Tag Archives: Position Size Decrease

GMA Holdings Position Size 10/2/17

GMA Holdings Position Size 10/2/17

GMA Holdings position size is increasing to 10.0% with Reperio Capital’s model portfolio as the company is an industry that has strong barriers to entry in the form of economies of scale from content creation costs. Profit growth and free cash flow growth within the industry should mirror GDP growth due to barriers to entry and a mature industry.  Currently, revenues, operating profit, and free cash flow are showing negative growth year on year due to one-off political advertisements last year.

The market currently values the company on a EBIT yield and FCF yield of 18.4%.  Assuming the company grows below expected GDP growth (6.5%) at 5%, the expected return is over 23%.

PC Jeweller & Anscor Position Size 10/2/17

PC Jeweller & Anscor Position Size 10/2/17

The company continues to execute with strong growth in showrooms leading to good growth in sales and profitability. PC Jeweller’s share price increased by 33% over the past four months leading to an increase in valuations. The company now trades on an NOPAT yield of 4.4%.

 

The fragmentation in the market points to a lack of barriers to entry. PC Jeweller’s gross margin similar to its competitors indicates its products are undifferentiated and customer are not willing to pay a premium. The company’s capital efficiency is also on par with competitors meaning capital efficiency is not the source of excess returns. Gross margin return on inventory tells a similar story. Meaning, operational efficiencies are the driver of the PC Jeweller’s excess returns. Its operating expenses averaged 4.1% of sales over the last five years lower than any other jewelry company analyzed.

 

Operational efficiency is replicable but it is very difficult as processes and values within an organization are difficult to change, therefore, PC Jeweller’s excess profitability should persist for some time. This is backed up by the ability of the company to maintain strong profitability during the latest industry downturn. Further, the organized portion of the segment accounts for only 30% of the industry so competition is currently primarily against weaker peers. Despite the likely persistence of excess profitability, a NOPAT yield of 4.4% requires a persistence growth over 10% into perpetuity with no working capital or fixed capital investment for an investment in PC Jeweller to meet the required rate of return of 15%. The PC Jeweller position is being sold.

 

A Soriano Corporation is also very illiquid. Reperio’s model portfolio has been purchasing shares since inception and it has only reached 0.5% of the portfolio.  There will be no futher purchases or posts until the position size changes. All recommendations will meet minimum liquidity requirements.

PC Jeweller FY2017 Results 6/1/17

PC Jeweller FY2017 Results Review June 1, 2017

 

PC Jeweller reported FQ4 2017 & FY2017 results. The company continues to perform well in a difficult operating environment due to regulatory measures. FY2017 saw demonetization and a stricter regulatory environment including high value purchases require a pan card, and imposition of an excise duty. The company also issued preferred shares to DVI Mauritus and Fidelity investments with a guaranteed dividend yield of 13.0% along with a conversion option. Despite, the regulatory environment PC Jeweller grew by 15.7%. Gross profit grew by 0.3% while operating profit increased by 12.1%.

 

The company’s gross margin declined as exports were a larger portion of sales. The table below illustrates management’s estimates of gross margin by geography and product within the domestic market. Based on the midpoint of the assumptions below gross margin should be roughly 13.37%.


The company improved capital efficiency with inventory only growing by 8.3% in the year. The slight decline in the company’s NOPAT margin combined with the improved capital efficiency saw ROIC increase to 24.7% from 20.9%.  A measure used commonly used in the retail industry is gross margin on inventory. Given the biggest investment within the Indian Jewelry industry is inventory, 57% of PC Jeweller’s 2017 assets was inventory. Since 2008, inventory has accounted for 58% of assets. The typical formula is gross profit divided by average inventory. We modify it slightly by subtracting interest expense from gross profit as the company purchases inventory using gold leases that comes with an interest component.

 

Unfortunately, the GMROI continues to decline. Compared to its peers, PC Jeweller is at the lower end of GMROI. This is particularly concerning when compared to Titan Company, whose GMROI is almost three times higher than PC Jeweller’s as the company generates a higher gross margin and pays less on interest.

 

The company’s declining and poor gross margin return on inventory points to a lack of pricing power.

 

PC Jeweller increased its showroom count to 75 from 60 in FY2017, while the square footage grew by 10% from 352,313 square feet to 386,923 square feet. The company’s average store size decreased to 5,159 square feet.

 

In FY2017, domestic sales per store and square foot decreased by 15.8% and 4.2%, respectively.

 

Since, the government took drastic measures in 2013 to stunt the growth of the gold industry, the primary growth driver for PC Jeweller is new showrooms.

 

The company trialed its first franchise operations and will continue to add additional franchises fueling growth with little additional investment requirements.

 

Overall, PC Jeweller continues to execute and is one of the most profitable and fastest growing companies in the Indian jewelry industry due to the strength of the company’s management and focus on efficiency. Management is one of the most innovative in the industry with many initiatives not seen in the industry. The company is trying to double its showroom footprint over the next five years. Despite the strengths of the company and management, government is continually bringing new regulation to the detriment of the industry. Additionally, the industry is fiercely competitive with evidence pointing to no barriers to entry. As discussed in a weekly commentary, the jewelry industry evolution in more developed countries points to no barriers to entry and a compression of profitability towards the cost of capital.

 

Given our research on industry evolution, our base case involves elimination of excess profits by the end of the terminal year as competition intensifies. PC Jeweller is able to grow by 10% over the next five years before fading to 0% terminal growth leading to an estimated annualized return of 2.6%.

 

The optimistic scenario assumes the company to grow its sales by 15.0% over the next five years inline with PC Jeweller’s target of doubling its store count over the same period. In the terminal assumptions, there is assumed to be continued grow of 2.5%. Also, the company is not impacted by competitive forces allowing the company to maintain its profitability leading to an estimated annualized return of 25.4%.

 

The pessimistic scenario assumes no growth and immediate decline in profitability as well as no excess profits in the terminal assumption as competition impacts the company.  The estimated annualized return under the pessimistic scenario is -4.0%.

 

At current valuation levels, the risk rewards is no longer drastically in our favor and a sustained continuation of the company’s excess profits is needed to justify much higher valuations. We will cut our position size to 2.0% as long as the share price is above INR450.

Turk Tuborg 2016 Full Year Results May 11, 2017

Turk Tuborg 2016 Full Year Results May 11, 2017

Turk Tuborg reported 2016 results. The company’s consolidated net sales increased by 29.6% from TRY742.68 million in 2015 to TRY962.7 million in 2016. ASP increases were the main driver of revenue growth as ASP per hectoliter (hl) increased by 30.9% from TRY245.12 in 2015 to TRY320.92 in 2016, while volume decreased by 1.0% from 3.03 million hectoliters (mhl) in 2015 to 3.00 million hectoliters in 2016. Despite the ASP increase and the volume decrease, Turk Tuborg still gained share from Anadolu Efes. Its volume share increased from 31.4% to 33.3% and its market share increased from 33.3% to 40.1%. Turk Tuborg and Anadolu control over 99% of the market so any share gain by one is at the expense of the other.

 

The table illustrates volume, volume share within Turkey, ASP, and market share within Turkey from 2008 to 2016. Since 2008, Turk Tuborg’s volume grew by 13.2% per annum, Anadolu’s volume decreased by 4.3% per annum, and the overall industry volume decline by -0.9% per annum. Since 2008, Turk Tuborg’s ASP increased by 9.9% per annum, Anadolu’s ASP increased by 7.0% per annum, and the overall industry ASP increased by 8.4% per annum.

 

In our initiation report, we believed Turk Tuborg’s product innovation and focused operations along with Anadolu Efes debt load is driving Turk Tuborg’s share gains.

 

In 2016, Turk Tuborg launched Tuborg Amber, the first and only beer in amber category of Turkey illustrating the company’s continued focus on product innovation. Anadolu continues to have operations all over Europe while Turk Tuborg remains focused on Turkey. Anadolu’s extended operations decrease the importance of Turkey on overall operations leading to less management attention. It also adds diseconomies of scale associated with administrating all the different entities. Anadolu improved its financial position to 3.6 times operating profit but capex is lower than depreciation meaning the company is unable to even maintain its current asset base, never mind spending on growth, while, Turk Tuborg grew and modernized its facilities.

 

Since 2011, Turk Tuborg’s average capex to depreciation ratio is 185% compared to Anadolu Efes’s average capex to depreciation ratio of 114%. The capex allowed it to modernize its facilities decreasing the average age of assets from 18.8 years in 2011 to 7.4 years almost on par with Anadolu Efes.

 

Despite Anadolu’s debt load, economies of scale persist. Distribution is crucial as over 50% of Turkish beer sales are through a two-way distribution system where bottles and kegs are returned. Advertising is another important fixed cost that benefits the largest players. These costs are included in the selling expense line on both companies’ income statements. Anadolu does not report Turkish beer expenses but assuming a similar split in operating expenses between administrative and selling expenses, the company’s selling expense can be determined.

 

Despite Anadolu spending almost three times as much on distribution and marketing, Turk Tuborg has made significant share gains. The company seems to be much more efficient with a much better feel for the desires of Turkish customers. Turk Tuborg’s superior management will be very difficult for Anadolu to overcome. Can Anadolu increase its marketing and distribution expense to win back share? The recent past would suggest increasing spending would not do much good. It is also particularly difficult when the company’s debt load is on the higher side. The restrictions on alcohol promotions and advertisements as well as the restrictions on alcohol producers sponsoring events greatly reduces the ability of increased marketing expenses.

 

Turk Tuborg’s saw its gross profit increase by 34.3% and its gross margin expand by 197 bps. Despite, the company increasing its ASP at an average annual rate of 9.9% since 2008, its gross margin has expanded by over 2675 basis points pointing to pricing power. Over the same period, industry volume declined by 0.9% strengthening the case of pricing power.

 

Administrative expenses increased in line with revenue 27.7% at remaining at roughly 5.0% of sales, while selling expenses increased by 26.0% decreasing slightly as a percentage of sales from 25.5% of sales to 24.7% of sales.

 

Operating profit increased by 44.3% from TRY180.78 million in 2015 to TRY260.85 million in 2016. The company’s working capital is negative at –TRY64 million and fixed capital turnover remained roughly the same at 2.82 times. The company’s capital efficiency declined slightly to 3.47 times. Overall, ROIC decreased slightly from 76.1% to 75.2%.

 

Turk Tuborg continues to perform extremely well growing at a fast pace, taking a significant amount of share, and remaining very profitable with an ROIC of 75.2%.  Given the poor liquidity in the company’s stock and political concerns, Turk Tuborg trades on a NOPAT yield of 7.4% with the potential for continued ASP increases of at least 5% per year leading to expected return of at least 12.5% and potentially more. Our weekly commentary dated 12/13/16-12/19/16, looked at acquisition multiples in the beer industry since 1999 and over the last twelve months. The average transaction multiple was 11.7 times EV/EBITDA and 11.5 times EV/EBITDA, respectively.  Assuming a multiple of 12 times EV/EBITDA, Turk Tuborg has 43% upside.

 

The barriers to entry within the Turkish beer industry are extremely strong, with Turk Tuborg and Anadolu maintaining over 99% of the market for over a decade, eliminating any concerns over competitive risks. Additionally, restrictions on alcohol promotions and advertising reduces the risk of increased competitive rivalry. The company has a net cash position at 1.2 times the company’s 2016 operating profit eliminating potential financial risk. The biggest risk is political as Erdogan consolidates his power in Turkey. The consolidation of power eliminates checks and balances typically seen in democracy and Erdogan’s conservative nature may lead to continued attempt to stifle the industry. The government continues to increase excise taxes in attempt to stamp out drinking. The current consumption tax rate on beer is 63%. In 2013, the Turkish government imposing a series of new alcohol restrictions including banning shops from selling alcohol from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and prohibited all forms of advertising and promotion of alcohol. Alcohol producers are also barred from sponsoring events, and television broadcasters were required to blur images of alcohol in movies, soap operas and music videos. In a 2010 survey commissioned by the Health Ministry, Ankara’s Hacettepe University found that only 23% of Turkish men and 4% of Turkish women drank alcohol so there may be a tolerance for prohibition. Turkish annual alcohol consumption is the lowest in Europe at 1.55 liters per capita compared to over 10 liters in most European countries.

 

Despite the company’s strong operating performance, strong competitive position, net cash position, and slightly cheap valuation, growth is bound to slow as ASP increase are the driver of growth with industry volumes declining at 1.0% per year. The increasing consolidation of power by Erdogan is worrisome for the industry leading us to decrease our position size to 2.0% as long as the price is above TRY9.00.

 

 

Grendene Q1 2017 Results Review May 8 2017

Grendene Q1 2017 Results Review May 8 2017

Grendene recently reported its Q1 2017 results.  Net revenue grew by 7.2% as domestic revenue grew 23.6%, export revenue declined by 19.1%, and sales taxes and deductions increased by 22%. With regard to pricing, net ASP fell by 1.1% and volume increased by 8.5%. Within Brazil, domestic ASP increased by 7.0% and volume increased by 13.0%. In export markets, ASP declined by 19.8% in BRL terms and 0.3% in USD.  In Q1 2017 Brazil was clearly much stronger than export markets.

 

The table above illustrates total volume, ASP, domestic market volume, domestic ASP, export volume, export ASP in BRL, and export ASP in USD. The company seems to have significant seasonality.

 

In volume terms, Q1 is typically an average quarter overall but it is a weak quarter in the domestic market and a stronger quarter in the export markets. Q1 2017 volume was weak overall relative to the average Q1 volume with domestic volume slightly above the average Q1 volume and export volume well below the typical Q1 volume.

 

The chart above illustrates volume over the trailing twelve months (TTM) for the domestic, export, and a combination of the two (overall). TTM volumes peaked for Grendene in Q4 2013 and fell by 7.7% per annum overall with both domestic and export markets declining by the roughly the same amount.

 

In ASP terms, there is a lot less seasonality with prices consistently increasing in both domestic and export markets at a rate of 2.9% in the domestic market and 3.8% in USD terms in export markets. The ability to raise prices in both domestic and export markets despite a falling volumes and a weak overall macro environment may be a good sign of the company’s pricing power. The company may also be stretching its ability to raise prices as the company sells lower cost shoes that may not provide as much value to customers at higher prices.

 

Grendene’s gross profit grew by 11.0% in Q1 2017 with its gross margin expanding by 59 basis points (bps) over Q1 2016 and 37 bps over Q4 2016. The gross margin expansion over Q1 2016 was driven primarily by a decrease in cost of goods sold per pair as the ASP decreased from BRL13.63 to BRL13.47. Cost of goods sold per pair decreased from BRL7.25 in Q1 2016 to BRL6.95 in Q1 2017. The driver was a decrease in personnel expense.

 

 

Along with higher prices during periods of weak demand, the company’s ability to increase consistently its gross margin points to pricing power.

 

Selling expenses increased by 2.2% year on year, while administrative expenses decreased by 11.7% leading to an increase in operating profit by 28.9%. The company’s continues to maintain a focus on operational efficiency.

 

The company’s increased volume and decreased costs led to a 28.9% increase in operating profit. Grendene’s working capital increased by 2.9% year on year, while PP&E increased by 4.3%.

 

Our initial investment thesis for Grendene was a company that built multiple competitive advantages in the domestic market. Within the domestic market, it is a low cost operator with scale advantage due to heavy investments in advertising, product development, automation, and process improvements. It produces a low priced experienced good and has built a strong brand allowing for pricing power. Grendene’s exports are at the low end of the cost curve ensuring the company stays competitive in export markets. The company is run by owner operators with strong operational skills and an understanding of its competitive position who treat all stakeholders with respect. It also has consistently generated stable, excess profit even during periods of industry stress and has a net cash balance sheet.
We believe the quality of the business remains but the valuation is no longer as cheap as it once was. At the time of our initial recommendation, valuations were attractive with the company trading on a NOPAT yield of 10.1%, a FCF yield of 8.5%, an EV/IC of 1.6 times. Grendene is now trading at a NOPAT yield of 6.7%, a FCF yield of 6.7% and an EV/IC of 5.0 times at a time of elevated profitability.  If we were to normalize margins, Grendene would be trading at a NOPAT yield of 5.3% and a FCF yield of 5.5% making a 5% growth rate into perpetuity necessary for a double-digit return.

 

The company‘s margin of safety has been eliminated leading us to sell our position and no longer cover Grendene. We will continue to follow its developments, in case valuation become more attractive.

