When investing in a company I do my best to understand the products the company is selling. I want to understand the environment the company is operating in, competitors, brand value, together putting the company into a context. I try to understand the management of the company and where they want to take the business. I then try to look long-term if the industry has headwinds or tailwinds and how much sales is affected by the general market cycle. All this and more goes into my valuation of the company. But even when I try to cover all bases, the stock market keeps throwing curve balls left and right, I had my fair share and there will certainly be more in the future. The other day it felt like I was dealt another curve ball.
The management of Edgewell Personal care, went out bought a shaving company start-up called Harry’s for 1.37bn USD. Edgewell with an Operating Income of some 300m USD, net debt of 1.1bn USD and Market Cap (pre announcement) of some 2bn USD, thought it is in a good position buying a start-up for 1.37bn USD. Worse than that, they pay 1.085bn USD in cash and very little in stock. This brings debt levels to seriously tough territory, at a time when I at least believe we are close to the peak of the cycle. I thought I bought a low risk defensive company, it suddenly transformed into a equity position sitting on a huge debt rocket.
Harry’s is one of the competitors (Dollar Shave Club being the other) that I mentioned i my analysis of Edgewell when I invested. They are taking market-share from Edgewell, Gilette and BIC over the last years, particularly in USA. Harry’s top-line revenue is expected to be about 325m USD in 2019 (growing at 30% historically).
They do own their factories and it has been an impressive growth case, so of course it isn’t a worthless investment, it’s just a combination of overpaying and overstretching Edgewell’s balance sheet. I’m so disappointing in Edgewell throwing in the towel to create this themselves organically. By acquiring Harry’s it’s like admitting to not being able to compete with these guys. That speaks volumes to me about the management of Edgewell. At today’s close, I sell my full holding in Edgewell. Obviously I wish I never invested in the first place, given that I now take a -16% loss on the holding, but I never saw this coming. Investments really can surprise you in so many ways..
Other thoughts about my holdings and the market
Markets have come off a few percent from their highs and my portfolio has under-performed quite a lot the last few weeks. Some of that poor performance obviously is related to Edgewell, but there have been other holdings performing poorly too. Trade war is a big worry, especially for my portfolio that feels fairly exposed to this. I’m not very positive on us seeing a deal anytime soon, there is too much pride in China for that. At the same time I changed my mind about the so often cited coming China crash. I still think it will come, just not this year. My bets are on a pretty ugly 2020 in China, with serious deterioration in their economy in the later part of next year. These things are impossible to predict, but from everything I read and hear, it seems like we have already passed the peak. It will just take a while for slow moving things like the property market to start to wobble and finally fall.
My more defensive companies like Philip Morris, BATS, Swedish Match, Diageo, Dairy Farm, Gilead, Inditex and Essity has not really done that much lately. They have more or less performed in line with the market or slightly better. Below I instead focus on the more high risk holdings:
One of my largest holdings, the quite illiquid company Tonly Electronics has traded down. This is quite warranted given the Trade War that to some extend will affect the company. I’m still hopeful that the company will be able to improve margins during this year, which really is the key thing to be watching in the next report for the first half year. The fairly good dividend yield, which was paid out yesterday, at about 5% yield is also reassuring. Tonly was an opportunistic investment where I see a very deep value case, but not necessarily something I want to hold for another 5 years, as long as some of that value is unlocked at some point.
A holding that has been a long term holding, but where I numerous times discussed if it really should be. Nagacorp came through with how they plan to finance the third stage of their expansion in Cambodia. After reviewing the terms, I actually think they are quite fair this time. So I decided to increase my position size here and for now throw away my doubts and really firmly put this in my long term holding bucket. I increase my position size to a 7% holding, nearly doubling the position size, more or less back to where it was before I started to reducing my holding. Somewhat ironically the average selling price of my shares is exactly where the shares are trading at now, 8.96 HKD per share. But the situation was different then, I very much doubted that the majority owner would come through with a decent deal for everyone. Now that he did, it changes a lot for me. I many times stated I would be happy to have a very large holding here if I just could trust management. The trust gauge is not really at 100% yet, but it’s much higher than before and this money printing machine feels like a stable holding at 7% weight.
One of my original holdings since I started the blog. As explored the Electric Vehicle theme back 2015-2016 most signs pointed to that the real S-curve effect would start around 2020. I remember telling colleagues back in 2015, isn’t it cool that in just 5 years all big car companies most likely will be launching full EV line-ups. That more or less have come true, maybe with a 1 year delay until we really see them in every car dealership. Even if I got the EV theme correct, the company Coslight has not turned out as I planned when I invested more than 3 years ago. Now when EV sales numbers really are starting to climb, I don’t think its the right time to sell this company. I’m down significantly, on not really any news. The company still also has its game software development which is a profitable cash generating business. There is a lot debt here as well, which has been my main oversight when investing. So I might get wiped out from the debt, but somewhat stubbornly perhaps, I want to see this through.
