– By Graham Griffin
GuruFocus had the pleasure of hosting a presentation with Benj Gallander, the co-editor of the Contra the Heard Investment Letter, which has amongst the highest returns in the world at 18.1% annualized over the past 20 years.
He is the author of three best-selling books, two in the stock market sector and The Canadian Small Business Survival Guide, which was first published in 1988 and is still in the stores today. There are also American, Chinese and Czech editions of this work.
He was a regular on BNN – Bloomberg's number one show for almost 20 years. In addition, he appeared every couple of weeks on CBC's On the Money with Peter Armstrong, talking about topics as diverse as marijuana, crypto currencies, AI and many others until, ironically, the show ran out of money. Benj is also on the Boards of Datametrex AI (TSXV:DM) and Char Technologies (TSXV:YES).
Six of his plays have seen the stage across Canada. He is a co-founder of one of Canada's largest performance festivals, SummerWorks, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Gallander has traveled to over 35 countries, working in many of them. This included a stint with the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI) doing anti-poverty work in Nepal; teaching in Czechoslovakia soon after the Velvet Revolution and working in the Middle East and France.
Watch the full presentation here.
Gallander kicked off his presentation by diving into the governing philosophies that he follows alongside his small team at Contra. He explained that he believes they are all deep value investors and take a focus on stocks that are undervalued and unpopular.
He continued to explain that his screens start with stocks that are trading down 33%, if not 50% in many cases, and are usually approaching 10-year lows. At times, such as during the beginning of the pandemic last year, this strategy applies to the overall market when things have been driven down. This creates an ideal opportunity for great returns.
Within his own portfolio, Gallander focuses on stocks that have been around for at least 10 years. These well-established companies offer long-term financial statements and he generally avoids anything new to the market. For any of these companies to make it past the first round of his screen they must have the potential for a 50% upside, but Gallander continued to explain that he is regularly looking at businesses that can increase 200% to 300%.
Gallander also takes into account the ability of management to actually deliver on their stated goals. He does this by trying to keep an open line of communication with the leadership teams of the businesses he invests in. If at times a company continually provides a positive outlook, he will generally discount the management's statements.
Another key point Gallander made during his presentation was the practice of establishing firm sell targets. Once an investment reaches that target, he will sell a minimum of 50% of the holding and he regularly sells entirely out of holdings. This practice allows him to wade through the noise of the 24 hour news cycle and maintain a level head while avoiding selling holdings too early.
Gallander used three different stocks to emphasize a few points of philosophy on investing. The first example he spent some time on was Banco Santander SA (NYSE:SAN). He explained that the bank is the largest in Spain and has operations in several other countries around the globe. He described it being run "beautifully" as the bank had not lost any money prior to this year despite its operations going back two centuries.
The second example Gallander to a brief look at was Gold Resource Corp. (AMEX:GORO). He started off saying that he wishes that he owned more gold companies but that Gold Resource Corp. is a well run company and a solid investment. The company has absolutely no debt and gold offers several unique opportunities moving into the future.
The last example Gallander described as a play on oil and gas. Black Diamond Group (TSX:BDI) has a high level of insider ownership and Gallander continued to explain that the company has been expanding and he could see share prices rise significantly. He admits the company has a high level of debt that he would like to see come down, but that he sees a good amount of upside.
Gallander made sure to leave ample time for audience questions and the first question he took asked him how much cash or liquidity he keeps in the portfolio he manages. He began with a quick explanation that the portfolio run by Contra's vice president currently has about 50% of its value in cash.
In his own portfolio they do not include cash in the overall value, but he continued to say that he always maintains lots of cash on the sidelines. Currently, he wishes that he had more of that money invested into stocks. However, at the beginning of the year he sold off many different holdings as those investments had seen tremendous gains.
Gallander also explained that he has been slow to invest money over the last year as many potential investments have maintained high share prices. He is reasonably confident that there will be a crash of some sort moving into the future so he has plenty of money ready to be invested should that time arise.
Another question asked Gallander how he decides to exit a position should he see it take a negative turn. He explained that he constantly monitors all of his investments so that he knows what is going on with them and if he needs to make a change. At times he is willing to accept tax losses and he continued to explain that he likes to do the majority of his buying at the end of the year when others are doing tax loss sell offs.
During these times he sees increased numbers of shares trading which in turn allows him to buy companies at a lower price. Gallander also added that he will average down at times, but that he believes stop-losses are a waste as he has watched companies fall below common stop-loss percentages before rising back up. In the end he believes that an investor should focus on having more money in their pocket that can be invested so every investor has to play the tax game at times.
Disclosure: Author owns no stocks mentioned.
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This article first appeared on GuruFocus.