive news.

(A) Surprises, as a group, improve the performance of out-of-favor stocks, while impairing the performance of favorites.
(B) Positive surprises result in major appreciation for out-of-favor stocks, while having minimal impact on favorites.
(C) Negative surprises result in major drops in the price of favorites, while having virtually no impact on out-of-favor stocks.
(D) The effect of an earnings surprise continues for an extended pe­riod of time.
David Dreman

Net nets go from being extremely illiquid to extremely liquid.

Take a look at this example of InfoSonics Corporation (NASDAQ:IFON) this year.

Peerless Systems (PRLS) 3
How Net Nets Quickly Become Liquid

The essence of investing in net nets is for downside protection, and IF good news comes out, it tears the roof off.

Sounds contradictory right?

How can I claim that buying a business that makes no money with no future is protecting the downside?

Well, that’s why there are so few net net investors around.

It’s goes against conventional wisdom and it’s so simple that it’s hard to believe.

It’s not popular to be holding onto such ridiculous stocks.

The testosterone in the market wants to be all in Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) or the next breakthrough drug.

Something cool.


Not in ugly stocks like net nets.

Buying is Less Than One Half of the Equation

There many rules and advice on selling stocks and it’s been covered a lot already at old school value.

Mostly because I view selling as more difficult than selling.

  • Advice from the greats on selling stocks
  • Selling decisions and the bias of owning stocks
  • Lessons on selling stocks
  • When to sell stocks and more basics of when to sell

Some say that buying is only half of the equation.

The mathematician in me says that it’s really one third of the equation.

The other one third is keeping up with the company.

The remaining one third is selling because there is a lot of temptation and bias to continue holding for that “extra” profit.

After all, what goes up, must continue to go up further right?

Initial Thesis Revisited

Peerless Systems (PRLS)

Let’s go back to the original reason for Peerless Systems and analyze it again with the benefit of hindsight.

Positive Aspects

  • Generates positive free cash flow
  • Has 90% margins
  • No debt
  • Buying backs shares like there is no tomorrow
  • Trades at less than its NCAV
  • CEO was previously a value fund manager and owns 20%

 Negative Aspects

  • Its licensing business will wind down sooner than later resulting in no revenues
  • Looking to change the business into a closed end investment management (this information in the filings is incorrect)
  • Investment in a public micro cap not working out well
  • High CEO compensation

It was trading at 12% below NNWC, and 18% below NCAV. Not a huge upside. Net net’s are supposed to offer 100-300% upside.

But here’s what really happened during the year I held Peerless Systems Corp. (NASDAQ:PRLS).

  • revenues increased as their current customers paid a higher price for the cost of a license
  • cash balance grew
  • and shares were continually gobbled up

Share count went from 13.2m in 2011 to its current 2.7m.

I’ve never seen a company be so aggressive with buy backs.

My intrinsic value ranges were

  • Low value: $4.58
  • Mid value: $4.84
  • High value: $5

Peerless Systems Today

Without doing anything, Peerless Systems Corp. (NASDAQ:PRLS) was worth in the mid $4 to $5.

But with news of their majority stake in Deer Valley Corporation (OTCMKTS:DVLY), the numbers become less clear.

But good news is good news and the stock jumped. Refer to David Dreman’s rule (A) and (B) above.

Deer Valley Corp designs and manufactures factory built homes, provides dealer inventory-secured financing for its factory built homes and provides warranty and repair services for its factory built homes.

I don’t know what the future will bring for PRLS. I was just waiting for Peerless Systems Corp. (NASDAQ:PRLS) to do something with its cash to unlock some sort of value.

And they finally did.

I’m no real estate expert but I do know that home manufacturers are very cyclical and require macro tail winds to do well.

Something that I don’t want to bet on.

Before the next filing is released, here’s the current status from the NetNet section of the OSV Analyzer.

And with the stock price hitting my NCAV price target, it was an easy decision to sell.

Peerless Systems (PRLS) 5
PRLS Net Net Status Today

It’s on the lower end of my initial valuation, but I’d rather take profits now than to hold on for another 10-15% of gains in a small position.

Ultimately, I bought a net net with a lower ceiling compared to other net nets, but the downside was very well protected.

Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself.
Seth Klarman


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