Friday, Jan. 31 is the Chinese New Year, marking the start of the year of the Horse. To relieve the stress of recent market action and have a bit of mid-winter fun, let's look at some investment possibilities around the Chinese Zodiac.
We will look at six today, on this eve of one of the most highly celebrated holidays in the world (at least 1.6 billion people will be enjoying the holiday) and six more on Friday.
Going into the year of the Horse, can we pass up taking a look at Churchill Downs(CHDN) - Get Report? Many investors don't realize this great American institution is publicly traded, and they can get a piece of the action -- especially around the Kentucky Derby. The stock is quite investable, with a $1.6 billion market cap and average daily volume of 64,000 shares. The company is highly profitable, earning $3.54 in the last four quarters, and pays dividend a bit less than 1%.
As you might surmise, CHDN comprises more than the classic venue -- they have several tracks, off-track betting, casinos and simulcasts. Gambling is a high-demand and relatively-stable business, so you will pay up for the stock. It trades at approximately 20x forward estimates.
Over the horizon is the year of the Ram (sometimes also cited as the Sheep or Goat) which evokes my interest in Rambus (RMBS) - Get Report. Rambus was the original IP model technology firm, which blazed the trail for other "IP heavy, capital light" names such as ARM Holdings (ARMH) , as well as Iconix(ICON) - Get Report, which is not in technology.
Rambus develops sophisticated semiconductor designs that it then licenses to others to manufacture and sell. It simply collects the royalties on sales of its products. This model produces low revenue, relatively speaking, but very high margins and little capital consumption. Concerns about a royalty rate cut from Samsung are overhanging the stock, but the Street may be underestimating 2014 growth -- they are modeling below-guidance revenue growth for the year. Rambus licenses designs for its legacy DRAM bus technology, new system-on-a-chip designs, and cryptography research.
The year of the Monkey draws my attention to American Public Education (APEI) - Get Report, affectionately known as "ape". This $770 million market cap company is well-positioned in a niche segment of the growing MOOC space (massive open online course). APEI operates two online universities that serve the military and public service communities. The company is 24 years old, generating over $300 million in annual revenue, and is profitable. Given its rapid growth recently, the multiple of 16x 2014 earnings per share is not unreasonable.
Could we let the year of the Rooster symbolize any name other than Yum! Brands(YUM) - Get Report, the multi-concept restaurant chain operator that is highly leveraged to China due to its huge success there with Kentucky Fried Chicken? As emerging market fears (and especially China fears) overtake U.S. investors, the stock has been deep-fried, declining 11% this year.
While I do not totally dismiss the potential issues, the optimistic way to view Yum is -- dare I say it? -- the "chicken" emerging markets play. Yum has the upside exposure, but in an emerging market rout you still have the base of non-China business to support it -- whereas an emerging market ETF for example will get clobbered. Yum! can be used as a conservative way to capture upside at reduced risk once EM fears subside.
The year of the Dog reminds us to consider the Dogs of the Dow strategy. This perennially outperforming systemic strategy states to buy the 10 largest dividend yielders among the Dow 30 -- the highest yielding typically being high yield due to poor stock performance. Depending on when you measure, the strategy has returned 14% to 16% annually, outperforming the full index by an attractive margin.
You can play this strategy easily through a number of ETFs and mutual funds, such as the ELEMENTS DJ High Yield Select 10(DOD) - Get Report. If you want to be more granular, you can give the Sector Dividend Dogs(SDOG) - Get Report a try -- it executes the same strategy against sectors rather than the index as a whole.
The year of the Pig is ripe with possibilities, from short ideas to the attitudes of investors to pork producers, including those in Congress! Instead, I will pull a fast one and suggest that this sign is a good one to play it safe and look at the PIMCO Investment Grade Corporate Bond Fund (PIGIX) - Get Report. In a painfully low-yield world, it is challenging to find a balance between earning nothing in Treasuries and taking too much risk in high yield. This PIMCO fund finds a middle ground, investing in generally higher-yielding corporate bonds, but sticking with the best of them and avoiding the real junk. The yield is a respectable, if not spectacular, 3.78% -- not bad in today's environment.
On Friday, which is the actual Chinese New Year Day, we will continue our trip around the zodiac with the remaining six years. Xīnnian hǎo! (Chinese for Happy New Year!)
At the time of publication the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.
Gary Dvorchak is a managing member of Channel Island Partners LLC, a Los Angeles-based hedge fund that manages large cap growth and growth-and-income funds. Dvorchak holds a master's degree in business administration from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Iowa.