After four years of running my Special Situations portfolio for The Motley Fool, it's time to close it. I'm moving up to become co-leader at Motley Fool Special Ops, which focuses on exactly the same kinds of special situations that you came to love in my Special Situations portfolio. So today I'm recapping the stocks now in the portfolio and what you should expect going forward. I'll also add a list of what I see as the Best Buys Now. If you want to continue following me, you can see my thoughts on more stocks on Twitter: @TMFRoyal.
The portfolio's stocks
Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) A warrants -- The bank is still underpriced, and the A warrants give you more leverage on an increasing stock price. They go out for four more years still, leaving plenty of time for the market to figure out how profitable this company is. Still a good buy.
Vectrus (NYSE:VEC) -- This defense spinoff has come a long way in a short time. I bought at about seven times this year's earnings. The stock is now up 40% from when I purchased just five months ago. I'm looking for about $40 or thereabouts -- 14 times trailing earnings -- as a reasonable sell price. A couple more quarters could do it. I'd hold this stock at today's prices.
CareTrust REIT (NASDAQ:CTRE) -- CareTrust will be a repeat of my success in Sabra Healthcare (NASDAQ:SBRA) (something like an 88% total return in 3.3 years; 22% annualized return). CareTrust just announced its dividend; it hasn't appeared on the dividend screens for now, but it will. The current yield is about 4%, which should escalate quickly over the next couple of years. Continue to see if the company can make attractive deals. It seems to have quite a few lined up in the weeks ahead. This is still an undiscovered gem, and with better management than Sabra. After it gets a couple of deals done, the market will start to take notice. This is worth $17 today and at least $20 a couple of years out if it makes smart deals. Today's prices are still very good.
Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) -- Herbalife is not a pyramid scheme, though its business will be weak over the next year as it moves to a different process for attracting distributors in an attempt to sustain longer-term growth. Eventually the Federal Trade Commission will clear Herbalife, though not perhaps without some fines. The fact that it has made some hires in the compliance area shows the company is already working with the FTC to get things right. And then hedge fund manager and Herbalife foe Bill Ackman is done and has no strings left to pull. On the options front, if I were still running the portfolio, I would close the long calls today and continue to hold the short put, with the expectation that the stock appreciates and waiting for time value to diminish.
NorthStar Realty Finance (NYSE:NRF) synthetic long – The synthetic long on the pre-split stock has been a huge success and there still remain 12 months on the LEAPs. I set up a leveraged position on the syn long, with a $17 strike price when the stock was in the low $16s. Because of that, I was able (with only a little additional cash) to buy 2 calls for every put sold. The price of the puts has been cut in half, while the calls have doubled. The options – NRF1 – have a deliverable of 50 shares of NRF and 50 shares of NorthStar Asset Management (NYSE:CLNS), so they have leverage to the very fast-growing asset management unit. It looks increasingly likely that Asset Management will grow cash available for distribution by 50% in 2015 (over annualized Q3 figures). The market hasn't caught on to this yet. I think a reasonable price for that business today is $30+.
NorthStar Realty Finance (NYSE:NRF) -- This stock is yielding 8.8% as I write this, and will likely bump its dividend next year by another $0.08 annually, so the forward yield would be closer to 9.3%. Plenty of catalysts remain. Management has been threatening to spin off divisions if the market doesn't award the stock the right price. And being added to REIT indices should help valuation, too. I still think the value is closer to $25 a share today. I'd buy more at today's prices.
Extendicare (OTC:EXETF) -- This was a truly unfortunate experience, as management just worked over shareholders in a terrible way. It ran the REIT's American business into the ground and then sold it at a low point (very much like buy high/sell low investors). The conference call announcing the deal was unbelievable, and you could hear the anxiety in the CEO's voice as he delivered the news and parried questions from analysts. With only a little cash going back to shareholders in the form of a stock buyback -- surely after some investors twisted management's arm -- shareholders were right to dump the stock. It would be much more accretive to buy back stock at these prices, but management wants to expand the business. That would be poor capital allocation.
Madison Square Garden (NYSE:MSG) -- I still think the endgame here is a buyout. The position is up over 150% for me, and there is another catalyst on the way in the form of a spinoff. A $500 million buyback should help boost the stock, too. While I wouldn't buy more now, it still makes a good hold as the company figures out what to spin off.