 

Honworld 2016 Full Year Results Review 5/7/2017

Honworld 2016 Full Year Results Review

 

Honworld recently reported its 2016 full year results. The company’s revenue grew by 4.0% in 2016 and by 6.5% in the second half of 2016. The company stated growth slowed due to a weakness in the supermarket segment of the condiment industry, which makes sense as five of the largest publicly traded Chinese supermarket companies saw sales grow by 5.5% in 2016. To offset the lack of growth from the supermarket channel, Honworld is building its infrastructure to better address regional small retailers and the catering market. As mentioned in the company’s prospectus and our initiation report, Chinese cooking wine is distributed primarily through retail and catering service channels. In 2012, 50.5% of cooking wine sold through retail channels, 41.5% sold through catering service channels and 8.0% through other channels. Leading cooking wine brands tend to concentrate on retail sales channels as households generally demand higher value cooking wine products and are more brand sensitive. The company has not focused on 41.5% of the cooking wine market sold through catering channels. Additionally, the company has not made an effort to sell through smaller retailers. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, hypermarkets and supermarkets accounted for 23.1% of food sales through retailers meaning Honworld has only penetrated a small portion of the total potential distribution channel. The new distribution strategy resulted in an increase in distributors by 531 to 898 total distributors.

 

By product line, medium-range cooking wine and mass-market cooking wine grew the most. The company states the change in the product mix relates to the shift in marketing and distribution strategies.

 

The change in the product mix led to a compression in the company’s gross margin. By our estimates, in addition to a compression in gross margin from a product mix, there was a slight compression in product gross margins. Overall, gross margin contracted by 2.8% with 2.2% attributed to a change in product mix and 0.6% due to product margin deterioration.

 

Selling expense grew by RMB6.15 million or 8.2%. The company’s new distribution channel brought on a 531 new distributors. To service the new distributors, Honworld hired 179 sales employees as the sales staff increased from 61 at the end of 2015 to 240 at the end of 2016. These employees were hired over the year as illustrated by the decline in the personnel expense per year and the moderate increase in selling expenses. Honworld also devoted approximately RMB50.0 million to appoint Mr. Nicholas Tse as our brand ambassador of “Lao Heng He” cooking wine in Mainland China and sponsored Chef Nic, a cooking reality show hosted by Mr. Nicholas Tse. 2017 should see a significant increase in selling expenses. Given the company’s size advantage over competitors, the increase spending on sales and marketing expenses is a wise allocation of capital as these are fixed costs that smaller competitors will have difficulty matching while remaining profitable.

 

In addition to the new sales and marketing employees, the company added 60 new production employees and 18 new R&D and quality control employees. In 2016, Honworld also expanded its production facilities, acquired new production equipment. The new employees and expanded production facility point to an increase in production in 2017.

 

Administrative expenses saw an increased by RMB2.8 million or 3.5%. It seems the Honworld’s focus is on increased production and sales and marketing rather than R&D, which makes a lot of sense given the company’s inventory levels.

 

Overall, the company’s decrease in gross margin due to product mix and overall deterioration as well as the increase in operating expenses led to a RMB15.12 million or 4.8% decrease in the company’s operating income.

 

The company’s largest investment is in inventory, which accounted for 46% of invested capital in 2016. Honworld’s inventory turned over 0.76 times during 2016. One of the key inputs into cooking wine is base wine particularly aged base wine. The ageing process leads to the poor inventory turnover. The company states it has reached its desired inventory levels. The huge investment in inventory has been one of the major reasons for the company’s poor profitability relative to the quality of the business. Honworld no longer reports the amount of base wine required for each liter of cooking wine but the company reported the amount of base wine in each product in the IPO prospectus.

 

As illustrated above, there is a lot of variation in the amount of base wine, vintage base wine, and aged base wine used in each product category over the period examined. Base wine is either vintage base wine or mixer base wine is naturally brewed yellow rice wine, which is either vintage base wine or mixer base wine. Vintage base wine is base wine that has been aged over two years. Mixer base wine is base wine aged less than two years.

 

The company should be reporting the percentage of vintage base wine, mixer base wine, and total base wine by product category in every financial report as inventory level is one of the most important drivers of the company’s profitability. In addition, due to the nature of the product, it is not clear how inventory relates to sales without the above analysis and sales volumes by product category. The complexity of the relationship between inventory, product sales, and profitability should make management be as transparent as possible so investors can be educated about the company’s business model. Until it does, the company will have difficulty realizing the company’s intrinsic value.

 

The table below illustrates the amount of base wine and age of base wine in each product category as well as for 2014, 2015, and 2016 based on their product mix.

 

In 2013, a liter of premium cooking wine contained 0.06 liters of vintage base wine with an average age of 10 years and 0.87 liters with an assumed average age of 1 year leading to 0.93 liters of base wine with an overall average age of 1.4 years.

 

A liter of high-end cooking wine contained 0.06 liters of vintage base wine with an average age of 8 years and 0.81 liters with an assumed average age of 1 year leading to 0.87 liters of base wine with an overall average age of 1.2 years.

 

A liter of medium-range cooking wine contained 0.04 liters of vintage base wine with an average age of 5.5 years and 0.81 liters with an assumed average age of 1 year leading to 0.85 liters of base wine with an overall average age of 0.9 years.

 

A liter of mass-market cooking wine contained 0.04 liters of vintage base wine with an average age of 5.5 years and 0.64 liters with an assumed average age of 1 year leading to 0.68 liters of base wine with an overall average age of 0.7 years.

 

Assuming 2016 product mix continues the average liter of cooking wine contained 0.045 liters of vintage base wine with an average age of 6.4 years and 0.804 liters with an assumed average age of 1 year leading to 0.85 liters of base wine with an overall average age of 1.0 years.

 

Mixer base wine is anything under 2 years so the assumption of 1-year age of mixer base wine is not necessary. The company could mix base wine and use it shortly after producing it. Typically, it takes 35-40 days to produce base wine, which can only be done during cooler weather months of October to May.

 

Management has not reported ASP and volume by product since its IPO prospectus, but assuming no change to ASP of each product, volume sold can then be calculated.

 

We can see cooking wine sales reached an estimated 86 million liters in 2016. Sales are estimated base wine age of 1 year. Assuming the company keeps an additional 1 years of inventory as a buffer for growth. Some inventory also needs to be aged for premium products. The 2016 product mix required only 4.5% of vintage wine for every liter of cooking wine. Assuming another 0.5 years of inventory for aging or ten times the required amount each year leads to a potential of eleven years of aged inventory, the very highest average age of vintage base wine used is premium products at 10 years of ageing. 84% of estimated volume sold in 2016 was for medium-range and mass-market products that use vintage wine with 5.5 years of aging, half the eleven years of inventory. Total inventory with a buffer of 2.5 years of sales is roughly 215 million liters of inventory. Unfortunately, the company does not provide gross margin by product to allow us to estimate the cost of carrying the inventory. Gross margin can be estimated by making slight changes to gross margins by product each year to equate the estimated gross margin to the reported gross margin.

 

With the gross margin for each product, cost of goods sold per liter can be calculated to estimate to total inventory levels required for 2.5 years worth of sales volume.

 

As illustrated in the table above, the estimated cost of goods sold per liter was RMB3.2. With 2.5 years of sales volume or 215 million liters of inventory deemed sufficient, total inventory should be RMB692 million. Adding 1 years inventory for soy sauce and vinegar, total inventory on the balance sheet should be closer to RMB775 million well below actually inventory levels of RMB1,088 million meaning the over invested in inventory is just over RMB300 million.

 

2.5 years of inventory should be sufficient but Honworld could probably get away with a level much lower as mixer base wine does not need to be aged and the company should be making sufficient mixer base wine. In addition, another 50% of base wine should be produced for growth and aging to create vintage base wine as the company only needs about 4.5% of volume sold in vintage base wine. The company loaded up on inventory to age well above its vintage base wine requirements, particularly when the product mix is shifting to medium-range and mass-market products that do not need as much vintage base wine. The upfront investment destroys profitability and puts into question the capital allocation skills of the management team.

 

The increase in inventory requirements may not be a function of poor capital allocation skills but a function of deteriorating quality of the business. This would be even more concerning that poor capital allocation skills as management can change its capital allocation but it can’t change the competitive dynamics of the industry. Honworld was the leader in naturally brewed cooking wine. If competitors followed the company’s path eliminating alcohol and artificial ingredients, competition based on product quality with an increased the amount of vintage base wine and base wine ageing profitability in the industry could remain depressed for some time.

 

The vast majority of PP&E is tied to investment in inventory as facilities were created to store base wine or produce more cooking wine. Since 2010, each additional RMB spent on inventory required an addition RMB0.7 in PP&E. The RMB300 million in excess inventory requires an additional RMB210 million investment in PP&E. Eliminating the RMB510 million in inventory and additional PP&E investments, invested capital is closer to RMB1,855 with an operating income of RMB281 million, Honworld’s pre-tax ROIC should be above 15.2% rather than actual pre-tax ROIC of 11.8% in 2016.

 

If the company were able to get inventory levels down to 2 years and eliminate associated investments in PP&E, Honworld’s ROIC would be 18.0% rather than 11.8%. The higher the company’s ROIC the higher the EV/IC the company should trade on as illustrated by our recent post ROIC vs. EV/IC.

 

In addition to the poor capital allocation due to overinvestment in inventory and related PP&E, pre-payments for land leases and non-current assets have increased from 0 in 2013 to RMB386 million in 2016. These soft accounts are very concerning as it is a serious misallocation of capital and may point to fraud. Making pre-payments for non-current assets equal to 16% of invested capital to lock in raw material costs and equipment costs does not make much sense when you have pricing power as illustrated by the recent price increases and your inputs are pure commodities. The timing of the allocation to soft asset accounts is particularly concerning as the company just finished overinvesting in inventory depressing free cash flow and profitability.

 

As illustrated above, Honworld’s total debt increased by RMB204 million from RMB645 million to RMB849 million leading to finance costs of RMB40.6 million or an effective interest rate of 5.4% on debt. The company has a net cash position of RMB520 million up from RMB189 billion at the end of 2015 with RMB1.02 million in cash leading to an effective interest rate on cash is 0.3%. The increasing cash balance with the increasing debt balance does not make much sense. If the company has that much cash on the balance sheet why is it holding it and earning such a poor return, when the company can pay down a large portion of its debt and decrease the company’s finance cost by roughly RMB22.7 million per year, assuming no change in the effective interest rate of debt.

 

Overall, Honworld has a strong business with economies of scale in sales and marketing and R&D. The product habit-forming characteristics include low price, which increases search costs, and is a key ingredient in dishes. The company has a strong growth outlook serving a small amount of its potential market and infrastructure build to service a greater portion of the market. Valuations are not demanding with a 10% NOPAT yield and an EV/IC of 0.95. Unfortunately, management’s overinvestment in inventory, related PP&E, pre-payments for non-current assets and not paying down debt are too much of a concern, particularly the timing of allocation of capital to soft asset accounts. The misallocation will continue to lead to poor ROIC. If the company was not located in China, where frauds occur regularly, the misallocation of capital would be less of a concern and more patience would be warranted. We are no longer recommending the stock and selling our position in our model portfolio, but will continue to follow the company with a hope that capital allocation and profitability improves.

WEEKLY COMMENTARY 2/13/17- 2/19/17

WEEKLY COMMENTARY               2/13/17- 2/19/17

 

 

CURRENT POSITIONS

 

 

 

COMPANY NEWS

 

PC Jeweller report Q3 FY17 results over the past week. Demonetization impacted the quarter’s results with the company estimating sales were affected for three to four weeks. Post-demonetization, sales started improving in December and returned to normal in January. Gross margin were stable but the decline is sales resulted in a decline in profitability. Year on year sales declined by 3.4%, the number of showrooms grew from 58 in FQ3 2016 to 68 FQ3 2017, or 17%, and total square feet increased by 8% year on year from 346,855 square feet to 374,481 square feet. Year on year, the company’s operating profit declined 13.7%. Assuming during the four weeks that demonetization affected sales there was a 50% decreased in sales, no impact from demonetization would have lead to an increase in sales by roughly 16% year on year.

 

It is tough to tell how good or bad the quarter was due to demonetization. The company continues to increase its showroom footprint and sales barely declined despite demonetization. The company estimates 75% of the jewelry industry is unorganized dampening competitive pressures.

 

PC Jeweller is one of the most profitable and fastest growing companies in the Indian jewelry industry illustrating the strength of the company’s management and focus on efficiency. Management is one of the most innovative in the industry with many initiatives not seen in the industry. The company is trying to double its showroom footprint over the next five years. Despite the company’s strengths, it trades on an EV/NOPAT of 14 times and an EV/IC of 2.6 times. We will maintain our current position size.

 

In the past week, Grendene reported Q4 2016 and full year results. For the full year 2016, net sales declined by 7.2% with domestic sales falling by 1.6% and export sales falling by 16.3%.

 

Overall volume declined by 9.3% with domestic volume declining by 8.0% and export volumes falling by 13.0%.

 

ASP increased by 4.1% with domestic ASP increasing by 7.2% and export ASP falling by 3.2%. Gross profit fell by 6.7% as cost of goods sold declined by 7.6%.

 

Operating profit declined by in 7.5%. The company’s capital intensity did not change over the year with working capital at 47.9% of sales, fixed capital at 18.9% of sales, and invested capital at 66.8% of sales.

 

Grendene’s key value drivers are illustrated above. In 2016, gross margin reached a peak level of 48.7%. Selling expenses remain near its historical average relative to sales at 24.0%. General and administrative is at its peak at 4.8% of sales. EBIT margin remained at its historical peak of 20.0%. Working capital remains slightly elevated relative to historical averages. Fixed capital as a percentage is at its highest level over the past eleven years.

 

Grendene continues to struggle with economic weakness in Brazil and in export markets. The company operational efficiency allows the company to maintain its profitability during a period of declining revenue. In 2015, the company reiterated its growth targets of revenue growth of 8-12% and net income growth of 12-15%. The company continues to believe these targets are achievable but acknowledge risks of not achieving these results are increasing due to economic weakness in Brazil and in exports markets.

 

Given the new data, we update Grendene’s earnings valuation range. Grendene illustrated its ability to maintain profitability despite a period of declining revenues and increasing competitive pressures making earnings valuation the most appropriate valuation methodology.

 

Looking at Grendene’s earnings valuation, the company reaches our target return of 15% per year under the most optimistic scenarios. We would assume perpetuity growth only under scenarios when the company operates in an industry with barriers to entry and pricing power. Within the domestic market, there are clear barriers to entry with the company and its main competitor Alpargatas having economies of scale as they occupy over 50% of the market with large fixed costs in the form of distribution and advertising. Grendene also has unique capabilities in manufacturing plastic products as it modifies its own machines and can formulate plastics that are unavailable to other footwear producers. These barriers to entry do not transfer outside of Brazil. The company is a low cost producer with only China producing exports at a lower price.

 

The question is whether the barriers to entry within Brazil translate to pricing power. The barriers to entry within the segment means very few other players could sell products at the Grendene’s and Alpargatas’ price range meaning the company’s probably do have some pricing power in Brazil. Over the past ten years, the company average selling price increased by 3.8% per annum with the domestic selling price increasing by 2.6% and export selling pricing increasing by 3.9% in USD terms so there is a strong argument for potential pricing power. We assume 2.5% pricing power in our base case scenario. The company sales have grown at 6.8% over the past ten years with growth stagnating at 4.9% over the past five years. Assuming an inability to growth operating profit above sales growth a 5% growth rate seems appropriate for our five-year forecast period. Despite the company’s ability to maintain profitability during the recent industry weakness using peak margins seems aggressive therefore average margins are more appropriate. Our base case scenario is 5% forecast period growth, 2.5% terminal growth and average operating margins leading an upside to the 2021 fair value of 60% or 9.9% annualized return. Overall, the average return over the next five years under the earnings valuation is 59% or 9.7%.

 

 

INTERESTING LINKS

 

 

How much is growth worth? (Musing on Markets)

 

Professor Damodaran breakdowns how to value growth, the key drivers of growth, and the importance of ROIC in determing whether growth is valuable or not. (link)

 

 

Narrative and Numbers: How a number cruncher learned to tell stories! (Musing on Markets)

 

Another post by Professor Damodaran explaining how narratives can be worked into your valuation to provide a better picture of how the market is valuing a company. (link) Professor Damodaran recently published a book Narrative and Numbers, which I have not read but is next on my list.

 

 

Diversification..again.. (Oddball Stocks)

 

Nate Tobik of Oddball Stocks shares his thoughts on diversification. (link) Our current thoughts on diversification and position sizing can be viewed here. (link) We have a similar thought process on the limits of one’s knowledge as an outside investor with valuation being the biggest tool to offset the limits of our knowledge.

 

 

Humility and knowledge (Oddball Stocks)

 

Related to his post on diversification, Mr. Tobik discusses how investors sometimes make the mistake of believing they know too much. (link)  We touched on a similar topic in our diversification post linked above.

