Monthly Archives: February 2014

Energiedienst Holding (CH0039651184) revisited

Almost exactly one year ago, I looked at Energiedienst Holding, the Swiss/German Hydropower utility.

That was my summary from last time:

The current system for renewable energy in Germany (selling renewable electricity into the market at any price with the consumer paying the difference) is hell for “traditional” utilities including hydro power.

The German utilities have maybe underestimated the extent of renewable production, otherwise they could have done the exactly same thing themselves. Now however, the are in a kind of “death grip” between having to run their expensive black coal and gas plants for peaks and the artificially low electricity prices. Combined with unfavourable natural gas delivery contracts, especially for E.on the air will remain quite thin.

So unless something changes significantly, German utilities (including Energiedienst) will need a long long time to adjust capacity and change their business models.

So the first questions is of course: Did something change ?

Well, firstly, the stock price of Energiedienst dropped a further -25% form around 38 CHF to currently around 29 CHF. So just from the pure valuation point of view, the stock clearly looks cheaper:

P/B 0.86
P/E 12
EV/EBIT 12
EV/EBITDA 7
Div. Yield 5.1%.

Energiedienst released preliminary numbers for 2013 today. At a first look, it doesn’t look pretty. EPS came in at 1.99 EUR per share, the third consecutive decline since the peak at 2.70 EUR in 2010.

Looking further into their preliminary numbers, I was especially surprised by this:

  2013 2012 change in %
EBIT in Mio. € 79 99 -20%
EBIT Segment Deutschland in Mio. € 53 56 -6%
EBIT Segment Schweiz in Mio. € 27 43 -38%

Profit in Germany was only slightly lower, but we see a big drop in Switzerland which is surprising. In the text they mention that they took a special charge for long-term electricity purchases in the first half-year so one can assume that this has to do with the Swiss business. So not surprisingly, Free Cash Flow looks better than earning:

  2013 2012 change in %
Free Cash Flow in Mio € 79 83 -5%
Bruttoinvestitionen in Mio. € 44 57 -23%

This results in a total net cash balance of 146 mn EUR at year-end or 4.40 EUR per share which is almost 20% of the current market cap. So “cash adjusted” P/E is around 10. Additionally, they announced some kind of strategy change and review, however without any real details

OK, so we do have a relatively cheap but declining business, why bother ?

First, at least to me it looks that Electricity prices have at least for now stopped their free fall as those two charts show:

I am clearly not an expert on electricity prices, but with the currently mild winter (or no winter at all), I would have expected a further drop but that doesn’t seem to happen at least for now.

Political environment

Since last year, again some things have changed. We have now the “GroKo” in Germany, the coalition between the two large parties, conservative (CDU) and Social democrats (SPD). Interestingly, the boss of the junior party SPD, Sigmar Gabriel, has taken over the responsibility for Energy.

As I described a year ago, under the current system, mostly retail clients have to pay a surcharge in order subsidize above-market prices offered to the owners of solar and wind power plants. Many large companies are not subject to this “tax”.

The surcharge is increasing every year, both because of lower wholesale prices and additional capacity. However, pressure is building up against this system from many sides. Clearly, the established utilities are fighting against this as hard as they can and threaten to switch of expensive gas-fired power plants which are essential for net stability. But now, also the EU commission started to look into the exceptions for large companies already in December.

Also the core voters of the SPD are mostly lower-income recipients which are most effected by increasing electricity prices along rising rents. So Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD energy minister has to do something in order to stop further retail price increases or he will have no chance of winning the next election. Some ideas were already floated, mostly a limitation of future renewable capacity and lower rebates in the future. The concept drew a lot of critic from all side, although some parts, especially the requirement for direct marketing of renewable power doesn’t seem to be that bad.

In parallel, the bankruptcy of wind energy “pioneers” like Prokon shows that even under current high transfer payments, the big boom in new renewable energy seems to be mostly over and I guess investors will be much more careful in the future.

On top of that, the big utilities are taking out a lot of conventional capacity in Germany, party also in order to increase the pressure on the politicians.

So without being an expert in those issues, it looks like that the “tide might be turning” at some point in time in the future with regard to electricity prices or at least that they are not falling that much more. But this is clearly my own opinion and cannot be supported by a stringent theory or facts.

But why Energiedienst ?

As I have written before, the big traditional utilities like RWE, EON etc. have a lot of other problems, like too much debt, nuclear liabilities, pensions, problematic foreign subsidiaries etc. Even Verbund, thy Austrian Hydro Power utility has a lot of issues with Italian and other foreign investments. Energiedienst, on the other hand does not have those additional issues.

