Performance review September 2014 – Comment “Stupid German money”
September was a pretty bad month for the portfolio, both in absolute and relative terms. The portfolio lost -2,2% against -0,2% for the Benchmark. YTD the portfolio is up +4,99% against 0,45% for the benchmark.
A significant part of this underperformance was driven by Sistema which I sold with a loss of 40%. The decision to sell quickly seemed to have been right as the share price has fallen a further 40% since then.
Other big losers were G. Perrier with -17,2%, Ashmore with -12,5%, Hornbach -7,6% and TGS with -6,0%. in contrast to Sistema, I do not see any structural issues with those companies. Clearly the fact that small caps are underperforming since a couple of months als plays a role here.
Additionally to Sistema, I sold my 0.9% position in Poujoulat. Overall, I am not happy with the way they allocated their capital and the result of the wood pellet segment is pretty bad so I decided to get out of this relatively small position. I sold at around 40 EUR, resulting in an overall gain of 23,5% including dividends.
Additionally I sold my Sky Deutschland shares at a small loss at 6,73 EUR. Unfortunately, they never moved up and the offer period is slowly approaching the end and I have no opinion about the value of Sky Deutschland without the “special situation” aspect.
As a result, the direct cash percentage went up to 13,2%, the economic cash position is close to 20% (including MAN and Depfa LT2 which I consider “close to” cash). Another side effect of my sell transactions is the fact that with 25 positions the portfolio is in my personal “Sweet spot” with regard to the number of positions.
The current portfolio, as always can be seen on the “Current Portfolio” page.
Comment: “Stupid German Money”
September was high time for German Corporations to announce large acquisitions in the US. In a short period of time, transactions were announced from Siemens, Merck Kgaa, SAP and privately held ZF group.
This is a quick overview of the four deals:
|Target||EV USD bn||Buyer||P/E Target||P/E Buyer||Buyer/seller multiple|
|Sigma Aldrich||15,7||Merck Kgaa||31,1||16,0||194%|
We can easily see that the multiples paid by the 3 listed entities are significantly higher than their own multiples. Large acquisitions are a big risk in any case, but in the case of German – US acquisitions the track record is particularly bad. Daimler/Chrysler is clearly the worst German-US deal ever, but there are loads of other value distracting US deals like Dresdner/Wasserstein, Siemens/Dade-Behring, RWE/American Water etc. There are a few good deals as well, but in my opinion the success rate is definitely below 50%.
Why is this the case ? In my opinion, there are 3 major reasons for this:
1. German companies are normally very risk averse. So in “difficult” times, they keep their cash and wait until times get better. At some point in time when the good times are rolling (as they are now) they feel the urgent need to catch up with their international competitors and then buy into the boom which creates a very procyclical behaviour.
2. German companies often underestimate the cultural differences between Germany/Europe and the US. Many top managers might have been on vacation in the US or even studied there, but running an US company is very different from running a German company. Financial incentives are much more important in the US and often don’t fit with the rules here in Germany. So it is often almost impossible to keep the best people of a recently acquired company and without them, the business often deteriorates quickly.
3. In general. especially large German companies are just not good capital allocators. Buying back own shares is more often than not a no go and considered to be a sign of weakness. Equity is often thought as “Management’s equity” then “Shareholder’s Equity”. The term “shareholder’s equity” actually doesn’t exist in German language, “Eigenkapital” translates into “own funds” and I think most German managers consider it as their own funds and not the shareholder’s.
As a result, the acquisition behaviour of German companies is almost always super procyclical and then looking back mostly looks pretty stupid and is value destroying for the German shareholders.
As a private shareholder, my advice would be: Watch out !!
– You don’t want to own the stock of a German company which acquires a big US company. Chances are high that they will regret it in a few years time
– You don’t want to own the sector longer term they are investing in. This sector might be at or close to a cyclical peak
– although I am not a market timer, you might be very cautious in general despite M&A induced further increasing share prices