French stocks (3): Poujoulat (ISIN FR0000066441) – boring building materials or renewable energy growth machine ?

After my first French stock analysis Installux, let’s have a look at another of my favourite French small caps, Poujoulat SA

As this is a pretty long post, I will introduce a kind of “management summary” in the beginning:

SUMMARY:

– Poujoulat is a small family owned chimney producer in France

– company is not an asset play (P/E ~ 8, P/B 0.9) but a cheap stock which showed consistent profit growth of 15% CAGR since 1999 with little impact from business cycles

– Poujoulat has profited and profits from the secular trend to energy-efficient heating and is investing into renewable energy (wood pellets)

– if the new “renewable energy” segment really takes of, the company could be worth multiples of the current stock price, if not, the downside is relatively limited as the stock is cheap without any growth

Introduction

Bloomberg describes the company as follows:

Poujoulat is involved in the building supply and heating industries, and specializes in manufacturing chimneys. The Company, through its subsidiaries, supplies construction companies and individuals in France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium.

If we look at “traditional value metrics, the stock is cheap but not spectacularly so (all information from the 2011 annual report)

MArket Cap: 62 mn EUR
P/E 2011 8,0
P/B 2011 ~0.95
P/S 0.4
EV/EBITDA ~5
Div. Yield 2.7%

So nothing special which would show up on one of the various screeners. So what’s interesting about this company ? That becomes clear if we look at the recent history since 1999:

TRAIL_12M_EPS NI Margin ROE ROIC
1999 2.61 2.9% 8.3% 5.6%
2000 3.39 3.4% 10.0% 6.1%
2001 5.85 4.9% 15.8% 8.6%
2002 3.81 2.9% 9.3% 5.3%
2003 5.41 3.9% 12.2% 6.7%
2004 5.10 3.4% 10.5% 6.3%
2005 7.56 4.3% 13.6% 9.9%
2006 9.76 4.7% 15.2% 15.7%
2007 11.62 4.8% 15.8% 10.6%
2008 14.19 5.0% 16.8% 10.3%
2009 16.73 5.9% 17.0% 9.9%
2010 18.15 5.8% 15.8% 9.8%
2011 16.62 4.6% na na

Poujoulat managed to grow its earnings relatively steady by 15% CAGR from 1999 to 2011.

NI margin have almost doubled, however with a small set back in 2011. ROE has increased to a nice 15-17%, ROIC is slightly lower because Poujoulat has some debt on its balance sheet.

So this stock looks like some nice “Growth at reasonable price” stock or GARP. GARP investing was the “Mantra” of Peter Lynch, the legendary Fidelity Portfolio manager.

The most important ratio for “GARP ers” is the PEG (or Price Earnings Growth ratio). The PEG ratio is calculated relatively easy by P/E divided through the growth rate in absolute terms.

For Poujoulat this would be

P/E = 8 , Growth 15%, PEG = 8/15 = 0.53. Everything under 1 is normally considered good, a value like here at 0.53 is even considered very good.

I have no statistical evidence if GARP really works, but all things equal, I always prefer a cheap growing stock to a super cheap no growth stock.

Business model / reason for past growth

Before we go into the valuation exercise, let’s have a look at the business itself. Chimney manufacturing is a highly localised and fragmented industry. Poujoulat calls itself “market leader in Europe” however 85-90% of their business is located in France.

As chimneys are an important part in Fire prevention, chimneys have to be certified by the respective authorities in most countries. So we have certain local barriers of entry because you cannot just import stuff from China and sell it, but I wouldn’t consider this as a really high moat.

Most chimneys are sold through the respective construction companies, so the sales organisation is more business to business than business to consumers. So we should not expect too many branding effects etc. However I could imagine that a good established b2b sales force (plus service and infrastructure) might be a competitive advantage.

Chimneys themselves are not only simple tubes to lead exhausts outside the house, but there seems to be a fair amount of technical knowledge involved.

In summary I would assume that there is no real moat in this business but maybe some regional competitive advantages like sales force etc.. So where did the strong growth in the last 10-12 years come from ?

The answer is relatively easy: usually you need a new chimney if you build a new house or if you change the heating system. As everyone knows, building activity itself is somehow subdued, but due to high oil prices and government incentives, heating systems are being exchanged in an ever-increasing pace.

What seems to be especially interesting is the fact that you seem to get nice tax credits in France especially for wood pellet stoves. According to this article, tax credits have evolved as follows:

In France, 30 – 40% of the population in most areas uses wood as a primary or secondary heat source. However, there was not the explosion of low efficiency polluting devices that occurred in the US in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the average French person does not regard wood heating as a pollution problem as many Americans are likely to.

France has had tax credits for stoves at 15% starting since at least 2001. In 2005, they rose to 40% and were as much as 50% in 2008 and 2009. In 2010 they went down to 40%, and in 2011 they were further reduced to 36%. Due to budget cuts, tax credits are likely to be reduced again in 2012 or end altogether.

Also many of the other energy-saving heating systems usually require new chimneys as exhaust fumes are colder and more humid.

So one could compare this a little bit with the German company STo AG, which produces insulation material and profited as well from the energy-saving boom.

If we compare the charts, we can see that at least to a certain extent the stocks performed similar to each other:

So to summarize the business case: We do not have a moat company but a company which has profited and might profit from a secular trend, in this case energy-saving.

