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Mario Gabelli's Gabelli Value 25 Fund 3rd Quarter Shareholder Letter

- By Holly LaFon

To Our Shareholders,


For the quarter ended September 30, 2018, the net asset value ("NAV") per Class A Share of The Gabelli Value 25 Fund increased 5.3% compared with increases of 7.7% and 9.6% for the Standard & Poor's ("S&P") 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, respectively. Other classes of shares are available. See page 2 for performance information for all classes.



Third Quarter Commentary


Markets continued to charge ahead in the third quarter, with the S&P 500 again setting record highs in late September. Financial and economic data continue to support the rally: U.S. second quarter GDP growth registered a blistering 4.2%, the unemployment rate fell to a 49-year low at 3.7% in September, and corporate profits soared, with growth of over 16%. This good news was enough to overlook continued trade tensions, Federal Reserve-driven rising interest rates, and uncertainty around the midterm congressional elections.


This being said, there are always uncertainties and potential pitfalls to both markets and the economy.


We focus on what we call the "Four Ts":


  • Tariffs. Just after quarter end, the Trump Administration announced it had successfully negotiated the USMCA to replace NAFTA. Once ratified, the new agreement would (presumably) lead to an end of trade tensions in North America. Does this mean that the Trump administration will also, after much fiery rhetoric, try to find common ground on trade with the E.U. and China? Time will tell, but it currently appears that any actual economic damage may be short lived.



  • Ten Year. The 10-Year Treasury note yielded less than 2.5% at the start of 2018. As of this writing, it yields over 3.2%, as higher interest rates are finally becoming a reality. Are current equity multiples sustainable as interest rates continue to rise?




  • Taxes. The U.S. moved to a territorial tax system from a global system for corporations, which when coupled with a 21% corporate tax rate provides a magnet for businesses to locate here. Another plus is the 100% expensing of capital expenditures for both new and used equipment, which drives increased business spending. Clarity on taxes should also allow for more deal making.




  • Technology. Winners and losers are being created in a multitude of industries as technology is used to disrupt old business models. Long standing businesses are also employing technology to deepen their economic "moats", particularly locally-focused service oriented businesses. In the stock market, large cap tech has again been leading growth this year (as for much of the last decade), though tech stock prices started to reflect worries about continued growth after quarter end.




Deals, Deals & More Deals


Worldwide mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity totaled $3.3 trillion during the first nine months of 2018, an increase of 37% compared to the first nine months of 2017 and the strongest first nine months for global M&A on record. The third quarter, however, registered a 32% decline in transaction value compared to the second quarter of the year. Overall, 34,543 deals were announced worldwide during the first nine months of 2018, down 9% from a year ago, indicating that mega deals are continuing to drive transaction value. We continue to anticipate more small and mid-cap companies participating in the current M&A boom as time goes on, especially as potential targets continue to be created via financial engineering.


Investment Scorecard


Sony Corp. (SNY)(6.3% of net assets as of September 30, 2018) (+18%) was the top contributor to returns for the quarter as it reported strong top and bottom line results driven by its Game & Network Service and Music divisions. Industrial holdings including Circor (1.4%) (+29%), Crane (2.3%) (+23%) and Flowserve (1.2%) (+36%) were strong during the quarter due to a combination of robust reported economic activity, a rebound in oil prices driving the prospect of further capital spending in the oil patch and a tempering of trade tensions in light of a new agreement with the Mexico and Canada. Against this backdrop, Honeywell (3.3%) (+16%) continued to benefit from increased aerospace and defense spending, and the completion of the spin-off of Garrett Motion, its transportation business, after the end of the quarter.


Detractors from performance included Twenty-First Century Fox (2.9%) (-6%) which declined slightly from its highs amid bidding war speculation between Disney and Comcast. Gold miner Newmont Mining (2.9%) (-20%) declined along with the price of gold. Finally, Bank of New York Mellon (3.2%) (-5%) shares were impacted by a flattening yield curve and disappointing results from a more stringent CCAR test.

Let's Talk Stocks


The following are stock specifics on selected holdings of our Fund. Favorable earnings prospects do not necessarily translate into higher stock prices, but they do express a positive trend that we believe will develop over time. Individual securities mentioned are not necessarily representative of the entire portfolio. For the following holdings, the share prices are listed first in United States dollars (USD) and second in the local currency, where applicable, and are presented as of September 30, 2018.


Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) (3.2% net assets as of September 30,2018) (BK - $50.99 - NYSE) is a global leader in providing financial services to institutions and individuals. The company operates in more than 100 markets worldwide and strives to be the global provider of choice for investment management and investment services. As of September 2018, the firm had $34.5 trillion in assets under custody and $1.8 trillion in assets under management. Going forward, we expect BK to benefit from rising global incomes and the cross border movement of financial transactions. We believe BK is also well positioned to grow earnings in a rising interest rate environment, given its large customer cash deposits and significant loan book.


Discovery Communications Inc. (DISCA)(1.6%) (DISCA - $32.00, DISCK - $29.58 - NASDAQ) is a global nonfiction media and entertainment company that provides programming to pay-TV distributors through network brands such as the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, HGTV, Food Network, and ID. On September 12, 2018, Discovery reached a vMVPD distribution agreement with Hulu and announced a contract renewal with Dish Network which includes carriage on Dish's Sling TV. In addition to providing ~2.5 million additional subscribers, the agreements highlight the value of Discovery's content. The news should reduce investor concerns that Discovery is losing relevance in U.S. markets. Separately, management believes 1) Scripps synergies, estimated at $600 million, are tracking ahead of expectations, 2) affiliate fees should see a significant step-up in 2019, and 3) the company will be at or below 4.0x debt to EBITDA by year-end. Discovery has an enviable business model. About 50% of revenue is generated from long-term agreements with pay-TV distributors and the company is exposed to secular growth in the international pay-TV industry. Industry leading margins are especially attractive given the low capital intensity of the cable network business. We expect the acquisition of Scripps Networks to provide meaningful cost synergies as well as improved scale. We also believe Discovery could be an attractive acquisition target for a number of larger media companies given the acceleration in industry consolidation. DISCA trades at 9.0x 2019P EBITDA, which compares favorably to recent transactions: Time Warner was purchased at 13x EBITDA; Disney is paying 15.5x EBITDA for FOX's assets.


Honeywell International Inc. (HON)(3.3%) (HON - $166.40 - NYSE) operates as a diversified technology company with highly engineered products, including turbine propulsion engines, auxiliary power units, aircraft brake pads, environmental control systems, engine controls, communications and navigation systems, sensors, home automation, catalysts and absorbents and process technology for the petrochemical and refining industries and warehouse automation equipment and software. One of the key drivers of HON's growth is acquisitions that increase the company's growth profile globally, creating both organic and inorganic opportunities. The company recently announced its plan to spin-off its Homes product portfolio and ADI Global Distribution businesses as well as its Transportation Systems business into two publicly-traded companies.

Liberty Braves Group (BATRA) (0.8%) (BATRA - $27.28 / BATRK - $27.25 - NASDAQ), located in Cobb County, Georgia, was founded in 1871 and is the oldest continuously operating professional sports franchise in the U.S. The Atlanta Braves' second season at the 41,500 seat SunTrust Park resulted in a 2% increase in average attendance to 31,553 as the young team returned to the playoffs after an absence of five years. The Braves have benefited from the increase in sports team valuations with Forbes' Braves valuation increasing 41% over the last three years to $1.65 billion, in-line with MLB's 39% increase. Continued team performance combined with a low payroll effectively locked in for three/four years with a young "controllable" core and a top farm system could drive valuation further. The Braves continue to benefit from MLB broadcast contracts with new broadcasters such as Facebook and potential legal sports (PAPSA) betting revenue. The high stadium attendance supports the 66 acre mixed use real estate development, which is continuing to expand with the new Thyssenkrupp Elevator Americas and Aloft Hotel. The residential property was recently sold for $155 million which bodes well for the $600 million mixed use development which is "hidden" within the group.


Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM) (2.9%) (NEM - $30.20 - NYSE) based in Denver, Colorado, is one of the largest gold mining companies in the world. Founded in 1921 and publicly traded since 1925, NEM is the only gold company included in the S&P 500 Index and Fortune 500. We expect the company to produce approximately 5.2 million ounces of gold and 120 million pounds of copper in 2018, with approximately 70% of this production coming from the United States and Australia. Newmont undertook company wide cost cutting measures during the period 2013 - 2017, lowering its average unit costs base by over 20% during this period. The company has sold non-core assets and has deployed the proceeds from these sales into repaying debt and building new projects which it expects will generate superior rates of return for shareholders. Given Newmont's largely fixed cost base, every increase (or decrease) in the gold price will flow directly to the company's bottom line.


