H1-2016 Wexboy Portfolio Performance

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Benchmark Performance:

Yeah, it’s that time of year again…and hopefully a chance to step back from some of this recent Brexit insanity. Let’s jump right in – here’s the H1-2016 performance of my usual benchmark indices:

H1-2016 Benchmark Indices

Of course, what jumps out immediately is the UK. Brexit schmexit…the FTSE’s performance is actually bang in line with long-term averages! Which reflects its predominantly international exposure, but the much-cited FTSE 250 certainly wasn’t much of a disaster at (6.6)%, while the AIM All-Share managed to limit its decline to (4.2)%. [Sterling took the real walloping, trading down 10-12% vs. the dollar & euro]. Unfortunately, this is a sad reminder the real risk of home bias for investors may not be portfolio return. It’s the fact they wake up to a shrinking portfolio…and suddenly realise their currency’s dumped, their housing market’s locked up (& their house value’s probably dumped too), not to mention their employment & economic prospects may also have dimmed substantially. [At least Brexiteers won’t notice the currency impact, since they seem to think only in terms of Mighty Blighty & The Pahhhnd In Your Pocket]. Only a fool would question (or ignore) the benefits of greater/global diversification in the face of such potentially existential risks – particularly as there’s no obvious long-term cost(s) to such a strategy.

At first glance, Europe has borne more of the Brexit brunt, with the Bloomberg Euro 500 significantly trailing the UK indices – down over 10% (which must delight the Brexiteers!). However, it’s worth noting escalating NPL/capital issues in the Italian banking system (& a mounting EU-Italy war of words) have been overlooked by the media recently (hat tip to The Economist though)…I suspect this is responsible for a significant portion of the index decline. Despite efforts to date, this crisis will require an expensive & long-drawn out resolution, and will probably continue to exert a significant drag on sentiment. Fortunately, it shouldn’t pose any kind of existential threat to the European banking system ultimately, at least for stronger banks & countries…Draghi & the ECB will presumably continue to do ‘whatever it takes’. But the ongoing compression in European banking valuations is puzzling – who the hell wants to bet & sweat over sub-0.5 P/B banks, when the cream of the crop remains on sale at 1.0 times book (or less)?! [And the US banking situation isn’t much different].

Perhaps the real Brexit victim here is Ireland, with the ISEQ suffering a 17% decline. Then again, with the market clocking an impressive multi-year string of gains (& a late-2015 double top), a correction was overdue…regardless of Brexit. [Hmph, so why didn’t I dump my Irish shares?!] Of course, now we have to figure out the medium/long-term consequences for the Irish economy & market – a challenge which I think nobody, no matter how authoritative, is qualified to tackle at this point. But anyway, let me throw my (initial) ten cents into the ring:

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2016 – The Great Irish Share Valuation Project (Part III)

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Continued from here:

Company:   Irish Residential Properties REIT   (IRES:ID)

Last TGISVP Post:   Here

Market Cap:   EUR 465 Million

Price:   EUR 1.115

Back in 2014, I was lukewarm towards IRES – it seemed cobbled together, and commercial property appeared to offer more obvious gains & investor interest. But since then, the Irish media (& in turn, certain politicians) have become increasingly hysterical about foreclosures, evictions*, mortgage rates, and the general housing crisis**. [*Apparently, a landlord deciding not to renew a lease is now deemed an eviction by some… **For overseas readers, it may be hard to keep up: The housing crisis no longer refers to the huge Irish price collapse…it’s now an appalling shortage of housing, just a few years later!?] We’ve also seen widespread criticism of the Central Bank’s new mortgage regulations…generally by the same people who criticised the Bank for its lack of regulation in the boom years!

Ironically, all this attention is fueling a continued rise in residential property prices (exacerbating the very housing ‘crisis’ they’re wringing their hands over!). Just as importantly, it’s re-directed investor interest – IRES is now the highest rated Irish property stock, in terms of premium to book. It’s certainly a unique story: IRES is already the dominant professional residential landlord* in Ireland, focusing on Dublin apartments, which perfectly captures an ongoing generational shift (as we’ve seen in the US) towards urban living, delayed marriage & kids, and an increasing preference to rent vs. own. [*Plus the only landlord with experience of N American apartment amenities & management – which offers interesting potential in what is still a relatively unsophisticated market].

