Philip O'Sullivan's Market Musings

Financial analysis from Dublin, Ireland

Posts Tagged ‘Datalex

Market Musings 15/9/2012

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It’s been an eventful few days since my last ‘general’ round-up on what’s been happening in the markets, with the Federal Reserve further opening the monetary sluices and continued positive developments around Ireland Inc (a well received sale of bills, positive noises from the IMF, soaring bond prices etc.)

 

For me, the central message to take from these markets at this time is that the monetary authorities on both sides of the Atlantic stand ready to do ‘whatever it takes‘ on the policy front. This is unambiguously bullish for a number of asset classes, in particular equities (in general) and commodities (including gold, which I’ve been a bull on for some time), however, it also has other consequences that are worth bearing in mind. While the growth outlook is concern enough in itself, the main overall threat in the system (in my view) remains on the prices front, as an enthralling battle takes place between the forces of inflation (central banks’ printing presses) and deflation (private sector deleveraging). Which force is likely to prevail? The old rule of “Don’t bet against the Fed” comes to mind. This to my mind puts the onus on investors to position themselves accordingly. We have seen from the share price reactions to Helicopter Ben’s latest move how they should do this, with mining stocks (e.g. commodity plays) surging, financials pushing higher (anything that pushes up asset prices a positive, while the funding outlook is improved) and a lift in those highly leveraged stocks operating well within covenants and who may take the opportunity to refinance at even lower rates as yields are pushed down elsewhere by central bank intervention (a good example being Smurfit Kappa Group, which I hold, whose balance sheet is to my mind still very much misunderstood by the market, and which rose 13% on 11 times average daily volume in Dublin yesterday as more investors wake up to to the story). Of course, it is also worth bearing in mind that higher commodity prices are likely to hurt a lot of stocks that are price takers on the input side and who will struggle, due to the tough economic backdrop, to pass on higher input prices to consumers.

 

In terms of my own response to all of this, I have been stepping up my exposure to financials, trebling my stake in Bank of Ireland and significantly increasing my exposure to RBS (which is now my third-largest portfolio position). The recent surge in the value of Irish government bonds prompted my Bank of Ireland move, given that BKIR held €5,945m worth of them at the end of June (up to €1.5bn of which were acquired following the LTRO earlier this year). As the notes to BKIR’s interim results show (see page 99), the vast majority of these are in the books on a ‘Level 1’ fair value basis, i.e. “valued using quoted market prices in active markets”. Given the recent lift in Irish bond prices, this should have a positive impact on Bank of Ireland’s NAV, given that “any change in fair value is treated as a movement in the [available for sale] reserve in Stockholder’s equity”. Elsewhere, in the case of RBS, the IPO of its Direct Line business and recent moves towards agreeing financial settlements for Libor and IT issues indicate that the narrative around the group may be about to radically shift, as I noted in a recent blog post.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Datalex plc) In other news, travel software company Datalex confirmed that interim CEO Aidan Brogan is to get the job on a permanent basis. This is a sensible decision. Aidan has been with the firm for almost 20 years, and his strong background in sales is likely to help Datalex build on its growing list of clients.

 

Elsewhere in the TMT space, Johnston Press has reportedly delayed its relaunch programme. You can read my recent piece on the firm here.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in France Telecom plc) And in other TMT news, the team in aviate came up with an interesting angle on Apple’s latest toy, namely that “in the European launch only Deutsche Telkom and France Telecom were given the hallowed LTE version of the iPhone 5“. I must confess that what I know about ‘fashionable’ mobile phones could fit on the back of a postage stamp, so hopefully one of my kind readers will let me know if this is a significant advantage over other carriers or not!

 

In the energy sector, consolidation has been a big theme this year, as cash-rich majors have snapped up financially constrained small cap names with proven resources. This clip suggests that the trend has further to run (and indeed, assuming the latest QE moves push up oil prices, this will provide the large caps with even more cash to play around with).

 

In the blogosphere, Lewis profiled Impellam. Elsewhere, John took a good look at Rolls-Royce.

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Written by Philip O'Sullivan

September 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Market Musings 28/8/2012

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It has been a busy day on the results front in Ireland, particularly in the TMT sector.

