E.ON Spin off plan – The final “Hail Mary” pass ?

According to Wikipedia, a “Hail Mary pass” is described as following

Originally meaning any sort of desperation play, a “Hail Mary” gradually came to denote a long, low-probability pass attempted at the end of a half when a team is too far from the end zone to execute a more conventional play, and that it took divine intervention for it to happen.

I have covered E.ON already a couple of times in the blog, with a first analysis, followed by a deeper look into their Nuclear decommissioning liabilites.

Finally, just a few weeks ago when the “spun” their Q3 results, I commented that E.ON is one of the prime examples of Management/Shareholder “disconnect”.

Now on Sunday, out of the blue, E.on came forward with an announcement to split themselves up into 2 parts, a “Renewable energy & Grid part” and a “Conventional part” including oil upstream nuclear power etc.

This was big news in Germany with a lot of press coverage and let to a nice “Bounce” in the share price on Monday:

Before I make some comments on the proposal, I found it quite interesting that another part of the press release had been pretty much ignored:

Fourth-quarter impairment charges of about €4.5 billion anticipated due to altered market environment
Outlook for 2014 EBITDA and underlying net income confirmed

Further down the “explain” it the following way:

Altered market environment necessitates in impairment charges

As part of the process of preparing the annual financial statements and the new medium-term plan, the E.ON Board of Management recently tested the Group’s assets for impairment. Beyond the roughly €700 million in impairment charges already disclosed in the first three-quarters, E.ON expects to record additional impairment charges of about €4.5 billion in 2014, primarily on its operations in Southern Europe and on generation assets. Although not cash-effective, the impairment charges will result in E.ON reporting substantial negative net income. However, E.ON expressly reaffirmed its forecast for full-year 2014 EBITDA and underlying net income.

Once again, EBITDA, which is relevant for the CEO bonus looks great, unfortunately shareholder’s equity will be further reduced by a cool 4,5 bn EUR, but the capital market either seemed to have not noticed this “small detail” or they are so enthusiastic about the spin-off.

The “Spin-off”

Spin-offs are generally considered interesting “special situation” investments. The underlying theory is the following: Many times, the capital markets seem not be able to price companies correctly, if the company either runs very different business lines or some of the business lines are performing badly. “Spinning off” underperforming divisions to shareholders then can unlock value because the capital market will value each part correctly and in sum this should be higher than the conglomerate. A secondary effect of spin offs is often that previously underperforming divisions freed from their previous owners often develop a unexpected positive dynamic, especially if the incentives for the management of the spin-off are correctly aligned.

Before moving into more details, let’s look once again in the original press release of EON:

The first step of the spinoff will involve E.ON transferring a majority of New Company’s capital stock to its shareholders, with the result that New Company will be deconsolidated. E.ON intends—over the medium term and in a way that puts minimum pressure on the stock price—to sell the shares of its remaining minority. This will enhance E.ON’s financial flexibility for future growth investments.

Why does EON only spin-off part of the “bad ship” ? Well, I guess the reason is simply that “E.On new” does not have enough capital to grow the renewable business on its own. It need the proceeds from the retained part in order to fund future investment.

In my opinion, this already lowers my enthusiasm for the deal, as the two parts are clearly not able to exist independently without an external capital injection. Economically, the sale of the remaining part is equivalent to a “backdoor capital injection”. This will clearly not be beneficial for the valuation of the “bad ship” part after the spin-off und limit the upside potential for some time.

Let’s look at the proposed structure of the spin-off next:

I didn’t listen to the Concall, but the slides for the new strategy can be found here. Before jumping into the presentation, let’s look what I have written almost 2 years ago:

– Nuclear is not coming back, that was more than 1 bn of EBIT which is missing going forward
– 60% of sales are actually energy trading revenues. The results of this “sector” look quite volatile
– they show huge swings in the net results of financial derivatives. In 2010 for instance, E.on showed a net gain of 2.5 bn against a 2011 loss of -1 bn .
– E.on has around 17 bn liabilities for nuclear waste etc. This liability is hard to analyse and could be grossly over-/understated. In the notes they state that the discount rate they use is 5.2%. I think this is a rather high rate. Combined with the long duration of those liabilities, there could lurk a potential multi billion hole there as well as in the 14 bn pension liabilities
– another “whopper” are the 325 bn EUR (yes that’s three hundred twenty five billion) of outstanding fossil fuel purchase commitments. Disclosure is rather limited here but I guess this is one of the big problem areas where they have locked in Russian NatGas purchases at too high rates

This is the plan from page 3 of the presentation:

E.on:
+ Renewables
+ Distribution/grid Germany / EU
+ “customer solutions” (whatever that means)
+ Turkey

NewCo (Bad ship):
– Generation (fossil, Nuclear)
– Hydro (why is this not renewable ?)
– E&P
– Global commodities
– Russia
– Brazil

So comparing my “problem list” from back then clearly shows, that ALL PROBLEMATIC areas would go to New Co.

Does this create value ?