Unfortunately, IRES hasn’t lived up to the promise of its prospectus. Touting gross rental yields of 8.6-10% & net yields of 6-7% was sheer fantasy…and a promised 4.5-5% dividend yield now looks problematic. As of the latest trading update, IRES has now assembled a (relatively new) 2,000+ apartment portfolio (costing 519 million & boasting 97% occupancy), with an LTV ratio of just 23% & an additional €200 million of investment/development capacity. However, the gross portfolio yield is now 6.2%, while the net’s just 5.0%…which is actually flattered by a significant portion of the portfolio being located in West/Southwest Dublin (i.e. Inchicore/Tallaght direction), which tends to offer higher rental yields but less potential for capital appreciation (vs. South Dublin, for example). But overall, the scope for capital gains seems compelling, noting particularly the recent 10-15% pa rent increases (albeit, interrupted by the recent heavy-handed two year rent freeze), though obviously this should already be reflected within the IRES portfolio valuation/yield & investors’ total return expectations – a 1.0 Price/Book ratio still seems appropriate: Continue reading

2016 – The Great Irish Share Valuation Project (Part II)

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Continued from here:

Company:   First Derivatives   (FDP:LN)

Last TGISVP Post:   Here

Market Cap:   GBP 494 Million

Price:   GBP 2,038p

My last write-up was bang in the middle of a sickening price reversal. While FDP got nearly sliced in half at the time, my price target’s been massively adrift ever since. Clearly, I was wrong to speculate FDP’s consulting business* might eventually grind to a halt – as banks continue to retrench, we’re actually seeing an increasing reliance on IT outsourcing, while reduced head-count & market evolution demanded ever greater technology capacity & automation. [*Let’s not forget consulting (64% of revenue) remains FDP’s primary business, and its margins are far less scale-able than software]. And revenue’s continued to forge ahead, at an average 28% pa in the last three years, assisted by FDP’s serial acquisition strategy (three new acquisitions & a consolidation of Kx Systems in the last 18 months, or so). Earnings growth trailed though, as FDP essentially bought revenue/technology (rather than profits…with new Big Data & IoT opportunities also being touted) & the share count’s been diluted almost 25% in the last couple of years. [Even on a revenue basis, those acquisitions look damn expensive – averaging over 7 times sales, vs. a 4.2 P/S multiple for FDP]. But FY-2016 was clearly a real gang-busters year, boasting 41% revenue & 33% EPS growth.

However, we’re still seeing a huge disconnect between EBITDA & operating free cash flow margins (Op FCF: Operating cash flow, less net PPE/intangible expenditure). But presuming software is the ultimate driver of the business, EBITDA will become increasingly relevant: A decent compromise for now is to use an adjusted margin, averaging the latest 19.9% EBITDA margin & Op FCF margin of 7.2% (noting a prior year margin of just 2.6%) – a 13.6% adjusted margin deserves a 1.33 Price/Sales ratio. And noting FDP’s financial strength (with net debt of just £15 million), we can adjust for (surplus) cash & also add a debt adjustment. [Based on this adjusted margin, I calculate another £23 million in debt (at an assumed 5% rate, for acquisitions etc.) would still limit finance expense to 15% of adjusted margin – as usual, let’s apply a 50% haircut, just to be conservative]. Of course, we also need to value FDP as a growth stock: While earnings growth has accelerated to 33%, we should still recognise the huge/ongoing disconnect vs. cash flow (& reported earnings, which are now about 40% lower than adjusted diluted earnings) – limiting ourselves to a 20.0 Price/Earnings ratio, based on adjusted diluted EPS, seems only prudent (or maybe even generous):

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2016 – The Great Irish Share Valuation Project (Part I)

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Um, apologies, the blog’s been quiet since early last month – though I’ve certainly been keeping up with readers via Twitter…Good Lord, I’m now up to 25K+ tweets!? Actually, I’ve been more than usually focused on stocks both old & new in my portfolio. Which seem to be increasingly bifurcated between special situation stocks where I continue to engage with/push management to enhance and realise shareholder value, and growth stocks (at the right price) where I can sit back & watch smart management compound shareholder value over time.

Hmmm, put it like that & growth stocks seem like the far more compelling choice..!? Though in reality, each presents their own unique risks/opportunities. And for me, somewhat perversely, one tends to inspire the other…dealing with recalcitrant management can inspire me to seek out smartly managed growth stocks, but actually seeing it done right, such companies also highlight the compelling value lurking out there just waiting to be tapped (sometimes, literally, overnight) if only management would come to their senses (or a third party steps in & does it for ’em).

Anyway, a little break’s a good thing – and we’re all feeling much better now, with most markets recovering their Jan/Feb losses this month. Hopefully, this new-found momentum will continue (at least ’til the usual ‘Sell in May & go away’ debate!), as markets generally remain flat/down over the past year – it’s been a tough period for nearly all concerned (spare a thought for those poor billionaire hedge fund managers!), clearly exacerbated by oil’s elevated volatility & influence.

