Philip O'Sullivan's Market Musings

Financial analysis from Dublin, Ireland

Posts Tagged ‘Grafton

Market Musings 29/8/2012

leave a comment »

It has been another busy day on the results front in Ireland.

 

To start things off, Paddy Power released strong H1 results, with earnings rising 25%. This was despite start-up losses of €6.3m for four new online ventures and some adverse sports results. Net revenue increased in all five divisions (Online, Online Australia, Irish Retail, UK Retail and Telephone) by between 13 and 47%, which is an impressive performance. Also impressive is its branding efforts – in the year to date Paddy Power has increased its Facebook fans by 445% to 251k, Twitter followers by 308% to 133k and YouTube views by 186% to 13m. This gives the group an expanded audience to market its online offering to. As noted above, Paddy Power is investing heavily in improving its offering, particularly on the online side, while it is expanding into new markets. This increased investment is presumably why we aren’t seeing an upgrade to full year earnings guidance today from management despite the strong momentum evident across the group, however, as this investment enhances the longer-term profit outlook for the group investors shouldn’t be particularly concerned about it.

 

Grafton also released its interim results this morning. Reported revenues climbed 5%, but self-help measures on the cost side meant that operating profits increased by just over 19%. In addition, the group’s cash flow generation was impressive – Grafton generated operating cash flow of €55m, well ahead of its €30m in operating profits, as it reduced investment in working capital by €13.5m – a particularly impressive achievement given the increase in revenue. Net debt has reduced by €25m in the year to date to just €201m. There were significant variations in terms of the performance of Grafton’s main operating units. In the UK, revenues and operating profits rose 4% and 12% in constant currency terms, despite a tough market backdrop. In its small Belgian business, which accounts for circa 1.5% of group revenues, profits were flat despite a big increase (albeit off a small base) in sales. In Ireland, conditions remain very challenging – despite many of its competitors having reduced their presence in the market, Grafton’s merchanting revenues were -9% in H1 2012 while retailing revenue fell by 12% in the same period. Cost reduction measures helped to soften the impact on the bottom line. In all, the key message from these results for me is that Grafton is doing all the right things on the cash generation and cost fronts, but the benefits of this are being tempered by difficult end-markets.

 

Switching to food, Glanbia made two announcements this morning. The first being its interim results, which revealed a strong performance on the nutrition side allied to favourable currency effects (reporting earnings were +8.4%, but just +1.3% in constant currency terms). Management has hiked its full year (constant currency) earnings growth outlook from the previous 5-7% range to 8-10%. The second announcement relates to the restructuring of its Dairy Ireland business. Assuming it gets cleared by the various stakeholders, there may be a near-term share price overhang as the Co-op (Glanbia’s biggest shareholder) sells a total of 6% of its stock, while there may be further downward pressure as the Co-op distributes a further 7% of the company to farmers, some of whom may sell their shares. However, in the longer term the market should reward the improved liquidity, free-float and stability of earnings arising from this restructuring of Glanbia’s Irish dairy business.

 

In the financial sector, KBC reduced its 1 year Irish deposit rate by 30bps. This is positive news for banks operating in Ireland as it should help making the task of rebuilding net interest margins across the sector a little easier.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in PTSB plc) Speaking of Irish banks’ margins, interim results this morning from PTSB reveal a sharp decline in the NIM since the start of the year. In 2011 PTSB’s net interest margin was 92bps, but this has fallen to 76bps in H1 2012, due mainly to higher deposit costs. Total customer accounts and deposits have increased by €2.2bn in the year to date, with the majority of this due to corporate deposits (the vast majority, if you exclude the customer balances received following the acquisition of Northern Rock’s Irish deposit book), which is a welcome development. PTSB’s LDR fell to 190% at end-June from 227% at end-2011, so still unsustainably high but moving in the right direction at least. Asset quality deteriorated further since the start of the year, with 14.1% of mortgages in arrears of greater than 90 days at the end of June (12.0% at end-2011). The weighted average loan-to-value across PTSB’s mortgage book is 113%, with Irish owner-occupied at 115% and Irish buy-to-let at 137% (UK owner-occupied is 86% while UK BTL is 87%), which points to further pain ahead for the bank. In terms of self-help measures, operating expenses at PTSB were flat year-on-year at €136m, but even a significant reduction in this would be a drop in the ocean compared to the challenges in the loan book. One potential source of optimism is its excess capital – the total capital ratio was 21.5% at the end of June, well above the Central Bank’s minimum target of 10.5%. However, while the excess funds, at €2.2bn, are more than twice the group’s market capitalisation, further impairment charges will eat into this.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

August 29, 2012 at 11:15 am

Market Musings 7/6/2012

with 2 comments

Markets have been extremely volatile in recent days due to a combination of ratings agency downgrades, dodgy economic signs and a view by some investors (this one included) that the worse things get from a macro perspective, the more likely it will be that Central Banks introduce further quantitative easing.

