Posts Tagged ‘China’
Since my last update the Eurozone’s pressures have again bubbled to the surface, knocking share valuations and pushing down the value of the euro. However, troubles can often lead to opportunities elsewhere, and some of the shares on my buy list are now offering a lower entry price along with a superior potential kicker to earnings from FX than before.
The euro fell to a 2 year low against the US dollar and an 11 year low against the Yen. The key Irish stocks who benefit from a stronger USD relative to the euro include: CRH (which I’m a shareholder in), Kerry, United Drug, Glanbia and Kingspan. There are no Irish plcs with a material exposure to Japan. Another consequence of this turmoil is that yields on many ‘safe’ Eurozone countries have fallen into negative territory, which I find difficult to reconcile given how many non-financial corporates, whose balance sheets have seldom been stronger, are offering well covered attractive dividend yields. On this note, I was unsurprised to see that dividend payouts by UK plcs hit a record high in Q2 of this year.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Trinity Mirror plc) There was an interesting post on TMF examining “12 shares the market has thrashed this year“. Of the ‘dirty dozen’ I hold TNI, and I concur with the author’s views on it – it’s capitalised at £70m, generated free cashflow of £55m last year (I forecast that it will generate a similar amount this year, putting it on a free cashflow yield of circa 80%!) and as it continues to pay down debt (net debt has fallen from £300m in FY09 to £200m by end-FY11) I see a significant wealth transfer from debt holders to equity holders. While it does have a pension deficit (£230m at end-FY11) this is substantially covered by freehold property with a book value of £177m. It’s a stock I like – on my model it will be debt free by 2015 and generating (I conservatively assume a continued decline in revenues for the newspaper sector i.e. no recovery in advertising and/or circulation revenues) free cash of £35-40m by then – a 50%-60% free cash flow yield based on where the share price is currently at.
China has been rocked by another wave of problems around domestically produced baby formula. The sector there has struggled following the 2008 scandal, which has (understandably) directed Chinese consumers towards foreign brands. This is positive news for Ireland, whose share of global infant formula production is approaching 20%. The key beneficiaries from a plc perspective here are Kerry Group and Glanbia.
Dragon Oil issued a trading update this morning. Due to sand ingress issues it has trimmed 2012 production growth guidance to 10-15% from the previous 15%, but importantly it has retained its medium term output forecast. The firm is increasing the number of wells it proposes to drill this year to compensate for production delays, which is a positive. While the firm has been expanding into the exploration area, acquiring interests in blocks in Iraq and Tunisia, I can’t help but wonder if Dragon should be using its $1.7bn cash pile to buy up financially constrained smallcaps with proven reserves, many of which are trading on bargain basement prices, rather than engage in more speculative exploration activity.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Tesco plc) I was pleased to see a marked improvement in signage and merchandising in my local Tesco last weekend – on previous visits to the store I found that there was often no correlation between signs and what was actually on the shelves, so perhaps this is an indication that management is delivering on its promise to improve the customer experience in this part of the world. Obviously I’m basing this hunch on a sample of 1 store in a vast network of outlets, but if you’ve noticed similar or divergent trends please feel free to post them in the comments section.
Finally, I am pleased this morning to read that Ireland is proposing to reduce its number of parliamentarians and axe over a quarter of the smallest local councils. Even after this move, the country will still be over-represented at a national level – 158 TDs (MPs) and 60 Senators is still far too much for a country of our size (the 2 European countries closest to us in population terms, Norway and Croatia, have unicameral parliaments with 169 and 151 MPs respectively). Hopefully the people will vote to axe the Senate in next year’s referendum to remove this anomaly.
Ever since I started this blog one of the key themes has been the slowdown in the Chinese economy. A couple of interesting articles that suggest this is really starting to play out came my way over the weekend, which I highlight here:
- This is an excellent TLS review of Jonathan Fenby’s latest book on China which outlines a lot of the key challenges facing the country
- The New York Times asks if China is manipulating statistics to camouflage the scale of the slowdown
- Chinese shipyards are seeing orders dry up…
- …while the textile industry is seeing a slump in the rate of export growth
- Rising coal stockpiles also point to slowing economic activity…
- …along with modest growth in oil demand
You can read my thoughts following my recent visit to China here.
