My Top 5 Best and Worst Investments

The world of social media is one of glitter and glamor. Everyone shows their portfolio returns when they are positive, and seems to shun them when they are negative.

Nothing is new to human nature in this regard. Success sells. I mean, who is going to follow someone who makes bad investment decisions over and over again?

That is where I like to be different. With this post I am going to show you all investments I every made in my brokerage account and the relative return I got from each of them.

Why? Because I think we can both learn from past successes and failures. You can see the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned so that you can put my current investment decisions into the right perspective. Let’s dive in.

DISCLAIMER

THE INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INVESTMENT ADVICE AND DOES NOT RELATE TO YOUR PERSONAL FINANCIAL SITUATION, YOUR KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE, YOUR INVESTMENT PLANNING, INVESTMENT GOALS AND INVESTMENT HORIZON, AND YOUR RISK PROFILE AND RISK TOLERANCE. THEREFORE, WHEN MAKING FINANCIAL DECISIONS, PLEASE CONTACT A FINANCIAL ADVISOR AND DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. THIS BLOG IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN INVESTMENT DECISIONS.

The BeursWolf Universe

The chart below is at the centre of this post. I collected all the data from my brokerage account and lined it up with each stock. The return includes transaction costs, dividends, and the result I got from trading options in a stock.

The green stocks are currently still in my portfolio. The red stocks are not in my portfolio anymore. The result of the green stocks is therefore measured by the current stock prices.

Some of the current holdings moved so little that I could not change the color, so please forgive me for that. However, their price moves are yet to come, so they might better be saved for a later post anyways.

Of course it is a little subjective as to which of these investments are good or bad, since the result of an investment decision does not make it a good or bad decision. The outcome only makes it look that way through our knowledge in hindsight. The key question is whether the investments with the worst outcome are actually the worst, and whether the investments with the best outcome are actually the best.

As a last remark, there are some ETFs in here of which I could not easily find the right ticker symbol. For these I used a made-up ticker symbol. Likewise, I use the tickers $GLD and $SLV for my gold and silver exchange traded notes, respectively.

So here it is, the full list of all securities I owned:

In case you want to specifically know why I once bought, held, or sold a specific stock on the list, please ask in the comments so I can answer that question specifically for you. Right now I will dive into the five stocks with the best and worst returns.

“We can turn our failures into successes simply by learning from them and we can turn our successes into failures simply by taking them for granted”

BeursWolf

The Top 5

The stocks that are on top are Tesla ($TSLA), Flow Traders ($FLOW.AS), Signify ($LIGHT.AS), Suez ($SEV.PA) and Publicis Groupe ($PUB.PA).

1: Tesla

Tesla is my first true successful investment. Of course a lot of successful stocks preceded Tesla, but a stock giving me returns of this magnitude was completely unique and new for me at the time.

I knew Tesla’s products very well from quite early on. As a result I have been following the stock since 2017. I purchased and sold my first shares in 2018 in a true swing trading manner, as I found a pattern in the good news – bad news cycle around the company.

When the stock tanked in 2019 I decided to expand my knowledge of the company and do a true fundamental analysis. I built a discounted free cash flow model where I only included the auto business and excluded energy and anything else that was surrounded with high uncertainty.

Through this exercise I found out, using quite a high required rate of return, that the price was right. Doing a lot of further research into the stock showed their operations were improving as well, further supporting the bull case and my model.

During 2019 I bought more and more shares, until the stock went past $300. My fair value was around $260 at the time, so everything above $300 was expensive in my opinion. Then, when the Q3 numbers came around and the stock went up to over $500 I started to take more profits.

My model could not justify these prices, even when including an optimistic case for the energy business. The highest price I could justify was around $560 per share (but then I would even have to lower my required return). I sold my last share at $880, thinking never to revisit the stock again.

Then, when covid-19 hit the markets, Tesla plummeted along with it. At $450 I decided to buy another share, as I always wanted to hold on to at least one share in the long term (after all, enough profits were made to justify holding on to one). Yet again, as the stock rose above $1,000 I could not convince myself to continue to hold it and I ended up also selling this last share.