 

This brings to mind something that I have been meaning to mention for a while – I often get queries from people about “what my X month price target for XYZ stock is”. The simple truth is that nobody, except perhaps a market maker in the most illiquid of stocks, has a clue about what price a stock will be trading at tomorrow, let alone in a few months. In a world where we cannot rely on meteorologists to call tomorrow’s weather with 100% accuracy, it would be ill-advised to have that degree of confidence in someone who pontificates on the equity markets! For the record, whenever I express a ‘price target’ for a company, this is my estimate of the underlying equity value of the company, as opposed to a target I see it hitting in any specific timeframe. This is especially true in the current environment, where markets oscillate violently between ‘risk-on’ and ‘risk-off’. All I can do is stick to my central thesis for this year, which I wrote back in December, and which I see no reason to change, given how my thesis, shown below, has played out so far:

 

Looking ahead to [2012], I see no grounds to assume that the macro situation will be materially different to that which we saw in 2011. Sclerotic growth across the leading Western economies, limited credit availability, rising unemployment, political uncertainty and austerity are all likely to be key themes over the coming 12 months. Added to the mix is likely to be a pronounced deterioration in the Chinese economy. I am gravely concerned at the rise in economic nationalism and see further policy incoherence at a European level as countries pull in different directions. However, my sense is that the euro will survive, given that its failure would lead to a deep and prolonged depression on a scale not seen for close to a century. That said, its survival will come at the expense of a weaker euro as monetary policy here is loosened to ensure its survival (given the lack of political consensus on how to fix the issue, I don’t see a solution that doesn’t involve some form of quantitative easing).

 

For me there are five key tactics to mitigate against this pressure:

 

  1. Choose firms with strong balance sheets
  2. Choose defensives over cyclicals
  3. Choose firms with significant exposure to markets outside of the Eurozone
  4. Hedge against inflationary pressures / political risk
  5. Choose firms with attractive and well-covered dividends.

 

Moving on to corporate news, Dragon Oil, which I traded in-and-out of earlier this year, announced a $200m share buyback. Opinions vary on this move. Steve Markus, who I have great respect for, and who is a must-follow on Twitter, said he: “would rather have the cash!” I wonder if more shareholder value would have been delivered had Dragon cast an eye at some of the financially constrained smallcaps (particularly some of the ones you can find on AIM) that are trading at bargain basement prices. Another Irish listed oil stock, Tullow Oil, reported a chunky (31m of net pay) oil find offshore Côte d’Ivoire.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Ryanair plc) We had a lot of news from the airline sector. Aer Lingus released its latest traffic statistics this morning. These were unambiguously good numbers, with load factors +2.9ppt and flown passengers +2.4ppt. I was particularly impressed by the 12.7% rise in long-haul (transatlantic) passengers, a factor of the 10.5% increase in RPKs. Another Irish airline reporting a rise in passenger numbers was Ryanair, which revealed a 5% yoy increase to 7.51m in May, bringing Ryanair’s total number of passengers carried over the past 12 months to 76.6m.

 

In other airline sector news, it was reported today that Kerry Airport’s revenues fell 40% last year. Credit is due to local management, who, demonstrating the county’s well-earned (I may be showing my Cork bias here!) reputation for parsimony cut administration costs by an admirable 35% in response.  Some months ago I wrote of the need for airports in the south and west of Ireland to consolidate, and even after the government’s decision to cease funding for Galway and Sligo Airports I wonder if they’ll be the last to see their government support pulled. Indeed, in this regard I was interested to also read today that Spain is to at least partially close 30 of its 47 State run airports.

