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Simble

I’ve been distracted by a few other things lately, so my apologies for the lack of posts. I also started a few posts before realizing I didn’t really have much to say about the company. There are certain IPO’s in technical fields where if you aren’t a subject matter expert in whatever area the company operates in its hard to offer much in the way of useful commentary.


As it looks like my investment in Bigtincan is finally paying off, it seemed like a good time to review another SaaS (Software as A Service) IPO.

Background


I’m having a little difficulty properly understanding the history of Simble. The Prospectus states that Simble was created as a merger of Incipient IT, an international technology venture group and Acresta, and Australian Software company. What doesn’t make sense though is that according to the Prospectus Simble was created in September 2015, yet the acquisition of Acresta and Incipient IT only occurred in September 2016. The prospectus doesn’t give much information on what exactly was happening with Simble during the 12 months between being created and acquiring Acresta and Incpient IT, but whatever they were doing they managed to rack up over 1 million in expenses during that time. 

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Just to be clear, these are statutory figures so are actual expenses for Simble, not of Acresta and Incipient IT before they were acquired. One possible explanation is that these expenses could have had something to do with purchasing the two companies, but that seems like an awful lot of money to spend on due diligence, and doesn’t explain the $86,000 marketing expenses. A more likely possibility is that Simble initially had some other business venture that they have since discontinued that the prospectus is neglecting to mention.

After doing a bit of digging around, it does seem that Simble has been involved in a few different areas that they don’t bother mentioning in the prospectus. Type Simble into the Android app store or Google and you find a bunch of results, some a little more hairbrained than others.  There’s Simble Kids, a website for finding children’s activities in the United Arab Emirates (Google that one at your own risk as the website has an expired security certificate), a booking platform for small businesses (this one appears to be functional at least) and Simble Live, which was apparently a social commerce app again based in the Arab Emirates (I still have no idea what a social commerce app actually is). All these businesses seem to have largely been abandoned though, so I guess they decided it made a cleaner narrative to leave them out of the prospectus.

As an outsider, the merger between Acresta and Simble initially doesn’t make much sense. The little information I was able to find online about Incipeint IT shows that it was operating as a software venture capital firm and incubator before being acquired. Incipient IT was Co-founded by Phillip Shamieh, who may be familiar to Australian Small-Cap investors from his Australian stock research company Wise-Owl. (More Controversially, Shamieh was also involved in the now defunct sandlewood company Quintis. Wise-Owl was criticized in Glaucus Research’s now famous short report on Quintis for posting buy recommendations on Quintis Stock without disclosing Shamieh’s involvement in the company).
Acresta on the other hand, are an Australian software company with a focus on providing automation services to government and businesses.

What exactly the synergies are between an Australian Software Company and an Asian Business incubator is not that clear, but it seems that the business has been organized to maintain Incipient IT’s coding and software team in Vietnam, while keeping Australia as the businesses base of operations. Economically at least this makes sense, due to the lower costs of maintaining a development team in a country like Vietnam. I have seen a number of different businesses work with a similar model. The executive structure seems to largely reflect the merger between Incipient IT and Acresta. The CEO Fadi Geha was a co-founder of Acresta, and the next highest paid executive is the Commercial Director Phillip Shamieh from Incipient IT.

Products


Simble has two main business arms. There’s Simble Mobility, a business process automation service largely carried over from Acresta and Simble Energy, a more recently developed electricity management service.


Simble historically has received the bulk of its income from Simble Mobility. A good example of Simble Mobility’s work is the App they developed for Barwon Health’s Cancer Centre for patient registration and booking.

Simble will typically work with an organization to develop an electronic solution for a business process and then develop the software. It is important to note that for a lot of these projects Simble does not actually own the platform that they work on. Instead, Simble has previously used a platform developed and owned by Blink Mobile, another small Australian software company. Simble has an agreement in place to use Blink Mobile’s platform, but is does not look like its exclusive which is a bit of a concern. 

From an investment perspective, this is all pretty unexciting. A large proportion of Simble’s clients in this space seem to be Not-for Profit and government organizations. Having worked previously selling products to local government I know from experience that this can be a slow moving, uninspiring slog with products that are hardly at the cutting edge of technological development. It is also an industry with little prospects for rapid growth, as each organization is likely to want their own customized products that need to be developed individually.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the prospectus spends a lot of time promoting the growth potential of the Simble Energy Platform. This is a recently developed platform for businesses seeking to better manage their energy use. In addition to monitoring energy consumption, the platform is able to remotely turn on and off different circuits and appliances to take advantage of lower energy prices, or sell back surplus energy to the grid when prices spike. This is achieved via an Internet of Things hardware solution that needs to be installed on the relevant appliances and machines on-site. Simble gets revenue both from the initial installation of the hardware and the monthly subscription fee to use their software.

While the Internet of Things element is a recent development for the company, Simble and its predecessor Acresta have been providing energy management services for quite some time. You can old case study for carbon monitoring services that Acresta provided back in mid-2015 to Jurlique here.

On the face of it, the Simble Energy Platform seems like a solid business idea. There’s been an increased focus lately on the variability of energy demand on grids, and the rollout of smart metres presents significant savings for businesses able to match their energy demands to off-peak times. The Internet of Things element makes a lot of sense as well, as it transforms the platform from a purely monitoring service to one that can provide real savings.
On the negative side, it doesn’t look like Simble is the only company operating in this space. Simble seems to be initially focusing on the UK for its energy management business, and the Prospectus lists a few different companies already operating in this market. More worryingly, IBM also looks like they are providing a similar solution, with both an energy monitoring and Internet of Things element. One of the biggest fears for tech start-ups is that some giant company starts offering a similar service before they are able to compete, to the extent that “what happens when Google gets involved in your business” is a standard question Venture Capitalists ask when interviewing start-ups. While IBM doesn’t quite have the reputation of Google for moving into industries and quickly destroying the competition, they are still a pretty formidable competitor for a business barely able to clear $2 million of revenue a year.

Financials



Mid-January is typically a pretty quiet time in the IPO world. It’s an awkward time to list as one month or so later you would be able to include results for the 2018 calendar year, yet as it stands you are left with financial information that is over six months old. This is a particular problem for the Simble IPO, as a pessimistic interpretation of their balance sheet from June 2017 suggests they could be bankrupt by now.


In June 2017, the business had only $182,000 in cash, vs $1,650,000 in payables, $309,000 in employee benefit liabilities, and just under one million in unearned revenue. For a company with negative net cash flows for the six months until June 2017 of -$951,000 this is a pretty major concern. Deloitte seems to have been of the same opinion, as they submitted an emphasis of matter statement regarding the troubling net working capital position when they signed off on the HY16 and and HY17 financial report.



From a revenue perspective the situation isn’t much better. Below is the normalized profit and loss for Simble, which incorporates both Acresta and Incipient IT figures from before the merger.

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The labelling is a bit confusing, but the first three are all Calendar years 2014-16, then HY16 is July-December 2016 and HY17 is January-June 2017. This is due to the business recently changing to a December end of year. It’s a hard table to look at, as it switches from 12 month periods to 6 months. By subtracting the HY16 numbers from the CY16s, I was able to work out the figures for the first half of 2016, giving me 3 6 month profit and loss periods.


$000 jan - Jun 2016 Jul - Dec 2016 Jan - Jun 2017
Revenue  $                1,090  $               1,629  $                1,160
Cost of Sales -$                  340 -$                  810 -$                   359
Gross Profit  $                   751  $                  819  $                   801
Other Income  $                   300  $                  455  $                   348
Operating Expenses  $                      -  
General and Administration -$               2,243 -$               1,823 -$               1,637
Marketing -$                  164 -$                  359 -$                     62
Total Overhead expenses -$               2,407 -$               2,182 -$               1,699
EBITDA -$               1,355 -$                  909 -$                   550
Depreceation and Amortisation -$                  366 -$                  407 -$                   462
EBIT -$               1,721 -$               1,316 -$               1,012

As you can see, there has been a negative trend in revenue from a high of $2.9 million in 2015 (or 1.45 Million every six months) to only $1.16 in the six months to June 2017. The prospectus mentions that the business is currently went through a restructuring period prior to listing, and it seems they are yet to see much revenue growth from their new energy platform. The jump to $2.2 million in operating expenses in the six-month period before the acquisition of Incipient IT and Acresta is also interesting. Around $1 million of these expenses are from Simble’s statutory accounts, so this does seem to confirm Simble was doing something else at that time other than simply getting ready to purchase Acresta and Incipient IT. It gets especially weird when you look further down at the cash flow statements and see that the business capitalized $4.711 million in development costs in the second half of 2016 as well.