 

 

Graham & Doddsville (Columbia Business School)

 

Columbia Business School put out another edition of Graham & Doddsville, which always makes for interesting reading. (link)

 

 

Buffett’s Three Categories of Returns on Capital (Base Hit Investing)

 

Base Hit Investing’s John Huber talks about how Buffett categorizes business by their return on capital and capital requirements. (link)

 

 

What Does Nevada’s $35 Billion Fund Manager Do All Day? Nothing (Wall Street Journal)

 

The Wall Street Journal profiles the Steve Edmundson, the investment chief for the Nevada Public Employees’ Retirement. (link)

 

 

Howard Marks’ Letters Sorted by Topic (Anil Kumar Tulsiram)

 

Anil Kumar Tulsiram complied all Howard Marks’ letters by topic. He has compiled other documents in the past and can be followed on Twitter @Anil_Tulsiram. (link)

 

WEEKLY COMMENTARY 2/6/17-2/12/17

WEEKLY COMMENTARY               2/6/17-2/12/17

 

 

CURRENT POSITIONS

 

 

 

COMPANY NEWS

 

After the company’s recent share price appreciation, Grendene’s estimated five-year annualized return has fallen to roughly 10% base on scenario analysis.

 

There are barriers to entry within Grendene’s Brazilian business. Within Brazil, it is a low cost operator with scale advantage due to heavy investments in advertising, product development, automation, and process improvements. It produces a low priced experienced good with a strong brand allowing for pricing power. Grendene’s exports are at the low end of the cost curve ensuring the company stays competitive in export markets but growth in exports markets will come with lower profitability due to the weakened competitive position and excess returns.

 

Owner operators with strong operational skills, an understanding of its competitive position, and who treat all stakeholders with respect run the company. It also has consistently generated stable, excess profit even during periods of industry stress and has a net cash balance sheet.

 

Given the company’s expected return, the company’s competitive position, and the strength of management, we are decreasing our position size to 2.0%. Please review our initiation (link) for a more in-depth discussion on the company.

 

 

INTERESTING LINKS

 

 

My Interview with Jason Zweig (Safal Niveshak)

 

Vishal Khandelwal interviews Jason Zweig, who provides some very good ideas on improving your investment process. (link)

 

 

The Making of a Brand (Collaboration Fund)

 

In a wonderful article, Morgan Housel of the Collaboration Fund discusses the history of brands and what a brand is. (link)

 

 

Riding a retail roll out (Phil Oakley)

 

Phil Oakley discusses the difficulty in investing in retail rollouts. (link)

 

 

January 2017 Data Update 7: Profitability, Excess Returns and Governance (Musing on Markets)

 

Professor Damodaran provides some interesting statistics on ROIC across geographies and sectors. (link)

 

 

Investing Mastery Through Deliberate Practice (MicroCap Club)

 

Chip Maloney talks about the benefits of deliberate practice and how to use deliberate practice to make you a better investor. (link)

 

 

Out with the old (Investor Chronicle)

 

Todd Wenning provides insight on when to sell your investments (link)

 

 

2 Bitter Truths of Stock Valuation…and How You Can Avoid Them (Safal Niveshak)

 

Vishal Khandelwal highlights potential mistakes in valuing companies and how to avoid them. (link)

 

 

Revlon’s restructuring plan represents the future of legacy beauty (Glossy)

 

Glossy magazine writes about the beauty business. (link)

 

 

6 smart tips for micro-cap investors (Morningstar)

 

Ian Cassel gives readers 6 tips for micro-cap investors. These are useful for all investors. (link)

 

 

HAW PAR CORPORATION (HPAR:SP)

 

 

Company Description

 

Haw Par Corporation is a corporation with two operating businesses and strategic investments. The company’s two operating businesses are healthcare and leisure. The company’s healthcare business is the owner of the Tiger Balm, a well-known topical analgesic. The company’s leisure business own and operate two aquariums: Underwater World Singapore in Sentosa and Underwater World Pattaya in Thailand. The company also has investments in property and quoted securities.

 

 

Healthcare

 

Haw Par’s healthcare business manufactures and markets Tiger Balm and Kwan Loong. Tiger Balm is a renowned ointment used worldwide to invigorate the body as well as to relieve aches and pains. Its product extensions such as Tiger Balm Medicated Plaster, Tiger Balm Joint Rub, Tiger Balm Neck and Shoulder Rub, Tiger Balm Mosquito Repellent Patch and Tiger Balm ACTIVE range cater to the lifestyle needs of a new health-conscious generation..At first glance, the company’s healthcare business looks like a very attractive business. Tiger Balm is a trusted brand that has been around for over 100 years and generates very strong profitability.

 

Over the past four years, the healthcare business has increased sales by 18.4% per year while increasing its operating margin by 4.4 percentage points per annum and asset turnover by 0.14 per annum leading to an increase in its ROA from 27.7% in 2012 to 60.9% in 2015.

 

The majority of Haw Par’s health care business revenues are in Asia, but the company is growing fastest in America.

 

The company’s strategy for the healthcare business is to drive growth from further product penetration across existing markets to widen the brand franchise for Tiger Balm. The company has launched new products in several markets. Sales of Tiger Balm’s range of traditional and new products continued to grow in most of its key markets. The healthcare business’ margins improvement is due to lower commodity prices mitigating the pressures from rising staff costs amid tight labor markets.

 

 

Leisure

 

Haw Par’s leisure business owns two aquariums, Underwater World Singapore and Underwater World Pattaya.

 

In 2012, the company’s two aquariums attracted 1.48 million visitors at an average price of SGD20.50 leading to a SGD30.3 million in sales. The company generated operating profit of SGD11.80 million and a ROA of 45.8%. In 2015, the company attracted 0.76 million visitors to its two aquariums at an average price of SGD16.85 leading to SGD12.74 million in sales. The company had operating profit of SGD0.15 million, a segment profit of SGD-4.34 million and a ROA of 1.3%.  From 2012 to 2015, the number of visitors to the company’s two aquariums declined by 20% per year and the average price per visitor declined by 6.3% per year causing a sales to drop by 25.1% per year. The high level of fixed costs in the business saw operating profit fall by 76.8% per year.

 

The decline in the leisure business was caused by a decline in tourism and stiff competition from existing and new attractions, including direct competitors within the immediate vicinity of the two aquariums.

 

The leisure business is a great business as long as you are attracting a sufficient number of visitors to your property as the business is primarily fixed costs. Unfortunately, competition can easily enter the market in your vicinity decreasing the number of visitors at your property causing a decline in sales as you drop prices to attract people and an even greater decline in operating profit due to the operating leverage in the business.

 

 

Property

 

Haw Par’s owns three properties in Singapore and one in Kuala Lumpur. Of the company’s four properties, three are office buildings and one is an industrial building.

 

At the end of 2015, the company has total letable area of 45,399 square meters with an occupancy rate of 64.6%.

 

In 2015, the property division generated sales of SGD14.33 million, operating profit of SGD8.56 and ROA of 4.0%.  The division’s occupancy rate has fallen by almost 30 percentage points from 2013 to 2015, this could be due to a weaker environment or a deterioration of the properties’ competitive position as newer properties become available. I am not a big fan of property investments, as they tend to have poor return on assets and require significant leverage to generate a return near our required rate of return of 15%. On top of the poor profitability in the business, Haw Par’s occupancy rates have been falling potentially pointing to a weaker competitive position of the company’s properties.

 

 

Investments

 

Since 2012, Haw Par’s investment business accounted for 76.7% of the assets on the company’s balance sheet. At the end of 2015, United Overseas Bank (UOB:SP) accounted for 66.4% of the company’s available for sale securities, UOL Group (UOL:SP) accounted for 13.0%, and United Industrial Corp (UIC:SP) accounted for 9.5%.  United Overseas Bank, UOL Group, and United Industrial are all related parties as Wee Cho Yaw is the Chairman of Haw Par and the three other corporations.

 

Profit before tax is dividend income. Since 2012, the investment business has generated an average dividend income of 3.2%.

 

Since 1987, United Overseas Bank’s average annualized return was 7.0%, UOL Group’s was 5.2%, and United Industrial’s was 1.2%, nowhere near an acceptable return.

 

 

Management

 

Members of management are owner operators with insiders owning roughly 60% of Haw Par.  Management is doing a great job operating Tiger Balm but the rest of the business is a capital allocation nightmare with poor investments in leisure and property along with significant cross holdings in other family businesses.

 

Management also extracts far too much value with the average remuneration to key management personnel over the past two years at 9.9% of operating income. Operating income is used rather than profit before tax as the investment income and property income are poor capital allocation decision and it would be best if that money were returned to shareholders.  Since the income generated below operating profit detracts value it is best if operating profit is used. There are related party transactions outside of key management compensation. The company has no related party transactions.

 

 

Valuation

 

The poor capital allocation and management value extraction makes the business nothing more than a deep value holding, which would require at least 50% upside using conservative assumptions to be investible. To value the company, we value the healthcare business based off a multiple of operating profit and value all other division based on liquidation value due to the poor trends see in those businesses.

 

Given the quality and growth in Haw Par’s healthcare business, we believe 15 times operating profit is a fair multiple for the business. The company’s leisure business is given no value as the number of visitors continues to decline due to newer attractions and the company’s operating leverage means the company was barely breaking even in 2015. Cash and net working capital is valued at 100% of balance sheet value. The company’s property is seeing declining occupancy rates. We conservatively assume this to be a sign of the property’s deteriorating competitive position. There are also fees associated with any liquidation therefore we value the property assets at 75% of current value. The company’s available for sale securities are assumed to be liquidated at 75% of current value, as the holdings are so large that they would have a market impact if Haw Par ever tried to sell its shares.

 

Overall, Haw Par would be interesting below SGD7.50 but only as a deep value holding given the poor capital allocation and high management salaries.

WEEKLY COMMENTARY JAN 9, 2017 – JAN. 15, 2017 (M. DIAS BRANCO)

WEEKLY COMMENTARY JAN 9, 2017 – JAN. 15, 2017 (M. DIAS BRANCO)

 

CURRENT POSITIONS

 

 

 

COMPANY NEWS

 

On January 6, 2017, Honworld received approval from the National Office of Leading Group for Administration of Hi-tech Enterprise Recognition to be a New and Advanced Technology Enterprise. A New and Advanced Technology Enterprise is entitled to certain tax benefits including a reduced enterprise income tax rate of 15% for three consecutive years commencing from 2016. The company’s New and Advanced Technology Enterprise status expired in 2016. From 2013 to 2015, Honworld paid an average effective tax rate of 15.6% since 2013. A decrease in the tax rate from the normal corporate tax rate of 25% to the lowered tax rate of 15% into perpetuity adds about 10% to the company’s intrinsic value.

 

Honworld seems to have multiple competitive advantages in the form of economies of scale related to R&D, and marketing within its key regions. The company’s products are frequently purchased, low priced and ingested creating customer captivity due to these habit forming characteristics. Aside from the customer captivity from habitual use, the low price also increases search costs as a 10% difference in price between Honworld’s products and a competitors will not induce customers to change meaning competitors need to undercut Honworld’s price significantly to increase the probability of acquiring Honworld’s customers. Honworld has a price premium and market share advantage pointing to a brand advantage. The company also has superior profitability relative to competitors making it difficult for those competitors to undercut Honworld’s pricing and stay profitable.

 

While the company business seems to be very high quality, management’s capital allocation decision of investing heavily in inventory is deteriorating returns and decreasing cash flows to the point where the company cannot finance growth from internal cash flows. Holding inventory allows Honworld to age its base wine allowing the company to sell more premium products. If the company was able to generate sufficient profitability from premium products to cover the cost of ageing inventory, it would not be a concern but the ageing of inventory is a drag on the company’s returns. In a previous post (link), there was a detailed calculation on this issue. The other side of the inventory debate is maintaining high levels of inventory allows the company to age that inventory to sell more premium products and be ready for any expansion. Selling more premium products provides a higher gross margin but the gross margin is not high enough to cover the cost of holding the inventory required for premium products. The argument of being ready for growth does not make sense, as the majority (57%) of the company’s sales is medium range product, which does not require base wine to be aged. The company has also been able to grow over the past few years without as much base wine inventory as the company has now. The true benefit of ageing inventory is it makes it difficult for competitors to replicate the aged inventory strengthening the company’s competitive position. The passion of the owner as illustrated by holding base wine inventory before he got into the business may actually be a detriment as his goal may not be running the business optimally but building as much base wine inventory as possible.

 

An additional concern arose in the company’s H1 2016 results. The company’s growth slowed and investment in inventory slowed, which should have led to positive free cash flow, as there is not a significant amount of fixed capital investment required for the business. Unfortunately, the company made significant pre-payment for fixed assets. These are very concerning accounts to see on a balance sheet.  We are selling trying to reach a 2% position size due to our concerns over capital allocation will permanently depress profitability not allowing the company to reach the intrinsic value, it would if it had proper capital allocation.

 

Miko International issued a profit warning. It did not cause a large drop in the company’s share price, which may be a signal that all the bad news is priced in. This may be the case but the weakness in the corporate governance overrides the company’s cheapness. We are in the process of selling our position.

 

We completed the sale of our Credit Analysis and Research position.

 

 

INTERESTING LINKS

 

A Chat with Daniel Kahneman (Collaboration Fund)

 

An article by Morgan Housel discussing his notes from a dinner he attended with Daniel Kahneman.  Kahneman along with Amos Taversky are pioneers in the behavior finance world. (link)

 

The Art of Looking Stupid (Eric Cinnamond)

 

A blog post discussing the investment management industry and how looking stupid is beneficial to returns. (link)

 

Normalized Earnings Yield (Eric Cinnamond)

 

A discussion of a simple valuation calculation that is a good approximation of the potential return of an investment (link)

 

Investing Narratives (csinvesting)

 

A blog post with a number of links discussing the topic du jour, narratives (link)

 

Ben Graham’s 1932 Forbes Articles (Old School Value)

 

Three articles written by Ben Graham for Forbes in 1932 (link)

 

Alibaba Offers To Buy Out Intime Retail For $2.5 Billion, At 42% Premium (Barron’s)

 

Alibaba is making a shift offline buying Intime Retail, an owner of 29 department stores and 17 shopping malls. The transaction provides a private market value for retailers. (link) The table below illustrates the valuation of Intime Retail based on Alibaba’s takeover bid.

 

We are not experts in real estate and tend not to look at businesses in the industry, but the following are some thoughts on the acquisition. Intime Retail purchases land, develops the site, and the either sells or rents the shopping mall or department store. Price to book is often used for real estate companies as the process of developing sites can take years making earnings lumpy. Private market value assumes the price paid is a reasonable one, but is 1.7 times book value reasonable for Intime Retail. For 1.7 times book value to be reasonable, at a 12.5% discount rate and no growth, we must assume that the company will be able to generate a return on equity (ROE) of roughly 21.0% into perpetuity. If we assume a 5% growth rate, it would need to generate a ROE of roughly 17.0% into perpetuity. Since 2007, the company generated an average return on equity of 13.54% so something would need to change to make the company generate higher revenue to justify the purchase price. Unfortunately, the industry does not have any barriers to entry so excess profitability would be very difficult to sustain. There are many real estate developers. There are no economies of scale, no customer captivity or no sustainable cost advantages. Given the lack of barriers to entry within the industry, Alibaba could have hired the expertise needed and completed the projects at a cheaper price assuming cost inflation within the industry does not lead the company to pay 1.7 times the construction costs of Intime Retail.

 

A Profitable Industry You’ve Likely Never Considered (Fortune Financial)

 

An interesting blog post discussing the outperformance of publicly listed airports (link)

 

Amazon Stock’s Exceptional Price History Meets Value Investing (The Conservative Income Investor)

 

There are a number of thoughts with agree with in this article discussing a potential investment in Amazon from the perspective of a value investor. (link)

 

A Fee Structure for Fund Managers Who Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is (Jason Zweig)

 

An article written by Jason Zweig discussing the fee structure of fund managers. (link) The rise of ETFs are completely understandable when the vast majority of mutual funds charge a much higher fee than ETFs yet have a difficult time outperforming the ETF. The article discusses a much better fee structure.

 

 

M. DIAS BRANCO 

 

The following is a research report we nearly published on M. Dias Branco in late January, early February 2016. We liked the business but disliked management’s capital allocation decisions. Management is increasing vertical integration by moving back into raw materials, which are primarily commodities. These commodity business may not dilute returns now but they should be a drag on the more consumer oriented businesses. Additionally, rather than expanding its distribution channel at the margins, M. Dias Branco is making acquisitions where it does not have a size advantage or its own distribution leading to weaker returns. This is illustrated by the percentage of sales to smaller retail outlets where it is the sole supplier. The company is also under spending on R&D and advertising. The company should be spending heavily on theses fixed costs as well as its distribution network to make it more difficult for smaller players to compete. In areas where its distribution network eliminates competition, there is no need for advertising as there are not alternatives. In markets where the company does not have a distribution advantage, without advertising the only way to attract customers is pricing. This is not an effective method of competing when products are low cost meaning a small differential in pricing is not going to cause a customer to change. In addition, taste and texture are probably more important than a small differential in pricing.

