Dairy Farm is one of two holdings I held more than 2 years, which still has a negative return. Previous poor management combined with Hong Kong protest and Coronavirus has made this (normally) defensive company perform very poorly over the past two years. In the more recent sell-off I even decided to add to my investment. This is so far been a fairly poor choice since the stock rebounded less than the market has. If you read all my post on the company I contemplated multiple times if I should give up on the company or stay the course. My very long term thesis is that the company is in a very strong position to capitalize on the growth of the Asian middle class. I decided to continue to stay the course long term. The reasons being is that I see plenty of signs that the CEO Ian McLeod is doing the right things. Ian took over as CEO in Dairy Farm around the time I invested for the first time. The outside world of protest and Corona is hard to control (and hopefully something that will pass) but what Dairy Farm can affect seems to be going in the right direction.
Dairy Farm’s supermarket division is a very large part of total revenue. Given that it’s groceries, the margins are much thinner than for example IKEA or Health & Beauty sales, producing less bottom line than the other areas. My thesis all along has been that Dairy Farm would be able to significantly increase margins for it’s grocery segment. So far it has not happened but I really think things will improve from here on on wards. The biggest reason for that is spelled Meadows.
The trend that big grocery chains use own branded products has been particularly strong in large parts of Europe, as can be seen in the graph below:
The idea is pretty obvious, take control of the products sold and get a better margin. The reasons why a grocery chain would be hesitant to do so, would be that there are a number of branded products we consumers really want to buy. For example myself I really don’t want any other ketchup than Heinz. British grocery chains have been extremely successful in selling own brand products, take for example Tesco which has a very wide variety of Tesco branded products. Now Dairy Farm is going in the same direction, pretty much with a big bang launch of a huge set of products under the Meadows brand. Below is just an example of the economics of it, not necessarily exactly how it would play out for Dairy Farm.
Now getting to the above increase in margin is really a volume game. You need to be of a certain scale to be able to pull it off. Tesco for example has 56bn GBP of sales, so its not hard for them to have the scale to build a strong own brand portfolio. Dairy Farms grocery sales is not nearly as large, but how large it is depends a bit on how far they plan to roll out the concept. If it’s only to its fully owned supermarkets, the total sales is only some 5.2bn USD, if it also is to its Welcome stores its another 2.2bn of total sales there. Then we have the associates as Yonghui Superstores which has another 12bn USD in sales. I have not been able to find any info that the Meadows brand has been rolled out at Yonghui, perhaps someone in Mainland China is able to confirm this for me? This would be a big benefit if Yonghui would share in the Meadows brand but I don’t think that is the case. If we look at other smaller listed grocery companies, Swedish listed Axfood has revenue of 5bn USD and has managed to build a own private brand called Eldorado. Eldorado started as a ultra low price brand but is now complemented with multiple private brand products in higher price segments. So it is possible to build a private brand portfolio also within a smaller grocery network as Axfood.
My feeling here with the Meadows brand is that they for sure try to be a low cost option, but still with a little bit better quality than the cheapest stuff. The brand itself feels quite premium when you buy the products, but after trying a variety of products I would say only a few of the products actually are of equal quality as the branded examples. They do come with a big discount though and clearly the cheapest option, which I think matters to many.
Notice the pricing point of the Meadows peanut butter compared to Skippy (20 vs 27 HKD), also some blueberry jam to the left from Meadows and a cheaper price point than Smuckers. So to sum it up, I’m very happy with this development, the private brand trend has barely even started in Hong Kong and China in general. Now Dairy Farm is off to a strong start with the Meadows brand. It’s going to be interesting to evaluate over the coming 1-2 years if Dairy Farm can lift it’s grocery chain margins.
Greatview Aseptic kicker
I have equally large holding in Greatview Aseptic Packing listed in Hong Kong, where Dairy Farm is a large owner. Some milk products sold under the Meadows brand are using Greatview packaging which of course is a positive development for 468 HK. Although Dairy Farm’s milk sales is probably too small to make a big difference in Greaviews revenue, it’s still nice to see.
The rationale for worries and opportunities in all my holdings are spelled out in my previous post. Today I will just briefly announce my portfolio decisions. One little obstacle in this extremely volatile market is that in the blog execute all trades on close, this might mean quite large deviations from the levels I would have been happy to enter or exit my positions on. Anyhow, that’s how its going to be, the blog NAV is just a proxy of performance.
Some quick thoughts around my investment philosophy in this market:
Classical defensive holdings not necessarily defensive in a Covid-19 situation. It’s somewhat of an all bets are off situation here. One would think that Diageo with liquor sales is a super defensive stable business, not so much in this situation. Philip Morris another holding is reporting that they have to close their factory in Spain. It doesn’t matter of how defensive cigarette sales are if you can’t produce cigarettes. This market is truly hard to navigate.
Don’t try to be a hero in this market – focus on surviving that will give you plenty of returns long term, permanent capital loss is what will really hurt returns. I will reduce/sell anything I see risk of permanent loss of capital or dilution to shareholders due to leveraged balance sheet.
My small cap strategy of investing in less discovered (overlooked) stocks makes sense in a normal market. In an highly distressed market, it might as well be a large cap which is wrongly priced. I will therefore consider all-cap companies going forward. When markets have normalized I plan to go back to my small/micro cap strategy.
I will fully sell my holding in Diageo, the debt levels the company has is scary in a scenario where sales significantly drops, which is surely in the cards if this continue. It’s unfortunate when a holding you bought for it’s defensive characteristics fall even more than the general market, but here we are. I should have reacted earlier and it’s probably very late to sell, at least I will re-allocate the cash into other cheap companies.
Although company proved a turned around, due to debt load and total stop in business I will reduce my holding in Modern Dental Group to a 1.5% position.
Reduce position in Olvi to 4%, not due to company doing poorly but just that the business will be hurt, but the stock is not trading as cheaply as many other holdings with better prospects.
Reduce position in Tianneng Power to 1.5%, although the company is not doing badly, this was a speculative holding now I want to focus on building positions for the long term in strong companies.
All in all this raises about 11.5% of my portfolio in cash
Greatview Aseptic is in my view a big winner on this, people will be buying packaged food as never before. The company is already super-defensive to begin with, being net cash and very non-cyclical business. I raise this fairly new holding to a high conviction position and take the position size from 6% up to 8%.
I choose to double down on my oil positions TGS is increased from 2.6% to a 4% position and Tethys Oil I will increase slightly from 2.3% to 3%. This is a real pain trade to do, since in this sentiment these stocks can probably quickly drop further. At the same time these type of extreme events is when you need to dare to go against the sentiment.
Dairy Farm is another company where I spelled out my thinking quite clearly for that this is way oversold and actually quite defensive. I will increase my position from 4.7% up to 7% here.
This takes some 6.4% of my cash, which leaves me with roughly net +5% cash (give or take depending on today’s close prices). These 5% + ~7% in BBI Life Science (if the takeover goes through) is left to be deployed at a later stage.
I wrote about a month ago about my take on the Corona virus from a Asia perspective, basically my worst case scenario has come true and then some. The virus is more or less out of control in Europe and large parts of the developed world is staring into two scenarios: Either they do a shut-down like China and suffer the economic consequences of that, or they keep things running as per usual and the spread will just continue. Two horrible options to choose from. And on top of that we have a highly political situation between Saudi, Russia and USA, which knocked oil completely. My timing of buying my first oil holding ever into the portfolio Tethys Oil, could not have been less well timed, but such is investing life. I have managed to time things horribly before and I will do it again.
First my overall portfolio strategy right now, is to stay defensive and I think I have many such holdings (Swedish Match, Philip Morris, Diageo, Greatview Aseptic, etc..), the second thing is more short term tactical. We have seen a multi-year out-performance of Developed Market stocks vs Emerging Markets, just like the growth/value spread I have been wondering, when is it time for EM to shine again? Given the Corona spread in developed markets, I think this will exaggerate a mean reversion of returns (which was bound to happen anyway) in favor of EM. So I’m happy that my portfolio already has a strong tilt to Emerging Markets and I intend to keep it that way. Thirdly currently I’m mostly worried that this virus will kick-start a (also overdue) cyclical downturn with rising un-employment. So although EM might on relative basis fall less than developed, it might all come down more from here. Finally, a market like this creates opportunities to build positions in things you would not normally consider, so I will use this opportunity to make some portfolio changes.
This was a speculative holding with a lot of potential upside, unfortunately the company has not been able to deliver what the promised. I have full respect for that things take longer than planned, but you also need to decide at some point that you waited enough. That time has come and I choose to sell my full holding. Unfortunate and I realize a loss of 50% on this holding, but I knew the risks when I invested.