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 In total, this means the business spent around $9 million in 12 months on operating expenses and software development, a phenomenal amount for a business this size. This seems to suggest the current management team is not exactly frugal, which isn’t great news considering they will have less than $7 million in net cash to play with post-listing.

Valuation




Simble made a statutory loss before tax of $1.25 million for the six months to June 2017, so any traditional valuation method as a multiple of earnings isn’t going to be possible. Instead, as seems standard for SASS companies, the main metric we can use to evaluate the company is a multiple of revenue.


With a maximum market capitalisation of $17.98 million, Simble is valuing its IPO at 7.75 times revenue. If you subtract the money that is to be raised, the pre-IPO value is $10.48 million or 4.52 times revenue. For a SASS company this is pretty reasonable. Bigtincan, a SASS company I invested in that was at the low end for SASS valuations listed at 6.6 times revenue and is now up over 50% on its listing price. On the negative side, Registry Direct, another SASS company that I invested in listed at 31.7 times revenue and now is trading around 40% lower than its listing price. However, what both these companies had which Simble doesn’t is impressive revenue growth. At the end of the day, the only reason investing in a company currently losing money makes any sense is because you think it is going to grow rapidly. The fact that Simble is currently shrinking makes this a much harder sell. If they had been able to wait long enough to show actual revenue growth from the Energy Management platform the valuation would be much more compelling, but I guess given the dire state of their balance sheet waiting six months probably wasn’t an option.



Verdict


While the idea at least of the Simble Energy Management platform seems compelling, at this stage there is too little actual evidence of real growth of this platform for me to justify an investment. In six months’ time if they can show some revenue growth it might be worth picking up some shares even if you need to pay substantially more than $0.20, but without seeing that growth the investment seems like too much of a gamble. I’ll waiting for something a little more compelling for my first investment of 2018.

Appetise

Appetise are a food ordering website that are seeking to raise between 4.8 and 6.8 million dollars. While they are listing on the ASX, they are so far only located in London, and have no connection to Australia. In a trend that has been growing lately, they seem to have chosen to list in Australia purely due to its lower compliance regulations and associated costs.

Background



By numbers alone, Appetise looks like one of the worst value IPOs I have reviewed on this blog. To explain, let me give a few simple facts presented in Appetise’s own prospectus:



After starting in 2008, Appetise was acquired for only $230,000 in May 2016 by Long Hill, an American investment company. After acquiring the business, Longhill poured $2,260,000 into Appetise to improve the company's website and increase the number of restaurants on the platform. However, despite these investments, revenue decreased from $91,715 in FY16 to $49,172 in FY17. This IPO now values Long Hill’s stake at $9 million, with total market capitallization on listing between 13.8 and 15 million, more than 200 times their 2017 revenue.  If the IPO is successful, this will be a 261% return on investment over 18 months for Long Hill, despite no measurable improvement in Appetise’s performance. If you are getting flash backs of Dick Smith right now, you’re not the only one.


Management




When Long Hill bought Appetise they did the usual private equity thing of installing a completely new management team, getting rid of the original founder in the process. The newly appointed CEO, Konstantine Karampatsos, has had experience both setting up his own online business as well as a stint at Amazon, and the CFO Richard Hately has had a number of senior roles at both start-ups and established businesses. While the CEO and CFO both seem like logical choices, appointing such an experienced management team to a company of this size leads to some pretty ridiculous statistics.

Konstantine Karampatos will have an annual salary of $204,050, post listing, plus a bonus of $122,430. Richard Hately, the CFO, will have a salary of $195,888, and will receive a listing bonus of $81,620. The marketing director will receive a salary of $138,750, though no listing bonus. All up, this is an annual cost of over $700,000 for the three highest paid employees, for a company that had less than $50,000 in revenue last year. Even if Appetise’s FY17 revenue increased by 1000% in FY18, it would still not come close to covering the salary of its three most senior executives.

This is a perfect demonstration of why a public listing at such an early stage is a terrible idea. A $50,000 revenue company should be being run out of a garage or basement somewhere by a few dedicated founders on the smell of an oily rag, not burning through cash on highly paid executives.



This cost has real consequences too. Under their proposed allocation of funds, with a minimum $4.8 million raise, Appetise will spend $1.55 million on executive and head office expenses, vs only $2.15 million on marketing. Given that their primary goal over the next few years is to raise their profile, this seems like a ridiculous allocation of capital.

Product


As Appetise is currently only operating in England, the closest I could get to testing Apetise’s product was spending some time clicking through their website. Overall, it was a pretty underwhelming experience. There are three large tabs that block a significant part of the page, which makes scrolling through options difficult, and the colour scheme and overall design feels a little basic. 


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On the positive side, they seem to have invested some time into making the mobile experience work well; if anything the site actually seems to work and look better on a mobile phone. It is also worth mentioning that while the prospectus mentions that the business has a national footprint on numerous occasions, their coverage in London is pretty minimal, and at this stage they seem to be focused solely on the city of Birmingham.



The company’s social media presence is similarly disappointing. The prospectus talks a lot about social media engagement through their loyalty scheme, where users can get credit by sharing Appetise on their social network but so far they have failed to get much traction in this area. The Appetise Facebook page seems to only post bad food puns, and each post gets around 2 to 7 likes on average

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(I also noticed that a company director and their marketing executive are two of their most common Facebook fans.) Compare this to Menulog’s page, an Australian food ordering and delivery service, where you’ll see content featuring available restaurants, slightly funnier puns, and as a result much higher engagement with customers. While Facebook posts might seem like a trivial thing to be hung up on in a company review, one of the key things that will affect Appetise’s success is how easily they can build an online following. The fact that so far they have demonstrated little nous in this area is definitely a cause for concern.

Market


Online food ordering is an industry with massive growth potential, and this is probably the main reason Long Hill felt they could get away with the prospectus valuation they have gone for. Appetise has a different model to the likes of Menulog or Deliveroo though, as Appetise does not take part in deliveries, instead, restaurants featured on the Appetise platform need to deliver the food themselves. The idea is this will allow them to scale more easily and not get bogged down with logistical complexities. While I don’t doubt this approach might work in the short term, (and Just Eat, a successful UK company with the same model as Appetise has proven that it can) in the long run an Uber Eats type model of flexible contractors, that can be sent wherever there is demand seems much more efficient. As websites like Uber Eats become more popular and economies of scale start to kick in, I feel there would be an incentive for restaurants to fire their delivery drivers and move from an Appetise type platform to an Uber Eats one.

Appetise makes the argument that their patform is currently cheaper, as Uber Eats charge delivery fees to customers, but just like with Uber, you would assume that these charges will eventually decrease as the site grows in popularity.


Verdict


Appetise’s response to a lot of what I’ve said here would be that the company is uniquely placed to experience explosive growth in the near future. They have a workable website platform, and their only major competitor in the UK Just Eat has demonstrated that there is money to be made in this market. While a $50,00 revenue company with a board of directors looks ridiculous now, if in 12 months’ time their revenue is closer to $1,000,000 no one will be complaining. The problem I have with this argument though is it requires a lot of faith with not much evidence. If Appetise is really uniquely placed to grow so quickly, why not hold off on the prospectus for a few months so they can demonstrate this? Appetise runs on a March end financial year, so their first half FY18 figures should be available now. Once again, the cynic in me thinks that if revenue was actually growing, these figures would be included in the prospectus. 

Even in a growing industry you need to be ahead of the curve and have a clear point of differentiation to succeed, and after reading the Appetise prospectus and looking over their website I simply don’t see this for Appetise. In one of the easier decisions I’ve had to make with this blog so far, I will not be investing in the Appetise IPO.



Registry Direct

Overview


Registry Direct is a software business that provides share registry services to publicly listed and private companies. This includes keeping track of shareholders, facilitating the issuance of new capital, convening shareholder meetings and providing meeting minutes, share raising information and other required communications to shareholders. Registry Direct aims to provide low cost registry services to smaller privately-owned companies than have typically been ignored by the established share registry companies. The maximum raise is 6 million, with a post raise market cap of 20.5 million.