In hindsight, this was a great journey and one that was supported by analyses and data. However, the continued price surge made me miss out on another 100% return on the last stock I owned, so did I actually do right by selling it? Personally, I would like to think I rightfully did so, as the hype and not the fundamentals caused the stock to go to these levels, decreasing the odds for further future returns.

Read my take on Tesla and the hype premium right here.

2: Flow Traders

At the end of 2019, as the Tesla investment went incredibly well, I stumbled across Flow Traders. This stock interested me a lot because many Dutch analysts recommended it, while the stock was trending downwards. I decided to take a closer look.

When reading forums, annual reports and information on the company in general, I found out that they actually had a great position in a very large and growing market: the market for exchange traded products (ETPs).

In 2020 I wanted to allocate more money to exchange traded funds (ETFs) myself. However, I felt the market was quite overvalued (already at that time) so it didn’t feel as a good moment to fully step in. Since Flow Traders performs well in times of uncertainty and high volatility I decided to add it to the portfolio as a counterbalance (a hedge if you will) to my ETF holdings.

At the start of 2020 I allocated even more money to my position in Flow Traders, since I saw many risk factors in the market that could drive up volatility. Even when the market dropped in March, Flow Traders was not moving up that much, which made me believe this was a unique buying opportunity. I still remember being on holiday and pressing the buy orders at lunch over and over again as the market continued to crash. My conviction was complete when a video circulated on Twitter, showing employees sleeping in the office just so they would not get infected with covid-19 and could continue their trading activities.

Right now Flow Traders is still a large part of my portfolio and the returns are still high even though the stock is trading around 22% below its highest point this year. The reason why I am still holding on is because my investment case has not changed and the stock is still fairly valued (but not as much undervalued as it was in March). Therefore I still see this investment as both one with a good reasoning and a good outcome.

Read my take on Flow Traders right here.

3: Signify

After the market crash in March I wanted to dive more and more into the depths of the stock market because I sensed opportunities in stocks that were unjustly punished. I built a high level analysis sheet of many stock markets: the complete Dutch stock exchange (including all stocks outside of the main AEX index), the French CAC, the German DAX, the Japanese Nikkei and the S&P 500.

This analysis included all data to calculate the three year average enterprise value to free cash flow ratio for all stocks in this sample. Using a custom required return based on simple growth metrics I screened the stocks that looked most promising. Through this model I stumbled on many hidden gems with good fundamentals. After a small check-up on the financials and the underlying business of the company I decided to pull the trigger.

One of these stocks was Signify. Not many people know it by name, but many people secretly do know it as it is the former lighting division of Philips ($PHIA.AS). Based on Yahoo Finance it had a three year average free cash flow of €373 Million. The market capitalization at the time was just over €2 Billion. The net debt information on Yahoo Finance was not completely correct, so I am (and was) a little optimistic with this take. However, the debt load was not big enough to convince me to stay away from the stock as I also reasoned that people would still need light in their homes (even more when they had to stay inside their homes).

The stock is currently approaching a level where I think it is fairly valued for the long term. I still want to hold on to it as it is in my current opinion not overvalued, and there might still be some upside when the company decides to pay out a dividend again. My game plan with Signify is to do a much deeper analysis on the stock in order to make the right decision going forward. This analysis will be featured on this blog soon.

4: Suez

Suez is one of the investments that just had a sooner than expected happy ending. When the market was steadily recovering from the covid-19 crash I decided I wanted to buy stocks of which I was sure I could hold on to them for at least the next five years, while I could still expect an above average return. As you can see, I do not hold my Suez position anymore, so what happened here?

Put simply, my Suez position was built on a climate change investment case, where I was looking for companies that would benefit from all trends and needs that were sparked and accelerated by climate change. Suez was a very efficient global leader in waste treatment and one of the best innovators in the water space with a great deal of experience in desalination plants. The price was also right in my opinion, so they perfectly fit the picture.

Only a few months after I built my full position in Suez, their main French competitor Veolia ($VIE.PA) decided they wanted to start a hostile take-over for a premium of over 50% of Suez’s share price at the time. As this price was even above my own price target and the covid-19 crisis was not over yet (not even talking about the upcoming struggles that I saw between the management of both companies and the French government) I decided to take the profits and run. So far this seems to have been the right decision, as Suez’s stock price did not really go anywhere from there, and Veolia’s (which I sold at the same time) stock price only went down from where they were back then.

