I thought it might be a worthwhile task to run the ruler over them and see if any are potential investment candidates among the newcomers.
Let’s start our exercise at the more speculative end of the investment spectrum. I don’t gamble with money, so let’s eliminate those that are involved in exploration activities given their high risk/high reward dynamics. There are 12 exploration businesses among this group. I will leave these to others who are more suitably qualified in working out whether any opportunities exist here and whether they will find something before their cash runs out.
Of those remaining, well-known NZ website Trade Me and RXP Services are involved broadly in the IT space, Alliance Aviation is involved in mining services and finally Chorus, another NZ company, specialises in Telecommunications. These are the four businesses we will focus on. A brief review of these follows.
Alliance Airlines (AQZ)
I will start with a sector I know well – airlines. A capital intensive industry with lots of competition rarely makes for wonderful business economics (Qantas, Virgin) and despite Alliance operating in a niche market of fly-in, fly-out operations for the mining sector, my view remains the same: I will never invest a dollar into this sector.
Alliance has grown quickly since its formation in late 2002. From nothing, to a fleet of 20 Fokker 100 and Fokker 70LR jets as well as five Fokker 50 turboprops with established, long-term, profitable blue-chip relationships with BHP Billiton, Santos, Incitec Pivot, and Newcrest. That’s an outstanding achievement by management. A distinguishing feature is that approximately 75% of Alliance’s 2010-11 revenue was subject to medium to long-term contracts – recurring revenues.
No matter. Any airline cannot escape competition or its high level of ongoing capital requirements. And for a niche space, four other competitors (Cobham, Network aviation, Qantaslink, Skywest) appear to be a handful in terms of the prices they can charge, competition for future contracts (especially when 44% of 2010-11 revenue was from one client, BHP), ongoing operating margins and future market share gains.
A total 47.6% of Alliance’s forecast for 2011-12 EBITDA will be consumed on refurbishments, maintenance, rotables, new aircraft and property, plant and equipment. This leaves just over 50% to pay taxes, interest and for working capital requirements. And once all is paid for, only a little will be left over for future dividends, buybacks, etc. It is not surprising, therefore, that the prospectus does not forecast a dividend to be paid in 2012.
Despite a pro-forma forecast of $18.1 million NPAT, or 20.1¢ earnings per share, and the shares trading below what the business may be worth, if you ever see me buying an airline, please put me in a straitjacket.
RXP Services (RXP)
Unfortunately, this business has a very, very short history and no real track record. It was formed in October 2010, just 15 months ago, with the purpose of establishing an information & communications technology (ICT) business with a focus on medium/large enterprises and the government.
The founders have done this, but with one drawback. Rather than building a business organically, the purpose of the float was mainly to raise funds to acquire two unlisted businesses in Vanguard and Indigo Pacific. The rollup of these has seen RXP service capabilities expand overnight from nothing into a broad range of management, business and ICT consulting, delivery and support services.
With a number of already listed ICT businesses already competing for market share – SMX, CSG, OKN, many of which have had a chequered operating history as listed entities – the space appears to be a little crowded. I can’t see how RXP will differentiate a commodity product offering.
And turning to its financials, despite the consolidated accounts in the prospectus showing how the businesses may have looked had Vanguard and Indigo been owned in the past, they weren’t; what we see is what would have been a profitable little businesses. But as we have little to go on as to how they will actually function together going forward under new stewardship, we will watch this one from the sidelines for now.
Chorus is a spin-out from Telecom New Zealand. It is New Zealand’s largest telecommunications utility company, a technical way to describe a business that builds, maintains and repairs existing phone and broadband lines.
Following the demerger, Chorus is a business whose sole focus is on bringing fibre within reach to as many New Zealanders as possible – kind of like our own NBN Co., but not run by the government, even if it has been chosen by the Crown to build NZ’s ultra-fast broadband (UFB) network to 830,000 urban premises, as well as extend fibre further into rural New Zealand through the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) by the end of 2019.
Having so far deployed some 2500 kilometres of fibre optic cable, upgraded hundreds of local telephone exchanges with new broadband equipment and installed or upgraded about 3600 roadside cabinets, a target of 20,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable to deliver ultra-fast broadband will probably be met. Management’s recent experience in rolling-out ADSL2+ broadband is coming in very handy and helping to build New Zealand’s fibre future.
There are some obvious tailwinds here, with the long-term nature of this contract and ratings agency Moody’s has assigned Chorus a Baa2, stable issuer and senior unsecured rating. A rating similar to Bulgaria and Kraft foods.
Look under the hood, however, and you can see that about $NZ1.7 billion of net interest bearing debt was outstanding as at December 2011, all current. On just $NZ422 million of equity, it appears that Telecom New Zealand may have also let go of some unwanted baggage in the de-merger.
While 2011 cash flows appear to be well managed and interest payments well covered, I can’t help but be reminded of another infrastructure asset in Asiano when it was demerged from Toll holdings in 2007. It too was saddled with a large debt burden and at the end of its first trading day; Asciano had a market capitalisation of $7 billion. Today it is $4.5 billion.
Trade Me (TME)
Last but not least is the well-known NZ website Trade Me. Similar to eBay international, Trade Me is now dual-listed on both the New Zealand and Australian Stock Exchange.
While this is another spin-off, Fairfax Media Limited (ASX:FFX, SQR B3) has retained a shareholding of 66% – generally a good sign.
On one reading this might be the pick of the recent floats. The business has an moderately geared balance sheet, produces a significant amount of free cash with low levels of ongoing capital expenditure now that the website is mature and has a history of earnings growth which any shareholder, and that includes Fairfax, would be truly happy with. On top of this, with Fairfax retaining a material level of ownership in the business, they are still highly incentivised to continue promoting the website via its vast media network.
On another reading Fairfax paid $750mill for Trade Me (TME) and have just sold 34% of it for $363.5 mill or a total ‘value’ of $1.07Bln. This will help them justify the carrying value on their own balance sheet. Further, since 2007 TradeMe has made net profits totalling $276mill, the bulk of which has been taken out as dividends. So FFX have made an IRR of about 17% per annum. Given FFX have set up the company with market cap of about $1 billion, equity of $631 mill ($721 mill goodwill and therefore negative NTA) and debt of $164 mill, the expected return on equity is just over 10 per cent means FFX have got a return that you might not.