Buying TGS Nopec and Veoneer and Adding to Dairy Farm
I don’t have very much cash right now in my virtual fund, which is a bit ironic going into this downturn, given that I held larger cash levels for quite a while before. With the Irisity sell I have about 6.2% of my NAV in cash. So these 6.2% needs to be spread into these three holdings:
TGS Nopec – 2.5%
My favorite blog buddy valueandopportunity has for a long term held TGS and he recently added to it in this downturn. It is a oil exploration services company, please check his blog for more info on the company. The stock is down some -60% is a short time. I think this is exaggerated, the company is very well managed, asset light operations and is debt free with some cash in the bank. Previously when oil price hit $30 the company had one single quarter with losses. I’m happy adding TGS as a new long term at these levels. I realize just like my fellow blogger said I might be early here and I’m catching a falling knife, but I don’t really care. If oil doesn’t stay at these levels for years TGS will recover. On the downside oil might stay low for years given an significant economic downturn is in the cards but then most of my other holdings will also be down more from these levels. The risk reward looks very good at these levels in my view.
Veoneer – 1.5%
This is speculative case, again looking like catching a falling knife. This company is the spin-off from Autoliv which produces the next generation safety equipment for cars. More or less everything has been going against the company lately. Car sales declining, then corona, then some delayed contracts and lost contracts to a competitor. Due to all this, its easy to forget that this is a big tech company, with a lot of skillful engineers and a lot of patents. The company recently raised 420 million USD at 17.5 USD per share, its now trading below 9 USD. So the short term capital raising risk is gone, although down the line another one might be needed in a about 2 years time. This company is now deducting cash from market cap trading at Enterprise Value of 500 million USD, for a company with a good pipeline of products, 700 staff, which to a large extent are engineers and having revenue of some 1.9bn USD this is cheap. My belief is that someone like Geely will just come and snatch this up very soon.
Dairy Farm – 2.2%
I thought long and hard about this holding, I know it very well by now. I considered to throw it out for a while as well when I feared that the company would be loss making for the coming years, due to the situation in Hong Kong (protests not Corona). The report for second half of 2019 was released and the company is not in as bad shape. I was quite positively surprised and they are executing fairly well on their turn-around in other markets. After all, this is a very defensive company, running 7-elevens and supermarkets in the Asian region. Longer term it has many things going for it. The general population growth in Asia and a larger middle-class being the main investment case. Right now with the HK situation and Corona shareholders have just decided that this is almost un-investable, which I fully understand, short term. But now the stock is so cheap, I decide to take a long term perspective again, although it might fall more before it recovers. I only hold a 1.8% after selling this down recently (at 5.71 USD per share), now I get to buy that back at 4.33 USD per share. Going back to some conclusions I made around my investment skills, this is another example where I have to say I traded this stock very well:
So I’m as of today’s close fully invested, for the first time in a long while. But I do have something which I see as an alternative to cash at that is BBI Life Science, which is the buy-out event I invested in some months ago. The stock is flat lining here waiting for the offer to go through, I could sell out to a small profit and use that cash for other investments. BBI Life Science is a bit over 6% of my current portfolio.
Although I find it highly interesting with Macro analysis, I deliberately write less about such topics on this blog. I want this blog to be focused on stock picking and the struggles of portfolio management. That said, given how many investment I have with a majority of their revenue exposed to Asia/China/Hong Kong I guess it’s time to write down some thoughts on what is going on in the region. The ground is moving very quickly around the Coronavirus (2019-nCov) and the attention has grown a lot over just the last few weeks. Even so I think people living in China & HK vs rest of world have very different views on the situation. I do not pretend to have the answers of what is going but I want to share my view and what I see and hear from people who I know live on the ground. In the end of the post I will go through why I’m as of Friday sold my full holding in Union Medical Healthcare.
The situation from my perspective
I would like to start of by saying, that I think we are facing an extremely serious virus spread. It’s the sneaky feature of the virus that it can spread before people feel sick, which really makes this so very dangerous. Thanks to very powerful actions taken in China and elsewhere, we might just dodge a major major global health crisis.
When the contagion started a lot of people where quick to comment, and in some cases I also drew conclusions too quickly. If you followed this virus situation closely you might recognize comments such as:
It’s only old or with previous health issues that passes away from this.
The mortality rate is only around 2%.
A normal seasonal flu in the USA kills 10x as many every year as this flu, you don’t see widespread panic from that.
More people die from road accidents in China, since people now stay at home, road accidents should be down, meaning total deaths is down. What’s the big deal?
All these comments have some merit, but let’s look at the one by one.
“It’s only old or with previous health issues that passes away from this.”
It’s easy to understand why such comments came in the first few weeks of the spread. Because naturally weaker individuals would perish more quickly to the virus. A stronger individual would naturally fight the virus longer, even though in the end they might lose the fight. So it is interesting to look at is how many of the identified cases have fully recovered. The count changes hour by hour, but right now there is 37,566 confirmed cases and 2,152 recovered. That is 5.7% has so far recovered, which in itself does not say anything about how many will make it through to the other side. But at least it is clear it takes a person a long time to be rid of the disease. One of the whistleblowers of the virus, Dr Li Wenliang only became 34 years old when he recently passed away due to the virus. According to reports he started coughing on January 10th, but was only a confirmed case on January 30th. It took him almost a full month from starting to cough to actually passing away from the disease. That brings us to the next statement.
“The mortality rate is only around 2%”
I’m not the first one to point this out, but I’m more or less repeating what a lot of people have been saying. You can not take the current 813 dead and divide with the confirmed cases 37,566. Yes this division gives 2.1% but is faulty on so many levels. First of all, like was described in the case of Dr Li Wenliang, who had worked with this from the start. Although he started coughing on Jan 10th, it took another 20 days before he was a confirmed case. The procedure to be tested and confirmed for Corona is not uncomplicated and there is not endless resources to perform this test on request from the public. My best guess is that the test is restricted to really sick people that show most of the symptoms already (fever, short of breath, etc). Again, same with the death figure, this is only confirmed cases that pass away in the hospital. Most likely there will be many that tried to fight through this at home and also passed away at home, never identified as a corona case, but actually was one. So both figures are probably higher. My best guess again is that the actual confirmed case figure is much much higher than the 37,566 figure we see. The death figure is probably also higher, but not by as much. The third and maybe most important factor is that even though every single case of corona infection and death was accounted for you still can’t divide one with the other, due to the timing lag. A person that got sick today, naturally will not pass away on the first day, he will still be a confirmed case though, that might pass away in a few weeks. So how long a lag should we apply? Well again nobody knows, but from the case of Dr Li Wenliang it took him almost a month to pass away, but only a week from that he was a confirmed case. China also classifies how many of the confirmed cases are severe, where one can presume that the death rate will be much higher, that stands at some 14%. Taking all these factors together, you end up with a big range of guesstimates. My own guess is that the mortality rate most likely is above 4% and hopefully not higher than 10%, if I have to say a figure, I would guess 6%. That’s a pretty big span and also a much more scary figure than 2%.
“A normal seasonal flu in the USA kills 10x as many every year as this flu, you don’t see widespread panic from that.”
Yes it might kill more, but there are a lot of factors explaining why there is not a widespread panic from such a disease. First of all, there are vaccines against seasonal flu for the ones that do feel worried. Second, as soon as we step out of bed we are facing risks to our life. As long those risks are very small we seem to be able to brush them off as nothing to worry about. The seasonal flu according to CDC data has a mortality rate of 0.05%. Since a lot of people get the flu, the number of dead will be high during a season. Another podcast I listened to described this in another way. Everyday there are many many roads accidents around the world where people die. Very seldom these accidents even make news headlines. But every-time a plane crashes from the sky and all people on the plane die, it makes news headlines all around the world. This virus has the impact of a plane crash on peoples feelings. The problem is that the virus cases are like planes that keep crashing every day and the news media keeps pumping stories.
“More people die from road accidents in China, since people now stay at home, road accidents should be down, meaning total deaths is down. What’s the big deal?”
The big deals is how people perceive this danger and the actions they take due to this fear. In the end it actually doesn’t matter, from an economical perspective, if the mortality rate is 1% or 10%. It’s the actions the population takes in fear of the disease that matters. Social media plays a big role in this. Panic and fear especially with the help of mobile phones and social media spreads like wildfire. The actions people taken is what I would like to focus on now, because in the end that is what matters.
Situation in China and Hong Kong?
When I started to write on this post a few days ago I felt my fellow investors in the US and Europe had not understood what is going on in China. But just over the past few days I think investors are getting input from company management and decent news reporting on what is actually going on. I felt all worked up, how could equity markets continue up when 1.4 billion people had decided to sit at home, not work and basically tend to basic needs!?