 

Our decision to not to recommend M. Dias Branco was clearly wrong. The company’s share price was between BRL60-65 per share at the time of writing the research report. M. Dias Branco closed at BRL130 on Friday January 13, 2017 meaning we missed a 100% return opportunity in one year. We were far too greedy on price as the company had a history of growth in an industry with barriers to entry, yet, was trading on a no growth valuation. At the time of the report, our position sizing philosophy was aggressive and we only wanted to invest in a stock if it was able to be a large position >5%. Missing the investment opportunity in M. Dias Branco is one of the reasons of adding high quality stocks that may be slightly expensive and taking advantage of portfolio management skills to add to or reduce the position as the share price moves. We do not know if the change in position sizing philosophy would have changed our decision to pass on M. Dias Branco. If we had recommended the company, we most likely would have sold out due to valuation before realizing the full 100% return, as we were already skeptical of the company’s capital allocation strategy. The change in the position sizing philosophy did provide opportunity for returns in Credit Research and Analysis and Anta Sports, two of our top three recommendations in 2016.

 

The valuation section of the report reflects the investment opportunity at the time rather than the current pricing. We left out the investment thesis, as we did not complete it at the time.

 

 

COMPANY DESCRIPTION

 

M. Dias Branco is a Brazilian manufacturer, marketer, and distributor of cookies and crackers, pasta, flour and wheat bran, margarines and vegetables fats, and cakes and snakes.

 

 

HISTORY

M. Dias Branco was founded by Manuel Dias Branco when he started baking and biscuit production in the 1940’s in the Brazilian state of Ceara. Mr. Dias Branco first established M. Dias Branco & Cia Ltda in 1951 before founding M. Dias Branco in 1961. In 1953, Mr. Francisco Ivens de Sá Dias Branco joined M. Dias Branco & Cia. Ltda. providing strategic direction with an emphasis on investments in industrial technology to produce and sell cookies, crackers, and pasta on large scale.

 

In the early 1960’s, the company started operating its current distribution model of focusing on supplying micro, small, and medium retailers. The company’s distribution model along with its large-scale production allowed expansion initially in Ceara then in neighboring states. The company created its Fortaleza brand created in the 1950’s and its Richester brand created in 1978.

 

During 1990’s, Brazilian government deregulated wheat market. M. Dias Branco took advantage of the deregulation by opening its first wheat mill plant in the state of Ceara in 1992. The new plant allowed the company to backward integrate into its supplying its main raw material, wheat. In 2000, the company expanded its raw material production capacity with a second wheat mill plant in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. The plant increased the integration of the production process as it also has pasta production capabilities.

 

To vertically integrate its production process, in 2002, M. Dias Branco opened its first shortening and margarine plant. The plant produced shortening needs for the production cookies and crackers.

 

In 2003, the company opened a third wheat mill and acquired Adria, a traditional cookies, crackers, and pasta manufacturer. Adria was a leader in both South and Southeast regions giving M. Dias Branco national coverage and making it the leader in the Brazilian market. Adria had a turnover of R$400mil in 2002, up 29.45% on 2001. The acquisition increased M. Dias Branco’s market share by 14% in the cookies segment and 20% in the pasta segment. The company also acquired Adria’s brands Adria, Basilar, Isabella, and Zabet as well as three industrial plants in the state of Sao Paulo and one plant in Rio Grande do Sul. These plants include three pasta factories and two cookies and crackers factories.

 

In 2005, the company started its fourth cookies and crackers facility and its sixth pasta facility, both are integrated with the wheat mill opened in 2003. It is also integrated to a private port so the company can import wheat grain at a lower cost relative to public ports. The Bahia factory adopted a model that eliminated the cost of wheat flour transportation to the cookies, crackers, and pasta factories. It also created a platform for expansion into the South and Southeast regions. In the same year, in the state of Paraíba, the company opened its fourth wheat mill and its seventh pasta factory adopting the same vertical integration model to eliminate the costs of wheat flour transportation.

 

With the expansion of its production in the South and Southeast regions, M. Dias Branco also expanded its distribution network with a focused on the micro, small and medium retailers in the regions.

 

In October 2006, the Company made its IPO listing in the Novo Mercado with the ticker MDIA3.

 

In April 2008, M. Dias Branco acquired Vitarella, a cookies, crackers, and pasta company located in the state of Pernambuco. Vitarella has a strong position in the Northeast region, particularly in states where the M. Dias Branco does not have leadership. The acquisition expanded the company’s national and Northeast region leadership in sales volume of cookies, crackers, and pasta. M Dias Branco paid BRL595.5 million for the Vitarella’s plant and brands Vitarella and Treloso. According to AC Nielsen, at the end of February 2008, Vitarella held 5.5% of the cookies market and 2.9% of the pasta market in Brazil in terms of volume. In 2007, Vitarella had net revenue of BRL323.2 million.

 

In April 2011, M. Dias Branco acquired NPAP Alimentos S.A, a manufacturer of cookies, crackers, and pasta with the brand Pilar, located in the state of Pernambuco. NPAP recorded net revenue of BRL107.5 million in 2010 with 56% from cookies and crackers and 44% from pasta. With The acquisition, M. Dias Branco increased its share of the national cookie and cracker market by 1.2% from 22.2% to 23.4%, and by 2.3% in the pasta market from 22.4% to 24.7%. M. Dias Branco paid roughly BRL70 million for NPAP.

 

In December 2011, M. Dias Branco acquired Pelágio and J.Brandão (both known as Fábrica Estrela) a manufacturer of cookies, crackers, pasta, and snacks with a focus on the country’s North and Northeast regions under the brands Estrela, Pelaggio, and Salsito. In 2010, the company generated BRL190.6 million in net revenue from two industrial units located in the state of Ceará. The acquisition increased M. Dias Branco’s market share in Brazil grew by 1.2% from 24.1% to 25.3% in the cookies and crackers segment and by 0.7% from 24.5% to 25.2% in the pasta segment. The company paid BRL240 million for Fábrica Estrela.

 

In May 2012, M. Dias Branco acquired Moinho Santa Lúcia Ltda., a company located in the state of Ceará that produces wheat flour, cookies, crackers, and pasta under the brands Predilleto and Bonsabor. In 2011, Moinho Santa Lucia had net revenue of BRL88.1 million. M. Dias Branco paid BRL90 million for Moinho Santa Lucia.

 

In 2014, M. Dias Branco increased investments in production line expansion of cookies, crackers and pasta as well as introducing new products (cake mix and toast). It also started the construction of three new wheat mills in the state of Ceará, Pernambuco, and Rio Grande do Sul allowing the company to fully integrate the production process with wheat flour, the company’s main raw material. In a public auction, the company also acquired a new wheat mill factory in the state of Paraná to accelerate the vertical integration of its facilities in the Southeast region.

 

 

CORPORATE STRUCTURE

 

Tergran was founded on September 22, 1996 and is scheduled to shut down on September 2026. It was established to carry on port operations related to the import, export, and trading of grain. Tergran’s other shareholders are J. Macêdo S.A. and Grande Moinho Cearense S.A., both are competitors. Each shareholder holds an equal equity stake in Tergran. M. Dias Branco operates Tergran with the goal of increasing the efficiency of the import and export of wheat at the Fortaleza Port. Tegran sells its products to shareholders.

M. Dias Branco Argentina S.A. is a wholly owned subsidiary that purchases, imports, and exports wheat grain, wheat flour, and its derivatives. The company has not yet started its activities.

M. Dias Branco International Trading LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary that purchases raw materials (principally wheat and vegetable oil)

M. Dias Branco International Trading Uruguay S.A. is its wholly owned subsidiary that purchases raw materials, particularly wheat.

 

 

SHAREHOLDER STRUCTURE

 

DIBRA Fundo de Investimentos em Participações (DIBRA) is 99.82% owned by Francisco Ivens de Sá Dias Branco. DIBRA and managers sold shares in 2010 to increase free float to the required 25%.

 

 

REVENUE

 

Over the trailing twelve months, cookies and crackers accounted for 52% of revenue, pasta accounted for 23% of revenue, wheat flour and brand accounted for 19% of sales, margarine and vegetable shortening accounted for 5% of revenue, and new products like cakes, snack, and packaged toast accounted for the remainder of revenues.

 

Over the past five years, the company grew its revenue by 14.3% per annum. The 14.3% compound annual growth rate represents a total increase in revenues of BRL2,232 million with BRL278.1 million or 12.5% of incremental revenue acquired from the Pilar and Fabrica Estrela acquisitions and the remainder from organic growth.

 

Over the past twelve months, M. Dias Branco has produced 1,692 tonnes of product at an average price of BRL2.71/kg. Since 2009, the company volume sold increased by 8.0% per annum or 550 tonnes. Over the same period, M. Dias Branco has increased prices by 5.7% per annum. The increases in weight sold and average selling price were even across products.

 

In 2014, revenue from the Northeast Brazil accounted for 72.2% of sales up from 63.4% of sales in 2004 growing at 14.7% per year over the period. The increased proportion of sales from Northeast Brazil came at the expense of Southeast Brazil. Revenue in the company’s second largest region increased by 8.9% per annum over the last ten years leading to a decrease from 22.3% of sales in 2004 to 15.0% of sales in 2014.

 

 

BRANDS

 

 

The company has a large portfolio of brands with 23 brands across four product lines.

M. Dias Branco’s largest brand is Vitarella, a cookie and cracker and pasta brand accounting for an estimated 17.4% of 2014 revenue. The company acquired the brand along with Treloso in April 2008. Until 2014, the company disclosed the Vitarella and Treloso brands separately but combined revenues in 2014. Assuming the Treloso brand had BRL225 million in 2014, the Vitarella brand would have recorded revenues of BRL798 million representing a 14% compound annual growth rate since 2009. Vitarella is the cookie and cracker brand leader in Northeast Brazil.

 

The company’s second largest brand is Fortaleza, the company’s oldest brand. Fortaleza is a cookies and cracker and pasta brand created in the 1950’s that accounted for 12.3% of 2014 revenues. Over the past five year, the Fortaleza brand’s revenues have grown at 13.8% per annum.

M. Dias Branco’s third largest brand is the Richester brand, which has the perception of modern, young, and fun brand. It is the company’s second oldest brand with products in cookies and crackers and pasta segments. The brand accounts for 11.0% of the company’s 2014 revenue and has grown by 11.7% per year over the past five years.

 

Meldaha de Oro is the company’s largest wheat flour and margarine brand. The brands focus is bakery customers in wheat flour and food service customers in the margarine and shortening segment. It accounted for 10.5% of the company’s revenues in 2014 and grew by 15.4% per year over the past five years.

 

All other brands account for less than 10% of the company’s sales. Other notable brands include the company’s other wheat flour brand Finna serving retail customers with a focus on economic class A to E.

Based on household gross monthly income, class A household gross monthly income is above BRL 10,200, class B is above BRL 5,100, class C is above BRL 2,040, class D is above BRL 1,020, and class E is below BRL 1,020. Finna accounted for 5.4% of revenue in 2014. The company’s margarine product Amorela targets economic classes A and B, while shortening brands Puro Sabor and Adorita target economic classes B, C, and D.

 

In the cakes and snacks market, the company has a specific product range for the children’s segment marketed under the Pelagio and Richester brands, and a family product range marketed under the Pelaggio brand. The company has a licensing agreement with Disney for the use of Disney’s characters on some of Pelagio’s packaging.

 

The company has a diverse portfolio of brand but do the brands add any value. Indicators can be used to determine the strength of a company’s brands including market share, pricing power, relative pricing, advertising, frequency of customer purchase, and cost of an item.

 

Since 2008, through organic growth and acquisitions, M. Dias Branco has increased its cookies and crackers volume share from 19.8% in 2008 to 28.1% in 2014 and its pasta volume share increased from 21.9% to 28.9%. The company is the leader in both the cookies and crackers market and pasta market.

 

In 2014, M. Dias Branco had a 20.8% market share in Brazil almost twice as large as the company’s closest competitor Nestle and second largest competitor Marilan. The company is three times the size of its third and fourth largest competitors Mondelez and Pepsico. Within its home region of Northeast Brazil, the company has even larger market share advantage with 55.6% of the market. In the Southeast, the company is the fourth largest competitor behind Marilan, Nestle, Pepsico, and Arcor.

 

In 2014, M. Dias Branco had a 25.8% of the Brazilian pasta market. Similar to the cookies and cracker market, the company has roughly twice the market share of its largest competitor. Also similar to the cookies and cracker market, the company has a significant advantage in Northeast Brazil at almost five times the size of its closest competitor. In the southeast region, the company is the second largest company right behind the market share leader

 

On a global scale, M. Dias Branco is the seventh largest cookie maker in the world with a 1.7% market share in 2012. The company was also the sixth largest pasta maker in the world with a 1.7%.

 

 

PRODUCTION

 

M. Dias Branco has 14 manufacturing units and several commercial units distributed in major Brazilian cities.

 

The company just took control of the wheat mill in Rolandia, Parana in the second half of 2015 after recently winning the wheat mill at an auction.

M. Dias Branco’s capacity and production by product is listed above. Since 2005, cookies and crackers capacity has grown by 12.8% per annum, pasta capacity by 6.0% per annum; wheat flour and brand by 9.9%, and margarines & fats have grown by 9.7% per annum.

 

At the end of 2014, Wheat flour and bran accounted for the largest portion of production capacity at 50.5% followed by cookies and crackers at 26.5%, pasta at 16.9%, margarines and fats at 5.8%, and cakes at 0.3%.

 

The cost of building a new ton of capacity at existing facilities based on management estimates in both US dollars and Brazilian reals is illustrated above. The cost of reproducing capacity is lowest for wheat mill at USD120 per tonne increasing to USD300 per tonne for pasta and USD350-400 per tonne for cookies and crackers. Management did not have an exact figure for margarine and shortening but stated it was between the cost of wheat mill and pasta.

 

M. Dias Branco has a strategy of vertical integration by increasing its reliance in production of raw materials of wheat and vegetable shortening with a goal of reaching 100% vertical integration.

 

In the trailing twelve months, the company consumed 6.1 percentage points more internally produced wheat than in 2008 at 56.1% in the trailing twelve months compared to 50.0% in 2008. It increased reliance on internally produced wheat has also increased by 6.9 percentage points up from 72.2% in 2008 to 79.1% in the trailing twelve months.

 

Vegetable shortening production consumed internally has increased by 19.4 percentage points from 35.7% in 2008 to 54.1% in the last twelve months. Of the company’s total vegetable shortening consumption, 88.5% in internally produced up from 48.9% in 2008.

 

 

DISTRIBUTION

 

 

M. Dias Branco has 28 distribution centers in 16 states throughout Brazil with a concentration of distribution centers in Northeast Brazil. The company distribution system had been built over 60 years. The distribution systems caters to all customers but is focused on micro, small, and medium retailers through door to door sales and weekly customer visits leading to strong customer relationships.

 

In the early 1960’s, the company started to operate its current distribution model of focusing on supplying micro, small, and medium retailers. Company representatives make at least one visit per week to every client creating very strong relationships with clients and a constant feedback loop allowing the company to adjust its positioning and strategies as needed. Two marketing systems are used to meet the direct channels: the immediate delivery to the traditional retail (small and medium traders) and the pre-sale for serving large networks and average retail supermarkets.

 

The company’s distribution is primarily through road transport via the company’s fleet of 554 vehicles and an average of 2,662 outsourced vehicles per month. The company also uses 122 motorcycles used by pre-sale vendors.

 

Outside of larger cities infrastructure is poor so the company’s distribution channel gives it an advantage over competitors. The company estimates 40% of direct sales are to smaller mom and pop outlets that no other competitor can reach and there is very little competition. This reach and lack of competition allows the company’s brand to be the standard in their respective product category that all future products are compared. Given the company’s market share, its distribution network is extremely difficult to replicate particularly in the Northeast where the company has a 55.6% market share in cookies and crackers and a 61.6% market share in pasta. In regions where the company has lower market share such as the Southeast, the company relies on distributors as the fixed costs associated with distribution is too much of a burden. Additionally, margin on products sold through direct sales are higher than sales through indirect distribution.

 

The company’s extensive network of direct sales and close relationship with indirect channels ensures strong presence throughout the country and close contact with its customers creating customer loyalty and an increased customer base. More importantly, it is very difficult to replicate as it is a fixed cost and scale is needed to cover those fixed costs. For example in the Southeast region, M. Dias Branco has a 10.8% cookies and cracker market share and a 16.8% pasta market share yet the fixed costs associated with creating a distribution network to cover the region is too expensive.

 

The company’s sales from direct distribution decreased from 52.4% in 2005 to 40.7% in 2014. At last disclosure, the company had over 70,000 active clients and 110 distribution partners. Since 2005, direct sales grew at 12.6% per year compared to an 18.6% compound annual growth rate at intermediaries. The company’s direct sales network does not even cover half of the Northeast region so the company has plenty of room to build out its distribution network.

 

In 2014, 40.7% of sales were to smaller retail chains, wholesale distribution accounted for 44.2% of sales, large retail chains accounted for 12.5% of sales, and industrial customers accounted for 2.0% of sales. The company’s top 100 clients only account for 41.6% of sales, while the remaining clients accounted for 58.4% of sales.

