The Party Is Over! No growth, Massive Losses & Tens Of Billions In Debt, Tesla Is Worthless

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Stanphyl Capital letter to investors for the first quarter ended March 31, 2019, discussing their short stock and call options in Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA).

Tesla Model Y SUV Unveiling
Blomst / Pixabay

Friends and Fellow Investors:

For April 2019 the fund was up approximately 2.9% net of all fees and expenses. By way of comparison, the S&P 500 was up approximately 4.0% while the Russell 2000 was up approximately 3.4%. Year-to-date 2019 the fund is up approximately 16.0% while the S&P 500 is up approximately 18.2% and the Russell 2000 is up approximately 18.5%. Since inception on June 1, 2011 the fund is up approximately 90.8% net while the S&P 500 is up approximately 158.5% and the Russell 2000 is up approximately 109.3%. Since inception the fund has compounded at approximately 8.5% net annually vs 12.8% for the S&P 500 and 9.8% for the Russell 2000.  (The S&P and Russell performances are based on their “Total Returns” indices which include reinvested dividends.) As always, investors will receive the fund’s exact performance figures from its outside administrator within a week or two. (Please note that individual partners’ returns will vary in accordance with their high-water marks.)

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Q1 hedge fund letters, conference, scoops etc

I continue to believe that what we’ve seen since the market’s late December low is a bear market rally (albeit a fierce one), with the broad indexes in the process of forming a double-top like those of 2000 and 2007. The U.S. economic slowdown is in its early stages and we’re a long way from QE4; in fact the Fed is still removing approximately $50 billion a month from its balance sheet and—despite the taper announced in March—will continue removing tens of billions of dollars a month through September, while real short-term U.S. interest rates are positive for the first time in over a decade. Meanwhile, as evidenced by the chart below, Q1’s annualized +3.2% GDP report was much weaker than the headline number suggests:

Stanphyl Capital

We thus remain short the Russell 2000 (IWM), an index with a trailing twelve-month GAAP PE ratio of 43, and a declining “E” with 35% of its constituents losing money:

Stanphyl Capital

Is our short bias a contrarian one? It certainly seems to be, as here (courtesy of Real Vision Research) is a chart of the current (as of mid-April) combined short interest in SPY, QQQ and IWM as a proportion of all shares outstanding:

Stanphyl Capital

Elsewhere in the fund’s short positions…

We remain short stock and call options in Tesla Inc (TSLA), which I consider to be the biggest single stock bubble in this whole bubble market. The core points of our Tesla short thesis are:

  • Tesla has no electric vehicle “moat” of any kind; i.e., nothing meaningfully proprietary in terms of design or technology, while existing automakersunlike Tesla­—have a decades-long “experience moat” of knowing how to mass-produce, distribute and service high-quality cars consistently and profitably.
  • Tesla is now a “busted growth story”; demand for its existing models has peaked and it will have to raise billions of dollars to produce new ones.
  • Tesla is losing a ton of money with a terrible balance sheet while suddenly confronting massive competition in every aspect of its business
  • Elon Musk is extremely untrustworthy.

In April Tesla reported a disastrous Q1, with a GAAP loss of $702 million (over $900 million excluding regulatory credit sales) and just 63,000 vehicles delivered, down 30% sequentially from Q4 of 2018. Model 3 sales were down 17% despite the initial, backlog-filling sales into Europe and China, while sales of the much higher-margin S&X were down an astounding 52%, and this all happened despite massive price cuts on every model as the quarter progressed.

In the Q1 earnings press release the company blatantly lied about its Q2 guidance, claiming it will sell 90-100,000 cars when in fact it will only approximately match the delivery number from Q1, and at a much lower ASP. I thus predict that Q2’s loss will be roughly as bad as Q1’s, with lower ASP’s and regulatory credit sales offsetting Q1’s inventory write-down. (The only wild card will be if Tesla recognizes some deferred Autopilot revenue, in which the loss should still be at least $500 million.)

