Market musing while being inactive

I hate to sound like a broken record, but I’ve still been doing nothing other than research but nothing worth investing in at the moment except for one illiquid play mentioned in an earlier post.

Here is a series of miscellaneous observations:

* I note that Apple (AAPL) continues its slide down to the point where I am wondering if they are pricing that the company is not going to be able to keep its premium pricing strategy. On paper, they are still massively profitable, but if competition continues to chip away at their product line (mainly through Samsung on the phone front and a variety of other realistic competitors on the tablet front), they might run into revenue growth problems. The company in their last fiscal year (ended September 2012) made $156.5 billion in revenues and this year the analysts are projecting an average of $182.8, which is a $26.3 billion increase year-to-year. This is a huge amount of growth and the law of large numbers will likely be catching up to Apple in short order.

* CP Rail (CP.TO) is trading at absurdly high valuations at present. They performed a change in management and the market is giving the new CEO a lot of credit, but the railroad business is very mature and I don’t have a clue why they are giving the equity such a huge premium at the moment. I’d be a seller at this price range (the C$130 mark).

* Anybody remember the big scare about rare earths a couple years ago when China started restricting the supply and most of those stocks went crazy? The big play here, Molycorp (MCP) has continued to slide into the gutter now that the market reality of the perceived shortage has completely gone away. The substitution effect is very powerful and MCP shareholders are holding the bag.

* Likewise, most other fossil fuel commodity companies, including my favourite company that has been so overrated by many, Petrobakken (PBN), are continuing to suffer. It is similar to how most gold mining companies are not faring nearly as well as the underlying commodity – it costs an increasing amount of money to extract the resource, so even if the commodity price is increasing, if your costs are increasing, you are not going to make much money. Even Crescent Point Energy (CPG.TO) is starting to lose its lustre.

* The other commodity market that is continuing to get my curiousity up is currency trading – the US dollar has continued to outperform most of the other global currencies. The only way that I play this is that I try to hedge my portfolio by having some US-denominated securities rather than using leveraged speculation.

* The two Canadian Real Estate financing proxies, Home Capital (HCG.TO) and Equitable Group (ETC.TO) warrant a further look. HCG has faded somewhat off of its 52-week high, but Equitable is still there. If people are still hyper-bearish on the Canadian real estate market, these two companies should be the first on anybody’s short selling list. Non-performing loans are still around the 0.3% level and currently still do not show any real signs of distress in the market. I am still riding the wave on Genworth MI (MIC.TO) and believe there is still a reasonable percentage gain to be realized from current price levels. The loan companies, however, are hugely leveraged and I’m finding it difficult to see value there when book values are so significantly below market prices.

* Long term interest rates have also taken a nose dive – the Canadian 10-year bond was skirting at the 2% yield a month ago, but now they are back down to 1.8%. The world is awash with capital and there are few places to deploy it where you’ll generate yield at an acceptable risk level. Eventually the leverage party will end and the fallout is going to be very brutal. Whether this happens in 2013, 2014 or later, nobody knows. But there will be fallout, and figuring out how to brace yourself for the fallout will be a big financial challenge over the next decade.

CN Rail vs. CP Rail

This chart or post is not a value judgement on the respective companies, but it looks like that somebody playing the two-stock Canadian railroad industry should be shorting CN and longing CP:

CP Rail’s market cap at present is about CAD$10.1 billion, while CN Rail is at CAD$33.6 billion. In terms of profitability metrics, for the year ended 2010, CP had $651 million income, while CN had $2.1 billion income. Strictly in terms of backward looking P/E, they both scale equivalently which could justify the upper end of the price differential seen by both companies historically.

CN Rail or CP Rail – A look at the Railways

People trying to get on board the Warren Buffett bandwagon and are too cheap to purchase a Class A share of Berkshire Hathaway (currently $129,538/share) to participating in Burlington Northern are looking at other publicly traded rail options.

These include the following American names:
CSX (NYSE: CSX) – Eastern USA, competes with NSC
Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSU) – Mid-Southern USA and both sides of Mexico
Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) – Eastern USA, competes with CSX
Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) – Primarily competes with Burlington Northern

In Canada, there are two majors:
CN Rail (TSX: CNR) – Very large network from Prince Rupert and Vancouver on the Pacific to the St. Lawrence River and Halifax to the Atlantic and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.
CP Rail (TSX: CP) – From Vancouver to the St. Lawrence River.

The railways trade at roughly the same valuations – very roughly, around 16-20 times earnings, depending on the company. There are reasons for these earnings differentials, mainly balance sheet factors.

Comparing CNR and CP, CP rail appears to be a tad cheaper right now, but both are relatively expensive for what you are purchasing – a utility-type company that will continue to be very profitable in the future as energy prices increase. They will once again decrease in valuation when the physical amount of goods in the economy slows down, like things did in the second half of 2008.

Although both companies are well run and profitable, they are classic examples of such companies that you would not want to invest in unless if you wanted to invest a huge amount of money in them for the purposes of stability. Even then, one would think that waiting for the next recession would give you a better entry point.

The difference between ocean and land freight transportation

Apparently ocean freight rates for various commodities are tumbling simply because of the supply of vessels available to transport such goods.

I know very little about the ocean freight industry other than that internationally based companies, such as Dryships (Nasdaq: DRYS) have exhibited considerable volatility as the market has boomed and now crashed.

The big difference between ocean shipping and land shipping is that inexpensive freight transit can only be performed by railways, while oceans are only limited by the number of ships you can manufacture and port facilities. Trucking is not commercially competitive with rail freight (except for delivery to the “last mile”) and as energy prices continue to rise, rail will continue to be very relevant in the future.

The two large Canadian companies in this space are CN Rail (TSX: CNR) and CP Rail (TSX: CP), both of which are trading at healthy, but not ridiculously overpriced valuations.