 

The company stated it can economically ship basic crackers and pasta 1,000 kilometers before logistic costs puts the company at a disadvantage and higher value added products can be shipped 1,500-2,000 kilometers

 

 

INNOVATION

 

Since 2006, M. Dias Branco spent BRL25.5 million on new products with an average new product R&D spend is 0.1% of sales. Over that period, the company’s R&D spend translated to 373 total new products generating new product sales of BRL254 million or 1.0% of sales over the period.

 

R&D includes new products as well as slight modification such as new product shapes, new packaging, and improving product recipes. Some of the new products launched by the company include new flavors in pasta and cookies. The company’s goal for any innovation is to reach a minimum of 5% market share in the first year. The company believes it has a 60% success rate.

 

Tastes and cultures within Brazil are very regional making large international competitors’ international R&D not as useful in Brazil therefore much of their R&D has to be recreated for the country decreasing the potential competitive advantage from being global players.

 

Relative to international food and beverage companies, M. Dias Branco spends significantly less as a percentage of sales.

 

All large international food and beverage companies spend at least 1.0% of sales or ten times the amount that M. Dias Branco spends on R&D pointing to significant under spending by the company.

 

R&D is very important for two reasons. First, it is a fixed cost allowing the company to exploit its size advantage over competitors in Brazil creating a virtuous feedback loop. If the company is under spending it is negating the company’s size advantage allowing smaller competitors to compete on R&D and remaining profitable. Second, the company’s large distribution network comes with fixed costs that are better utilized if the company can push as many products through that distribution channel making creating new products very important.

 

 

COST OF GOODS SOLD

 

 

Total raw materials costs have increased from 28.3% of sales in 2005 to 46.8% of sales in 2014, accounting for the vast majority of the increase in the company’s cost of goods sold as a percentage of sales. M. Dias Branco lack of segment disclosure by product line or region leads to less information on segment gross margin but the increased importance of lower margin products in the form of wheat flour and margarine and shortening as well as the increased reliance on external distribution has lead to weaker margins. Wheat flour and margarine and shortening gross margins are probably higher than Bunge and ADM’s gross margins of 5% but well below the gross margin for cookies and crackers. The use of external distribution decreases gross margin on products through competition. Direct distribution comes with much less competition as the company has built an infrastructure than cannot be matched by competitors leading to less competition in small mom & pop retail outlets where infrastructure is poor.

 

 

OPERATING COSTS

 

 

The company fastest growing expense, and only expense to grow faster than revenue, is freight expense growing at 21.0% CAGR over the past five years as the company has increased the percentage of sales through indirect distribution channels. The largest expense is employee benefits, which grew at 11.2% over the past five years. Overall, operating expenses have grown at 11.1% since 2009 below the pace of revenue growth over the same period pointing to operating leverage. Unfortunately, cost of goods sold has increased at 16.1% per annum over the past five years lead to gross margin and operating margin compression.

 

 

PROFITABILITY

 

 

 

With the exception of 2007, M. Dias Branco has consistently generated a return on invested capital above 10% and since 2009, the company has consistently generated a return on invested capital above 15%.

 

On a per unit basis (tonne), since 2006, M. Dias Branco has increased volumes by 8.5% per annum, average selling price (ASP) by 7.5% per annum, and gross profit by 6.7% per annum as cost of goods sold has outpaced ASP. Operating income has increased at 12.8% per year as sales expense has grown below ASP increases, while administrative and tax expenses have decrease since 2006.

 

Working capital has increased at 12.8% per year driven primarily by a 12.0% per year increase in accounts receivable. PP&E has only increased by 3.4% per year. Given the company’s recent acquisitions, intangibles increased by 22.2% per year.

 

 

To determine marginal unit economics, all income statement and balance sheet accounts that move with sales as measured by a very low coefficient of variation are deemed to be variable. Variable accounts are cost of goods sold, sales expenses, working capital, and property, plant and equipment. Since 2006, the company’s contribution margin averaged 20.1% with a standard deviation of 2.2%. The company’s variable ROIC averaged 44.1% with a standard deviation of 7.8%.

 

 

 TAX INCENTIVES

 

M. Dias Branco receives state and federal subsidies when the company makes investments falling under public programs that encourage development.

State tax incentives come in the form of a deduction against ICMS (value added sales tax). These incentives are accounted for in the company’s cost of goods sold on the income statement. The state income tax incentives are illustrated above.

 

The company also receives federal tax subsidies as a result of investments in the Northeast of Brazil, through the installation, modernization, extension or diversification of industrial units located in the Superintendency for the Development of the Northeast (SUDENE) operates. Tax incentives are granted for a period of ten years and a 75% deduction is received.

 

 

Since 2009, the company has paid 13.0% of gross sales in sales tax while receiving state tax incentives equal to 3.3% of gross sales. The company receives tax incentives equivalent to 25.6% of the company’s value added tax. The company also reports a tax expense of 0.5% of gross sales in operating expenses. Income tax and social contribution as a percentage of operating income has averaged 9.4% since 2009.

 

 

STRATEGY

M. Dias Branco’s strategy includes increasing market share through diversifying its customer base through geographical expansion via acquisitions and organic growth. The company plans on increasing sales to non-residential food service and processing markets including restaurants, hotels, bars, hospitals, clubs, pastry shops, and bakeries. It also plans to expand its distribution network to increasing the fragmentation of its client base and sell new products.

 

The company also plans to improve operational efficiency and costs controls by optimizing its infrastructure, increasing the flexibility of the production chain, maintain full up to date production facilities with high-end technology and state of the art operations. The company also plans to increase vertical integration in order to meet 100% of its wheat flour and shortening needs.

 

M. Dias Branco will continue to focus on higher value-added products, such as new product lines or complementary product targeting markets in which it already operates.

 

The company also intends to grow organically through the expansion of production capacity. It also plans to acquire businesses with strong brands, a solid customer base, and an extensive distribution network.

 

 

INDUSTRY

 

Brazilian Wheat and Wheat Milling Industry

 

Currently, the Brazilian government intervenes into the wheat production sector through loans and minimum price guarantees. Brazilian wheat production is well below international standards due to unfavorable weather conditions for the winter crop in most parts of the country and poor soil conditions leading to poor quality of wheat and higher production costs. Consumers are often able to import higher quality wheat from Argentina and the United States at better prices than sourcing wheat from Brazil. In addition, domestic production is insufficient to meet domestic consumption needs making Brazil dependent on Argentinean imports. Currently, imports account for about half of domestic consumption. Given import requirements, Brazilian wheat mills have a strong vulnerability to price fluctuations of international commodity.

 

The Brazilian wheat mill industry is very fragmented with a large number of small mills and a large amount of idle capacity. According to ABITRIGO, at the end of 2012, there were 229 mills with 77.3% of wheat mills in the Southern region, 10.0% of wheat mills in the Southeast region, 6.1% in the Northern region, 5.2% in the Midwest region, and 1.3% in the North region. The South has a 44.0% market share of wheat milled, the Southeast has a 24.8% market share, the North and the Northeast have a 27.5% market share, and the Midwest has a 3.6% market share. Domestic wheat mills account for 93% of flour consumption.

 

The bakery sector is the largest consumer of the Brazilian Wheat mill industry consuming 55.3% of flour produced. According to ABIP – Association Brazilian of Bakery and Confectionery Industry, the bakery sector is among the largest industries of Brazil and consisting of more than 63,000 bakeries with an average 41.5 million daily customers in 2014.

 

According to the ABIP – Brazilian Association of Bakery and Confectionery Industry, Per capita bread consumption in Brazil is on average 33 kg per year half of the consumption recommended by the WTO. It is also lower than the bread consumption in Argentina at 70 kg per capita and Chile at 90 kg per capita. Purchasing power of the population is one of the most factors that contribute to the low per capita consumption.

 

 

The Pasta Industry in Brazil

 

According to ABIMA, there are over 80 small, medium, and large companies and more than 100 micro enterprises operating about 140 factories in the Brazilian pasta industry. The installed capacity of the pasta industry in Brazil is around 1.3 million tons behind only Italy’s installed capacity of 3.3 million tonnes and the US’ installed capacity of 2.0 millions of tons.

 

The pasta production process allows producers to manufacture any type of pasta with minor adjustments. Pasta is also a low added value product making shipping costs a significant portion final price making pasta markets regional. The company believes basic crackers and pasta can be shipped 1,000 kilometers before logistic costs affect the product’s competitiveness.

 

Brazil is the third largest pasta consumer behind Italy and the United States. On a per capita basis, Brazil is behind many more industrialized countries at 6.2 kg per year.

 

Brazilian consumes much more rice (26.5 kg per year) than pasta (6.2 kg per year). As illustrated below, as Brazilian’s monthly income increases pasta and cookie consumption increases.

 

Many companies in the sector have integrated process to wheat mill with a broad portfolio of other wheat products such as flour, cake mixes, cookies, and cake mix.

 

According to AC Nielsen, in 2014, the Southeast region is largest pasta region by volume sold accounting for 43.4% of total pasta volume sold in Brazil, down from 49.7% in 2006. The Northeast is the second largest region accounting for 28.8% of volume sold in 2014 up from 25.9% in 2006. The South is the third largest region at 19.4% of volume sold up from 18.1% in 2006. The Midwest accounted for 6.9% of pasta volume sold in 2014 up from 6.3% in 2006. The North accounted for 1.4% of the pasta volume sold in Brazil. AC Nielsen just started accounting for the North region of Brazil in its survey of the pasta market.

 

The table above illustrates 2014 volume share and market share by region along with market share change over the past five years of the six largest pasta companies in Brazil. In 2014, M. Dias Branco was the largest pasta maker, on both volume and market share terms, in Brazil. The company’s share lead is driven by its market share dominance in the Northeast where it holds a 61.6% market share almost five times its closest competitor J. Macedo. The Northeast is where the company started and where it has its own distribution network. In the Southeast, the largest region in Brazil, is much more competitive with the five players holding over 10.0% market share. M. Dias is tied for second place with 15.2% behind Santa Amalia the market share leader with 15.8% of the market.

 

Since 2009, M. Dias Branco has increased its market share by 2.5% in all of Brazil driven by a 19.7% increase in market share in the Northeast. In the Southeast, the company lost 4.7% of market share. This increase in market share in the Northeast was primarily organic as since 2009 the company only acquired 3.0% market share.

 

The five firm concentration ratio is points to medium to high concentration across all pasta markets in Brazil. The Herfindahl index points to high concentration in the Northeast and very little concentration in Brazil and the Southeast.

 

 

The Cookies and Crackers Industry in Brazil

 

The cookies and crackers industry in Brazil has 593 companies. According to ABIMAPI and Euromonitor, in 2014, Brazilian companies sold 1,227 million tons of cookies and crackers meaning Brazilian cookies and crackers sold the 4th largest amount in the world. About 60% of companies are concentrated in the Southeast region the largest and highest per capita income region in the country.

 

In 2014, the Southeast accounts for 45.0% of the cookies and crackers market down from 47.3% in 2006. The Northeast was the second largest region in Brazil accounting for 30.2% similar to its share for 30.2% in 2006. The South is the third largest region accounting for 15.1% in 2014 down from 16.2% in 2006. The Midwest was the fourth largest region accounting for 7.7% in 2014 up from 6.3% in 2006 and the North accounted for 2.0% in 2014.

 

Logistic costs play a part in localizing the market. In lower value added products like basic crackers, products can be shipped 1,000 kilometers before logistic costs affect competitiveness. In higher value added products like cookies, products can be shipped 1,500 kilometers before logistic costs affect competitiveness.

 

Brazilian per capita cookie consumption is below developed markets and its neighbor Argentina.

 

 

Monthly household income is a large driver of demand for cookies and crackers as well as pasta. In both cookies and crackers and pasta, consumption starts increasing rapidly when monthly income reaches BRL2,490 to BRL4,150.

 

In 2014, M. Dias Branco is also the cookies and crackers market leader, both in volume and market share terms, in Brazil. The company market share is almost twice as large as its closest competitor in Brazil. Similar to pasta, M. Dias Branco’s market share lead is driven by its dominance in the Northeast where its market share is nine times its closest competitor. In the Southeast, the company is the fifth largest competitor with a 7.7% market share.

 

Since 2009, M. Dias Branco market share in Brazil increased by 3.0% driven by 12.3% market share gain in the Northeast and a 0.2% market share increase in the Southeast.

 

Similar to the pasta industry, the cookies and crackers industry shows moderate concentration with the Northeast being highly concentrated.

 

 

Barriers to Entry

 

Barriers to entry for food and beverage producers usually come in the form of brand and/or economies of scale with the fixed costs of advertising, distribution, and research and development. Evidence is analyzed to determine if M. Dias Branco’s brands create a barrier to entry. Signs are then evaluated to determine if economies of scale create a barrier to entry. Consistent returns on invested capital above are the best piece of evidence of potential barriers to entry. It does not always point to the existence of barriers to entry as growing markets often ease competitive pressures allowing demand to outpace supply leading to elevated profitability in the short term.

 

With the exception of 2007, M. Dias Branco has consistently generated double digit ROIC with an average ROIC since 2009 of 19.4%. The market has been growing at a healthy pace alleviating competitive pressures but additional evidence points to the company to sustainably resist competition.

 

In food and beverage products, market share leadership is usually a sign of a strong brand as many consumers choose a particular product in these markets based on a characteristic other than price. In the case of M. Dias Branco’s products, the customer’s decision is probably based more on the taste of the product or lack of alternatives rather than price. The customer focus on product characteristics such as taste increases the importance of a brand as customers identify the taste of the product with the brand.

 

Brand is particularly important as the company sells low cost products that are purchased frequently. The low cost of the product makes the small difference in price between brands less important leading the consumer to continually purchase its preferred brand. Products purchased more frequently are more likely to have brand loyalty as customers create a habit of purchasing the product particularly when taste is important product characteristic. Also in developing countries, customers are less likely to switch from a tried and true product to something new due to a lack of discretionary income. In AC Nielsen’s November 2013 Global Report of Loyalty Sentiment, Julie Currie of AC Nielsen stated “In developing economies, we see evidence of highly price-sensitive consumers choosing brands that are not always the lowest-price alternative. Making a switch from a tried-and-true product to something new can represent a tradeoff that consumers with little discretionary income are not willing to make. On the flip side, the cachet of new brands can be appealing for consumers with rising upward mobility status.” According to Strativity, frequency of interaction builds loyalty and advocacy with 87% of customers delighted with daily interaction, 64% with weekly interaction, 49% with monthly interaction, and 33% with a few times per year interaction. Also according to Strativity, 30% of less frequent customers wouldn’t miss a company or brand if they were gone or would leave for a better offer. M. Dias Branco’s high market share within Brazil points to valuable brands with pricing power.

 

The table above illustrates the relative prices of different companies within the pasta and cookie and crackers segments. M. Dias Branco is indexed to 100 and competitors prices are relative to M. Dias Branco. Competitors in red compete with M. Dias Branco in the pasta market while competitors in green compete in the cookies and crackers market. While this is an aggregation of all the brands of each company, it should be representative of M. Dias Branco brand position given the diversity of its brand portfolio. As illustrated, the company has the lowest price offering in both pasta and cookies and crackers. The pricing differential is particularly wide in the cookies and crackers market where the company’s price is 25% below the closest competitor in 2014. The low price of the company’s products points to a no brand value and a market share advantage based on lower cost. A strong brand should command a premium price as customers are willing to pay more for a strong brand. A combination of premium pricing and a leading market share is a sign of a very strong brand.

 

Another sign of a strong brand in consumer products is pricing power as customers are willing to accept price increases as there are not alternatives with the product characteristics that customers covet. To determine the extent of M. Dias Branco’s pricing power, the stability of the company’s cash gross margin. All tax effects are also removed. Cash gross margin is used to eliminate any potential manipulation of accounting assumptions. The company’s cash gross margin has deteriorated from 53.2% in 2005 to 31.5% in 2014, while raw materials expense as a percentage of sales has increased from 28.3% in 2005 to 46.8% in 2014. It seems the company has not been able to pass on raw materials expenses.

 

The company has been pursuing a strategy of increased vertical integration by producing more raw materials internally. Gross margins on wheat flour and margarine should be much lower given the commodity nature of the products. Revenues from non-cookies and crackers and pasta products have decreased from 26.7% in 2005 to 25.2% over the trailing twelve months so sale of lower margin products is not the reason for the lower gross margins. The proportion of wheat consumed from internal production has decreased from 89.6% in 2006 to 79.1% over the trailing twelve months. The proportion of shortening consumed from internal production has increased from 66.8% in 2006 to 79.1% over the trailing twelve months. Management states increased vertical integration will increase gross margins as the company can produce raw materials at a 15-20% discount to the price it can buy them on the market meaning the decreased internal wheat production may have affected over gross margins. Assuming a 10% increase in internal production at a 10% discount to purchasing external, M. Dias Branco’s gross margin would increase by 1% so the decrease in gross margin is primarily due to a lack of pricing power indicating weak brand strength.