 

To kick off, UTV Media, which has interests in the radio (local stations in the UK and Ireland, and the national talkSPORT station in the UK), television (the ‘Channel 3’ – ITV – franchise for Ulster) and new media (website design, marketing, broadband) segments, released its interim results this morning. This revealed a resilient performance in what are, clearly, challenging end-markets, with revenues and pre-tax profits climbing 4% and 3% respectively. The group continues to make impressive progress in terms of strengthening its financial position, cutting net debt by 21% over the past year to £50.0m. Across the group, UK radio revenues powered ahead, helped by the benefits of Euro 2012. Irish radio significantly outperformed, rising 4% in local currency terms, despite an estimated 10% fall in total Irish radio advertising in the first 6 months of 2012. The reason for this outperformance is that UTV’s Irish stations are all focused on the key urban markets on the Island of Ireland, which gives it a relatively more attractive proposition to offer to advertisers. On the television side, revenues and profits were down, with weak Irish advertising conditions to blame. With regard to the small new media business, margins were under pressure due to ‘competitive pricing’. In terms of the outlook, it looks like the rest of the year will see similar trends to the above, with outperformance on the radio side, underperformance in television and modest topline growth in new media. Not that investors should be too perturbed by this, as UTV is doing a decent enough job despite the challenging macro backdrop.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Datalex plc) I was pleased to see Datalex release very strong interim results today. Reflecting last year’s new contract wins (including Air China and SITA), revenues rose 18% to $15.7m. Reflecting the operating leverage inherent in Datalex’s model, nearly all of this  translated into profits – I note that in the first 6 months of 2012 Datalex generated gross profits of $2.8m, 82% of the total for the whole of 2011! This positive momentum should be sustained into 2013, with the likes of Indonesia’s Garuda and Fiji’s Air Pacific having gone live since the start of the year, while a number of other carriers including Delta are scheduled to go live later this year. On the balance sheet front, Datalex is guiding a 20%+ rise in cash reserves in 2012. Overall, these are excellent results, and continued good news on the new client wins front bodes well for the future. I’m not surprised to see the shares shoot higher in Dublin today.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media plc) INM completed the restructuring of its board, with the election of four new directors and the appointment of a new Chairman and Senior Independent Director. With this out of the way, hopefully the focus can move on to the more crucial issue of repairing the firm’s balance sheet, and on this front the Irish advertising trends noted by UTV must surely bode ill for INM.

 

Insurer FBD posted solid H1 results today. The numbers were in-line with expectations, while management is sticking to its FY guidance. Within the results it was interesting to see that FBD has reduced its exposure to government bonds by over 40% in the year to date – this is a sensible move given what I believe to be a bubble in government bonds in Europe – although its exposure to equities remains low, at just 4% of total underwriting investment assets.

 

United Drug announced another two acquisitionsDrug Safety Alliance (total consideration, including earn-outs, of $28m) and Synopia (total consideration, including earn-outs, of $12m). Both businesses will form part of United Drug’s Sales, Marketing & Medical division. These deals take the number of acquisitions the firm has made so far in 2012 to six (five operating businesses and one property acquisition), so bedding these down will presumably take up a lot of management’s time over the next while.

 

In the resource sector Petroceltic’s H1 release contained no material ‘new news’. Management is focused on successfully executing the merger with Melrose Resources.

 

And that’s pretty much all that’s caught my attention so far today. Tomorrow brings results from PTSB, Grafton, Paddy Power and Glanbia, which will no doubt provide much food for thought.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

August 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Market Musings 7/7/2012

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(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Ryanair plc) Since my last update, two of Aer Lingus’ shareholders came out to say that they will not be supporting Ryanair’s approach for the company. Etihad, which owns just under 3% of the carrier, said “we are not selling“, pledging its support for management, while elsewhere investment fund Matterley, which has a circa €1m stake in Aer Lingus, said Ryanair’s indicated bid level “still undervalues the asset base of the company, before taking account of the valuable slots at Heathrow”, adding “accordingly, the Fund has retained a significant investment”. While these are interesting developments in terms of providing more colour on investors’ intentions, the market is giving us a clear signal on its perception of Ryanair’s chances of success with the shares closing yesterday at €1.07 – some 18% below the price Ryanair says it would be prepared to pay for Aer Lingus.