Founder


One of the main things I look at when evaluating the IPO’s of new companies is the strength of the Managing Director/CEO and how long they have been involved in the business. It was a key factor in why I invested in both Oliver’s and Bigtincan, and why I passed on Croplogic. Registry Direct’s founder is a guy called Steuart Roe. Steuart has been a key figure in the Australian investing world for years. He was involved in launching the first Exchange Traded Fund on the ASX back in 2001, and more recently was the manager of Aurora Funds Management from 2010 to 2014. It is his time at Aurora Funds Management that may potentially be a concern for some investors. Aurora Funds Management was created when three separate funds management companies were merged in 2010. One of the funds that was part of the merger was a fund founded by Steart called Sandringham Capital, and Steuart became the Managing Director of Aurora Funds management upon the new funds creation.

Without going too much into the details, the fund performed poorly, and Steuart Roe left the business in 2014. This article has some insight into the problems as does this hot copper thread where someone from registry direct actually turns up to give Steuart’s side of the story.

Having spent some time reading through all of this, it seems Aurora’s problems were caused by a few unlucky investment decisions rather than incompetence or mis-management. As a result, I don’t see how this should have any negative impact on how this IPO is evaluated. On the other hand, the experience and connections Steuart must have picked up in his time running investment funds seem to make him uniquely qualified to lead a successful share registry business. If you look at how quickly Registry Direct has grown since the business began in 2012 a lot of this has to be down to Steuart’s connections and experience enabling him to both design a product that fund managers and company owners would like, and have the connections to sell if effectively. Post listing Steuart will own just under 50% of Registry Direct’s stock and will continue in his current role as managing director. And all in all, I see his significant stock holdings and continued presence in the company as a significant bonus for this IPO.


Financials

Registry Direct are one of the few companies I’ve reviewed whose only pro forma adjustments actually reduce net profit.
Below are the unadjusted audited figures for the last three years:

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Whereas the figures once pro forma adjustments have been made are here:

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The rationale behind the reduction in revenue is that Registry Direct received consulting fees unrelated to the share registry business in 2015 and 2016 of $377,167 and $555,224 respectively that have been excluded from the pro forma figures. Interestingly enough, these fees came from Steuart’s old company Aurora Funds Management (Aurora Funds Management was renamed SIV Asset Management in 2016). While Steuart stepped down from his Managing Director position in 2014, he only resigned from the board of SIV Asset Management in June 2017. It would be interesting to hear what shareholders of SIV Asset Management think about the company shelling out over $900,000 to a company owned by one of its directors – but that is a topic for another day.

There can often be a real lag in revenue growth for software companies in early years, with every dollar of revenue dwarfed by massive investments in software development. That Registry Direct managed to grow its revenue so quickly is impressive, as is the fact the company managed to achieve profitability in 2015 and 2016, even if it was only due to the somewhat suspect related party consulting fees. 

Industry and strategy


The Share Registry market seems to be a relatively healthy industry, with good growth potential and profitability.  Computershare and Link, the two biggest companies in this sector in Australia grew their profits by 68% and 101% respectively over the last financial year. As mentioned at the start of this post, Registry Direct intends to diverge from these companies by providing cheaper registry services to a larger number of smaller privately-owned companies. The prospectus uses the below table to present Registry Direct’s proposed fee structure. 

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The prospectus also indicates they intend to drive this growth by allowing accountants lawyers and other professionals to sell “white label” versions of the Registry Direct software. From an outside perspective at least, this makes a lot of sense. If Registry Direct can offer simplified registry services through a standard software package, increasing customer numbers by allowing accountants and other professionals to sell Registry Direct’s software on their behalf seems like a logical way to increase revenue without hiring a large salesforce. This strategy should be further buoyed by the Turnbull government’s recent legislation changes regarding crowdfunding in Australia. These changes make it much easier for unlisted companies to raise money from the public, which should result in a dramatic increase in the number of private companies looking for cheap registry services.
Despite how promising this all sounds, it should be noted that at the date of the Prospectus, Registry Direct only had 60 share registry clients and its two largest registry clients made up over $400,000 of the companies FY17 revenue. It seems that last year at least, Registry Direct was still operating more like a typical share registry business, providing tailored services to a smaller number of high paying customers. This pivot to a larger number of lower cost clients may be good in theory, but it is worth remembering that at this stage it is more of a plan than current business operations.

Valuation and Verdict

At only $648,000 of FY17 revenue vs a market cap of 20.5 million, this IPO is a little more expensive than I would prefer. Market cap divided by revenue is a troubling 31.7, vs 6.6 for Bigtincan, a Software IPO I invested in earlier this year. However, considering the company was only founded in 2012 and just how quickly revenue has grown over the last few years, I feel that this expensive price is at least somewhat justified.

Overall, the main thing that makes me willing to overlook this high valuation is how confident  I feel that Registry Direct will be successful. The company has demonstrated that it can grow revenue quickly, has recorded profitability in previous years, and is led by an impressively well connected and experienced Managing Director. What’s more, the company is operating in what seems to already be a relatively profitable industry that is likely to see an explosion of demand thanks to the Turnbull governments legislation changes. While I would be happier if the price was a little lower, for these reasons Registry Direct will be my fourth IPO investment since starting this blog.

Sienna Cancer Diagnostics

Overview


Sienna Cancer Diagnostics are seeking to raise 6 million dollars, with an indicative market capitalization based on full subscription of just under 37.5 million. Shares are being offered at 20 cents each.

Sienna was originally founded in 2002. The company’s focus is the development of diagnostic tools for cancer, and more specifically using tests that look at levels of Telomarese in the body to aid in diagnosis. I spent around 10 minutes clicking on links on Wikipedia trying to understand what exactly Telomarese is, but I quickly realised it goes well beyond whatever I can remember from year 10 science. Instead, as usual I will do my best to evaluate the Sienna IPO using the tools available to an average investor.

IPO’s in the biotechnology space can be broadly broken down into two categories: Pre-revenue, where all the company has is an idea and maybe some patents, and post-revenue, where the company has a proven method of generating revenue, and is now looking to ramp things up. Sienna Cancer Diagnostics falls awkwardly somewhere in the middle. While technically Sienna has been receiving revenue from product sales since 2015, if you exclude research and development expenses, revenue for the first six months of FY2017 was $291,588. There are small café’s that turn over more money than that. It’s an unusual time to list, as the immediate question is why Sienna didn’t hold off until the listing until they had demonstrated their growth potential.

Background


Like many companies, Sienna’s past does not seem to be as straightforward and linear as the Prospectus would like you to believe.

In January 2015, Sienna Cancer Diagnostics announced their first sales agreements with a Major American pathology company. Kerry Hegarty, the CEO at the time gave an interview to The Age, where she explained that “ …Sienna has succeeded where other cancer diagnostic ventures have failed because it has been able to stay an unlisted company so far.” Hegarty goes on to talk about the flexibility of being an unlisted company when you are still in a pre-revenue stage.

4 months after giving this interview Hegarty left Sienna Cancer Diagnostics.  Later that same year in September, Street Talk reported the company was planning a 10 million-dollar IPO with Pac Partners as lead manager. Did Hegarty leave because she felt that the company’s decision to list was premature? I have no idea.


For whatever reason, the 10 million-dollar IPO with Pac Partners did not eventuate, and the company is now listing 18 months later raising only 6 million with the much smaller lead manager Sequoia Corporate Finance.  A CEO leaving a company and an IPO being delayed aren’t exactly unusual occurences, but it would be interesting to get some background on why both these events happened.

Financials


As mentioned earlier, Sienna has largely relied on government rebates and Australia’s very generous research and development tax incentive program for revenue. I take the view that if the company is going to achieve long term success, it will need to eventually stop relying on government handouts and therefore these revenue streams should be excluded from any analysis.

 The worrying thing is though, once you take this money out revenue has gone backwards from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, Sienna’s first full year of receiving product revenue, the company had annual revenue of $640,664 excluding government rebates, or $320,332 every six months. The first six months of FY17 saw revenue of only $291,588, a pretty sizeable decrease at a time you would naturally expect revenue to grow.

While there may be legitimate reasons for the decline in revenue, it is not addressed anywhere in the Prospectus that I could find. The decline in revenue also puts into question Sienna’s chosen listing date. August is an interesting time to list, as it means the prospectus does not include the full FY17 numbers, even though the financial year is over by the time the offer closes. The cynic in me says that if the FY17 numbers were any good the IPO would be delayed a couple of months, as strong FY17 numbers would make the IPO a much more straightforward process.

To further illustrate the odd timing of the listing, the balance sheet as of January 2017 showed over 1.5 million dollars in cash, vs annual expenses of around $570,000. Whatever was behind the decision to list before FY17 numbers were available, it wasn’t because the company was about to run out of money.

