Vetoquinol SA – It’s a family affair

Vetoquinol is A French company specialized in “Animal health”, i.e. pharmaceuticals for animals. I came across the company more or less by random. The company went public in 2006 but the majority (~62%) is owned by the founding family, the current CEO is the 3rd generation of the founders. Some key figures:

Market Cap 450 mn EUR
P/B 1,6
P/E 16
Operating Margin (11 year avg) 11,0%
ROCE (11 year avg): 10,8%
EPS CAGR 8 year +4,0%
Debt: ~ 3 EUR net cash per share

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Book review: “Simple but not easy” – Richard Oldfield

I honestly never heard of Richard Oldfield before but in the UK he seems to be a well-known investment manager. He used to run Mercury Asset Management and now has his own company, Oldfield Partners.

The book is part autobiography and part investment philosophy, containing the wisdom of his 40 year career in investments.

I couldn’t really detect a structure in the book, but it is generally well written and contains a lot of wisdom. I liked very much that he started with his biggest mistakes. A couple of his thoughts mirrored my own to a 100% such as the fact that “armchair investing” might have a lot of advantages. He calls it “traveling narrows the mind” and gives some very interesting examples for this view.

Interestingly, the book was released in 2007, just before the financial crisis hit. I guess with his cautious style he clearly survived it but it is also clear that he didn’t see it coming. In one of the chapters he is discussing that the issues in the US housing markets were not as big as they were made in the press and he was invested in GM which went bankrupt a year later or so.

On the other hand, almost everything he writes reflects deep insight into investing. There is good stuff on how to select asset managers as well if and when to fire them.

One of the most relevant quotes for me was the one where he states that people who are good at stockpicking are usually not good in FX forecasting,, i.e. fundamental stock analysis and “macro” don’t mix well. He writes about an overlay hedge which killed a large part of the performance of a portfolio. This is an observation I made too and where I am currently suffering because of my TRY bet. Note to myself: Revisit the TRY bond position.

Overall I think it is a very good book and I might read it again because it is packed with good stuff and I maybe didn’t get everything for the first time.

I would explicitly recommend it to those investors who want some insight into “family office” like investing, but it is good reading both for beginners and professionals. Just don’t expect a “how to get rich in 12 month” type of book.

FBD Insurance Update – Prem Watsa to the rescue….

FBD, the troubled Irish insurer issued an interesting press release last week. In one of my last posts on FBD, I mentioned that their plan for capital raising was still unclear.

This clearly shows that FBD is extremely strained from a capital perspective. The biggest unknown in my opinion is how the proceeds of the sold JV will be reinvested into FBD. They don’t comment on that 45 mn EUR at current prices (5,8 EUR per share) would be more than 20% of the company. I don’t know about Irish company laws, but this normally needs to be done on a subscription rights basis. Or the Farmers provide the subordinated capital ?

A few weeks ago, they were out in the market to raise a subordinated bond. Last week however, FBD came out with a quite surprising announcement:
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Some links

Great post from Nils Herzing on visiting Monish Pabrai’s Investor day. Monish seems to like Fiat a lot.

Barry Ritholz interviews Jason Zweig (WSJ)

A very good post on why and how to adjust EM company valuations for foreign currency borrowing plus thoughts on Chinese Banks

Check out this Japan focused value investing blog with some very high quality content: Undervaluedjapan

MUST READ: Fascinating article on how Berkshire closed the Precision Castparts deal (hint: initiative seemed to have come from Todd) (h/t valueinvestingworld)

MUST READ: Latest Memo of Oaktree’s Howard Marks called “It’s not easy”

Arcadis NV (ISIN NL0006237562) – One deal too many ?

Arcadis is a stock which popped up in my “BOSS score model” which I still use regularly to find ideas. It is a Dutch based Design, Consulting & Engineering company with global reach and a diversified business. Historically, they have consistently produced ROE’s of 20% and grown nicely.

Some key figures:
Market cap 1,7 bn EUR
P/B 1,7
P/E 19,5 (2014), 11,6 (2015 est)

The company trades at a ~20% discount to Peers like AF AB, Ricardo or SWECO.

What I did like about Arcadis at “first sight”:

+ consulting is capital light business
+ potential growth areas like infrastructure, water, urbanization
+ ROIC as relevant measure for compensation
+ organic growth as target for compensation
+ well-regarded in the industry

What I didn’t like so much:

– large project exposure
– China / EM Exposure (26%)
– Utility exposure (22%)
– big M&A transactions in 2014
– annual report focuses on adjusted numbers
– debt significantly increased, far above target

Hyder Consulting acquisition in 2014

In 2014, Arcadis did several larger acquisitions, the largest one being the UK listed Engineering company Hyder Coonsulting Plc. After the first bid, a Japanese bidder emerged and at the end they had to pay around 300 mn GBP for a company that earned around 6 mn GBP in 2014. This really looked expensive and is maybe one of the reasons why EPS in the first 6 months 2015 fell from 0,77 EUR to 0,70 EUR per share.

Looking into historic annual reports one can see that there was little organic growth for many years (page 15) and growth was driven by acquisitions:


Arcadis looks pretty much like your typical “roll up”, gobbling up competitors one after the other. However with the Hyder deal, it looks like that they made maybe “one deal too many”. Debt is now clearly above their own targets and business is not doing well. They acquired Hyder for their Asian presence which maybe looked like a good idea last year.

Management incentives: The reality test

When I did read the annual report 2014, I really like the fact that management seems to be incentivized on ROIC and organic growth. However, this is the score card they presented with their half-year numbers:

arcad sct

At first sight the source card looks, great, everything green, only organic growth “orange”. A closer look actually shows that the only target they hit was actually external growth which in itself is a pretty stupid target. All the other targets were either misses or not available.

This slide alone to me indicates that management doesn’t take its stated goals that serious. Yes, on paper it looks great but such a “target achievment assessment” is clearly a joke.


Although the “roll up” strategy seems to have worked for some time, in my opinion there is the risk that the 2014 acquisition spree was maybe too much. If they can make the acquistions work, the stock would be relatively cheap, but combined with the current debt load the stock is now much riskier than it was in the past. Bilfinger is a good example how a seemingly working “buy and build” strategy can implode over night.

It is also a good lesson in checking if a compensation system which looks good on paper is actually implmented and followed or if management just adjusts everything to look good despite not achieving the targets.

So I will watch this from the sidelines although I like the business and industry in general.

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