It seems that everyone has a blog these days. Once a year, we must stop everything, tally up the scores and see who got it right. Besides, what’s the point of going through all this effort, if you cannot point to the scoreboard, and flaunt it a bit. With that preamble out of the way, let’s dive into the 2023 position review.
Historically, the year-end position review has focused on individual stock tickers, but as noted in the 2022 review, I’ve been writing less about individual tickers and more about themes on these pages. This is partly due to compliance (yeah, everything fun is somehow banned) and partly because themes are usually far more interesting than individual stocks anyway.
Ok, let’s get on with it…
To start with, 2023 was a frustrating year. As an inflection investor, I hope that I’ll have years where my themes just keep trending, and the performance number is impressive—but I know I’ll also have years where the numbers are sort of depressing. I’d say that 2023 came out mid-way between these extremes—effectively a mundane year. This is unusually frustrating as many of my trends (actually) worked quite well from a fundamental standpoint. Regrettably, my stocks refused to respond. That said, 2023 was the year when you either owned MAG7 or you didn’t. Excluding a few quick trades, I wasn’t long MAG7, and was selectively short a few of them at times (unfortunately…).
Oil and Oil Related Positions
Let’s start with the one I got wrong, oil. My conviction that oil would go into the triple digits held back my portfolio all year. I did a lot of fundamental work on this theme, re-did my assumptions a bunch of times, but in the end, I simply got the price of oil wrong.
Fortunately, this didn’t cost me much. That’s because most of my energy positions performed quite well, excluding my 2025 futures calls (still got 2 years left for them to play out), my Brent Oil ETF (BNO – USA) and short-dated futures and options, which I sold for a small loss, and a small-cap energy producer which I have continued to add to as it has leaked lower. Offsetting this, the demand for energy services was quite strong, with particular strength in the demand for offshore equipment. Fortunately, these other positions have more than offset the losses from my direct oil exposures.
I’ve publicly spoken about Tidewater (TDW – USA) and Valaris (VAL – USA) on multiple occasions. They exited the year with some of the best backlogs and contract rates they’ve seen in almost a decade. 2024 is the year when these backlogs should convert to dramatically increased cash flow, and hopefully lead to a re-rating of their share prices. I’ve added to both positions repeatedly on pullbacks throughout the year, especially as the shares have been somewhat moribund. Additionally, I’ve had a number of other energy related positions that mostly did decently well-despite the price of oil.
I’d like to point out the share-price performance in my energy basket, as it has once again proven that if you’re a disciplined inflection investor, you can position yourself to have multi-bagger upside if you get the thesis right, while hopefully not losing much, or even make a bit if you get the thesis wrong. Hence why I believe that the strategy is so powerful. Frequently, a failed investment, is simply a question of tying up capital and opportunity costs, as opposed to large losses. However, in the case of oil, I still think that oil prices are headed higher over the next few years, and that these positions should prosper if this happens.
Fortunately, my much larger uranium bet turned out far better than my oil bet. After two years of waiting, uranium prices finally began to run as mobile stockpiles were consumed and utilities were forced into the spot market for material. If you’ve followed this site for any length of time, you’d know that uranium is my favorite idea in many years. Despite the price of uranium having roughly tripled from when I first purchased Sprott Physical Uranium Trust (U-U – Canada), I still think this is the most attractive idea on my books—it also feels like the most immediate, as the increase in price must be scaring utilities into securing pounds.
My third largest exposure was my position in St. Joe (JOE – USA). During the year, the shares appreciated nicely, but once again lagged behind the revenue growth in many of the business verticals. Despite some appreciation, I believe that the shares still trade at a substantial discount to NAV. In the end, there’s a massive wave of wealthy refugees, fleeing from blue cities, and unless DeSantis builds a wall, a healthy share of them will end up settling in the Panhandle. This should continue to increase the value of JOE’s assets for years to come.
Moving onto other themes that showed up on this site, I clearly bungled my Argentina trade. While I nailed the call, my dismount was less than ideal, as I sold after the first round of Presidential elections, right before Milei won a substantial victory in the second round. While I realized a small gain, I missed out on a much larger gain, along with a free look at how this all plays out over the next few years. For the sake of Argentina, I hope that Milei perseveres and eradicates socialism, but unfortunately, I’m not the sort to pay up after exiting a trade, and someone else will have to earn my returns.
I was bearish on bonds all year long. They experienced a rout during the fall but have recovered since. I remain of the view that the 10-year bond will see a 6% handle during 2024 and think that this recent bounce is ridiculous. When bonds begin to leak again, so will equities. However, I didn’t play bonds and simply watched them as a guidepost for how equities would perform. I am convinced that the collapse of the bond market is likely to be the overriding theme for the rest of this decade.
Otherwise, 2023 was an unusually quiet year for me. Overall, my blog post on February 1st, summed up my approach to this year. Outside of uranium, offshore energy services, JOE and a few other scattered themes, I think that it’s best to do less when I just don’t know…
Finally, it wouldn’t be a “fair and balanced” scoreboard, if I didn’t include some legacy positions that were not previously closed out in the 2022 Position Review.
LEE Enterprises (LEE – USA)
I’ve taken a beating in this one. I clearly did not expect for the print business to decline as rapidly as it has, though this has been offset by continued and rapid growth in the digital business. The net result unfortunately has been negligible cash flow to pay down debt. I remain hopeful that the cash flow will inflect higher as the digital business continues to grow, but to date, this has not panned out as I had hoped it would.
Russian Positions (RSX – USA and others)
Unless you’ve been incarcerated in a Russian gulag, you likely know that my Russian equity positions are frozen, valued at zero and remain in the side pocket that was established April 1 of 2022. This is frustrating as, based on Russian open market prices, I have large unrealized gains on some of them. That said, I don’t know when or if I will ever see those gains. For some reason, the US government believes that it’s in our national interest if my clients do not get their Russian dividends, despite the Russian Government repeatedly trying to ensure that I get those dividends. It’s a head scratcher, but I assume that Biden is playing 8-level chess here, because otherwise this makes no sense to those of us without dementia. In any case, I will likely report to you once again next year, that my Russian positions are frozen, that my dividends have continued to accrue and that I cannot do anything about this. One day, I believe I’ll have a liquidity event. Until then, my shares remain in the gulag.
In conclusion, 2023 was a frustrating year. Fortunately, uranium made up for a lot of positions that didn’t really go anywhere. For most of the year, I kept exposure at subdued levels, awaiting an easy pitch that never seemed to arrive. In finance, it’s hardest to do nothing. In 2023, I focused my energies on farming and surfing, to ensure that my mind was active, while my portfolio stayed inert.
Hopefully, 2024 sees some pin action. After two rather dull years, I’m ready for some action. It feels like something ought to happen, yet it never does—until it does.
I want to wish all of you a successful 2024.
I’m off to Spain, see you all in 2024.