 

In the construction space, Grafton put Irish DIY chain Atlantic Homecare into examinership. This is a smart move by management as it should allow it to close underperforming stores and save on the rent bill.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in France Telecom plc and Independent News & Media plc) In the TMT sector, France Telecom’s unions were unsuccessful in their moves to force a dividend cut. However, I fear that this may prove to be round one in this battle, given the potential for increased political interference in the company, a concern I’ve previously noted.  In other TMT sector news, it was confirmed that Dermot Desmond has increased his stake in Independent News & Media ahead of tomorrow’s AGM. With yet another INM non-exec confirming their resignation, it will be interesting to see what new faces are co-opted to fill the gaps on the board after a wave of recent departures.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

June 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Market Musings 14/5/2012

with 4 comments

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.

 

Fidelity investment director and columnist with the Daily Telegraph Tom Stevenson posted a great video on China, which mirrors many of my findings from my recent trip there.

 

(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.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

May 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Market Musings 10/5/2012

with one comment

We’ve seen a deluge of trading updates in the past 24 hours or so. Let’s run through what new insights they’ve provided us with.

 

In the construction sector, Kingspan released a trading update today. The group has made a solid start to 2012, posting an 8% rise in sales in the first four months of the year, “of which Mainland Europe was up 9%, UK up 2% and North America up 10%”. Despite this impressive performance, I note that management caution that: “in general, the year opened with relatively more optimism regarding potential activity levels in some construction markets. This dissipated somewhat as we progressed through the first quarter with sentiment weaker now than at the beginning of the year”. As I’ve stated before, Kingspan has undoubted ‘structural growth’ qualities that set it apart from most construction related stocks, but I don’t see anything in this statement to warrant Kingspan shares pushing significantly ahead of their 13.0x forward earnings multiple in the short term.

 

Elsewhere, Grafton issued a trading statement this morning which revealed diverging trends across its operations. Its UK business appears to be gaining market share, but Irish conditions remain very challenging. It was interesting to see, despite many of its competitors having exited the market, that Grafton’s Irish retail (Woodie’s DIY, Atlantic Homecare) and merchanting (Heitons, Chadwicks) sales were -16% and -9% respectively in the first four months of 2012. This bodes ill for the state of the domestic economy.

 

Glanbia released a trading update yesterday that contained few surprises relative to my expectations. While management is sticking to its full-year guidance, the impact of tough comparatives is shown by a forecast of flat earnings in H1 relative to year-earlier levels. Within the different business areas, nutrition continues to perform strongly, posting a 9% jump in revenue in Q1 2012, but Dairy Ireland’s revenues fell 5% in the same period. Overall, this statement reinforces my view that I was right to ‘step out’ of Glanbia for a while.

 

In other food sector news, Fyffes upgraded its FY EBITA target to €25-30m from the previous €22-27m. This is a great performance by Fyffes in light of the headwind of high fuel prices in particular.

 

UTV Media announced that it has inked a new 5 year bank facility today, which to me reflects the very impressive progress the group has made in terms of rebuilding its balance sheet in recent years.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Trinity Mirror plc) I was delighted by Trinity Mirror’s interim management statement today. While advertising conditions remain under pressure, cash generation remains very strong, as evidenced by the £24m (11%) improvement in its net debt in the year to date. On top of that, the pension deficit has also seen a £54m positive movement since the end of 2011. The combined improvement in Trinity Mirror’s long-term liabilities is equivalent to 100% of its closing market capitalisation from yesterday. This also shows that my narrative around the company appears to be playing out.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Smurfit Kappa Group plc) Speaking of narratives, I was pleased to learn of another containerboard mill closure in Europe, which is supportive for pricing in an industry where Smurfit Kappa is king.

 

In the retail space, Clinton Cards went into administration yesterday. This is bad news for its employees, and for retail REITs – Clinton’s over 700 stores are to be found in most large shopping centres in the UK and Ireland.

 

In the blogosphere, Lewis came up with an interesting way of gauging fashion ‘trends’ – might this offer new insights into trading retail stocks?

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

May 10, 2012 at 10:05 am

Market Musings 6/5/2012

with one comment

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media) Since my last update, Denis O’Brien confirmed that he has increased his stake in Independent News & Media to 29.9%, which is the maximum level he can own without being compelled to bid for the balance of the company. The next largest shareholders are Sir Anthony J. O’Reilly on 13.3% and Dermot Desmond on 5.75%, so half of the company’s shares are held by those three individuals. This will presumably see the Irish Stock Exchange reduce its free float determination on INM and hence the company’s weighting, but if O’Brien’s purchases lead to deeper efforts to reform the group and lift profitability that will hardly matter to the rest of INM’s shareholders.