Energiedienst still looks more expensive than its peers:

Name P/E EV/T12M EBIT EV/EBITDA T12M P/B Dvd 12M Yld – Net Net D/E LF
             
ENERGIEDIENST HOLDING AG-REG 11,8 10,2 5,9 0,8 5,2 -7,8
VERBUND AG 9,4 9,8 4,8 1,1 3,8 70,5
RWE AG 108,3 7,2 3,0 1,5 7,4 77,9
MAINOVA AG 15,4 50,5 23,3 2,3 2,4 76,4
E.ON SE 12,2 8,2   0,7 8,3 45,2
ENBW ENERGIE BADEN-WUERTTEMB 51,0 13,0 6,1 1,4 3,1 43,0
LECHWERKE AG 21,7 21,6 14,7 3,1 2,8 -55,8

They do not jump out of this comparison table as the “super cheap” utility. But if we look at Lechwerke in comparison, a comparable, regional, Hydropower utility in Bavaria owned by RWE, sometimes quality is honored with very rich valuations.

In my opinion, the quality of Energiedienst, especially in comparison to EON, RWE & Co is not reflected in the share price. Clearly they suffer as well from current electricity prices and they are not a growth stock, on the other hand, as a hydropower generator without variable input cost, they will benefit the most from increasing prices.

The downside at the current level is in my opinion relatively protected, unless they do something really stupid with their net cash. This is in my opinion the key issue to watch going forward. Energiedienst will generate a lot of cash as reinvestment requirements will be rather limited. If they owuld actually start ti buy back shares, this couldbe a nice surprise but there is no indication that they willdo so.

I am aware that buying a German utility stock now is a pretty contrarian play and many people will say EON and RWE are cheaper and could more speculative upside or not to invest in utilities at all. My focus however is more on the downside, where I think Energiedienst is much better protected than the big, indebted players. So overall, I think the “full” risk/return relationship of Energiedienst is better.

Summary:

An investment into Energiedienst is clearly a bet on constant or higher electricity prices based on potential political changes, so it is rather a “special situation” investment with regard to potential regulatory changes from the current, unsustainable status quo. What I like about this bet is that to a large extent this will be driven by political actions which will be either uncorrelated or even negatively correlated to the overall economic situation and hence, to the rest of my portfolio.

My return target over 3 years would be the annual dividend of currently 5% plus a stock price increase of ~30% which would indicate a target P/E of 13-14 at current Earnings (ex then cumulated cash).

So for the portfolio, I will initiate a 2.5% position for the “special situation” bucket at ~29.50 CHF / 24.50 EUR per share.

Some links

Good overview and outlook for the beaten down Emerging Market countries from Prof. Cowen

Interesting analysis on Delisting from German stock exchanges (Frosta BGH Urteil, German)

Alphavulture likes MAgix AG, the German media software company

Cullen Roach explains why waiting for the fat pitch is not for everyone

Great post on Alleghany from HoldCo expert Brooklyn Investor

Fascinating book review “The panic of 1819” from valueprax (already ordered…)

Finally Nate from Oddball with some insights on sharing investment ideas.

Compagnie Du Bois Sauvage & Ackermans Van Haaren update

A friendly reader has sent me a recent research report from KBC about Belgian holding companies, including “sum of parts” valuations for both holdings I looked at, Cie Bois Sauvage and Ackermans & Van Haaren. Just for fun, I wanted to compare my valuations with those valuation:

Cie Bois Sauvage

Here is the comparison table:

Prt Value Comment KBC Valuation
Neuhaus Chocolate 100,00% 300,0 PE 25 265,0
Behrenberg 12,00% 54,0 at 1.5 times book 63,0
Umicore 1,56% 60,5 At market 59,0
Recticel 28,89% 53,4 at market 51,0
Noel Group 29,37% 4,6 PE 10 12,8
Other   20,0 as disclosed 26,7
         
Codic Real Estate 23,81% 24,5 at book 23,1
other reals estate   60,0 as disclosed 66,8
cash etc.   20,0   11,5
         
Sum   597,1   578,9
Net debt   -80,0   -61
NAV   517,1   517,9
         
shares our   1,6   1,6
NAV per share   323,2   323,7

Strangely enoungh, the final valuation per share differs only marginally, despite some divergences, most notably did they value Neuhaus 40 mn lower than I did. Interestingly they have a target price of “only” 235 EUR and consider it as a “hold” position.

Ackermans & Van Haaren

Value Method KBC  
DEME 550 Implicit val. Takeover 995  
Van Laere 26 0.75 book 44  
rent-a-port 5 at book 9  
Maatschappi 20 At book 28  
Sipef 130 market cap 482 137  
Delen 522 1.5 book 970  
van Breda 336 1.2 book 470  
Extensa 80 0.8 book 187 Extensa + Leasinnv
Leaseinvest 108 Traded 0  
Financiere duval 40 at book 45  
AnimaCare 40 2x book 21  
MAx Green 70 10x Earnings 10  
Telemanod 30 10x Earnings 9  
Sofinim 255 75% of NAV minus cash 362  
GIB     41  
Other     39 Belfimas
         
Net cash holding 148 Q3 -93  
         
         
Total 2360   3274

Here we can see that they came out clearly much higher than I did. Especially the private banks were valued much more richly at 1.44 bn vs my 850 mn. I think that this could be a little bit aggressive. The other big difference is DEME/CFE. Where I used the initial valuation before the merger, they use the current market value, which is clearly better. This is partly off set by the lower cash balance where I used the balance before the transaction.

