Ira Sohn Research Conference Summary

Via BTIG's Mike O'Rourke

Jonathon Jacobson, Highfields Capital Management

Highfields is a long term value investor. Jacobson is worried about the current investment environment. Despite all of the looming macro headwinds the biggest threat is the “Clowns & Climate in Washington D.C.” Several states are hovering on the edge of bankruptcy and we the taxpayers will wind up paying for those losses. The administration has embarked upon a process of rolling vilification of industry after industry, Health Care, financial Services, Energy, Cable, Soft Drink, etc. The perception in Washington is that if someone has done well in this country, it was done at someone else’s expense. Rather than address the issues politicians will continue to “kick the can down the road.” Fundamentals are hard to handicap when the rules are constantly changing.

Jacobson is bullish on Sallie Mae (SLM). The company is currently misunderstood by the market because it is in transition from being a lending based company to a fee based company. The key point is if Sallie Mae were strictly in a run off mode as the government ends cuts back the FFELP program (which they are not) it would be worth $15, even with a conservative 12% discount rate. It currently has a $5 Billion market capitalization and is trading 2x pre-tax, pre-provision earnings and is trading 4x pre-tax earnings. Most competitors have gone out of business or in the process of exiting the business. Jacobson believes Sallie Mae is worth somewhere between $15-$25 per share. In 2011 he is forecasting $0.80 -$1.00 in earnings power. Additionally the company is well positioned to acquire additional servicing rights as competitors exit the business. Sallie Mae is larger than the 3 other government approved student loan servicers combined. Management is acquiring stock and aligning their interests with shareholders. 87% of the balance sheet is funded to term. Credit losses peaked in Q3 2009. Main risk is regulatory, but if management believes the best move for shareholders is to liquidate the company, they will.

Sam Zell

The theme of the election was change. A major change has occurred within the American economy. One party political dominance is changing how investors will act in the future. It is an environment of survival of the fittest. Zell presented a music video that was an ode to Charles Darwin. Extinction is for those who do not adapt and evolve. The winner is the one who builds the better boat, not the one who rearranges the deck chairs. He who adapts succeeds.

Dan Arbess, Perella Weinberg Partners

The foundations of the global economy are shifting. Fiscal imbalance and sovereign risk are only symptoms of the problems that will fuels this change. The trend of deficit spending over-consumption in the west and the export driven production of the east needs to reverse. Consumption in the east must rise and the west must exercise restraint to bring a semblance of balance back. Macro squalls can wreak havoc on a portfolio, so effective hedging strategies are important. The key them Arbess proposed was “Shaking hands with China.” The way to play the theme is to be long those companies who sell China what it needs and short those who make products that the Emerging Markets can make better. Consumption is only 35% of GDP in China, half of what it is here and the Chinese save half of what they make. China alone will increase its urbanization rate from 46% to 58%, adding 210 million urban residents in 70 million households. They need a lot of stuff to urbanize 20 million people a year, and Arbess wants to be long the guys who will be selling it to them.

Arbess believes weaker currencies and weaker sovereign credits should be sold. He is bearish on the Euro and on EU sovereign debt. This is the endgame of the debt supercycle and confidence in fiat currencies will erode, as such he likes Gold. The deflationary economic environment will lead to monetary debasement. The irony today is post-Maoist China has no entitlements and needs to create some to boost domestic consumptions and the U.S. more entitlements than ever.

He likes commodities and the commodity nations in the G-20 and even Africa, both fundamentally and as a currency debasement hedge. He says own junior mining companies that own big assets close to their customers. These will often start out trading at discounts as much as 90% to their cash flow potential, and often show less downside beta than large caps.

Arbess likes Ivanhoe mines (IVN). Its vast copper and other mineral deposits in Mongolia are close to the same size as Manhattan. Noncore assets are worth half of the current market capitalization of the company. Rio Tinto is a key partner of Ivanhoe, and its presence reduces the risk for the investor. Rio recently purchased shares above the current price levels Backing out the coal business and other peripheral assets, the stock at its current price around $13 creates the copper mine at less than $2.5 billion, which is less than half of what it’s worth on an NPV basis, and a tiny fraction of inground metal value, assuming $2.50 long term copper and $1000 gold. At recent commodity prices, Arbess thinks the stock could be worth up to $30 to Rio.