I think some smart investment bankers have compiled valuations of utilities across Europe. This is a quickly compiled list of some utility and “utility like” companies across Western Europe:

Name Mkt Cap (EUR) EV/TTM EBITDA
     
ELIA SYSTEM OPERATOR SA/NV 2.443 12,3
RED ELECTRICA CORPORACION SA 9.973 11,5
NATIONAL GRID PLC 44.385 11,1
EDP RENOVAVEIS SA 4.726 10,7
SNAM SPA 14.196 9,9
EDP-ENERGIAS DE PORTUGAL SA 12.754 9,7
ENEL GREEN POWER SPA 9.135 9,6
A2A SPA 2.672 9,5
RWE AG 17.672 8,3
IREN SPA 1.221 8,0
GAS NATURAL SDG SA 22.771 7,8
E.ON SE 30.405 7,8
ACEA SPA 1.876 7,7
ENDESA SA 16.760 7,6
IBERDROLA SA 37.017 7,0
ENEL SPA 36.372 6,7
ACCIONA SA 3.427 6,3
EDF 45.477 4,9
GDF SUEZ 48.498 4,0

It is pretty easy to see that anything which sounds like “renewable” and/or “grid” trades at double-digit EV/EBITDAs whereas all the “integrated players” trade at medium to low single digit EV/EBITDA multiples.

So the idea behind this the proposed split seems to be clearly driven by the hope that the grid/renewable part will be valued at double-digit EV/EBITDA and the rest remain in the “integrated” valuation range.

The problem is of course, if the “bad ship” will actually trade at an integrated utility” multiple or not. My guess is: In the beginning, it will most likely not. I could also hardly imagine that the government will let the “bad ship” pay high dividends for a longer time because they will know that this is money which should be held for the nuclear liabilities.

Other considerations:

Looking into the past, E.ON has been spectacularly bad at reacting to changes and timing its strategic investment decision. They bought into Brazil right before their partner Batista went bankrupt, they missed the first 10 years of renewables etc etc.

If history is any guide, then the timing of the proposed split could indicate that maybe we have seen the worst and better times for conventional power generation lie ahead

It is also interesting that they said nothing about who will be running the two companies. Will the old guys remain at E.On ? This would be clearly negative

There could be some roadblocks on the way. The current German energy minister Gabriel seems to like the transaction (or doesn’ understand it) but there could be more resistance building up if people understand that the nuclear liabilities are dramatically under reserved. Also the pensioners of the “bad ship” could try to block the deal as having claims against the bad ship is clearly les valuable than for “E.On new”.

Summary & evaluation

The proposed split/spin-off of E.On was clearly a surprise. So far, the spin has worked and the stock market has liked this move. E.ON has outperformed the DAX and RWE by 7% since the announcement, which is a lot considering that they announced an unexpected 4,5 bn loss at the same time.

For me, E.On currently is clearly not a buy. On one hand, there is the risk that the spin-off does not work. Secondly, it is no real spin-off and depends on people actually buying the minority stake. Thirdly, just splitting the company in my opinion will not increase the value. If the same guys remain who made all the past mistakes, why should they suddenly be able to turn things around ?

On the positive side, the grid/renewable part could clearly be a take-over target, the bad ship however looks pretty toxic. For me, E.ON is still too much of a black box and without management change and better incentives, I could not see that much more upside. Still, I will keep them on my watch list as the prospoctus for the “Bad ship” IPO could be really interesting.

Coming back to the beginning of the post: Yes, E.ON has just thrown their final “Hail Mary” pass, but at the moment there is no way to tell if the ball even makes it to the end zone….

5 comments

  • Sounds to me like they, new green Eon, are going (or at least will try) to milk the “bad ship”‘s cash flows, until some of those nasty liabilities hit and the bad ship goes kaboom from some figurative or perhaps literal toxic waste.. while the new E.On itself lives.. and they hopefully dumped all their shares. At least they now got the setup to liquidate the bad parts really fast..

    I will steer well clear of the both, but appreciate your outline, thanks!

  • Well renewable companies have not always double digit EV/EBITDA multiples, look to Abengoa, which just dropped 50%. Interesting special situation maybe 😉

  • The German Government just announced that they will investigate the nuclear reserves of EON until year end:

    http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/atomausstieg-regierung-prueft-atomrueckstellungen-a-1006947.html

    • Sounds quite bullish:”Im Kanzleramt geht man davon aus, dass in wenigen Jahren sogar noch eine umfangreichere Unterstützung für Kohle- und Gaskraftwerke nötig ist, die einspringen, wenn Wind- und Solaranlagen nicht genügend Strom liefern. Bezahlen wird das der Stromkunde.”

      Additionally I don’t understand why the share price should react after the announcement of the impairment. No cashflows will be impacted. This is the rearview. The impairment was known before Eon’s test. These impairment tests und cash generating units are bogus accounting to me anyway. I like to buy after impairment charges, if the share price drops. The business is basically worth the same as before, but the price has gotten lower. Although impressive that you take on Eon, which is very difficult to analyze in my opinion.

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