I think most people have noticed oil price increasing significantly over the last 12 months. I started to expand on this topic in my latest post about Dream International. I realized going through all those years of annual reports that the price of oil had a impact of the raw material cost for all the teddy-bears made. In the past years the collapse of oil has boosted profits for a large number of companies, on the raw material and energy side. But the part that probably is not discussed enough is the transportation cost and especially in countries where oil is not heavily taxed.
Transportation – USA
A friend of mine recently did an analysis of companies exposed to the increasing transportation costs in the US. After a longer discussion with my friend I was a bit baffled that I haven’t been able to see this more clearly myself. The labor costs increase and extreme labor shortage among truck-drivers in the US has been well covered. The second part of the equation is of course also the increasing oil price. But how this together changes the picture in terms of transportation, is something I at least have not reflected enough upon.
In many cases its hard for companies to fully transfer the increased transportation cost to the end buyer, especially in the short term. There is also a forward market for both trucking rates and oil, which means that competitors might have hedged their costs further out. More importantly different companies most likely have hedged it differently, or not at all. So the company which has no or shorter tenor of its hedging will face increasing cost, with little to no possibility to transfer that cost on-wards.
All this brings me back to my analysis I recently made on Huhtamäki.
In my recent analysis of Huhtamäki. I understood that valuation wise we needed to see a margin improvement. It seems feasible to believe that such improvement is possible, looking at competitors margin levels. But maybe its the other way around, everyone’s margins are actually coming down? Part of Huhtamäki’s products are flexibles, plastic based products, meaning dependent on price of oil. The other part is high volume paper based products like paper cups etc. A products which most likely is highly sensible to increased transportation costs. How Huhtamäki in the current environment with US being its largest market, could raise margins, is going to require some pretty magical management execution. So after contemplating this a bit more, I need to revise the probabilities for my bear/base/bull cases. The conclusion then is that this is a clear sell, in the short to medium term. Therefore as of today I sell my full holding in Huhtamäki.
Other companies affected
As noted in the linked articles a lot of companies are affected by this. In my own portfolio I see several companies that could see headwinds due to this: Dairy Farm (Asian retail), Olvi (Selling beer in northern Europe), Inditex (Clothes retailer, shipping much of its clothes by air), Essity (selling paper based products worldwide). Essity probably being the next company I need to take a closer look at, for example competitor Kimberly Clark has been in a downtrend for a year now. We have recently seen US retail giants like Kraft Heinz drop tremendously, there are many reasons for that drop, but partly it could also be related to transportation costs. One should not change the whole portfolio, just because oil price has increased, but it might affect share performance in the short/medium term significantly for many companies.
+ Large player in food packaging niche, riding on global tailwind of “on-the-go” food and drinks.
+ Good track-record of growth through acquisitions.
+ Exposed to emerging markets, where the competition is more fragmented and expectation is for significant growth.
+ Food packaging is a sensitive product in terms of food safety. This creates a moat for a companies like Huhtamäki compared to smaller competitors. This also explains why many of the worlds largest food producers is a customers to Huhtamäki.
– Currently trading at fairly high multiples. Valuation demands continued growth with at least stable profit margins.
– Capex heavy business, a lot of capital is needed to scale the business and keep a high growth rate.
– Pulp prices have been rising, at the same time consumer staples companies are facing headwinds. Short-term some questions around companies pricing power, might be squeezed in both ends.
– Some countries, like UK, are fighting back against the trend of increased usage of disposable food containers. Threatening to ban or put taxes on usage of for example disposable paper cups.
Background and history
Huhtamäki is a Finish global food packaging company. It started out in 1920 in Finland and has through organic growth and a long line of acquisitions grown into a global player. Some 5-6 years ago the decision was taken to focus on becoming the global leader in food packaging and consequently started to dispose of business units which were not in line with that agenda. The company has some 17 000 employees worldwide. It’s Indian unit (owned to 66%) Huhtamaki PPL is listed in India with a MCAP of about 300m EUR, compared to Huhtamäki’s 3.7bn EUR.
The business is today divided in the following segments:
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.
I have in numerous post expressed in different ways my feeling of wanting to rotate my portfolio away from it’s heavy China tilt. But why did I end up with such a China exposure in the first place? Here is a few reasons:
I live in the region and spend quite a lot of time in general to understand China, this obviously helps in finding opportunities to invest in.
With a bull market roaring almost everywhere, stocks with China exposure has been one of the biggest pockets of reasonably or even cheaply valued companies.
My focus on Electric Vehicles and the changes that will bring about, has lead me to invest in Chinese companies.
Why I’m rotating away is more from a Macro perspective. I’m quite scared of the speed of the debt build-up in China. Many professional stock pickers I have met says, don’t try to time Macro events if you are a stock picker, generally I agree. One can’t be a master of all and you should try to stop predicting Macro events as the reason for buying or selling stocks if you are a bottom up fundamental stock picker. But there are circumstances in more extreme cases where I believe Macro should not be ignored. I believe we are starting to enter such territory for China. I think Kyle Bass (who has been wrong on China for quite some time) has some good insights it in this short interview: Kyle Bass on China – Bloomberg interview.
I don’t have unique sources or insights on China. I read daily news on China, listen to people who live there, as well as more informal sources of information (blogs/vlogs etc). Much is great (and bullish long-term) about the Chinese people, their willingness to study hard, their respect for knowledge etc. But the picture I paint right now of all information I collect, does not look good.
If I focused on the negatives this would be my observations, much of it you have heard before:
People in general believe property prices can only go up, because they have never (since the 90’s) experienced anything else.
Property price to disposable income is among the highest in the world and if you can come up with the down-payment, there is no questions asked from the banks for you to receive your mortgage.