We humans are pretty easy to scare and what influences most of all, is the behavior of the people around us. People can be calm and rational about the likelihood of catching the virus, but change mindset very quickly when put with a new group of people that act more panicked about the virus spread. It’s very quick back to basics in situations like this, Maslow’s pyramid comes to mind. Nobody is any longer thinking about which Hermes bag or new car to buy, when you are fighting at the local supermarket for the last rolls of toilet paper. Maybe it sounds like a joke, but this has been the actual situation in Singapore and Hong Kong over the last few days. People are so scared that they have started to hoard goods like toilet paper, rice, cooking oil. Let’s not even talk about facial masks and hand sanitizing soaps etc. This is a highly sought after good that even if you are rich, you might not be able to source. People in Hong Kong are scarred by the SARS days and takes this extremely seriously, almost everyone is avoiding gatherings by now. People more or less mostly stay at home and most companies apply work from home. On top of that both Hong Kong and Singapore has now effectively shut their borders for Chinese coming into the country. This is obviously very bad for local business, especially for Hong Kong who has suffered tremendously already on back of the protest movement that lasted since last summer. I believe Hong Kong will see a massive wave of lay-offs very soon and with a city with very poor social security, this is going to be extremely tough on a already frustrated population. But, what happens in Hong Kong and Singapore, is still fairly irrelevant for the world economy, what matters is what is that big population in China up to.
China is a big place, so it’s always hard to generalize what is happening. As far as I have been able to gather, the mainland Chinese are either isolated and quarantined in the worst hit areas, or they are voluntarily quarantined in the sense that they barely go out-doors. Partly because they are scared of being infected, but also because they are told by their government to take this seriously and help minimize the spread of the disease. For example you are not allowed to travel on public transportation without a mask in the major cities. So due to Chinese New Year (CNY) holidays, the whole country has been shut since Friday, Jan 24th. A longer CNY break is still fairly common in a normal year, especially for factories. The situation from a work activity perspective is not that extreme compared to a normal year. It would be the services sector (which has grown big in the past years) which has operated at a minimum activity level this past week. The really crucial period will be the next two weeks. China can’t afford to have people just sitting at home another two weeks, it would just have too big economic consequences. At the same time sending everyone back to work, risks severely worsen the virus spread. There is some serious anger in the Chinese society after Dr Li Wenliang passed away, so there are even political stability angle for the Party to consider. A highly sensitive situation indeed. The largest aspect though is the psychological part, reports come in of restaurants being empty or just closed. Home food delivery which is huge now is reporting some 50% drops in deliveries, because people are afraid of contamination just from meeting the food delivery guy. A population which is that scared, will not turn around in a few weeks and buy plane tickets, or go out shopping for a new car. It’s really back to basics in China.
So my take is that the Chinese population is taking this super seriously, on a government and individual level. Since everyone is taking this so seriously I think we will see long lasting effects on the Chinese economy, with spill over effects on other economies. I see it as wishful thinking that the virus spread would disappear anytime soon, a vaccine takes too long to develop. So we are looking at the virus being around for at least a few months and during that time the Chinese will be very careful spenders. Very few will buy a car, with all the knock on effects to suppliers and sub-suppliers that implies. Very few will invest in real estate, so property prices might turn soft, which is fueling most of the private individuals wealth. Extremely few will travel. I think much of this might stay true even for a few months after the virus seems to really dropped off in new cases. So when 1.4 billion people, more than Europe and USA’s population combined suddenly tightens the belt and stop consuming, could that trigger something else? Perhaps the world has for the past few years, during a epic never before seen bull run for both equities and bonds, built up excesses and made stupid investment decisions during a low interest rate environment? With a Private Equity bubble lurking, and easy leveraged loan money available everywhere? What happens to all this when we get an external shock that significantly slows down the economic wheels? I really don’t understand why we are 1% off all time high the S&P500 when we are staring this situation right in the eye.
The Chinese consumer is today just too big of a part of the economical wheels that are spinning. As Ray Dalio so nicely explains in videos. One persons spending – is another persons income. And when the Chinese are not spending, this is going to hurt the income of a lot of people. In a worst case scenario this could trigger the end of the bull market we have seen.
I want to end on a positive note, about something which I have not seen written about anywhere. I’m convinced China will see a small mini-boom in childbirths in about 9 months time. Remember where you read it first!
My holdings majorly affected by the virus situation:
In order of trickiness to handle
JOYY (a.k.a YY)
The companies cash cow is live streaming in China. With the whole population sitting at home with very little to do, I think this might be one of very few significant winners on this short term. I don’t really get it why the company is not trading up stronger. I have to consider if I should add to this holding.
This is the toilet paper producer which everyone is rushing to clean out the shelf’s off. The stock price has probably somewhat stupidly moved upwards due to this. I mean people are just moving consumption in time, the paper they stock piled will mean less consumption in the future. Perhaps this can have some inventory positive effects for Vinda, and the company for sure will have another monster quarter in Q1. But long-term it doesn’t change the case much, it’s also not that overvalued right now that I would take the opportunity to sell. I rather think that long term there is still upside at these levels.
Again this toy producer is a winner when China is in trouble, with most of its factories in Vietnam they will be able to run at full steam, whereas the competitors mostly have their factories in China. The company does also have a few production lines left in China, so the company is not totally unaffected. The stock price is stuck in value trap land though, eagerly awaiting my semi-annual report and let’s see what that says!
Some 50% of customers and even more of the profit for the Nagaworld casino comes from Mainland Chinese, which is still less than Macau, where that figure is over 90%. Even non Chinese customers will probably be much more hesitant to travel to Cambodia during these times. I expect Nagacorp to take a significant short term hit from this just like any business dependent on Chinese and in this case even travel. But the stock has also taken a significant beating lately. One has to weigh the short term loss of income against the strong prospects the casino has over the long term. I have taken the bet that gamblers will be back at the Casino in full swing by summer and that the stock price already discounted a bad period up until then. I might very well be wrong and the market continues to hammer Nagacorp down, my strategy will still be then to weather through it.
This was a speculative holding, which performed fantastically until the virus fears shot down the stock. Obviously this is terrible for a producer of batteries in China. They might have trouble with their factories and there will for sure be less sales/replacements of electric scooter batteries when people are not even driving their scooters. Not really sure how to do here, I think I need a bit more time if I should close this speculative position. The case is much less clear than it was a month ago, that is for sure.
Union Medical Healthcare
I thought a lot about this holding lately. A lot of their business is built on Mainland Chinese coming to Hong Kong for different type of treatments, for health, minimal invasive procedures, etc. Lately they expanded more towards actual doctor clinics. Since the protest got violent in October, there are barely no mainlanders coming to HK and by now, with the border shut, there will be zero, for quite some time probably. On top of that due the shortage of facial mask, private clinics are even struggling to stay open. Locals population is neither for sure focusing on these type of activities now. So just like Nagacorp, UMH will most likely see a deep dive of it’s revenue and profits. I still like the founder, but this is just too much headwind for too long of a time. I have to be a bit tactical here and even if I like the company, I most likely will be able to get in cheaper in the future. I’m actually baffled that the stock is holding up so well. I have to be humble that I have misunderstood the situation and maybe the business is less dependent on mainlanders than I have understood. But I decide to sell my full holding as of Friday’s close.
This is another one of these which has got everything going against them, since the protest started. First it was the mainlanders that stopped coming during protests, which hurts the Mannings business. Then it was the protesters who got angry with the Maxim’s family, so nobody is eating at their restaurants. Then the 7-Elevens of course in general gets hit by less tourists and people moving about in the city. Now the virus. Well the only thing that finally must be flying is the supermarket business in Hong Kong. I can’t imagine a better market than these past months. People in general stay at home much more since the protests and obviously buys their goods from the supermarkets instead of going out eating. Problem is that I think the losses will be so severe in the other areas, so a great quarter or half year for the supermarket business won’t hold up the rest. In the long run this matters less, what matters is, will Hong Kong go back to normal long term and will the (not so) new CEO turn around the rest of South East Asia? This is not a high conviction position for me anymore and I need a bit more time to decide if it should perhaps leave the portfolio entirely. l have already reduced it to a very small position and the stock price is already hammered.