 

Aer Lingus announced that it is to pay its maiden dividend as a publicly quoted company. The 3c/share dividend works out at a 3.1% yield based on Friday’s closing price, and with management indicating a willingness to pay the same amount out in each of the next 2 years, that means people buying Aer Lingus at these levels get nearly a 10th of their money back in a little over 2 years, while in terms of the prospects for capital appreciation, Aer Lingus exited 2011 with net cash of €317.6m, which compares to a current market cap of €521m. So for only €204m or so you get Aer Lingus’ owned aircraft, Heathrow landing slots, earnings streams etc. Sounds pretty attractive to me.

 

Speaking of Aer Lingus shares, one outfit that holds some in its funds is Matterley. I’ve met Henry and George before and I’m a fan of their value-oriented approach. I see they’re still long Aer Lingus after correctly identifying the opportunity in it when it was (and this is astonishing when you think about it) trading at a discount to its net cash. Another Irish listed stock they hold is Dragon Oil, which I traded in and out of earlier this year.

 

In terms of what to expect over the coming days, we’ve a busy week ahead in Ireland in terms of scheduled corporate newsflow. In a nutshell here are what I’m expecting / looking out for:

 

  • (Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in CRH plc) CRH trading update on Tuesday – This should be a bit of a mixed bag. Recent peer updates reveal improving trends in the United States, but patches of weakness in some of the group’s key European markets. Strong cost take-out efforts should see profitability rise compared to year-earlier levels. I will be looking for: (i) indications on how trading is going as we move into H2; and (ii) any sign of a pick-up in M&A activity.
  • United Drug results on Wednesday – Health cutbacks should presumably mean the tone of these results is reasonably subdued, but its very strong balance sheet and proven willingness to invest in expanding its international operations means that there’s an outside chance of an M&A announcement to distract from the underlying performance.
  • Glanbia trading update on Wednesday – Tough comparatives due to a blow-out 2011 will presumably mean that the headline growth rate will slow somewhat, but the underlying performance of the group should be quite resilient. Recent signs of a weakening in the dairy market won’t help, but the high-margin nutrition space is clearly going from strength to strength, as evidenced by Nestle’s recent $12bn deal for Pfizer’s infant formula business. I took profits in this name earlier in 2012, and would look to buy back in on any weakness.
  • Fyffes trading update on Thursday – I’ll be watching this one for news on (i) pricing; (ii) share buybacks (possibly); and (iii) the success the group is having with passing on high fuel costs. There may well be some read-through for Total Produce, which regular readers know is a core holding (in every sense!) in my portfolio.
  • Grafton trading update on Thursday – The main interest here will be on trading conditions in the UK and Ireland. The group has been carefully adding to its portfolio of operations through bolt-on deals in its key markets as well as in its nascent Belgian operation, so there may be an update on this also within the statement.
  • Kingspan trading update on Thursday – The group smashed expectations in its FY2011 results, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see another good update from the company this week. While its structural growth qualities are not in any doubt due to its leading position in the insulation space, any sign of an improvement in cyclical demand could be a catalyst to push these shares significantly higher.
  • (Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in PetroNeft plc) PetroNeft results on Friday – In my view, the main areas of interest in this release will be: (i) production levels, given recent disappointments on this front; and (ii) financing. What management says about these will presumably prompt a violent share price reaction – either to the upside or the downside!

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

May 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Market Musings 17/4/2012

with 3 comments

Having had a rather productive day in terms of college and making the final edits to my articles for the next issue of B&F I thought I’d “treat myself” to writing a short blog on what has been grabbing my attention in the past 24 hours or so.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Ryanair plc) To start with, I was interested to read in Bloxham’s morning wrap that political wrangling may harm Boeing sales – might this further delay a future Ryanair mega-order of new aircraft and increase the likelihood that Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier will pay a second €500m special dividend in addition to the one widely expected in RYA’s FY13 financial year? My own estimates for Ryanair have the carrier paying €500m out in each of FY13 and FY14, so let’s see how this dispute plays out.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Playtech plc) In the TMT space, UTV Media issued an update in which it revealed a significant contract win for its talkSPORT franchise – under the terms of the deal talkSPORT becomes the Premier League’s global audio partner, meaning that it will broadcast commentary outside of Europe on all 380 Barclays Premier League games in multiple languages. This could well prove to be a very significant win for UTV over time. Elsewhere, Playtech announced that it is to buy even more assets from Teddy Sagi, paying him over  €100m for B2B, B2C and property holdings. Given well-documented concerns about deals of this nature (Sagi is presumably in the Guinness Book of Records for the most related party deals with a single plc in history) it was no surprise to me to see the shares move lower today. I really have only myself to blame though, having previously whined about how the stock has repeatedly left me feeling “legged over” (!) but at the same time holding on to it in the hope that I could sell it higher up. There’s a lesson in that for investors everywhere.

