The last month I spent quite a lot of time researching a couple of small/micro cap Pharma/Biotech companies listed in Hong Kong (I still have one more interesting candidate to perhaps reveal later). The most interesting candidate which I had planned to introduce here on this blog was BBI Life Sciences. As it happened the stock had a nice run upwards just before I was going to post about buying into a new holding and after that the stock was halted, pending a M&A announcement. The announcement was released yesterday, revealing a Leveraged Buy Out by the majority owner family, offering 3.5 HKD per share for all outstanding shares. The largest investors outside of the family group has also agreed to the offer of 3.5 HKD per share. In my view this was really a shame, since the company is active in a very attractive niche, with fantastic growth in revenue and profits, but still trading at a very reasonable multiple. I won’t go into all the company details anymore, because that is not the main story of this investment case. Just a very brief company overview:
BBI Life Science
The company offers science research products, more specifically:
- DNA synthesis products covering oligonucleotides and genes synthesis.
- Experimental materials (biochemical reagents and research kits) and consumable parts (labware) that are used by researchers in experiments.
- Genetic engineering services covering DNA sequencing, next-generation sequencing method, and molecular biology services.
About 70% of Sales is in China and 30% in USA/Europa/rest of Asia.
You have this saying that the one that got really rich during the gold-rush was not the gold miners, but the guys selling the shovels and all the other equipment needed to pan for gold. Maybe the analogy is exaggerating this somewhat, but here is a company providing the basic materials for another gold rush wish is taking off, the biotechnology rush, enabled by powerful computers, genome sequencing equipment and new technologies like CRISPR etc that I wrote about a long time ago: Let’s Talk DNA.
The company fundamentals are very attractive, strong growth and even after the run-up after the offer for all shares, the company is trading at a 2020 P/E of around 15. Not a stretched valuation at all, given annual growth rate of some 25%.
If this was a full analysis I would go more into details of competition worries, governance etc, to mention a few lines. The business is actually similar to Modern Dental’s China business. BBI has a large center outside of Shanghai where they produce much of this DNA synthesis material. This is a fairly labor intensive process as I have learned, meaning cost advantages with cheap(er) labor. My guess is that BBI Life Sciences is able to have so high margins right now, due to limited competition currently in China and lower labor costs than Western companies that produce these materials out of Europe/USA. So a qualified guess would be that margins would come down over the years, but with the growth currently seen, this would still be an attractive investment. And if anything, given how China is focusing on these areas of Biotechnology research, I would expect this area to even keep growing through a downturn in the general economy, making the business even more resilient.
A western competitor in this niche seemed to have been an attractive target to acquire: Brooks Automation Moves Further into Life Sciences with $450 Million Deal for Genewiz Group
The investment case now
Unfortunately the investment case has moved from this very exciting provider of the base materials for many of new types of Biotechnology research, to just being a play on harvesting the small free return the market is giving us, since the stock is trading at 3.32 at close, versus 3.5 HKD in the offer price. This is some 5.4% upside, not very attractive, but better than the 0% I have on my cash. The thing here is that I actually get a bit caught in my methodology of always buying my shares at close prices. I have actually put on this position intra-day today, at 3.26, which gives a 7.3% return. But I won’t cry over this and I will accept the closing price as my entry point. So one of the main reasons why the market is giving some doubt to if we will really get the 3.5 HKD offered is that it’s required that more than 75% of the shareholders need to vote yes for this bid, or that less than 10% vote against this. In both cases all shareholders will by automatically forced to sell their shares at 3.5 HKD. Given that they have not secured these levels of votes, means there is fair likelihood that the offer won’t go through. So this is the reason why I gave a short update on the actual company, because I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing if the offer does not go through. I think the company long term is worth much more than the 3.5 HKD per share. The majority owner which is the founder and his two daughters who today run the business I think also know that, hence the bid. This has been a typical HK value trap stock, which for some reason never revalued upwards, although fundamentals just kept getting better and better. It really beats me why it did not revalue, but here we are. Either a get a 5.4% return over the coming 3-4 months, or the deal doesn’t go through and this will be a new long term holding for me. I have total 7.1% cash position and I allocate a 6% position to BBI Life Science as an Opportunistic holding.