To align my portfolio further with my investment philosophy it’s time for another larger portfolio change with as many as four new holdings – Tethys Oil, Valneva, Tianneng Power and Union Medical Healthcare. I haven’t written as much over the past months, but I have spent a lot of time trawling for new investment ideas and yes I have quite many of them coming! But first what goes out:
As of the last day of 2019 I sold my full holding in Inditex, which holds the famous clothing retailer Zara as it’s main asset. This is another of my very large cap companies where I took the view that the market was overly scared of the retail-apocalypse and that Zara would come out strong in this. In my view today, I have a very weak edge to make such a call – although it this time turned out to be fairly true, both fundamentally and stock price wise. Therefore I today sell this holding, as I by know surely have no edge in forecasting where this stock is going to move on from here. I did my best to hold the stock in the weak positive momentum it’s been in for a while and I was rewarded nicely lately with a strong rally towards year end. My only doubt here is that I probably should ride the positive momentum a bit longer, but I’m eager to get to prioritizes right in the portfolio. Good riddance Inditex, you are truly a quality company, but you do not fit my strategy any longer.
This was a opportunistic holding which did not really turned out as planned. I had a quick gain for a while, but did not cover. More “dirt” was uncovered about Swedbank as the months passed by. I think banking stocks in Sweden in general are going to perform better now that the negative interest rate is gone. So the stock traded up not on me really being right, but just general revaluation of banking stocks. I have to say this was an opportunity which I should not have swung the bat on. Again maybe I’m a bit early to sell now, but I’m not a big believer in Swedbank has a winner in the Swedish banking sector long term. So the opportunity has pasted and this was a speculation that did not give me the quick gains I hoped, so now it’s time to close the trade. I sold my full position as of close 30th Dec.
As I mentioned in my performance review this quickly became my best performing stock during 2019. I have to thank twitter handle @alexeliasson for this investment idea. He was the one that first mentioned this stock and this has actually opened my eyes to look more broadly into the healthcare space on the HK exchange. Unfortunately I had only taken a “starting” position in the stock and was expecting to get to know this holding better over the years. I have been back and forth on if I should keep this holding, even though the valuation now is very stretched. First I just reduced my position with the plan to keep the rest “no matter what valuation wise”. But I come to the conclusion, that doesn’t work for me. I need to feel that the valuation is not pricing in some type of blue sky scenario that might never happen. I would not buy the stock today if I did not have it already, that is sometimes a little bit brutal way to look at it, but at the end of the day that’s how you should evaluate things in my view. So I decided to sell the full holding I had left in AK Medical. I’m very happy to buy this back if the valuation would come down somewhat again, I think the most probable scenario is that they have a long runway of growth in-front of them, but things can always go wrong in terms of competition, Chinese policy changes etc.
I have been reducing and increasing in Dairy Farm since my initial investment. I recently bought quite a lot more, punting on that we have seen the worst in Hong Kong in terms of protests. I changed me view on this and I’m afraid that the annual results that will come out of Dairy Farm is going to be terrible. On top of that the big holding in Yonghui Superstores has declined quite a lot in value lately, whereas Dairy Farm stock has been trading water sideways at very depressed levels. So I take the opportunity to reduce my holding with as much as I recently bought. I’m very close to closing out this position, but although the company is fairly big it’s still an overlooked stock in my eyes. The most important question though of course is if the company is a good enough investment. I will need a bit more information during 2019 to decide on that, but it’s not a high conviction position for me anymore.
In the below stocks I have taken a position on their last trading of 2019
Tethys Oil – 4% Long term position
I love being contrarian and right now sector wise, there is nothing more contrarian than the Energy sector. But I’m no macro investor, I need to be able to express this through a stock which seems unreasonably cheap and at the same time is a well managed company. I think Tethys Oil qualifies here on many levels. I have followed this company for a very long time and seen it’s execution. Very few oil companies has delivered such returns as Tethys Oil. Since 2004 the stock has compounded 21% annualized (incl dividends). If we instead look from the worst possible time, just before oil prices crashed from over US$100/barrel in 2014, the company has still compounded 7.5% per year.
The company has a 30% share in an oilfield in Oman with very low production cost, meaning that the company is cash flow positive even at very low oil prices. The downside of this is that you don’t get the same leverage in the share price if oil actually goes up. But my whole point of this investment is not speculate in if oil is going up or down, but buying a company that hopefully can perform well no matter what. Then as a kicker I love to get some energy exposure into my portfolio.
The company has a very high pay-out ratio, which is done both through dividends and special shares that are redeemed by the company (more tax efficient). In 2019 the company returned a total of 8 SEK and the stock is today trading at 84 SEK. Even so they still have money left over for exploration in Oman where they own quite vast areas of land. So there is a significant kicker to the upside if they strike oil.
Downside risk factors that should be mentioned is Oman itself. The country is run by a dictator (Sultan) and it seems that not all in the country are so happy with this. The country in general got rich on oil, but supplies are dwindling and it’s harder to please the people when cash is not pouring in anymore. Another risk factor is that the field which today is steadily pumping oil to Tethys would dwindle quicker than forecasts, but that is a small risk compared to the general country risk. This stock will probably always be trading at fairly low multiples due to the country risk, but I think there is a good chance for some general multiple expansion for energy stocks in 2020 and Tethys would benefit from that. Even with that not happening it’s a cash cow which just keeps pouring in money to investors. Insiders have recently also made some smaller purchases which is nice to see.
Valneva – 4% Long term position
Back in 2017 when I did my first rounds of trying to find some good exposures towards the Pharma sector I came across this company. I was very close to taking a position, but then the stock ran away from me when it quickly gained some 35%. I kept it on my radar since and now recently it traded down below where I initially were interested. And this time with in my view better fundamentals than back in 2017. Valneva is something as unusual as a vaccine producer. This is a bit of a sidestep from the investment case, but something that is good to understand looking at this type of companies:
Vaccine producers are a very strange animal in medicine since you are only selling one shot and then hopefully the patient never gets infected/sick. Whereas a normal drug is the most “successful” when you have patented something that the patient need for a long time, in the “best of worlds” to even survive. It’s pretty cruel when you think about it, but Pharma companies does not really have an incentive to cure us, but keep us needing their drugs as long as possible. So vaccine instead belongs to a total different category which is preventive care, just like exercising or eating healthier. One would think that there exists a ton of vaccine companies then since surely preventing care is more clever? Well this is were free economics kind of fail us, due to the above argument of it being more profitable that we are sick. This also means that governments understands this dilemma, especially governments which pay for public healthcare. So they actually are pretty helpful in promoting in various ways to develop vaccines. For example via grants or speed up trial processes. The trial process which has it’s Phase I/II/III like drugs is also quite different. Given that you can’t give 500 people a vaccine and then infect them with whatever the vaccine was for you end up with a bit of a dilemma, how do you test the vaccines effectiveness? Well basically you have to develop vaccines for something that is so common to be infected by that within a large enough group you know a certain number of people will be infected. This means you either need a huge test group, or a vaccine for something which is extremely common (at least within a certain region). This is why vaccines for example for the ZIKA mosquito can be developed so quickly, the outbreak is so significant, that testing if a vaccine works is a very quick process. But if you are a small company doing such large scale tests is still very burdensome. And unfortunately given the income potential of only 1 shot of vaccine is so low, very few companies finds it worthwhile developing vaccines even for things that many people suffer from around the world.
Over to the investment case. Valneva has one star vaccine on the market for a very serious infection called Japanese encephalitis, I have myself taken this vaccine when I moved to Asia. The vaccine is called Ixiaro and the largest customer for the vaccine is the US military, where this vaccine is a mandatory shot for every soldier sent abroad. The US military spends as much on this vaccine as the rest of the world combined. The second product is Dukoral, which is a Swedish developed drinking vaccine for prevention of diarrhea. Basically the product is used for tourists which are afraid that some type of Delhi Belly will destroy their vacation plans. Canada is here the largest market for this product.
A few things make the investment case interesting here:
The cash flow from Ixiaro and Dukoral is now enough to fund research for new vaccines without burning cash (which has been the case in the past). The company is actually turning a profit in 2020 if nothing goes majorly wrong with the current trend.
The company has a very promising vaccine in the pipeline for Lyme disease. This is a very serious unmet medical need with a huge number of cases in Europe and North America every year. Due to climate change the number of cases has increased even more over the past decade. This would be a vaccine which probably would be recommended to almost the whole population of some countries, if released. Back to governments supporting this kind of development for example FDA has fast tracked the development of this vaccine.
Chikungunya is a disease that has existed in poorer countries for a long time. But not so long ago a huge outbreak happened in the Caribbean, also affecting USA. Since richer nations see as in their interest that such outbreaks should not be widespread they allocate funds to finds vaccines. In this case for Valneva some 20 million EUR was awarded (current MCAP 236m EUR): CEPI award Valneva. This vaccine has competitors developing their versions, but here comes Valneva’s deep expertise in producing vaccines in, where they are the only product which will give coverage with only a single dose/shot. Obviously this is a big plus for a government which wants to protect their population, a lot of people miss to take follow-up dosages. So also here Valneva has a strong candidate for a good future income stream.