Following April’s awful deliveries report, word leaked that Panasonic was refusing to commit any more investment to Tesla’s Nevada battery factory, nor would it invest in Tesla’s future plant in China.

The party’s over, folks. With no growth, massive ongoing losses and tens of billions of dollars in debt and purchase obligations, the equity in Tesla will prove worthless, either quickly or—following a series of increasingly ugly capital raises—slowly. But as the stock price has yet to reflect that, I’ll continue…

Q1 Model S&X sales (Tesla’s highest-margin cars) were especially awful in Europe, and Q2 looks no better:

Stanphyl Capital

European S&X sales are being crushed by the recently introduced Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace (the Jaguar is currently available in the U.S. and the Audi arrives in May) , and later this year come the Mercedes EQC and Porsche Taycan, with multiple additional electric Audis, Mercedes and Porsches to follow, many at starting prices considerably below those of the luxury Teslas. (See the links below and last month’s letter for more details.)

As for the Model 3, Tesla in March claimed to have finally introduced a $35,000 version, but then after grabbing a bunch of deposits to pad the March 31 balance sheet decided to make it only “available” at its (increasingly shuttered) physical stores. (No wonder, as the car uses a larger battery pack that’s software-limited and thus Tesla will lose thousands of dollars on each one it sells.) Meanwhile the cheapest Model 3 available for on-line ordering now costs $39,500 and reflects yet another price cut (the fourth this year, by my count), as it includes basic Autopilot as part of a $2000 price increase, yet that was previously a $3000 option.

Also in April…

  • Tesla hosted a laughably bad “Autonomy Day” to show off its (non-existent) self-driving technology. (Keep in mind that in March Navigant consulting came out with its annual ranking of autonomous driving capabilities, and just as last year Tesla ranked dead last among active automakers and suppliers.)
  • The SEC gave Musk the wrist-slap we anticipated for his clear contempt violation of the “$420 settlement.” Although this is now irrelevant re Musk as he’s already lied and frauded his way into being a “credibility laughingstock,” it sets an awful example for every other fraud-inclined CEO in America. Nice job, SEC!
  • Tesla announced mechanically updated (but stylistically unchanged) versions of the Models S&X with approximately 10% more range than the current models; in my opinion this is nowhere near exciting enough to rekindle the dying demand for those cars.
  • Tesla filed a proxy indicating plans to reduce its board size from eleven members to seven, with two leaving immediately and two departing over the next one to two years. Seeing as the entire board is a collection of grotesquely overpaid enablers of Musk’s criminality it’s certainly no great loss, yet on the other hand this further concentrates power in the hands of the Musk family, as Elon and his dim-witted brother Kimbal will now have two seats out of seven as opposed to their prior two out of eleven. And here’s what Tesla shareholders get for their money from their new figurehead of an “independent” Chairwoman:

Stanphyl Capital

In mid-March Tesla rushed out an ill-prepared Model Y unveiling on extremely short notice, inspiring its chief engineer to immediately quit. Supposed to be a small electric SUV/crossover, the event showed only a fake clay model and a bodywork-disguised Model 3, and was a complete embarrassment beautifully summarized here by Zero Hedge. By the time the Model Y is available in late 2020/early2021 (if Tesla is still in business then), it will face superior competition from the much nicer Audi Q4 e-tron, BMW iX3, Mercedes EQC and Volvo XC40, while less expensive and available now are the excellent new all-electric Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro, extremely well reviewed small crossovers with an EPA range of 258 miles for the Hyundai and 238 miles for the Kia, at prices of under $30,000 inclusive of the $7500 U.S. tax credit.