And as promised, a good time to kick-off The Great Irish Share Valuation Project, with the ISEQ on a breather for the past year (down 0.6%) (but still over 40% off its all-time high, as set nearly a decade ago now), and the Celtic Phoenix offering more opportunity than ever… Long-time readers will be familiar with TGISVP (here’s my kick-off posts from 2012, 2013 & 2014), where I attempt to analyse & value every listed Irish stock out there (and usually piss off some tired & emotional shareholders in the process). The great thing about the Irish market is its size…one of the few globally (with about 70-80 stocks, in total) which actually presents investors with the opportunity to really get down & dirty with every single stock. And it’s a real stock pickers’ market, as I’ve previously highlighted:

‘And it’s worth noting brokers often segment the Irish market into very different sector/exposures. And so, accordingly, it tends to attract pretty dissimilar investor constituencies, who may only focus on: i) a handful of the largest caps, regardless of valuation & exposure, ii) stocks which (may) offer cheap/alternative access to overseas growth (a surprisingly large number of Irish companies are UK/Europe/globally focused), iii) stocks offering domestic exposure (notably, economic pure-plays are actually pretty rare), iv) a listed commercial & residential property sector that’s only emerged in the past couple of years, and finally (& perhaps most notoriously) v) a (junior) resource stock sector that’s been decimated in the last few years.

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Zamano – Time For A Dividend & Your Support…

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Here’s a recent letter I sent the board of Zamano plc (ZMNO:ID, ZMNO:LN) – it proposes the company now commence paying an annual dividend. I’m also now actively seeking the support of my fellow shareholders:

27-Feb-2016

FAO:   John Rockett, Chairman
            Ross Conlon, CEO

Cc:      Pat Landy, NED
____- Colin Tucker, NED
______Fergal Scully, NED

zamano plc
3rd Floor
Hospitality House
16-20 South Cumberland St
Dublin 2

Gentlemen,

Pursuant to my last Zamano post, I want to thank Ross for responding to the shareholders who contacted the company regarding my annual dividend proposal. A number of shareholders have also contacted me directly to confirm their support – I now speak for 13.1% of Zamano’s outstanding shares. Noting this support & the upcoming Mar-10th release of Zamano’s final results, this is a good opportunity to write to you more formally & reiterate my dividend proposal:

– Zamano’s been profitable for the past four years now. Since 2011, the company’s revenue has increased by 55% to a €23.3 million annual run-rate, annual EBITDA has averaged €2.6 million, while annual free cash flow has averaged €2.5 million (for FYs 2012-14). This has now resulted in net cash of €5.4 million on the balance sheet, versus €4.4 million of net debt in 2011, a near-€10 million swing in the company’s financial position.

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Recommendation: Vote AGAINST the Argo Group Share Buyback Proposal

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Here’s the recent RNS from Argo Group (ARGO:LN), notifying shareholders of a March-3rd EGM seeking authorisation for a £2 Million Share Buyback & Rule 9 Waiver. [Here’s the actual EGM Circular]:

– Argo Group’s AUM has now declined by a cumulative 85% (to $166 million), the $3.5 million Argo Local Markets Fund remains its only new fund-raising (since the credit crisis), it continues to write-off virtually all the management fees accrued & owed (now totaling $6.2 million) by the Argo Real Estate Opportunities Fund, and it’s also tied up a majority of shareholder funds in illiquid loan & fund investments. Management’s obvious inability to stabilise & increase AUM, plus its wilful neglect of shareholder value, are clearly to blame here for the 50% collapse in Argo’s share price just in the last 3 years.

– Judging by local press reports (for example, here & here), Andreas Rialas originally received a substantially higher offer for Argo’s Indonesian refinery investment (TPPI), but ended up spending another couple of years negotiating (or refusing to negotiate) with Pertamina…to ultimately realise a far lower exit price for fund/shareholders. [Which is consistent with a near-25% write-down (in the last interims) of Argo’s stake in The Argo Fund].

– Pursuant to this letter, in 2014/2015 I introduced and/or referred to Andreas Rialas a number of trade & financial buyers who were interested in potentially acquiring Argo Group, its asset management business, or its fund investments. Since then, I’ve had no meaningful feedback or reason to believe he/Argo have seriously engaged with any of these potential buyers.

– The EGM Notice process was both unprofessional & inappropriate: While most investors learned of the Share Buyback from Argo’s RNS (released after close-of-business on Mon, Feb-8th), the Notice was actually posted the prior week & received by some shareholders on Sat, Feb-6th.