Interestingly again, they apply a discount to the NAV, however in Ackerman’s case only -20% vs the -30% at Cie Bois Sauvage. Their target price is 86 EUR and they rate the stock surprisingly as a buy despite an upside of less than 10%.

Overall it is interesting to see their valuation, but honestly I am not overly impressed and it does not change anything in my conclusions.

Performance review January 2014 – “Taking responsibility”

Performance:

January was a very good month for the portfolio. The portfolio gained 3.68% vs. -1.86% for the benchmark (New benchmark since 1.1.2014: Eurostoxx 200 Small 25%, Eurostoxx50 25%, Dax 30% MDAX 20%).
Major positive contributors were April SA (+12,8%), Cranswick (+10.2%), Installux (+9.6%), Draeger Genußscheine (+8,0%) and Hornbach (+7.1%). Overall, the portfolio benefited from a January small cap effect more than anything else.

Portfolio transactions:

As discussed, I sold the entire Celesio position. Additionally, I started to sell down a quarter of Rhoen at around 21.95 Eur. On the sell list as well is the remaining stake in EMAK. Unfortunately the January effect did not help the EMAK share a lot.

Cash is currently at 15.6% of the portfolio. The portfolio as of January 31st can be found here.

Comment: Taking responsibility

Currently, two complete former management boards of two infamous German banks are standing trial. In both cases, HypoReal Estate and BayernLB, the boards made large acquisitions just before the financial crisis (Depfa, Hypo Alpe Adria) which turned out to be disastrous and sank both banks.

Of course, both boards and CEOs do not see themselves responsible for what happened. Hypo Real Estate’s former boss Funke blames the former German Finacne Minister Steinbrück for everything, the BayernLB CEO Kemmer blames of course the financial crisis for everything.

Taking credit personally for success and blaming others for failure seems to be common today in most management boards. As an investor however this kind of behaviour is very dangerous in many ways. In order to compound wealth long-term, investors need to avoid mistakes much more than trying to pick the next Apple or Google.

Blaming others for bad investments is in my opinion a sure way NOT to compound well in the long run. Blaming others and not oneself increase the risk that the same mistakes are made over and over again. Clearly, luck plays a big role in investing as well, but in the long run skill and especially the avoidance of “Unforced error” will dominate luck.

A good example is the current Prokon “scandal”. Many people now are blaming the German authorities that they didn’t step in and closed the scheme long ago. No, it was not the fault of the investors, which ignored all the warnings, it was the fault of others. Thinking like this leaves the door wide open for the next Ponzi scheme and then the next and the next etc.

If I make a (big) loss with an investment, my first question always is: What did I do wrong ? What did I miss ? Did I ignore facts or did a fall into a behavioural trap ? Unlike a CEO, the only person I can possibly fool is myself, so no need to blame the financial crisis, incompetent politicians, bad weather etc.

The same goes for greate investments. One should also ask oneself: What part was luck and what was skill ? History is full of failed investors which made one lucky trade and then lost it all because the thought that they actually knew what they were doing. The Celesio trade is a good example. Yes, I made a quick nice profit, but my initial assumptions were wrong. So instead of thinking: Hey, merger arbitrage is easy, I should ask myself if this is really a game I should play in the future as I do not seem to have better insights than anyone else.

So to make the long story short: For long term investment success, it is far better to take the opposite strategy of a typical Bank CEO: Take full personal responsibility for failures and only partial credit for success. I will almost guarantee that this will lead to a much better outcome than the typical “Bank CEO” approach for your personal portfolio.

Prime Office AG (DE000PRME020) – Strange rights issue

I have linked to the “special situation” stock Prime Office already in the past. The story in short:

Oaktree has effectively taken over a struggling German Office Reit by contributing a portfolio of office assets of their own. They then changed the status from REIT to “normal” company. In order to reduce the debt level, they started a rights issue a few days ago.

However this rights issue has a strange twist: Although the subscription rights are already traded (ISIN DE000PRME1B7), they did not publish the subscription price of the new shares yet.

Just as a reminder, let’s look how the value of a subscription right is calculated (from Stockopedia)

The calculated value of a subscription right. The theoretical value of a right during the cum rights period – which is the interval after the announcement of the rights offering but before the stock trades on an ex-rights basis – is calculated by the formula:

(Stock Price – Rights subscription price per share) / # of rights required to buy one share + 1

What we do know is that there will be 8 new shares for 23 old shares, that they are offering (up to) 46.58829 mn shares and that they want to raise 130 mn EUR. So one could calculate a theoretical subsrciption price of (130/46.59) = 2.70 and a value of the subscription right at the time of writing of (2.81-2.70)/(23/8+1)= 0.0283 EUR which is silghly lower than the traded prcie of 0.031 EUR per right.

But what I am asking myself is the following: Why did they do this in such a strange way ? Why didn’t they fix the price in the beginning as in very rights issue I have seen up to now ? I have no idea but I will watch that one closely.

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