 

 

A brand needs to be built and supported with advertising and promotion. M. Dias Branco currently spends 2% of sales on advertising with a target of increasing the expense in the future. The company’s current marketing spend of 2% of sales is well below the spending of other food and beverage companies. Most of the company’s 2% advertising expense is promotion at the point of sale rather than advertising. Without advertising, it is difficult to build a brand and the lack of marketing spending by M. Dias Branco points to a weak brand.

 

According to AC Nielsen, the lowest levels of loyalty on a global scale (respondents said they were not loyal and likely to switch) were found with the food and beverage categories. 43% of customers are not loyal to alcoholic beverage brands, 39% of customers are not loyal to snack brands, 38% are not loyal to carbonated beverages, and 37% are not loyal to cereal brands.

 

The company believes brand plays a much bigger role in the cookies and crackers market then in the pasta market. This makes sense as product characteristics other than price play a much more important role in the cookies and crackers market. In the pasta market, the difference in taste between different pasta brands is negligible. Pasta is also usually not the main taste in a particular meal. It is usually mixed with something like a pasta sauce or vegetables to provide flavor. Other product characteristics such as durability during cooking plays a role but it may not be central to the customer’s purchasing decision. With cookies and crackers, taste is different between products and is the main reason for eating the product making it that much more important during the purchasing decision. Additionally, price plays a much more important role with lower economic classes.

 

Although the company’s brands may create a small barrier to entry in cookies and crackers, the lack of pricing power, low relative price compared to peers, and low advertising to support the brand all point to no barrier to entry related to the company’s brands.

 

Economies of scale gives an incumbent a competitive advantage over peers due to is sized allowing it to spread fixed costs over many more units decrease the total cost per unit.

M. Dias Branco has a clear size advantage over peers as it is the largest cookies and crackers producer and the largest pasta producer. The company’s size advantage is even larger in the Northeast, where M. Dias Branco is almost five times it closest competitor in pasta and almost nine times larger than its closest competitor in cookies and crackers. In the Southeast, M. Dias Branco has no advantage in pasta and is the fifth largest player in cookies and crackers so the company is at a size disadvantage.

 

The relevant fixed costs are distribution, advertising, and research and development. In parts of the Northeast, M. Dias Branco owns its own distribution network, which would be very difficult for any competitor to replicate given the fixed costs associated with owning the distribution network. The company’s own distribution channel allows the company to reach retail outlets that competitors cannot decreasing competition and increasing profitability. 40% of sales through the company’s distribution channel are to smaller outlets where very few competitors can reach leading to a maximum of two to three competing brands. The company’s distribution network allows strong customer relationships ensuring customers’ needs are met and the company’s always has shelf space. It also allows the company to take advantage of the operating leverage associated with owning a distribution network through pushing multiple products through its distribution channel. The company’s distribution channel could possibly be expanded as direct sales for 65% of cookie, crackers, and pasta sales in the Northeast region in 2014.

 

Advertising is another fixed cost that allows the company to take advantage of its size. Spending more on advertising allows the company to educate and recruit more customers than peers through building and supporting its brands leading to pricing power from brand strength. Within Brazil, tastes and cultures are still very regional leading to market share within specific regions being the key determinant of economies of scale in advertising. Unfortunately, M. Dias Branco under spends on advertising and could increase this strategic cost as a percentage of sales to take advantage of its size advantage. The company plans on increasing advertising as a percentage of sales.

 

Research and development is another fixed cost allowing M. Dias Branco to take advantage of its size and outspend peers. Research and development in the food and beverage industry includes new products, flavors, recipes, packaging, nutritional benefits, and much more. Similar to advertising, the company under spends relative to food and beverage peers.

 

Barriers to entry exist in the industry in the form of brands and economies of scale with fixed costs in distribution, advertising, and research and development. The evidence points to M. Dias Branco lacking any brand advantage. The company clearly has a size advantage and is taking advantage of it through owning its own distribution channel in parts of the Northeast but is failing to take full advantage of its size with under spending on advertising and research and development. It would take decades for another competitor to replicate the company’s size and position in the Northeast. Outside of the Northeast, the company lacks any size advantage.

 

 

Other Four Forces

M. Dias Branco’s suppliers have no bargaining power. The company’s raw materials are commodity products that are not unique and are available from many different suppliers with no switching costs. It is also the largest producer of both cookies and crackers and pasta within Brazil giving it purchasing power. This purchasing power is magnified by the ability of the company to store up to five months raw materials.

 

M. Dias Branco’s customers seem to be very fragmented eliminating their bargaining power. The company has over 70,000 active clients with 40.7% of revenue coming from direct distribution.

 

Sales through indirect distribution account for 59.3% of sales. Indirect distribution sales are to larger customers and carry lower margins. The company’s cookie and crackers products are unique due to taste. Pasta, wheat flour, margarine, and shortening are all commoditized products that do not differ that much between competitors.

 

With the exception of the Northeast of Brazil, M. Dias Branco’s markets are highly competitive with low levels of concentration. With the exception of cookies and crackers, the company’s product markets are primarily driven by price competition. The wheat flour market is characterized by a large amount of unutilized production capacity. Cookies and crackers and pasta have the potential for high fixed costs to drive out smaller players but this advantage is not being fully utilized allowing smaller players to survive increasing competitive rivalry. All signs point to a medium to high competitive rivalry within the company’s product markets.

 

With the exception of wheat flour, M. Dias Branco’s products have many readily available substitutes. With many of the company’s products price is the main driver of the purchasing decision leading to a greater threat of substitution.

 

 

MANAGEMENT TEAM

 

Members of management are owner operators. The largest shareholder (63.1%) is Francisco Ivens de Sá Dias Branco, the Chairman of the Board. Managers own another 11.4%. The Board of Directors and the Board of Executive Officers are primarily family members of Francisco Ivens de Sá Dias Branco including Francisco Ivens de Sá Dias Branco Junior, the CEO. Seven of the eleven Board members and Executive Officers are part of the Dias Branco family.

 

Francisco Ivens de Sa Dias Branco, the current Chairman of the Board helped build the company his father joining in 1953. He led the modernization and expansion of the company and was CEO until 2014 when his son Francisco Ivens de Sa Dias Branco Junior took over the role. Being a family oriented business has pros and cons. Holding almost 75% of the shares, the family can take a very long-term wealth maximizing view and disregarding short-term advice of financial markets. Given the large shareholding, a large portion of the family’s wealth is tied to the company’s performance therefore the family’s incentives are aligned with minority shareholders. Members of management are not agents trying to further their career but family members trying to increase the family wealth through company performance. The potential cons are the company was built by the current Chairman over the past 60 years. He is the patriarch of the family and the largest shareholder. He may be unwilling to listen to dissenting views. The company is full of family members that may not have strategic expertise or diversity of views to see the necessary perspectives and strategic logic to maximize shareholder value. The family may look at the company as their asset rather than an asset that is part owned by minority shareholders allowing them to take advantage of their position in the company. This is partially evident by the company leasing airplanes from a related party.

 

Corporate Culture

 

The company has created a strong corporate culture and scores highly in employee reviews. On Indeed.com, the company scored 3.5 to 4.0 stars on work/life balance, salary/benefits, security/advancement, management, and corporate culture.

 

Strategy

 

M. Dias Branco’s strategy includes increasing market share through diversifying its customer base through geographical expansion via acquisitions and organic growth. The company plans to acquire businesses with strong brands, a solid customer base, and an extensive distribution network. The company also intends to grow organically through the expansion of production capacity. The company will increase sales to non-residential food service and processing markets including restaurants, hotels, bars, hospitals, clubs, pastry shops, and bakeries. Given the potential economies of scale in the industry, increasing market share is one of the key drivers of excess returns within the industry therefore the priority of the company. The other key driver of excess returns is spending as much as possible on fixed costs to take advantage of the potential size advantage and put competitors at a disadvantage.

 

M. Dias Branco plans to expand its distribution network to increasing the fragmentation of its client base and sell new products. The company’s distribution network is a significant competitive advantage for the company and should be expanded at the margins of the current distribution network in the Northeast as cheaply as possible. The company will have difficulty recreating its distribution network in other regions given its insufficient size to cover the fixed costs and remain profitable. Outside of the Northeast, the company would be wise to select small regions with a very strong competitive position and build out its distribution network there before expanding at the margins. Another option would be acquiring existing distribution networks.

 

The company plans to improve operational efficiency and costs controls by optimizing its infrastructure, increasing the flexibility of the production chain, maintain full up to date production facilities with high-end technology and state of the art operations. In areas where there is no potential for a competitive advantage, operational efficiency is vital for survival. It should be the priority in not competitive advantaged activities.

 

M. Dias Branco will continue to focus on higher value-added products, such as new product lines or complementary product targeting markets in which it already operates allowing for higher margin products and greater ability to differentiate the company’s products.

 

The company plans to increase vertical integration in order to meet 100% of its wheat flour and shortening needs. This is the one strategic initiative that does not make much sense. Wheat flour and shortening are commodity products with little potential for sustainable excess returns. Similar to oil refining, a plant (wheat mill) is build. In that plant, a commodity is refined into another commodity and a margin in earned based on supply and demand. A manufacturer is a price taker with no differentiation. The only way to generate excess returns is through low cost operations.

 

The company states it is able to produce wheat flour at a 15-20% discount to what it can purchase it at on the market due to technological advantages in its equipment. Currently, there are over 100 small wheat mills with old production technology and a lot of unused capacity in the industry. Eventually the sector will consolidate and modernize when it does M. Dias Branco will no longer have a cost advantage. The company will also have to make additional investments to stay cost competitive and not destroy value as its current advantage is due to having latest technology and most productive equipment, which will no longer be an advantage when the rest of the sector modernizes. The company states it is able to generate double digit EBITDA from wheat flour in Brazil.

 

The company can store up to five months raw material inventory. Along with its size, this storage capability allows for bulk purchasing giving the company bargaining power over its suppliers decreasing profitability of a vertical integration strategy. The company states the vertical integration strategy allows for better planning but the ability to keep five months of raw material should be sufficient to improve planning.

 

Looking at M. Dias Branco’s peers in each business segment provides insight into the quality of each line of business. Food producers such as Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are the company’s competitors in raw materials that the company is integrating. Bunge is a competitor in Brazil and ADM participates in similar activities of buying, processing, and selling agricultural commodities. In cookie and crackers, the company competes with global food companies such as Nestle, Mondelez, and PepsiCo. In addition, other food and beverage companies are listed as key success factors of economies of scale in advertising, research and development, and distribution are similar.

As illustrated above, the food and beverage companies generate much higher gross margins and operating margins with similar if not higher invested capital turnover leading to ROIC much higher than simple commodity processing companies, Bunge and ADM. The food and beverage companies share prices also reflect the strong operating performance while Bunge and ADM’s share prices have lagged significantly over both five and ten years.

 

The vertical integration strategy does not make much sense. You are processing commodity products into another commodity product. Bunge and ADM are two of the largest and most efficient companies in the commodity processing business and both have very small operating margins. It would be very difficult for M. Dias Branco to have sustainable operating margins much higher than Bunge and ADM. The company can process the commodity at a 15-20% discount to what the company can purchase from potential suppliers but the company is one of the largest, if not the largest, wheat consumers in the country giving it tremendous bargaining power a fragmented supply base. Given the company’s ability to store up to five months raw materials, this drastically increases the company’s purchasing power and ability to control it raw material requirements. The 15-20% discount is not sustainable as it is merely a technological advantage that any competitor with capital can catch up to. It seems very unlikely that M. Dias Branco can generate sustainable excess returns in commodity processing business.

 

Capital Allocation

M. Dias Branco is in a very strong financial position with a net debt to equity of 0.10 times and net debt to EBIT of 0.57 times.

 

The company has remained conservative with its financing with net debt to EBIT never breaching 3.1 times.

 

The company reinvests the majority of the company’s earnings with an average dividend payout just over 22% since 2009. The company shares outstanding have remained stable at 113.45 million shares outstanding since 2009. Given the stock exchange requires 25% free float and the company maintaining a free float just above it meaningful share buybacks are unlikely. The company maintains a very healthy financial position but is wise enough not have too much cash on the balance sheet.

 

 

Since the end of 2006, M. Dias Branco has generated operating income before research and development and advertising of BRL3,941 million. The largest outlay during the period was acquisitions, which accounted for BRL1,068 million or 27% of operating income. The next largest outlay was dividends of BRL586 million or 15% of operating income. Followed by growth capex and advertising both just above BRL500 million or 13% of operating income.

 

There have been some issues with capital allocation. As mentioned before, the company should be spending much more on strategic fixed costs of research and development, advertising, and distribution to take advantage of its size and create a virtuous cycle that competitors cannot replicate. The company sales through its own distribution should be continuing to grow rather than receding for sales outside its own distribution network where the company faces more competition and weaker profitability. The company should be spending much more on advertising as the company is competing on price at the moment with pasta price at an average discount of 10% and cookies and crackers prices at an average discount of 35%. Advertising should be focused on cookies and crackers where there is more potential to build brand loyalty and pricing power. The company should also be spending much more on research and development.

 

Given economies of scale and size are so important in the industry, the company could be more acquisitive. The company has mentioned that deals are available but not at a price that interested them pointing to a disciplined approach to acquisitions. The company targets a payback period of five years or 15% IRR for all investment decisions.

 

Since the beginning of 2008, M. Dias Branco has disclosed information on five acquisitions. The company spent BRL1,068 million or 27% of operating income on these five acquisition making acquisition the largest outlay since 2007.

 

The company’s first acquisition was Vitarella in April 2008. Vitarella had two brands Vitarella and Treloso was the leader in the states of Paraíba, Pernambuco, and Alagoas in the Northeast of Brazil. In 2007, Vitarella generated revenue of BRL323.2 million, gross profit of BRL100.7 million, EBITDA of BRL57.5 million, and net income of BRL45.5 million. According to AC Nielsen, in 2007, Vitarella had 5.5% cookies and crackers market share in Brazil and 2.9% pasta market share in Brazil. M. Dias Branco paid BRL595.5 million equal to 1.8 times sales, 10.4 times EBITDA, or 8.1 times reproduction value. Vitarella was a very profitable company at the time of acquisition with a gross margin of 31.2%, an EBITDA margin of 17.8%, a net margin of 14.1%, and an estimated return on reproduction value of 62.0%. Assuming no organic growth or operational synergies, Vitarella had average net income of BRL53.4 million in the two calendar years prior to the acquisition leading to an earning yield of 9.0%.

 

In the two years prior to the acquisition, Vitarella had net revenue of BRL293 million in 2006 and BRL323 million in 2007 and EBITDA of BRL74 million in 2006 and BRL58 million in 2007. In 2014, Vitarella’s net revenue reached BRL1,023.2 representing a 216.6% increase or 17.9% CAGR, estimated EBITDA increased by 205.0% to BRL175.4 million or 17.3% CAGR, and estimate net income increased by 194.2% or 16.7% per annum.

 

84% of the increase in revenue, 89% of the increase in EBITDA, and 94% of the increase in net income is associated with an increase in capacity with the remaining increase related to operational improvements. M. Dias Branco increased cookie and cracker capacity at the Vitarella’s plant by 198,200 tons and pasta capacity increased by 29,300 tons for a total increase in capacity of 227,500 tons.

 

Using estimated reproduction cost per ton at existing facilities of USD375 per ton for cookies and crackers and USD300 per ton for pasta and the average exchange rate from the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2014, the estimated investment costs for the increased capacity is BRL164 million. Since 2009, the company’s average working per capital to sales is 16.2% multiplying this figure by the increase in sales leads to an additional investment in working capital of BRL113.2 million. Assuming Vitarella’s net margin converged with M. Dias Branco’s average net margin, which is below Vitarella’s net margin at the time of acquisition, the average net income of Vitarella brands averaged BRL127.1 million in 2013 and 2014 representing a BRL73.7 million increase from the average net income of Vitarella in the last two years as an independent company leading to a return on investment in capacity and working capital of 26.6%. Overall, the total return on the acquisition and additional investment in Vitarella is 11.9%. Vitarella’s initial acquisition was at a fair to cheap price with additional investment providing a very good return to shareholders.

 

In April 2011, M. Dias Branco purchased NPAP Alimentos (NPAP) for BRL69.922 million. NPAP’s main brand was Pilar. In 2010, the company had 71,000 tons of total capacity with 30,000 tons of cookie and cracker capacity and 41,000 tons of pasta capacity. The company’s main activities are in the Northeast of Brazil.

 

In 2010, NPAP generated revenue of BRL107.5 million, gross profit of BRL29.8 million, EBITDA of BRL7.6 million, operating income of BRL3.5 million, and a net loss of BRL3.6 million. The company had a 1.2% Brazilian cookies and crackers market share and a 2.4% Brazilian pasta market share. The acquisition price of BRL69.922 million equates to 0.7 times sales, 9.2 times EBITDA, and 1.9 times reproduction value.