Meanwhile, Tesla has the most executive departures I’ve ever seen from any company, a dubious achievement that continued in full-force in April-- here’s the astounding full list. These people aren’t leaving because things are going great (or even passably) at Tesla; rather, they’re likely leaving because Musk is either an outright crook or the world’s biggest jerk to work for (or both). Could the business (if not the stock price) be saved in its present form if he left? Nope, it’s too late.  Even if Musk steps down in favor of someone who knows what he’s doing, emerging competitive factors (outlined in great detail below) and Tesla’s balance sheet make the company too late to “fix” without major financial and operational restructuring.

Finally, the Consumer Reports annual auto reliability survey ranks Tesla 27th out of 28 brands and the number of lawsuits of all types against Tesla continues to escalate-- there are now well over 500!

So here is Tesla’s competition in cars (note: these links are continually updated)…


VW Group to launch 70 pure electric cars over the next decade

Audi e-tron electric SUV is available now

Audi e-tron Sportback comes late 2019


Audi's Q4 e-tron previews entry-level EV for 2021

Porsche Electric Taycan Launches Late 2019

Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo to launch in 2020 after Taycan Sedan

The next generation of the Porsche Macan will be electric

New VW ID. hatch: order books for VW electric car open on May 2019

Mercedes EQC Electric SUV Available Mid-to-Late 2019

Mercedes to launch more than 10 all-electric models by 2022

258-Mile Hyundai Kona electric is available now for under $40,000

239-Mile Kia Niro EV is Available Now For Under $40,000

Kia Soul (available mid-2019) EV’s Range Jumps to 243 Miles

Kia Europe to have six pure electric models by 2022

Chevrolet Bolt Offers 238 Miles On A Single Charge
GM is transforming Cadillac into an electric brand

Nissan LEAF e+ with 226-mile range is available now

Nissan Leaf-based SUV coming in 2020

The 2020 Volvo Polestar 2 Is Priced to Beat Tesla’s Best-Selling Model 3

Volvo XC40 full-electric variant to debut later this year

BMW iX3 electric crossover goes on sale in 2020

New BMW i4: Tesla-rivalling coupe seen winter testing

BMW to have 25 electrified models by 2025

Ford’s Mustang-inspired electric performance SUV arrives in 2020 with >300-mile range

Ford Accelerates Its Electric-Vehicle Push With $500 Million Stake in Rivian

Rivian (electric pick-up truck maker) Announces $700M Investment Round Led By Amazon

Peugeot 208 to electrify Europe's small-car market

Toyota, Mazda, Denso create company to roll out electric cars beginning 2019

Toyota to market over 10 battery EV models in early 2020s

New Renault Zoe to feature 400km range

Renault aims to remain EV leader in Europe

Infiniti will go mostly electric by 2021

DS 3 Crossback will give PSA's upscale brand an electric boost


Smart Will Electrify Its Entire Line-up By 2020

SEAT will launch 6 electric and hybrid models and develop a new platform for electric vehicles

Opel/Vauxhall will launch electric SUV and van in 2020

2019 Skoda e-Citigo confirmed as brand's first all-electric model

Skoda planning range of hot all-electric eRS models

New Citroen C4 Cactus to be first electrified Citroen in 2020

MG E-Motion confirms new EV sports car on the way by 2020

Fiat Chrysler bets on electrification for Alfa, Jeep and Maserati

Maserati offering three fully electric cars between 2020 and 2022

Rolls-Royce is preparing electric Phantom for 2022

Honda will offer full-EV or hybrid tech on every European model by 2025

Bentley mulls electric car to help reduce carbon footprint

Subaru to introduce all-electric vehicles by 2021

Korando will lead SsangYong's push into electrification

Dyson Moves Ahead on $2.6 Billion Electric Car Plan

Lucid Motors closes $1 billion deal with Saudi Arabia to fund electric car production

Borgward BXi7 Electric SUV Flies Under The Radar

Detroit Electric promises 3 cars in 3 years

Two new electric cars from Mahindra in India by 2019; Global Tesla rival e-car soon