Arbess also noted Solution (SOA) and Celanese (CE) as other ways to play his theme and believes both have 50% upside from current levels. Another name he likes is YUM Brands (YUM) who had 37% growth in China last year. China’s successes of the last 30 years are real and the country is fiscally strong with $2.5 Trillion in reserves and fiscal responsibility. Another play on his theme is shorting the Japanese Yen versus the Canadian Dollar. Japan is shrinking while its debt is growing, exactly the opposite of the urbanizing emerging markets. Canada, by contrast, has arguably the soundest economy in the G-7. No coincidence, they really don’t like leverage up there. And the country is rich in Shake Hands With China resources. This is the end of the buy now and pay later mentality. The global rebalancing process will be messy, but it will also be rife with opportunity.

David Tepper, Appaloosa Management

Tepper started with an anecdote about the horse “output” problem in 19th century New York City and forecast that city would be buried under horse excrement . The moral of his story was “don’t listen to the crap.” Tepper was highlighting that the world changes and evolves and people and societies adapt. Tepper noted that everyone of the “PIIGS” has instituted austerity programs, something many would not have believed would happen. He mentioned the ECB buying debt despite its conservative Bundesbank roots and the Spanish Government shutting down the largest Caja run by the Roman Catholic church. All of these things at one point seemed unthinkable, but this is society adapting to the situation.

Tepper likes the AIG-8.175% Junior Subordinated Debt. It is trading at $0.72 on the dollar giving it a current yield of 11%. Right now there is $73 Billion of capital structure below it $49 Billion in Preferred and $24 Billion in equity. He thinks those two combined are really only worth $40 Billion. He warned that this did not mean the equity is worth zero, there is some option value and a conversion of government preferred into common could distort a capital structure arbitrage if set up. Tepper says AIG has $9 Billion of EBIT and other assets worth $45 Billion.

Tepper noted there are opportunities in the CMBS market. He said what you should really care about in the CMBS market is “Can they make the coupon?” These are 10 year securities and if they can make the coupon you should ask what will the environment be in 2016? You should not be looking at today, you should be looking at the future.

Tepper still likes Bank of America (BAC). He believes normalized earnings are $2.65-$2.70 per share and has a $27 price target. He also likes Banco Santander (STD). it is one of a handful AA rated banks in the world (no major U.S. bank is as high as AA). Only 30% of the banks exposures are to Spain, it is really an Emerging Market/Global play. They will earn $1.50 and that has the potential to double. Tepper concluded noting that 2000 was the beginning of the end and that today we are at the end of the beginning.

Niall Ferguson, Harvard University

Ferguson proposed being “Long virtue.” Focusing on nations with good fiscal situations as opposed to the overly indebted Western governments. Citing Bank of International Settlements long term forecasts Ferguson highlighted Pigs “R” Us. Which means that the U.S. and the U.K. are in equally precarious fiscal situations as the “PIIGS.” Ferguson noted that 40% of U.S. Debt is short term and that type of duration leaves one open to roll risk. “U.S. Debt is a safe haven similar to the way Pearl Harbor was.” Ferguson highlighted the “good boys, ” nations with better fiscal situations. Topping the list was Norway with net debt of -140% of GDP due to the nations effective management of its oil reserves. Other good boys were Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. The U.S. leaves itself at risk by being highly reliant upon foreign capital.

Steve Eisman, Frontpoint

Eisman’s theme was “Subprime goes to College.” After what transpired in the subprime mortgage market a few years ago, Eisman though he would never see a business with the capability to prey upon the underprivileged to those extremes again. Then he came across the For Profit Education industry. Despite only having 10% of the students these schools get 25% of the government aid. The industry is in bed with Washington due to serious lobbying efforts and the back and forth of executives from the companies to Government positions and back. Title IV loans offered by government programs comprise 90% of for profit education revenues.

ITT Educational (ESI) has higher margins than Apple (AAPL), and margins in the for profit education industry are 3-4 times those in other industries that deal with the government. For profit schools target poorer people, often leading them towards degrees that won’t get them jobs. The companies also maneuver to acquire small failing schools in order to get their accreditation. The loans the students take out for profit education have high default rates. ESI and Corinthian (COCO) often provision 50%-60% for the loans they privately offer, so the default rates overall are likely 50%. The companies in the industry are Education Management (EDMC), COCO, Apollo Group (APOL) and Washington Post (WPO). WPO, more than 100% of its EBITDA comes from for profit education. Eisman calculates there could be $300 Billion in defaults over the next 10 years. The key catalyst going forward is that the government will publish a rule for gainful employment , that threatens the companies. The government is also seeking to fix the accreditation process.

