activist investors, Balmoral International Land Holdings, Carl McCann, empire-building, Fyffes, Greencore Group, intrinsic value, Irish shares, Irish value investing, private equity funds, share buyback, TOT, Total Produce, Warren Buffett
Total Produce (TOT:ID, TOT:LN) was one of my very first blog write-ups, back in Nov-2011 at EUR 0.39. [And I’ve written about it a number of times since]. Less than two years later, we’ve enjoyed a nice double on the stock – which is now trading within spitting distance of my original EUR 0.882 fair value target. This warrants a fresh perspective… But looking back, now I remember – even then, I offered up a very specific perspective:
So we’re talking a business that really runs itself, just what I like! Particularly as I don’t have great respect for management (except if you compare them say to Greencore Group (GNC:ID) management – whose shareholders may finally be put out of their misery with a potential bid, rumoured to be coming from Dubilier Clayton & Rice). Carl McCann is Chairman, while his brother David’s in the Chairman seat over at TOT’s ‘sister’ company Fyffes (FFY:ID), and neither is really a patch on their father Neil McCann (I was sad to hear he passed away recently) who joined Fyffes in 1948. I think of the crazy worldoffruit.com online effort in the v late 90s (which ‘…received a very positive reaction from within the produce industry and looks set to dramatically change the way in which fresh fruit and vegetables are traded across the globe…’), the lack of earnings growth in the past few years, the ludicrous de-merger of Fyffes, Total Produce & Blackrock (now Balmoral Int’l Land Holdings, whose shares subsequently collapsed & are now delisted), etc.
I also look at the excessive B/S Cash of EUR 89.6 mio, and I’m bemused (and slightly alarmed) to remember a colleague telling me many years ago his impression that having large amounts of Cash on hand appeared to give management the warm and fuzzies, and they appeared to enjoy playing the banks off against each other for deposits (and perhaps even some jolly currency switching). All very well, I confess I’ve been through all that myself professionally, but always felt frustrated at having giant hoards of Cash on hand to invest – in an ideal world, I knew the best thing for shareholders and Return on Equity was to have zero Cash and just come in each day and draw down/pay down on a Debt/CP facility. With TOT, of course, the obvious answer to this Cash is frequent execution of small/medium sized acquisitions across Europe (similar to what DCC (DCC:LN) has done for years in its Energy business) – considering the nature/scope of potential business acquisitions, I think there’s a marvelous opportunity here to hoover up cos and double their operating margins v quickly through cost elimination and economies of scale.
Then of course there’s the silent but deadly fart in the room…finally figuring out it’s time to swallow their pride and reverse the Total Produce/Fyffes break-up – a nil-premium merger is the obvious way to achieve this and I imagine could easily yield 2-3 years of decent EPS growth even if the underlying business remained unchanged. But kudos to management for the 22 mio share buyback last year…! I was impressed, can you please repeat?