Philip O'Sullivan's Market Musings

Financial analysis from Dublin, Ireland

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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.

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Written by Philip O'Sullivan

August 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Market Musings 22/8/2012

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Having been on holidays in Finland and Estonia for the past week, today’s update represents something of a ‘revision session’ as I look through what has been happening since my last update on the stocks that comprise my investment universe.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in AIB plc) To start off with the banks, according to press reports, AIB is looking to reduce its pension deficit by transferring loan assets into it. This is a common-sense move by the bank, which reported a pension liability of €1.5bn at the end of June, and I wonder if it might provide some food for thought for other businesses that find themselves asset rich but cash poor.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in CRH plc) Ireland’s biggest company, CRH, tempered its full-year guidance when it released interim results a few days ago. Having previously forecast that it anticipated “overall like-for-like sales growth in 2012 and a year of progress for CRH”, it now says: “we expect that EBITDA for the year as a whole will be similar to last year’s level”. Tougher macro conditions are to blame, which are clearly beyond the control of the group, although it is mitigating these pressures through cost take-out measures and a focus on cash generation (cash earnings per share, at 85.8c in H1 2012, was well above the 67.1c achieved in H1 2011). On the M&A front the group stepped up its activity here, agreeing to total consideration of €235m for 17 deals in the first six months of the year up from the €172m spent in the same period last year. Overall, the high implied rating that CRH trades on allied to tough end markets means it is difficult to see the shares push significantly higher from here in the short term. This is compounded by a paucity of obvious near-term catalysts for the stock – its next investor day isn’t until November and its next development update isn’t expected until early 2013. One thing that could change that is a substantial earnings-enhancing deal, but on the M&A front it should be noted that CRH’s style is to go for modest bolt-ons over spectacular large transactions (recent chatter around India notwithstanding).

 

Elsewhere in the construction space Kingspan released good H1 numbers, which came in ahead of market expectations. Encouragingly, there was a good lift in margins (up 100bps to 7.00%) which underlines the strength of this performance. That Kingspan is outperforming the market shouldn’t be seen as a big surprise, however, given that its insulation base gives it a structural edge over more cyclical building materials companies. The benefits of recent acquisitions, particularly as they are integrated into the business, points to a solid outlook for this firm despite the macro headwinds.

 

In the energy space Dragon Oil released solid interim results. Management is sticking to its medium-term targets, and given its track record few would argue with them. It was interesting to see Dragon Oil is bidding for licences in Afghanistan – these are located in the more stable northern region of the country.

 

In other resource sector news, Petroceltic announced a merger with Melrose Resources. I don’t follow either company closely, but on paper this looks like a sensible deal which creates a reasonably sized group focused on the Black Sea, North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea with a blend of production, development and exploration assets – hopefully a case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in PetroNeft plc) Wrapping up on what’s been happening in the energy sector, there was an interesting deal in Siberia which has read-through for PetroNeft. TNK-BP sold $400m worth of assets in the region at an implied price of $2.56 a barrel – this is 3x the implied value of PetroNeft, all of whose assets are located in the region.

 

(Disclaimer: I am a shareholder in Independent News & Media plc) In the TMT sector INM’s 30% owned associate, Australasian media group APN, released its interim results. While its underlying performance was in-line, it took a huge (A$485m – a 70% write-down) charge against the value of its New Zealand print assets. This distracted from a stable topline (continuing operations’ revenues +1% yoy) while underlying operating costs fell 3.3% yoy to A$357m and finance costs were nearly 10% lower yoy. Net debt has fallen to A$470m from A$637m at the end of 2011, helped by the restructuring of the outdoor business. Ominously for INM, APN cut its interim dividend from A3.5c to A1.5c, so INM’s cashflow won’t be helped by lower dividends coming from the southern hemisphere this year.

 

In the healthcare segment there was a good bit of news from United Drug in recent days. In its Q3 IMS management revealed that it now expects 8-10% earnings growth in 2012, a big increase from the previous guidance of 4-8%. The company also said that it is considering moving its listing from Dublin to London, which surely increases the pressure on the Irish Stock Exchange to seek a deal with another European exchange before it loses any more top plcs. The group also bolstered its Packaging & Specialty division with the acquisition for $61m of Bilcare’s UK and US clinical supplies unit. This is a sensible deal which further enhances UDG’s presence in that space.

 

And finally, one thing that might provide a lift to my readers in Clonmel today is that C&C’s Magners appears to be making a big marketing push in Finland – in a few of the bars in Helsinki I visited (where a pint* can set you back nearly a tenner!) I noticed that all the bar staff were wearing Magners branded t-shirts and the bottled stuff was widely available. Cider is wildly popular in Scandinavia (Kopparberg hails from Sweden) – by way of illustration, in terms of draught most of the pubs I was in only had two taps – one for either Koff or Karhu and one for cider. Magners is also stocked by the Finnish alcoholic beverage retail monopoly, the charmingly named Alko. So, while I don’t claim to have conducted exhaustive field research (not least given the prices the pubs charged!) it does highlight that Magners is making progress outside of its traditional markets. In its FY12 results C&C revealed that, outside of Ireland and the UK, worldwide Magners volumes grew 28% over the past financial year, with circa 10% of Magners revenue now coming from outside of the British Isles.

 

* Actually, being good Europeans the Finns sold 0.5 litre drinks in pint glasses.

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