Philip O'Sullivan's Market Musings

Financial analysis from Dublin, Ireland

Posts Tagged ‘Botswana Diamonds

Market Musings 4/9/2012

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Newsflow has been mercifully light today, which is a help as I’m working on a number of other projects at the moment. In this blog I look at this evening’s Irish Exchequer Returns data, results from Total Produce and a few other bits and pieces that caught my attention since my last update.

 

To kick off with the latest Irish Exchequer Returns data, covering the first 8 months of 2012, these show a big improvement in the reported deficit, which makes for great headlines, but, as I’ve previously cautioned around such releases, tells us little of value about the underlying picture. Total receipts (both current and capital) rose 12% relative to year-earlier levels, while total expenditure (on the same basis) was 14% lower. This produced an Exchequer deficit of €11.4bn versus €20.4bn in the same period last year. However, that deficit figure is meaningless unless you adjust for one-off items and timing issues. On the revenue side, the Exchequer coffers were swelled by €233m from the sale of Bank of Ireland stock last year, while there were no such one-off gains this time round. Recapitalising the listed financial institutions cost €7.6bn in the first 8 months of 2011, but only €1.3bn in the same period this year. So far in 2012 the State has injected €450m into the Insurance Compensation Fund (2011: nil), while Promissory Notes (at least on a reported basis) have cost €25m in the ytd versus €3.1bn last year. Summing these items means that to get the underlying deficit for the first 8 months of 2011 you have to reduce revenues by €0.2bn and lower spending by €10.7bn. This produces a ‘underling’ deficit of €9.5bn in the first 8 months of 2011. The same exercise for the year to date involves lowering total expenditure by €1.8bn, which produces an underlying deficit of €9.6bn between January and August 2012. So, while the headlines suggest the deficit has significantly improved, in reality the underlying fiscal position is in fact little changed. While total revenues have increased (by €2.7bn on a reported basis), this has been eaten up by items such as a €1.6bn increase in interest costs on the national debt, while voted (i.e. day-to-day, nothing to do with bank recaps or interest on the national debt) spending is €0.4bn above year-earlier levels, in contrast to claims that extraordinary levels of fiscal austerity are being imposed on the economy. So, a case of ‘a lot done, more to do’.

 

One potential positive for Ireland Inc, however, is news that at least two European insurance IPOs are planned for later this year – Direct Line and Talanx. Assuming they get off OK it will bode well for the prospects of a sale of the State-owned Irish Life and, in time, (State-owned) IBRC’s 49% shareholding in the old Quinn Insurance business.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Total Produce plc) Total Produce released its interim results this morning. These revealed a 6.7% increase in earnings, while management hiked the dividend by +5% and raised the full-year guided earnings to the “upper end” of the previous 7-8c range.  This is all good stuff, and I suspect the risks for Total Produce lie to the upside as we move towards the end of the financial year. I remain a very happy holder of the stock, and given that it trades on only about 5.5x earnings and has a bulletproof business model, I would consider adding to my position.

 

Staying with the food and beverage sector, UK pub group Greene King said that the Olympics made no difference to its performance. While its overall reported like-for-like sales growth, at 5.1%, is commendable, its comments on the games strengthens my conviction around my recent disposal of shares in one of its peers, Marston’s, after the last of the three clearly identifiable potential catalysts for the sector (Euro 2012, Olympics, Jubilee) had played out.

 

Botswana Diamonds, which I recently profiled, issued an upbeat prospecting update this morning. The shares closed +17.7% in London, so clearly the market liked the look of them. It’s one of the stocks I have on the watchlist at this time.

 

Switching to the support services sector, the venerable Paul Scott profiled UK staffer Staffline. You can read my profile of one of its peers, Harvey Nash, here.

 

Another support services company, albeit a rather different beast, DCC, announced the acquisition of Statoil’s industrial LPG business in Sweden and Norway. This is a sensible bolt-on deal that strengthens DCC’s position in the Scandinavian region.