Shareholders


Sienna have not put any voluntary escrow arrangements in place, so a key question for any potential investor is who the existing shareholders are, and how likely they would be to dump their shares as soon as the company lists.

Earlier articles about Sienna mention the ex-CEO of Macquarie Allan Moss as one of the main shareholders and backers. Interestingly enough, his name does not appear in the current prospectus, so either he has sold out completely, or now holds less than 5% of the company. Why a shrewd investor like Moss would sell-out before an IPO is another question a prospective investor should probably think about.

Instead, the current largest shareholder is now someone called David Neate, who owns just over 10% of the company. I was immediately curious about who this person was, as I could not find him listed on the board or the senior management team of the company. After digging around online, the only information I could find on him was in regards to Essential Petroleum Resources Limited, a now delisted oil and gas exploration company that someone called David Neate (and I’m aware it might not be the same guy) held 12.6% of in October 2007. 

There is an October 2008 Hot Copper thread where someone wondered why Neate was unloading so many shares in Petroleum Resources Limited. A few months after the post in January 2009, shares fell to below 1 cent following unfavourable drilling announcements  and the company delisted later that year.

Of course, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for a major investor deciding to offload shares, but it’s not really the sort of information you want to find when you start googling the major shareholder of a potential investment.

Verdict


As this is an IPO in an area where I have no technical knowledge, I am acutely aware that I could be completely off the mark with my analysis. If using Telomarese to diagnose cancer proves to be the next big breakthrough, this could easily be the IPO of the year. However, if I’m going to invest in a company that’s actual product revenue is less than one fiftieth of the indicative market capitalisation, I would at least want to see revenue growth, not revenue going backwards. Furthermore, the small amount being raised does make me wonder if the IPO is more about existing shareholders unloading stock than actually raising capital. Contributed equity is listed on the balance sheet as only 16.6 million, which means at least some initial investors would still be making significant profits if they unload their shares well below the initial listing price.

While I may well live to regret it, this is one IPO I will not be taking part in.

Why I’ve sold my Oliver’s Real Food Shares

I hadn’t intended to write an update on Oliver’s so quickly, but on Friday I sold my shares at 30 cents each, clocking a 50% return in two days.

Notwithstanding the money I’ve made, I’m a little disappointed to have gotten out so quickly.  I liked the idea of being an Oliver’s shareholder and I was looking forward to justifying forking out the ridiculous mark-ups on a cup of green beans by thinking I’d getting it back in dividends one day. However, a 30 cent share price puts the market capitalisation of Oliver’s at just under 63 million dollars, which seems exceedingly generous for a company projecting revenue of only 21 million this financial year.

Oliver’s originally tried to list at a market capitalisation of 50 million, yet failed to find sufficient support from institutional investors at that price. To be trading twenty percent higher than this just two days after listing does not make much sense. My best guess is the increase in share price is being driven by overly enthusiastic retail investors rather than larger institutions, and we all know how quickly this type of sentiment can change.


I will keep watching Oliver’s from the side-lines, and may even buy back in if the share price looks attractive again after their FY2017 numbers come out, but as far as this blog is concerned my investment is over. This is the first IPO recommended in this blog that I’ve sold. I can only hope my investments in Tianmei and Bigtincan end up being as profitable.

Oliver’s Real Food

I've changed jobs recently which has kept me busy, and with the Oliver’s Real Food IPO only open for two weeks I thought I would have to publish my review after the offer closed. It was with some relief then that I checked my email Friday night and saw they had decided to push things out by a week and reduced the share price from 30 to 20 cents in response to limited interest from institutional investors. The reduction in the share price isn’t as dramatic as it initially looks. Oliver’s has increased the number of shares at the same time, so while under the original offer the maximum subscription was to sell 30% of the company for 15 million at 30 cents per share, this has now been adjusted to 35.8% for 15 million at 20 cents a share. Although the share price has gone down by a third, the actual reduction in pre-offer valuation has only gone down by 25% thanks to the increase in the number of shares.

This last-minute drop in price and wrangling of share numbers puts you more in mind of a fishmonger trying to move some dodgy prawns than a multi-million dollar IPO offering. Pricing an IPO is meant to be a precise and scientific exercise, developed through numerous meetings with fund managers and other institutional investors to accurately gauge the market. Wesfarmers recently put a pin in their Officeworks IPO plans precisely because they failed to hear much enthusiasm from institutional investors at this stage of the process. For Oliver’s to be forced to drop their price at the last minute suggests that they either their fund manager skipped this step, or that Oliver's management didn't listen to the advice that was given to them.

Overview

Putting this last-minute price drop aside, Oliver’s Real Food is one of the more interesting IPO’s of 2017. The business runs a chain of healthy fast food options on major arterial roads on Australia’s eastern seaboard. While healthier fast food chains have been around for a while (Sumo Salad are rumoured to be planning an IPO of their own), Oliver’s is the first healthy fast food business that is targeting the highway service station market. As anyone who has ever tried to get a meal on a freeway can tell you, your meal choices are typically restricted to KFC, Mcdonalds, or a dodgy cafe with burgers and chicken wings sitting in bain-maries, so there does seem to be an opening for a healthier and more expensive alternative. 

Management

Jason Gunn, the main founder of Oliver’s is your classic new age guru. You can watch videos of him online talking earnestly about his love of transcendental meditation (17% of Oliver’s staff apparently are now practising transcendental meditation thanks to Jason, one statistic that was left out of the prospectus) and one of his go-to quotes is that Oliver’s is the first business that he has run that “satisfies his soul.” He also seems to have gone all-out on the photo shop options for his Prospectus photo.

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While it might be tempting to dismiss Jason as some snake oil peddling charlatan, he does seem to genuinely believe in the stuff he talks about, and he has successfully built a business around a set of values that seem to work for him. He also is balanced out by his co-founder Kathy Hatzis, who has held senior marketing positions in the finance sector and seems to the more down-to-earth of the duo. The only thing I could find by her online was a much more mundane article about managing brands that manages to not mention meditation, vaccines or enlightenment. Overall, they seem like a good pair of founders, and exactly the sort of people you would want to be leading a health food chain with a new age vibe.

Growth plans

One potential cause for concern is that growth has been slower than originally planned. In March 2015, Jason Gunn told The Australianthat he expected revenue to grow to 30 million per year within 12 months, yet even the projected figures for the 2017 financial year show revenue of only 21 million. More interesting still, is that in the same article Jason stated that he was aiming for an annual revenue of 30 million before proceeding with the IPO. I’m not really as concerned about this as I perhaps would be in other cases. After reading and watching a few videos on or by Jason, overestimating growth rates in a conversation with a journalist seems to be exactly the sort of thing he would do. As long as there are more sober minds around him this potential character flaw shouldn’t really be a problem. What’s more, Oliver’s growth is largely a factor of the number of stores they open, and this seems to be pretty reliant on when the big petrol stations have leases coming up. Store growth seems to have stagnated somewhat in late 2015/early 2016 with the number of company owned stores going backwards in the first half of FY2016 from 8 to 7. However, more recently things seem to have gotten going again, with 12 company owned stores at the time of the prospectus, and firm plans to increase this to 19 by the end of FY2017.
Longer term, Oliver’s have 60 sites in total they have identified for potential store locations in Australia for the next 4 years, which indicates the business has a lot of room to grow.

Financials

One of the things I like about the Oliver’s prospectus is the lack of massive pro forma adjustments to the financials. Too often, you flick through pages of rosy pro forma figures in the financial section of a prospectus only to find a few brief lines of statutory figures that show the company has actually been making massive losses. With Oliver’s the first figures presented in the financial section are the statutory profit and loss statements, and the only pro forma figures I could find were in the balance sheet. The numbers also seem to stack up pretty well. Margin over cost of sales has been steadily in the mid-thirties, and margin plus labour expenses has been consistently around 75%. While Oliver’s did make a small loss in the first half of 2017, for a company going through an IPO and growing this quickly it’s actually impressive the loss is this small.

In order to get a sense of what Oliver’s could look like as a more mature business, I projected two scenarios of a future Oliver’s profit and loss based on 40 stores here. In the first more conservative scenario, I projected that Oliver’s revenue per store would be the same as in 2015 at just under 1.6 million per year (I didn’t want to use the 2016 numbers as I wasn’t sure who store openings affected the figures), and that labour and cost of sales would stay steady at 75% of revenue. I increased the head office and general administration budget to what I feel is a generous 4 million and all other costs were simply based on the 2015 figures increased to reflect the higher number of stores. With these rather conservative estimates, the business would make just over 2.6 million per year after tax.