 

Since acquisition, NPAP’s main brand Pilar’s revenues have increased from BRL107.5 million in 2010 to BRL141.9 million in 2014 representing a 7.2% CAGR. The company’s capacity has decreased from 71,000 tons in 2010 to 27,300 tons in 2014 so there were no additional investments in capacity. The increased revenues came with an estimated working capital investment of BRL5.6 million leading to a total investment of BRL75.5 million to reach BRL141.9 million in revenues.

 

NPAP’s margins are well below M. Dias Branco’s margins. Assuming NPAP’s margins have converged to M. Dias Branco’s margins, the company’s net income in 2014 was BRL18.6 million leading to an earnings yield of 24.6% on estimated total investment in NPAP. The 24.6% earnings yield is driven primarily by synergies and improvements in operations. Assuming NPAP’s margins only converged half way with M. Dias Branco’s margins and 5% organic growth is achievable, the earnings yield would be 12.3% and total IRR would be 17.3%, a good return for shareholders.

 

In December 2011, M. Dias Branco acquired all the shares of J. Brandão Comércio e Indústria Ltda. and of Pelágio Participações S.A.(Fabrica Estrela) owner of the brands Estrela, Pelaggio, and Salsito for BRL240 million. At the time of acquisition, Fabrica had 87,600 tons of cookies and crackers capacity, 51,600 tons of pasta capacity, and 7,000 tons of snacks and cakes capacity in Northeast and North of Brazil. In 2010, Fabrica Estrela generated BRL190.6 million in sales, BRL11.6 million in EBITDA, BRL8.9 million in operating income, BRL4.8 million in net income leading to acquisition multiples equivalent to 1.3 times sales, 20.7 times EBITDA, and 2.6 times reproduction value. In 2010, Fabrica Estrela had a 1.2% market share of the Brazilian cookies and crackers market and a 0.7% market share in the Brazilian pasta market.

 

Since the acquisition, revenues from Fabrica Estrela’s brand increased from BRL190.6 million in 2010 to BRL281.5 million in 2014 representing a 10.2% CAGR. Since acquisition, total capacity increased marginally with cookie and cracker capacity increased by 500 tons, pasta capacity increased by 100 tons, and snacks and cakes capacity increased by 2,100 tons leading to an estimated investment in capacity of BRL2.0 million. With an estimated working capital investment of BRL12.1 million, the estimated total investment in Fabrica Estrela is BRL104.1 million.

 

Similar to NPAP, prior to the acquisition, Fabrica Estrela’s margins were well below M. Dias Branco’s. Assuming a full convergence to M. Dias Branco’s margins Fabrica Estrela would have provided a 35.4% earnings yield before accounting for any growth. Assuming a half convergence, Fabrica Estrela’s earnings yield would be 17.7%. The key driver of the return is the improvement in operations after integration as the company was acquired at a no growth estimated return of 5.1%.

 

In May 2012, M. Dias Branco acquired Moinho Santa Lúcia Ltda, owner of brands Predilleto and Bonsabor. At the time of the acquisition, Moinho had 21,600 tons of cookies and cracker capacity, 30,000 tons of pasta capacity, and 30,000 tons of wheat flour and bran capacity. In 2011, Moinho generated BRL88.1 million in revenue, BRL14.0 million in EBITDA, and BRL7.3 million in net losses. Predilleto and Bonsabor had 0.2% market share in the cookies and crackers market and 0.5% pasta market share in the Northeast region. Predilleto and Bonsabor are not large enough for M. Dias Branco to report revenues separately. In 2014, the smallest brand reported was Amoreal, which recorded BRL8.66 million in revenues. Given the lack of size of Moinho’s brands, it seems the purchase was more about Moinho’s capacity meaning price to reproduction value is a better measure of value. The company purchased Moinho’s capacity at a price to estimated reproduction value of 2.1 times, which seems expensive.

 

In December 2014, M. Dias Branco won an auction to purchase the Rolandia wheat mill from a creditor of the former owner. The mill has 146,000 tons of wheat flour and bran capacity. Given the commodity nature of wheat mills, capacity should be value at roughly reproduction value. The company paid more than 1.6 times reproduction value for the wheat mill, which is expensive. The company acquired the wheat mill in an auction. Auctions are well known and you are competing against many informed bidders leading to a low probability of acquiring assets cheaply during an auction.

 

The company has done a great job acquiring cookies and crackers, and pasta brands at fair valuations and then improving the top line. It also seems that the company should be able to improve margins at these companies dramatically as the majority of acquisitions had margins well below the company’s. The company does not do as well when purchasing capacity, which has been well above reproduction value.

 

 

Capital Expenditures

 

The growth capex number is slightly different than the number reported on the company’s cash flow statement. The breakdown can be seen above. Since 2007, an estimated 55.7% of capex was spent on growth capex with the remainder on maintenance capex. 70% of capex was spent on machinery and equipment with the remainder spent on construction in progress.

 

Since 2007, cookies and crackers is the largest change in capacity followed closely by wheat flour and bran. M. Dias Branco does not breakdown investment costs by segment but the company did provide estimated replacement costs per tonne at existing facilities. This is the cheapest way to expand capacity therefore it is used as an estimate of the investment costs since 2007 and total reproduction cost of capacity. The company made the largest investment in cookies and cracker capacity with BRL779 million or 57.4% of total investment from 2007 to 2014 being spent on cookies and cracker capacity. Wheat flour and brand and pasta capacity received similar investment over the period roughly BRL243 million and BRL240 million, respectively.

 

Unfortunately, the company neither gives sufficient segment reporting by geography or product line to allow for proper evaluation but strategic logic can aid in assessing investments in various product lines and geographies. The investments in cookies and crackers and pasta, particularly in the Northeast where the company owns its own distribution channel and there is a huge size gap between the company and its competitors allowing it to outspend on fixed costs are very wise and probably generate a very high rate of return. As the company moves away from its base in the Northeast where the company is not as dominate, is competing with many similar size players, and does not own its distribution network, the rate of return most likely decreases drastically as the firm no longer has economies of scale advantages over competitor.

 

Investments in wheat mills and margarine and shortening seem to capital misallocated. The activity of milling wheat is nothing more than refining a commodity into another commodity, a task that will earn a margin determined by supply and demand. Over the course of a cycle, the industry as a whole will not earn excess return. In commodity businesses, some players within the industry may earn excess returns from having a lower cost position than peers. M. Dias Branco states it can produce wheat flour at 15-20% discount to the price it can buy it on the market due to technological advantage of having the latest production facilities and equipment. The company states it generates double digit EBITDA margins in wheat milling operations. The ability to generate excess returns will only continue as long as the wheat mill industry remains littered with smaller mills without resources to upgrade equipment. The Brazilian wheat mill industry is fragmented with many small mills and significant unutilized capacity. The fragmentation in a commodity industry points to no barriers to entry. The fragmentation along with significant unutilized capacity points to high competitive rivalry. Both point to an inability to generate sustainable excess returns. The returns at the largest commodity processors Bunge and ADM also point to an inability to generate excess returns.

 

The company can store up to five months raw material inventory. Along with its size, this storage capability allows for bulk purchasing giving the company bargaining power over its suppliers decreasing profitability of a vertical integration strategy. The company states the vertical integration strategy allows for better planning but the ability to keep five months of raw material should be sufficient to improve planning.

 

Looking at M. Dias Branco’s peers in each business segment provides insight into the quality of each line of business. Food producers such as Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are the company’s competitors in raw materials that the company is integrating. Bunge is a competitor in Brazil and ADM participates in similar activities of buying, processing, and selling agricultural commodities. In cookie and crackers, the company competes with global food companies such as Nestle, Mondelez, and PepsiCo. In addition, other food and beverage companies are listed as key success factors of economies of scale in advertising, research and development, and distribution are similar.

As illustrated above, the food and beverage companies generate much higher gross margins and operating margins with similar if not higher invested capital turnover leading to ROIC much higher than simple commodity processing companies, Bunge and ADM. The food and beverage companies share prices also reflect the strong operating performance while Bunge and ADM’s share prices have lagged significantly over both five and ten years.

 

The vertical integration strategy does not make much sense. You are processing commodity products into another commodity product. Bunge and ADM are two of the largest and most efficient companies in the commodity processing business and both have very small operating margins. It would be very difficult for M. Dias Branco to have sustainable operating margins much higher than Bunge and ADM. The company can process the commodity at a 15-20% discount to what the company can purchase from potential suppliers but the company is one of the largest, if not the largest, wheat consumers in the country giving it tremendous bargaining power a fragmented supply base. Given the company’s ability to store up to five months raw materials, this drastically increases the company’s purchasing power and ability to control it raw material requirements. The 15-20% discount is not sustainable as it is merely a technological advantage that any competitor with capital can catch up to. It seems very unlikely that M. Dias Branco can generate sustainable excess returns in commodity processing business.

 

Given the inability to earn excess returns in wheat milling, and margarine and shortening, investment in capacity in these sectors would be better spent on activities where the company can take advantage of its size to put competitors at a greater disadvantage. These activities include advertising, research and development, and expanding the company’s distribution network. The company does not report investments by segment, but at the end of 2014, the company had 1,556.6 thousand tonnes of wheat mill capacity and 180 tonnes of margarine and shortening capacity. Assuming replacement costs are BRL480 per tonne for each, the minimum misallocation of capital by management is BRL833.6 million. The money spent on vertical integration would be better spent on taking advantage of economies of scale present in the industry and building a strong brand that does not compete solely on price.

 

M. Dias Branco does a good job of acquiring companies at reasonable valuation then improving operations by using its infrastructure and relationships. The company does not provide details of profitability post acquisition but if the company is able to improve, profitability to a level similar to the company’s acquisitions would provide a really strong rate of return.

 

Corporate Governance

M. Dias Branco’s useful life estimates are in line with Brazilian food peers. It is very close to the average estimated life for some categories, above the average for others, and below the average for others, but there is nothing to cause concern.

M. Dias Branco’s management does not extract too much value only receiving 1.7% of operating income, above the peer group average but well below most of its smaller peers. Peers with operating income below BRL1 billion had average management remuneration to operating income of 9.1%. M. Dias Branco’s management does receive short term benefits or participate in any profit sharing program. Given the large ownership of the company, these are welcome signs.

M. Dias Branco’s consolidated related party transactions are not significant. The one concern is until 2014, the company leased an airplane from a related party called Rowena SA. The leasing expense was insignificant averaging BRL4.29 million from 2009 to 2013. Leasing a plane could be seen as a wasteful expense and something you would not see in a company focused on extreme operational efficiency.

M. Dias Branco’s common shares have 100% tag along rights and any buyout offer to the majority shareholder would need to be made to minority shareholders.

M. Dias Branco is relatively transparent and provides a wealth of useful information in its annual reference forms. Unfortunately, it does not provide sufficient information to analyze the company’s strategy. Segment disclosure related to different products and geographies would be extremely useful. At a minimum, revenues by product line and geography, gross profit by product line and geography, and assets by product line and geography should be reported to better allow analysis of the company’s vertical integration strategy and geographical expansion.

M. Dias Branco measures performance with EBITDA margin and payback period. In the 2015 reference form released in December 2015, the company stated EBITDA margin was the most appropriate measure for understanding its financial conditions and operating results. The company’s statement on EBITDA is translated form Portuguese.

 

EBITDA is a financial indicator used to evaluate the result of companies without the influence of its capital structure, tax effects and other impacts accounting without direct impact on your cash flow, such as depreciation. We believe that EBITDA is an important measure for understanding the financial capacity and cash generation capabilities required to understand operating performance. EBITDA is commonly used by investors and analysts. In the opinion of management, the importance of EBITDA comes from the fact that it is one of the non-accounting measures more appropriate to reveal the potential for cash generation as it excludes the operating results accounting items with no impact in the period of cash, such as depreciation and amortization.

 

EBITDA margin as a key metric is severely flawed and creates significant concern whenever a company uses this measure to assess performance. The biggest flaw of EBITDA margin is that it does not account for investment requirements. If BRL100 million in assets are required to generate BRL1 million in EBITDA and BRL5 million in revenues, it probably is not a good investment despite the BRL20 million EBITDA margin. The second problem with assessing investments with EBITDA margin is depreciation is not accounted for. While depreciation is not a cash expense, it is a real expense as assets wear down during use and eventually need to be replaced. EBITDA margin is a very poor measure to assess the quality of an investment and operations.

M. Dias Branco attempts to get five year payback period for any investment. Unfortunately, payback period is another poor metric for assessing investment quality as it does not take into account for cash flows past the payback period. For example, if an investment is made in an industry or geography where short term profitability is elevated due to lack of competition or an easily replicated advantage, cash flows in the short term will be elevated but will fall quickly once competition is entered. This type of investment may register a good payback period but a poor ROIC or IRR. The company should be using more sophisticated measures of profitability, such as ROIC, EVA, or IRR to assess investment opportunities.

 

 

 

Valuation

 

When valuing any company strategic questions must be asked first if the industry is viable. If the industry is not viable the company should be valued assuming a liquidation of the company. M. Dias Branco exists in viable industries with no threat of extinction therefore liquidation is not an important measure. To determine M. Dias Branco’s liquidation value, net working capital plus property plant and equipment is used, which is calculated be discounting accounts receivables on the balance sheet by 75%, inventory on the balance sheet by 50%, and PP&E on the balance sheet by 50% minus all liabilities at 100%.

 

The company’s liquidation value is BRL830 million or BRL7.32 per share representing 89% downside.

 

Given M. Dias Branco’s industry is viable, the next question is do barriers to entry exist? If barriers to entry do not exist, theoretically competition should compete away all excess profits and the value of the company should be equal to the cost to reproduce the company’s assets. On the asset side, cash, accounts receivables, inventory, other current assets (pre-paid expenses), and investments are valued at book value.

 

Property, plant, and equipment are valued at the cost to reproduce capacity.

 

The company’s capacity breakdown by product line is illustrated above.

 

The reproduction value per tonne is listed in US dollars as equipment is bought from international suppliers and is quoted in US dollars. Reproduction value per tonne is translated to Brazilian real with the depreciation of the Brazilian real verse the US dollar making it more costly for the competitors to reproduce the company’s assets.

 

The cost to reproduce the company’s production capacity has increased from BRL 675 million or BRL5.94 per share in 2007 to BRL2,737 million or BRL24.12 per share today driven by both capacity increases and depreciation of the Brazilian real.

 

Any investment in research and development, and distribution is amortized over five years to reflect the true economics of the expenses. Typically, advertising would also be capitalized and amortized over five years but M. Dias Branco’s advertising is primarily promotional activities, which is not building a brand but driving short term sales therefore expensing promotional activities is a better reflection of the economics of the expense. On the liabilities side of the balance sheet, non-interest bearing liabilities and deferred taxes are liabilities that spontaneously occur through the course of business therefore reduce the cost of reproducing assets. In addition, debt reduces the value of reproduced assets to shareholders therefore is subtracted. All liabilities are valued at book value and subtracted from assets to get to equity value.

 

Under the assumptions mentioned before, it would take BRL11.8 million or BRL0.10 per share to reproduce research and development and BRL2,461 million or BRL21.70 per share to reproduce its distribution assets.

 

The total estimated cost to reproduce M. Dias Branco’s assets is BRL6,740 million with debt or liabilities naturally occurring during business of BRL1,253 million. The reproduction cost per share is BRL51.99 representing 24% downside from M. Dias Branco’s current share price. Reproduction cost is the best method of valuation for companies that compete in industry where barriers to entry do not exist. The best time to buy companies valued with reproduction cost is at a 50% discount to reproduction cost.

 

Another form of measuring reproduction cost is looking at valuation multiples of recent acquisition. The assumption is companies making the acquisition completed a detailed build vs. buy analysis.

 

The table above shows M. Dias Branco’s acquisitions, a Brazilian food and beverage acquisitions, a rumored acquisition of M. Dias Branco, and a number of wheat mill acquisitions. At the end of 2007, Kraft was rumored to be in talks to acquire M. Dias Branco for 1.3 times sales and 13.1 times EBITDA. Using the 13.1 times EBITDA multiple, M. Dias Branco’s fair value is BRL78.20 per share representing 14.2% upside.

 

The median acquisition multiple for non-M. Dias Branco acquisitions was at an EV/Sales of 1.7 times, and an EV/EBITDA multiple of 11.8 times. Using this median multiple of 11.8 times, M. Dias Branco’s fair value is BRL70.44 per share representing 2.8% upside.

 

The median wheat mill acquisition was at USD233.3 per tonne of capacity. Replacing the USD120 per tonne with a more conservative figure of USD200 per tonne increases the value of M. Dias Branco’s wheat flour and bran capacity from BRL6.70 per share to BRL11.60 per share leading to an increase in total reproduction value from BRL51.99 per share to BRL56.46 per share.

 

 

The table illustrates acquisition multiples (EV/EBITDA) within the food and beverage industry from 2009 to 2014. M. Dias Branco falls under Baked/Snacked foods, a segment where the average EV/EBITDA multiple was 10.7 times with a high of 13.4 times in 2014 and a low or 8.9 times in 2009. Assuming the average acquisition multiple of 10.7 times EBITDA, M. Dias Branco’s fair value is BRL63.87 per share or 6.7% downside.