Valuation

Even if we don’t account for growth, the company seems to be really cheap. We can buy a company below book value with an ROE of 15%. Even if we assume no growth and 10% CoC, Poujoulat should still be worth something like 160-170 EUR.

If we assume only half of the growth from the past (~7%) then the stock would could be worth 300-400 EUR.

So from a valuation point of view, I think one gets a free option on the further growth of energy-saving solutions which is not a bad deal.

Management / Shareholders / etc.

The company is led by Frederic Coirier, the son of Yves Coirier who bought the majority of the company in 1975 and is still President of the supervisory board.

Son:

Father:

The family holds around 73% of the shares, another 11% are held by three French funds according to Bloomberg. In the annual report they mention a forth fund (“Ocean”). So free float is really small, below 10 mn EUR.

Balance Sheet quality seems to be relatively good. Only small amounts of goodwill, no big acquisitions in the past. The company uses debt. Debt to capital ratios improved until 2010, but debt increased due to relatively large investments in 2011. I did not find anything with regard to hidden assets.

Unlike Installux, there is a link to the annual report on the homepage, even English annual reports are available, unfortunately only until 2009. On a quarterly basis, the company only issues sales updates.

Issues / Problems

For a “perfect” stock, Poujoulat does not generate enough free cashflow. Total Free Cashflow since 1999 is negative. This means that they actually had to invest to grow. Which is normal for a company but some investors do not seem to like companies who invest in fixed assets.

Especially in 2011, Poujoulat invested 25 mn EUR or almost a third of the market cap into fixed assets. On the other hand, if a company manages to earn 10% on invested capital and 15% ROE relatively stable across business cycles one could argue that this is actually a good sign if a company has such reinvestment opportunities.

Another issue to be aware of is of course the impact of tax credits and regulations. This is an issue all the renewable energy stocks share, the impact of the Government is huge and regulations could change quickly.

Finally trading for the stock is really illiquid and prices jump around like crazy. It is nor unlikely that from session to session, prices move by 10% without any news up or down.

New business segment

One interesting aspect is that they are actually diversifying away from producing chimneys. Starting only in 2011 they show now a separate segment “Bois energy” which I would translate as “wood based energy”. Almost 50% of new investments in 2011 went into this area, however with a negative result of -600 K EUR in 2011.

If I understood this article correctly (and Google translated well), they are actually moving into manufacturing wood pellets and logs to be used in wood heating. The new production site also seems to include a biomass electricity generation.

Normally I would see this kind of activity as “diworsification” but with Poujoulat this might be a little bit different. Due to their know how with wood heating and chimneys, they might have a relatively good inside view into this market.

So this could even be the start of a new fast growing segment for the company. As far as I know, the wood pellet market is currently quickly growing and to my knowledge, Poujoulat is the only listed company with exposure to this segment of renewable energy. I have some friends who work in Private Equity who consider this area as quite interesting.

The business segment showed a loss in 2011 although this seems to be normal if you start something like this from scratch. In another article, they say that the new processing plant went live only in Novmeber 2011. Here is a picture:

Accoring to the articel, the dried wood logs and pellets are sold through 1.400 point of sales. So this is something to watch closely, although due to the reporting of Poujoulat we will see the next results only in next year’s annual report.

If we assume a 15% growth rate for this business and a 10% ROA based on the current 25 mn EUR investment, this segment alone could be worth an additional 50-100 EUR per Poujoulat share.

Current quarter

In the first quarter 2012. as usual they only report sales divided into France and “export”. On a group level, they increased sales by a whopping 14.5%, with France actually growing 17%.I assume that this includes the wood energy segment has contributed significantly to this growth.

If the Wood energy business returns the same ROA as the other businesses, we should see some extra 3-4 EUR earnings per share pretty soon.

Summary:

As a pure building material stock, Poujoulat would not be interesting. However due to the fact that they profit over proportionally from the secular trend to energy-saving, the stock becomes more interesting. The final argument for me was the “free option” included for the new segment “wood energy” which looks promising and is not priced in my opinion.

So for the portfolio I will start accumulating Poujoulat from today with a limit of EUR 140, although due to the low trading volume it might take a while before a reach even 1% of the portfolio.

4 comments

  • There are two companies that I can mention of the top of my head as having exposure to second generation biofuels like wood pellets. Andritz AG, which makes boilers and pelleting plants, and Novozymes, which makes enzymes that aid in conversion to ethanol.

    Andritz probably sold Poujoulait its pelleting plant as they have ~50% of that market. (atleast according to management, http://atl.g.andritz.com/c/www/00/04/45/205428250/44585/1/1/0/ft_newsletter_pulpwood_australia_07.pdf)

  • Grmpf, ich hatte vor ein paar Tagen ein – leider zu geiziges – Kauflimit reingelegt, als der Kurs noch bei 126 war und eine 3.000-Stück-Order bei 130 Euro. Die ist jetzt spurlos verschwunden und es ist kaum mehr Material mehr im Angebot, der Kurs steht 11% höher bei 140 Euro… Aber Du kannst wohl nichts dafür, war schon gestern so.

    • bei Poujoulat muss man in der geduldig mit Limits arbeiten. Ich ärgere mich immer noch damals keine für 90 bekommen zu haben, weil die DAB Bank den Auftrag nicht ausführen wollte…

      Edit: Kurse Franz. Small Caps kann ich vermutlich (noch) nicht mit dem Blog beeinflussen 😉

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