People buy property they do not intend to live in and which they sometimes struggle to rent out, but it’s OK, because so far they have still made capital gains on it.
Chinese construction companies build with awful quality and Chinese have a non-existent system of maintaining common space in residential buildings. So even buildings just 10 years old start to look old. Not keeping property in decent shape must be a very effective value destruction which is not much talked about. Just considered all Chinese property today marked at value 100, where 30% is down-payment and 70% is mortgage, what happens after 15 years when the property has deteriorated to such a state that people only are willing to pay 50 for it? This is not discussed because the property market goes up quickly, but when it’s not going up anymore, the bad building quality/maintenance will be eating away maybe 3% equity each year. On top of that, Chinese like new things.
Wealth Mgmt Products with 6-8-10% interest is virtually risk free in peoples minds, rare defaults are covered by state owned banks in most cases.
The speed of property price increases has gone into warp speed in the larger cities. Shenzhen is up +120%, Shanghai +55%, Beijing +56% – the last 2 years.
It used to be the case that Chinese people were diligent savers. Not so much anymore, younger Chinese are jumping on the borrowing band wagon and are willing to spend money they do not have, money is made so easily anyway and being an only child has meant being used to being spoiled by the older generation, which leads me to my last point.
China as many other countries is going to face the wall of retirees and a reduction in the workforce, at the same time as the country is doing the difficult transition into a more serviced based economy.
All of the above and the speed of how quickly Chinese are making money in the last few years is telling me this is a train about to derail.
Even if I did not have any doubts about the state of things over in China, my portfolio which should have a global focus has been over exposed to China. In terms of fairly pure China exposure I have the following to choose from: Ping An Insurance (8.9%), Coslight (+7.1%), BYD (6.5%), YY (6.2%), NetEase (5.1%), Shanghai Fosun Pharma (4.5%), XTEP (3.9%), CRRC (3.7%)
Ping An Insurance – sell full holding
Even if I did not have any doubts about the state of things over in China, my portfolio which should have a global focus has been over exposed to China. So today’s changes is one step towards balancing my portfolio and taking profit in Ping An Insurance which has been having a tremendous run over the last months where I’m netting a +50% gain since I invested about 1 year ago. The stock still does not look that expensive from a stand alone perspective and I really like how innovative they are with developing their e-sales channels and products. But the low valuation which I have patently waited for the market to re-evaluate, has to a large extent happened. It is somewhat reluctantly that I sell, but given the discussion above on China, I have to start somewhere. In Ping An I don’t see more than perhaps 10% potential upside in a shorter term perspective and it also quickly reduces my China exposure, being the largest holding. After this sell I still have roughly 30% of my portfolio with China exposure, I intend to bring it down below 20% during this year.
Two New Holdings – ISS and Huhtamäki
The main reason for writing so little over the last months is that I focused my time on researching a number of companies. Unfortunately most of them has fallen short as investments and a few have had such tremendous runs during the time I researched so the upside potential diminished while I was doing my DD. These two companies ideas I got initially from a friend and both fall in to the bucket of fairly solid, boring, slow and steady investments. Both I think are excellent long term investments, rather than bargains at current levels. I will write a longer write up of both companies at a later stage. A brief description of the companies:
ISS – Long 6%
Based in Denmark, The ISS Group is one of the world’s leading Facility services companies. ISS was originally short for International Service System and from 2001, for Integrated Service Solutions. Today, it is only used as an acronym. In 2005 ISS was acquired by Swedish PE firm EQT and Goldman Sachs, they paid about 22bn DKK at the time. During the EQT ownership the company expanded into Emerging Markets and number of employees grew from 274,000 to 511,000. In 2011 G4S made a failed attempt to acquire ISS for about 45bn DKK. In 2014 the company was again listed on the Copenhagen Exchange through an IPO at 160 DKK per share. The company had a shaky start with the overhang of EQT and Goldman who wanted out of their investment. In 2015 they divested their last shares, at the same time, the Kirk Kristiansen family, the owners of the Lego brand, increased their stake in the company. The company is today trading at 274 DKK per share and has a MCAP of about 51bn DKK.
The investment case is built around ISS solid track-record in the past and strong cash-flow generation, which has been used to pay down debt since the financial crisis 2008. That debt pay-down is more or less done and ISS can now focus either on further growth and/or increased payouts to shareholders. With ISS services in a fairly defensive sector I find the company reasonably valued, without paying too much of “Quality premium” as is the case in many other companies. Currently trading at P/E 22, and forward consensus P/E is 16.6.
Huhtamäki – Long 6%
Based in Finland, Huhtamäki is a global specialists in packaging for food and drink. Again a company with a long solid track-record, where growth has come from a combination of organic growth, joint ventures and acquisitions of smaller packaging companies around the world. The business model is de-centralized in the sense that the packaging production units are smaller units, around the world, whereas Huhtamäki has a number of larger customers contracts, that they serve in various markets.
After several years of very strong stock price performance, the company is lagging the market significantly over the last year. The main reason I have found for this, is slowing growth. But as I see it they keep investing for growth and the market has been looking at this company way too short term. Just now I’m ready to push the button to order some dinner from deliveroo, one of many take-away services. Which with better IT-platforms for delivery are still just in early days of a trend I believe will continue for a long time. Big city people cook less and less at home and consume more of all kinds of take-away food. I also like how fragmented the market is and with Huhtamäki’s long track record of delivering clean/safe food and drink containers, it becomes one of the main choices for all global players as Starbucks, McDonalds etc. It’s exactly these kind of tailwinds I like, and Huhtamäki is well positioned in this niche, and also valued “reasonably” at P/E of 19.