In the second more optimistic forecast, I projected a growth in sales per store by 20% to just over 1.75 million based on the assumption that increased brand recognition and familiarity would lead to more customers per store (Mcdonalds in Australia apparently averages over $5 million in sales per store so this is far from being unrealistic). I also used a lower cost of sales + labour to revenue ratio of 65% on the assumption that the higher revenue per store and supply chain efficiencies of having a larger business would help drive these costs down. With a slightly more optimistic leaner head office budget of £3.5 million, this shows a projected profit after tax of just under 9 million.

The indicative market capitalization based on a maximum subscription is $41.9 million at the revised offer price. The fact that a business like this has such a clear path to a profit of 9 million, while at the same time a more pessimistic model still shows profitability is a promising sign.

Food

You can pore over the financials until you are the blue in the face, but at the end of the day if you are thinking of investing in a restaurant chain It probably makes sense to actually eat in the place. For this reason, I drove down to the nearest Oliver’s to me in the Melbourne outer suburb of Scoresby last Sunday afternoon. The Oliver’s was located in a BP service station on a freeway next to an business park, with a KFC and Mcdonalds for competition. At 3:50pm on a Sunday Trade wasn’t exactly brisk. In the 20 minutes or so I was there only three other customers came into Oliver’s while the other two fast food restaurants probably served around 12 people each.

My meal of a chicken pizza pocket, one of Oliver’s trademark cups of green beans with salt and an Oliver’s brand non-alcoholic Organic Tumeric Beer came to a pricey $22.75 (the organic turmeric beer was an amazing $6.95 for 350mls, if Oliver’s can sell enough of them they should have no issues hitting their profit margins).
Pricing aside, I was pleasantly surprised with the food, the Pita wrap was fresh and tasty, and a cup of green beans flavoured with nothing but a little bit of salt is less boring than you’d think. I wouldn’t get the turmeric beer again, but I’m sure it is to some people’s taste.

Conclusion

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Oliver’s IPO. While the last minute price change does potentially reflect badly on management, the rare opportunity of listing in a business that has both a proven track record of achieving profitability and great growth potential is too good for me to give this one a miss.





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Moelis Australia

Overview

Moelis Australia is the Australian offshoot of Moelis & Company, an American investment bank founded in 2007. Moelis and Company have made a name for themselves as one of the leading “Boutique investment banks,” smaller specialised investment banks that have become increasingly popular since the GFC largely thanks to their perceived ability to give more independent advice. In one of their most impressive wins to date, Moelis and Co was recently announced as the sole lead on what will probably be the biggest IPO in history, the giant Saudi state owned oil company Aramco.

In Australia, Moelis has been similarly successful, though not without controversy. While they have been involved in numerous successful IPO’s, they were also the lead manager for the botched Simonds Group IPO in late 2014, with shares now trading at less than a quarter of their floating price. More recently they have made the news for apparently buying up Slater and Gordon debt at significant discounts, supposedly for some debt for equity scheme they are planning.

After the IPO, Moelis & Co will retain a 40% stake in Moelis Australia and a partnership between the two entities will remain with Ken Moelis himself, the founder of Moelis and Co taking a seat on the board.

IPO details

25 million of a total 125 million shares will be sold through the IPO at $2.35 per share, raising $53.8 Million once the costs of the offer have been taken into account. The Market capitalisation at listing price is $293.8 million, making it one of the biggest Australian IPO’s this year to date.

CEO

The CEO of Moelis Australia is Andrew Pridham, more famous for his role as Chairman of the Sydney Swans and his occasional spats with Eddie Mcguire than for his career as an investment banker. Pridham’s career has been impressive; he was appointed the Managing Director of Investment Banking Australasia for UBS at only 28 and has also held senior roles at JP Morgan before helping start Moelis Australia in 2009. He has been less successful in his ventures into the art collecting world though, making headlines a couple of years back when he purchased what turned out to be a forged painting for 2.5 million dollars. When Melbourne radio hosts started making fun of him about this, Pridham’s response somehow managed to go from victimhood to snobbery in one sentence.



However, as long as Pridham doesn’t decide to turn Moelis Australia into an art gallery, his dubious taste in Australian art shouldn’t trouble potential investors, and overall he seems like a pretty capable and intelligent guy. Also, for the CEO of an investment bank worth nearly three hundred million dollars his salary is quite reasonable, at only $450,000 a year plus bonuses. That he is looking to make most of his money through performance bonuses and increases in the share price is a positive for investors, and something that other recent listings (Wattle Health anyone?) Could learn from.

Expansion plans.

One of the things that worries me about the Moelis Australia IPO is the 44.2 million of the total 58.8 million raised  that will be set aside for the vague purpose of “growth capital.” This is expanded upon in another section of the Prospectus with the below statement:

"Moelis Australia is actively assessing a number of strategic asset and business acquisitions. None of these opportunities are certain of proceeding at the date of this Prospectus. Any one of, or a combination of, these acquisitions could result in Moelis Australia applying a substantial part of the Offer proceeds to fund the acquisitions of potential assets or businesses being assessed."

While some investors will see this as a growth opportunity, something about the combination of a CEO with no shortage of self-confidence, a professional services business and statements like this make me a little nervous. As any financial academic or Slate and Gordon stockholder will tell you, business acquisitions by listed companies have a tendency to destroy rather than create shareholder value, and I doubt Pridham is going to be able to sit on his hands for long with $54 million in his pocket. While it’s possible he might make the deal of the century, it’s also possible he might end up biting off more than he can chew.

Significant Investor Visa Funds Program

Another thing that concerns me with the Moelis IPO is its involvement in the Significant Investor Visa Funds Program. This is a program the federal government introduced a while back where Investors who invest over 5 million dollars in approved Australian investments are able to gain an Australian Visa.
These sorts of visa programs have come under a lot of criticism both in Australia and internationally, and in the USA in particular have become a target for fraudulent activities.

Canada cancelled their own program after finding it delivered little benefit and an Australian productivity commission report in 2015 advocated scrapping the program as well, arguing that it led to too many visas being granted to elderly people with limited English skills.

 While the current Liberal government appears to be committed to the scheme, you would imagine that all it would take is a change of government or a few highly-publicised scandals for things to change. Moelis themselves appear to be well aware of the risks this would pose to their business, as evidenced by this detailed response of theirs to the 2015 productivity commissions report.

Moelis does not break down the revenue for each separate sector, though the prospectus does state that average assets under management grew from 161 million to 624 million in 2017 largely thanks to this program, so we can assume that if this program was to be cancelled it would have a significant impact on the business.

Valuation

Looking around at most investment banks, they seem to cluster around a P/E of just under 15. Goldman Sachs is currently at 13.96, JP Morgan Chase is at 14.1, and Morgan Stanley is at 14.53. The big four Australian banks have similar P/E ratios. Moelis Australia are no doubt aware of this, and have presented an “adjusted” Price to Earnings ratio of 14.6 in the prospectus. On the surface this makes the valuation seem like a pretty good deal. As a relatively small player, their growth prospects are more significant than the larger banks, so to be priced at the same discount rate would represent a great opportunity. However, this is a good example of when it pays to do your own research before trusting adjusted ratios cooked up by investment bankers. When I divide Moelis Australia’s profit from the 2016 calendar year (9.8 million) by the post-listing market capitalisation of 293.8 million I get a price to earnings ratio of 29.97, more than double the ratio quoted in the prospectus. Although you might think this is because my calculator isn’t as fancy as the ones used at Moelis Australia’s head office, Moelis have actually made two rather questionable adjustments to get this lower ratio.

To start with, while P/E ratios are almost always calculated using previous earnings (trailing twelve months). in Moelis Australia’s adjusted P/E ratio, they have instead used their forecasted Pro Forma earnings for the 2017 calendar year of 16.8 million. While for a small growing company it may make sense to use forecasted earnings in a P/E ratio if the business is just starting, I fail to see how it is justified for an established investment bank with a proposed market capitalisation in the hundreds of millions. Moelis Australia are not planning to change their operations significantly in the next twelve months, so their reason to use forecasted earnings simply seems to be so they can get a more attractive P/E ratio.

The other adjustment they have made is to the price side of the P/E formula. Moelis Australia have taken the odd approach of subtracting the net offer proceeds of 57 million from the market capitalisation for the adjusted formula. This is supposedly justified because their acquisition plans are not included in their projected earnings, though as a potential shareholder, the actual market capitalisation is how the market will evaluate the stock, and the total shares outstanding will determine your share in any future earnings. While P/E ratios are based on earnings from the past and the market value today, by some odd form of wormhole accounting Moelis have ended up presenting a ratio based on future earnings and a market value from the past. 

