In just a few days, we'll be turning the page on 2018 and ushering in a new year. For many, that'll be a welcome change, as the past three months have been mostly unkind to investors. The Nasdaq Composite has breached bear market territory, and investors are staring down the worst correction they've seen in seven years.
But there's one investor who'll be sad to see 2018 go: me.
Although there's still some trading left in 2018 before the curtain closes for good, my portfolio is on track to outperform the broad-based S&P 500 by roughly 40 percentage points. So, what will I be doing differently in 2019? Although I almost certainly foresee myself adding a number of stocks currently on my growing watchlist to my portfolio, I don't plan to do much, if anything, differently with the existing stocks I own. As we barrel into 2019, the following stocks will represent my top holdings.
No. 1: SSR Mining
My largest holding has been, and will continue to be, gold and silver mining company SSR Mining (SSRM -0.97%). I came into my SSR Mining shares by way of the company's acquisition of Claude Resources back in mid-2016. Dating back to when I initially purchased my shares of Claude Resources, I haven't sold a single share of stock in more than five years.
SSR Mining is an exciting play in my eyes for a variety of reasons. To begin with, the company's joint venture Chinchillas Mine, which is a 75%-25% partnership between SSR and Golden Arrow, recently hit its commercial production stage. SSR Mining had reached the end of the line for mining at its open-pit San Miguel silver mine nearly two years ago. This caused it to rely on stockpiles rather than continuing operations for silver sales over the past two years. With Chinchillas now on line, the company has a source of readily available silver production for potentially the next decade.
Production expansion and efficiency also drive my investment into SSR Mining. The company recently outlined plans to grow gold production at its flagship Marigold mine in Nevada by 30%, to roughly 265,000 ounces per by the early part of the coming decade. Meanwhile, the acquired Seabee mine (this was Claude Resources flagship mine) has continued to deliver record gold output at lower all-in sustaining costs (AISC). Between Seabee, Marigold, and the newly commercial Chinchillas, we should see a rapid uptick in cash flow and a substantial improvement in operating margins as AISC declines.
Finally, I see SSR Mining as inexpensive. Since mining companies live and die by their cash flow, I prefer cash flow per share as a more meaningful measure of company health than earnings per share. Historically, SSR Mining has been fairly valued at 10 times its cash flow per share. With the company's cash flow per share projected to more than double between 2018 and 2021 to north of $1.70 per share, I could see the stock rising significantly.
No. 2: First Majestic Silver
I swear I'm not a "metal bug," but my second-largest holding also happens to be a gold and silver mining company. However, as you can probably surmise by the name, First Majestic Silver's (AG -0.79%) focus is on silver, not gold. In fact, no mining company looks to have more direct exposure to the silver market (about 70% of total sales) than First Majestic Silver.
Similar to SSR Mining, I came into ownership of First Majestic Silver's stock via its acquisition of Primero Mining earlier this year. Likewise, I've not sold a share since this purchase was completed. Why not?
For starters, I genuinely believe that silver has a good chance to outperform gold in the intermediate term. In recent weeks, the gold-to-silver ratio -- a measure of how many ounces of silver it takes to equal the value of one ounce of gold -- hit more than 86-to-1, a 25-year high. The last two times the gold-to-silver ratio topped 80-to-1, silver skyrocketed 400% and rose by 55%, respectively. While I can't predict what silver will do next, I can say that supply-and-demand metrics for the shiny metal remain promising.
More specific to First Majestic, I'm excited for what the Primero acquisition brings to the table and what existing mine expansions and projects will do for output over the next two to four years.
Primero's flagship San Dimas mine led to a whopping 3.23 million silver equivalent ounces (SEO) in First Majestic's third-quarter operating results. SEO takes into account silver, gold, and byproduct output and converts it into an apples-to-apples measure. Primero simply didn't have the capital needed to explore new veins of precious metal at San Dimas, which is why First Majestic Silver was more than happy to acquire the company and its low-cost mine. On an AISC basis, San Dimas' $6.74 per ounce was miles below the company's overall AISC of $15.12 in Q3.