– The Indonesian sale & proposed return of capital is Argo’s first major value-creation event in a number of years. Some level of (prior) consultation with a representative group of external shareholders, plus some additional time to adequately consider & discuss the proposal, would have been appropriate.

Kenneth Watterson is a director since Argo’s original 2008 Admission. As is David Fisher, who’s also been an AREOF director since 2010. While Michael Kloter has a much longer history with Andreas & Kyriakos Rialas, Absolute Capital Management (which acquired Argo back in early 2007), not to mention Florian Homm (also, see here & here)…and received a post-Admission bonus, while billing Argo for legal services over the years. In aggregate, these directors have earned an estimated $1.4 million in total remuneration from Argo. I must say, I struggle to understand how they still qualify as Independent Directors..?!

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The Celtic Phoenix…Five Consecutive Years of Market Gains & 6.6% GDP Growth!?

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A picture’s worth a thousand words – here’s a 5 year chart of the ISEQ:

ISEQ

Truly, a thing of beauty…

And over the life of the blog, the Irish market has delivered four consecutive years of gains:

2012:   +17.1%

2013:   +33.6%

2014:   +15.1%

2015:   +30.0%

Cumulative Gain:   +134%

[And yes, the title of the post’s correct…the ISEQ also managed to eke out a small gain in 2011: +0.6%.]

And here’s the cumulative gains (over the same period) of the other major indices I use as portfolio benchmarks:

S&P 500:   +63%

FTSE 100:   +12%

Bloomberg European 500:   +46%

Wow, even the S&P’s performance looks positively pedestrian…

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Wexboy – Top 14 Tips for 2016!

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This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around…

Yeah, it’s January, the most miserable time of the year. And already half of us regret we made no New Year’s resolutions…while the other half regrets they did. The market’s no help either, with many investors ending a frustrating 2015 in the red, and greeted in 2016 by another global dump. [Let’s discard the odd notion the Chinese market’s global impact is simply due to its hyper-volatility. It’s not…the market’s only the tip of the spear for the entire Chinese economy, which has obviously evolved into the key marginal driver now of the global economy. So for 2016, a great resolution is to pay far less attention to the US & far more attention to China!]. But still, there’s a whole bunch of new tips out there to inspire us…:-)

Trouble is, I don’t necessarily have much faith in them, ‘less I know the tipster’s got his money where his mouth is. Which offers no guarantees, but it means I’ll tackle the 2016 tips season just like I did last year – inevitably, my top holdings are also my top tips! [And judging by my traffic, people definitely want tips first & performance later…so I bow to the vox populi, my FY-2015 performance post will have to wait a little longer!] And so, without further ado, here’s my Top Holdings as of Year-End 2015:

Wexboy Top 10 Year-End 2015

Hang on a minute, isn’t this s’posed to be a Top 14 Tips? You’re bloody well short-changing us here, mate!? Well, sort of, I’ll explain later…😉 Now, let’s start pulling together a few different elements here… First, you might want to check out this July post, which includes my last (brief) updates on most of these stocks (& hopefully offers a taste of my upcoming performance post!):

‘Smokin’ the S&P…H1-2015 Wexboy Portfolio Performance!’

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So, Just Average Is Best…

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It’s New Year’s Eve…and in the end, it’s been a pretty tough & frustrating year for many investors out there. [‘Less you’re Irish & stuck close to home – just look at this friggin’ chart!] And while the holiday season’s all about celebrating the year gone by & ahead, it can be tough (as the booze kicks in) not to get a little disheartened and experience some real doubt about your portfolio & your stock-picking prowess.

And the financial media’s no help – the talking heads & market strategists chatter about the biggest winners of the past year, and opine on the stocks & trends to focus on in 2016. How on earth are they be so confident & so prescient? It’s simple…’cos that’s how they get paid & promoted! Just like CEOs, just like politicians, just like your boss, the big bucks are paid almost inevitably to the big swinging dick. Not the fidgety little guy in the corner, analysing stacks of data & second-guessing himself to death. Truth is, they don’t need to be right, that’s irrelevant. Because they’re looking to attract attention, earn fees, increase AUM, etc…and ultimately, confidence sells.

Trouble is, you need to be right.

But you don’t feel confident, like they do. And so the dance continues… They go on TV, and dish out all the confident narrative & commentary you crave. Except the only obvious market truism (‘stocks go up, over time…’) isn’t a good soundbite. Instead, they analyse monthly data points. And speculate about a possible Asian pandemic. And worry over an escalating Middle East war. And hyperventilate about a junk bond-induced economic melt-down. Or a terrorist attack, or maybe even an assassination, if they get lucky. And so on, ad infinitum.

But almost inevitably, it’s all just noise…

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