Just as SodaStream's stock tumbled toward on its 52-week low earlier this week, the company received a boost when Whitney Tilson's hedge fund, Kase Capital, disclosed that it was buying shares. Subsequently, the carbonated beverage maker made gains of more than 3% during trading on Thursday.
A well-known value investor and former Foolish writer, Tilson's made a name for himself in recent years by clashing with bears on hotly contested stocks like Netflix and General Growth Properties, two companies he mentioned in his letter to investors on SodaStream. Tilson, for one, believes the at-home soda maker can defy the naysayers and is anything but a fad.
The three underlying arguments revealed thus far by Tilson go something like this:
1. SodaStream's history as an international market leader goes a long way in disproving the "fad" thesis held by many short sellers.
2. Further, according to a survey he personally conducted, the company's product resonates with consumers. In his words, "People love their SodaStreams."
3. Finally, while the American market matters, short sellers are overemphasizing SodaStream's recent U.S. struggles. He believes that "Western Europe is by far the most valuable part of Sodastream's business."
Overall, Tilson's optimism caught this SodaStream shareholder by surprise, especially since most of the noise lately has related to downgrades or negative sentiment. Given the company's lackluster fourth quarter, that was quite understandable. Tilson, however, believes that the underlying business remains in decent shape despite the margin woes experienced during the holiday season.
SodaStream's gross margins, for perspective, came in at 42.4% in the fourth quarter, well short of the 53% plan set forth by the company. Considering the razor-and-blade model that serves as the backbone of the business, many investors feared the worst: SodaStream couldn't move its product even during the typically robust holiday season. As the company leaned heavily on promotions, there were some valid reasons to be skeptical about its U.S. prospects -- even for long-term investors.
But SodaStream's management team stated during the conference call that they were tackling the margin issue from both angles during 2014 through price improvements and cost reduction. Tilson expressed his confidence in their abilities by noting these are "truly short-term, fixable problems."
From his perspective, the business can keep humming along, but what makes SodaStream particularly attractive are three other characteristics: its "reasonable" valuation, its position as a "highly attractive" takeover target should PepsiCo, Dr. Pepper Snapple, or Nestle come calling, and its short interest, which hovers around 40% of shares outstanding. On the latter, Tilson remains upbeat on SodaStream since some of his prior big winners have been on heavily shorted stocks like Netflix and General Growth Properties.
In a nutshell, Tilson's bullish on SodaStream's prospects, as am I. Where I differ from Tilson is on the significance of the American market. As I pointed out on Thursday, if SodaStream's upward trajectory is to continue, the U.S. market will have to be a critical driving force. It currently accounts for 39% of sales (and growing) whereas Western Europe contributed 48% of sales in 2013.
Altogether, it's good to hear some different perspectives on SodaStream as the company faces one hurdle after another. For now, I still believe it stalled in the fourth quarter, but all this business needs is a tune-up to accelerate quickly in the years to come.