Honworld 2015 Annual Report Review June 29, 2016
Honworld Annual Report Review 2015 June 29 2016 RCR
The amount of capital allocated to inventory is the biggest concern with an investment in Honworld. There is some complexity to how inventory works its way through the company’s financial statements so we thought it would help us to relook at the production process and how inventory is accounted for.
To start the production process, Honworld purchases raw materials. In the company’s IPO prospectus, it stated “Our raw materials are generally available from numerous suppliers. We minimize our reliance on any single source of supply for our raw materials by maintaining alternative sources.” The breakdown of raw materials is listed below.
Raw materials with the exception of packaging are pure commodities where the purchasing decision is based on price readily available from many suppliers.
Base wine production is the next step in the production of inventory. Rice is soaked and steamed to increase moisture content. The rice is then fermented, which takes place in cool weather, generally from every October to next May each year. Sometimes, there is a second fermentation process. The fermented product is then filtered and sterilized. Depending on weather conditions, it typically takes 30 to 35 days to complete the above production steps. Following base wine production, base wine is aged, seasoned and blended, and packaged to create the final cooking wine product.
The final cooking wine product is a mixture of vintage base wine, mixer base wine, water, seasoning, and spices. Vintage base wine is aged to deliver the desirable aroma and taste, while mixer base wine is added to adjust the ABV, sweetness, and acidity. Mixer base wine is aged less than two years. The final cooking wine product comes in four grades classified by the amount of base wine used in the end product and the age of vintage base wine used.
- In 2013, premium cooking wine was 6% vintage base with an average age of 10 years and 87% mixer base wine with an alcohol by volume of 15%.
- High-end cooking wine is 6% vintage base with an average age of 8 years and 81% mixer base wine with an alcohol by volume of 15%.
- Medium-range cooking wine is 4% vintage base with an average age of 5-6 years, and 81% mixer base wine with an alcohol by volume of 10%.
- Mass-market cooking wine is 4% vintage base with an average age of 5-6 years, and 64% mixer base wine with an alcohol by volume of 10%.
Honworld has not reported its volume sold or base wine used since its IPO prospectus. Volume sold for 2013, 2014, and 2015 is estimated, by assuming ASPs do not change over those periods, while, 2010 to 2012 are from the company’s prospectus.
Honworld’s volume sold and base wine used is shown in the table below.
Base wine usage in 2013, 2014, and 2015 is assumed to remain the same as the first eight months of 2013. Base wine as a percentage of cooking wine volume sold increased from 35% to 86% as Honworld sold more premium products, which require more base wine, and the amount of mixer base wine per liter of cooking wine increased. Since base wine represented 86% of volume sold, the estimated base wine inventory of 180 million translates to 211 million liters of potential sales volume or 2.87 years of inventory based on 2015 estimated sales volume. Honworld’s target base wine inventory of 225 million liters, expected to be reached in June 2016, translates to 263 million liters of sales volume or 3.58 years of inventory based 2015 estimated sales volume.
Honworld did not report base wine inventory at the end of 2015 but at the end of 2014, the company had 158.4 million liters of base wine inventory. The company has repeatedly stated its target is to reach 225 million liters of base wine inventory. The question becomes does the company continue to build inventory past the 225 million liters level at a rate equivalent to sales, which will lead to a continued cash flow drain, or does the company remain at its target level of 225 million liters. At the end of 2016, we will know if the company continues to build inventory or if it continues to throw off cash flow. The company has been raising money by selling shares and bank loans leading us to believe it will continue to build inventory with revenue growth. If the company was going to stop building inventory, it would make sense to use debt to maintain ownership as the company is not too levered with net debt to EBIT at 1.54 times.
The above table illustrates base wine inventory from 2010 to 2015. At the end of 2015, Honworld had 180 million liters of base wine and a total inventory cost of RMB945 million for an estimated cost of RMB5.24 per liter of base wine. The cost of goods sold per liter of volume sold equaled RMB3.26, while the cost of goods sold per liter of base wine used equaled RMB3.81. The ratio of cost of goods sold per liter of volume sold to the cost of goods sold per liter of base wine equaled the ratio of base wine used to volume sold.
The ratio of the cost of base wine used to balance sheet inventory on a per liter basis fluctuated between 227.5% in 2010 to 59.3% in 2013 with 2015 ratio of 72.6%. The company uses weighted average method so a shift in raw materials costs will not create a differential between inventory valuation on the balance sheet and inventory valuation on the income statement in cost of goods sold. The shift in cost of goods sold per liter of base wine to base wine inventory valuation per liter is related to an increase in vintage wine in inventory relative to the amount of vintage base wine used in volume sold as there are costs to storing and holding base wine during the aging process leading vintage base wine to have a higher valuation. Vintage base wine will continue to increase as a proportion of inventory held while vintage base wine as a percentage of cost of goods sold not increase drastically meaning cost of base wine sold per liter should decrease relative to the cost of base wine inventory per liter.