Saab asset owner NEVS plans electric car production

EV startup Canoo will only sell cars on a subscription basis

And in China…

VW, China spearhead $300 billion global drive to electrify cars

Audi Q2L e-tron debuts at Auto Shanghai

Audi China to roll out 12 locally-produced models in total by 2022

BYD launches EV535, all-electric SUV

BYD Song MAX BEV version with 500km range to hit market in 2019

2019 BYD Yuan EV360 goes on sale with prices starting RMB89,900 after subsidy

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Daimler & BYD launch new DENZA electric vehicle for the Chinese market

BAIC and Daimler to Build $1.9 Billion China Plant

BAIC brings EX5 Electric SUV to market

BAIC BJEV, Magna ready to pour RMB2 bln in all-electric PV manufacturing JV

Daimler to Start EQC Electric SUV Production in China in 2019

Daimler and BMW to cooperate on affordable electric car in China

BMW will develop and produce electric Mini in China

GM China raises new-energy vehicle target to 20 models through 2023

Buick Rolls Out First Electric Car for China

Nissan & Dongfeng to invest $9.5 billion in China to boost electric vehicles

Toyota unveils first electric SUVs at Shanghai motor show

Nio’s ES8 Electric Crossover debuts with half the Tesla Model X’s price tag

536 HP Nio ES6 Midsize Electric SUV Launches With 317-Mile Range (at 1/2 the price of Tesla X)

This is NIO’s Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2 rival

Ford ramps up electric vehicle push in China

Jaguar Land Rover's Chinese arm invests £800m in EV production

SAIC building factory in China for EVs from Roewe and MG

Renault and Brilliance Automotive to build 3 new electric light commercial vehicles for China

Honda launches new all-electric Everus VE-1 for ~$25,000 in China

Honda to roll out over 20 electric models in China by 2025

Geely all-new BEV sedan Jihe A starts at RMB150,000

Geely unveils GE11 compact BEV

New Geely Emgrand GSe crossover has EV range up to 400km

Geely launches new electric car brand 'Geometry'

Changan New Energy to launch three NEV platforms by 2020

Mazda and Changan Auto join hands on electric vehicles

Xpeng Motors G3 Electric SUV Launches in China

Xpeng Motors premiers the P7 intelligent electric coupe

WM Motors/Weltmeister EX5 Electric SUV Launched On The Chinese Car Market

Chery Breaks Ground on $240M EV Factory in China

Chery's second EV plant open in Dezhou

Seres launches production SF5 sleek 684HP electric crossover with 300 miles of range

Byton M-Byte electric SUV tackles cold-weather testing, nears production

DearCC Launches ENOVATE Electric SUV

GAC NE to roll out 12 new models for Aion series, including solar-powered models

Guangzhou Auto To Launch Four New Electric Cars By 2020

Great Wall Launches New EV Brand (ORA) In China

Singulato iS6 Electric SUV Debuts With 249-Mile Range

Singulato, BAIC partner to promote smart new energy vehicles

Hongqi launches E-HS3 BEV SUV with AWD option, 390km range and 0-100kh/h in 5.9 seconds

FAW (Hongqi) to roll out 15 electric models by 2025

JAC Motors releases new product planning, including many NEVs

ICONIQ to build electric cars in Zhaoqing with total investment of RMB 16 billion