Finally my speculative holding Irisity has lately been on a bit of a roller coaster ride. But fundamentally on the company, I’m even more bullish than before. First quarter sales on Monthly Recurring Revenue was fairly solid showing continued strong growth (from low levels). The latest news about HikVision also being banned, just like Huawei, plays perfectly in the hands of companies like Irisity. The largest competitors in this space for sure are the Chinese, with companies like Sensetime having huge software development teams on video-surveillance. If western companies avoid or even are banned from using Chinese tech in this area, a lot of the competition in the market is removed. I’m considering to increase my holding further, but will stay put for now and hope I can increase and a better entry level.
That is all for now. I’m trying to find time to publish a real deep analysis of some new ideas I have had for some time now. But you will have to wait a little bit longer for that. Comments as always are appreciated!
The portfolio reached a new all time high on Friday last week. It’s not very long ago I wrote a post where I shared my thoughts around the market. I thought then that we had started a cyclical downturn and the bear market had started. Suddenly the market feels stronger than ever again. My gut is telling me to sell everything and run nowadays (my gut is always early). Well I will just continue to pick stocks and do my best to outperform, whatever the markets generally decides to do. That being said, with the sell of Cheetah Mobile and now UR-Energy, I am lifting cash levels again, making the portfolio more defensive, at least for a short while.
My portfolio as of Friday last week:
So why am I selling my full holding as of close today? I didn’t even come around to write a post about this, as I probably earlier promised to do. First of all, this was a speculative holding, just as Cheetah Mobile. Second, the spot Uranium price really is stubborn. Even though so many fundamentals says its bound to go up long term, it continues to stay at rock bottom levels. A holding like UR-Energy then becomes like a far out of the money call option, which is bleeding time value as I’m waiting. Now I believe the stock has moved up only for the petition they have sent in, that USA should secure some yellow cake production from North America, and not rely on places like Kazakhstan for the supply of uranium to it’s power-plants (and perhaps nuclear weapons). So, maybe this will go through – I honestly have no idea. If that happens, there is probably much more upside here, but I have no clue to guess the chance that this petition is accepted. Also that was kind of a kicker in my investment case, not what I built my speculation on. My investment case was built on, that the world would wake up to nuclear and how much we really need it. To meet climate goals and as base power source when moving more to wind and solar. But no, it does not seem to happen at the speed/pace I was hoping for. Lastly I have some new upcoming investment cases that I will present in due course, I need the cash for this/these investments. I’m happy to take some money of the table here, netting a 10% gain on this speculative position.
I bought into this company knowing that there was some issues, but believing they issues very minor compared to the values hidden in this company. There were claims the company had conducted click injection in many of its apps. When looking for cheap companies, you sometimes get entangled in some pretty hairy investment cases. In the past I managed to get stuck in companies where there were some serious doubt about their business practices, for example Criteo and Dignity. After some serious contemplation on my side, I in the end decided to exit both those investments. In the case of Criteo, which is trading at all time low, that has been a wise decision. Dignity is trading close to a ten year low, so also in this case, thus far it was the right decision. I think in my speculative investment bucket I have hit another such investment in the case of Cheetah Mobile. Basically this case boils down to if this company is a fraudulent in its accounting and business practices, or not. If not, it’s an exceptional value investment. I present a short investment case below, short because I ended my due diligence when I had decided if to keep the investment or not.
+ Large player in the android app space, lately successful mobile game launches.
+ LiveMe #1 Live stream app in the USA, long runway for growth.
+ Historical high profitability of some 80 MUSD/year in cash from operations.
+ Share repurchase program of US$100m over a 12 month period starting in September 2018. Current MCAP 924 MUSD, with 430 MUSD Net Cash.
+ Big strong majority owners (Kingsoft, Tencent)
– Eccentric CEO who always moves into a new things instead of developing the present better.
The company was established in 2010 when Hong Kong listed Kingsoft acquired Conew Image and merged it’s Security division with Conew. The company mainly based out of China, focused on internet security software, where mobile became the revenue driver. In 2014 Kingsoft spun off this division and floated Cheetah Mobile on the Nasdaq, selling 12 million ADS at US$14 per share. Kingsoft has kept a majority stake in Cheetah Mobile and appointed the previous Conew CEO, Fu Shen, as CEO for Cheetah Mobile.
JD.com was a tough investment case, continuing to fall sharply after I bought into the company at 25.7 USD per share. This was an investment in my Opportunistic bucket, after allegations against the CEO and majority owner Richard Liu. I thought the stock looked extremely cheap and had a unique position with the logistics network of warehouses and quick deliveries. Far better than what Alibaba could muster. This has proven not entirely true, this article sheds some light on the situation: JD vs Alibaba in the last mile: what’s happening behind the Great Wall.