Other than understanding how the company’s main product flows through the financial statements, the central question to the analysis of inventory is whether allocating significant amounts of capital to inventory is in the best interest of shareholders.
Management states it can guard against the increase of raw material price from holding a higher level of base wine. Raw materials are commodities in the truest sense of the word so as long as a certain quality threshold is reached price is the only consideration in the purchase decision. These commodities are available from many producers. Suppliers of raw materials have no bargaining power so there will be no price increases due to supplier strength. If raw material prices increase all competitors will be affected equally allowing raw material price increases to be passed on to customers. Furthermore, Honworld has a brand, illustrated by its leading market share with premium pricing, meaning any increase in commodity prices can be passed on to customers.
Assuming that the company is unable to increases in raw material prices, to analyze the effects of increased inventory and associated working capital, we assume that the company carries half as much base wine to eliminate the company’s inventory protecting against raw material prices. We assumed base wine inventory is halved from 180 million liters to 90 million liters, which translates to 105 million liters of end product or 1.43 years of 2015 estimated sales volume. Total inventory costs decrease from RMB945 million to roughly RMB475 million leading to an increase in inventory turnover from 0.84 to 1.69. In addition, fixed capital is tied to inventory as much of the company fixed costs are storage facilities to age base wine; therefore, fixed capital is assumed to decrease by 25%. Other working capital is assumed to have no connection to inventory levels and therefore remains the same leading to overall invested capital decrease from RMB1,782 million in 2015 to an estimated RMB1,145 million without inventory and necessary infrastructure to protect against raw material increases. Raw material price increases lead to increased cost of goods sold with every other income statement account remaining the same.
As illustrated above, if Honworld halved its inventory as well as associated fixed costs, raw material prices need to increase by 30% for return on invested capital (ROIC) to reach the level seen in 2015. Commodity prices are difficult to forecast but a 30% increase in a deflationary environment does not seem like a high probability event. Additionally, there is a high probability (80-85%) that Honworld would be able to pass on increases in raw material prices due to its brand, and/or competitors would see the same increase in commodity prices leading to an industry wide increase in prices. The statement that management is building inventory to protect against rising assume that two low probability events occur rising raw material prices in a deflationary world (<20-25%) and an inability to pass on price increases leading to a decrease in profitability (<15-20%).
Management’s other reason for building inventory is to support future growth. The company’s current inventory is sufficient cover 2.87 years of 2015 sales volume. In addition, the company believes it will reach 225 million liters of base wine inventory at the end of the first half of 2016. The company can also produce enough base wine to cover 2015 in one year’s sales as while increasing its base wine inventory it is still producing sufficient inventory to cover current period sales.
Mixer base wine and vintage base wine are two types of base wine used in the production of cooking wine. Mixer base wine is less than two years old, so does not need any ageing, while vintage base wine is over two years old, and therefore needs ageing. The table below illustrates the amount of base wine, vintage base wine, mixer base wine, the average age of vintage base wine, the percentage of 2015 cooking wine revenue of each category of base wine, and estimated gross margin for each category.
The table also illustrates the 2015 blended average and two scenarios assuming an increase in sales of higher-end and premium products.
Given mixer base wine can be produced without ageing, the inventory build is to allow the company to produce more vintage base wine to allow the company sell more premium products.
Base wine inventory in liters is estimated by assuming the cost of base wine remained the same in 2015 as the company reported base wine inventory in liters in 2014. Mixer base wine is assumed to be the change in inventory from the previous two years as mixer base wine is any base wine under two years. The remaining base wine is considered vintage base wine. Vintage base wine’s age is estimated by taking the vintage base wine not used in the year and adding mixer base wine added to inventory two years ago. All new mixer base wine is considered to be 2.5 years and vintage base wine from previous years is considered to age by a year. Vintage base wine inventory estimated age reached 4.0 years at the end of 2015. The vintage base wine inventory’s age continues to fall as the mixer base wine re-classified as vintage base wine increases as a proportion of vintage base wine inventory.
The company now has estimated base wine inventory of 180.3 million liters consisting of 87.7 million liters of base wine inventory and 92.7 million liters of vintage base wine inventory. In 2015, Honworld used an estimated RMB3.3 million liters of vintage base wine meaning the vintage base wine inventory of 68.4 million liters is sufficient for almost 21 years assuming sales remain at 2015 levels. Mixer base wine can be easily produced as it does not have to be aged creating a situation where vintage base wine will continue to grow.
