Whitney Tilson: "Why We Covered Our Netflix Short"

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The short answer: "It's no fun being in front of an oncoming train."

The slightly longer answer:

At today’s closing price of $222.29, Netflix is trading at 75.0x trailing EPS of $2.96. In more than 12 years of managing money professionally, we can’t recall an instance in which we paid more than 20x our estimate of normalized, current year earnings for any stock – and this has worked very well for us – so we won’t be buying Netflix anytime soon. But just because we don’t think it’s a good long doesn’t make it a good short.

Why We Covered [Value Investing Letter]

Related

Whitney Tilson Was As Surprised As You Are To Learn That He Was Long Netflix On The Way Up

NFLX is up 75% year to date so you probably assumed that Whitney Tilson had gotten rid of it sometime last year. You were not alone: We thought it was a little strange when Whitney Tilson and Glenn Tongue's hedge fund T2 Partners' latest 13F came out earlier this week and Netflix wasn't included. We sent the hedge fund manager an email to find out why and there's now a corrected version of the fund's regulatory filing out. It turned out, it was just an error. As of December 31, 2011, T2 Partners had combination of 89,771 shares and 81,000 call options in Netflix, according to the updated 13F. Here's Why Whitney Tilson's 13-F Didn't Have Netflix In It When It Came Out [BI]

FYI, Whitney Tilson's Investment Thesis On Goldman Sachs Has Not Changed In Light Of Times Op-Ed (Update)

Having said that, T2 Partners will be "monitoring" the situation. The op ed in today’s New York Times by retiring Goldman Sachs Executive Director Greg Smith is the talk of Wall Street. We think we know Goldman well, as the company has been our prime broker for the past seven years and Goldman (both stock and call options) is one of our largest positions, so we wanted to add our comments. Our direct experience as a client of Goldman has been universally positive. The many people we have dealt with there have all been exceptionally talented and high-grade, and never once have we had a negative experience in which we felt that they took advantage of us or didn’t do what they said they would do. That said, we are not naïve. In all of our dealings with Wall Street firms, we assume that they are looking out for their own bottom lines, not ours. And we are certainly aware that the old, gentlemanly culture in which integrity and a customer-first attitude generally prevailed is long gone – not just at Goldman, but across all of Wall Street – and, in fact, across the entire financial industry (the reasons for this and what should be done about it are the subject for another day). When we think about investing in any company – especially a financial one, which is heavily regulated, leveraged, and particularly difficult for an outsider to analyze – we factor into our investment equation our assessment of the company’s culture and values, and, if we have any concerns, what the potential associated risks are, such as unexpected losses and regulatory action. In light of our view of the moral decay across the U.S. financial sector, we aggressively haircut our estimates of intrinsic value in the sector – some companies more so than others. But at some price, of course, any stock is a buy, and last August and September we felt that the negativity surrounding the financial sector was way overdone and hence made a big – and, so far, very profitable – bet on Goldman and a number of other U.S. financial firms. With the run-up in Goldman’s stock – after falling below $90 as recently as December, it’s now over $120, just above tangible book value of $119.72 as of 12/31/11 – we’ve been debating whether to trim or exit our position, so today’s op ed is timely. But is it relevant to our investment thesis? We think probably not, for two reasons: 1) The argument that Goldman has become increasingly profit driven, sometimes at the expense of clients’ best interests, and that some employees use vulgar and disrespectful language is hardly news. What’s the next “shocking” headline: “Prostitution in Vegas!”? 2) We highly doubt that Goldman is as truly corrupt as Smith makes it out to be. Goldman has more than 30,000 employees (including nearly 12,000 vice presidents, of which Mr. Smith is one) and has gone through wrenching changes in the past year, including savage cuts to bonuses and extensive layoffs, so it doesn’t surprise us that there are many disgruntled employees, especially those who are leaving. Is Smith one of them? It’s hard to tell, but here’s an email sent to me this morning by a former partner at Goldman (who generally agrees that the firm’s culture is not what it once was): There are a couple of things out of place. 1) This guy has been at firm for 12 years and is only a VP…a piss ant of sorts. He should have been an MD-light by now, so clearly he has been running in place for some time. 2) He was in U.S. equity derivatives in London…sort of like equities in Dallas…more confirmation he is a lightweight. Somewhere along the line he has had sand kicked in his face…and is not as good as he thinks he is. That happens to a lot of high achievers there. In summary, we think it’s likely that Goldman does the right thing for its clients the vast majority of the time – but not as certainly as it used to in the old days. Times have changed and the trend is unfortunate, but it is not unique to Goldman. In fact, we believe that Goldman still has a better culture and is more ethical than most of its competitors – though this is a very low bar to be sure. Our investment thesis on Goldman is simple: when all the dust settles, it will remain the premier investment banking franchise in the world – and, if so, will be worth a substantial premium to tangible book value. Smith’s column is a warning flag that we’ll be monitoring closely, but we believe our investment thesis remains intact and the stock is still cheap, so we’re not selling.

