I am happy to present to you a new type of Weekly: My first interview. As a stock investor and blogger myself, I am also interested in what my colleagues are thinking, saying or writing about different topics regarding stock investments.
My guest today is Oliver (wants to remain semi-anonymous). Oliver is the founder-operator of the substack “THE MODERN INVESTING NEWSLETTER” (see here). See also Oliver’s Twitter / X profile (see here).
There’s a reason I wanted to have this guest to answer my questions.
I have been following Oliver’s writings for quite a while via Twitter / X and as a subscriber to his newsletter.
What I like is Oliver’s soberly objective, unemotional writing. He is as far away from the typical mainstream ideas as you can think of. On the hunt for dramatically misprized securities, Oliver is not shy to tap into markets, sectors and also sub-sectors where others keep distance. Sub-average returns is not what he’s pointing at.
With this short intro, let’s dive in.
Since I have started this blog and my memberships, the average total return of all my ideas is +10.2%, comfortably beating the S&P500 and the iShares MSCI World ETF.
as per 25 October 2023 market close
If you struggle to find high-quality investment ideas that are not already “priced for perfection”, consider becoming a Premium or Premium PLUS Member, to receive my exclusive research reports with my best and market-beating stock ideas.
Interview with Oliver from “the modern investing newsletter”
Alan: Hey Oliver. Happy to have you as a special guest on my blog. You’re actually the first like-minded investor with whom I am doing an interview, published in my free Weeklies. Beides having both our roots in Poland (and living in Germany, thus being able to communicate in three languages with each other), we are also sharing other commonalities.
We are both rather skeptical about the carelessness many publicly commenting investors show (Twitter / X, YouTube, etc.), despite having now a totally different investment environment, compared to the last 40 years when the cost of debt under fluctuations was getting cheaper. We’ll expand on this soon.
Let’s first start with an introduction. Tell us a bit about you and your work.
Oliver: Thanks for having me on! My name is Oliver, I’m the person behind Modern Investing, a newsletter focused on investing into deeply undervalued businesses. Thanks to my polish roots I’m especially active in the polish equity space.
Alan: How did you start investing in stocks? What was your motivation and has anybody in your family invested in stocks before you?
Oliver: I started investing around four years ago (January 2020) and the first thing that happened was the Covid crash in 2020. My portfolio was massively underwater, but I didn’t lose hope. Instead I wanted to buy more of my existing positions (at the time Alphabet, Amazon, Stryker, etc.) to profit from the run up that would follow. Sadly I didn’t have much cash, therefore I was unable to buy as much as I wished.
My family has never really invested into stocks, but one of my relatives lost quite a bit of money when the German Telekom stock (ISIN: DE0005557508, Ticker: DTE) collapsed in 2000. Hence, the negative opinion about stocks.
Alan: Please, name one or two investors you look up to.
Oliver: I look up to investors such as Stanley Druckenmiller for his precise macro forecasts and his incredible track record (30% p.a for 30 years). Sir John Tempelton is another investor I’m looking up to. Thanks to his discipline, he was able to buy deeply discounted stocks at the beginning of WW2 when they were incredibly cheap. He has also been a true value investor who invested into South Korea, Japan, etc. in the 1970s!
Alan: As I am personally a firm believer in learning by doing and especially by doing mistakes: What were your biggest mistakes that were true eye-openers for you? What did you learn and how did it improve your investing?
Oliver: My biggest mistake has been to buy stocks above their intrinsic value.
A good example was the stock of Alibaba (ISIN: US01609W1027, Ticker: BABA) in 2021. I knew that there was political risk and that the valuation was high. But when I compared them to the valuation of Amazon (ISIN: US0231351067, Ticker: AMZN) at the time, they looked relatively cheap. The stock dropped significantly and I added a bit when it went lower.
The lessons I learned are firstly, that you should never underestimate political risk. And secondly that you should buy stocks when they are cheap both absolutely and respectively compared to peers.
Alan: What’s your greatest weakness still that you’d like to improve?
Oliver: My greatest weakness is probably overthinking when I found a great stock.
An example is Duratec (ISIN: AU0000109159, Ticker: DUR). I saw the stock at 80 cents and directly knew that this was a fantastic opportunity. But when the stock moved up to 85 cents I said to myself: “wait until it gets to 80 cents again”. I simply didn’t want to pay 5 cents more then just a few days prior. Well, the stock went up to 1.30 AUD and I still haven’t bought, yet.
So I would call this weakness: Trying to buy the exact low.
Alan: How would you describe your investment style without using the words “value investor”?