162 Group (BOD.L/CON.L/PET.L/CLON.L)

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Earlier this week I met with the team at 162 Group, one of Ireland’s most entrepreneurial businesses. Led by Dr. John Teeling, it has an impressive track record of building start-up ventures, mainly in natural resources. While these are inherently high-risk plays, recent exits from its portfolio highlights the potential upside when these things work out – since the start of 2010 shareholders have received over $250m in cash and shares from the disposals of Cooley Distillery, Swala Resources, African Diamonds, Pan Andean Resources and Stellar Diamonds. While past performance is of course no guarantee of future returns, I figured that it would be worth running the slide rule over what is left in the 162 portfolio to see what the team is presently developing.

 

There are three strands to the 162 Group today. The Industrial business comprises unlisted businesses in the renewable energy and beverage sectors, along with a minority shareholding in Norish plc. My main focus in this piece is on 162 Group’s Mining and Oil units, where the firm manages four AIM listed companies, namely: Botswana Diamonds, Connemara Mining, Petrel Resources and Clontarf Energy. I profile each of these in turn below.

 

  • Botswana Diamonds (Ticker BOD.L, Market Cap £3m). Through this vehicle 162 aims to replicate the success it had with African Diamonds. The firm holds exploration licences in Botswana and Cameroon as well as early-stage diamond licence applications in Zimbabwe. Its main activities are in Botswana, which has been described as the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ due to the stable political backdrop and business-friendly climate. In addition, Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value. The firm’s latest presentation gives a good overview of its activities and plans.  While not exactly flush with cash, management’s strong track record in diamonds and industry relationships should prove helpful in agreeing partnerships to exploit any high-potential opportunities the firm manages to identify.
  • Connemara Mining (Ticker CON.L, Market Cap £3m). This business holds 34 prospecting licences in Ireland, with a focus on zinc (Ireland produces 25% of Western Europe’s zinc) and gold. Connemara has agreed joint ventures with Teck (the world’s third biggest zinc producer) in respect of 21 of its licences (zinc and lead prospects) and with the privately-owned Hendrick Resources for another 5 (gold prospects). Its sole venture licences are mainly located close to established zinc and lead hotspots (e.g. Lisheen, Galmoy and Silvermines). The partnerships help bring financial muscle and technical expertise to Connemara’s prospects. In its recent results release management said the company “has adequate funds for all proposed expenditure in the next year“.
  • Petrel Resources (Ticker PET.L, Market Cap £4m). This oil stock has three strings to its bow – firstly, in Ireland, it has license options for two packages of blocks in the Porcupine Basin, and with interest in offshore Ireland on the rise after recent positive exploration news from the likes of Providence Resources, this could prove to be a very interesting asset. In Ghana it is awaiting ratification (a decision is expected in Q4 of this year) for a high potential spot relatively close to previous Tullow Oil finds. Finally, in Iraq it has some early stage assets. It does trade at a modest discount to its end-2011 net cash, but of course developing its assets will not come cheap.
  • Clontarf Energy (Ticker CLON.L, Market Cap £4m). This firm offers a mix of production (stakes in two gas producing fields in Bolivia) and exploration (Peru and Ghana) assets. The Ghanaian interest looks particularly attractive – assuming ratification is received (it is hoped before the end of the year) it will comprise a 60% stake in the field Petrel Resources is similarly awaiting approval to acquire a 30% interest in that is relatively close to Tullow Oil’s finds in that country.

 

Overall, to me the listed companies in the 162 portfolio are all reminiscent of options – the very low market capitalisation relative to the potential upside from a successful commercialisation of their asset bases means that the potential (emphasis) returns are very high. Of course, so are the risks, not least in terms of potential dilutions through farm-outs or placings. So, these are not, for now at least, the type of stocks you’d recommend to widows or orphans. At the same time, for more adventurous investors looking for a high-risk punt, all four of these appear worthy of doing some more work on. It should also be noted that management are significant investors in each of the four listed companies, which points to aligned management and shareholder interests.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

August 25, 2012 at 10:37 am

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