 

Staying with Irish plcs, investment fund TVC Holdings issued an update at its AGM yesterday. Management note the wide (29%) discount the shares are trading at relative to its NAV, which I feel is unwarranted given its impressive investment record in recent years. Looking ahead, cash-rich TVC says it believes “there are restructuring opportunities in Ireland and the UK where companies with excessive debt need to raise new equity at attractive terms for new investors”. In terms of opportunities within Ireland, I wonder if TVC will look to leverage its experience in the media sector (it is UTV Media’s largest shareholder with an 18% stake) to help out some of the more geared media players here?

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Datalex plc) Speaking of Irish TMT stocks, I know that I’ve been pushing the bull case for Datalex for a while now, but even I was taken aback by a piece in last weekend’s Sunday Times. The newspaper interviewed United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek, and in the interview he had a go at what he termed the ‘oligopoly GDSs’ such as Amadeus, saying they had “underinvested in their product, as oligopolies always do”. He went on to say: “Our technology is more potent than theirs and we can’t wait for them to catch up”. And who helps United with its online shopping and reservations worldwide? Step forward Ireland’s Datalex.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in RBS plc) There was a lot of news around RBS in recent days. Despite recent setbacks, the bank reaffirmed its target of exiting the APS programme by the end of this year. In theory this will save RBS £500m annually in APS fees, however, the costs of the capital implications of an APS exit are trickier to quantify.  Elsewhere, Bloomberg ran an interesting piece on RBS’ efforts to shrink its non-core loanbook. This is an often overlooked part of the group’s story – since 2008 RBS’ non-core assets have shrunk by 70%, or £238bn, which is an impressive performance given the difficult backdrop. However, offloading the remaining 30% is likely to prove to be more a challenge in the near term given how much of it is concentrated in markets where this is a relative paucity of buyers such as Ireland (Ulster Bank’s share of RBS’ non-core loanbook was £14.4bn at the end of 2011). Overall, I continue to monitor RBS closely but I see no reason, given the present uncertainty around it, to increase my exposure to it just yet.

 

Ireland’s so-called ‘bad bank’ NAMA said that it no longer expects to make a profit. Given this, shall we say, “tempering of expectations”, can we still be confident of IBRC’s (Anglo Irish Bank & Irish Nationwide) guidance on how much it will ultimately cost the taxpayer?

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in BP plc) Bloomberg yesterday reported that BP’s Russian partners are only willing to buy half of its stake in the TNK-BP venture. Given how much trouble BP has had as a 50% shareholder in that venture, I cannot see a scenario where BP is happy to reduce its holding to a minority one. With Gulf of Mexico related payments nearing their end, a successful departure from TNK-BP would equip BP with the financial firepower to consider significant acquisitions elsewhere.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Abbey and ICG) In the blogosphere, Richard Beddard covered the current focus on income stocks. Given the present uncertainty in the markets, it is unsurprising to see people touting income over the naked pursuit of capital gains at this time.  What I found particularly interesting in his post was the comment about companies’ reluctance to invest. This is a definite concern of mine at present – we’ve seen many cash-rich Irish plcs, including Abbey and ICG, launch share buybacks in recent times – and while this is a ‘low risk’ way of flattering earnings per share, I wonder would shareholders’ interests be better served in the long-run through the money being used to support the expansion of those businesses. In the case of Abbey, distressed landbanks of housing are hardly difficult to find in this market – and Abbey operates across three countries (here, the UK and the Czech Republic). For ICG, might it consider a move for something like the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, which was taken over by the banks (for which it is presumably a non-core asset!) last year? Or given how many PE deals took place during the boom years in the port infrastructure space, particularly in the UK, might there be some distressed assets there worth picking up?

 

Staying with the blogosphere, John Kingham wrote a good piece asking: “When is a good time to invest in the stock market?“. His words are worth sharing with any retail investors you know – the tragedy of the market is that often it’s the private investor who is last to buy into the rally and first to sell at the trough.