Quianu Motor aims to grab share of US electric vehicle market

Hozon Kicks Off Mass Production With All-Electric Neta N01

EV maker Bordrin skips flash, keeps real-car focus

Aiways U5 long-range electric SUV

All-electric NEVS 9-3 sedans (nee Saab) being built in China

Youxia Motors raises $1.25 billion to start 2019 EV production

CHJ Automotive buys Lifan for shortcut to EV production

Infiniti to launch Chinese-built EV in 2022

Wanxiang Gets China Electric Vehicle Permit to Make Karma Cars

Qoros Auto's new owner plans to be an EV power

JMC (Jianling Motor Corp.) Starts New EV Brand In China

Thunder Power Chinese EV manufacturer clinches deal with Belgian investment fund

Leapmotor raises RMB2.5 billion for Series A round to build electric cars

Continental, Didi sign deal on developing EVs for China

Here’s Tesla’s competition in autonomous driving…

Navigant Ranks Tesla Last Among Automakers & Suppliers for Automated Driving

What Smart Tesla fans Get Wrong about Full Self-Driving

Tesla has a self-driving strategy other companies abandoned years ago

Waymo Starts First Driverless Car Service

Jaguar and Waymo announce an electric, fully autonomous car

Waymo Expands Chrysler Self-Driving Fleet 100-Fold to 62,000

Nissan-Renault alliance to tie up with Waymo on self-driving cars

Uber, Waymo in talks about self-driving partnership

Lyft and Waymo Reach Deal to Collaborate on Self-Driving Cars

Cadillac Super Cruise™ Sets the Standard for Hands-Free Highway Driving

Honda Joins with Cruise and General Motors to Build New Autonomous Vehicle

SoftBank Vision Fund to Invest $2.25 Billion in GM Cruise

Ford and VW Discuss Autonomous Car Team-Up at a $4 Billion Valuation

Volkswagen Group and Aurora Innovation Announce Strategic Collaboration On Self-Driving Cars

VW taps Baidu's Apollo platform to develop self-driving cars in China

An Overview of Audi Piloted Driving

Daimler, BMW deepen cooperation with self-driving venture

Mercedes plans advanced self-driving tech for next S class

Daimler's heavy trucks start self-driving some of the way

Volvo, Nvidia expand autonomous driving collaboration

Continental & NVIDIA Partner to Enable Production of Artificial Intelligence Self-Driving Cars

Intel’s Mobileye has 2 million cars (VW, BMW & Nissan) on roads building HD maps

Nissan and Mobileye to generate, share, and utilize vision data for crowdsourced mapping

Magna joins the BMW Group, Intel and Mobileye platform as an Integrator for AVs

Baidu, WM Motor announce strategic partnership for L3, L4 autonomous driving solutions

Baidu plans to mass produce Level 4 self-driving cars with BAIC by 2021

Volvo, Baidu to co-develop EVs with Level 4 autonomy for China

BYD partners with Huawei for autonomous driving

Lyft, Magna in Deal to Develop Hardware, Software for Self-Driving Cars

Deutsche Post to Deploy Test Fleet Of Fully Autonomous Delivery Trucks

Byton cooperating with Aurora on autonomous vehicles

ZF autonomous EV venture names first customer

Magna’s new MAX4 self-driving platform offers autonomy up to Level 4

Groupe PSA’s safe and intuitive autonomous car tested by the general public

Tencent, Changan Auto Announce Autonomous-Vehicle Joint Venture

Self-driving startup Momenta ready to launch fully automated driving solution in Q3 2019 Delivers on Self-Driving Electric Trucks

NAVYA Unveils First Fully Autonomous Taxi

Fujitsu and HERE to partner on advanced mobility services and autonomous driving

Lucid Chooses Mobileye as Partner for Autonomous Vehicle Technology

First Look Inside Zoox’s Autonomous Taxi

Nuro’s Robot Delivery Vans Are Arriving Before Self-Driving Cars

Here’s Tesla’s competition in car batteries…

LG Chem targets electric car battery sales of $6.3 billion in 2020

LG Chem to build $1.8 bln EV battery plant in China

Samsung SDI Unveils Innovative Battery Products at 2018 Detroit Motor Show

SK Innovation to boost EV battery production capacity more than tenfold by 2022

New Toshiba EV Battery Allows 320km Charge in 6 Minutes

Daimler starts building electric car batteries in Tuscaloosa – one of 8 battery factories

