Following up an Maisons France Confort (ISIN FR0004159473) – Business model & Capital management

Last week, I ran Maisons France Confort through my checklist and found it quite interesting.

If we simply look at very basic profitability numbers, we can see that the numbers look almost too good to be true:

ROE NI margin Net debt per share
31.12.2002 27.1% 2.8% -1.46
31.12.2003 28.5% 3.1% -2.28
31.12.2004 34.5% 4.0% -4.74
30.12.2005 38.0% 4.6% -5.92
29.12.2006 39.1% 4.8% -7.33
31.12.2007 35.3% 4.8% -4.09
31.12.2008 24.3% 3.8% -4.44
31.12.2009 13.3% 2.9% -5.15
31.12.2010 16.7% 3.6% -6.98
30.12.2011 21.2% 3.9% -10.39
       
avg 27.8% 3.8%

The 10 years from 2002-2011 is a full cycle with boom and bust years, so achieving on average an ROE of 28% with a financially unlevered balance sheet is outstanding.

How do they do it ? The answer is (of course) effective capital management. I have used Bloomberg data for this but if we look at the last 6 years we can see that their capital management is really outstanding:

FY 2011 FY 2010 FY 2009 FY 2008 FY 2007 FY 2006
Goodwill 45.34 40.75 36.6 37.11 33.64 17.31
PPE 17.8 16.39 13.96 14.39 12.02 9.59
 
Inventory 21.74 20.8 24.23 24.14 21.17 7.95
Receivables 82.11 74.41 57 80.9 91.2 82.5
Prepayed expense 27.06 25.37 23.36 24.85 23.24 44.49
 
Accounts payable 96.9 81.88 70.95 93.26 92.58 80.06
Net Working capital 34.01 38.7 33.64 36.63 43.03 54.88
 
Revenue 583.91 443.06 395.84 499.62 482.97 424.98
Net income 22.68 15.83 11.51 18.9 23.19 20.2
 
PPE in % of sales 3.0% 3.7% 3.5% 2.9% 2.5% 2.3%
Net Working capital in % of sales 5.8% 8.7% 8.5% 7.3% 8.9% 12.9%
PPE+Net WC in % of sales 8.9% 12.4% 12.0% 10.2% 11.4% 15.2%

Running a business with only ~9% of “operating” net assets compared to sales is something you don’t see very often.

Let’s have a quick look at Kaufman & Broad, another French listed home and appartment builder:

FY 2011 FY 2010 FY 2009 FY 2008 FY 2007 FY 2006
Goodwill + int 151.52 150.82 150.5 149.71 149.81 69.96
PPE 5.88 5.99 5.93 7.27 9.47 8.87
 
Inventory 235.56 246.15 295.74 519.52 595.46 513.2
Receivables 305.67 203.33 203.77 296.26 405.7 309.13
Prepayed expense 141.26 159.48 139.43 158.64 147.39 122.14
 
Accounts payable 409.67 377.29 398.79 552.65 620.98 535.91
Net Working capital 272.82 231.67 240.15 421.77 527.57 408.56
 
Revenue 1,044.26 935.70 934.91 1,165.11 1,382.57 1,282.83
Net income 0 0 0 0 0 0
 
PPE in % of sales 0.6% 0.6% 0.6% 0.6% 0.7% 0.7%
Net Working capital in % of sales 26.1% 24.8% 25.7% 36.2% 38.2% 31.8%
PPE+Net WC in % of sales 26.7% 25.4% 26.3% 36.8% 38.8% 32.5%

Interestingly, Kaufman & Broad improved their capital management as well but they still need 3 times the operating net assets to generate roughly the same returns.

This of course shows in Profitability:

ROE NI margin Net debt per share
31.12.2002 21.4% 4.4% 5.90
31.12.2003 20.8% 4.5% 2.55
31.12.2004 20.1% 4.7% 3.46
30.12.2005 28.7% 5.9% 3.79
29.12.2006 33.5% 6.6% 4.64
31.12.2007 31.8% 6.1% 16.74
31.12.2008 4.6% 0.7% 19.90
31.12.2009 -31.1% -3.2% 12.46
31.12.2010 19.4% 1.9% 9.92
30.12.2011 37.7% 4.5% 7.69
       
avg 18.7% 3.6%

Despite a significant leverage, ROE are lower on average and due to the leverage much more volatile.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why Maisons has outperformed larger Kaufman by a wide margin over the last 10 years.

Just for fun, let’s also look at Helma AG, a small homebuilder in the currently booming German market:

FY 2011 FY 2010 FY 2009 FY 2008 FY 2007
Goodwill + int 2.21 2.19 1.85 1.63 1.51
PPE 16.31 14.57 14.89 15.48 13.79
           
Inventory 19.83 8.63 5.61 5.8 6.67
Receivables 10.59 6.33 4.27 3.47 2.92
Prepayed expense 8.85 5.76 3.11 2.98 2.72
           
Accounts payable 5.85 5.02 0.76 0.79 4.72
Net Working capital 33.42 15.7 12.23 11.46 7.59
           
Revenue 139.50 118.50 106.68 103.59 74.54
Net income 5.2 3.4 2.36 2.31 1.3
           
PPE in % of sales 11.7% 12.3% 14.0% 14.9% 18.5%
Net Working capital in % of sales 24.0% 13.2% 11.5% 11.1% 10.2%
PPE+Net WC in % of sales 35.6% 25.5% 25.4% 26.0% 28.7%

Interestingly, the operate roughly at the level at Kaufmann & Broad but nowhere near MFC’s level. Helma by the way actually seems to have jumped into property developement which might explain the increase in operating assets.

So compared to two other homebuilders, the business model of Maisons France looks extremely “lean” from a capital management point of view. The big question of course is why are they so much better ?

I think the big “trick” was already mentioned in the Ennismore summary from last week’s post:

Unlike many other markets, in France there is virtually no development risk for the company because land is purchased separately by the customer and the house will only be built once it is fully financed.

In their annual report, there is a hint how they operate:

Under Note 4.8 (receivables) we find the interesting information, that the receivables amount on their balance sheet is a net amount. So the roughly 80 mn receivables translate into 320 mn gross receivables against which they show something like 250 mn prepayments.

Those prepayments, which they seem able to get are basically an interest free float which explains in my opinion the superior ROE and ROIC metrics compared to the other builders.

Summary:

From a pure capital management perspective, Maisons France Confort seems to have a very good business model. they seem to generate a lot of interest rate free “float” which greatly reduces the required amount of net operating assets.

I am not sure if currently is the right time to invest as the stock has run up quite fast and french housing might be slow this year, but is definitely a very interesting company.

The big quesiton is: Is such a business sustainable without an obvious “moat” ? In my opinon yes, because creating such a business model is not something you can do from scratch. 3-5% margins are not overly attractive for many competitors. Howevr, in any case some deeper research into to this will be necessary anyway before a final investment.

2 comments

  • Hi MMI, care to comment on what happened to SAIPEM? Dramatic drop seems to have been caused by someone selling their 2.3% stake rather than the earnings forecast – do you think it is a good opportunity to get in cheap?

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