And why this is a good investment long term? Founder led and the family has a large shunk of shares (15%) which I always see as a positive. Track record of building something good long term, building a vaccine portfolio takes much longer time, but has a very long payoff profile too. I’m also convinced that the world has to wake up over the coming years to actually promote more preventing healthcare. It’s just in the interest of every government that is going to struggle to keep paying the populations healthcare bills through taxes.
Tianneng Power – 4% Opportunistic position
So this is probably not a great company which when I have sold we can go back and look at the fantastic return it had over the coming 10 years and I wish I just held on to it. This is a swing the bat, because now is a good opportunity to do so case. Since I followed the Electric Vehicle sector for so long I know a lot of players in this supply chain. This company looked for a while like it was going to a player in the battery space for EVs. Instead they took another route. When all other battery factories scrambled to develop the latest generations of Lithium ion batteries this company instead perfected in making the more simple old technology. Basically the lead batteries you have in your petrol car to turn the ignition on. I understood early that EVs would one day be big, which is happening right as we speak, even buses. But what i did not consider as much were to two wheeled objects we have, like motorbikes, scooters and even bicycles. It’s become a huge trend worldwide to have electric versions of these. In fact in China electric scooters has totally taken over the market. And the thing is, that these batteries need to be cheap, really cheap, otherwise the economics don’t make sense. So majority of these batteries are of the older cheaper type. Which has made Tianneng selling volumes go through the roof and hugely profitable in a market where most Lithium ion battery producers are fighting a very tough pricing war battle in the EV space. So for a few years now the cash has been raining in, but the market has not really revalued Tianneng because there will come a reckoning day when Lithium batteries will be cheap enough and take over the market. But how cheap should the company be?
The company is currently trading at P/E of 4.5 this is historically below average, but due to cash build up EV/EBITDA is a better measure.
The company is then incredible cheap. So it could be stuck in value trap land for a few years and then lithium battery prices gets so low that fundamentals start to deteriorate. To counteract the value trap you often need a corporate event of some time. That just happened the other day when they filed to spin-off parts of the company on the Mainland exchange. This might unlock some of that value and this is the trigger to take a bet on the company here right now. They plan to spin-off the battery division on the mainland exchange, where it will most likely be valued much higher than the depressing valuation on the Hong Kong exchange currently. The maneuver is a bit complicated though since the shareholders in Hong Kong can not own the mainland listed shares directly. So the listing of the shares in mainland China will have to go to a new set of investors. But effectively a new set of investors are going to pile into this company at a much higher valuation. I’m not sure where that leaves the HK listed stock in terms of share price, theoretically it could stay the same of course, but most likely some convergence will happen. I see fundamentally little downside to punt on this and potentially quite a lot of upside, although somewhat unclear how much. This will be an interesting one to follow.
Union Medical Healthcare – 3% Long term position
This is another stock that I came across in my search for healthcare related investments in Hong Kong. The same twitter handle that found AK Medical I believe is invested here as well. This is a Hong Kong healthcare provider that started off in the more light services around medical beauty services and has from there expanded into dental and doctor clinics. A big part of the growth story has been mainland Chinese that come to Hong Kong for medical services. Obviously with the situation in Hong Kong that should have slowed down significantly lately and it also explains why the share is trading weaker the past six months. But what drew me into this case is the founder. He has a bit of story how he came to found the company, he is still fairly young and the way he consolidated and built this company really impressed me. I don’t think this is the perfect timing to enter this company, there might definitely be setbacks in the next annual report due to the HK situation. That’s why I start with a small position, but I do think the founder is on to something here and the fundamentals speak of it, with revenue growth of some 30% YoY and EBITDA in the same range. At the same time the stock is trading at P/E 14 trailing and P/E 12 expected for 2020. I hope I will be able to buy more even cheaper going forward, as long as the underlying business keeps going in the right direction.
Something a bit odd happened recently with my holding Tonly Electronics. Due to re-structuring in the company which is the majority shareholder in Tonly, the HK exchange forced TCL to make a bid for the shares in Tonly. Since this was an involuntary bid, the bid premium was very small to non-existent. I had not to planned to sell my shares in this bid, since the company intended to let the company be listed. But over the last weeks it seems a lot of shares have turned over just around the bid price and I’m afraid the free-float will be so significantly reduced that this already illiquid company will be virtually impossible to trade in. Given this and that there are many other China related companies with attractive valuations I decided to sell my full holding as of close Friday. This was a very unusual sell for me, given that I think I’m selling my shares too cheaply, but given the strange circumstances I don’t want to get stuck holding these shares.
This increases my already pretty large cash buffer, so I choose to add to two of my holdings:
Dairy Farm – I’m bringing this back up to a 6% weight in my portfolio. I sold some of my shares at 9 USD and now I get to buy then back at below 6 USD. I’m expecting a terrible report given the situation in Hong Kong. This is truly a buying, when there is blood on the streets, investments. Go back to my old full analysis if you want to understand the company better. For example Dairy Farm’s holding in Yonghui Superstores is worth almost 3 USD per share. So you are getting large parts of this company for free right now. The HK situation does not look good, but I still think this is a buying opportunity.
LiveChat – Also bringing this to a 6% position. Have been experimenting with their sales process, which did not end up satisfactory according to the companies latest update. Nevertheless the company continued to grow the number of customers, which is impressive. I’m very interested to see the next set of financials, if we can see some early signs of increased revenue per customer. I think they might be getting there.
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:
In the graph of portfolio performance dividends are included, but in “Return (in USD)” of current holdings dividends are not included.
As you can see above, my portfolio has become more diversified than ever before (18 holdings). I would say the reason for that is the high valuations we currently see in stock markets. I used to at least find cheap stocks in the Chinese markets, but not so much anymore. In frustration over finding anything that feels like a home-run investment, I have gone defensive, both in the style of my holdings and also diversifying into a broader portfolio. With this kind of portfolio I do not expect to outperform as much as I have done in the past. Below I will give comments and thoughts on the larger holdings in the portfolio. Before I start I would like to mention Catena Media. I bought into the company when the stock price was falling rapidly from it’s highs. Soon after I bought the CEO was fired and the majority owner took over as CEO. It was a tough decision to hold on to the stock, as people speculated that the quarterly report would show some major issues (perhaps why CEO was fired). But no such thing happened, rather afterwards confidence grew in the company again. When I sold the full position in Catena it was actually the largest holding in my portfolio and a strong contributor to me managing keep pace with the benchmark. Now let’s focus on the five largest holdings in my portfolio:
I have not commented that much about LG Chem, although it has moved up to be my largest holding. The investment traces back to my investment theme 2 years ago when I started the blog. The six months before the blog was launched I had spent a lot of time to research the whole value chain of Electric Vehicles (EVs). I ended up concluding that it will be very hard to forecast a winner among the many car makers. As a side note I did and do still have a belief that Chinese automakers will step up and take a large part of the global vehicle sales pie. I looked at three segments of the value chain, mining companies, battery producers and semiconductor companies. Semiconductor companies I dismissed, since at the time I saw it as more linked to smart/self-driving vehicles. It then came down to mining or battery companies. When I looked into the supply situation of Lithium, from what I could gather there was actually plenty of supply, the bottleneck was rather Cobalt, but here there were no decent investment options. Batteries also had the tailwind of Energy storage systems, that could potential ramp up demand substantially on the back of more Solar energy usage. So batteries became what I focused on. LG chem was and continues to be a world leader in battery production, with the most advanced batteries in terms of performance vs price.
The problem with LG Chem, was like most of the investment cases around the EV value chain, it was not a pure play. Most of LG Chem’s revenue comes from chemicals sales which is totally unrelated to EVs. I tried to analyze the chemicals business best I could, but it is a complex field. I understood that I did not buy into something at peak valuations, but rather chemicals where trading at somewhat depressed levels, my analysis did not really go deeper than that. I reasoned that expanding battery production, to meet the enormous future demand, would require a sizable company with muscles to expand. So without knowing that much about the chemicals business, I saw it as a good backbone to build the battery production capacity on. And that is more or less what LG Chem has been doing. Capex and R&D expense is planned to increase substantially in the coming years, on the back of strong cash-flows in the last quarters.
Looking at the future, worries lies in if there will be any substantial margins left for the battery producers. As Chinese new giants like CATL steps up to the plate, it would not be the first time a thriving profitable industry, becomes like the solar industry where huge volumes are produced, but no money is made. What keeps me somewhat comforted is that there are safety and quality aspects to these batteries produced, which means that a battery product is not just only about cheapest possible price per kWh of battery power. There are also more long-term quality and safety aspects to a battery product.