So also in this case, even though I could have done a more in-depth analysis on the company itself, I think my reasoning was solid and so both the process and the outcome were pretty decent.

5: Publicis Groupe

Publicis was one of the companies that I found through the same exercise that led me to Signify. However, this was one that just looked too good to be true. Yet again, it seemed like Yahoo Finance did not get the net debt number right. Still, my valuation was about 3.5x higher than the market capitalization at the time. The dividend yield (I believe of over 7% back then) was also a red flag. It was a true puzzle for me when I looked at it as I also did not really know the company to begin with.

The company still fascinates me. They basically build (digital) marketing campaigns and provide PR services. Many people seem to expect this business has no future beyond Mad Men (explaining the low stock price). A peer analysis I did before buying into the company showed that the entire industry, with other listed firms such as WPP ($WPP.L), is unloved by investors. Yet, I do see a future for this industry. With a scattered media landscape where stories around a business can suddenly go viral, a true specialist in storytelling and framing reality through communications may be more valuable than people think. To my surprise, when listening to one of my audiobooks on this matter (Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality by Hector Macdonald), Publicis was even mentioned by name.

A full analysis is still on my to do list and I also still want to pinpoint the investment case around this stock (where I may also see a place for Facebook ($FB) in my portfolio). I find it therefore still very hard to say whether this was a good or bad decision. So far, the outcome has nevertheless been very welcome.

The Bottom 5

Where there is success, there are likely also failures. The biggest losers in my investment history are Gazprom ($GAZ.DE), Unibail-Rodamco Westfield ($URW.AS), Nikon ($NKN.F), BAM Groep ($BAMNB.AS) and an iShares S&P 500 ETF.

Gazprom

The stock that lost me the most of money is the only one where I can most definitely say that I did not fully understand the ecosystem of the company I invested in. Still, market conditions can become very favorable for Gazprom, but I refuse to step back into it.

What is in favor of Gazprom’s future? They have the largest natural gas resources, with connections to both Europe and Asia. Europe is ending its internal natural gas extraction projects, increasing the demand for imported natural gas. Because of Gazprom’s pipeline network into both Europe and Asia, producers from other areas such as North America and the Middle East can hardly become truly competitive.

However, something I overlooked is that the price of natural gas is heavily tied to the oil price, and that natural gas will only truly be used when demand for electricity increases. In the fall and winter of 2019/2020 temperatures stayed relatively modest, while the market was flooded with natural gas and LNG from all sides, which depressed the demand and price of natural gas to the point where it was one of the worst performing commodities of the year. Then with the pandemic and the subsequent drop in the oil price, Gazprom’s stock price was taken down just as hard, even though their actual involvement in oil is relatively small.

When this all took place, I realized I bought a company with a good future, good fundamentals and a good possible outlook. What I overlooked was that the external factors were too important for the company to succeed. Gazprom can do everything right, and they can still lose a lot of money simply because the price of oil will not go up. As a result, I decided to cut my losses and not look back at oil or gas stocks once again. In hindsight this was both a bad decision and a bad outcome, simply because I did not have a full view of the market and the company.

Unibail-Rodamco Westfield

Before the covid-19 pandemic there was a large discussion going on around commercial real estate. Valuations were relatively depressed because the office market was not really going anywhere, and shopping malls would eventually become something of the past when the internet and e-commerce grew large enough to devour it all.

Within this discussion I found one narrative that I liked: retail became much more of an experience and flag ship stores would only become more important for companies to build their brands. Unibail-Rodamco Westfield was the triple A brand in the commercial real estate space, so this seemed a no-brainer for me to get some exposure (in my back then much broader portfolio) to a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust). When reviewing their real estate portfolio I even noticed they owned airport shopping centres that have a consistent stream of foot traffic, which further supported my view that they owned real estate that would not be put out of fashion by e-commerce that easily.

My confidence in this stock was very strong. I bought my first share at €140, which seemed like a bargain as it came down from over €230 just a few years prior. Investors did not like the merger and the following dilution between Unibail-Rodamco and Westfield, yet as an investor making his first entry this bothered me a lot less. I saw a lot of upside potential and an attractive (what they call ‘juicy’) dividend yield.

