1 year ago

Graham & Doddsville


Page 48 Jared Friedberg

Page 48 Jared Friedberg following the deathcare space since 2014. The industry is primarily made up of funeral home and cemetery operators, which may be the least sexy businesses to be talking about. The industry only has a few public companies and doesn’t fit into typical sell-side coverage so few analysts follow it. We attended the largest industry conference and it was pretty clear there was nobody from Wall Street in attendance. The attendees were all funeral home directors and they are usually thrilled to talk to an industry outsider interested in their work. That's where you can begin to develop a research edge, by understanding the dynamics of an industry. There are also analytical insights from publicly available information. The CDC, for example, reports death statistics weekly and you can learn a lot from tracking such data. Last year was the weakest flu season in five years and, because there is a high correlation between flu severity and number of deaths, funeral homes reported disappointing results. We expected this to happen. We saw other investors extrapolate the results and over-react to what we viewed as temporary and extraordinary circumstances. This was our chance to own a target in our backlog at our predetermined price. The industry has very attractive underlying fundamentals, is in the middle of major consolidation, and has a couple of high quality companies. We were very excited to initiate an investment when the stock price became dislocated last year. G&D: Can you discuss the investment in depth? JF: Sure. As I mentioned, we find the underlying fundamentals of the industry to be quite attractive, such as the expected demographic tailwind. The average life expectancy for a person in the U.S. right now is about 80 years, so the average person dying today was born in 1937, which is right in the middle of the Silent Generation, before the Baby Boomer generation. Even though this isn't a cyclical business in the traditional sense, you can imagine the demographic trough we're in right now and the massive upturn Baby Boomer deaths will bring over the next decade. “We saw other investors extrapolate the results and over-react to what we viewed as temporary and extraordinary circumstances.” We spent a lot of time looking at funeral homes and cemeteries to understand the economics of the businesses and how they make money, and found that they can be very high-quality businesses with significant barriers to entry. A quality funeral home in a local town can almost be a monopoly with customer stickiness going back many generations. You're not going to see new funeral homes come and take its business. Even fewer cemeteries pop up because of the land and capital requirements, and zoning restrictions. Funeral homes and cemeteries also have high fixed costs. Now, if you imagine the incremental volume that's going to be coming through these homes with Baby Boomer deaths, it will be at high incremental margins because these are under-utilized assets. So you have businesses with pricing power, high incremental margins, and demographic tailwinds that are hard to escape. In addition to organic growth, this is a consolidating industry where 80% of the market is still owned by independent families, mom-and-pop shops. Carriage Services (CSV) is the name we currently find most attractive. The Company owns 170 funeral homes in 28 states and 32 cemeteries in 11 states, so about 200 properties. They're about one-tenth the market cap of the largest player in the space, Service Corporation (SCI), which manages 2,000 properties. What makes Carriage special in the deathcare space is both the management team and the business model. The management team is really focused on buying best-in-class assets. They do not acquire businesses for the sake of consolidation; they only look for great local businesses with pricing power and attractive local demographics, and great entrepreneurs to run those businesses. Their model is completely decentralized, meaning they're buying these businesses and letting them run on their own. One of the things that attracts these entrepreneurs to sell to Carriage is that they allow the

Page 49 Jared Friedberg homes to maintain their local, family business feel. SCI, on the other hand, is highly centralized, with a corporate top-down approach. In many ways, SCI has its own compounding capability, but we found Carriage’s management team to really understand their advantage and utilize it to attract the best assets. To return to the question about developing a research edge, our research on Carriage focused first on understanding the core business and management team, and second, on understanding the M&A opportunity and how much value that could create. It took us a lot of time to do the diligence and get comfortable around both of these points. The CEO of Carriage is unconventional in a way that could put some investors off, so understanding his mindset was very important. He founded the company in 1991 and owns 10% of the Company, which is a majority of his wealth, so we feel wellaligned as shareholders. As we spent considerable time doing diligence on the CEO, we concluded that he is misunderstood and is in fact an excellent CEO. He has a great vision, he is a strong leader, and he is a disciplined capital allocator. On the M&A side, after spending a lot of time talking to people in the industry, you start to understand what it means to have a quality funeral home versus an average one. You start to understand the reputation Carriage has, why it attracts quality assets, and why they're able to buy quality assets at a reasonable price. We have actually increased our investment in Carriage, despite buying at a higher price than when we initiated, as we have become more comfortable with the business, the industry, and the management team. We believe Carriage is a better business than the market perceives. “The great investors are the ones who have the ability to be independent in their thought.” Carriage trades at a price that does not reflect its solid core business and strong industry tailwinds. This, coupled with its excellent management team, unique decentralized consolidation strategy, and disciplined approach to capital allocation, provides us conviction we will compound our capital for years to come. G&D: Is there a fixed income idea you could briefly share with us? JF: Sure. One of our investments that we believe offers a compelling riskadjusted return is the senior secured 2018 bonds of Soho House, a private British company that operates member clubs across the world primarily for people in creative industries. Members pay a monthly fee and pay to use the club’s amenities— restaurants, bars, and meeting rooms. The clubs have approximately 66,000 members and a waitlist of 42,000 potential members. We like the stable, recurring revenue nature of the business. The low churn and growing member and waitlist numbers reflect the high value that the club provides to its members. We think we have a variant view from many fixed income investors who look at trailing financials that reflect a business that is approximately 7x levered. The company is performing very well and in a major growth phase, having recently opened a number of new houses, so the growthrelated expenses understate the company’s true earnings power. We believe on normalized earnings, the company is actually levered under 4x, and the current yield of approximately 8% is attractive given the short duration and high quality of the business. As I mentioned, we’ve found that the public debt of private companies is a good source of opportunities as they can often trade at more attractive yields since their financials are not as easily accessible to all investors. G&D: Any advice for students interested in getting involved in investment management? JF: I would start off with something necessary for a newcomer’s personal development. The amount of group think—the influence that people have on each other’s beliefs—in this industry is quite surprising to me. I have been disappointed by the lack of independent thought. It's noisy and you've got to find ways to block out that noise. To a newcomer, I would say that you should do whatever it (Continued on page 50)