Bookmaker Paddy Power, which has a well-deserved reputation as a marketing genius, has presumably garnered a lot of goodwill in England with a €1,000,000 refund to punters after the team’s penalty loss to Italy last night.
The land-grab for emerging markets’ alcohol brands continues, with AB Inbev reportedly in talks to buy out the 50% of Corona beer maker Grupo Modelo that it doesn’t already own. Along with AB Inbev, Diageo, Heineken and Molson Coors have all been active in terms of buying high-growth brands in the developing world in recent times, which could lead to opportunities for smaller producers in this part of the world (I’m mainly thinking C&C here) to pick up more mature brands which would fit well within their portfolios.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Datalex plc) This morning it was announced that Datalex CEO Cormac Whelan is stepping down. He is to be replaced, at least temporarily, by Senior VP of Sales, Aidan Brogan, who has been with the company since 1994. Whelan leaves behind a strong legacy at Datalex, having successfully transitioned the business model into a transaction-based one and signed up plenty of blue-chip clients for the firm. Importantly, today’s statement also reveals that: “The business is performing in line with guidance to date in 2012, and the board looks forward to the remainder of the year with confidence”.
David Holding wrote an interesting article on TMF – “6 Baked Bean and Shotgun Shares” that’s worth checking out. Of the six, the only one I hold is BP, but I am intrigued by Camellia (which I had never heard of before) – assuming he has his numbers right (I’ve no reason to suspect otherwise) and there’s nothing peculiar lurking within the accounts, it’s one that seems worthy of conducting further analysis on.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Trinity Mirror plc) In the blogosphere, Paul Scott posted an excellent overview of newspaper group Trinity Mirror which hit all the key points.
The past few days have been relatively quiet in terms of newsflow, but as this is due to change starting tomorrow with a significant number of results and trading updates expected before the end of next week from Irish plcs I thought I should do a quick blog on what’s been grabbing my attention of late.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Total Produce plc) To begin with the food sector, The Irish Times carried an interesting report from the Fyffes AGM at which management admitted that it considers a re-merger with Total Produce “from time to time”, but has no current plans to execute one. A merger would have some positives – economies of scale, more institutional interest in a combined entity with a higher market cap etc. – but for me it would add a chunk of volatility into the Total Produce investment case that I would prefer to do without. I believe that Total Produce should stick to its stated task of consolidating Europe’s fragmented produce sector – leading Irish companies such as DCC and United Drug have demonstrated in their market segments that focused distribution firms can deliver consistently high returns over time. Why risk that narrative by adding a more volatile component?
I was pleased to see that the Irish Stock Exchange will next month be joined by a new entrant – Fastnet Oil & Gas is backed by Raglan Capital and some of the directors of Cove Energy, which was recently sold to Shell for £1.2bn. I suspect that this will attract a lot of private investor interest given the way Cove shareholders made out like bandits. I look forward to tracking its progress.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Allied Irish Banks plc). Today it was confirmed that AIB is to issue another 3.6bn shares to the Irish State in lieu of a €280m cash dividend on the NPRFC’s preference shares. This means that AIB will have 517bn (yes, billion, with a “b”!) shares in issue following this transaction. Given tonight’s closing price (7c), AIB is presently capitalised at €36bn, roughly twice its peak during the Celtic Tiger, when the bank also had significant operations in both the United States and Poland. This valuation is quite obviously ridiculous, especially when benchmarked against its closest domestic peer Bank of Ireland, capitalised at only €2.7bn. My only remaining shares in AIB are some legacy ‘staff shares’ that are horribly underwater and which I view as having value solely as a tax loss to offset against capital gains elsewhere in the portfolio at some future point.
In the construction space Irish builders merchant and timber distributors Brooks has been bought out of insolvency by Welsh timber firm Premier Forest Products. From a plc perspective, given that Brooks will operate from only 6 outlets post the transaction and the fact that the acquirer is a timber specialist, I assume that this is unlikely to form a base for Premier to build a substantial operation that would have a significant competitive impact on either Saint-Gobain or Grafton in this market.
Speaking of builders merchant groups, Travis Perkins released an IMS earlier today in which it stated that: “at a group level the outlook for the year remains unchanged and we remain confident of meeting consensus expectations”. In the first four months of the year Travis Perkins achieved like-for-like group in its UK general merchanting operations of +2.6% (specialist merchanting was +1.9%), which compares with the +1.7% achieved in the same period in that market by Grafton.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Trinity Mirror plc) As ever the blogosphere has thrown up some interesting nuggets. John Kingham asks if Rolls-Royce shares are as attractive as the company, while Lewis did a great write-up on UK housebuilder Barratt Developments. Elsewhere, Paul Scott provided a very comprehensive review of Trinity Mirror’s AGM, which included some encouraging signals on the dividend (if income is your thing), but as ever my own bias towards strong balance sheets means I’d prefer to see it move towards a zero net debt position before reactivating distributions to shareholders. I am very tempted to increase my position in TNI following its recent good news around its net debt and pension deficit.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Irish Continental Group plc) Since my last blog post I was interested to read the FY2011 results statement from grey market ‘listed’ Irish investment group One51. The management team, led by CEO Alan Walsh, has done a good job at starting to reposition the group, but it remains somewhat hamstrung by its high net debt (€146.4m at end-2011, or 4.0x last year’s EBITDA). In recent months it has disposed of interests in Premier Proteins and IFG, while it is in the process of selling its Speciality Plastics Business. Management add that “Other assets will be sold as part of the two year Action Plan” and “it is anticipated that net debt levels will be substantially reduced over the course of 2012″. While ‘substantially’ is such a subjective term, I am guessing that the company is giving serious consideration to a sale of its 12.3% stake in Irish Continental Group (current market value €46.8m) as part of this process. Elsewhere within the statement, I was very interested to read of the recent appointment of a number of heavyweight directors along with a reaffirmation of One51’s “commitment to meeting the main requirements of the UK Corporate Governance Code and the Irish Corporate Governance Annex during the course of 2011 and beyond”, which to me reads like it’s also considering moving to a full stock market listing in time.
Overall, I would welcome a placing of One51’s ICG holding given that (i) it will improve liquidity in it; and (ii) from a selfish perspective (!) it would likely provide an opportunity to add to my position at an attractive level.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Ryanair plc and CRH plc) Goodbody Stockbrokers issued its latest investment strategy note. In it the broker says Ryanair, Dragon Oil, Aryzta, Paddy Power, William Hill, Kingspan and FBD are its preferred Q2 longs, while it still favours shorting CRH.
From a macro perspective, I was interested to see this blog post on the FT website about how stockpiles of copper and aluminium are overflowing into carparks in China. The words “hard” and “landing” come to mind.
Elsewhere, the head of NAMA made some interesting comments yesterday about its overseas portfolio. So far the agency has advanced €280m on working capital for overseas developments. In NAMA’s Q3 2011 report it disclosed that “working and development capital of €873 million has been approved by NAMA to end September 2011 of which €477m has been drawn”. Considering that two-thirds of NAMA’s initial loan ‘assets’ were located in Ireland at the time of its establishment, it does seem that overseas developments are getting disproportionate attention from the agency, but given the grim state of the domestic economy can anyone here really be surprised?
What an eventful 48 hours it’s been since my last update!
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media plc and Trinity Mirror plc) The media sector has produced much excitement, with boardroom ructions and rumours of stakebuilding to the fore. This morning two large prints in INM – one for 10m shares, the other for 3m, were recorded. Combined this is equivalent to 2.4% of the company. RTE hints that the buyer is not connected to the three billionaires (Tony O’Reilly & family, Dermot Desmond and Denis O’Brien) on the INM register, which adds a further touch of intrigue to the stock. This evening it was confirmed that Gavin O’Reilly has stepped down as INM CEO, to be replaced by Vincent Crowley. I welcome Crowley’s appointment – I met him quite a few times when I covered INM as a sell-side analyst some years ago and was very impressed by him. He has a good reputation for tight cost management (earned at a time when the Irish economy was thriving and few executives here were as focused on cost take-out as he was back then) and any strong action by him on this front could see a decent re-rating for the stock, which is capitalised at only €134m. I take encouragement from INM’s statement this evening that Crowley “has the unanimous support of the Board”, which hopefully will put to rest the ugly (and very public) feuding that has made the underlying performance of the group something of a side-show for too long. In an ideal world this change will pave the way for the group to focus 100% on the main task at hand, i.e. maximising cash generation to fix the balance sheet and enhance shareholder value. Elsewhere in the media sector, in the UK DMGT’s trading update revealed weakening trends in the past three months, which doesn’t bode well for the likes of Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Tesco plc) Tesco released its results and a strategy update. The results were in line, and management sees the 2012/13 performance (yes, I know it’s early days) meeting forecasts. On the strategy front, there was nothing new that I saw given the extensive media previews / leaks (delete where applicable) in the run up to the official announcement. Obviously time will tell if the strategic objectives are met, but I’m willing to give Tesco the benefit of the doubt given its proven track record, strong brand (I know some people dispute this, but I doubt they’d slap Tesco as a prefix to all sorts of new ventures if the brand wasn’t that good) and solid market positions in many of its key geographies. Many analysts seem to concur. Valuhunter did up a good piece on Tesco here that’s worth a look.
This is absolutely brilliant – check out Paddy Power’s comic-book style annual report.
For those of you who follow the oil sector, Dragon Oil’s CEO made some interesting comments about its future strategy in this video interview.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Abbey plc) Following on from recent upbeat comments from Telford Homes, Persimmon issued an IMS laden with news of rising orders, margins and cashflow. This all gives me further comfort on my position in Abbey.
On the macro front, I was interested to read that authorities zoned enough land for residential to accommodate double the population of Ireland. I’d love to find the genius who thought it would be a good idea to have local councils give an input into this process.
Speaking of housing, Chinese house prices fell in 46 of the 70 biggest cities month-on-month in March (in 37 out of the 70 on a year-on-year basis). I have repeatedly identified this area as a serious problem for China, most recently here.
And finally, here’s the IMF’s ultimate guide to which countries are the most vulnerable in terms of debt/leverage. No surprise to see Ireland is covered in red ink.
I spent last week on a study trip in China along with my colleagues on the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School’s MBA programmes. During the visit we held a large number of meetings with business, community and academic leaders to gain valuable insights into the factors underpinning China’s recent success, and the opportunities and challenges facing the country over the coming years. Due to the relatively informal nature of these meetings, a lot of the information we were given was more qualitative than quantitative, but nonetheless I got a lot of value from these discussions. In this blog I present a number of key takeaways, some of which serve to reinforce a number of the preconceptions I had about the country (and which I have written about extensively on this site), and some which challenge my previous convictions. This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but I hope you will find them as valuable as I did.
China is more free than many Westerners think
One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was the emphasis many speakers placed on rights. I admit that going to China my views on this topic were coloured by its government’s egregious human rights record. While not diminishing the regime’s many abuses, it is fair to say that China has made considerable strides in recent years. As one of the academics we met noted, its citizens today enjoy “free travel, free trade, freedom to establish companies and freedom to study abroad”. On top of that, the recent election in Wukan is a highly significant development. Elsewhere, many speakers openly criticised the regime. One of them concluded by saying: “10 years ago if I had criticised the government to you, you wouldn’t have seen me again”. While much work remains to be done, this progress should not be ignored.
More modern does not necessarily mean more Western
This was another constant theme of the trip. One of the academics we met noted how many Chinese people residing in Western countries have retained a distinct identity and culture. Similarly, despite the economic progress China has made over the past quarter of a century, the country retains a distinct identity. This may be due to its long history of tension with many of its 14 neighbours. One speaker argued that the world may become as ‘Sinosised’ this century as it became Americanised in the last one. I disagree with that, believing that the widespread use of English in much of the developed world and the challenges faced by post-war Europe played a key role in America becoming a dominant ‘cultural power’, but it will be interesting nonetheless to see how this theme plays out.
China’s housing market represents a near-term clear and present danger
Before embarking on the trip, China’s housing bubble was an area that I was particularly keen to learn more about. I found the discussions with a real estate executive particularly helpful in this regard. While insights such as: (i) the 40% year-on-year increase in unsold housing units in China’s 10 largest cities (including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou); (ii) news that 48 of China’s 70 largest cities experienced year-on-year house price declines in January, with the other 22 all reporting no change; and (iii) his view that house prices will fall 10-20% this year, and will decline 30% before levelling out were not particularly surprising to me, they nonetheless serve as a sober reminder of what is the principal near-term headwind for the Chinese economy. Another valued insight was an estimate by a Western advertising executive that house prices in Beijing are at circa 30,000 yuan (€3,750) per square metre. Considering that the median household income in China is circa $5,000 per annum, the housing market does look particularly frothy. A Western newspaper correspondent based in China also made the point that due to restrictions on overseas investment many Chinese investors have little option but to park their savings into the housing market. He also made the interesting observation that the bubble appeared to be concentrated in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, which means that the fallout from the bubble is likely to be concentrated in China’s wealthier regions.
The economy is increasingly opening up to foreign ownership
Before going to China, one frequent complaint I had heard from Western businesspeople was that they were dissatisfied with ownership rules that compelled Westerners to partner with local firms in a range of industries. However, as a management consultant we met illustrated, there has been a steady rising trend in the proportion of companies that Western firms can own across virtually all industries, with only politically sensitive areas such as the media remaining off-limits. This relaxation of ownership rules across the majority of the economy will presumably prove to be a pull factor for FDI into China.
China is not just a manufacturing location
Another constant theme during the trip was that China has moved up the value chain significantly, to the point where it is unfair to categorise it simply as a low-cost outsourced manufacturing location. Seeing R&D facilities established by Western multinationals at first hand underlined how rapidly China is evolving.
There is more than one China
Another key theme from the trip was that China should not be approached as a single entity. With 56 different nationalities and significant regional variances in terms of GDP per capita, Western companies will have to adopt a flexible strategy when entering the country. This was particularly illustrated by comments from a senior executive at a Western retailer operating in China about how it doesn’t have a overall market share target for the country as such, rather it has different objectives in each of the provinces it has a presence in. On top of all that, it is also interesting to note the management consultant’s observation that regional variances in GDP could see some manufacturing move from the more prosperous eastern provinces to the lower-cost western areas of China.
Don’t ignore the emerging middle class
A presentation by an advertising agency provided many insights into China’s emerging middle class. Some 60% of Chinese households now enjoy an income of $3,000-6,000 per annum, a platform which provides significant opportunities for consumer facing companies. Several speakers during the trip noted Chinese consumers’ preference for conspicuous consumption. What’s interesting on that note is that Chinese people generally don’t like to entertain at home, leading to this conspicuous consumption being directed towards more ‘mobile’ or ‘portable’ goods such as luxury goods, cars and so on. On this point, it was interesting to hear one local guide admit that he had only driven his car ten times in nine years. What was also interesting was the advertising agency’s view that, as Chinese people become more affluent, demand for counterfeit goods is declining in favour of the genuine article. This challenges a perception many in the West have that Chinese consumers are indifferent about the authenticity of a product. On that note, in our meeting with a Western telephone company it was interesting to hear the presenter say that they were seeing fewer incidences of fake mobile phones in the market on the grounds that “a more prosperous China wants to buy the real deal”.
Government relations are key
This was another consistent theme during our week in China. Having harmonious relations with public officials was seen as critical to a successful experience in the Chinese economy, particularly due to what one executive noted were “inconsistently applied rules and vague laws”. While the subject of corruption was not explicitly mentioned, I got the distinct impression that this is a significant problem, particularly in light of the recent high profile sacking of a number of senior Communist Party officials.
The role of the media is evolving
Due to the rise of China’s version of Twitter, Weibo, government officials are finding it increasingly difficult to control the media. This was particularly illustrated by the unprecedented levels of criticism heaped on public officials following the high speed rail crash, a point highlighted by one media executive we met. As many leading Chinese firms have established a strong social media presence on Weibo, censoring it is becoming a more sensitive issue for the regime. This could lead to growing tensions over the coming years.
Environmental issues are a major challenge
There was no more vivid illustration of this than the pall of smog that hung over Beijing during our visit. Aside from air quality, other problems that China faces include water quality – despite the countless billions invested in infrastructure it was interesting to see that tap water in Beijing and Shanghai was unfit even for brushing teeth – and sustainable development. Given that incoming premier Xi Jinping has pledged to make sustainability and green development key themes of his term in office, it will be interesting to see how much progress will be made over the coming years in overcoming these significant pressures.
It’s pretty much been all about results since my last update. Let’s run through what’s been happening on a sector-by-sector basis.
To start with the financial sector, insurer FBD posted very good 2011 numbers, with operating EPS coming in at 170c versus guidance of 155-165c. The firm saw a 15% uplift in NAV to 630c last year, while it also hiked the dividend by 9.5%. A lot of credit has to go to John McElligott, who correctly identified the opportunity in FBD quite some time ago.
Elsewhere, in the leisure space, Paddy Power, as usual (!), posted outstanding 2011 numbers yesterday. EPS came in at 212.3c (+26%) versus consensus of 202.5c. Management raised the FY dividend by 33%, while net cash of €136m illustrates perfectly the group’s strength and flexibility to respond to new opportunities.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Total Produce plc) In the food sector, Total Produce released solid 2011 results this morning, with EPS and DPS both up 6% last year. The group did an excellent job in managing pressures such as the German E. coli scare and fragile economic conditions, with total group adjusted EBITA margins only declining 6bps to 1.78% on revenues that were 2.8% lower. Net debt rose to €75.5m from €48.5m at end-2010 mainly due to acquisition spend (including deferred consideration) of €22m, although I was disappointed to see a working capital outflow of €7.8m, which more or less unwound the €7.0m inflow in the previous year. Having updated my model, I was surprised to see a valuation of 59c / share produced by my blended method (P/B, SOTP and DCF) – this is unchanged on my previous valuation of the company, despite the progress made over the past year, and the main reason for this was a €7m deterioration in the reported net pension deficit (while I note management’s comments that this position has improved of late, I prefer to use reported figures in my calculations for consistency). However, as a valuation of 59c/share offers 27% upside from last night’s close, I still think Total Produce is excellent value here.
There was a good bit of news out of UTV Media. The company extended its network affiliate agreement with ITV out to 2024, which won’t really come as a surprise to anyone, while it also acquired social media marketing specialist Simply Zesty to help bulk up its New Media division. While these are incremental positives, the main market interest in the group at this time is centered on its recent boardroom bust-up.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Ryanair plc) In the airline sector, we had traffic stats from both listed Irish carriers. Ryanair’s February traffic was -2% yoy (4.5m passengers), versus -6% in January, -5% in December and -8% in November. Elsewhere, Aer Lingus continued its run of strong traffic stats, revealing a 7.5% rise in passengers carried, while loads were +1ppt at 67.3%, in February.
In terms of macro news, China downgraded its annual growth target from the long-standing 8% to 7.5%. This came as no surprise to me given my previous comments about the more muted outlook for the Chinese economy. I’m travelling there with my MBA classmates on Saturday, and look forward to sharing my insights upon my return to Ireland.
The past few days have been pretty hectic as I’ve started a full slate of new subjects as part of my MBA at the Smurfit Business School. So, this blog is really more of a catch up of what’s been going on.
The main news, for Irish retail investors, has been that two of the microcap plcs in Dublin look like they’ll soon be delisted. Siteserv responded to media reports that it was putting itself up for sale, and given the mountain of debt attached to it I expect that shareholders will be left more or less empty-handed. Like Siteserv, Readymix has been through the wars in recent years due to the difficult macro backdrop here, but its shareholders must be pleasantly surprised to have woken up this morning to news that majority shareholder Cemex has made a preliminary 22c/share offer for it. My advice would be to take the money and run – the share price was only 3c/share before today and the outlook for the Irish construction industry is unlikely to get significantly better for a long time to come.
(Disclaimer: I have an indirect shareholding in DCC plc) DCC cut full-year earnings guidance again due to better than expected weather. I have to admit to feeling like I’d egg on my face given my unequivocal endorsement of the company just before this warning, but with the shares currently trading above where they were at before I expressed my bullish sentiments it’s clear that the market is, like myself, taking the view that it would be unfair to blame a company for a very mild winter.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Marston’s plc) C&C issued a solid trading statement in which it said that operating profits for the full year would be in-line with previous guidance at €110m. Elsewhere in the broader alcoholic drinks space, UK pub groups Greene King and JD Wetherspoon both issued strong Christmas trading updates, buoyed by easy comparatives. This gives me optimism that the most recent addition to my portfolio, pub group Marston’s, has seen a similar performance.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Smurfit Kappa Group plc) There was significant M&A activity in the European packaging space, with DS Smith bidding €1.6bn for SCA’s packaging business. As Davy’s Barry Dixon notes, if you apply the 6.3x EV/EBITDA SCA bid multiple to Smurfit you get an equity value of over €15 (yesterday’s closing SKG price: €5.58). Assuming it goes through, the deal would give a combined DS Smith – SCA 18-19% market share in Europe, just behind Smurfit Kappa Group’s 20%. In my view, this deal is a clear positive for the packaging sector, which is notoriously undisciplined when it comes to pricing. The more consolidation there is, the better, as the larger players will presumably encourage more rational pricing strategies.
SmI’ve expressed my admiration for fund manager Hugh Hendry before. I’ve also expressed my fears about the Chinese economy before. If you put the two of them together you see how Hugh Hendry’s fund, Eclectica, made 46% last year by betting against the Chinese economy. Oh, and speaking of the Chinese economy…
Speaking of taxes, the Irish government is planning to introduce a new broadcasting tax. In my view this is a blatant pitch by The Labour Party to cosy up to the State broadcaster, despite this being: (i) The 21st century, in which people can access information and content from all over the world at the click of a button; (ii) A model that sustains a State broadcaster that in addition to snaffling most of the taxes raised in this space also hoovers up private advertising revenue thus keeping Ireland’s privately owned media on life support; (iii) an era where the very notion of State-owned broadcasting agencies seems horribly antiquated – at best, and a possible threat to democracy – at worst; and (iv) an age in which people are consuming ever smaller amounts of traditional media. Presumably whenever the Minister goes on jollies to foreign countries he tells their political and business elite that Ireland is aiming to be a leader in digital media, while at the same time hitting Ireland’s YouTube generation with a tax to pay for inflated salaries at RTE.
In the blogosphere, Wexboy has commenced an interesting valuation project in which he looks at the stocks listed in Dublin. Well worth checking out.
It’s been a quiet enough start to 2012 so far in terms of newsflow, with some of the key themes from last year continuing to play out, particularly on the macro front.
In China, the authorities signaled that they will be rolling out incentives to encourage more consumer spending, in a further sign of the country’s deteriorating economic fortunes.
Closer to home, Irish house prices continued to fall at double-digit percentage rates in Q411. Given the rate of decline and challenging economic outlook, I don’t see prices leveling off until 2013 at the earliest.
There is a mountain of sovereign debt maturing this year. The G7 and the BRIC countries combined have $7.6trn to refinance – that’s a sum equivalent to over 10% of global GDP. Again I ask – who is going to buy all of this? The answer, in my view, is that a lot of it will be snaffled up by the central banks as monetary policy globally gets even looser during 2012.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in PetroNeft plc) Turning to equities, Paul Curtis, a self-described small cap investor focused on the oil sector, posed an interesting question yesterday about whether 2012 will be a year for E&P consolidation, given that many small caps cannot access finance or raise new equity, while large cap players are throwing off a lot of cash. That got me thinking about PetroNeft, whose reserves are valued at circa $1.50/barrel, while the company has already done a lot of heavy lifting in terms of getting the infrastructure in place to exploit these reserves (it is targeting output of up to 5,000 barrels/day by the end of Q112). If I was a CEO of a large oil company looking to add to my reserves, in these markets I would be tempted by low-hanging fruit like PetroNeft instead of committing resources to speculative exploration activity.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in CRH plc) In a development update released this morning, CRH said that it made “23 acquisition and investment initiatives totalling approximately €0.4 billion” in H211, taking FY11 development spend to €0.6bn. As Goodbody note, CRH’s total development spend of €570m in 2011 compares with 2010’s €520m and the €420m spent in 2009. The considerable firepower CRH is deploying once more serves as a reminder of its industry leading balance sheet (net debt/EBITDA was only 2.2x in 2010), while the volume of transactions also reminds us of CRH’s preference for bolt-on deals over blockbuster ones (a strategy which reduces CRH’s riskiness).
It’s been a busy 24 hours, with M&A activity, some good macro insights and an interesting name popping up on an Irish plc’s board. Let’s run through what’s been going on.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Total Produce plc) Total Produce this morning announced that it has made a bolt-on acquisition. It will pay an initial €6m (rising to up to €15m depending on performance) for a 50% stake in Frankort & Koning Beheer Venlo, a fruit and vegetable distributor with operations in the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. This is a very sensible deal which will complement Total Produce’s existing European footprint. It also leaves the group with considerable firepower to do more acquisitions – at the half-year stage TOT’s net debt was €65.6m, or 1.1x full-year EBITDA, so the way this deal is structured leaves the group well placed to spend at least another €50-100m on growing the business.
Elsewhere, DCC announced that it has acquired the largest oil distributor in Sweden. This takes DCC’s energy business into a fifth country, after the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Austria. Goodbody’s Robert Eason makes the interesting point that DCC now distributes 7.5bn litres of oil annually! Like its fellow Irish listed distribution company Total Produce, DCC has plenty of firepower to make more acquisitions. Today’s deal will cost DCC €22.7m up front and up to an additional €6.6m in performance related deferred consideration, which given the H1 net debt position of €145.5m means that DCC’s net debt remains comfortably below 1x EBITDA.
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media plc). I was interested to read that INM has appointed who it describes as an “experienced international investment banker” to its board. A conspiracy theorist might suggest that one thing INM may consider doing next year is sell its 30.4% stake in Australia’s APN News & Media, which is currently valued at €104m (INM’s market cap at time of writing is only €116m!) as a way of further reducing the group’s net debt (€452.1m at the half-year stage). But of course this blog is not one for idle speculation!
I note that AstraZeneca is under pressure in London today after another drug setback. It exited my portfolio earlier this year after a pharma analyst strongly recommended I let it go, so the first pint is on me the next time I meet him!
(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Bank of Ireland) I was unsurprised (or should that read ‘relieved’?!!) to see brokers cheer on yesterday’s BKIR statement today (given my bullish analysis yesterday). While I think valuing the bank at this stage is a tricky exercise, given that there are so many of what Mr. Rumsfeld would call ‘known unknowns’, I think a valuation of just over 0.3x Davy’s estimated 2013 TNAV more than covers plenty of potential slip-ups along the way (barring, of course, a total meltdown of the euro).
I’ve previously touched on the unreliability of China’s official “statistics”. Bloomberg has done some number crunching that suggests China’s debts are far in excess of what the regime has previously disclosed. As CLSA’s Fraser Howie says: “You know how this story ends – badly”.
Staying with macro topics, Trend Macrolytics’ Lorcan Roche Kelly spotted a number of great charts in the ECB’s Financial Stability report. This one, showing the length of fixed interest rates for new loans, makes for particularly interesting reading.