Portfolio Update - February 28th 2010

A relatively benign week on the markets but a good month for equities in general. The FTSE 100 rose 76 points to 5,354 on Friday, whilst U.S. stocks finished modestly higher (DOW JONES Industrials 10,325 +4 points) to have their best month since November (DOW +2.6%, NASDAQ +4.2%, S&P 500 +1.5%, FTSE 100 +2.6% for the month)

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that GDP grew at a 5.9% the fourth quarter of 2009, the fastest rate since the third quarter of 2003 confirming the the American economy is solidly moving out of recession. This compared with the U.K.’s revised GDP of 0.3%.

The portfolio was hit hard this week by the disappointing news from Nighthawk Energy (HAWK), highlighting the risks and rewards of investing in small cap stocks. Contrarian Investor UK is currently assessing some new ideas for the portfolio with a view to rebalancing to a more diversified portfolio.

Nighthawk Energy (HAWK) – On Tuesday, Nighthawk finally issued a more comprehensive report on the Jolly Ranch shale oil and gas play in the U.S.. The results were poor, with the field still producing little more than 150 barrels per day (BPD) despite promises as the Annual General Meeting (AGM) that production would be closer to 800-1000 by quarter one 2010. The horizontal drilling technique used on some of the wells to extract oil seems to have been relatively unsuccessful meaning that HAWK is looking at the economics of the field based on standard vertical drilling. The company had $18 million of cash and liquid assets left after the fund raising in 2009. Contrarian Investor UK sold his position on the news at 27p, with the stock finishing the week at 25p. A 30% loss was painful given the commitment in time to this company but I am concerned that the “proving up” of the Jolly shale oil field will take the company into late 2010 where cash resources will become stretched and a further fund raising will be necessary. It is also somewhat concerning that private partner Running Foxes, who currently fund 50% of the drilling work, may not have an appetite for continued high investment in Jolly. Although HAWK may decide to sell its Revere or Cisco Springs fields, this stock is now looking very high risk and I disappointed in the results from Jolly Ranch after the strong convictions expressed at the AGM by MD David Bramhill and Steve Tedesco (from partner Running Foxes). At 25p, HAWK may still produce a return for buyers at this level but although it may go to 40p, sub 20p may also be just round the corner for this company which seems to thrive on shareholder disappointment.

Falkland Oil drillers (Desire Petroleum, Falkland Oil and Gas, Borders and Southern) – The Falkland Oil explorers all slipped this week, as the Argentinean government continued to apply political pressure through the Rio Summit and U.N. for the British government to stop further drilling around the Islands. This political pressure has been to date unsuccessful but added to the relative risks of these shares. I continue to hold DES, FOGL and BOR on expectation of results from the Ocean Guardian rig in March despite all the volatility in these companies.

ITV (ITV) – ITV continues it’s move back up and finished at 54p, following a positive outlook from Scottish Television company STV (which was formerly known as SMG). STV chief executive, Rob Woodward, forecast that the national TV ad market was likely to be up between 4 and 8% year on year in April.

GW Pharma (GWP) – Approval for cannabis spray, Sativex, is still expected in Q1 and this remains Contrarian Investor U.K’s largest holding.

Amgen (AMGN) - A quiet week for Amgen with the stock finishing at $56. Further news on osteoporosis drug, Prolia, still awaited in quarter one 2010.

Micron Technology (MU) – The stock moved back over the $9 mark as the outlook for DRAM memory chips continue to improve in the the second half of 2010.