Assuming similar sales volume to 2015 and product mix of 50% of sales volume is premium, 25% is high-end, and 25% is medium-range, base wine would be 88.0% of a liter of cooking wine with vintage base wine would need to be 5.5% of inventory sold or 4.4 million liters of vintage base wine. At current inventory levels, vintage base wine inventory would have just less than 17 years of vintage base wine inventory. It seems the company is over building its vintage base wine inventory, which may not be used for decades and is well above the amount required. Vintage base wine could probably be closer to 10-12 years as in the most aggressive scenario of selling 100% premium cooking wine base wine only needs to be ten years old. Additionally, the company can produce an estimated additional 100 million liters in mixer base wine per year with the vast majority going to current period sales. The company is building inventory and should be effectively spread over ages, unfortunately the company does not provide disclosure on the age of its inventory. The company could effectively half its vintage base wine inventory and still have 10 years of vintage base wine inventory, while mixer base wine inventory should no more than a year as the company produces about 150% of its current period mixer base wine needs. Overall, base wine inventory could be decreased by 50% and still have sufficient inventory for current period and growth meaning ROIC could increase from 16.6% in 2015 to 25.8%.
The analysis above was not created to verify my past views on Honworld’s inventory levels but to use a new angle to see if my existing view were inappropriate. Unfortunately, the outcome of the analysis points to the same view that inventory is bloated and holding down returns of the company with inventory at twice the size it needs to be.
After reviewing Honworld’s 2015 annual report, the company will not be able to realize its full value if it does not do a better job on disclosure. Analysts need more information to get a much more accurate picture of the company and fully understand how inventory flows through the company’s financial statements. Additionally, the company should give better disclosure on product mix and profitability of each product. Our desire is to see the following disclosed:
- Volume by product
- Gross margin by product
- Base wine inventory in liters
- Base wine inventory ageing
- Inventory ageing by base wine and vintage base wine
- Estimated inventory cost by age
- Base wine production capacity
- Base wine storage capacity
- Bottling capacity
- Sales by geography
- Sales by distribution channel
Overall, Honworld is one of our top ideas. There is a high probability that the company is building a multi-faceted competitive advantage in the form of economies of scale and brand. Over the past three years, the company spent 7.0% of revenue in research and development and another 7.1% in selling and distribution expenses meaning fixed costs were 14.1% of revenue. In 2012, the last reported data, Honworld was the largest Chinese cooking wine producer with a 13.8% market share. The company is the only top four cooking wine producer using a naturally brewed, traditional production process allowing the company to garner premium pricing. This premium pricing amplifies the company’s size advantage over its top four competitors, as 95% of cost of goods sold is raw materials in the form of agricultural commodities. As illustrated below in 2012 (latest available data), Honworld’s sales are 2.16 times and its gross profit is 2.86 times its largest competitor. Sales are 3.21 times and gross profit is 4.21 times its second largest competitor.
The 14.1% of revenue in fixed costs translates to 24.4% of gross profit. The company’s nearest competitor is the only competitor that can match the fixed costs and still be profitable as Honworld’s fixed costs equate to 70% of the largest competitor’s gross profit and 103% of the second largest competitor’s gross profit. Honworld expects to increase advertising expenses and continue to increase the penetration of its distribution channel to third and fourth tier cities within its key sales regions. The company also has brand advantage illustrated by market share advantage and premium pricing. Additionally, it sells the lower priced product where the customer is less likely to search for alternatives with a small price increase as the increase is not as noticeable and search costs are much higher.
The company is run by a passionate, owner-operator and recently there was an investment by a private equity company with significant resources to conduct due diligence giving credibility to the company’s financial service. The private equity company is an expert in Chinese consumer companies so it brings additional relevant expertise. The major concern with Honworld is the investment in inventory. As illustrated above, inventory is running at twice what it should and dragging on profitability leading to financing issues. The company is increasing its debt load and selling part of the company to finance its growth as it is growing at 20% per year. The company is targeting 225 million liters of base wine inventory at the end of the first half of 2016. Hopefully, the company slows down the aggressive inventory build and if it continues to build inventory it does so at a slower pace than revenue growth.
The company offers a 12.7% EBIT yield and 5.0% organic growth through pricing power for almost 18% expected annual return. Additionally, the company’s debt load is inflated due to its inventory build and if the company changes direction with inventory it can pay down that debt quickly or increase dividends.