The Scuttlebutt method of investing is fathered by the legendary investor Phil Fisher. Fisher is likely most known for his bestselling book Common Stocks & Uncommon Profits.
Scuttlebutt investing, as the name indicates, begins with a story or some other anecdotal data point, that triggers interest. It might be a product you love, a competitor you hate because of her competence.
How to Practice the Scuttlebutt Method
This is just the starting point, though. You have a hunch. You might be on to something, but what’s the next step? Do you check the performance of the stock price, do you download the financial statements and start crunching numbers?
If you are a Scuttlebutt Investor, your research would be very hands-on. You might visit retail locations or even manufacturing facilities. You would get feedback from customers, resellers or even competitors. You would try to understand the competitive dynamics of the market, performing the Silver Bullet Test on the people you would talk to.
Following up with Fundamental Research
The Scuttlebutt Method is great to validate investment ideas and building an intuitive understanding of the operational and brand-related qualities of a potential investment. Nonetheless, once you have strengthened your conviction about a certain stock, what you want to do is to cross-validate your finding with a fundamental analysis of the financial statements of the company.
This will give you a clearer picture of the business model and allows you to compare your scuttlebutt data points with the overall financial and valuation picture.
The whole point of fundamental research or value investing or whatever you want to call it is to get an edge by looking a little deeper than others are looking. This is why you won’t get very far by using stock screeners.
Previously, the management had stated that they were trying to sell the online retail business but so far nothing has materialized. During our research phase we noticed that during the last quarter, consulting fees on the corporate level had increased significantly. By corporate level, we mean not connected to the operations of the online retail business nor the blockchain ventures.
Overstock engaged Guggenheim in 2018 to explore strategic options for the retail business and find possible buyers. If the consulting expenses are mostly in the “Other” business segment and neither in the retail operations nor the tZero operations, it is plausible that Overstock is already in advance negotiations with potential buyers through Guggenheim.
What that indicated to us, was that there was a possibility that Overstock was already working with Guggenheim Securities, the company that Overstock employed to find buyers, on advanced negotiations with possible buyers. These kinds of transactions usually require heavy due diligence, so it would be quite plausible that costs would ramp up like this.
Two Potential Acquirers
A week after we published, Patrick Byrne, Chairman and CEO of Overstock said in an interview with CNN that the company was in negotiations with two potential acquirers. It remains to be seen if anything materializes from this, but it goes to show that sometimes the fundamental facts are buried in the footnotes.
For a high growth company, selling equity can be very expensive. Why?
If a company is growing its profits by 100% annually, it will have grown its profit by a multiple of x32 by the end of year 5 (a 3,200% increase).
Accordingly, if the management of that company decided to raise equity at the beginning of year 1, they would need to sell at an earnings multiple of 320x the current year’s profit to sell at a 10x multiple of profits in year 5.
Not many venture companies manage to do that and are forced to raise capital at lower multiples. If their growth projections then become reality, the equity raise will turn out to have been very expensive for the sellers.
Enter Mezzanine Financing
Mezzanine capital is hybrid financing that consists of both debt and equity exposure, which gives the lender the right to convert to an equity interest in the company at a predetermined exchange rate. Because the investor is entering with debt, his downside is better protected. As such, the investor is also willing to sacrifice his exposure to the upside.
Mezzanine financing can be a useful tool for many high growth companies in order to fuel growth at a relatively low cost of capital. Mezzanine finance specialists work with owners to design custom funding packages that aim to lower the cost of capital and mitigate excessive dilution for founders.