Whitney Tilson's "Blogging/Writing" Diet Not So Restrictive That He Can't Indulge In The Occasional 1,200-Word Product Review

June 22, 2012: To ensure that I can focus intensely on in-depth company and industry analysis, I will adopt a much lower public profile and let my investment returns speak for themselves. Specifically, I will dramatically reduce my television appearances, interviews with the media, blogging/writing, and public speaking, both in the investment and philanthropic realms. I also plan to write letters to you quarterly rather than monthly (our bookkeeper will, course, continue to send you monthly statements). July 23, 2012: From: Whitney Tilson Date: Mon, Jul 23, 2012 at 5:43 PM Subject: My favorite gadgets: laptop, phone, cameras, printers I’m a total gadget fiend, usually upgrading my laptop, phone, pocket camera, and digital SLR camera to the latest models at least once a year. In the past month, I’ve upgraded all four to newly released models and am so blown away that I wanted to share my experience (plus two printer recommendations). In order of amazingness: 1) My new laptop: the PC world FINALLY has slim, light, high-res-screen, quick-boot laptops (called ultrabooks) to rival the Macbook Air. I just bought the best of the lot, the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A. It’s light as a feather, boots in a few seconds, and has an AMAZINGLY high-res 13.3” screen (I don’t miss the 17” screen on my old laptop one bit). Here’s a good review of it: www.pcworld.com/article/255921/handson_asus_zenbook_prime_ux31a.html It’s only $1,080 on Amazon (more if you want a faster chip or 256GB of flash memory; I find 128GB is fine for a secondary travel computer): www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00863L2PK/tilsoncapitalpar 2) My new smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S III, which just became available on Verizon. A couple of years ago, I added an iPhone to my Blackberry because I couldn’t give up the keyboard and found it impossible to type on the iPhone, but I didn’t like schlepping around two devices so when Verizon came out with Android phones with 30% bigger screens (plus 4G, which is MUCH faster), I junked both the Blackberry (good riddance! I had to use one in Europe last week and HATED every minute of it; until you switch, you have no idea of how awful Blackberries are) and the iPhone for the HTC Thunderbolt. No regrets, but the Thunderbolt is thick and bulky, the screen is nowhere near as good as the new iPhones, and the battery lasted maybe 1/3 of a day, so I always had to carry a spare. Thus, it was with great joy that I switched last week to the Samsung, which fixes all three of these problems: it’s super slim and light (while maintaining the large screen), the resolution appears to me to be just as good as the iPhone’s retina display, and the battery lasts most of a day with normal usage (still not great, but much better). In my opinion, this phone is much superior to the iPhone, but if you like your iPhone I wouldn’t switch until we see what the new iPhone 5 looks like. It’s rumored to be out this fall and have a bigger screen. If it’s also 4G on Verizon AND can work overseas (none of the current Verizon Android 4G phones can), then I might switch back to the iPhone. I also wouldn’t switch away from the iPhone unless you’re reasonably technologically savvy – the ecosystem isn’t quite as seamless (for example, it was quite a pain to transfer my music, esp my playlists, from iTunes on my computer to my new phone). 3) I have three kids and take zillions of photos, so I’ve become an amateur digital photo junkie. I find that I need two cameras (given that I hate the crummy photos that camera phones take): a super-small pocket one to take with me everywhere (for 90%+ of photos) and a big digital SLR camera for special occasions when small cameras just don’t cut it (weddings, bar mitzvahs, action sports, etc.). Among pocket cameras, I’ve been a very happy user for at least two years of the Canon PowerShot S90, then S95, and most recently the S100, but the new Sony DSC RX-100 blows every other pocket camera out of the water (if you’re willing to pay an extra $300). It’s maybe 5-10% bigger than the S100, but still fits easily in a pocket – and the results BLEW my mind. I thought I was using a full-size SLR: no shutter lag, amazing many-frames-per-second action shots, brilliant pictures in low light without a flash, etc. Below is the review by the NYT’s David Pogue, who concludes: This is an ideal second camera for professionals. And it’s a great primary camera for any amateur who wants to take professional-looking photos without having to carry a camera bag. Of course, $650 is crazy expensive. You can buy a full-blown S.L.R. for that much. But every time you transfer a batch of its pictures to your computer, you’ll understand why you spent that money. You’ll click through them, astonished at how often it’s successful in stopping time, capturing the emotion of a scene, enshrining a memory or an expression you never want to forget. You’ll appreciate that the RX100 has single-handedly smashed the rule that said, “You need a big camera for pro-quality photos.” And if you care at all about your photography, you’ll thank Sony for giving the camera industry a good hard shove into the future. The quality of the camera is reflected in its price, however: the cheapest I could find it on the internet is $605 here: www.provantage.com/sony-dscrx100-b~7SNYG07U.htm. If that’s too expensive for you, go with the Canon S100 for $335 here: http://bestpricephoto.com/h/product_info.php/canon-powershot-s100-digital-camera-p-20660 4) I also recently upgraded my digital SLR from the Nikon D5100 to the D7000, which is the highest end amateur camera in the Nikon line. The D5100 was buggy so I was pleased to be rid of it. The key with both of these cameras is to get the Nikkor 18-200mm lens – it’s 11x with digital image stabilization built in. It’s the only lens you need, so just buy the camera body plus this lens. The best price I found for the D7000 is $889 at: http://bestpricephoto.com/h/product_info.php/nikon-d7000-162-mp-digital-slr-camera-body-p-19926. The best price on the lens is $847 at: www.buydig.com/shop/product.aspx?sku=NK18200G2 PS—I use and recommend the free Google photo software, Picasa (www.picasa.com), for cropping, editing, getting rid of red-eye, emailing photos (with the photos embedded, not attached), etc. Last but not least, printers: 1) If you want to print photos, I highly recommend a specialized photo printer rather than using an all-in-one inkjet – the quality difference is HUGE. I haven’t upgraded mine in a while, but if I were to buy one, I’d just buy the latest model of my current one (the 4500), the Canon iP4920, which is a mere $80 (they get you on the paper and ink – don’t try generics): www.buydig.com/shop/product.aspx?sku=CNIP4920 2) Complementing my photo printer in my home office is my color laser, the Brother MFC-9560CDW Multifunction Printer for $590 at: www.nextwarehouse.com/item/?999165. It’s a great scanner, copier, fax machine, and prints fast in color and B&W IN DUPLEX (two-sided), which is a must-have for me.