Monday, July 28, 2008

Buying Alternative Energy for Free!

Equus Total Return (NYSE: EQS) is a closed-end fund that trades at a 42% discount to its net asset value. It invests primarily in both debt and equity instruments of small-caps and private companies. Each quarter, management must report the fair value of its net assets, but the stock market value of Equus is much lower than that of its net assets. Here's a chart showing Equus' discount to its net assets for the last five years:
As we can see, Equus is used to trading at a discount to its NAV, but recent negativity across the US market has taken it to even newer lows relative to what it owns.

One of Equus' key holdings (in fact, it makes up almost one third of its portfolio) is an equity position in Infinia Corporation. For those who aren't hardcore alternative energy aficionados, Infinia is a company aspiring to mass produce a low-cost solar power converter. The fair value of one of Equus' investments in Infinia (based on follow-up venture capital investments) recently jumped from $3 million to over $20 million, as the company demonstrated a protype late last year which converts solar energy into electricity at twice the efficiency and at a lower cost than existing products.

One way to look at a purchase of Equus' stock at this discount level is that for the price one share at $6.90, you're getting all of its other assets (which are worth about $8.30/sh) for a slight discount, and on top of that getting the investment in Infinia (valued at $3.50/sh) for free! Of course, before jumping in blindly you'll want to make sure you read Equus' latest reports along with its financial statements and their notes, as we've discussed here.

In reading these reports, I found that Equus does carry some debt on its balance sheet, which is somewhat rare for a fund. This has the effect of amplifying any changes in the values of their investments, both to the upside and the downside (the effect of leverage). Furthermore, most of the investments are in companies that aren't public, and therefore Equus is not as liquid as those funds that invest only in the stock market (undoubtedly, this liquidity premium contributes to the larger than average historical discount we see in the chart above). The lack of market quotations also makes it more difficult for management to value each of it's holdings.

Infinia is one such example, as it doesn't trade on the stock market and so it's not available for an individual investor to buy. Although the drawback is that Equus' investments are illiquid, it provides an investor the opportunity to get into a company like Infinia when it's otherwise limited to venture capital firms only. The discount is a bonus that makes this an intriguing play from a value investing point of view.

Disclosure: The author has no ownership in Equus

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