Oliver: I would describe my investment style as: “The 3 pillar approach“. I want a portfolio that is composed of stocks that:
- Operate in an industry that is in my opinion going to grow.
- Are trading at a large discount to their fair value.
- Create shareholder value, either through NAV (net asset value) growth, buybacks or dividends.
Alan: What are your investment goals?
Oliver: The reason I invest my money is freedom. I want to create enough wealth, to be able to not to have to give a f**k about politics, inflation, etc. Beeing financially free is my number one goal, which I want to accomplish by investing a large part of my money at high rates of return. I am young and therefore have obviously a different risk tolerance compared to people who are in their 60s.
Alan: What is your understanding of risk when investing?
Oliver: Well, many people would claim that my investments into Petrobras (ISIN: BRPETRACNOR9, Ticker: PBR) and Vår Energi (ISIN: NO0011202772, Ticker: VAR) have had very high risk, because their stocks are very volatile. But my personal understanding of risk is the following. Volatility ≠ Risk!
I always ask myself how confident I am with my prediction and what even in a conservative case could happen to my holding. Knowing what you don’t know is much more important then knowing what you know. I size my stocks in the portfolio based on risk/reward and confidence.
Alan: I find it very interesting that stock markets have risen by 7–8% p.a. historically over the cycles – how come 80% of common Joes don’t make any money with stocks?
Oliver: This is an excellent question, so allow me to spend a bit more time on it. In my opinion the number one reason most people lose money is because they surround themselves with people who have no investing experience. But they still listen to them. Don’t get me wrong, in a lot of situations in personal life you should listen to your friends, your family, etc. But not in investing!
Comments such as: “If it was such easy why has … (some relative) lost money with this evil thing called stock market ?“ always create additional questions in your head, that will likely get you unfocused and as a result you will lose money.
Another reason why most people lose money, is human nature. Humans are not designed to think really long trem. We can’t think exponentially. As Albert Einstein called it: “Coumpounding is the 8th wonder of the world“.
Lastly, many people follow others blindly into a stock, but don’t do their own homework. I recently heard the quote: “Borrowed money is better than borrowed conviction“. And I have to agree, if you borrow conviction and the stock moves into the wrong direction, which will at some point happen, then you will panic.
I think that these are the most important reasons 80% of investors lose money and most people aren’t able to outperform the market.
Alan: Let’s talk about the current environment. The S&P500 currently has lost just 10% since the highs in early August 2023 (we’re in late-October 2023), but sentiment is already like we were in a deep bear market. Volatility has also jumped by more than 50%.
How are you positioned and how do you make sure not to be directed by emotions?
Oliver: I am heavily positioned into oil, gas & generally commodities, because I can see that there is significant underinvestment in these sectors, while demand will continue to grow. Based on all the geopolitical tensions right now (Israel vs. Iran and Russia vs. Ukraine), I see the risk of NOT investing into commodities higher than investing into them!
Regarding emotions, I try to cut out the noise of the market and only focus on the fundamental developments of a company. And while this is difficult sometimes, when I look at the track record of someone like Charlie Munger, I see that he was down by 54% from 1972-1973 and still has beaten the markets by miles.
So sometimes it’s good to just get a few weeks away from the PC and don’t read anything remotely related to investing.
Alan: What’s your take on reading posts and comments like “the greatest generational buying opportunity” or “I am buying the dip aggressively” – I am talking about mainstream stocks like Coca-Cola (ISIN: US1912161007, Ticker: KO), 3M (ISIN: US88579Y1010, Ticker: MMM), Verizon (ISIN: US92343V1044, Ticker: VZ), etc.?
Juicy dividends or reckless ignorance?
Oliver: In the context of “dividend“ stocks like Coca Cola, 3M, Verizon, etc., the words “generational buying opportunity“ are absolutely an overstatement.
The problem is that most of the dividend champions have been great in the past, but due to rising interest rates, de-globalization and inflation, many of these companies are just not growing anymore. And if they do, then at very low rates, that barely keep up with inflation.
Further, most of these stocks are tracked by several analysts and retail investors. Therefore, they are often richly priced and offer no margin of safety whatsoever. My take is that too many investors are backward looking, while they ignore the future.
This can create interesting opportunities, but can also be very dangerous for many stocks. Just a look at 3M that shows that nothing lasts forever. Many companies that are described as high quality are often garbage.
Alan: What do higher interest rates mean in practice? Do you think the ramifications are understood by the broader masses?
Oliver: No! Most market participants are still living in their QE bubble, in which central banks always come to rescue everyone in the crisis by printing trillion of dollars and cutting interest rates to zero. It’s simple, higher interest rates lead to lower valuations of financial assets. But even in this case, there are opportunities. Maybe not in the US, but the globe is quite big.