Of course, I’m sure Moelis Australia could wheel out to a batch of highly paid accountants who would explain why the adjustments they made are reasonable and their P/E ratio is accurate, but then again Goldman Sachs had maths PHDs that could explain how CDOs were a great idea in 2006 and we all know how that ended up. I would argue that any future investor would be much better served using the 29.97 figure I calculated when deciding if Moelis Australia is a good investment, as this is how P/E ratios for other companies are quoted.

Verdict

When you use the actual P/E ratio of 29.97 to evaluate the deal, the Moelis Australia IPO looks reasonable, but hardly exciting. If you think that Moelis Australia is a great up and coming Corporate Investment Bank with a proven track record and that Pridham is a genius who will be given the new freedom of 50 odd million dollars in free cash to launch some amazing acquisition, then a P/E ratio double that of the larger investment banks is perhaps reasonable. From my perspective though, the Significant Investor Visa Program is not something I would want any investment of mine relying on long term, and with what I know about the track record of acquisitions, I would probably rather have the cash on the balance sheet invested in an index fund than whatever plan Pridham has cooking up.

BigTinCan

Overview

As someone working in business development, I’m used to being called into a room by an executive or manager for a presentation of the new sales tool that is going to reduce our admin/allow us to accurately forecast sales/provide quality leads. 9 times out of 10 it’s a bit of a let down. The tools are rarely demonstrated in a live environment, the data is often inaccurate, and the supposed insights with “machine learning” seems to be nothing more complex than a couple of if arguments in an excel cell. It is for this reason that I was a little sceptical when picking up the prospectus for Bigtincan, a content platform for sales people on mobile devices.

The Bigtincan hub allows companies to selectively push sales content to the mobiles and tablets of sales staff. The idea is that instead of sales people having to hunt through different emails or folders for the presentation or collateral that they need, all content can be accessed from the one hub, with both offline and online capabilities. Bigtincan is seeking to raise 26 million for a fully diluted market capitalisation of 52.34 million once all the various options and are taken into account.

Financials

BigTinCan is currently burning through a lot of money. The total loss in 2016 was nearly 8 million, and based on their own forecast figures they will lose another 5.2 milllion in 2017. In any other sector, trying to argue a company with these sorts of losses is worth over 50 million dollars would be ridiculous but in the tech space this is pretty standard. Any successful tech company you can think of lost huge amounts of money during their growth phase, sometimes for a long time. To use the most recent example, Snapchat’s market capitalisation post listing was around 29 billion dollars, despite losing over 500 million dollars last year.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, the extent of the loses seem more strategic than involuntary. In FY 2016, BigTinCan spent just under 9.5 million on product development and marketing, or 135% of their total revenue, and they plan to spend another 12 million in FY 2017. They could have easily reduced their loses by cutting back in these areas, but as every other tech company knows, the real key to success when you are selling software is scale. It costs nearly the same amount of money to sell a product to a million-people compared to a thousand, and you only get to sell to a million people if you have a great product. The key metric for any young software company is growth, and here Bigtincan does not disappoint. Total revenue was 5.17 million in 2016 and grew 35% to 7.04 million in 2016, with projected revenues of 9.7 million for FY2017.

The one potential problem I found regarding Bigtincan’s financials is whether there is enough available cash to sustain the future losses the business might make. BigTinCan will have 14.421 million dollars cash immediately after the IPO. Given their current and projected loses, there is a reasonable risk that they may need to refinance before they get into the black, which needs to be taken into account when deciding if purchasing these shares make sense.

Product

As someone who is often on the road presenting to customers in my day job, I get the appeal of the Bigtincan Hub. In sales, you are constantly searching through folders and emails for the right presentation or tool that suits the customer you are dealing with, and when you have to do it all on an Ipad it becomes even harder. A centralised hub that can deal with a range of different file types, allow commentary and collaboration, and let managers push files to different users has definite appeal.

What’s more, from all the research I have done, it seems the BigtinCan Hub has delivered as well. Most reviews they have received are pretty positive, and they have received some impressive testimonials from large customers.

Perhaps the most impressive write-up comes from Bowery Capital, a venture capitalist firm that publishes an exhaustive summary of all software tools for start-up sales organizations every year. In their latest piece, Bigtincan receives the best rating out of the 13 other companies in the “content sharing space.”

The only reservation I have with the Bigtincan hub is that it is targeted to address a very specific need. What happens if in a couple of years’ time, Google, Apple or Microsoft release something that can do everything that Bigtincan can do and more? Given the natural advantages these larger companies have, it would probably be the end of Bigtincan. Of course, the more palatable outcome is one of these companies deciding they want to acquire Bigtincan by buying out shareholders at a healthy premium over market price, so there is upside to this possibility as well.

Past court cases

Buried in the financial section of the prospectus is a small note that there were two court cases that had an impact on the Statutory profit and loss for the last two years. As investing in a company with a troubled legal history is an alarming prospect, I decided to do some digging to see if I could find out more about this.
The first court case was a dispute with an early director called David Ramsay. From what I can understand from Bigtincan’s version of events, David Ramsey was given money to develop software for Bigtincan which he then used instead to develop an app for his own company. It appears Bigtincan won this case and Ramsey had to pay $300,000 in damages as a result. While Ramsey has tried to appeal this, it looks like his appeal to the high court was rejectedso it seems this chapter at least is closed.

The second case was with an American Software company called Artifex, which filled a lawsuit against Bigtincan over the use of technology that let users edit Microsoft office documents on their smart phone. Bigtincan reached a confidential settlement with Artifex over this matter, so we do not know the exact outcome, but as Bigtincan has continued to grow since then we can assume that whatever concessions were made did not have a major impact on the Bigtincan business.

I don’t really see any major cause for concern with either of these court cases. Given the potential money at stake, it seems inevitable that software companies get into squabbles about proprietary technology, and most successful tech companies have a story of some estranged director or other in their past, if only to give Aaron Sorkin and Ashton Kutcher material.

Price

Evaluating Bigtincan’s listing price is a more complex than for most companies, as I was unable to rely on a basic Price to Earnings ratio to get a feel for what would be reasonable. Instead, I decided to use price to revenue as an alternative as nearly all software companies list at a loss.

Based on these figures, the Bigtincan valuation seems pretty reasonable. Total revenue from the 2016 calendar year was 7.934 million vs a fully diluted market cap of 52.34 million, giving a Price to Revenue ration of 6.6. Linkedin’s initial listing was at a Price to Revenue ratio of 56 and Salesforce’s was around 11 (this was back in 2004 when internet companies were viewed with suspicion). Closer to home, Xero the New Zealand based accounting software company listed on the ASX in 2012 with a price to revenue ratio of 25.

In addition to comparing Bigtincan to other technology IPOs, I have modelled the next five years after 2017 to try and get an idea of where Bigtincan could end up, assigning different growth rates to their main revenue and expense areas.

Based on the assumptions I have made (and I accept that many will disagree with a lot of these) the company will have an EBITDA of 4.4 million in 2022. To me this is very compelling. I do not think I have been overly optimistic with the growth rates I have used, and you do not have to be Warren Buffett to know that a fast growing SaaS company earning 4.4 million dollars a year will be closer in market capitalisation to 150 million than 50 million.

Verdict

There are significant risks with this IPO. Bigtincan is still a young company operating in a competitive environment, and all it would take is a change in industry direction or a better product from a larger tech company to end their prospects completely. However, the potential upside if things go to plan is pretty substantial, and for me the price is low enough to justify getting involved.

The Fat Prophets Global Contrarian Fund


 Overview
If you’ve heard of one hedge fund manager from the last ten years there is a good chance it’s Michael Burry. The eccentric investor made millions on his bets against the housing market during the Global Financial Crisis and was immortalized in the book and later film The Big Short. What is less well remembered about Burry’s story is that before the housing market blew up countless panicked investors withdrew their money from his fund, worried by Burry gambling so much money betting against a housing market in the middle of a boom. While Burry still made millions from his bet, it was less than it could have been, and the stress and frustration of the whole process led to him deciding to close his hedge fund.

Burry’s story highlights a fundamental issue with hedge funds: investors in hedge funds can withdraw their money whenever they like. It is often precisely when a hedge fund manager sees the most opportunity, for instance when the market is falling or in Burry’s case when a bubble is about to burst, that investors want their money back.

