Market Musings 9/5/2012
Since my last update markets have been rocky on the back of election results in France and Greece in particular. Notwithstanding this present volatility, however, I don’t see this as a game-changer, given that Hollande was the front-runner for the French presidency for quite some time before the election, while Greece has for so long been anything but well-behaved that the election of a large number of cranks to its parliament is unlikely to result in any deviation from the Hellenic Republic’s recent record when it comes to compliance with sound economic policies. What the pullback in the market means for me, if anything, is that some of the stocks I was looking to buy are now more attractively priced, but more on this anon.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in CRH plc) We got an interim management statement this morning from CRH. I, and indeed all of the brokers whose preview notes I saw ahead of this announcement, had expected the company to guide that H1 EBITDA would increase compared to year-earlier levels on the back of improving trends in North America and the benefits of cost take-out programmes. In the event, the company is guiding “overall EBITDA in the less significant first half of the year to be close to last year’s level”. While the firm is sticking with its “overall like-for-like sales growth in 2012 and a year of progress for CRH” full-year guidance, I think this is a disappointing statement in light of more upbeat releases from peers in recent times. Other points of note within the statement include: (i) Regional performance as expected, with “a firmer tone in construction markets in the United States” and a weaker economic backdrop in Europe; and (ii) Development spend appears somewhat underwhelming – CRH said it spent €230m on 13 acquisitions and investments in the year to date. This compares with the €186m spent in H12011. Given CRH’s strong balance sheet, I would have hoped that the company would have stepped up its development spend more significantly by now. Overall, I see little in this statement to get enthusiastic about.
Elsewhere, United Drug issued its H1 numbers this morning. Going into it I had expected the group to have faced headwinds due to the impact of healthcare cutbacks, in the event the group unveiled a robust performance, achieving both topline growth and an impressive (8%) increase in earnings per share. Management is sticking to its full-year guidance of 4-8% growth in EPS, but given the H1 performance I suspect the risks to United Drug’s numbers lie to the upside.
Tullow Oil saw its share price close up over 3% yesterday on the back of a chunky oil discovery in Kenya. The company’s strike rate when it comes to finding new resources is to my knowledge unparalleled in the industry, and is a testament to the outstanding team built around exploration director Angus McCoss.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in BP plc) Speaking of oil stocks, I followed through on my recent commitment to add to my sterling denominated assets and I doubled my position in BP at 420p yesterday. While I appreciate that the oil price is under pressure at this time, for me I think there is a hell of a lot of downside risk priced into BP at these levels (just under 6x PE), while the prospective dividend yield of 5.4% is particularly attractive relative to the poor returns presently available from traditional ‘income assets’.
One of my Twitter ‘followers’ asked me if I was concerned about the FX risk after I loaded up on BP shares yesterday. I replied that I was bearish on the euro both in the short-term (due to the market’s nervousness around France, Greece and Ireland) and the long-term (due to growing policy incoherence at the EU level as more and more of the architects of the present strategy are being rejected at the ballot box). For this reason I’ve been buying exposure to sterling both through equities and by moving cash from euro into sterling.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in RBS plc) Following its recent Q1 results, RBS CEO Stephen Hester gave an interview that contained a few interesting nuggets. I have to say I’m really getting a sense that the bank has turned the corner, as illustrated by some of Hester’s comments in that clip.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in France Telecom plc) In the telco space, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s America Movil bid to raise its stake in Holland’s KPN. With Hutchison Whampoa reportedly prowling round Ireland’s eircom, not long after it bought Orange Austria from France Telecom, who also sold Orange Suisse to private equity firm Apax, this pick-up in M&A activity is presumably bullish for sector valuations. France Telecom is trading at a small discount to my valuation on the company, and I am monitoring the share price closely with a view to exiting the position. Hopefully these developments mean that I can escape from it sooner rather than later!
In the macro space, the Adam Smith Institute, which is one of my favourite think tanks, happened upon this great chart which illustrates that Ireland is not the only country in Europe where many politicians and media commentators talk of ‘austerity’, while in reality government spending is in fact little changed compared to the past couple of years.