 

In the construction space, it appears that the second largest builders merchant chain in Ireland may be carved up between Saint-Gobain and Grafton. Given that Saint-Gobain is quite a rational competitor for Grafton et al in the UK, I wouldn’t see any negative read-through for Grafton if Saint-Gobain were to materially step up its presence in this market.

 

Greencore bought a convenience food manufacturing business in the US, bolstering its presence in that market. They are paying $36.0m for the business, representing historic EV/Sales, EV/EBITDA and P/B multiples of 0.55x, 6.3x and 1.8x which to me look reasonable enough. Obviously the main focus for Greencore remains its UK operation, but for information on the conference call Greencore said that post the acquisition total USA sales will be pro-forma approximately £160m, which on a back-of-the-envelope calculation represents around 14% of group revenues. Greencore USA’s key clients include Ahold, Delhaize and 7-Eleven – while I don’t want to detract from those impressive customers, I note that these are not (obviously) clients of Greencore in the UK – I wonder if it could better improve its competitive position by emulating fellow Irish food stock Aryzta and ‘following the client’ – Aryzta has become a key supplier to McDonalds across at least two continents, for example. Building a relationship like that would reduce the risk for Greencore of having its margins crushed by its customers, given that it is in their customers’ interest to ensure that their suppliers are in good financial shape.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in BP plc) Switching to macro news, regular readers of this blog will know that I’m unmoved by some of the more bullish commentary from certain quarters in this country about the Argentine economy, partly because of my first hand experience of having traveled through the country last year and having spoken to locals about the severe hardship many of them are experiencing, and partly because the Argentine government’s flair for doctoring statistics means that one should take any reports based on government produced data with a pinch of salt. Anyways, the latest development there is that the government has moved to nationalise YPF, a development which presumably serves to inform overseas investors that they would have to be out of their mind to put money into Argentina. Whatever about any short-term gains from YPF, how does driving away FDI help aid Argentina in the longer term? I am a little concerned about BP’s $7bn stake in Pan American Energy, especially given the war of words between Argentina and the UK over the Falkland Islands. Wexboy picks up the baton and beats Argentina’s crazed politicians with it here.

 

Finally, reports that the Irish Central Bank is to buy the half-built shell of what had been intended to be a future headquarters for Anglo Irish Bank are to be welcomed, given that it removes an eyesore on the quays that greets many of the 1.7m ferry passengers that use Dublin Port each year (not to mention those of us who live in that part of town!). Now, if NAMA could have similar results with the rest of its portfolio we’d be having some real progress!

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

April 17, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Market Musings 8/3/2012

leave a comment »

It’s an unusually busy week on this blog due to a combination of it being results season and also my wish to ‘clear the decks’ from a work perspective before heading away on Saturday.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Irish Continental Group plc) ICG posted solid FY11 numbers this morning, reporting EBITDA of €49.1m on revenue of €273.3m (I had forecast €49.5m and €272.8m respectively). There really were few surprises within it, given both the simplicity (and predictability) of the business and detailed management guidance. While the company has struck a cautious tone in its outlook statement, I would be inclined to take that with a pinch of salt given both the early stage of the year we’re at, the uncertain financial consequences of competitors exiting the market and/or cutting capacity and some dodgy comparatives (due to the weather disruption in winter 2010/2011, this has presumably impacted on some of the annual comparatives provided today). Anyways, I’ve updated my model post these results, and this has resulted in my valuation for ICG falling from €18.30/share to €16.62/share. The main reasons for this are: (i) a deterioration in the net pension deficit (from €17.5m in 2010 to €32.5m in 2011), which equates to circa 60c/share, and (ii) rising fuel prices since I last updated the model, which add circa €8m to the fuel bill for 2012 (bringing it to €60m). While the implied upside from where the shares are currently trading is relatively muted, I have very conservative estimates put in for top line growth over the coming years – for example, my revenue forecast for 2015 is 14% below 2007 levels despite so much competitor capacity having been taken out of the market. Any positive surprises on this front should lead to material upgrades given the significant operating leverage (estimated at 75%) inherent in ICG’s business model.