 

If the company has barriers to entry and can sustainably earn excess returns, the best valuation technology is to determine the company’s sustainable earnings power to determine a fair value. To derive a value from M. Dias Branco’s earnings power we use an Earnings Power Valuation, a DCF, and a Residual income valuation. The key static assumptions used in earnings power valuations are  a discount rate of 10%, an effective tax rate of 12.1%, working capital turnover of 5.6 times, and fixed capital turnover of 2.5 times.

 

A discount rate of 10% is used as the discount rate is viewed more as a hurdle rate or opportunity cost rather than a company specific cost of capital. The typical method of determining a company’s cost of capital is subject to estimation errors as a company’s beta may change by up to 0.5 in a matter of six months leading to significant swings in the company’s cost of equity rendering the calculation useless. Include potential estimation errors in determining the risk free rate and equity risk premium, the cost of capital calculation is subject to large swings and potential behavioral biases.

 

A 12.1% tax rate is consistent with historical averages and assumes the company will continue to receive tax incentives for investing in improving or expanding facilities.

 

Capital efficiency is assumed to remain similar to the past seven years with 2007, 2008, and 2015 representing cyclical downturns.

The table above is estimated fixed capital turnover based on the cost of reproducing capacity as the company does not report assets by segment. The concern is the decrease in capital efficiency is due to competition and a lack of barriers to entry rather than cyclicality.

 

The key variable assumptions are sales growth and operating margin. In the earnings power valuations, there are three stages, the first five years, a second four years, and terminal assumptions. The second four years represent a fade from the assumption over the first five years to the terminal assumptions.

 

At current prices, there are only three scenarios where M. Dias Branco meets the 15% annualized return requirement over the next five years. These scenarios assume 2.5% perpetuity growth and peak margins or 5% perpetuity growth and average or peak margins. Using conservative assumptions the company looks more attractive below BRL50 per share, which coincides with the estimated reproduction cost of the company.

 

At current share prices, an investment in M. Dias Branco only reaches the 15.0% target return if it can generate return on reinvestment of 25.0%. With the company investing heavily in vertical integration and regions outside of the reach of its distribution network, it will be very difficult for the company to reach a 20.0% return on reinvested earnings never mind a 25.0% return on reinvested earnings. 0% organic growth is assumed as it has been illustrated that the company does not have pricing power.

 

The ideal valuation method would take into account the barriers to entry in some of the company’s segments valuing those segments on the company’s earnings power, while valuing segments in more commodity businesses at reproduction value. Unfortunately, M. Dias Branco’s reporting is not transparent enough, therefore the company’s earnings power is the most appropriate valuation technique given the company’s consistent excess returns, economies of scale, and potential for a brand.

 

RISKS

 

Brazilian macroeconomics poses a large risk to any investment within the country. Brazil is a large exporter of commodities and the weakness in commodity prices lead to a downgrade of the country’s credit rating to junk. The macroeconomic concerns caused the Brazilian real from a low of 1.5252 in June 2011 to a high of 4.2411 in August of 2015. The weakness of the Brazilian real leads to increased cost of goods sold as raw materials are quoted in dollars.

 

The company’s raw materials are commodities with extremely volatile prices.

 

The company moving away from its traditional stronghold of the Northeast, where it has a huge market share advantage as well as an unrivalled distribution network. This move away from a region where it is competitively advantage brings with it competition and little if any advantage over peers leading to potentially weaker returns.

 

The company’s vertical integration strategy brings with it a potential decrease in returns. The company is backward integrating into pure commodity industries. The company can currently produce its integrated raw materials cheaper than buying them on the market due to having the most technologically advanced equipment. The industries of the company’s vertically integrated raw materials are characterized by many small players and significant unutilized production capacity. These smaller players do not have access to capital to modernize their facilities. As the market consolidates, competition will become more intense and these facilities will then acquire the latest production technologies and M. Dias Branco will have to invest to keep up with the newer competition or returns will lag competitors.

 

The company is facing increasing competition from Multinationals corporations with significant resources and expertise.

 

Increased concentration of retailers will bring increased bargaining power of customers. Increased concentration of the retail segment also brings increased risk of competition from private label. There was  a big private label push in 2002 and 2003 but was not able to gain a substantial piece of the market.

 

  1. Dias Branco is acquisitive with acquisition comes the risk of overpaying, integration risks, and antitrust risks. The company has shown to be a good integrator with most acquired brands showing strong improvement in revenues. The company has overpaid assuming no improvement to the acquired company earnings. In commodity markets, the company has paid well above estimated replacement cost.

 

The company profitability is tied to tax incentives. If the company loses tax incentives profitability will deteriorate.

 

  1. Dias Branco admits to under spending on advertising spending about 2% of revenue primarily on promotions. To build a brand, the company will need to increase advertising decreasing profitability. It runs the risk of advertising not leading to a stronger brand allowing for price increases and pricing power in the long run.

2016 ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW AND NOT QUITE A WEEKLY COMMENTARY 12/19/16-1/8/17

2016 ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW AND NOT QUITE A WEEKLY COMMENTARY 12/19/16-1/8/17

 

 

2016 ANNUAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW

 

While the annual performance review is somewhat arbitrary, it is good to review you investment process on a regular basis to find improvements.

 

In 2016, the average local currency return of our recommendations was -3.1% with the average US dollar return not far off at -3.0%. Relative performance was -5.3% as the Emerging Market Small Cap Index as measured by iShares MSCI Emerging Market Small Cap ETF (EEMS) was up 2.3% compared to our average US dollar return of -3.0%.

 

The major drag on the performance of recommendations was Miko International and Universal Health. Universal Health saw a significant decline after its founder and majority took a loan against the company’s shares leading to forced selling in the stock. Subsequently, the company’s operational performance deteriorated drastically leading us to question the validity of the company’s initial financial statements. Miko International saw a number of independent directors resign followed by its auditor resigning due to disagreements over accounts in the company’s financial statements. It hired an auditor of last resort known to work with many Chinese frauds. We also saw poor performance at another Chinese company Honworld as management’s poor capital allocation inhibits its ability to grow without raising external funds. The poor performance of the Chinese small and mid caps leads us to question the financial statements in many Chinese small and mid cap companies. Given the inability to have any conviction, we are taking a smaller position if we invest in Chinese companies. Our other Chinese investments in Peak Sports Products and Anta Sports Products were our second and third best performing stocks in 2017 making us not totally write off investing in Chinese companies. Interestingly, the poorly performing Chinese companies all recently went public and therefore we have implemented a rule of not purchasing any stock that went public in the last three years.

 

The poor performance of Universal Health and Miko International highlighted the limits to our knowledge leading us to be less aggressive with our position sizing. Our new position sizing philosophy is 1-2% for high quality watch list stocks like Credit Analysis and Research and Anta Sports, 2.0% for deep value, 2.0% for Chinese companies, and from 2.0% to 8.0% for high quality companies depending on the strength of the business and attractiveness of returns. The goal is to get 25-35 holdings. The smaller position sizes do not match with the depth of our research. Our research was deep dive taking up to a month. The depth of research clearly required the ability to take larger position sizes as you can research only 12 ideas in a year. Assuming, half that are fully researched reach our investment standard leads to a maximum of six recommendations per year. There is no way we could ever be fully invested with our new position size philosophy, therefore, we are decreasing the depth of the research so we can hopefully one day get close to fully invested. We will focus on the crucial elements of every investment but not as much in depth. Hopefully, this will also increase the value of the blog for readers as we are trying generating more ideas by researching more companies. As mentioned, we will also be looking at high quality stocks that may be slightly more expensive than our typical investment but meets all other requirements. These will be formally placed on the watch list and placed in the portfolio at a smaller position size. Credit Analysis and Research and Anta Sports fall into this category. The hope is these positions will eventual become more attractive on valuations. The side benefit is highlighting more high quality companies.

 

Since May 2014, we have made 10 recommendations generating an average outperformance of 30.9%, with three recommendations having negative absolute performance. The average time from recommendation to sale is 459 days with four of the 10 recommendations still being held.

 

Overall, 2016 was not the best year for stock selection with underperformance of 5.3%. More importantly, we feel the mistakes made have allowed us to strength our process. Despite the bad year, our recommendations are up 30.9% since May 2014.

 

The table above illustrates position sizes at the end of each half since the end of the first half of 2014.

 

In 2016, our portfolio fell be 12.8% on the back of poor performance and large positions in Universal Health, Miko International, and Honworld. Despite the poor performance in 2016, our portfolio is up 12.3% in absolute terms since inception and 24.4% relative to EEMS, while averaging 67.9% of the portfolio in cash. The large cash position is a function of our high threshold for investment and the time required in our in depth research process. Hopefully, our shorter reports will allow us to be more efficient at finding ideas allowing us to put the cash to work.

 

While 2016 was not the best year in terms of performance, the improvements made to our process due to the mistakes made should more than make up for it in the future.

 

 

CURRENT POSITIONS

 

 

 

COMPANY NEWS

 

Mrs. Kusum Jain, a non-Executive Director, resigned from PC Jeweller’s board, with effect December 30, 2016. This is the first director resignation at PC Jeweller for some time, but it is worth monitoring in case there are additional resignations from independent directors.

 

On December 21, 2016, Zensar Technologies announced it appointed Manoj Jaiswal as Chief Financial Officer. Manoj Jaiswal was Chief Financial Officer for CEAT, another RPG Enterprises company. Before joining CEAT, Manoj had spent 17 years in Wipro in different roles.

 

Zensar also changed its auditor to Deloitte from PricewaterhouseCooper. Under Section 139(2) of the Companies Act, 2013, all listed companies and certain categories of unlisted public companies and private companies are mandated to rotate their auditors after 10 or more consecutive years.

 

On January 7, 2017, CARE announced that it was shutting down its Maldives operations after its license expired and decided not to renew. The Maldives operations were insignificant.

 

 

INTERESTING LINKS

 

 

Horsehead Holdings (Aquamarine Fund)

 

Guy Spier, a noted value investor, and portfolio manager of Aquamarine Fund looks back at his investment in Horsehead Holdings. It is a very good template for looking back and learning from your investment mistakes. (link)

 

Looking For the Easy Game (Credit Suisse)

 

Credit Suisse’s Michael Mauboussin discusses passive and active investing. (link)

 

A Bird in Hand is Worth More Than (Forecasted) Eggs in the Future (Latticework)

 

This is a very good article by Amit Wadhwaney of Moerus Capital Management discussing his investment philosophy. (link)

 

The Future of Retail 2016 (Business Insider)

 

Business Insider’s BI Intelligence unit created an interesting slide deck on the future of retail. The slide on the article illustrates the share of digital in different categories. Useful for understanding what segments of retail are most impacted by the internet. (link)

 

Patagonia’s Philosopher King (New Yorker)

 

The New Yorker wrote an article on Yvon Chouinard, the co-founder of the outdoor-apparel company Patagonia. (link)

 

The Irrationality Within Us (Scientific American)

 

Scientific American discusses our irrationality. (link)

 

Charlie Munger on the Paradox in Hold vs. Buy Decisions in Long Term Investing (Fundoo Professor)

 

Professor Sanjay Bakshi discusses Charlie Munger’s thoughts on the decision to continue to hold a stock vs. the decision to buy a stock. (link) The comment section should be read as well as there are many insightful comments. As illustrated by the changing of our positions sizes, we do not subscribe to the buy and hold regardless of valuation. By saying that you would continue to hold an asset at a particular price but you would not buy the same amount if you did not hold it, you are ascribing more value to the asset you hold, which is a bit irrational and is known as the endowment effect. Endowment effect is valuing an item you own more than an identical item you do not own. We try to look at all companies the same way, whether we hold them or not. First, a high percentage of companies can be ruled out as a potential investment due to poor financial health, poor management, or poor business quality. We may compromise on business quality if the company is a deep value investment but there is a limit on this compromise. Once companies pass the first investment hurdle, we assess the attractiveness of the company based on its business quality, management, growth outlook, and risk. Future returns are estimated based on scenarios giving a range of potential returns. If the market values a company so highly that very aggressive assumptions are required to meet the market’s expectations, we would not buy a company or hold a position. If on the other hand, if the market was valuing that same company so cheaply that the most conservative assumptions pointed to significant upside and there was sufficient business quality, we would take our maximum position of 8%. In between the two extremes is a spectrum of potential returns leading to a spectrum of position sizes between 0% and 8%. The decision of the position size is based on the attractiveness of the returns of a business not whether we hold a stock or not.

 

Valuation and Investment Analysis (Bronte Capital)

 

Bronte Capital wrote an article discussing how they do not use valuations in their investment process. (link) Again, please read the comments as there are some useful comments.  Clearly, we do not agree with Bronte Capital’s view.  We agree that valuation is difficult and does not provide a point estimate that is why ranges and scenario analysis needs to be used in the valuation process or reverse engineering a DCF or Residual Income model to find out the market’s expectations of key value driver assumptions. These market assumptions can be tested for reasonableness. We believe it is very difficult for anyone to call themselves an investor if they do not have some estimate of what is the value of potential investment. Investing requires understanding the fundamentals of the business, and the valuations of the business. Value investing requires an additional margin of safety to ensure you are not buying a business with sufficiently attractive returns. Not having an estimate of the potential returns of an investment is pure speculation. Bronte Capital focus on operational momentum to ensure the business will continue to grow for a long time. The problem is growth stocks often do not meet the growth expectations of the market and this is precisely why you should have an understanding of what type of growth the market is expecting. Within the Emerging Markets small cap universe, the MSCI Emerging Markets Small Cap Growth Index has underperformed the MSCI Emerging Markets Small Cap Value Index by 141.34% over the past 16 years or 5.66% per annum. Similar to Bronte Capital, growth investors are more concerned with growth than valuation leading to missing a big piece of the puzzle in understanding a business.

 

Value vs. Growth in Emerging Markets

 

Given the past two articles, we thought it be interesting to review the performance of various Emerging Market indices to see how each style has performed.

 

The table above illustrates the performance of MSCI Emerging Market indices across size and style biases. Indices have various inception dates so the longest time period with performance for all indices is 10 years. Over that period, the best performing index is Emerging Markets Quality index followed by Small Cap Value and the Small Cap Index. Over the past 20 years within the large and mid cap universe, value outperformed growth by 1.00% per annum. Quality seems to be the best performing index outperforming the overall index by 1.95% per annum since 06/30/1994 compared to only 0.44% per annum outperformance of value over the past 20 years, and -0.57% underperformance by growth over 20 years. There is a one and a half year difference in the long term performance figures if quality and value and growth, but given the length of the track record there would need to be a drastic underperformance of quality (roughly 35%) over that one and half years for quality’s performance to fall back to the value index’s level of performance. With some confidence, we can say quality has been the best style among the Emerging Markets large and mid cap universe.

 

Small Cap outperformed the large and mid cap index by 1.24% per annum illustrating a persistence of the size premium in Emerging Markets. Within the Emerging Markets small cap universe, value outperformed growth by 5.66% per annum over the past 16 years. The 5.66% growth translates into 141.34% additional performance over the period. There is no small cap quality index to compare the quality style.

 

Value outperforms growth in Emerging Markets with significant outperformance vs. the benchmark and growth in the Emerging Market small cap universe. Brandes Institute of Brandes Investment Partners did a study on style bias in Emerging Markets, which can be found here.

 

Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System (Stratechery)

 

Ben Thompson always writes great articles on technology therefore is a must read. We tend not to invest in technology as short product life cycles leading to disruption leading to difficulty valuing these companies. Despite the difficulties in technology, Silicon Valley and start-ups are very good at understanding all aspects of business models and therefore reading some of the best writers in the industry helps increase understanding of business models in more investable industries. In this particular article, Mr. Thompson writes the business model of operating systems. (link)

 

Tren’s Advice for Twitter (25iq)

 

Like Stratechery, 25iq is a must read. Tren Griffin works in the technology industry but is a value investor. Mr. Griffin gives his advice to Twitter. His advice is relevant for all companies. Understand your competitive advantage and continue to strengthen it while being as operationally efficient as possible. There is not much more to strategy. Understand your competitive advantage.  If it is unique advantage,  strengthen it as much as possible. If it is a shared competitive advantage, try to cooperate with competitors as much as possible to distribute fairly the benefits of the value created by the shared competitive advantage. If there are no competitive advantages, operational efficiency is the most important thing. Due to institutional imperative, which prevents firms from acting as rational as they can, operational efficiency can allow one firm to persist with excess profits for a long time. The importance to barriers to entry on strategy and profitability illustrates why the identification of competitive advantages, also known as barriers to entry, are so crucial to Reperio’s investment process. (link)

 

Amazon’s 2004 Shareholder Letter

 

Amazon’s 2004 Shareholder Letter stresses the importance of free cash flow not earnings the main metric followed by most market participants as earnings does not take into working capital and fixed capital investments required to generate additional earnings, while free cash flow accounts for the necessary investments. (link)