Market Musings 14/5/2012
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.