Republic Services Inc. (3.9%) (RSG) (RSG - $72.66 - NYSE), based in Phoenix, Arizona, became the second largest solid waste company in North America after its acquisition of Allied Waste Industries in December 2008. Republic provides nonhazardous solid waste collection services for commercial, industrial, municipal, and residential customers in 39 states and Puerto Rico. Republic serves more than 2,800 municipalities and operates 194 landfills, 209 transfer stations, 349 collection operations, and 92 recycling facilities. Since the Allied merger, Republic has benefited from synergies driven by route density, beneficial use of acquired assets, and reduction in redundant corporate overhead. Republic is committed to its core solid waste business. While other providers have strayed into alternative waste resource technologies and strategies, we view Republic's plan to remain steadfast in the traditional solid waste business positively. We expect continued solid waste growth acquisitions, earnings improvement, and incremental route density and internalization growth in already established markets to generate real value in the near to medium term, highlighting the company's potential.


Ryman Hospitality Properties Inc. (2.2%) (RHP) (RHP - $86.17 - NYSE) is the owner of five large convention-centric hotels under the Gaylord brand. It also owns the Opryland brand and entertainment complex in Nashville, the city of its origin. As such, it has benefited from the growth in country music and consumer preference for live entertainment. The company is structured as a REIT (real estate investment trust), providing an extra level of tax efficiency to enhance its investment attraction. The company's hotels are group-centric, and revenues and bookings have remained strong due to its long and steady economic expansion in the United States. Future growth should come from new hotels (probably established as joint ventures) as well as development of additional live entertainment venues, one of which will open in Orlando later this year, and development of country music-focused content.


Sony Corp. (6.3%) (SNE) (SNE - $60.65 - NYSE) is a diversified electronics and entertainment company based in Tokyo, Japan. The company manufactures image sensors, televisions, PlayStation game consoles, mobile phone handsets, and cameras. It also operates the Columbia film studio and Sony Music entertainment group. We expect growth opportunity in image sensor and game businesses and operational improvements in consumer electronics and entertainment to generate EBITDA growth through 2018. We also think the potential spinoff of the entertainment assets could be a catalyst.


Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc Fox (2.9%) (FOXA) (FOXA - $46.33, FOX - $45.82 - NASDAQ) is a diversified media company with operations in cable network television, television broadcasting, and filmed entertainment. FOX is in the process of selling the company's cable, international, and entertainment assets to Disney for $72 billion or ~$38 per share. Following the transaction, FOXA will consist of Fox News and The Fox Broadcasting Company. The company's concentration in live news and sports programming will be a significant advantage as it negotiates with both traditional and entrant distributors. Pro forma for the Disney transaction, FOXA is trading at 7.2x EBITDA, which we view as attractive.


Viacom Inc. (5.6%) (VIA) (VIA - $36.55 - NASDAQ) is a pure-play content company that owns a global stable of cable networks, including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, VH1, BET, and the Paramount movie studio. Viacom's cable networks generate revenue from advertising sales, fixed monthly subscriber fees, and ancillary revenue from toy licensing, etc. We believe a low valuation and M&A potential outweigh the secular risks of cord-cutting.


Conclusion


As always, we conduct bottom-up research on companies and industries through our proprietary methodology which we call "GAPIC": Gather, Array, Project, Interpret, and Communicate. As active stock pickers, this is the kind of environment for us to prove our mettle. We continue to seek high-quality companies trading at a discount to Private Market Value - the price an informed industrialist would pay to own an entire business - and look for catalysts to surface value, such as industry consolidation, financial engineering, new management, regulatory changes, or a change in cash flow allocation.


October 31, 2018


Note: The views expressed in this Shareholder Commentary reflect those of the Portfolio Managers only through the end of the period stated in this Shareholder Commentary. The Portfolio Managers' views are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions. The information in this Portfolio Managers' Shareholder Commentary represents the opinions of the individual Portfolio Managers and is not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of future results, or investment advice. Views expressed are those of the Portfolio Managers and may differ from those of other portfolio managers or of the Firm as a whole. This Shareholder Commentary does not constitute an offer of any transaction in any securities. Any recommendation contained herein may not be suitable for all investors. Information contained in this Shareholder Commentary has been obtained from sources we believe to be reliable, but cannot be guaranteed.

This article first appeared on GuruFocus.