It is for this reason amongst others that Listed Investment Companies (LICs) have gained in popularity in Australia over the last decade or so. LICs are basically a hedge fund or managed portfolio that is publicly traded on the ASX. Unlike a hedge fund though, when investors decide to they want their money back from an LIC they simply sell their shares, which doesn’t reduce the money available to the manager of the LIC. This means that LIC managers are less beholden to their investors, and, the theory goes, therefore more able to concentrate on maximising returns.

The Fat Prophets Global Contrarian fund is the latest such LIC to list on the ASX, with their 33 million dollar IPO at $1.10 a share expected to close on the 10th of March. Fat Prophets was started in the year 2000 by their founder Angus Geddes as a subscription based investment advice and funds management company. Investors who sign up to their service are given access to a daily newsletter, as well as reports on certain stocks with buy and sell recommendations. Since inception the organisation has grown to over 75 employees and 25,000 subscribers, and now provides stock picks for a range of different markets and sectors. The Fat Prophets Global Contrarian fund is the first time Fat Prophets has branched out into the LIC world, and it will be run by Angus Geddes and his team using the same contrarian investing principals that has made Fat Prophets a success.

Pros

The Fat Prophets track record
Fat Prophets impressive growth over the last 16 years has been largely due to a record of stock picks which would be the envy of most fund managers. Since their inception in 2000 until the end of 2016, the annual return of an investor who followed all their Australian equities stock tips would have been 18.49%, against an All Ordinaries return of only 7.96%. They have had similarly impressive success in their other sectors. On the Fat Prophets website all of their past stock tips from 2006 to 2016 are publicly available, and reading these you get a good sense of the company and how they have achieved this level of success.

Each stock tip is thoughtfully written, with impressive amounts of detail about each company and its market outlook.  If you want to gain an understanding of their investing rationale and style, have a look at their buy recommendation for Qantas shares in August 2014.
                                                                               
The post goes to painstaking lengths to break down Qantas’s market position, their recent challenges, and why the Fat Prophets team felt the struggling airline could turn things around. Not only did the recommendation prove to be spot on, with the share price more than doubling over the next twelve months, but they were even correct about how it happened. They correctly predicted that a decrease in flight volumes along with the cost savings of Alan Joyce’s restructures would help bring the company back into profitability. Of course, not all their recommendations ended up being as spectacular as this one, but in all their tips they display a similar level of knowledge, discipline and intelligence. The opportunity of being able to get in on the ground floor with a team like this as they embark on a new venture is definitely an appealing prospect.

Minimal Restrictions
Reading through the prospectus, one of the things that jumps out at you is the loose rein Angus Geddes has given himself. While most LICs typically restrict themselves to certain sectors, areas or assets types, the prospectus makes it clear that Angus Geddes and his team are going to invest in whatever they feel like. They reserve the right to trade in everything from equities to derivatives, debt products and foreign currencies, and to go from 100% cash holdings all the way to 250% leverage. While some might see this as a risk, to me this makes a lot of sense. If you believe that Geddes and his team are worth the roughly $400,000 annual fees plus bonuses they are charging to run the fund, it makes little sense to restrict them to a sector or investment type. With this level of freedom, Geddes can go after whatever he feels will give the most value, and there will be no excuses should the fund not perform.

Cons
Listing price
As a new entrant with a smaller Market Capitalisation than the established LICS, fees are inevitably higher than some of the more established listed investment companies. The Fat Prophets Global Contrarian Fund will charge 1.25% per annum of their net assets in fees. In addition, a quarterly bonus will be paid each time the portfolio ends a quarter on a historical high of 20% of the difference between the current portfolio value and the next highest historical portfolio value. By contrast, Argo and AFIC, two of the largest Australian Listed Investment Companies charge fees of under 0.2% of their net assets per annum. It should be pointed out though that both Argo and AFIC regularly underperform their benchmark indexes, so perhaps in the LIC world you get what you pay for.

Net Tangible Assets
After the costs of the offer are paid for, the Net Tangible Assets of the Fat Prophets Global Contrarian Fund based on a maximum subscription will be somewhere around $1.08 per share. Listed Investment Companies usually trade at a relatively small discount to the net value of their portfolio, as the market prices in the fees an LIC charge. This means we can assume the shares actual market value will be somewhere around $1.05 to $1.07 after listing, versus a purchase price of $1.10. While this is the same for every newly listed LIC, it does mean that any investor thinking of participating in this offering needs to be in it for the long haul, as there is a good chance the shares will likely trade at below listing price for at least the first couple of months.

Wildcard

Loyalty options
Every investor who participates in the Fat Prophets IPO is issued with a loyalty option for each share purchased. From 12 to 18 months after the listing date, shareholders will have the option to buy an extra share in Fat Prophets for $1.10 for each share they own, regardless of what the actual stock price is. These loyalty options are forfeited if an investor sells their shares in the first year and are not transferred to the new owner. Initially this seems like a great deal, as you can double your holding at the listing price if the fund performs well, however the fact that everyone participating in the IPO is issued with the same loyalty options negates most of the benefit. In fact, in a simplified world where the stock price equals the net assets and no one sells their shares in the first 12 months, the loyalty option provides no benefit at all.  
To understand this, imagine that based on these assumptions the shares are trading at $2.20 after 12 months. Initially you might say the loyalty options now give each shareholder a bonus of $1.10 per share, as they could buy shares for $1.10 then immediately sell them for $2.20. However, this overlooks the fact that every other investor would also be exercising their options, doubling the number of shares on offer. At the same time, the company assets would only increase by a third from the sale of the loyalty options, from $66 to $99 million. With $99 million of net assets and now 60 million shares on issue, the share price would now be $99,000,000/$60,000,000 = $1.65. This means that not only would shareholders only make 55 cents per loyalty option, their original shares would have also lost 55 cents in value at the same time, giving a net benefit of zero for the option.
Of course, the real world never plays out like the textbook. Some shares will inevitably change hands in the first 12 months, reducing the number of options available and therefore providing some value to those who still have their loyalty options. However, any investor thinking of participating in this offering should make sure they have the funds available to exercise their options after 12 months if the share price is trading above $1.10, as otherwise they risk seeing the value of their shares reduced by other investors cashing in their options without being able to benefit themselves.

Summary
If you are looking to for an IPO that is going to double your money in six months, this isn’t the one for you. Any gains here are likely to be in the long term. Nor is this an IPO in which to invest your life savings, as the freedom Geddes and his team have given themselves mean that the risks could be considerable. However, if you are looking for a good long term investment opportunity for a portion of your portfolio, investing in this IPO could make a lot of sense. The Fat Prophets team have proven they know what they are talking about when it comes to investing, and if they can get anywhere close to their previous success the fund will do very well.

Personally, Geddes track record is too good to pass up, and I will be making a small investment.

Tianmei Beverage Group Corporation Limited

Overview

Tianmei Beverage Group Corporation Limited is a Chinese company based in Guangzhou with two arms to the business. The first is as a distributor and promoter of packaged food products, placing different suppliers’ goods at convenience stores and supermarkets. The second is a bottled water company that sells water produced by a Chinese water processing plant they have a contract with. They are using the Prospectus to raise 10 million dollars, selling 25% of the company in the process. The money will be used to buy the water bottling plant they currently source their water from and to start importing Australian food products to China and promoting it at their contracted stores.

Valuation

From a pure valuation perspective, Tianmei China is a fantastic deal. According to the Prospectus they made a profit of over 4.3 million dollars in the first half of 2016, and the IPO values the company at 34 million, meaning the Price to Earnings (P/E) ratio is well under five if you annualised those earnings. On top of this, both arms of the business are in massive growth areas: The bottled water market in China has seen double digit annual growth due to pollution concerns and the growth in demand for Australian food and health products in China has been astronomical. You can see this in the impressive premiums that the market places on any Australian company that is exposed to Chinese consumers: Bellamy’s was trading at a P/E of 40 a little while ago, and even after sacking their CEO and concerns about their accounting, the share price has only shrunk to a P/E of 10. The A2 Milk company is trading at a massive P/E ratio of 68 and Blackmores is trading at a P/E of 20 largely thanks to growth potential in China.

