By Brad Lamensdorf, portfolio manager of SQZZ
The Active Alts Contrarian ETF (Nasdaq: SQZZ) is a first-of-its kind actively managed ETF that seeks capital appreciation by investing in companies with solid fundamentals that have significant short positions that we believe are subject to a short squeeze.
A good example to demonstrate how we use these criteria to go about our stock selection is BlackBerry (BB). As of December 15, it was our largest position, even though it was up over 50% since the beginning of the year. That climb was more than double the performance of the S&P 500. The best reason we have for holding onto the stock is our belief that the rebound is just getting started. Here’s why:
Currently, only a small group of savvy investors are paying attention to what we believe is a major turnaround at BB, under the leadership of new CEO and software heavyweight Jonathan Chen. He is best known for the phenomenal turnaround of Sybase, converting a “very, very dead company” into a $6 billion sale to SAP AG.
BB’s shares still have a significant 8.9% short interest. BlackBerry’s stock has suffered since 2008, when the superior features of its cell phone industry rivals, Apple (AAPL) and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) devastated its sales. But that was another BB.
Today’s BB is a leading cybersecurity software and services company with powerful cybersecurity products. These software products are forecast by the company to grow to 80% of revenue in the next fiscal year. BB, as shown below, has been recognized for its leading edge in security for self-driving cars where there is grave potential danger from hacking. Delphi Automotive is using BlackBerry cybersecurity technology for its automated driving technology. Ford Motor (F) and India’s giant Tata Motors (TTM) have also signed deals with BB. CEO Chen will be a key note speaker this January at the Detroit auto show, where he promises to unveil a BlackBerry product that “will help shape and secure the future of connected and self-driving cars.”
There’s good reason for the recognition of BB’s cybersecurity products. The highly respected Gartner Group recently rated BlackBerry number one against 14 well-known competitors (i.e. Samsung and IBM) for “high security mobile management” in the six areas it examined, including high security for government and commercial use as well as shared data and shared devices.
Another reason BlackBerry is a great fit for our portfolio is that it has no debt. In fact, it is sitting on $2 billion in cash, which can be used for strategic future acquisitions, according to Chen. Finally, an even more compelling reason for SQZZ to hold onto BlackBerry is that we believe many investors shorting this stock may be forced to close out their short positions by a short squeeze. A short squeeze is a situation in which a heavily shorted stock moves sharply higher, forcing even more short sellers to cover. Upward pressure on the stock may be triggered by a positive development that suggests the stock may be embarking on a turnaround.
BlackBerry is an old-fashioned company growth story
Because cybersecurity is one of the biggest threats facing governments, consumers and businesses, BlackBerry has an edge with its ahead-of-the-curve software and its secure, proprietary network. Beyond self-driving cars, companies serious about protecting their data, such as the Chinese retailing giant, Alibaba (BABA), which is bigger than Amazon or Walmart, are adopting BBM, the BlackBerry proprietary messenger software, to enable customers to buy online securely.
Telecoms also have adopted BBM Messenger
Large and small companies with cutting-edge technology are striking strategic relationships with BlackBerry to integrate its secure software to improve their own products’ safety and superiority. Telecom companies have empowered customers to use the BlackBerry proprietary messenger service on other devices. Pre-iPhone and Android, BBM was the dominant messaging service for governments and businesses around the globe. It then lost market share as consumers moved to other smart phones. The movement back to BBM is propelled by its security. BBM Messenger can be downloaded onto Android and iPhones, which makes it available to anybody, free of charge.
What makes BlackBerry so secure?
Messages and email sent via BlackBerry Enterprise Server are encrypted using an end-to-end protocol that is completely independent of the public certificate authority system. In contrast, hackers using legitimate certificates and phone system access can intercept mail sent to IOS and Android devices.
Solid and growing loyal customer base
BlackBerry says governments comprise 20% of its current customer base. They include government agencies in Canada, Australia and the United States. The State of Washington with funding from the Department of Homeland Security has a BBM custom-designed emergency response system. With the recent proliferation of data breaches (let’s not forget Equifax, the NSA, AOL), more businesses and governments appear to be gravitating to BlackBerry’s superior cybersecurity-backed products.
Solid fundamentals: cheap, no debt and a lot of cash for value investors
BlackBerry has a P/E ratio of only 10.78, which is way below the market—the current S&P 500 P/E ratio is 25. In the second quarter of BB’s fiscal year 2018, ended August 31, 2017, BlackBerry enjoyed a record gross margin of 76%, the highest it’s ever been. This should lead to a higher stock multiple going forward. Additionally, adjusted EBIDTA was $50 million in the second quarter of fiscal year 2018, making it the 14th consecutive quarter with positive cash flow. Thus, it appears BB is in a great position to propel growth by investing heavily in research and development, strategic acquisitions and marketing campaigns heralding its superior technology.
Disclosure: BlackBerry is the largest position in SQZZ with a holding of 5.13 percent of the portfolio, as of December 11, 2017 and is subject to change.
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The activity of short sellers covering their positions has the potential to add upward momentum to share price increases.
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Disclosure: I am/we are long BB.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.