Philip O'Sullivan's Market Musings

Financial analysis from Dublin, Ireland

Market Musings 13/6/2012

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Since my last update Spain looks like it may shortly be joined by Cyprus in asking for a bailout, making it two more EU countries that have needed external assistance since Ireland voted yes to the “Stability” Treaty – I hope my country isn’t starting to become a contra-indicator!

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Tesco plc) Tesco released its Q1 interim management statement earlier this week. While there was a lot of focus on the performance of individual markets, the bottom line is that Tesco is performing in line with market expectations and the outlook for the full-year remains unchanged. Across the group I was pleased to see an improvement in its Irish sales, which bodes well for the domestic economy here, while the slowdown in Tesco’s Chinese sales growth mirrors the well documented (not least on this blog) pressures in that market. In its key UK market, while conditions remain ‘challenging’, it was comforting to see management describe the performance there as being ‘as expected’. Overall, there’s little within the statement to alter my view on Tesco – it’s clearly going through a rough patch, but trading on less than 9x forward earnings and yielding 5%, and with a relatively strong balance sheet (net debt/EBITDAR was 2.84x at end-FY11) I see limited downside risk to the shares from here. Mind you, some investors have less patience than I, with some giving the CEO a mere 6 months to turn the UK performance around.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Bank of Ireland plc) We saw a positive update from Bank of Ireland earlier this morning, with the group announcing that it has sold another loan portfolio. To date the Bank is 97% of the way through its €10bn programme of divestments, and it is important to note that these sales have been completed within the PCAR base case assumptions. My recent case study on Bank of Ireland is here.

 

Structural steel firm Severfield-Rowen dropped a bit of a clanger earlier this week, warning on profits due to cost over-runs on two projects. It is worth noting that, those two mishaps aside, the group is sticking to guidance of a: “strong order book, anticipated full capacity utilisation and good project mix in both the UK and India”. As Severfield-Rowen is a leading indicator for the commercial real estate sector, this update is somewhat reassuring from a macro perspective.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in France Telecom plc)  I was interested to read that France Telecom is preparing to exercise its call option and buy out the other shareholders in video sharing site Dailymotion. Assuming I’m reading the Alexa data correctly, it’s the 99th most visited site in the world, so hopefully FTE will be able to monetise this asset to a level that more than warrants this investment.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media plc) In a further twist to the ongoing INM saga, the company has lost yet another non-executive director, with David Reid-Scott, who only joined the board in December, standing down. INM’s board now has only four directors on it – Denis O’Brien’s associates Paul Connolly and Lucy Gaffney, along with Frank Murray and CEO Vincent Crowley.

 

In other media sector news, UTV is one of three parties linked with possible bids for GMG (Guardian Media Group) Radio. A price of £40-45m has been suggested for the assets, which is ballpark 1x sales. According to the RAJAR figures provided on the GMG website, its two brands, Real and Smooth had 46.4m listening hours in Q1 2012, which is a roughly 4% share of all radio, but of course it’s important to note that the share of commercial radio (BBC doesn’t carry advertising) would be around 10%. This compares with commercial radio shares of circa 8% for UTV and 37% for Global. I’m no expert on competition issues around media ownership in the UK, but I’m guessing that UTV would find it significantly easier to get clearance for a takeover of GMG Radio than Global would. UTV, which has a net debt / EBITDA multiple of only 1.9x (at end-FY11 the net debt and EBITDA figures were £54.7m and £28.3m respectively) would have no difficulty in funding a takeover of GMG Radio.

 

In the energy sector, the wave of M&A activity we’ve seen since the start of 2012 has continued, with Cairn Energy agreeing a $644m takeover of Nautical Petroleum, which is focused on the North Sea. Indeed, that region is a particular area of focus, so whenever I have the time I must put together a comprehensive ‘who’s who’ list of players in that area.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Datalex plc) We saw a lot of news from the airline sector. EasyJet founder Stelios has teamed up with Lonrho to develop an African LCC, FastJet. Elsewhere, Bloomberg ran an interesting article about how traditional airline booking engine providers such as Sabre and Amadeus are seen by some as: “obsolete middlemen who add costs”.  Sentiments like this could open up opportunities for nimble operators such as Irish listed Datalex plc to win over more customers to add to an already impressive client list.

 

Argentina’s banks have lost one-third of their US dollar deposits as savers take flight. This is a further consequence of the crazy economic policies being implemented by President Fernández de Kirchner, which I’ve been writing about for some time. One of the main beneficiaries of this is Uruguay – when I traveled to Montevideo last year I was struck by just how many international banks had operations in that town – and I was not surprised to read of rising concerns in Argentina’s political elite about this. Is it any wonder, given the political backdrop, that Argentine households with at least $100,000 in assets hold 74% of their wealth offshore, according to estimates by the Boston Consulting Group. And to think that some people in Ireland think that we should be emulating Argentina’s economic policies!

 

It’s not just Ireland that has seen these sort of trends – median US household net worth declined by 38% between 2007 and 2010.

 

Staying with macro news, James McKeigue, who writes for Moneyweek, wrote an interesting piece (which mirrors more than a few of the readings I did for the supply chain management module of my MBA) some time ago about how more Western firms are reshoring operations from China. He flagged a similar article in The Atlantic earlier this week.

 

Closer to home, ignoring the 230,000 vacant housing units that are in Ireland, local authorities in County Cork are planning a 5,000 home new town. Given the enormous oversupply of homes in Ireland at this time, you’d wonder how such plans would even make it on to the drawing board, much less be given serious consideration.

 

In the blogosphere, Lewis took a look at Hornby, beloved of model railway enthusiasts everywhere.

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2 Responses

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  1. Your second to last paragraph rather reminds me of an episode of Newsnight where Smith was walking around an Irish ghost town. It was entirely bizarre – looked like a movie set when all the actors had gone home.

    Media is an interesting sector to watch at the moment, anyway. A lot of the ‘old media’ firms involved seem to be continuing to post strong results (at odds with their low ratings) – and it’s testament to the speed things are moving in the sector when I can call ‘old media’ anything from newspapers to radio to traditional ad agencies. Anything which isn’t social media is looking a bit wrinkled, apparently!

    Lewis

    June 13, 2012 at 9:40 am

  2. […] UTV Media lost out to Global Radio in the bidding war for GMG’s radio portfolio. However, as I said a few days ago, this has given rise to serious competition concerns, which could potentially lead to other […]


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