It’s basically impossible to come up with a valuation that isn’t higher than Tianmei’s listing price using a discounted cash flow analysis. Even if you put a ridiculously high discount rate of 20% and assume a conservative growth rate of 6% for the next 8 years before levelling off to 1%, you still end up with a company value of over $40 million. The way I see it then, if you are evaluating this stock, investigating the exact growth rate of the bottled water market or Chinese supermarket conditions is a waste of time, as whatever you come up with is going to show the stock is a good buy. Instead, the simple question for any potential investor is can we trust this company? As a relatively unknown company operating in a country that doesn’t exactly have a spotless reputation for good corporate governance, it is hard not to be suspicious. The story they are selling through their accounts is one that anyone would want to invest in. The question is, is this story true?

Personnel

According to John Hempton, a role model of mine and someone who inspired me to start this blog, the best way to find out if a company is dodgy is to look at the history of the key management personnel. Hempton’s hedge fund Bronte Capital does just that, following people who they believe have been involved with companies that were fraudulent for potential targets to short sell.


Unfortunately, it’s hard to find nearly any English information on most of the key people in the company and I don’t speak Mandarin, so the only person I can really look into is the chairman, an Australian guy called Tony Sherlock. Tony Sherlock has been around for a long time in the M & A and finance world. He was the chairman of Australian Wool Corporation, worked at PWC in the risk division for ten years and co-founded Bennelong capital, a boutique corporate advisory firm. Judging by his Linkedin profile he looks like he is in his late sixties at the youngest, as he finished a Bachelor of Economics in 1969. Would a guy nearing the end of a successful career working risk his reputation promoting a company that wasn’t above board? It seems unlikely. He’s built up a solid reputation for himself over the years and it would be strange for him to risk it that late in his career. Of course nothing is certain, and it’s possible he’s got some secret gambling condition that makes him desperate for cash or simply doesn’t know that the company is fraudulent, but overall it seems like a positive sign that he is the Chairman.

History

One of the initial things that made me suspicious of Tianmei is its age, as according to the prospectus the company only started in 2013. Trying to unpick the exact history of Tianmei China is a painstaking undertaking, as there are a ridiculous amount of holding companies that have been created along with business name changes. As far as I can understand it though, it looks like the Tianmei business was created in 2013 by Guangdong Gewang, a Guangzhou based business started in 2010 that sells supplements of selenium, a chemical element that Guangdong Gewang claim is vital to human health. While I was initially suspicious of a company selling a supplement that I’d never heard of, after doing some research it actually looks legitimate. Although selenium deficiency is very rare in the West, apparently it is a problem in some parts of China due to crops being grown in selenium deficient soil. During a restructure in 2015 Guangdong Gewang separated the selenium supplement business from the water and FMCG businesses, and as a result created Tianmei. Interestingly enough, Guangdong Gewang is applying for admission to the Nasdaq for their own IPO currently. Guangdong Gewang still hold 22.5% of Tianmei through Biotechnlogy Holding Ltd, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. (Both these companies seem to have a real love of the British Virgin Islands, Tianmei’s ownership also is funnelled through a British Virgin Islands company.) While the history isn’t exactly stable, there are no obvious red flags I could find to turn me off investing in Tianmei.

Ownership

One of the things I like about this IPO is that the initial listing at least isn’t just a way for the owners to cash in. As a jaded, though still cautious believer in the theoretical benefits of capitalism, it’s nice to see an IPO doing what a stock market is meant to do; allocating capital to a business that wants to grow.
A strange thing about the ownership structure is that the equal largest shareholder with 22.5% ownership is a woman called Han Xu, an Executive Director who from her photo looks to be in her mid-twenties. How does someone who finished their bachelor’s degree in 2011 and a Masters of International Finance in 2013, afford 7.2 million dollars’ worth of shares in the company? Perhaps a more basic question is how can someone who left university three years ago and never studied law end up as the ‘legal expert’ and executive director of a soon to be publicly listed entity, when fully qualified lawyers of her age are still working 70 hour weeks as Junior Associates? The most obvious explanation would be she is the daughter of someone important. After doing some digging around I found that one of the co-founders of the original Selenium supplement company was a guy called Wei Xu. While I don’t know how common the Xu last name is in China, it seems reasonable to assume that they could be related.
Is this potential Nepotism enough to be a concern? I don’t really think so. While she might not be the most qualified person for the job, If anything it’s reassuring that the co-founders of the company are maintaining their holdings. The third largest shareholder of Tianmei is a guy called Mengdi Zhang, whose father Shili Zhang was another initial co-founder of the Selenium business according to Guangdong Gewang’s filings for their Nasdaq IPO.

Verdict

Overall I think this looks to be a pretty good IPO. While of course there are always risks with investing in a company this young and especially one operating in a foreign country, the price is low enough to make it worthwhile. It seems the listing is about both raising capital as well as creating a link with Australia so they can start importing Australian foods, which perhaps explains why they have listed at such a low price; the benefits for them isn’t just the capital they intend to raise. If the market gains confidence that Tianmei is legitimate, the company could well double its market capitalization in the next 12 months and I will definitely be along for the ride. 


Ardrea Resources


Overview

It’s hard not to be charmed by the prospectus of Ardea resources. Something about the long term consultant getting his first shot at a Managing Director role, the all or nothing plan of investing all money raised into exploratory digging in the next few years and the hopeful and earnest pictures of gold nuggets, abandoned mine sites and old letters makes it feel like something out of a Poldark episode.
The whole project seems to be a creative way Heron Resources management have dreamt up to finance exploration of some of their existing tenements they think look promising without annoying their shareholders who would rather they focused on their existing mine. Ardrea resources will be given the tenements and in exchange Heron Resource shareholders will be given over half of the shares in Ardrea Resources. Ardrea will then raise 6 million dollars through the IPO selling off the other shares
While it's an elegant solution, it is a rather expensive way of doing things. The IPO will apparently cost $900,000, or 15% of the money raised and that’s before the additional salaries of board members and directors that will need to be paid each year are factored in. The cynic in me thinks that if those gold nugget pictures that are talked about so excitedly in the prospectus where compelling enough Heron Resources management would have convinced shareholders to let the company do the drilling themselves, though perhaps that's unfair.

Analysis

The payoff tree for Ardrea is pretty simple: The two year exploration will either turn up something that warrants a mine, or the company will have burnt through nearly all its money on the exploration drilling and the shares will be close to worthless. This means that in order to evaluate this deal we need to decide on two things: how much the share price will be if the drilling turns up something, and the likelihood of that happening.
To try and quantify what the Ardrea share price would be if the drilling work uncovers a feasible mine site we can use the share price of Heron Resources itself. As it stands currently, Heron Resources has had the Woodlawn mine approved as economically feasible with works due to start early next year. With this information supposedly factored into the share price, the company has a market cap of just under 52 million dollars. If you subtract the net cash the mine has of around 24 million dollars, it means the market value of the Heron Resources mining site plus any other remaining tenements is around 28 million dollars. The market cap on listing of Ardrea Resources will be 14.3 million if fully subscribed, meaning that if Ardrea was to find a mine site that a feasibility report showed was worth developing, the market cap and share price doubling to 28.6 million and 40 cents respectively may be a reasonable assumption. I know this may be overly simplistic, but there seem to be so many unknowns in regards to what could be found that trying to be more specific seems futile.
Trying to assign a percentage to the drilling finding anything is harder still. I’m not going to even pretend that phrases like “’wallaby style magnetite epidote alteration’’ mean anything to me, so the Prospectus isn’t really much help in this regard. There are a couple of things though that make me feel this percentage isn’t that great. Firstly, these tenements are not exactly new, with the Prospectus mentioning they have been looked at by previous miner’s numerous times, which can hardly be a good sign. Secondly, I keep coming back to the idea that if this really was a great opportunity, there must be easier ways to raise 6 million than through an IPO. Surely there would be private investors who would jump at the chance to put up money if they thought this opportunity was worthwhile. With all this in mind, I find it hard to be confident that the drilling prospects are above 50%.
With that low of a chance of a payoff, the deal doesn't seem that enticing.
There’s one more reason I’m reluctant to invest in this Prospectus. One of the conditions of the prospectus is that Heron Resources shareholders get priority if the IPO is oversubscribed. This means that for the average non-Heron Resources holding investor you are in a catch 22 situation: If the Heron Resources shareholders know this is a good deal, all or most of the shares will be snapped up before reaching the general public, and you will be left out. If, on the other hand, Heron Resources Shareholders think that this drilling project isn’t worth it, your bid will probably be filled.

Verdict

This one is a pass for me. If I had shares in Heron Resources it might make more sense, but as it stands there are too many potential downsides to make the potential payoff worthwhile.


Occulto demo conjured up on Steam

Full version of hand-painted point-and-click fantasy adventure coming to Windows, Mac and mobile devices in early 2023.
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