2019 end-of-year portfolio review

With another year behind us it is time again for another portfolio review. On Twitter it almost seemed that everybody had >100% returns this year, but my return was more inline with that of the index. Given the fantastic performance of the index this year I’m pretty happy with that, especially since the many special situations I invest in have usually a very low correlation with the stock market. I have been saying for years that I expect my portfolio to do relatively well when shit really hits the fan, but besides a small blip in 2018 it’s not a thesis that has been really put to the test. Nevertheless, I managed to beat the index for the eighth straight year since starting this blog. For sure a result that is way better than expected when I started investing.

Year Return* Benchmark** Difference
2012 18.44% 14.34% 4.10%
2013 53.38% 17.49% 35.89%
2014 30.11% 18.61% 11.50%
2015 24.23% 8.76% 15.47%
2016 64.97% 11.09% 53.88%
2017 29.04% 8.89% 20.15%
2018 13.07% -4.85% 17.92%
2019 32.34% 28.93% 3.41%
Cumulative 835.23% 157.17% 678.06%
CAGR 32.24% 12.53% 19.71%

* Return in euro’s after transaction costs, net dividend withholding taxes and other expenses
** Benchmark is the MSCI ACWI (All Country World Index) net total return index in euro’s

This year the basket of special situations managed to grab the top spot in my performance attribution graph, as you can see below. The biggest contributor to its performance was from a liquidation that provided a positive surprise worth 163bps while the reversal of the Sorrento Tech liquidation payment got a solid second place with a 157bps contribution. The worst performer in the basket was the Pacific Biosciences of California merger with Illumina with a negative 55bps contribution. I thought this deal wouldn’t face unresolvable regulatory issues, but that turned out to be very wrong, and four days ago the companies announced that they terminated the merger agreement. But it was clear from the start that there was some risk, and I’m pretty happy with how I sized the position. But perhaps I should have stayed away, handicapping this kind of regulatory risk is probably not where I have my biggest edge (if any).

Last year HemaCare was the biggest contributor of the portfolio with a 221% return. This years gain was almost equally impressive 146%, and thanks to a bigger starting allocation it provided a bigger contribution to the performance of the portfolio than last year (even after selling some shares early in the year). The final boost to its performance was provided mid December when Charles River Laboratories agreed to acquire the company for $25.40/share in cash. While I’m still waiting for the money to hit my account the merger was completed in record time. In just two weeks the transaction closed, even though this period included the Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve. Perhaps they didn’t want people to try to exercise their appraisal rights? Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old guy to assume nefarious intentions…

At the bottom of the graph we find a couple of familiar value stocks. As a group the classic value stocks in my portfolio didn’t do very well, but both PD-Rx and Scheid Vineyards performed poorly operationally during the year so we can’t just put the blame on the market for not liking these companies. With PD-Rx now trading at net current asset value while Scheid Vineyards owns property worth many times its current market cap there is a reasonable case for continuing to own them at today’s price, but the stock I’m more enthusiastic about is Conduril. But the market and I have been in disagreement for more than seven years on that stock, so the chance that I’m wrong is certainly going up as well.

Last year my New Years resolution was to start bumping up my blogging frequency a bit again, something that didn’t really happen. I’m not going to put out there another failed New Years resolution, so I will just finish this post with wishing you all a happy a new year!


Author is long most of the stuff in the performance attribution graph

13 thoughts on “2019 end-of-year portfolio review

        1. Alpha Vulture Post author

          I guess you can take a look at some of my older posts to see what kind of mergers I’m involved in. Usually I stay away from the super big mergers with regulatory risks or those with very small spreads.

    1. Alpha Vulture Post author

      I have, and the spread is obviously quite big even though it shouldn’t really face regulatory issues based on a traditional antitrust perspective. But apparently regulators want to take a hard look anyway because of the data that google is collecting, so I’m not sure how it will play out. Have stayed away so far, but I can see the attraction.


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