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George Putnam, one of the country's leading turnaround and distressed investing professionals, shares his timely insight on the economy and turnaround investing opportunities.

Bankruptcy/Chapter 11 / Post-Bankruptcy Stocks

Good Brands are Not Enough

January 19, 2012

One of the things we like to see in a potential turnaround stock is a strong brand name. That will often provide the foundation on which the company can build its turnaround.

However, the recent Chapter 11 filing by Hostess Brands and Eastman Kodak are reminders that well known brand names alone may not be enough to save a company. In both of these cases the brand names are widely recognized, but the products with which they are associated no longer represent strong business franchises.

The Hostess “Twinkie” brand is probably one of the most widely recognized names in the snack food industry—at least to those of us of a certain age. And Hostess Cupcakes, Snowballs and Wonder Bread are probably not far behind. But in this health conscious era, most of Hostess’ brands evoke thoughts of fat, calories, sugar and lack of fiber. Add this to labor and debt issues at Hostess, and it does not make a good recipe for a turnaround.

Similarly, the Kodak brand remains number one or two (battling it out with Fuji) in the photographic film business. But unfortunately, in this digital era nobody uses film any more.  Eastman Kodak undoubtedly has patents with some value, but they may not have enough value for the company to successfully reorganize in Chapter 11.

We still like to see a stable of good brands when we evaluate turnaround candidates, but the brands have to represent currently viable products. They must offer management a tool with which to reinvigorate the business. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with Hostess and Kodak, that is not always the case.

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George Putnam's Favorite Stocks for 2016

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2015 Bankruptcy Recap: 46% Increase Fueled by Oil & Gas/Mining Industry--Further Uptick Predicted

Looking back at 2015, research reveals a 14% decline in overall business bankruptcies but a 46% uptick in public company Chapter 11 filings—with a striking 51% of those filings coming from the battered Oil & Gas/Mining sectors. Economic indicators point to further increases in corporate bankruptcy, in general, and Energy-related filings, in particular. Just a few days into 2016, this viewpoint has already been validated by Arch Coal's long-awaited $8 billion Chapter 11 filing—and continuing oil price plummets severe enough that OPEC will likely convene an emergency meeting to address "shattered" economies. Read More.

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Spotlight: Junk Bond Market

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MarketWatch's Mark Hulbert recently tapped George's distressed investing expertise to determine the fate of the junk-bond market and what its nearly three-year decline likely means for your portfolio.

 

Hulbert writes, "What’s really going on? For insight, I turned to George Putnam, an expert in distressed-company investing. His Turnaround Letter advisory service has handily beaten the stock market over the past 15 years, according to the Hulbert Financial Digest’s tracking, by an impressive margin of 7.3 percentage points a year on an annualized basis."

 

Commenting on the rapid growth of high-yield exchange traded funds (ETF's), Putnam notes, "They have become the investment vehicle of choice for short-term investors….Those investors tend to be trend followers and, therefore, are just the opposite of being contrarian."

 

Read the full MarketWatch junk-bond article to find out what George thinks these recent indicators likely mean for future distressed investing profit.