Bottoming around 20 USD per share, JD.com now has rebounded trading around 29 USD per share. A nice bounce and also a gain for the portfolio, which during the same period is more or less flat. What I spent the last few months to consider is if JD.com is a worthy long term holding in my portfolio. I have come to the conclusion that it’s not. First of all the whole allegation against Richard does leave a bit of bad taste in the mouth. Maybe more importantly, Richard Liu seems to have fallen somewhat from grace in Chinese circles. In a country built on relationships and government contacts, this should not be weighted lightly. Secondly, just some personal reflections I got from people that know this company more from the inside. JD.com apparently is not at all as culturally open as many other tech companies, Richard himself does not come from a upper class background where he studied abroad at a young age. This seems to be reflected also within the company from what I hear. In many other tech companies it is common with droves of Chinese who lived/worked/studied abroad and recently returned to the “motherland”. I think this is an issue long term for an innovative company. Thirdly this space is so extremely competitive, that although a current low valuation, this does not make it into my long term portfolio as it currently stands. Therefore the opportunistic case kind of has played out, perhaps I could ride the positive momentum a bit longer, but I think I found a more interesting case. Therefore today I sell my full holding in JD.com to instead buy a position in..
From one controversial investment to another. Today is the last day Swedbank trades including a dividend of 14.2 SEK per share, with a current price of 142 SEK, that gives exactly a payout of 10%. I have followed this case very closely, it actually rather started when the Danske Bank money laundering scandal came out. Swedish television has after that followed up with a number of programs, exposing Swedbank. Partly it is a risk of BIG fines, but partly this has also been poor communication from Swedbank management. Today the CEO of Swedbank, Brigitte was kicked out and the CFO becomes the acting CEO until they find someone to take the permanent role. The whole thing is pretty much a shit show, right now its very hard to say where the share price will bottom. I think we are at attractive levels now. The money laundering that has been done in Swedbank, is not nearly in the same scale as Danske Bank. Danske dropped some -45% in total during their scandal, Swedbank is now down some -31% percent, but the bank stocks had already traded down a bit on back of the Danske scandal, so I would say Swedbank is down some -36% to compare it with Danske’s drop. This is in my view too much for one of the most profitable banks in the world. So this becomes my new Opportunistic holding, taking the cash from the JD.com sell and buying into Swedbank as of today’s close for the same amount. The SEK is also traded pretty weakly, so one can hope that that could also give a bit of boost in returns, if it’s strengthens.
This is a follow up post of my recent portfolio changes. Below is my current portfolio, now fully invested, no cash. As always you find this picture on my portfolio tab. Another small push of about 0.5% is needed for the portfolio to take a new all time high.
Below follow my thinking on the portfolio changes I made:
I have been looking for a long time for some defensive consumer staples companies, with strong brands and a reasonable valuation. Many of the companies with strong brands are based in the US and the recent sell-off has created some opportunities in this space. As of close today I take a 4% position in Edgewell Personal Care (EPC).
Edgewell Investment Thesis
The investment thesis is two fold:
Attractive valuation for a very defensive portfolio of strong consumer staples brands. The company is taking efforts to reduce overhead cost and reinvest in the brands. From conference calls I sense a urgency from management to turn this around. But from a valuation standpoint a larger turnaround is not needed, even with no growth, the company is fairly valued at current prices.
The Gillette commercial will in my view strengthen sales of razors and blades for all competitors. Edgewell will most likely be the competitor that benefits the most, given geographical sales and how Edgewell’s brands are competing head to head with Gillette in physical stores.
I also reduce my Dairy Farm holding in half. Below is a shorter summary of my thinking around this two investments:
For 2018, the Global Stock Picking portfolio is down -2.5%, that compares to MSCI World Total Return (i.e. including dividends) down -8.2% on the year. My return is also including dividends but no trading fees deducted. In the counterbalance to fees, I do not calculate any return on cash, which has averaged around 9% of my portfolio. Given my fairly heavy China tilt I have in the past compared myself with Hang Seng, down -10.5% on total return basis. During the first 9 months of the year I struggled to keep equal steps with MSCI World, given the benchmarks high weight to the U.S. When U.S. markets sold off sharply towards year end I increased my alpha quite significantly against the benchmark. As you can see in the graph below, I was flat performance wise from mid-October to year end. This meant that my cumulative alpha reached it’s highest level towards year end. Total return is 47% since inception vs 22.8% for MSCI World. Although a negative year is not very encouraging, I’m still happy with the results, given how exposed I have been to China, which has had a terrible year.
Significant Portfolio changes over the year
Funeral investments – Dignity and Fu Shou Yuan
I entered into my demographics investment case beginning of 2018. It did not play out as planned, I changed my mind and sold both holdings in late November.
Brewery and liquor companies – Olvi, Diageo and Kopparbergs
Olvi and Diageo I still hold, I see them as defensive good companies, 2018 performance wise has been unspectacular. Probably Diageo is a bit too big company to deliver outstanding returns, it would be better to find something smaller, like Olvi, which I like a lot. My best investment was the one I sold, Kopparbergs, good return and the stock has totally collapsed after I sold. I think this was a case of my being a bit lucky with the timing, but also being ahead of the market understanding the cider business fairly well. Behind the scenes I have done a lot of research on other cider companies and how the big breweries are ramping up their cider offerings. I also done a lot of on the ground research, always checking stocks in stores around the world and in pubs of course. All of this made my change my mind on Kopparbergs prospects, selling has so far paid of very well.
Larger portfolio reshuffle – Selling Tokmanni, Microsoft, Catena Media and Criteo
This selling was partly due to my change in investment style. One reason was that these companies are hard to understand and grasp, therefore hard for me to have an edge against the market. Hard to grasp also means high maintenance to keep on top of what is happening. Performance wise selling these holdings was neither good or bad, on average they are about flat since i sold. So overall they were not bad stock picks, given that flat performance is also out-performing the market.
Special Situations – Radisson Hotel and Amer Sports
Radisson was my HNA related turn-around idea, which played out like clockwork. Somewhat luckily I bought at absolute bottom (24.1 SEK) and the stock repriced upwards before the bid for the company came. I choose to sell out before the actual bid at 35.8 SEK, whereas in hindsight, like one my readers has pointed out, it would have been better to keep holding it. Currently trading at 42.4 SEK.
Amer Sports was just that I had pretty good understanding of the Chinese company Anta, which had indicated a bid for Amer Sports at 40 EUR per share. The market did not really believe this, I saw it as something that made total sense for Anta. I got my shares for 34.1 EUR and sold at 38.37 EUR 1.5 month later, currently trading at 38.75 EUR.
HK listed small caps – Tonly Electronics, Dream International and Modern Dental Group
I have invested long enough now on the Hong Kong exchange to have confidence enough to invest in the smaller companies listed in Hong Kong. It’s pretty dangerous waters, mis-pricing can last for very long periods of time and many of the companies are not run with shareholders best in mind. Anyhow I found three companies which I believe had few of these dangerous characteristics, low valuations and fairly bright future prospects. To summarize, so far so good, all companies have out-performed the market, although under very low volumes. All these stocks are easily manipulated up/down 10% on a single day. When I bought Tonly and Dream Hong Kong was one of few exchanges that had sold off, and these stocks were in my view uniquely cheap. Now when valuations are coming down everywhere, they seem less and less unique for each day that goes by. It might come a point when these are still good investments, but there are safer options that are valued as low as these. Still I think there is some way to go before we are there.
Speculative/Opportunistic holdings enter the portfolio – UR-Energy, Scorpio Tankers, Irisity and JD.com
The timing (mid Sep) of me buying more speculative, loss making companies was not really fantastic. Just when the markets really started to tank. Given that it’s no surprise that these stocks have not performed very well, all of them being a significant drag on performance. Currently I have most hope to Irisity which is making some acquisitions, trying to consolidate Swedish knowledge on video/camera detection software. Given the market climate I might make some changes and lower the weight towards these type of companies, it might get very brutal in a bear market.
JD.com is also an interesting case, the rape charges were thankfully dropped. On the other hand China feels much more wobbly now than 6 months ago. I’m a few dollars under water on this position, a bit hesitant if I should keep it, due to this being 100% China exposure. As argued earlier, with stocks repricing, there might also be better opportunistic investments than looking for a bounce in JD.com.
Thoughts about 2019
I believe we have entered a bear market. Opposite to a bull market when the market grinds higher and has sudden drops downwards, I think one can start to see that markets rather grind downwards and have large jumps upwards. That is for me the strongest sign of a typical bear market. 2008 was a bit special, since that was more of a collapse. I don’t believe in collapse this time, rather a longer grinding bear market, like in 2000-2003. It’s not going to be very fun performance wise in the next few years if I’m right. It’s also going to be frustrating finding a good investment case, just to see it trade down another 20%, becoming even cheaper. On the upside, it will be like a kid in the candy store, with a lot of great investments and fantastic prices. Probably all of this will not play out in 2019, but continue into 2020 (if I’m right). As always these things are impossible to call and I will just try to hold my long portfolio through it all.
I recently read a book with the title: China’s Great Wall of Debt – Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans, and the End of the Chinese Miracle. The author definitely has a negative bias on China but it struck a cord with me. I had not read the book when I wrote this post: Rotate away from China. He of course summarizes it much more nicely in his book, but he brings up a lot of points, which is just in line with my own observations. Reading the book it kind of re-emphasized that something pretty bad is lurking in China and when it turns, it’s going to be ugly. On the flip-side China still has many weapons to fight a downturn. Just the other day PBOC announced a Reserve Ratio cut for the banks which will release a lot of liquidity into the Chinese market. I think the big bad ugly China crash is still some years away, probably dependent on how much of a downturn we now will see in the rest of the world.
+ Strong core business of dental prosthetic production with good cash flow generation. Possible margin improvement after factory move in 2019/2020.
+ Although listed in HK, this company mostly has stable revenue from developed markets – Europe/USA/Australia.
+ A kicker is the growth opportunity in China where the need for dental care is huge as well as the high fragmentation in the market.
+ Debt tenor recently extended, which shows prudence of liquidity management.
+ Low valuation with good potential for turn-around and multiple expansion if management can integrate acquisitions successfully.
– So far acquisitions has just grown top line, nothing has feed through to the bottom line. Markets are currently in doubt of management execution on the investments.
– Strange history of running core operations on land where the lessor did not have the right to lease out the land (might have been hard to understand beforehand though).
– Recently started a share buy-back program (about 1% of float so far), although this is general is an acceptable way to shift out earnings to shareholders, it more looks like a way to prop up the share. The management should concentrate their efforts and cash in improving the businesses they bought.
Modern Dental Group (hence forth called MDG) is the only listed company in the previously described segment of prosthetic producers and distributors. The company floated on the Hong Kong exchange in December 2015, offering 175m new shares and 75m secondary shares at 4.2 HKD. This brought in about 660m HKD cash to the company. The current market cap of MDG is 1.2bn HKD.
The company started growing significantly during the early 2000’s with centralized production facilities in Shenzhen, China, for dental prosthetics production. The company used third-party distributors to sell their low prices dental prosthetics. This co-operation grew over the years to a large number of distributors world-wide, selling their products to local dentists. The offshoring of prosthetic production to China has seen strong growth (as discussed in Part 2) and created good cash flow for MDG. This enabled the company to bit by bit acquire it’s distributors and smaller local labs. MDG has through acquiring these companies become a direct distributors to the dental clinics with the purpose to control the whole mid-stream segment. The goal as I interpret it, is to be able to provide a full-service offering, both low cost options from China and the higher quality products from the local labs.
As we learned in previous posts, the development of CAD/CAM technology enables the local labs (who can afford it) to fight off the low cost production in China. With machines doing most of the work, low labor cost is not as big of an advantage as in the past. This is probably the main reason MDG has been on a spending spree over the last 5 years. My guess is that MDG see the next leg of growth as consolidating the small local dental labs into bigger units where economies of scale works better with CAD/CAM. In fact MDG has already created such labs of larger scale in Hong Kong, Melbourne and Emmerich (close to the border of Netherlands). By consolidating the market MDG might be able to out-compete smaller local players.
47.4% of the company is held by the Chan family
16.1% of the company is held by the Ngai family
The rest 36.5% is free float.
A family majority owner is very common in HK listed company. This is both a blessing and a curse, if it’s the right family leading the company, it could be very good with a strong owner to lead company. HK also has many cases where this has gone totally wrong and money is more or less embezzled into other non listed entities which are family controlled. Given the nature of the business in this case and that two separate families are large owners, I see this risk as minimal. It’s rather the risk of incompetent leadership which would be the largest risk. At the same time, the families have all the motivation in the world to not mis-manage their company, since they are more heavily invested than anyone else. On balance in this case I see it as a positive that this company has a strong family owner.
The core of this company has been the large production facilities in Shenzhen China, they have delivered solid cash-flow (some 150m HKD per year back in 2014) and continues to do so. Although exactly how much is not fully visible anymore, since income is now mixed together with all the acquisitions done (more on that later). The company has some 780m HKD in debt, which recently has been refinanced (at a cost) at a longer tenor (5 years). Being prudent and taking up longer term financing, even if it costs more, I see as a positive and responsible management. I would not want to see debt levels escalate, now at 2.45x EBITDA.
As we can see above, Europe is the largest market, followed by the U.S. Unfortunately profit contribution and margins per region is not available, but from my readings Europe together with Hong Kong (included in Greater China) are the two regions which contributes most to the bottom line.
Revenue and Net Income
Top-line has increased significantly (mainly from acquisition) but so far small effect on bottom line. One reason is that a loss making US operations was added into 2017 figures. Maybe it will be famous last words, but my investment thesis here is that we are experiencing the worst right now. On the flip side there is a lot of potential for margin improvements, if management delivers in terms of synergies and operations of scale in general and for the U.S in particular. Another factor for margin improvements, will be few years down the line, when the move to the new factories in Dongguan are completed.
Given the declining share price and flat Net Income, the P/E has just kept contracting, reaching as I see it, attractive levels.
Given the large number of acquisitions this becomes an important component to poke a bit deeper into. The below tables summarizes the acquisitions over the past 5 years.
Smaller acquisitions (dental labs)
In total since 2013 MDG has done acquisitions to the tune of 1.2bn HKD, the current market cap of MDG is 1.29bn HKD, adding on net debt of about 450m HKD, the Enterprise Value of MDG is 1.75bn HKD. For MDG to currently be fairly valued they must have grossly overpaid for the companies the bought. Or the market has miss-priced the company and its significantly undervalued.
Has MDG in general overpaid?
The short answer is, probably yes. The slightly longer answer is, the earlier acquisitions seems to be OK-ish. Its hard to judge exactly how improvements and synergies are moving along per region and contributing to the bottom line. The jury is still out on the execution of their strategy of lab purchase RTFP (MicroDental) being the main one. Just looking at the purchase prices of the larger acquisitions, the market price seems to be around 1x Revenue of the companies, which without any deeper insight, sounds fairly cheap. The problem child in my view is RTFP, which is bleeding pretty badly.
One case where the company was somewhat unlucky was the SCDL acquisition in Australia/New Zealand. Australia’s government changed the contributions to dental healthcare, which has reduced the business significantly overall in Australia. The market is slowly recovering from this.
A look at RTFP Dental (MicroDental)
This acquisition in 2016 is quite different from the larger ones done in the past. First, this is the only large scale dental lab acquisition done. Second, this is the first significantly loss making operation bought. As you can see in the second table above, MDG has also started to selectively buy Dental Labs in other places of the world, but that has been small scale compared to this huge acquisition of 21 labs in one go. MDG acknowledged that RTFP was losing a lot of money, US$-9.3m which translates to -73m HKD (that is a lot for MDG which has a historical Net Income of about twice that).
These were their main rational why this still made sense to acquire:
Brand Name – MicroDental is a renowed brand in USA.
Customer network – Platform for MDG to further penetrate the USA market, mainly through the 21 labs around USA.
Laboratory EBITDA – at US$5.9m EBITDA on lab level shows there is actual value in the company. RTFP is burdened with high admin costs, an expensive facility in Dublin etc. MDG believed it could improve results through offshore product lines, elimination of unnecessary corporate expenses, reductions in rent and operating expenses for the facility in Dublin and streamlining measures.
Location of dental labs of RTFP Dental
Tax benefits – MDG can enjoy tax deductions through amortization of goodwill, to the tune of US$7-9m.
Finance cost – 2016 US$2.4m of the losses were due to Finance costs and MDG would be able to fund this more cheaply.
The Latest comment released last month on MicroDental business outlook:
“The North American market has experienced a slight drop in sales (of less than 2%) and a drop in sales Volume (less than 3%) due to (i) the management’s focus and attention on the ongoing restructuring and integration of MicroDental during the period as a result of the temporary distortions arose from closure of inefficient locations and relocation of production facilities during the period; and (ii) the management’s planned decision to focus on higher priced and margin products and gradually phase out the lower priced and margin products in MicroDental Group.”
In the latest semi-annual report they disclose how the reshaping of the MicroDental business is progressing, in total it contributed -9m HKD in loss for the first half of the year. Still terrible, but much better than the 73m HKD loss before. This progress will be key to MDG’s long term success and potential share price recovery. I think it will be hard to come out of this and create shareholder value, meaning turning this business highly profitable. So far the market agrees with me and I think this the main reasons why the stock is down -60% since the acquisition was announced. This of course give us that invest now, a good discount. So the damage done by this acquisition is in my view already reflected in the share price, now there is upside if they actually manage to turn it around properly. There are some early signs that they are making good progress.
The strange land story
Going through the IPO documents a very strange story emerges. The very short version is something like this: The factories MDG are running in China are rented by some type of local community in the suburbs of Shenzhen. This was all well for many years, until Shenzhen grew so much that the land became more valuable. The city has after that re-evaluated the claims different people or groups have to that land. It happens so that Shenzhen government has realized that this local community does not have the legal rights to this land and therefore MDG ends up in a very strange position. Basically MDG could at any point be evicted from the land (with a grace period for moving out). Since this local community of course strongly opposed the Shenzhen governments view on the matter, this has ended up in some type of legal conflict. Consequently MDG decided, it’s time to start to look for a new factory in neighboring Dongguan. This also makes sense from a labor cost perspective, since Shenzhen starts to become a bit too developed and rich. Back in the IPO days, 2016, there was still a long runway until a new factory would be up and running. I can’t understand how investors would be willing to bare this big risk of being thrown out of their factory, before the new one is finished. Now this issue is diminishing, the first phase of the constructions of the new factory is scheduled to finish end of this year. Even if MDG was told to start to prepare to move out by tomorrow, the impact would not be terrible. I would not have been comfortable to invest in MDG earlier than now, just by this fact. These kind of issues is not something I contemplated for my other investments, you always learn something new and the number of traps in emerging markets are so much greater.
Being the only listed company in it’s segment of course makes valuation from a peer perspective more challenging. What MDG themselves paid for the acquisitions is one guideline of the value of the business. Currently the Enterprise Value of MDG is about 1.75bn HKD with revenue of 2.28bn HKD for rolling last 12 months. On the very simple metric of paying 1x revenue, the stock is undervalued by some 30%. I don’t suggest this to be a very good method though, I prefer to look at cash flows.
As we have seen in Part 1/2, the dental business is not very cyclical and has a nice growth trajectory in many parts of the world. These are important reasons, since it gives stability to revenues and income. The big question for the valuation is, what will be happen with the margins? The company has gone from stable 14% Net Income margins in 2012, down to around 6% in the past years. Will that improve, become even worse, or stay stable going forward? This all depends on how well the company manages all the acquisitions done over the past 5 years, since they brought down the margins.
For revenues I do not assume further large acquisitions, just some minor labs being bought. Majority of revenue growth is assumed to be organic growth. China as we have seen is growing very quickly and that will also feed through in the companies revenue growth. The growth rates are 2%, 4% and 6% per year.
My base case assumptions is that some type of efficiencies of scale will start to take effect. Also that the bleeding stops in the U.S. dental labs turn into a profit, there is a few percentage points of margin improvement just from that. Making the base case in my view, fairly conservative.
WACC = 12%, given the stable nature of the business with revenue from developed markets I think a lower WACC is warranted. 12% maybe is not even low enough. I would go even lower, if it wasn’t for that I wanted to keep some risk premium for the uncertainty around management execution.
This gives me my three valuations:
Base = 1.42 HKD per share (I give this a 60% weight)
Bull = 2.19 HKD per share (I give this a 30% weight, since I see it as more likely that margins will improve)
Bear = 0.53 HKD per share (I give this a 10% weight, I see it as unlikely that margins would further significantly deteriorate)
Which in turn gives me a weighted target price of 1.56 HKD per share and about 20% upside to the current share price.
I have been somewhat torn if this is a good enough case to invest in or not. I do love a good turn-around (maybe I like them a bit too much). It’s not easy to catch the bottom and this stock is currently a slow falling knife. 20% upside at a WACC of 12% is not extremely good, but a DCF is also tricky. I’m not a slave to the DCF and there is a lot about this company not captured in my simple DCF. Just changing the assumptions a little bit moves the valuation up and down by quite a bit. For example a WACC of 10% instead of 12% gives a Base case valuation of 1.86 HKD per share.
I like that the family is so heavily invested in this company, they must have a great understanding of the dental industry. They are executing on a strategy they believe will be fruitful in the long run and there are some early signs that the losses in USA are coming to an end.
I think what made me finally decide is the defensive nature of this business. There is a reason this company initially traded at a P/E of 30 and most healthcare and dental related companies are trading at very high multiples. So buying this below a P/E of 10, is pretty darn good for a defensive business.
I initiate this at a 4% position as a Long Term Holding in my portfolio, I will not increase my position before I see proof of margin improvements. I’m willing to give the company about 1-1.5 year to prove that they can improve margins from here.
After a very tough October, my portfolio has recovered somewhat and is in total down -1.6% on the year. That compares to MSCI World which is down -4.4% on the year. Both have achieved these returns, with the exact same volatility, 15.1% for the year (calculated on weekly returns). My correlation is 79.5% to MSCI World, which is rather high, but also somewhat expected. When markets fall correlation tends to increase between all equities (the correlation during 2017 was 64%). After being down to 0% cash, when I introduced my new three bucket investment approach, I’m now back above 10% cash after divestments in my funeral related companies and Amer Sports, which I will comment further on below.
Amer Sports – The Chinese are buying
When I launched my big portfolio change: GlobalStockPicking 2.0 – Major Portfolio Changes, it just happened that information came out about a non-binding interest from HK listed Anta to make a bid for Finish listed Amer Sports at 40 EUR per share. Having looked into Anta when I invested in XTEP, the other sport shoe producer I thought this really made sense. Mainly because Winter Olympics in China is coming up. So I used my new Opportunistic investment bucket to take a 4% position in Amer Sports at 34.1 EUR per share.
I wrote at the time: “My own expectation is that this should be priced at 85%*40 + 15%*29 = 38.35 EUR”. I think the market has caught up with my analysis now, given that the stock closed at 38.37 on Friday. I still think this will go through, but there are some small tail risks, that for example USA will block the deal. Usually these things also take quite a long time, needing Chinese approvals. So I’m happy to leave the last 1.5 euro on the table and close my position here. This netted my a 10% gain in USD (some currency headwinds) in a market which was down -9% for the period, very happy with that. As always when an investment goes well, you just wished your bet was a bit larger.
This is the second time I got a more short term bet right, where there was Chinese related corporate action around a Nordic company. The first time was the Rezidor/Radisson case (Adding Rezidor Hotel Group – HNA related idea) which also ended with a buyout from another Chinese company.
Swedish Match – Adding 30% to my holding
The producer of Snus and moist snuff which through countless of studies have proven to be much less destructive to your health than smoking. The stock has been on a wild ride lately, first the markets have been very positive on the possibilities for growth of Zyn in USA. Lately the focus seems to be elsewhere, for example that Swedish Match will not be allowed to sell it’s products in the rest of Europe. I think they have a terrific product as good as all the e-cigarette alternatives. The company is very well run and highly cash-generative. This is one of those companies I plan to hold forever, now was a good opportunity to add to my holding. I add about 30% to my holding as of close Friday, bringing this holding to 6.1% of my portfolio.
Defensive feels good in these times
For the frequent reader, you know that I have been skeptical of markets for quite some time. I have expressed this in many ways, but the main theme has been finding defensive long term holdings. Early on in the sell-off my defensive approach did not really work out, because the only thing that held up MSCI World, was the U.S. market and tech stocks in particular. Being underweight both was therefore short term not good for relative returns. Lately it started to work better though when tech “finally” stopped defying gravity. Defensive feels very good right now, but that doesn’t mean I want to miss out on the stocks with higher return potential, or very undervalued cases. I will hold true to my defensive style as long as the valuation difference to growth/value doesn’t become too large. Now I’m actually more excited about stock picking than I have been for quite some time. Today I find much more interesting investment cases than I did a year ago, one example of that being Tonly Electronics – Another Hong Kong value investing case. There are many more I have on my Watchlist and even some not yet mentioned there. The point of my dental series has been an attempt to find 1-2 companies to invest in, which are defensive health care companies I can understand. To summarize my defensive holdings:
Olvi (5.7%) – Finland/Baltic – Produces beer and other alcoholic and soft-drinks, selling mainly in Finland and the Baltic countries.
Gilead Science (5.2%) – Global – Biotech company with market leading products against HIV and hepatitis.
Essity (5.2%) – Global- New Holding Essity – Wood base hygiene products, like tissue paper, diapers, feminine care etc.
Diageo (4.1%) – Global – One of the worlds largest distillers with brands like: Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Gordon’s Gin, Captain Morgan and numerous others. Also Guinness is a large portion of revenue as well as its 34% stake in Moet Hennessy drinks division of LVMH.
Inditex (2.8%) – Global – The world famous clothing retailer Zara, so far keeps defying the e-commerce slaughter by producing outstanding clothes at a fantastically low price point.
Total = 53.8% of my portfolio is held in defensive companies or cash.
The above companies are a mix of daily needs, like food, clothes and hygiene and vices, like alcohol and gambling. All of the above holdings I’m confident to hold long-term, especially in a bear market. That doesn’t mean though that none of them will ever leave the portfolio. I try to think long term and get to know my companies well, something I didn’t appreciate enough in the past. Part of being long term is to not rush into the new investments, I will take my time and get to know new companies properly before investing. But if I find a new investment that feels much stronger than what I currently hold, the old will go out.
Currently thinking about
Lately I spent a lot of time trying the understand the Chinese tech scene better. There are a couple excellent podcasters out there who educate anyone willing to listen, on everything related to China tech. One thing that is very clear, is how extremely hot this sector is and how fierce the competition is. It seems to be on a totally other level than outside China. On top of that we have the Chinese government interfering in a lot of different niches. The competition and the intervention has again made me more negative in general. So the three of my holdings I’m currently thinking most about all have strong China and tech ties:
NetEase – Great company, with quality games and co-ops with western gaming companies. Given how much U.S. listed Chinese companies have been punished lately I think investors still really like this company, trading at a trailing P/E of 37 and estimated P/E of 24, is not dirt cheap. Obviously partly this is due to the halt in new game launches in China and everyone is expecting this to be temporary. Still, the government is showing who is boss and they won’t allow especially young people to be gaming addicts. Just as the funeral case, this hampers the upside for NetEase. Although I would argue that it probably very long term is healthy for the company to have more balanced customers and not school drop-out gaming addicts. The other aspect is the competition, which seems to be brutal. In Sweden a number of listed gaming companies have plummeted lately, it’s not that easy to keep delivering one of the few hit games everyone is playing. I have a hard time deciding of this a long term keeper or not, maybe the competition will eat up NetEase future? My Original Post on NetEase: NetEase – Chinese Gaming
JD.com – Here we have a company that is again fighting in fierce competition in the e-commerce space. The moat though and reasons for investing in this company is the fantastic delivery/logistics network they have built up. This is the hidden value in the company and the reason I invested. Some nasty details has been coming out about what the CEO has done in rape allegation case. It doesn’t feel very good to be shareholder alongside someone accused for something like this, but the company as such, I think is valued very low currently. If we disregard from personal feeling around the allegations (which is hard to do), this is in my mind a value investment at these levels.
Coslight – I haven’t written much about this company for a long time, it has been a big disappoint lately. This was an early investment for me on the theme of EVs and back-up power stations. The company has developed poorly due to needs for large investments which has been impossible with the already high debt levels (a misjudgment on my side). The solution became to sell of parts of the factory producing batteries for laptops. I think that was the best they could do out of a bad situation, but I’m not sure if they will be able to succeed to play with the big boys like Panasonic, LG, Samsung and CATL. Already back in 2016 it was clear to me I needed to wait until 2020, before EVs would start to sell in larger scale, now we are almost there. This should perhaps move into the Speculative bucket, but I held it for a long time and I will let this Electric Vehicle hype actually play out before I decide further on Coslight. The same reasoning goes for LG Chem, but there I don’t have doubt about their success, they are and will continue to be one of the market leaders. My original post of Coslight: Coslight Outstanding results