 

In the construction sector, Grafton issued solid 2011 results yesterday. At a headline level, the numbers were in-line with what market watchers were expecting. In terms of the outlook, management see further profit growth in 2012 in spite of challenging conditions in Ireland, and within this it was particularly encouraging to read that like-for-like sales in its core UK business were +4% yoy in both January and February.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Smurfit Kappa Group) Davy’s Barry Dixon wrote an interesting piece yesterday in which he highlighted Smurfit Kappa’s latest capex initiative. The company, as is its usual form, bought a second hand packaging machine on the cheap from a financially stretched (should that read “defeated”?!!) Italian firm. It’s now using that machine to replace two less efficient machines, which will be broken up and used for spare parts elsewhere in its operations, leaving Smurfit with more effficient, lower cost output while leaving production levels unchanged, thus allowing it to capture the extra margin. With Smurfit’s recent debt refinancing deal giving it enhanced financial flexibility, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smurfit make further opportunistic purchases of strategic assets from distressed vendors in Euroland.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Trinity Mirror plc and Independent News & Media plc) Lewis at Expecting Value posted a great piece on the wider print media sector in the UK and Ireland that’s well worth looking at. The only things I’d add to it is that INM’s “Island of Ireland” division is presumably crafted because post the sale of the UK Independent newspaper its UK division effectively comprised the Belfast Telegraph and a low-margin distribution business. Folding that into the Ireland division helps take out management overheads, while INM has exited the Indian market (it had previously owned a stake in Jagran Prakashan). I concur with Lewis that Trinity Mirror is the better UK newspaper play, given its (in my view) better quality portfolio of assets (e.g. national titles such as The Daily Mirror and The People).  I also think there’s more value in Trinity Mirror at these levels than INM, but the presence of several business-savvy billionaires on INM’s share register makes me wonder about the potential for shareholder-friendly corporate activity (e.g. a sale of APN News & Media at a minimum).

 

In the food sector, agronomy specialist Origin Enterprises posted good interim results this morning. Management says that the company is “on track to deliver full year consensus earnings expectations”. As H1 only makes up around 15% of Origin’s full-year profits, we’ll have to wait until later in the year to make a more definitive judgment on the outlook. However, I should say that I do like Origin given the structural growth drivers (removal of EU quotas, rising demand for agri products from emerging markets, modernisation of Eastern European agriculture) that will underpin the group’s growth long into the future.

 

Finally, on a lighter note, some wag has posted a video on YouTube saying that the Irish government is planning to sell County Cork in order to raise extra funds.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

March 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

Market Musings 18/2/2012

with 2 comments

As has been the norm so far this month we’ve seen a lot of newsflow in recent days from right across the market. Let’s cover what’s been happening on a sector-by-sector basis.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in France Telecom plc) In the telecoms space, I was interested to read that Deutsche Telekom is considering exiting its Everything Everywhere jv with France Telecom in the UK. It will be interesting to see how the latter responds, given that France Telecom has been exiting operations in Europe of late, selling its Austrian and Swiss businesses. Bernstein reckons that it is likely to IPO Everything Everywhere, which would be my preferred choice – France Telecom needs to slash its vast net debt (€30.3bn at the end of H1 2011) and this, along with the proceeds of the recent disposals, could put a chunky dent into it. With the French state, France Telecom’s biggest shareholder, losing its AAA rating from S&P earlier this year and Moody’s threatening to follow suit, I think heavily indebted corporates in that market are going to come under increasing pressure unless they can get their balance sheets in order. Against that I note that FTE is considering spending $2bn to buy out its Egyptian partner in that market, but the costs of that potential deal are significantly outweighed by the disposal proceeds outlined above.

 

In the construction sector, I was interested to read that the company that bought out Wolseley’s assets in the Irish market has been placed into examinership. While time will tell what the outcome of that process is, any closures would likely benefit Grafton, which has 67 merchanting outlets and 49 DIY retailing outlets in Ireland. Elsewhere in the sector Valuhunter did up a stonking blog on housebuilder Bellway in which he makes a very interesting observation – the UK benefits cap may lead to some internal migration as people move from the more expensive south-east of England to other regions. I am perplexed to read hand-wringing articles on the benefits cap such as this one – surely it is unreasonable to expect taxpayers to pay for people to live in the most expensive areas?