Hertz (NYSE:HTZ) -- This remains a very good situation. While it will take longer to play out, there are numerous catalysts to help keep the upside high -- a spinoff (now likely pushed back to early 2016), buybacks, and activists, among others. A pending accounting review is gumming things up, but with an oligopolistic industry, it's going to be easy for Hertz to generate growing profits once management rights the ship. I'd buy more today.
Seaspan (NYSE:SSW) -- This has been hit recently on concerns about the global economy, I suppose. That seems silly to me. I'd watch for the dividend announcement in early March 2015 as a key catalyst. I expect a 10% bump in the payout, and I may invest in options (as I did here one year) to play the increase, especially if the stock is near an option strike. I'm much less enthused about the stock than I was four years ago when I started buying. Management just hasn't moved the dividend enough in the past year. Still, it remains a likely source of 15% total annual gains from here, so not awful by any stretch.
AIG (NYSE:AIG) warrants -- AIG continues to get its act together, though that effort has been sluggish in the last year. If it does, the stock could trade to book value, and the warrants would move up even faster than the stock. The stock now trades at a substantial discount to book value, providing some margin of safety.
Tile Shop Holdings (NASDAQ:TTS) -- This stock is in "show me" mode, and is something of a broken growth story for now. It will have to show that there's still a growth opportunity here, and the new CEO has plenty of work to do. Potential huge opportunity, but I have other fish to fry.
First Financial Northwest (NASDAQ:FFNW) -- This bank remains a good opportunity, though if I were buying I'd want it at a lower price than we're seeing now. I still think the game plan is to sell off the bank, the usual MO of activist investor Joe Stilwell, who owns an 8.4% stake. A most interesting move happened a couple of weeks ago, when the holding company decided to upstream $70 million from the bank. Could this be in preparation for a special dividend? The bank is a good opportunity that could be sold at any time, but it's entirely possible that you can buy it cheaper than it is today. Buy opportunistically.
TFS Financial (NASDAQ:TFSL) -- The stock had a very nice 2014, and I expect plenty more buybacks over the next 18 months. Then it will be interesting to see how the company uses its cash. In future years, the dividend could be bumped substantially just by virtue of the reduced share count, and that would help support the stock when these accelerated buybacks end. That's what to watch going forward. Now at 56% of tangible book value, the stock remains a great buy with low downside. The market has no idea what's going on here.
Ryman Hospitality Properties (NYSE:RHP) -- This hotel owner has been a solid performer since it converted to a REIT and started paying a huge dividend. There's potential for the company to spin off its Grand Ole Opry unit, but that is just speculation at this point. I think the stock is worth about $60 today. The company has a phenomenal collection of hotel properties and can rapidly grow earnings even without buying a new hotel. This makes a good hold, but I'm not really keen on buying here.
Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI) -- Sirius remains a good investment opportunity. The company is rapidly buying back stock, leveraging itself to do that. It's a classic John Malone play. His Liberty Media (NASDAQ:FWONA) will slowly take over the company, in large part by having Sirius repurchase its own stock while Liberty does NOT sell into the buybacks. So expect another buyout offer at some point in the future. But if you like Sirius, you might rather own Liberty Media A or C series stock, since they'll be the beneficiaries and will be sure to extract value for shareholders. Sirius is at a good price today but does not have a lot of special situations or catalysts. Management will just keep doing smart things.
Cincinnati Bell (NYSE:CBB) -- The company is rapidly building out its high-speed capacity while the telecom market in Cincinnati is in flux due to a pending merger. The legacy wireline business continues to decline while the new investments are growing rapidly. As these new investments become a greater share of total revenue, watch to see if revenue continues to grow. Margins should dip in first-quarter 2015 before rebounding. If this can turn into a growth company again, and management dials back capital expenditures, the free cash flow will roll in. It still has a 44% interest in CyrusOne (NASDAQ:CONE), which has done phenomenally since being spun off in early 2013.
That's a complete review of my entire portfolio. Below you'll find my list of the most attractive stocks right now in rank order.
My Best Buys Now
1. NorthStar Asset Management (only owned via NRF1 options)
2. CareTrust REIT
3. TFS Financial
4. NorthStar Realty Finance
5. Hertz Global
If you want to continue to follow me, you can see my thoughts on more stocks on Twitter: @TMFRoyal. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you when Special Ops reopens to new members. Questions? Just drop me an email.