Panasonic Opens New Automotive Lithium-Ion Battery Factory in Dalian, China

Panasonic forms battery partnership with Toyota

CATL’s Chinese battery factory will be bigger than Tesla’s Gigafactory

CATL to set up battery cell manufacturing in Germany

BYD to quadruple car battery output with lithium site plants

GM inaugurates battery assembly plant in Shanghai

Volkswagen plans entry into battery cell production

VW Wants to One-Up Tesla With a Next-Generation Battery

Honda Partners on General Motors' Next Gen Battery Development

Energy Absolute Plots Asian Project Rivaling Musk's Gigafactory

France's Saft plans production of next-gen lithium ion batteries from 2020

Northvolt making ground on Gigafactory in Sweden

FREYR AS to build a 32 GWh battery facility in Norway

Chinese Battery Maker to Open Factory Next to Swedish EV Plant

Sokon aims to be global provider of battery, electric motor, electric control systems

BMW Group invests 200 million euros in Battery Cell Competence Centre

BMW Brilliance Automotive opens battery factory in Shenyang

BMW announces partnership with solid-state battery company

Toyota promises auto battery 'game-changer'

VW increase stake in solid-state batteries with $100M investment

Hyundai Motor developing solid-state EV batteries

Wanxiang is playing to win, even if it takes generations

UK provides millions to help build more electric vehicle batteries

Rimac is going to mass produce batteries and electric motors for OEMs

Elon Musk Has A New Battery Rival (Romeo Power) Packed With His Ex-Employees

Evergrande acquires Cenat battery production

Bracing for EV shift, NGK Spark Plug ignites all solid-state battery quest

ProLogium Technology Will Produce First Next Generation Lithium Ceramic Battery For EVs

Here’s Tesla’s competition in storage batteries…





AES + Siemens (Fluence)



Mitsubishi Hitachi





Johnson Contols



Schneider Electric

sonnenBatterie (acquired by Shell)








Lockheed Martin

EOS Energy Storage



electrIQ Power







Fluidic Energy

Primus Power

Simpliphi Power

redT Energy Storage




Blue Planet

Clean Energy Storage Inc.

Tabuchi Electric




Powin Energy








Natron Energy

And here’s Tesla’s competition in charging networks…

Electrify America: Our Plan

EVgo Installing First 350 kW Ultra Fast Public Charging Station In The US

Tritium’s First 350-kW DC Fast Chargers Coming To U.S.

Porsche plans network of 500 fast chargers for U.S.

ChargePoint To Equip Mercedes Dealerships With 150kw Charging Stations For EQC

Recargo Ultrafast West Coast Charging

BMW, Daimler, Ford, VW, Audi & Porsche form IONITY European 350kw Charging Network

E.ON to have 10,000 150KW TO 350KW EV charging points across Europe by 2020

Enel kicks off the E-VIA FLEX-E project for the installation of European ultra-fast charging stations

Europe’s Allego “Ultra E” ultra-fast charging network now operational

Allego & Fortum Launch MEGA-E High Power Charging network for Europe’s Metropolitan areas

ChargePoint Secures $240 Million in Additional Funding; $500 million raised in total

UK's Podpoint installing 150kW EV rapid chargers this year; 350kW by 2020

UK National Grid plans 350kW EV charge point network

Fastned building 150kw-350kw chargers in Europe

Deutsche Telekom to build electric car charging network in Germany

ABB powers e-mobility with launch of first 150-350 kW high power charger

Shell buys European electric vehicle charging pioneer NewMotion

BP buys UK's largest car charging firm Chargemaster

Total planning EV charging points at its French stations

VW Is Setting Up Electric Car Charging Stations in China

Yet despite all that deep-pocketed competition, perhaps you want to buy shares of Tesla because you believe in its management team. Really???

Elon Musk Settles SEC Fraud Charges

Elon Musk, June 2009: “Tesla will cross over into profitability next month”

Tesla SEC Correspondence Shows A Pattern Of Inaccurate, Incomplete & Misleading Disclosures

Tesla: Check Your Full Self-Driving Snake Oil Expiration Date

As Musk Hyped and Happy-Talked Investors, Tesla Kept Quiet About a Year-Long SEC Probe

The Truth Is Catching Up With Tesla

With Misleading Messages And Customer NDAs, Tesla Performs Stealth Recall

Who You Gonna Believe? Elon Musk's Words Or Your Own Lying Eyes?