Jeremy Grantham, GMO

IN GMO’s 7 year forecast U.S. High quality names are aberrantly cheap and should provide 7.6% real return per year. In constructing a portfolio Grantham said it should be 40% U.S. Blue Chips, 20% Emerging Markets and 30% EAFE Blue chips. Grantham notes that bonds are “grotesquely” overpriced predicted to post a real return 1.7% per year. Grantham’s 3 choices or recommendations are Timber which has 7.5% forecasted real annual return. Then Grantham likes Emerging Markets which he believes will go to a premium P/E to the rest of the world. Finally he likes high quality U.S. blue chaps. They are trading at a 17% discount to fair value and 55% of earnings come from around the world.

The bedrock of Grantham’s thinking is that “Things regress to the mean.” Of the 34 bubbles GMO has identified it takes about 3.5 years for the bubble to run up and it comes back down to the trendline nearly as quickly. All bubbles reverse. Grantham believes both the U.K. and Australia are in housing bubbles. The risks to betting against bubbles are career risk and business risk. Grantham believes debt has nothing to do with growth, and debt has less influence than most think. Grantham concluded by noting the importance of the upward bias in the third year of the presidential cycle.

David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital

Einhorn’s theme was “Good news for the Grandchildren.” In essence the fiscal challenges of the United States are so severe that they will need to be dealt with before our grandchildren inherit them. Our own future is at risk. Average public sector pay is nearly double that of private sector pay. Public sector workers “Retire to rehire,” and fuel a system that is heading in the same direction as Greece. Einhorn wonders how long will the capital markets continue to let the U.S. keep borrowing. Nobody knows where the line is, not the Government nor the ratings agencies. A credible plan to avoid the debt trap is necessary. Europe is a prequel to what will happen here.

Einhorn is short the ratings agencies Moody’s (MCO) and McGraw-Hill (MHP). Credit rating agencies provide a false sense of security and are pro-cyclical. Einhorn also questioned the validity of the Government CPI data . Citing Shadowstats, Einhorn noted inflation calculated under the 1980 methodology would be 9%, as opposed to the less the 2% it is today. The lower real rates will fuel inflation and bad behavior and create bubbles. This easy policy of bubble bailouts is an unhealthy cycle.
He believe the lower real rates tempts the central bank to monetize debt. As a hedge against this Einhorn is long Gold as well as African Barrick (ABG LN) . ABG LN trades at ½ the value of its peers, 6x Ebitda and with a 10% free cash flow yield.

James Dinan, York Capital

Dinan commenced by noting people adapt, markets adapt and animal spirits prevail. Dinan believes large companies are in good shape. Dinan likes Coca Cola Enterprises (CCE). The company is going through restructuring in which Coca Cola (KO) is giving CCE $10 per share and some European bottling assets in exchange for U.S. bottling assets. Dinan stated Europe is a better place than the U.S. for the bottling business, due to less competition. The deal also gives CCE the option to expand its European footprint. After the deal and receiving the $10 per share new CCE will be $15 and trade 10x earnings and 6x EBITDA. New CCE will have 20% gross upside.

Dinan’s next long idea was ING Groep (ING). ING has a global presence as a bank and insurance company. As part of the bailout the company received during the crisis the company must split its banking and insurance businesses by 2013. The company is currently trading at €6.25 which is .6x book value. Dinan believes it can go to 1x book which would make it worth €8.50-€9.20 per share. The life insurance divestiture could be used to pay back the Government bailout, or it could spin out the insurance business. An 8x-10x P/E multiple on the combined bank and insurance company would make it worth €14-€18.

Dinan also sees opportunity in post bankruptcy equities. Currently one he is investing in is Lyondell (LALLF). Currently the stock is trading below its reorganization plan value. Q1 earnings tracked well ahead of expectations especially in the companies commodity business. A sum of the parts valuation gives Dinan a $22-$28 price target.

Steve Rattner

The former advisor to Treasury on the Auto industry restructuring provided a defense for the Obama Administration’s handling of TARP, the Stimulus (EESA), the Stress Test (SCAP) and the Auto rescue. Rattner said the Administration sought the middle ground on most issues and gave examples of the extreme views in each case.

