David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital 1Q Investor Letter
The Greenlight Capital funds (the “Partnerships”) returned 1.3%, 1% net of fees and expenses, in the first quarter of 2017. During the quarter, the S&P 500 index returned 6.1%.
From a portfolio perspective, this quarter was a quiet one. Our longs were profitable, though they went up a bit less than the market. Our shorts generated losses but added alpha, and gold gave us a small profit in macro. Apple (AAPL), Chemours (CC) and gold were the biggest winners; the bubble basket, Rite Aid (RAD), and a short position in Tesla (TSLA) were the biggest losers.
AAPL advanced from $115.82 to $143.66 as it reported a good quarter and the market is now realizing it is not the next Nokia or BlackBerry. AAPL’s market position is durable and its ecosystem is expanding with high-margin recurring services revenue streams. We continue to like AAPL because we think it is a superior company that still trades for less than a market multiple.
CC settled its major litigation relating to the impact of PFOA, a discontinued toxic chemical used to make Teflon. The bear case arguing that the damages would bankrupt the company proved wrong, and the final figure was within our range of expectations. Meanwhile, the core titanium dioxide business continues to benefit from a tight market and rising prices. During the quarter, CC advanced from $22.09 to $38.50.
Gold rose over 8% to start the year. Nothing significant happened here (the White House columns are not gold yet); gold simply reversed a portion of the post-election decline it suffered last quarter. Gold remains a long-term position with a thesis that global fiscal and monetary policies remain very risky.
RAD fell from $8.24 to $4.25. We had expected that Walgreens and RAD would satisfy regulatory concerns and close the merger at $9 per share. Instead, the deal was re-cut to between $6.50 and $ 7.00, and even at this date, the regulatory concerns are not resolved. We are watching the situation carefully and we have trimmed the position, as our original thinking was incorrect.
It was a difficult quarter to be short the bubble basket, and TSLA in particular. Perhaps as the prospects for tax reform have dimmed, the market has regained enthusiasm for profitless companies that aren’t at risk of paying taxes. A number of these stocks are back in full-blown momentum mode. Analysts continue to raise “target prices” which the market treats as news. The bulls explain that traditional valuation metrics no longer apply to certain stocks. The longs are confident that everyone else who holds these stocks understands the dynamic and won’t sell either. With holders reluctant to sell, the stocks can only go up – seemingly to infinity and beyond. We have seen this before. It’s painful for the shorts, as the TSLA CEO has been happy to remind everyone via Twitter. There was no catalyst that we know of that burst the dot-com bubble in March 2000, and we don’t have a particular catalyst in mind here. That said, the top will be the top, and it’s hard to predict when it will happen. Notably, a number of bubble stocks advanced despite missed expectations and/or falling estimates. The basket is sized appropriately with the understanding that twice a silly price isn’t twice as silly. In due time, we expect these bubbles to pop.
While it was quiet on the portfolio front, we made more noise than usual (and more than we’d like) by making public our idea for General Motors Company (GM) to unlock tens of billions of dollars of shareholder value. As a general matter, we prefer to avoid public activism. The last time we did this was with AAPL in 2013 after owning the stock for three years. This is a similar situation; we had owned GM shares for years before advancing our idea to management.
When we offer companies private advice, they either take it, or they explain why they are not going to take it. Usually if they reject the idea, we understand the reasoning and prefer not to press the issue. Sometimes, we agree to disagree, and then decide whether to hold the stock or exit the position.
In the case of GM, we felt the need to press the issue as we believe there is a lot of value to unlock and the company did not fairly evaluate our idea. Management made a decision and then spent a great deal of effort coming up with reasons to justify that decision. To poison our idea, management went so far as to misrepresent our proposal to the credit rating agencies, allowing them to claim that the company’s credit standing would be in jeopardy if it implemented our idea. Ironically, our idea was designed to be credit positive and the least invasive way to unlock billions of dollars of shareholder value. This sort of behavior by management leaves us no room to agree to disagree.
We know this is a tough fight. Fortunately, the math is on our side (if GM does what we suggest, we believe the stock will go up a lot) and the ultimate decision will be made by our fellow shareholders. We believe others recognize that the stock is deeply undervalued and when shareholders grasp the math and the extent of GM’s behavior, they will vote with their wallets and for needed change at the Board level.
We exited several material positions during the quarter:
We closed three Canadian bank shorts at a loss as the oil and gas credit loss thesis didn’t sufficiently materialize.
We closed our LyondellBasell Industries short at a loss. Our thesis was that large capacity additions, along with a potentially limited supply of raw materials, would squeeze margins. However, new industry capacity has taken longer than expected to come on line.
We closed our RPC, Inc. short at a small loss, as favorable industry pricing tailwinds have offset our company-specific concerns.
We closed our short in Signet Jewelers at a gain when negative comparable store sales and class-action litigation caused the stock to fall.
It’s been a couple years since we’ve had an investment team departure. In February, Andrew Rechtschaffen left to start his own firm, and Jaime Lester left to join a new hedge fund. We thank them both for their contributions and wish them well in their future endeavors. Operations is now a 2-to-1 favorite for the annual Ops vs. Investment team basketball game, and we are recruiting analysts with above-average three-point shooting skills. Also, we are pleased to report that Emily Proctor was promoted to Operations Analyst. Congratulations Emily!
At quarter-end, the largest disclosed long positions in the Partnerships were AerCap, Bayer, CONSOL Energy, General Motors Company and gold. The Partnerships had an average exposure of 108% long and 80% short.
“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.”