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Total Produce plc) Switching to food companies, I was interested to read Indian media reports (this doesn’t appear to have been picked up by either the Irish media or any of the domestic brokers here yet) that Tata has ‘dissolved’ its joint venture with Total Produce. This is disappointing, as there’s no denying that the jv offered the greatest organic growth potential of all of Total Produce’s units. However, we have to frame that disappointment in the context that it was only a very small part of Total Produce’s business – I estimate only 1 or 2% of turnover.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in PetroNeft and an indirect shareholder in Dragon Oil) In the energy sector, PetroNeft issued a ghastly trading update, in which it said production has slipped to 2.3kbopd versus 3kbopd at end-2011. This is eerily reminiscent of the technical problems that dogged the stock throughout 2011, and hence it was no surprise to see the share price close down nearly 40% yesterday. Sentiment will not be helped by an RNS posted after the market close by JP Morgan, which said that it has followed up its recent share sale by offloading a further 5m shares. JP Morgan has 6.8% of PetroNeft’s shares remaining, and were it to run its stake down to zero that would mean the market will have to digest about 8x the ADV. I can’t see a queue of buyers for that at the moment. Elsewhere, Dragon Oil said that it is considering making a bid for Bowleven. Contrarian Investor UK welcomes the return of M&A within the sector.

 

In the recruitment space, Harvey Nash issued a strong trading update. It’s one that I sold out of early last year – in hindsight, with very good timing – but I have been keeping an eye on it because I like its conservatism, diversification and excellent management team. While there is no denying that it’s cheap – it trades on a single digit PE and yields around 4.5%I suspect there will come a better time to buy Harvey Nash later this year – EPS momentum is set to fall off a cliff from the +16% in the 12 months to end-January 2012 to +4% in the current financial year, before accelerating once again to +34% in the 12 months to end-January 2014.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Allied Irish Banks plc, Bank of Ireland plc and Irish Life & Permanent plc) I was interested to read that IBRC, the bad bank formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank, is “anxious” to take on the tracker mortgages that are causing so much hurt for AIB and IL&P. Bank of Ireland reports results on Monday that will hopefully give a lot of clues about the dynamics within the Irish market at this time. The key things to watch out for in BKIR’s results are pre-provision profits (most analysts expect €500m), deposit trends, net interest margins, progress on deleveraging and impairment guidance.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media) I recently did up a case study on Independent News & Media, in which I mentioned the problem of imploding newspaper circulations. I was interested to read that INM has just de-registered 12 of its regional titles from the industry’s official circulation auditor, ABC. I’m sure that there’s no correlation between the two!

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Datong plc) I was interested to read a piece in Growth Company about a stock I hadn’t come across before – PSG Solutions. PSG is clearly a microcap, with a market cap of only £26m, but I was interested to learn that it has a unit called Audiotel that specialises in technical surveillance countermeasures. I wonder if it would be a good fit with Datong, whose surveillance capabilities are well documented. Partnering the two could give it a nice breadth of offerings to security agencies. If anyone has a view on this, why not post a comment below.

Market Musings 12/1/2012

with one comment

The volume of newsflow is still quite light, but at least what little there is, mainly in the form of trading updates, has provided much food for thought.

 

Computer games retailer Game Group issued a very grim update covering the Christmas trading period. Like-for-like sales in its UK and Irish stores were -15.2% in the 8 weeks to January 7th. This was worse than the -10% recorded in the 49 weeks to the same date, so Christmas offered no respite, even in spite of the much milder weather we have seen this winter. Even more ominously, Game said that “the difficult market conditions raise the likelihood that [Game] will not meet its EBITDA covenants (fixed charge coverage and leverage) when they are tested on 27 February 2012″. Given those pressures, and the structural issues around computer game retailing (both the encroachment of multiples like Tesco into the space and internet operators) it’s not a stock for me.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Ryanair plc) Switching to the travel sector, Ryanair announced that it has opened its 50th base – its first in Cyprus. This marks the latest push by the carrier into Southern Europe, and is a further setback for tour operators and charter airlines alike. 

 

In the construction space, Grafton issued a very solid trading update, with buoyant sales in the UK (helped by good weather) in November and December in particular driving a modest upgrade to its 2011 profit guidance. I was pleased to see a modest uptick in sales trends in its Irish business (circa 25% of revenues), but this was presumably also helped by easy comparatives given the snow disruption in the previous year. Its peer SIG also revealed that 2011 was a bit better than it had projected, but it did add that it believes “market volumes will be slightly down overall in 2012”.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Abbey plc) Staying with construction stocks, housebuilder Barratt Developments issued a strong trading update this morning, revealing a 40% increase in operating profits and saying that it has a “strengthened forward order book” going into the second half of its financial year. It noted that while house prices overall were stable, it saw “greater robustness” in the South-East of England, which has positive implications for Irish listed Abbey, which has most of its operating units in that area.

