*** The following is a complete reprint of Issue #260 of Nate’s Notes which was published for subscribers on September 16, 2016, and reflects our opinions of the market, MannKind, and all other stock mentioned as of that date. ***
Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills,
one man gathers what another man spills…
– from St. Stephen (Garcia, Lesh, and Hunter)
MannKind Redux (for hopefully the last time?)
Though there is plenty to talk about when it comes to what is going on in the world (interest rates, our election here in the U.S., geopolitical tensions around the globe, asset bubbles growing, etc.), given all that has been going on with MannKind’s stock lately… coupled with the fact that I have gotten so many of you into it and feel compelled to keep you up to date as best as I can while we weather the storm that has been raining down on us for years now… along with the fact that most of the rest of our ideas are performing nicely (and thus do not require the same level of “hand holding”), I am choosing – for hopefully the last time it will be necessary – to forego any other commentary in this month’s issue and instead jump straight into discussing the myriad of questions and comments that have come my way lately.
Thoughts on MannKind as we head into “crunch time”
Potential Delisting – a number of you have pointed out that “MannKind’s stock has been under $1 for close to 30 consecutive days now, and doesn’t that mean it will be delisted soon?”
To help clarify things (and hopefully put your mind at ease), if the stock stays under $1 for 30 days, the company will, indeed, receive a notice from Nasdaq letting it know that it is in a state of non-compliance with listing rules… and the company will then have 180 days in which to become compliant (in this case, get the stock back over $1, either via price appreciation or a reverse split). If, at the end of 180 days, the stock still is trading below $1, the company can then file for another 180-day extension… and so, for all practical purposes, “a little over a year from now” is the soonest the stock might actually be delisted (barring a bankruptcy filing or a buyout between now and then, of course).
The Recent Decline – yes, I did say in last month’s issue that I thought the outlook for MannKind would be much rosier by the time this month’s issue went to press… and though the stock proceeded to tumble 30% almost immediately after the issue came out, I hope the following helps add some perspective for you.
First off, as discussed previously, the decline took place on extremely light volume… and though “down is down” regardless of how heavy the volume is, my experiences suggest that what we saw was a classic case of “big fish” on the long side of the trade simply pulling their bids in an effort to get downtrodden retail investors to cough up another few million shares of stock at bargain basement prices.
Not only have I seen this sort of thing happen dozens of times before at the end of downtrends for biotech stocks that have “fallen completely out of favor with Wall Street,” I can tell you that I have received a number of emails over the past couple of weeks from long-time subscribers who were letting me know they “just couldn’t take it anymore and were selling some (or all) of their position” (so the ploy seems to have been successful, eh?).
While I can’t promise the stock will hold at the 52-week low, I can tell you that there seems to be some solid support for the stock at current prices (as evidenced by the very large bids that have been appearing lately), and perhaps even more importantly, the action in the option arena is very heavily skewed towards call buying, especially the further out one looks on the calendar (in addition, it should be noted that there is virtually no action in the short-dated puts, something you would expect to see if it really was known “behind the scenes” that the company was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy).
Second (and getting back to the claim that was made in last month’s issue), there have been a couple of twists to the story that suggest to me the outlook is, in fact, getting rosier despite the tumble we have seen in the stock over the past four weeks.
Insider Purchases – The first of these twists is the fact that not only was it disclosed shortly after last month’s issue went to press that CEO Matt Pfeffer and CCO Mike Castagna had both purchased 25,000 shares apiece in the open market (the first time this has happened in ages, mind you – though there have also been a number of possible reasons why they couldn’t undertake such actions until just recently), but after this initial disclosure, Castagna went on to make three additional purchases of 25K, 15K and 17.5K shares, respectively, in a very short period of time. Perhaps he is just a bold bluffer, but given that there is nobody on the planet with a better feel for how the rollout of Afrezza 2.0 is actually going, I am going to assume that he is not worried about what he is seeing.
Insurance Coverage – The second twist (which happens to complement the first quite nicely) is that I am extremely excited to share that a friend of mine’s son messaged me a few days ago that he “had just picked up his first box of Afrezza”… and the reason that this news is so exciting to me is that it a mere six or seven weeks ago that he had first contacted me to let me know that he had tried to get Afrezza from his doctor at Kaiser and had basically been told that “Kaiser didn’t carry it on their formulary… nor did they expect to anytime soon.”
We contacted Mike Castagna to see if he might have any tips or tricks we could try, and though his response at the time suggested that the nature of the Kaiser network made it a lower priority for him and his team, I can assure you that Kaiser didn’t go from “no coverage” a month-and-a-half ago to “covered with a $20 copay at the pharmacy” today without someone hustling their butt off somewhere.
My best guess is that Kaiser prescriptions will remain small while an initial round of “guinea pigs” (most of whom will need to ask for Afrezza rather than have it suggested to them) take the product for a test spin, but once they have been using the product for anywhere from one- to three months, I fully expect the prescriptions to ramp up nicely. In addition, given that Kaiser happens to be in the business of acting as both “the insurer” and “the healthcare provider,” I believe they will be especially well-positioned to quickly start noticing the cost savings that should start to appear when they compare ER visits, etc. of their patients on Afrezza versus other insulins (and, though far less pertinent to the immediate outlook for the stock – but far more relevant on a longer-term basis – these same cost savings should also eventually show up when looking at “big ticket” items such as dialysis, amputations, and serious eye problems that diabetics often experience later in life).
No, Kaiser by itself (especially over the short-term) is not going to be the difference between life and death for MannKind… but I believe the fact that Castagna & Co. seem to have caused a major shift in thinking in such a short period of time with an organization known for not just jumping into things willy-nilly suggests that they will also be able to make significant inroads elsewhere as the weeks and months continue to roll by (and, in fact, stories are continuing to appear in social media of folks who previously couldn’t get Afrezza, but thanks to the efforts of MannKind and the various support teams that have been set up, are now starting to experience its benefits first hand).
Financing – Speaking of “the difference between life and death for MannKind,” many of you are rightly still concerned about the company’s odds of being around long enough to reap the rewards of having developed Afrezza in the first place… and though I can’t promise you that Pfeffer is going to be able to get the ball across the goal line after bringing it the other 99 yards down the field, I believe the following list of potential monies is more than deep enough to get us there.
First off, if push came to shove, MannKind could tap the “at the money” instrument that is currently in place and basically allows the company to immediately sell up to $50M worth of common stock into the market place (I say “immediate” because the broker/dealer who will handle the transaction(s) has already been identified and all of the paperwork with the SEC has already been completed – no additional filings/reviews would be required prior to the selling of the stock). Though he would not commit to NOT tapping the ATM, during a conversation I had with Matt Pfeffer a little over two weeks ago, I learned that a) he has not tapped the ATM (as was reported by one of our “friends” on the short side in the underworld of financial blogs), and b) he fully recognizes that tapping the ATM at current prices would far and away be a last resort.
Next up in terms of easily identifiable sources of cash is the fact that the company is due to receive what we have been led to believe could be a “significant” milestone payment from Receptor Life Sciences sometime between now and the end of the year… and though we may or may not learn much more about them as part of the transaction, the payment will be a welcome one (and if achieving the milestone allows them to feel more comfortable disclosing what they have been working on, it will only be icing on the cake).
Along similar lines, though I do not think the company is actively pursuing any such deals (but might take one if a great one happened to walk through the door unsolicited), it is always possible that that the company could receive upfront payments as part of agreements signed with other companies for either international rights to Afrezza or for rights of some sort to any of the other products currently under development (more on one of these products below).
In addition to these “big money” tickets associated with licensing agreements, I think it is also important to keep in mind that not only is MannKind once again receiving 100% of any revenue it generates via the sale of Afrezza (admittedly small, but growing), the company also appears to be in line to receive roughly $3 million per month for quite awhile to come as part of the $50M “insulin put” clause in its agreement with Sanofi… and these two streams together will clearly help to offset some of the monthly expenses currently being incurred by the company.
And, speaking of Sanofi, though the company seems to be doing all it can to avoid talking about the situation and instead is trying to keep folks focused on what’s going on with Afrezza today, I continue to believe that there is at least a modest chance that, before all is said and done, there may be some sort of additional payment and/or forgiveness of debt from Sanofi – especially after reading a portion of the testimony of a former Sanofi employee that was called as part of a recently dismissed class action lawsuit against MannKind in which he/she seemed to suggest that Sanofi had, in fact, done very little to promote the product.
Again, I am not predicting (nor promising) that such a settlement is on the way (and so you should not count on it), but based on all that has transpired over the past couple of years, such a settlement could end up being quite sizable, indeed, especially if MannKind is able to significantly outpace Sanofi on the sales front over the next several months.
And, finally, if sales do start to pick up, there is a chance the stock price will also start to rebound as well (but you never know, given how things have gone for the past couple of years, eh?!)… and, provided the stock gets back above $1.50, I think it is important to keep in mind that there are warrants for 50M shares of stock at that price that will bring in a little over $70M if they are exercised.
Advertising – though most of the details were kept under wraps, I know it will please many of you to know that Matt Pfeffer recently disclosed that we will being see some sort of Afrezza direct-to-consumer advertising as part of the upcoming playoffs and World Series for Major League baseball… so be sure to tune in to the games! That being said, before I move on from this topic, I want to point out to those of you who have written to me expressing your frustrations at “the lack of TV ads – everyone else has ‘em!” that there really is no point running “ads for the masses” until all the kinks (or at least as many as possible) have been ironed out of the system in terms of patients getting from “awareness” to “product in hand”… and, not surprisingly, there have been a few kinks along the way (with troubles associated with Medicare and Medicaid being the most recent).
CEO – This, in turn, brings us to a topic that I feel very strongly about, namely that while Matt Pfeffer has become the punching bag for longs and shorts alike on social media because he is a) CEO and b) “lacks charisma and energy – so it’s clearly all his fault the stock is at $0.70”… but the reality of the situation is that he and his team have done an incredible job transitioning this company from basically being nothing more than a manufacturing entity under the Sanofi agreement (admittedly with a small R&D arm to continue pursuing other Technosphere applications) into a full-fledged pharmaceutical company responsible for every facet of delivering the drug from the assembly line to the hands of the patient… and they did it in a fraction of the time usually required for “traditional” rollouts!
Whether you care for his personality or not (and with the caveat that I will be forced to eat some humble pie and reassess my opinion if he is unable to get the ball over the goal line after all), I think he deserves at least a “A-” for his efforts so far… with the possibility that this will turn into an “A+” between now and the end of the year depending how things play out (and, in turn, the team he has put in place to execute on the vision he vowed to carry through to fruition for Al Mann also deserve similarly high marks).
On a related note, I have also been asked by a number of you whether I think Duane DeSisto (who was forced to turn down the CEO job back in January when his former employer signed a co-development agreement with Eli Lilly for a special formulation of one of their rapid acting insulins) will be returning to the company next week now that his “non-compete agreement” will have expired… and though I could be wrong, I believe that Pfeffer is likely to remain in his roles of CEO and CFO until Afrezza has firmly established itself in the market place (at which point he might be willing to step aside on one front or the other).
Valuation – though “stock price” is what most people think of first when they’re pondering an investing, I think it is also important to keep in mind the concept of “valuation”… and while many of us are stuck holding shares that we bought in the $5-$10 range (or even higher!), there is nothing that prevents us from averaging down if we choose to (and, as you know, that is exactly what I have been doing)! With the company currently selling for more than $50 million LESS than when it came public (despite that all of the risk associated with clinical trials and FDA reviews and approval have been removed from the equation), I continue to believe it represents the sort of opportunity that only comes along once or twice in most investors’ lifetimes… and whether you are getting ready to make your very first purchase or are still trying to get your cost basis down to “something better than $8,” you are strongly encouraged to step up to the plate at current prices!
Inhalable epinephrine – And, finally, to help put things into perspective for those of you who have been wondering about the feasibility of inhalable epinephrine (“how will that work if a patient can’t breathe?!”), I want to point out that while the inhalable product being worked on MannKind admittedly won’t be of much use if you find someone passed out from anaphylactic shock, it represents a fine (and probably preferable alternative) for patients who already carry epi pens because they aware they have a life-threatening allergy – despite what naysayers in social media would have you believe, there is actually a window of several minutes between when a patient starts to realize they might be having a reaction and when their airway will finally close up… and this idea that an inhalable product would be useless is pure rubbish (yep – another claim without merit from our friends on the short side).
Top Picks (for new money this month)
All else being equal (i.e. you already own “pretty much everything” in the newsletter), my top picks for you this month are:
Cirrus Logic (CRUS) – Once again this month, Cirrus’ stock is exhibiting some of the best relative strength versus its peers in the newsletter (and such strength should almost always be bought!).
MannKind (MNKD) – Though you’d never guess it from the stock price, I believe all signs are continuing to point to “better days ahead” for the company… and especially if you’re just now finding out about the story, you owe it to yourself to pick up a few shares at today’s price!
NVIDIA (NVDA) – great relative strength (and a beautiful chart!) here as well.
For the reasons discussed above and below, the Model (Aggressive) Portfolio will not make any sales this month but will purchase 100 (250) Apple, 150 (300) Celgene, 150 (500) Cirrus Logic, 100 (300) Electronic Arts, 100 (250) Illumina, 200 (1,500) Luminex, 10,000 (150,000) MannKind, 200 (700) Qorvo, 100 (250) Skyworks Solutions, 50 (150) SPDR Gold Trust ETF, and 500 (1,000) Tekla Life Sciences Investors. We will use the closing prices on Monday, September 19th, for all transactions.
(used to help us gauge the overall health of the market*)
|current||one eyebrow||two eyebrows|
*As long as all five indices are trading above their “one eyebrow” levels, it is a sign that the current uptrend is still intact; however, if the indices start to dip below those levels, it will cause me to raise an eyebrow and wonder if the trend my be coming to an end… and if both eyebrows go up, it will mean that things are deteriorating in a hurry (if you see eyebrow levels being broken, start looking for a “Special Alert” from me in your email box).
Summary of Recommended Stocks
AdvisorShares Ranger Equity Bear ETF
Though it is not officially part of our “Eyebrow Levels” approach to gauging the market’s health, I believe the fact that this ETF is short the market (i.e. it should go up in value when the overall market declines) makes it a useful metric to look at as well… and looking at the chart to the right, I would need to see shares of this ETF trading back above $11 for me to feel confident that a new uptrend was in place (which, in turn, would imply a downtrend in the market as a whole). After lightening up on our positions a bit in both Portfolios last month, I am content to just sit tight this month while we wait for additional evidence to come in regarding the direction of the market. HDGE is a strong buy under $9 and a buy under $11.
As you can see in the chart to the left, Apple’s stock sold off fairly quickly in response to the company’s recent “event” to unveil new phones and other products… but then did an about-face and jumped dramatically (and, in doing so, demonstrated yet again why it makes far more sense to invest for the long-term rather than try and trade in and out of stocks around specific news events!). While the “wild west” days of mobile devices are probably coming to an end (i.e. growth and innovation will be tougher to come by going forward), I remain very comfortable with how Apple is positioning itself… and I am adding a few more shares to both Portfolios this month. AAPL is considered a strong buy under $110 and a buy under $120.
As you know, it has been the glaring underperformance of the biotech sector that has kept me from returning to a more bullish stance on the market as a whole over the past several months, and while it is still too early to say for sure that the turn in Celgene’s stock at the end of June was the inflection point of the recent downtrend, I do believe that if the market as a whole continues to power higher, we will be able to grow more confident about the biotech sector as well. Because we are somewhat underweighted in the sector (not counting our MannKind position in the Aggressive, of course!), you will notice I am being fairly aggressive about buying biotech this month. CELG is a strong buy under $105 and a buy under $115.
As you can see in the chart to the left (and not surprisingly, given the company’s tight connection with Apple), along with Apple’s, Cirrus’ stock has also whipsawed a lot of day traders from one side of the trade to the other over the past week-and-a-half as analysts began to chime-in with varying opinions about the path forward for Apple (and therefore, Cirrus and other chip providers). That being said, not only is the stock on fire these days, but the entire chip sector (as measured by the SOX semiconductor index) is as well… and these are exactly the sorts of circumstances we like to see developing when it comes to positioning our Portfolios each month. CRUS is now a strong buy under $52 and a buy under $58.
As you can see in the chart to the right, EA’s stock is continuing to power higher in exactly the manner we want to see as long-term investors – not only does this sort of slow-but-steady appreciation feel good all on its own, history suggests that the longer it goes on before the market as a whole enters the final frothy blow-off phase that often appears at the end of bull market, the more “parabolic” the final leg up will be for the stock as that stage of the market plays itself out. EA is already the third largest position in both Portfolios, but because “strength often begets strength,” I am comfortable raising the buy limits and adding a few more shares to both Portfolios this month. EA is a strong buy under $78 and a buy under $85.
Yuck! After giving us some hope in late 2015 and early 2016 that perhaps it was gearing up for a nice run back towards $100, I am afraid that First Solar’s stock has done nothing but disappoint us since then (as evidenced in the very ugly chart to the left… assuming you can even bear to look!). That being said, I continue to believe that First Solar represents “best of breed” in the solar industry, and though I cannot tell you when the stock will finally turn around, I do feel comfortable predicting that the company’s odds of surviving and prospering make it a stock that we will continue to want to own for years to come (but, for now, “patience” when it comes to new purchases). FSLR is a strong buy under $30 and a buy under $36.
Though it still too early to put too much confidence in the pattern being traced out in the chart to the right, I like the way the stock has been acting following its surge up to the $170 range… and if it can clear $190 on good volume in the weeks/months ahead, I will be in a position to more confidently classify it as a bullish piece of evidence when it comes to evaluating the health of both the stock and the sector as a whole. That being said, because I believe the odds are already starting to tilt in favor of “higher highs” in the months ahead for the biotech sector, I am willing to step up and repurchase a few more of the shares we sold earlier in the year in both Portfolios. ILMN remains a strong buy under $160 and a buy under $180.
Yep – the chart to the left is another example of a biotech chart that is shaping up to potentially flash a very bullish signal… but hasn’t done so just yet. In this case, I am hoping to see the stock clear $23 on good volume in the weeks ahead, and if it does so, you are encouraged to feel even more comfortable making purchases of both Luminex itself, as well as other stocks in the sector (provided they are still trading under their buy limits, of course). In the meantime, because I am anxious to put some of our cash back to work in the Model Portfolio (as well as increase our exposure to the sector in the Aggressive), I am adding a few more shares to both this month. LMNX is a strong buy under $20 and a buy under $25.
As mentioned above, I take great heart in the fact that not only does Kaiser seem to be getting on board with Afrezza far sooner than expected, but Mike Castagna (the guy overseeing the rollout of Afrezza 2.0) has been putting his money where his mouth is in a big way over the past several weeks… and as part of our disciplined approach to scaling-in (and -out) of stocks over long periods of time rather than purchasing our entire position in one fell-swoop, I am adding just enough shares to both Portfolios this month to drop our average price down to “under $2.” Please do not invest more than you can afford to lose… but also be wary of folks anxious to see you sell your shares! MNKD is a strong buy under $2 and a buy under $5.
After dropping briefly as part of the swoon that hit the entire chip sector immediately after Apple’s event a few weeks ago, NVIDIA’s stock is once again pushing up against the top of its trading range… and if it happens to break through and push into new all-time high territory in the days/weeks ahead, you are encouraged to view it as a reason to buy (rather than sell) the sector as a whole. The company recently unveiled its next generation of devices in several different application areas, and also announced that it is selling $1 billion worth of notes that will pay 2.2% and mature in 2021, along with another $1 billion worth of notes that will pay 3.2% and mature in 2026. NVDA remains a strong buy under $58 and a buy under $65.
As you can see in the chart to the left, NXP’s stock appears to be stuck in the $80-$90 range, and though the strength of the rest of the semiconductor sector suggests that the next move is likely to be higher rather than lower, I would rather wait for that day to arrive and then pay a bit more for the stock than buy it today in hopes that is the direction it decides to go (especially with so many of our other stocks exhibiting good relative strength). It is a very tough global market environment for chip companies (or any companies, for that matter!) to navigate these days, but NXP’s management team has demonstrated solid capabilities in the past, and I see no reason for this to change now. NXPI is a strong buy under $78 and a buy under $85.
Though the gap down that can be seen in the chart to the right definitely took some wind out of the stock’s sails, I have to admit that the manner in which the stock has been steadily climbing since then suggests the drop may have been just what we needed in terms of helping to move a sizable chunk of stock out of weak hands and into stronger ones (which helps set the stage for larger advances down the road). For the company’s second quarter, Perry Ellis reported revenues of $193.3 million and a net loss of $3.6 million, or $0.24 per share, as compared to revenues of $204.6 million and a net loss of $1.3 million, or $0.09 per share, last year. PERY is now considered a strong buy under $18 and a buy under $22.
PowerShares DB Agriculture ETF
As you can see in the chart to the left, shares of this ETF have continued to slide over the past four weeks, and though they are now approaching a level that may provide some support, there are a lot of crosscurrents in play right now when it comes to the supply-demand picture for commodities on a global basis… and, consequently, your guess is as good as mine as to where the downtrend will actually stop. On a slightly brighter note, however, shares of DBC have been demonstrating slightly better relative strength than DBA, and, of course, the “useless” commodity (gold) has been acting very well for the past several months as well, so I remain (continued under “DBC” below) DBA is now a buy under $22.
PowerShares DB Commodities ETF
(continuing from “DBA” above) comfortable with my thesis that the longer-term trend is still “up” for commodity prices, even if there are pullbacks along the way. For now, I am holding off making new purchases of DBA and DBC even though they are among the smallest positions in both Portfolios, but I do plan on getting much more aggressive about buying them during their next move up; in addition, as you will see below, I am continuing to scale-in to our gold position with small purchases on a regular basis… and I hope that you will join me in this exercise, as I believe there are a number of forces at work that will drive gold prices higher before the same thing starts happening to other commodities. DBC is now a buy under $16.
Though Qorvo’s stock has bounced back a bit from the “post-Apple event swoon” that hit the entire sector a few weeks ago, I’d really like to see it back above $60 to help convince me that the uptrend is still intact; however, since the sector as a whole is demonstrating great relative strength and I like what I see in Qovo’s longer-term chart, I am adding a few more shares to both Portfolios this month. If you are newer to the newsletter, please make sure you own at least a few of the core stocks first (especially NVIDIA, if you are anxious to “be in chips”), but once you’ve checked that box, Qorvo also represents a great “first buy” for you this month as you start building your portfolio. QRVO is a strong buy under $54 and a buy under $60.
While such rapid moves always make me nervous, when looked at in the context of what has been going on with the chip sector as a whole over the past couple of weeks, I am very pleased by the action we are seeing in Skyworks’ stock lately. In addition, if the stock is able to clear $80 in the weeks ahead (and do so on reasonable volume), I believe we will be able to count it as another piece of bullish evidence for both the stock and the sector (and the market as a whole, for that matter!). Given how things are playing out, I am raising the buy limits and adding a few more shares to both Portfolios again this month… and I hope you will consider joining me. SWKS is considered a strong buy under $74 and a buy under $80.
SPDR Gold Trust ETF
As you can see in the chart to the left, gold has been moving up in exactly the sort of step-wise fashion that we like to see as folks who take a long-term view of our portfolios. To be sure, the trend could reverse at any time; however, given the combination of uncertainties and tensions around the world at this point in time (along with the fact that central banks have collectively banked themselves into a corner with regards to interest rates), I really do believe that gold is still in the very early stages of what will likely become a multi-year bull market for the precious metal… and, consequently, you will notice that I am adding a few more shares to both Portfolios again this month. With a long-term view, GLD remains a buy under $132.
Tekla Life Sciences Investors
While it remains to be seen whether or not shares of this closed-end fund will be able to get back above $20 between now and next month’s issue, if they are able to do so (and especially if they do it on above-average volume), I believe we will be able to count it as a fairly solid piece of evidence that the biotech sector may finally be ready to turn the corner after what has been a very disappointing past several quarters. As mentioned many times before over the years, you can get more bang for your buck by owning individual biotech stocks; however, for those of you with a lower tolerance for volatility, HQL is a great way to participate in the sector. HQL is considered a strong buy under $18 and a buy under $21.
Walt Disney Co.
As you can see in the chart to the left, Disney’s stock has been sliding in a most intriguing manner over the past five weeks, and though we will only know after the fact what has really been going on, it appears to me that there must be a handful of very large institutions that are trying to decrease the size of their position… but willing to be very patient about doing so. If history is any guide, at some point, we should see them get close enough to being done that they will finally be willing to sell the rest “at market” to finally be done with it, and once the stock has dropped sharply to absorb that wave of selling, it will then rebound nicely and resume its uptrend. With patience, DIS is a strong buy under $90 and a buy under $100.