Moving forward, First Majestic expects to see its AISC decline steadily as production improvements are introduced at La Encantada, and the La Luz and Plomosas projects are brought on line within the next few years. With the midpoint of the company's guidance at 21.55 million SEO in 2018, 30 million to 35 million SEO isn't out of the question by 2022. That's growth and additional cash flow I can get behind.
No. 3: Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
Generally speaking, I live by the "you hate it, I love it" rule. There aren't too many investors who will willingly admit to owning troubled generic- and branded-drug maker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA -8.91%), but I'm one of them. I've owned a stake in Teva for more than a year now.
Don't get me wrong: The depths of Teva's issues caught me by surprise. Aside from substantially reducing its earnings guidance in 2017, the company also halted its previously top-notch dividend, settled with U.S. regulators over bribery charges, replaced its CEO, saw its lead brand-name drug (Copaxone, for multiple sclerosis) face its first generic competition, and contended with generic-drug price weakness throughout the industry. It was a year to forget, for sure.
However, Teva has made more progress than Wall Street likely gives the company credit for. Namely, it's been diligently selling off noncore assets and utilizing its operating cash flow to reduce its debt. At one time, Teva held more than $34 billion in net debt following its acquisition of generic-drug arm Actavis from Allergan. Today, that net debt load is down to about $27.6 billion. Sure, it has more work to do, but the company has consistently been generating $4 billion in annual operating cash flow, leaving little doubt that it can manage (and reduce) its debt. When combined with an expected $3 billion in annual cost cuts by the end of 2019, Teva has done an excellent job of "trimming the fat," so to speak.
On the other end of the spectrum, Teva's generic business is beginning to see less pricing pressure. Over the longer run, this is a portion of its business that should thrive as physicians, insurers, and consumers push for less-pricey generic options rather than brand-name medications. Although generic margins are much lower than brand-name products, Teva, being the largest generic drugmaker in the world, can more than make up for that with volume.
Even taking into account the likelihood of a small revenue decline in 2019, Teva appears far too inexpensive at five times next year's profit projections.
No. 4: Intercept Pharmaceuticals
Finally, the fourth-largest holding entering the year is sort of my boom-or-bust stock: Intercept Pharmaceuticals (ICPT -4.42%). I've held a stake in Intercept for a little over a year now.
Don't get me wrong, Intercept does have an approved therapy known as Ocaliva for the treatment of primary biliary cholangitis (PBC). However, the peak sales for PBC are only in the $250 million to $300 million range, which would leave a lot to be desired with the company's current market cap of around $2.7 billion.
Rather, all eyes are on Ocaliva as it relates to treating nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a liver disease found in 2% to 5% of all U.S. adults that can lead to fibrosis, liver cancer, and even death. By the midpoint of the next decade, NASH is expected to be the leading cause of liver transplants. That's terrifying -- and it's also a big market opportunity, with no approved therapies to treat NASH. Whichever drug company can get their product on pharmacy shelves first is bound to have a first-mover advantage.
During the first half of 2019, Intercept is set to report phase 3 results from its Regenerate trial in NASH patients with advanced liver fibrosis. If Ocaliva can meet either of two co-primary endpoints -- NASH resolution or a statistically significant reduction in liver fibrosis relative to the placebo -- or both, it'll probably be on its way to pharmacy shelves, assuming a Food and Drug Administration approval.
Ocaliva has itself taken a lot of flak for safety concerns in patients with PBC. However, PBC is a completely different disease than NASH, and quite a few PBC patients who unfortunately passed away while taking Ocaliva weren't being administered the correct dose. In the phase 2 Flint study for NASH patients, Ocaliva had a similar safety profile as the placebo, with the only notable adverse event being pruritus (itching). This is a therapy that, in a midstage study, dazzled, and I think it can do so again come the first half of next year when Intercept reports its pivotal-stage data.