 

And finally, also in the blogosphere, the excellent Kelpie Capital presents the bear case for UK housing.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

July 7, 2012 at 9:14 am

Market Musings 5/7/2012

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It’s been a very busy few days on the newsflow front, so once more this blog represents a catch-up on what’s been happening on a sector-by-sector basis.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in CRH plc) CRH issued a development update in which it revealed €0.25bn of investment and acquisition initiatives in H1 2012.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Datalex plc) We got some more information on Datalex’s partnership with SITA, which was first disclosed in Datalex’s recent results. Given SITA’s large scale relative to the Irish based travel software provider, this could prove to be very significant for Datalex. I’m still quite bullish on Datalex and see more upside for it from here given how scalable its business model is, and on this note partnerships such as the one with SITA should help open doors for it with more travel companies.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Ryanair plc) Speaking of travel companies, we saw traffic stats released this week by both Ryanair and Aer Lingus. For Ryanair, its June passenger stats provide us with the full picture for Q1 of its financial year. Europe’s biggest LCC carried 5.7% more passengers in Q1 relative to year earlier levels. This compares with guidance of 7% growth in H1, and it should be noted that Q2 is the key period for Ryanair during the year. Aer Lingus’ June passenger stats, released this morning, reveal another strong performance, particularly on the long-haul side, where load factors rose 9ppt to 92.4%.

 

Donegal Creameries issued an AGM statement that revealed a “satisfactory” performance, with management sticking to full-year earnings guidance.

 

TMF wrote a piece on “five smallcaps that could double“. Of the five, I hold Datong, and given its most recently reported NAV of 72.7p a share is well above its share price at the time of writing (31.0p) I think its inclusion on the list is more than warranted, provided that it can deliver on its promises of a recovery in revenues and earnings.

 

Switching to macro news, taking advantage of the enthusiasm that followed the recent EU summit (although the finer details still need to be worked out), Ireland’s NTMA is issuing €500m of 3 month treasury bills today. Obviously, the amount is very small relative to Ireland’s funding needs (and existing stock of debt), and the maturity is short term (and falls within the Troika’s programme, which removes a lot of the risk for buyers), so while it is a welcome development it is hardly a game-changer for Ireland.

 

Speaking of welcome developments for Ireland, according to Reuters some currency strategists expect sterling to rise against the euro, which is good news on a number of different levels. It makes Irish exports into the UK (which buys a sixth of our exports) more competitive, while for Irish plcs that generate a significant proportion of their revenues in sterling (e.g. Paddy Power, Kingspan, Kerry and DCC) but who report in euro this provides a tailwind for earnings.

 

But to move from welcome developments to unwelcome ones, Ireland’s H1 2012 Exchequer Returns reveal continued grounds for concern about the government’s fiscal trajectory. While much of the media commentary has focused on where the numbers are at relative to expectations, the reality is that there has been no underlying improvement in Ireland’s fiscal position. If you strip out significant one-off items, such as the promissory note, the cost of acquiring Irish Life and the loan to the insurance compensation fund, the underlying deficit for H1 2012, at €7.7bn, is only 1% below the underlying deficit for H1 2011. Annualising that means that Ireland is running an underlying deficit of over €3,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the State.

 

I recently reviewed how my 2012 investment picks have performed. Many of my friends in the UK and Irish investment blogosphere have followed suit, namely: John Kingham, Mark Carter, Wexboy, Mr. Contrarian and Expecting Value. Of course, none of us can be said to be investing with a 6 month time horizon in mind, but at the same time it is useful to revisit how portfolios have performed with a view to discerning what, if any, takeaways can be taken from that in order to refine the investment strategy going forward.

 

Speaking of the blogosphere, Calum did an excellent write-up of Dairy Crest that’s worth checking out.

 

And finally, here is the trailer for the Bollywood film that was partly filmed in Dublin.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

July 5, 2012 at 9:35 am

Market Musings 25/6/2012

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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:

 

  1. 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
  2. The New York Times asks if China is manipulating statistics to camouflage the scale of the slowdown
  3. Chinese shipyards are seeing orders dry up
  4. …while the textile industry is seeing a slump in the rate of export growth
  5. Rising coal stockpiles also point to slowing economic activity…
  6. …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.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

June 25, 2012 at 7:59 am

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.

Market Musings 18/5/2012

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We’ve had a Tsunami of company updates since my last blog, so here’s a sector-by-sector wrap of what’s been going on.