However, the investment case was quickly destroyed when covid-19 came around. Malls are some of the hardest hit businesses by the pandemic. Restaurants and conventional retail could not pay their rents anymore, meaning the trouble trickled down to Unibail-Rodamco Westfield. With no clear recovery in sight and the acceleration in the adoption of e-commerce I decided to pack my bags and sell the stock.

I sold my last share for €53. At the lowest point during the pandemic it even traded below €30. I am still not sure whether this was a bad decision, as it was very hard to see something like the pandemic coming. The outcome was definitely one of the worst in my investment career so far.

Nikon

I still cannot recall when I got the idea to look at Nikon as a stock to invest in. It probably comes from my hobby as a casual photographer, where I make it a sport to make photos with my iPhone while trying to make people think they are made with a professional camera (I can still not even fool myself, which is probably why I did not buy a professional camera yet). All of the pictures you see on this website are ones that I took myself with either an iPhone 5, iPhone 7, or iPhone 8.

Anyways, there was a moment somewhere in 2019 where I was thinking about light, light technology and the innovations that were brought to us simply by manipulating light (this is also why I like Signify as these companies are simply manipulating a key component of nature). When looking at Nikon for the first time, I could not believe the company was almost trading at liquidation value (meaning below the book value, even when corrected for all intangible assets).

Nikon has traded below liquidation value for some time. This is no surprise as it operates in areas where it is truly on the decline. It is no longer a top two, but now a top three player in the competitive and shrinking market for Imaging Products, it is losing significance in the semiconductor lithography business due to ASML ($ASML.AS)’s EUV technology, its FPD (Flat Panel Display) lithography is still good but not unique either, and the Industrial Metrology and Healthcare businesses are not substantial enough to carry the corporate overhead expenses. Yet, if Nikon would call it quits, sell all their tangible assets and inventories and pay all of its debts and creditors, it would still be able to give more money back to shareholders than the current market capitalization.

That is the reason why I still own the stock. Nikon is a pure turnaround case for me, where the losses are currently strengthened by the covid-19 pandemic (corporate investments are down, industrials are down and people are not really buying new cameras for their next holiday adventure).

Nikon is sitting on a pile of cash that prevents it from going bankrupt any time soon. It already proved once that it can regain trust from investors and it has a clear target for Return on Equity and dividend payments with a strategic plan for new businesses to leverage their intellectual property and make themselves relevant again. The optimist in me says that the current business performance and the pandemic may even increase the relevance for new business models with the current management team, accelerating the internal focus on new business.

In short, you can call me a bagholder right now, but I am not yet done with Nikon (yes, that is going to be the title of my future blog post on the company).

BAM Groep

Whereas I still own Nikon because the investment case is still intact, BAM Groep is a turnaround story where I did call it quits. As you probably do not know the company: BAM Groep is the largest construction company in the Netherlands.

With an incredibly rich history and (unique) experience with delta projects against rising sea levels, I saw a turnaround opportunity if the company could leverage its expertise in the international markets. BAM was the only Dutch construction company that still had international (global) operations. Yet, the international market was the one where they performed the worst, which made investors worry about the general future of the company.

The investment case was, in my opinion, still justified because many problems with ongoing projects seemed to come to an end. From there, I calculated that the company could be worth up to three times as much if it managed to achieve operating margins equal to its (national and international) peers.

There was an additional tailwind in the Dutch housing market. If the government was able to put some legislation headwinds (PFAS and nitrogen) aside to solve the housing shortages, BAM would have enough business for a few years to achieve these normalized operating margins. However, covid-19 threw this investment case into the fire.

Earlier this year, the CEO of BAM was fired and replaced by the CFO. As a financial myself you may expect me to advocate CFO’s can perfectly fulfill this role, even temporarily. I actually do not necessarily think that. Especially when a company is in distress, which was worsened by covid-19, CFO’s tend to focus too much on the numbers. Hence, the logical decision BAM made was to quit the international activities. This was a killer for my investment case. As shareholder dilution also became a topic due to the pandemic, I saw myself forced to take my losses and to move on.

In my opinion, this was a classic case of high risk high reward. But when the rewards do not come, high losses are all that remain.