Alan: Do you prefer a concentrated portfolio (if so, how many positions circa?) or ETF-like compositions?
Oliver: I prefer a concentrated portfolio compared to a highly diversified one. I’m talking about 8–12 positions. The main reason for this is that I have a few positions that I know in and out. Therefore, I will be much quicker to adapt to changes.
Further, several studies have shown that after around 15 positions, there is not much reduction in risk compared to a portfolio of just 15 stocks.
Alan: Which three stocks are your favorites currently and why? How much potential do you see?
Oliver: My 3 favorite stocks are currently:
- Odfjell Technology (ISIN: BMG6716L1081, Ticker: OTL): They are a Norwegian company that was spun of from the famous Norwegian company Odfjell. OTL is a company that specializes in services in the oil & gas industry. With 60% insider ownership, a backlog that is 5.5x it’s current market cap and a 20% free cash flow yield, the stock is trading way to low given the strong market environment for years to come.
The company has a ROE of around 30% and currently pays a dividend of 5%. We don’t have to build complicated DCFs in this case, since the stocks is cheap and the company is of high quality. (Deep dive in the MODERN INVESTING NEWSLETTER will be published not far from now).
- Vår Energi (ISIN: NO0011202772, Ticker: VAR): Vår is another Norwegian stock. The company is producing oil & gas. They were spun off from Eni (ISIN: IT0003132476, Ticker: ENI) and currently produce around 206k boe/d (barrels of oil equivalent per day).
Norway has very good characteristics for oil & gas companies such as VAR. The breakeven costs are low (30-40 USD boe) and the CO2 intensity is low as well (potential global CO2 tax!). At 2x P/CFFO (cash flow from operations) after tax, the stock is deeply undervalued and the dividend of currently 15% provides a nice additional return.
Through the acquisition of Neptune Energy and organic growth, Vår will increase its production by 100% till 2025. It is worth noting that the CEO bought shares worth ~1 million USD, when the stock dropped by 7% in a day, recently.
- North American Construction Group (ISIN: CA6568111067, Ticker: NOA): The company provides services to the mining and energy industry in North America and Australia. Thanks to its outstanding management team, NOA completes projects that provide higher margins than normally.
With a ROE of ~15%, the company will grow quickly over the coming years. Further, NOA was able to shift services and maintenance for their equipment in-house. This has increased margins and created structural advantages. Due to the acquisition of McKeller in Australia, NOA will trade at a FCF Yield of ~ 33% by 2024.
I view all three of these stocks above as exceptionally undervalued and stocks like North American Construction or Odfjell Technology provide a way to invest into commodities with less volatility risk.
Alan: Which books are must-reads for serious investors?
Oliver: The best book for starters is probably “One up on Wall Street” by Peter Lynch. There is not much more to say about this book. It’s just great!
For people who are already more experienced, I would say that books about strategy and psychology are more interesting. Because if you read what everyone else reads, you will think like everyone else. I also love the book “The Dhando Investor” by Monish Pabrai.
Alan: Please answer to the following words with just the first few words that come to your mind:
- Fundamental analysis
- Energy stocks
- High dividend yields
- Fundamental Analysis – essential for every analysis
- Energy stocks – deeply undervalued because of incompetence of politicians
- High dividends yields – often misleading, but sometimes a sign of the bottom
Alan: Tell us a bit about your own work, how and why did you start your own blog?
Oliver: I started THE MODERN INVESTING NEWSLETTER around seven months ago, to share my ideas with the world. I have received great feedback (one newsletter every week). In addition, I write down my investment theses in-depth. And in a few days from now, I will share a macro research report together with another great investor, who is successful on Twitter (X) and Substack. Stay tuned …
Alan: Thanks a lot, Oliver, for your time and this interview. It was very insightful to hear / read the thoughts of another investor and colleague. All the best to you!
Oliver: Thank you, All the best to you and your readers, too.
Subscribe for FREE to THE MODERN INVESTING NEWSLETTER (see here), to never miss new research reports. Everything is FREE and you are welcome to join the community.
On Twitter (X), Oliver’s name is MODERN-INVESTING @Secrets4stocks (see here).
It was a very insightful Q&A with Oliver. Thank you!
By becoming a Premium or Premium PLUS Member, you get instant access to all my already published research reports as well as several updates.
Likewise, you qualify for eight, respectively three more exclusive reports with my best investment ideas plus updates on the featured businesses over the next twelve months.
Premium PLUS Members also get access to all Premium publications.