Even after the strong share performance, the company is trading at an undemanding trailing P/E of 15 and a estimated forward P/E of 13, which is in the middle of the range of it’s long-term P/E band. I would argue there is still room on the upside, even short-term. Since we are closing in on the S-curve area of EV adoption, where LG Chem is bound to see strong Revenue growth. A few years ago, it was estimated we would see substantial EV sales come through around 2020. But it’s more likely that most cars will be Plug-In hybrids around 2020 and pure EVs really taking of on a massive scale, is still probably a few more years into the future. But say 2025, I’m certain 75%+ of all new cars sold will be either a hybrid or a full EV car. If LG Chem manage to keep in the forefront of battery production, it is a company I’m very willing to hold for the coming 10 years.
Dairy Farm being a conglomerate within a even larger conglomerate. One could argue that instead of buying into Dairy Farm I should take a position in the whole Jardine Group. But I do like being exposed to food in the Asian region. Food is of course important to everyone around the globe, but Asians are in my view even bigger foodies than westerns. As the region grows richer, which its more or less bound to do, if Dairy Farm plays its cards right, it should be able to long term leverage that trend. Of course it is a highly competitive market, but with the Jardine Group behind it, Dairy Farm has all the advantages you could have for this region. I see this as a very long term holding, which I would only re-evaluate if I saw that something major had changed in the direction of the company.
I invested in two steps into XTEP, you find my thinking at the time here: XTEP Posts
The more I learn about Hong Kong listed companies and market participants, I realize mis-pricing are more common, or at least market participants have another time horizon and sentiment shifts in their investments. When the sentiment finally changes, it’s a bit like the famous ketchup bottle, positive momentum builds quick and reprices the stock to a new level in a very short time. For a stock picker that is of course a good thing, if you can get in before the sentiment changes. But you also need to be very sure about what you are investing in, since your patience and thesis will be tested. XTEP has had a a similar story of under-performance and then a catch-up. The clear winner though has been the largest company Anta, which since I invested has continued to outperform its peers.
When I invested about a year ago, XTEP was the ugly duckling, trading at a much lower P/E than its peers. One of the reasons as I have understood more clearly is that XTEP competitors are aiming more for the branded high priced segment, competing with Nike etc. XTEP has had it’s niche more towards the cheap/affordable running shoes. Much of the growth trend (so far) in health and sport awareness among Chinese has been in the more affluent population which obviously will go either for western brands or top Chinese brands. I tried with this investment think second level, that since healthy living and exercising already is a strong trend in China among rich people, that maybe it would also affect the middle class population to consume more sports shoes. The jury is probably still out if XTEP will succeed in this.
Looking to the future, I think the sports apparel segment is a good segment to be invested in. The tailwind from Chinese consumers on these type of products should continue. If XTEP is a good enough company in terms of execution and brand building, that I’m less sure of. Basically because I’m not in touch with its customer base, or consume their products myself. So the case for me to generate alpha in terms of stock picking, is lower here, where I only go by what I can see in the data. For these reasons I will probably never be fully comfortable with this as a very long term investment and my strategy lately has been to ride this positive momentum that finally arrived and look for a good exit level in this holding.
I was reflecting on that I spent a lot of my research time on looking at Health Care/Pharma companies of different kinds, everything from more niche small cap companies producing probiotics or vaccines, too large companies like Teva. It’s a bit ironic then that currently I only hold one single Pharma company, and that is a company I spent less time researching myself and more followed the results of others that I respect for their knowledge. WertArt’s excellent analysis helped my jump the boat and invest. Since I invested Gilead has made some larger acquisitions, again I’m not competent enough to understand if this was positive or not. I can only see that the Gilead management has had a fairly good track-record in its larger purchases.
The question to ask myself really is, since I seem to have no to a weak edge in being able to understand and analyse big Pharma companies, should I even invest in them? I’m not a benchmark agnostic investor and the Health care segment has 12% weight in MSCI World. With such a large weight in the benchmark I would rather say that I want to hold at least one Health Care company. For now I’m happy holding Gilead as a good pick in the segment, but I will do my best to find smaller companies in this sector, which are easier to grasp.
In a very fragmented market Huhtamäki has managed to take a strong position in the food packing market by doing a large number of smaller acquisitions. Food packing I believe has a long-term strong tailwind. In terms of risk I see a trend where large companies decided to be more eco-friendly. Seeing the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” makes you very sad of. We treat our environment in a horrible way in terms of plastic packaging. Maybe in parts of the world, there will be trend towards more paper/wood based packaging products. Huhtamäki today does both, so even this I don’t think is a major risk long-term, although short term it could create some losses if the plastic production facilities would become underutilized.
In the case of Huhtamäki a full analysis of the company is long overdue, it’s something I kept pushing forward as I feel I understand the company fairly well. The truth probably is somewhere in between since I have not sat down and looked at detailed figures of the company, reading many of the previous annual reports etc, as I usually do when I fully analyze a company. Instead of doing a half-hearted attempt here now, I will instead try to deliver a full analysis of the company in the next few weeks.
+ Exposure to Asian region with rapid middle class growth.
+ Franchise taker of world-renowned brands in selected markets (IKEA, 7-Eleven, Starbucks).
+ Joint Ventures with highly successful companies (Maxim’s, Yonghui).
+ Strong and majority owner in Jardine Group, with newly appointed CEO for Dairy Farm.
+ Counter cyclical to property market, lower rent means higher margins.
– Competition severe in grocery and health, now online is also a new threat.
– Revenue increased rapidly in several segments 2006-2012, but margins started to deteriorate the years after. Turn-around still unsure.
– In the hands of property companies who can sometimes aggressively raise rents.
When I took a 4% position in the company I wrote a brief summary of the company: (Portfolio changes Dairy-farm & Ramirent). Dairy Farm operates supermarkets, hypermarkets, convenience stores, health and beauty stores and home furnishings stores in Asia. Below is a overview of how profits were distributed in 2016 and the main brands contributing to that profit:
For people familiar with the Asian region many of these brands represent daily life of grocery, food, snacks and health purchases.
As can be seen in the table above, there is a heavy tilt towards Hong Kong and Mainland China. It’s not fully clear from the annual reports, but Dairy Farm has struggled somewhat with it’s operations in some South East Asian nations so far. This is also reflected in the Net closures in some of these markets.
Many of the brands are fully owned by Dairy Farm (Welcome, Market Place, Mannings etc.). Some are also run on a franchise basis for certain countries (IKEA, 7-Eleven and Starbucks). The third category are investments where a majority stake has been taken but they are not fully owned by Dairy Farm (Not fully owned Subsidiaries). The fourth category is where minority stakes are held (Associates or sometimes called Joint Ventures). The below picture gives some clarity on the two last categories:
Dairy Farm recently agreed to acquire the remaining stake in Rustan and hence forth own 100% of Rustan.
Of the above Subsidiaries and Associates Yonghui Superstores and Maxim’s are the two major holdings. Yonghui is listed in China and PT Hero is listed in Indonesia.
Context and background
Although listed in Singapore, Dairy Farm is mainly a Hong Kong based company and naturally it’s business has a larger portion of sales in Hong Kong. For a overview of the history I suggest reading the timeline on the homepage (Dairy Farm Company History). Dairy Farm belongs to the Jardine group, which holds a 78% majority shareholding in the company. The Jardine group also has its base in Hong Kong and has been around almost as long as Hong Kong. With the growth of Hong Kong they have expanded together with the city. The Jardine Group spans a wide number of sectors. It’s relevant to have some basic understanding of the other companies in the Jardine group, because they will often work in co-operation. For example the Jardine Group owns a lot of property. The grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses of Dairy Farm is often found in buildings owned by the Jardine Group. This below picture gives an overview of the main entities within the Jardine Group.
Jardine Group and leadership
The cross holding structure of the two main entities in blue, dates back to the 1980s. At the time Jardine Matheson and Hongkong Land bought shareholdings in each other as protection from hostile acquirers. The main threat was Li Ka-Shing and his C.K Hutchison Holdings which acquired A.S. Watson Group, which is one of the main competitors to Dairy Farm. As can also be seen the Keswick family holds position in Jardine Matheson and effectively controls the Board of Jardine and by that also Dairy Farm. Ben Keswick is the Chairman of Dairy Farm’s board of directors. In total four members of the Keswick family is on the Dairy Farm board.