Regarding the Auto industry restructuring Rattner addressed the question of whether the UAW received more than it deserved. Rattner said that Labor was a critical creditor and all stakeholders received more than they would have in an outright liquidation. Rattner noted that in the Chrysler plan the UAW’s VEBA received 40%-50% of what they were owed. In the GM plan VEBA received 84%-92% of what it was owed. In both cases warranty holders, dealers and trade/suppliers all received 100 cents on the dollar. Rattner used this as an example that the plans sought to protect as much franchise value as possible.

Rattner offered what to expect from the Administration going forward. He said the government will remain involved in the Financial sector. He noted taxes are going up. The Administration has avoided protectionism and is leaving business in the industrial and manufacturing sector alone.

Larry Robbins, Glenview Capital Management

Robbins started asking the question of why is the market’s P/E so low. The 3 potential explanations he offered were the “E” is wrong and estimates could be too high, or “the bigger the D.C. the smaller the P/E.”The last reason and one he highlighted was that it is not a math problem, but it is a psychology problem. He note market participants are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Robbins noted that individual stocks were one of the best ways to tackle an uncertain environment. He looks for stable earnings growth, potential for multiple expansion and positive optionality. Robbins likes McKesson (MCK). He notes earnings are growing at 18% and it is trading under 11x forward earnings. The company proved it is acyclical by posting growth in Q1 2009. Robbins highlighted he expects MCK to have $5.2 Billion of “Dry Powder.” This is a combination of cash and Free Cash Flow expected to be thrown off over the next 18 months. Robbins also likes Express Scripts (ESRX). Earnings are growing 35% and although that won’t be sustainable it will still continue fast growth. Management has been superior over the past decade in retiring stock. The company is trading 14x 2011 earnings and under 13x Free Cash Flow. Robbins next pick was Life Technologies (LIFE) which is in a consolidating and over capitalized industry. The company has a 80% consumable product mix and is trading 11.5x 2011 earnings. Robbins last pick was Fidelity National Information. The company rebuffed private equity takeover attempt because the price was not high enough and figured they could do the same thing Private Equity planned by doing a leveraged recapitalization. The company is tendering to buy $2.5 Billion of shares , or 22% of the outstanding. Robbins thinks they could have done $3.5 Billion but were being conservative. Earnings grow this 15%-23% and the company is trading under 12x 2011 and 10x Free Cash Flow.

Bill Ackman, Pershing Square

Ackman started by outlining how he believed the credit ratings business should be reformed. The short version is NRSRO’s should not be allowed to rate an issue until 60 days after it comes. That would create a buyside environment that would attempt to handicap what the rating should be using market forces. The underwriter would also need the instrument to hold up in the secondary market and therefore is incentivized to make sure it is a quality product. All relevant information should be disclosed to the market and the ratings agency should disclose its model.

From there Ackman went into GGP part two. GGP will be split into two companies GGP and GGO. GGP will have 200 regional malls. It will have a competitive advantage because 80% of the properties will be single property non-recourse financing . Company owns 31% of Aliansce (ALSC3 BZ) in Brazil. GGP is benefitting from the economic recovery. GGO is where GGP’s noncore assets will go. They include housing development land, land in Hawaii, land on the Las Vegas strip and South Street Seaport. Ackman referred to GGO, that he hopes it to be a mini Berkshire Hathaway. Ackman thinks new GGP will be worth $15 and new GGO will be worth $5. He finished by saying he bought 150 million Citigroup shares but did not give his thesis.

Seth Klarman, Baupost Group

Klarman delivered what would be his opening statement if ever called before Congress. Klarman noted that most people on Wall Street operate honestly, ethically and provide good service. It is the land of caveat emptor and transactions should be entered skeptically. When it comes to the complexity of derivatives, the purchaser should know they will wind up overpaying. There is a culture of compliance. He guides his firm with two rules. The Wall Street Journal Rule, don’t do anything you would not be willing to read about in the WSJ the next day. The second is the football field rule, if run to close to the sideline you increase the risk of running out of bounds, instead cut to the middle. Financial Transactions among consenting adults are an important part of the capitalist system. He has a fiduciary obligation to his clients, not his counterparties. Short sellers are the policemen of the financial markets.