 

C&C posted profits that were in line with guidance. The full-year dividend was raised by a chunky 24%, taking the payout ratio to 30%. On the conference call that followed the results management guided that it will raise this to 40% over time. C&C’s balance sheet is in great shape, with net cash hitting €68m last year. This gives the group considerable scope to launch share buy-backs, pay a special dividend or buy new brands – or in other words, it has a ‘nice problem’ of having to worry about what to do with its excess cash. C&C is a stock I’ve held in the past, but I’d want to do a bit more work on it before seeing if I’ve any room for it in the portfolio.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Marston’s plc) Elsewhere in the beverage space, Marston’s posted excellent interim results yesterday. Group revenues were +7.6%, underlying PBT +14.7% and the H1 dividend was raised 5%. All divisions (managed houses, tenanted and franchised and brewing) reported a rise in sales and underlying profits. The group is delivering on its ‘F Plan’ (which it defines as food, families, females and forty/fifty somethings) targets, with an 11% rise in meals served. I’m a very happy holder of the stock.

 

In the energy space, Tullow Oil issued a bullish interim management statement, describing its year-to-date performance as “excellent”. Its year-to-date financials are in-line with expectations, but as ever the main excitement around the stock is based around its exploration activity, which has been yielding encouraging results from Kenya in particular of late.

 

Staying with the oil sector, my old pals Kentz posted a solid trading update this morning, saying the full-year performance would be “marginally ahead of expectations“. Its pipeline is in good shape, with the order backlog standing at $2.46bn at the end of April, up from $2.40bn at end-December.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in CRH plc) CRH received net proceeds of €564.5m from the sale of its stake in Portuguese cement firm  Secil. As mentioned before, these funds will provide the group with considerably enhanced financial flexibility to expand through M&A over the coming years.

 

In the retail sector, French Connection was the subject of a lot of attention this week. Richard Beddard did an excellent series of posts on it, summarised here, to which I replied: “Leases and the brand (seems very stale to me) are the big worries I have”.  Those worries didn’t quite go far enough, with the firm posting a profit warning yesterday.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media plc) We got a lot of news from the media space. UTV Media said that its year to date trading is in line with its expectations. Within the statement it was encouraging to see its Irish radio revenues move into positive territory. Elsewhere, INM said today that “advertising conditions remain challenging and erratic. Visibility remains short and susceptible to influence by macro-economic factors”. It added that net debt currently stands at circa €420m (end-2011: €426.8m). Not a lot to get enthusiastic about, especially on the net debt front, but of course much of the focus on INM is on recent moves in its share register and the intentions of new CEO Vincent Crowley.

 

In the betting sector, Paddy Power released a very strong trading update, with net revenue growth in the year to date accelerating to 28% from the 17% booked last year. The group is firing on all cylinders and remains the quality play in the betting space.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Total Produce plc) Irish headquartered food group Glanbia sold its Yoplait franchise back to the brand owner for $18m in cash. Its fellow Irish listed food stock Total Produce reaffirmed its full-year earnings target in a brief update issued earlier today.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Irish Continental Group plc and Datalex plc) In the transport space, ICG’s IMS revealed a weaker performance from the freight side, while passengers were marginally higher relative to year-earlier levels. This is the seasonally quiet period of the year so there isn’t a lot of read-through from today’s statement. Elsewhere, travel software firm Datalex issued an update this morning in which it said its performance is in line with its forecasts.

 

In the financial space, IFG posted a solid trading update. Since it agreed to sell its international business the main interest here is its UK and Irish operations. On this front, management says the UK is registering a “robust” performance, while Ireland is “performing well”. The company hints at the possibility of a special dividend post the completion of the sale of the international unit, so I’ll be watching that closely over the coming months.

 

(Disclaimer: I am an indirect shareholder in Facebook). To finish up with a word on the Facebook IPO, an investment fund I advise went long some Facebook in its IPO today at $40.10. This is very much a short-term trade around its IPO, given that Facebook is trading on 26x historic sales and 107x trailing earnings. Put another way, with a valuation of over $100 per Facebook user, I wouldn’t click the “like” button if someone suggested it as a long-term holding.

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