Graham Allan who led the company for five years stepped down in August this year. Looking at the operations of Dairy Farm, Graham has not really done an outstanding job, I think that is the main reason he is being replaced. Ian McLeod another veteran is replacing him, one can just speculate if he will be able to “turn things around”. But I see it as a positive that someone new comes in after lackluster performance for the last 4-5 years.
Duopoly and free markets?
I think its worth to mention, that Asia is not like the US or Europe when establishing a business. Hong Kong for example could probably for an outside investor seem like a very free economy, with low barriers to entry. This is very far from the reality. For example the grocery stores Welcome and ParkNShop has reigned in a fairly undisturbed duopoly in Hong Kong for many years now. Back in the 1990’s the giant Carrefour tried to establish itself in Hong Kong seeing that margins where very healthy in the city. A few years later they gave up (Carrefour Bails Out). They could neither secure a fully working supply chain or locations to expand their operations. Why? Because the property are often controlled by Jardine Group or Hutchison, which are the ultimate owners of Welcome and ParkNShop. In the same way they control much of the food distribution. In a city like Hong Kong there are many examples of businesses that are protected due to vested interests from business owners, who are allowed to influence politics. The same goes for many other markets in Asia, where without local market “knowledge” it will be very hard to succeed. For the interested reader who wants to understand more of the company dynamics in Asia I highly recommend the book Asian Godfathers.
For Dairy Farm this means that the company in some markets are partially protected from the market forces and could potentially enjoy higher margins than otherwise would be possible. But how these profits are split between Property owners, distributors and other parts of the organisation is of course not fully clear. For example Jardine Group could slightly skew the rental paid from Dairy Farms shops & restaurants and dramatically affect the groups profitability. But I don’t see any major concern on this point, rather it is a positive to be on good terms with your landlord. This duopoly situation in the case of Hong Kong is highly unlikely to change in any foreseeable future (to the detriment of consumers). But as we will see from the financials later, Dairy Farm has struggled to uphold previously very strong margins.
Business Outlook and segments
Dairy Farm gives exposure to the rising Asian middle and upper-middle class. This surely is a tailwind for the business as a whole since this segment is more or less destined to grow. That said, some parts of Dairy Farm’s business face especially severe competition from online options. Especially the Health and Beauty segment seems to be suffering from this. There has also been strong competition in the grocery segment, many large operators like Tesco and Carrefour has also believed in the rise of the Asian middle-class and done large investments in the region. Other areas like Maxim’s restaurants are doing very well, it’s a general trend to eat less at home and thanks to take-away services like Deliveroo, restuarants can increase sales volumes even further. So some disruption is positive, others are negative. Unfortunately Dairy Farm does not fully break down Revenue and Profits both in the segment and country dimension, but we can at least understand the different business segments.
This segment is by far the largest, measured by Revenue for Dairy Farm. But being such a low margin business it does not drive Operating Profit to the same degree. Although my discussion about duopoly above, this segment has really struggled to uphold its margins. I made a small peer analysis, to see what Operating Margins are for other grocery store operators around the world. Although every market and country is different, it gives an overview of what can be expected in this segment.
Looking at large developed markets like the USA and France, what we expect in a good year is slightly above 3% Op Margins. Whereas more niche markets like South Africa and even Australia is showing signs of margins above 5%. It’s quite extraordinary that the difference is so large. The closest comparison to Dairy Farm would Sun Art. If Sun Art is a measure of structural changes there has been some margin deterioration in Asia, but not nearly as much as Dairy Farm experiences. Dairy Farm used to be best in class 2009, now its rather “worst in class” and margins has deteriorated down to returns in line with more mature markets. I believe this is partly structural, but also to some degree mis-management from Dairy Farm’s side. Perhaps the new CEO would be able to lift margins back up to 4% over the coming years. It’s not easy to call a turn-around in margins, but I do feel there is a skewed probability to the upside, since margins are already at lows, compared to peers. One could also argue that less developed markets should have higher margins on grocery business, why? It is seen more as a luxury and status product to buy groceries in a nice store compared to a busy wet-market. Given the status component, consumers should in theory be less price sensitive, which would lift margins, as is the case for Shoprite in South Africa.
Some markets, like Hong Kong is fairly saturated in terms of growth potential, whereas countries like the Philippines where Rustan only operates about 60 stores, there is still a lot of potential to grow. The competition varies across the region and the success of Dairy Farm’s subsidiaries. Indonesia and Malaysia with large populations are really markets where one could hope for future growth. But these markets are also where significant competition has been seen and operations are struggling. Overall one can say this segment has been the problem area for Dairy Farm for some time now and is the main reason why we are trading far below historical highs share price wise. One particular company has been doing very well though and that is Yonghui Superstores.
This Chinese supermarket chain was not included in the Operating Margin comparison above. Yonghui which Dairy Farm owns 19.99% of deserves a section of it’s own. This has been a very successful investment for Dairy Farm. The initial holding was bought below 4 CNY per share in 2014. In 2015 JD.com wanted a 10% stake and to protect its ownership share Dairy Farm added to it’s investment. After very strong performance Yonghui is today trading above 10 CNY per share and the MCAP of Yonghui Superstores is about 14.5 bn USD. With Dairy Farm’s MCAP slightly below 11 bn USD, this has become a very significant holding for Dairy Farm. Yonghui is trading at pretty aggressive multiple, recently Tencent announced they are also taking a 5% stake in Yonghui and the stock surged further. So now we have two Chinese internet giants who wants to co-operate with Yonghui, probably with the same thoughts as Amazon has with its Whole Foods purchase. I think this also shows some of the unlocked values for the future in other parts of Dairy Farm’s supermarket holdings. So for grocery stores online is not just a threat, there is also a potential buy-out from the Tech industry, who can’t handle the delivery chain of fresh food products without the established companies.
Yonghui has transformed somewhat over the last years. From running massive 5000 m^2 hypermarkets, the company launched smaller 500-1000 m^2 Super Species stores. The company has grown very impressively and one can say with benefit of hindsight that the China stock market crash in 2015 created a very nice buying opportunity below 4 CNY per share. Read more about the companies change in profile in this article: Yonghui Superstores dishes up new brands to satisfy customers.
Although Revenue and Operating Income has climbed impressively, the stock is now trading at very stretched multiples, trading more like a Tech company than a grocery retailer, with a P/E above 50. This might not be sustainable valuation short term, but Yonghui gives Dairy Farm a strong foothold in the quickly expanding Chinese market. As we also will see later, the Dairy Farm share price is probably not fully discounting the current market valuation of Yonghui.
Dairy Farm operates convenience stores in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Guangdong Province under license from 7-Eleven Inc., with a 65% interest in the business in Guangdong Province. Many (in HK roughly half) of the 7-Eleven outlets are run as franchises. The ultimate owner of 7-Eleven Inc is Japanese listed Seven & I Holdings Co.
The 7-eleven business has also struggled with margins for a few years, but the latest half year figures has shown early signs of a turn-around. Dairy Farm contributes some of the profit increases to a change in stores to more ready to eat food. In the annual report they state: “Ready-to-Eat (RTE) food offerings continued to improve with over 10% year-on-year sales growth across the Group, which was double the rate of overall growth in the convenience store business.” Another source of growth is in mainland China, where the number of 7-eleven stores has grown from 550 to about 900 in 5 years.
Having first hand experience from these stores I think this is one area which is not threatened by the onset of online. This is actually the perfect complement to buying staple products online. It’s also caters to the modern big city life, where you don’t have time to queue up to buy a bottle of water or some snacks. So you are willing to pay up perhaps up to double to price compared grocery stores for the same goods, thanks to its convenience. It is also an area which benefits from tourism, since tourist are even less price sensitive when visiting a city. Everyone who travels to Hong Kong / Macau / Singapore and walks around the city, might take a quick stop into the 7-eleven to buy some tissue paper and dry away some sweat or something to drink. Especially in Hong Kong it is also a very popular venue for buying chilled alcoholic drinks, it’s become somewhat of a phenomenon in party district Lang Kwai Fong to go to “Club 7” and hang out on the street drinking cheap beer from the 7-eleven store (to the frustration of bar owners next by).
Health and Beauty Stores
Consist of the brands Mannings (Hong Kong & Macau), Guardian (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore & Vietnam), Rose Pharmacy (Philippines) and GNC (Hong Kong).
Although I visited the Mannings stores many times, it’s still a bit hard to describe what the customer offering actually is. A regular Mannings store is like a Pharmacy in other countries, but without the prescription medicines. Meaning they focus on selling food supplements, creams and pills for smaller health problems, skin-care products, as well as beauty products like hair coloring, cosmetics etc. They also operate Mannings Plus, which also has the pharmacy part where you can pick-up subscription medicines. As is the case with grocery stores again Li Ka-Shing’s empire is the main competitor also in this field, with their Watson stores. For Groceries Dairy Farm has the lead on Li Ka-Shing’s group, but for these types of stores Watson is the clear dominant player, with 4 times as many stores in the region.