S&P 500

Surprisingly, the entire S&P 500 index is number five on my worst investment list. This one can be explained quite easily. As I mentioned above with Flow Traders, I wanted to be more exposed to indices earlier this year. However, when volatility increased and the market crashed in March I decided to take the losses and allocate the funds into Flow Traders instead. Later on, I wanted to focus on sectors and opportunities in individual stocks instead of the S&P 500 as a geographically focused index.

In hindsight, I think this investment decision was perfectly fine. However, if Flow Traders would not have performed as well as it did, selling would have been a very bad decision since indices are generally buy and hold decisions.

Let’s take the middle road and say selling my indices (which also make up number six and seven on this list) was a bad decision, also given the quick recovery, but buying Flow Traders was a good one. They just happen to cancel each other out.

Wrap-Up

Our investment journeys are fun because of the stocks we choose to invest in. We can simply choose an index fund and go with that, but then we would learn less about the world and the businesses around us.

In my opinion stock picking should still not be the main part of your financial success, yet it can bring great opportunities and a lot of fun with it. Just realize that you can win, but that you can also lose.

What were some of your best and worst investments? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “My Top 5 Best and Worst Investments

  1. Great article as always and thanks for your transparency!

    Few thoughts when reading through it:
    1. RDSA has quite a similar issue as Gazprom. Shell is more a gas company than oil, but the gas price went nowhere and it neither seems able to take its own path
    2. Your Nikon case sounds really interesting and keep us updated on how that’s going.
    3. Bam group, i bought shares at 1.85 at the depth of 2009 and sold it many years later around 5 and 3 Euro. The thing with Bam for me: the margins are really thin in the aftermath of the great depression. So thin that a single miss-step on a project can kill the whole financial year. You can throw as many experts at it, but projects will always fail and therefore always pose a risk to the company. BAM just operates in a market which is not profitable anymore at scale. Governments seem cash trapped and they have put a lot of regulations in place which reduced the profit margin in the market. I’m with you, only a CEO can turn this around, but it would mean innovation and creation of new business models (blue ocean thinking).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought it was a good thing to show this to my audience as a lot of people seem to shun their mistakes. Also noticed your comment on the podcast about people panic selling without any reasoning for that. The core reason why I started this blog for myself was to be accountable. This way every action I take needs to be explainable to an audience. The bigger the audience, the better my decision making will have to be and the better I should know my positions.

      Regarding your thoughts:
      1. Totally agree. A business with little control over its revenues due to these external factors needs to trade at a large discount. The reason why I once owned Shell was a very bad one in my opinion as well; I simply bought it because a lot of people were screaming how unique it was when it went below 20 euros. Without any understanding of the fundamentals and how the oil market would be impacted, I bought in. Already sold a day later when I realized I made a classic mistake of simply following other people their recommendation
      2. I will write a post about Nikon soon. It is a true turnaround case that can go both ways, but the thesis is very simple. Using a passage from The Snowball (I am listening to it, so the exact quote is likely a little different): ‘he would buy a lot of cigarette butts, waiting for some of them to light up’. Nikon might not light up for another two or three years. The thing is that it can sustain losses for a long time and when it turns back to its previous levels of profitability (or when it leverages its IP for new products in the meantime to do so) it can easily return to a valuation of 4x today’s price
      3. You are completely right with BAM, and that is something I overlooked. The upside potential was there indeed, IF it managed to achieve the normal level of profitability. However, the losses meant that the balance sheet would be hit very hard because of the small margins (which was the key thing I overlooked). Additionally, while I noticed BAM was very proud of its innovations, I heard a lot of sounds from other companies achieving more with the same principles of innovation (VolkerWessels with nitrogen filters, modular building factories for mass production of houses, etc). This also materialized after I already sold, as BAM was very proud that they won the new ‘Afsluitdijk renovation project’ where it applied some type of stone bricks in the past and where it reported that it could easily apply this technique again (implying more efficiency, higher margins, and a smooth process). Yet, when I read the news a few weeks ago: https://nos.nl/artikel/2355302-renovatie-afsluitdijk-drie-jaar-langer-gevolgen-verkeer-nog-onduidelijk.html – BAM says that they will get paid more for the delays, but their agreements with clients from the past have shown that these statements can end up being very empty. Only way I would likely ever touch BAM again is through either convertible debt or long-term call options into an economic / housing recovery (after the dust has settled with the current issues of course)

      Like

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