How Tesla and Elon Musk Exaggerated Safety Claims About Autopilot and Cars

When Is Enough Enough With Elon Musk?

Musk Talked Merger With SolarCity CEO Before Tesla Stock Sale

Debunking The Tesla Mythology

Tesla Continues To Mislead Consumers

Tesla Misses The Point With Fortune Autopilot Story

Tesla Timeline Shows Musk's Morality Is Highly Convenient

Tesla Scares Customers With Worthless NDAs, The Daily Kanban Talks To Lawyers

Tesla: Contrary To The Official Story, Elon Musk Is Selling To Keep Cash

Tesla: O, What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice To Deceive

I Put 20 Refundable Deposits On The Tesla Model 3

Tesla's Financial Shenanigans

Tesla: A Failure To Communicate

Can You Really Trust Tesla?

Elon Musk Appears To Have Misled Investors On Tesla's Most Recent Conference Call

Understanding Tesla’s Potemkin Swap Station

Tesla's Amazing Powerwall Reservations

So in summary, Tesla is losing a massive amount of money even before it faces a huge onslaught of competition (and things will only get worse once it does), while its market cap approximately equals that of Ford and is close to GM’s despite selling approximately 250,000 cars a year while Ford and GM make billions of dollars selling 6 million and 8.4 million vehicles respectively. Thus this cash-burning Musk vanity project is worth vastly less than its roughly $50 billion enterprise value and—thanks to roughly $34 billion in debt, purchase and lease obligations—may eventually be worth “zero.”

Elsewhere among our short positions…

We continue (since late 2012) to hold a short position in the Japanese yen via the Proshares UltraShort Yen ETF (ticker: YCS) as Japan continues to print nearly 4% of its monetary base per year after nearly quadrupling that base since early 2013. In fact, of the world’s three largest central banks (the Fed, ECB and BOJ), the BOJ is now the only one still conducting QE and one result of this insane policy (in 2018 the BOJ bought approximately 67% of JGB issuance and in 2019 anticipates buying 70%!) is there are days when no 10-year JGBs trade in the cash market! The BOJ’s balance sheet is now larger than the entire Japanese economy-- it owns approximately 43% of all government debt…

Stanphyl Capital

and 77% (!) of the country’s ETFs by market value.

Just the interest on Japan’s debt consumes 8.9% of its 2019 budget despite the fact that it pays a blended rate of less than 1%. What happens when Japan gets the 2% inflation it’s looking for and those rates average, say, 3%? Interest on the debt alone would consume nearly 27% of the budget and Japan would have to default! But on the way to that 3% rate the BOJ will try to cap those rates by printing increasingly larger amounts of money to buy more of that debt, thereby sending the yen into its death spiral.

When we first entered this position USD/JPY was around 79; it’s currently in the 111s and long-term I think it’s headed a lot higher—ultimately back to the 250s of the 1980s or perhaps even the 300s of the ‘70s before a default and reset occur.

We continue to hold a short position in the Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (ticker: BNDX), comprised of dollar-hedged non-US investment grade debt (over 80% government) with a ridiculously low “SEC yield” of 0.77% at an average effective maturity of 9.5 years. As I’ve written since putting on this position in July 2016, I believe this ETF is a great way to short what may be the biggest asset bubble in history, as with Eurozone inflation now printing 1.4% annually these are long-term bonds with significantly negative real yields. In mid-December the ECB halted quantitative easing, thereby removing the biggest source of support for those bonds’ bubble prices. Currently the net borrow cost for BNDX provides us with a positive rebate of 2% a year (more than covering the yield we pay out) and as I see around 5% potential downside to this position (vs. our basis, plus the cost of carry) vs. at least 20% (unlevered) upside, I think it’s a terrific place to sit and wait for the inevitable denouement of this insanity:

Stanphyl Capital

Also in mid-April we also put on relatively small short positions in Netflix (NFLX) due to its egregious valuation within the context of increasing cash burn and competition (particularly from Disney), Square (SQ) due to its egregious valuation and a stock-dumping CEO who so effusively praises (and enables) Elon Musk that I suspect he’s equally untrustworthy, and Carvana (CVNA) due to a laughable business model with escalating losses and a CEO with a sketchy past who’s dumping stock every two days.

And now for the fund’s long positions…

We continue to own Westell Technologies Inc. (WSTL), a 43% gross margin telecom equipment maker (of primarily small-cell repeaters) in turnaround mode. In February Westell reported a mediocre FY 2019 third quarter, with revenue down 22% year-over-year but up 6% sequentially, and although it burned around $970,000 in free cash flow it ended the quarter with $27.1 million in cash ($1.75/share) and no debt, and on the follow-up conference call management explicitly indicated that it expects to return to break-even or better within a year. (It reports its FY 2019 Q4 in May.) Westell sells at an enterprise value of only around 0.13x (i.e. 13% of) revenue, but in addition to the (hopefully soon-to-reverse) cash burn, the "hair" on this company is the long-term decline in revenue (which now appears to have stabilized and should soon reverse), a cash pile that could potentially be squandered on dumb acquisitions (a risk with all cash-rich companies) and—perhaps most annoyingly—a dual share class, with voting control held by descendants of the founder. However, on the conference call management claimed the controlling family is open to merging the two share classes, and Westell is so cheap on an EV-to-revenue basis that if management can’t start generating meaningful profits it seems primed for a strategic buyer to acquire it. An acquisition price of 1x run-rate revenue (on an EV basis) would be around $4.50/share.

We continue to own Aviat Networks, Inc. (ticker: AVNW), a designer and manufacturer of point-to-point microwave systems for telecom companies, which in February reported a decent Q2 for FY 2019, with revenue up 2% year-over-year (adjusted for a GAAP-mandated change in revenue recognition to ASC 606; unadjusted revenue was up 5.5%). For FY 2019 the company guided to $250-$255 million of revenue and non-GAAP EBITDA of $12.5-$13 million, and because of its approximately $330 million of U.S. NOLs, $10 million of U.S. tax credit carryforwards, $214 million in foreign NOLs and $2 million of foreign tax credit carryforwards, Aviat’s income will be tax-free for many years; thus, GAAP EBITDA less capex essentially equals “earnings.” So if the non-GAAP number will be $12.5 million and we take out $1.7 million in stock comp and $6 million in capex we get $4.8 million in earnings multiplied by, say, 16 = approximately $77 million; if we then add in at least $30 million of expected year-end net cash and divide by 5.4 million shares we get an earning-based valuation of around $20/share. However, the real play here is as a buyout candidate; Aviat’s closest pure-play competitor, Ceragon (CRNT) sells at an EV of approximately 0.8x revenue, which for AVNW (based on the low end of 2019 guidance) would be $200 million. If we value Aviat’s massive NOLs at a modest $10 million (due to change-in-control diminution in their value), the company would be worth $210 million divided by 5.4 million shares = $39/share.

We continue to own the PowerShares DB Agriculture ETF (ticker: DBA), which I first bought in late 2017 because agricultural products were the most beaten-down sector I could find that wasn’t a “buggy whip” (something on the way to obsolescence) or cyclical from a demand standpoint. The “DBIQ Diversified Agriculture Index” on which DBA is based is at its lowest level since 2002, and I continue to anticipate a major bounce following a favorable outcome from U.S. – China trade talks. Trump is very conscious of the fact that farm states constitute a significant part of his political base and the China deal implications for U.S. ag products would be huge.

Thanks and regards,

Mark Spiegel

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