For store sales in Hong Kong visiting Mainland Chinese tourist have also been an important customer group and when tourist numbers started to dwindle during 2014 sales suffered at the same time as rents continued to surge.
Mannings/Guardian is the area I’m most worried about in terms of future online disruption. It’s very easy to order toothpaste, shampoo, sun-screen or food supplements online instead of visiting a Mannings store. Especially mainland Chinese are today used to ordering more or less anything on Taobao. On the other hand, I have myself been an early adopter on buying items online, started with electronics and now buying clothes, shoes etc online. Judging just by my own behavior I have not started to order my multi-vitamin pills online, it’s not really worth the hassle, although I could save a few USD. But for these types of shops female shoppers are more important and a lot of the products they would buy in Mannings are cheaper online.
Looking at store numbers, with a net closure of 100 stores, this also speaks of a challenging market. But this cost control closing loss-making stores has also improved the bottom line, which saw a turn-around in the latest semi-annual report. All this being said, Operating Margins in this segment is still much higher than for grocery and 7-eleven stores.
Home Furnishing – IKEA
IKEA operates in Hong Kong, Taiwan through Dairy Farm and in Indonesia through 84% owned listed PT Hero. This has been a fantastic franchise for Dairy Farm. Starting off in small scale in Hong Kong, it did not really tip the scale on Dairy Farm’s bottom line. But with time and opening of stores both in Hong Kong and later Taiwan and Indonesia it is now making a significant contribution to Dairy Farm’s total Net Income. And judging by IKEA’s success in other markets I think this is something that just will keep growing with Asia’s middle class. The IKEA concept is actually even nicer in Asia than in many western countries. In the western world IKEA is located in the outskirts of the suburbs with huge parking lot where people desperately try to squeeze these brown flat packages in the back of their cars. Arriving home then comes the daunting challenges of following the instructions to assemble all of the products. In Asia the concept is much neater. The stores are smaller and located more centrally, you can walk around and look and feel on the products. With the cheap labor costs in Asia you can then order home delivery for free and by adding 10% on the price they will even assemble the products for you (and they are very efficient doing it). It’s so practical and price wise unbeatable for what you get, so its hard to find a single home without IKEA products.
I think this a gem to have in the portfolio of products and I expect it to over the long term keep increasing Revenue and profits steadily, the biggest risk if the franchise would be renegotiated for some reason.
Is a family run restaurant business from Hong Kong owned 50/50 by the family and Dairy Farm. More recently they have also expanded their restaurant operations to Mainland China and a few outlets in Macau. Except running many of the most popular local restaurants, Maxim’s group has also managed to sign several important license agreements for brands like Starbucks Coffee, The Cheesecake Factory, Genki Sushi and IPPUDO Ramen. The most recent such agreement is the launch of Shake Shack in Hong Kong during 2018.
Starbucks has become somewhat of a status symbol in Asia, a place to see and be seen. In Hong Kong Maxim’s run the Starbucks brand, but unfortunately Starbucks in China is owned by Starbucks themselves. But there are other untapped markets in terms of coffee consumption. Maxim’s is now opening Starbucks stores in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Knowing Hong Kong very well I can myself in somewhat Peter Lynch fashion say that many of Maxim’s restaurants are among the most popular in the city, with long long lines around lunch and dinner time. The explanation is pretty simple, they provide good tasting food at a price point that most other restaurants who don’t belong to a big group like Maxim’s struggle to match. The track-record is pretty amazing for the group, providing Dairy Farm with Net Income CAGR of 11% over a 10 year period. I see several reasons why growth will continue on this trajectory. Firstly the in-roads in China has been successful, for example opening a Cheescake Factory at Shanghai Disneyland. The other being home food delivery growing strongly in the region, which will benefit restaurants in general. Obviously tourist numbers entering Hong Kong will also greatly affect Maxim’s future.
One should mention that Dairy Farm experienced accounting issues in 2012 in it’s Giant operations in Malayisa. Whistleblower reveals accounting blip in Dairy Farm’s 2H12 results. One might argue that an added risk premium is warranted for these type of things, which probably are more common in emerging markets where Dairy Farm operates. From what I have seen Dairy Farm takes this seriously and has their own internal auditors assessing their different companies. I’m not particularly worried about this happening again.
My valuation will start of in the current state and I will try to model the different segments from a revenue generation and operating profit margin point of view. Taking into account the backdrop of a rising consumer base, competition, previous track-record and general operating margins. These are the projections I will draw for the coming 10 years:
Looking closely at the graphs above, I’m expressing a fairly bearish view on the Health and Beauty segment going forward. The Supermarket and 7-eleven stores I believe will show a slight recovery in margins and otherwise grow with the regions fairly high growth rates. The ones that will really play catch up in terms of generating bottom line profit is Maxim’s and IKEA which I project has a very positive future within the group.
This gives me a fair value of these Dairy Farm operations of 8.78 USD per share, versus latest share price at 7.91 USD. But that is excluding Yonghui holding, which is currently worth 2.23 USD per share, giving it a total value of 11 USD per share.
For the first six months of 2017 Yonghui produced for the first time meaningful Net Income to Dairy Farm, at 31.1 MUSD, putting it in-line with IKEA in terms of profit generation. But the market is valuing Yonghui to extreme multiples currently. Dairy Farm’s share of Yonghui is currently worth about 3bn USD, which translates to 2.23 USD per Dairy Farm share. So adding that to the value of the rest of operations 8.78+2.23=11.01 USD per share. I’m not sure if I want to fully discount the quite aggressive current Yonghui valuation, but that is how the market currently values it. So from that perspective Dairy Farm is worth 11 USD per share. I find this valuation gap to my fairly conservative projections attractive.
Another way to look at it is buying Dairy Farms core business, which I get at fair price with Yonghui Superstores, which is a major holding, for free.
As the population in the Asian nations becomes more affluent, the habits to acquire food will change. From more simple groceries shopping in out-door wet-markets, to clean air-con centers with a wider variate of products, especially offering imported products. This is something the western world take for granted, we usually don’t even have local out-door markets easily available anymore. But for a up and coming Asian family this is a big deal and also related to status. We afford to buy our food at the luxurious food store with high quality products. Same goes for Maxim’s restaurants in Hong Kong and China, where when you become richer can afford to eat out more, instead of cooking at home. Deliveroo and other food delivery services are also important explanations to why restaurants now can serve and reach a much wider base of customers from a small well located restaurant. IKEA in the same way upgrade peoples homes with good looking new furniture for very reasonable prices.
I also have hopes that the newly appointed CEO will be able to significantly lift margins in the grocery segment over the coming years.
This is a slow and steady stock, very defensive, with a lot of high quality businesses. Something I’m ready to own for the very long-term. As of today I increase my current exposure from about 4% of NAV to a total 7% position.
I continue to rotate my portfolio away from cyclical companies to safer quality havens. Ramirent has been riding the cyclical construction boom in the Nordics. I believe we are seeing the very last legs of that. Especially in Sweden construction could very soon come to a halt with daily articles commenting on the property market. This is something I have analyzed closely myself and I have seen the signs for quite some time. So I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t manage to exit Ramirent when the stock was trading at least one EUR higher, but here we are. I kept this holding since I started the blog, to avoid the risk of follow this cyclical company all the way down again, it’s time to sell. So as of today’s close I sell my full holding in Ramirent.
I actually started to research this investment thanks to a comment I got from on of you readers. The question was if I have looked at Jardine Matheson Group. My answer at the time is that its a very complex conglomerate to research, because it contains so many different types of exposure. One of the core holdings of the Jardine Group is called Dairy Farm and as many of Jardine’s holdings it is separately listed. It’s name might lead you to the wrong conclusions, it’s not a milk company of any kind, but a diversified company of Asian retail stores, mainly focused on food. It might come as a surprise for some people living in Asia that this company is the owner of so many famous retail stores for the Asian region. Dairy Farm operates supermarkets, hypermarkets, convenience stores, health and beauty stores and home furnishings stores under all these well-known brands:
I have been trying the last few weeks to enter this stock at a more attractive level, but failed to find/time any weakness. Therefore I took an initially smaller position of 4% in this company at today’s close, with the possibility to add in-case I see any short-term share weakness. This is not a cheap stock, but a quality company that I intend to hold for the very long term. It has good exposure to the growing middle-class in Asia. A full analysis will follow at a later date.