 

In the food sector, Swiss-Irish baked goods group Aryzta raised just over €140m from a placing. This is a shrewd move that strengthens its balance sheet and gives it more flexibility to undertake more deals in the future.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Playtech Ltd) In the blogosphere, Mark Carter writes of his decision to sell his shareholding in Playtech. I’m minded to follow him to the exit, but I’m in no particular rush to do so (there is not a lot on my ‘shopping list’ at the moment). Elsewhere, John McElligott concludes his two part series asking if Eurozone equities offer good value at these levels.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

January 12, 2012 at 10:48 am

Market Musings 24/11/11

with 2 comments

I was thinking that I should have something special for this entry, which is my 100th blog post, but in the event the Eurozone has provided all the fireworks.

 

If you want proof of how the Eurozone crisis has spread from the periphery to the so-called “safe” core, look at yesterday’s German bund auction, described by Monument’s Ostwald as “a complete and utter disaster. If Germany can’t find buyers for its 10 year issuance, what hope has the rest of the currency union? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I prefer being invested in financially strong blue-chips with strong franchises and also commodities over Euro government debt. Staying with the now-troubled “core”, Fitch warned yesterday that its AAA rating on France could be at risk. Elsewhere in the Eurozone, Greece’s Central Bank warns that the country is on its last chance to stay in the single currency. On the plus side, when the Greeks bring back the drachma at least we can all enjoy cheap holidays over there!

 

Speaking of commodities – a lot of people have been saying to me that they think gold is in bubble territory. For a contrarian view, this tweet from Goldcore is interesting: “Lack of coverage of gold in [the] media is symptomatic of bull market in its infancy as animal spirits & public participation remain negligible“.

 

My bearish view on consumer facing stocks in the UK means that high quality companies such as Grafton, Wolseley (which I’ve traded before), SIG and Travis Perkins that would ordinarily be contenders for inclusion in my fund aren’t getting a look-in these days. However, one report I recently came across highlights the long-term structural driver for builders’ merchants, namely, that 55% of UK housing was built before 1970 (see Table 2.4 on page 54). Once I’m satisfied that we’re at the low point in the cycle, I will look to buy some exposure to this sector.

 

Some other interesting data points – the FT had an interesting report on UK university endowments, which showed that Cambridge has built up a £4.0bn fund, Oxford a £3.3bn one, while the remaining 163 other UK universities ‘only’ have £2.0bn. I assume, given the propensity for short-termism in Ireland’s public sector and political establishment, that none of our universities have established the type of meaningful reserves that would propel them into the top tier internationally. Yet the talking heads here persist with the myth that Ireland has a ‘world-class’ education system, despite, for example, our failure to produce a single Nobel Prize winner in any scientific field since Ernest Walton in 1951. Or the fact that no Irish university ranks in the top 200 globally, as per the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2011.

 

And another data point – I also read in the FT that UK households now dump ‘only’ 7.2m tonnes of food waste annually, 13% below 2006/07 levels, as hard-pressed families embrace thrift.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Playtech plc) Turning to corporate newsflow, Playtech continues to be a source of extreme annoyance for me. Yesterday it announced a £100m placing, plans for more M&A/jv activity and a new dividend policy. Ivor Jones at Numis makes some good comments about it here which sums up my views about all of this. I also note that the CEO of William Hill, one of Playtech’s largest customers (if not the largest) has been blogging about his sense of annoyance towards Playtech’s CEO. My patience with this company is close to exhaustion.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in PetroNeft plc) I was pleased to see Peel Hunt initiate coverage on PetroNeft with a “Buy” recommendation and 54p price target (150% upside to this morning’s price!). However, near term performance from the Siberian oil producer, as I’ve noted before, will hinge on the results from its hydraulic fracturing programme at the Lineynoye oil field.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Smurfit Kappa Group) I am intrigued by news that Smurfit has invested in a packaging plant in Russia. Details remain sketchy but I assume that this investment – if confirmed – will not materially alter its debt-reduction plans.

Written by Philip O'Sullivan

November 24, 2011 at 10:18 am

%d bloggers like this: