Before we get started with 2015, with fresh starts and endless possibilities and all that, 2014 needs to be coldly scrutinized for its successes and failures.
The investment world had an abundance of both. So, in the spirit of accountability, the following is a review of the recommendations included in my own writing over the past year.
I don't make explicit stock picks, but I do take sides. I try to identify a compelling investing thesis, and I make either a bullish or bearish case with the help of portfolio managers and sell-side analysts.
In my articles, as in the Canadian market, the energy sector claimed a lot of attention and was responsible for both hits and misses. I started off the year with the latter. "Buy Canadian energy stocks," I wrote one year ago, citing renewed interest in the oil patch.
At the time, the S&P/TSX composite energy index was trading at around early-2011 levels, and valuations on several names looked attractive based on expected production growth and an expanding global economy.
Well, thanks for nothing, Saudi Arabia. The price war that emerged mid-year between energy producing nations flooded the global market in excess supply, drove crude benchmarks to lows not seen since the global recession five years prior, and made the energy sector the year's biggest loser on the TSX.
Two of the stock picks in my story – Cenovus Energy Inc. and Enerplus Corp. – ended the year down by 21 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively. Those picks weren't portrayed as mere one-year investing opportunities, and Canadian oil and gas stocks may still prove a good bet over the long term. But based on 2014 alone, those returns were dismal.
Exposure to the oil and gas industry also informed a bullish story in April on Aecon Group Inc., which then proceeded to fall by 40 per cent in part because of uncertainty in Canadian resources.
My timing could not have been worse with regards to Bellatrix Exploration Ltd., which I argued in early May was trading at a discount to its peers despite 30-per-cent annual production growth and a series of joint venture agreements reducing the company's share of risk. The stock peaked less than one week later, setting off a vertiginous descent that culminated in a 62-per-cent loss in share price over the rest of the year.
Thankfully, I did urge caution with regards to some corners of the energy space.
In July, I cited some contrarian pessimism over the valuation on PrairieSky Royalty Ltd., which Encana Corp. spun off in May to great investor enthusiasm. "They are not immune to the laws of economics that hold all others to seemingly more reasonable valuations," John O'Connell, chief executive of Davis Rea, said at the time. Between then and the end of the year, the stock declined by 23 per cent.
By mid-August, crude prices had begun to dip, although by only a fraction of what would end up being a 50-per-cent plunge.
At that time, I cited concern regarding Canadian oil field services stocks, which had appreciated well beyond underlying commodity prices. Rafi Tahmazian, a senior portfolio manager at Canoe Financial, told me he could envision "a big correction" in services. Over the rest of the year, FirstEnergy Capital's oil field services index declined by 43 per cent.
In September, I highlighted the vulnerability of energy "divcos" to commodity prices. This new breed of high-growth, high-yield oil and gas companies had gained in popularity among investors. Two of the riskier names offered to me by Mr. O'Connell were Long Run Exploration Ltd. and Lightstream Resources Ltd., which then fell by 71 per cent and 81 per cent, respectively.
Outside of the oil patch, some of my coverage proved well timed. In January, I wrote that Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. had "yet to approach the limits to its own growth." The stock rose by 84 per cent after that.
In April, I quoted James Hodgins, chief investment officer at Curvature Hedge Strategies, as saying that Amaya Inc. had the cash and ability "to buy something pretty large and accretive." The Quebec-based online gambling company did just that in June with the $4.9-billion (U.S.) acquisition of the company that owns the PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker sites. The stock more than quadrupled since my story appeared.
Finally, Concordia Healthcare Corp., which, had it been included in the S&P/TSX composite, would have been the year's best stock in the index, rose by 30 per cent since my story on the company in September.
As with many investors, it was partially foiled by oil, but I'm going to go ahead and call my year a qualified success.