Category Archives: Holding Company

Softbank Part 2: Sum-of-parts Valuation and don’t forget the Taxman

A couple of days ago, I looked at Softbank more from a strategic point of view. This time I want to focus more on the actual assets and a sum-of-parts valuation

What is Softbank ?

Essentially the company at its core is a Telco company in Japan and US plus a lot of “extra assets” like the Alibaba stake, Yahoo Japan and then all the other stuff including the vision fund. The initial Software distribution business (this is where the name Softbank comes from) doesn’t play a big role anymore.

I will now try to walk through the major Softbank Assets in more detail:

  1. The Alibaba stake

Let’s start with the largest position first, the now so famous Alibaba stake. From a technical perspective, Softbank doesn’t own the listed shares but this:

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Exor SpA: Buying a Reinsurance company doesn’t mean that you’re the “next Bershire”

Following my Old Mutual “sum of parts” valuation I saw the following Ira Sohn presentation of Exor Spa, the Agnelli family holding (FiatChysler, CNH etc.) as a potential  “Sum of part” value investment.


To summarize the presentation  in my own words:

  • Exor Spa is basically a “Berkshire like” company at a “Graham” valuation
  • Exor is managed by a “great capital allocator” and trades at a discount as people see it as an Italian company
  • After the acquisition of Reinsurance Partner Re Exor should trade at similar valuations as Berkshire or Markel
  • Big upside potential as FiatChrysler, Ferrari (and CNH) are severely undervalued (“Coiled springs”)

The study sees a potential upside of several times the current share price. They forecast a 150 EUR NAV per share (vs. ~50 EUR now and 30 EUR share prices), driven by a quadrupling in value of the FCA and the CNH stakes.

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Altamir SA (ISIN FR0000053837) – French PE at an attractive discount or CEO “self-service” vehicle ?

Altamir is a French holding company whose main purpose is to invest into private equity funds. Such a structure is called in general “listed private equity”.

To be more specific, this is what they state as the company strategy:

Altamir invests exclusively with Apax Partners, in three ways:

In the funds managed by Apax Partners France:

€200m to €280m committed to Apax France VIII;

In the funds advised by Apax Partners LLP: €60m in Apax VIII LP;

Occasionally, in direct co-investment with the funds managed and/or advised by Apax Partners France and Apax Partners LLP

As investing in only one Private Equity fund company is a quite special arrangement, one asks oneself only one question: Why ? Well, this is explained in the annual report:

Apax Partners was founded in 1972 by Maurice Tchenio in France and Ronald Cohen in the UK. In 1976, they teamed up with Alan Patricof in the United States, bringing the independent entities together under a single banner, Apax Partners, with a single investment strategy and similar corporate cultures, and applying the rigorous standards of international best practices. In 1999, Apax Partners began to merge its various domestic entities into a single structure (Apax Partners LLP), with the exception of the French entity, and reoriented its mid-market investment strategy towards larger transactions (enterprise values between €1bn and €5bn). Apax Partners France opted to remain independent and conserve its mid-market positioning, targeting companies between €100m and €1bn. There are currently no cross-shareholdings or legal relationships between Altamir on the one hand and Apax Partners MidMarket and Apax Partners LLP on the other, nor between Apax Partners Midmarket and Apax Partners LLP

This closes the circle: Maurice Tchenio is the CEO of Altamir and was the founder of Apax Partners in France.

Tchenio retired from Apax only in 2010, so for quite some time he was running Altamir in parallel to being actually part of Apax himself. Maybe to provide stable funding to APAX France ? i don’t know.

So why could this be interesting ?

Looking at Altamir, there were some very positive aspects to be found:

+ CEO owns 26%, is buying (2009: 22%)

+ transparent documentation, reporting. Quarterly NAVs, detailed asset lists

+ French Midcap PE is attractive

+ discount vs. NAV (~30%, 11,20 EUR vs. ~16 EUR NAV). The discount is relatively high compared to other listed P/E stocks (currently on average ~10-15%)

+ no double leverage, net cash

+ paying dividends

+ valuation of unlisted assets relatively conservative, sales prices always higher than last valuation

+ the legal structure seems to be tax efficient for long-term holders (no tax on dividends for French shareholders if one commits to hold > 5 years)

+ track record is pretty OK as we can see in the chart: They did manage to outperform the CAC Mid& Samll cap index since inception based on their stock price, although only at a relatively small margin:

altamir vs cac mid

Actually, those points, especially the “juicy discount” in connection with the large CEO share holding makes this quite interesting

However, the most important thing in looking at such vehicles is the question: How much cost do they add and how much aligned are the interests of management and shareholders ?

And this is where things get a little bit messy. According to the annual report, direct fees are around 17 mn EUR or 2,9% of NAV. This includes in my understanding also the underlying APAX funds. This is not cheap but most likely “in line” with other “fund of fund” PE structures. But the real “fun” starts with the following issue:

The Company has issued Class B shares that entitle their holders to carried interest equal to 18% of adjusted net statutory income, as defined in §25.2 of the Articles of Association. In addition, a sum equal to 2% calculated on the same basis is due to the general partner. Remuneration of the Class B shareholders and the general partner is considered to be payable as soon as an adjusted net income has been earned. Remuneration of these shares and the shares themselves are considered a debt under the analysis criteria of IAS 32.
The remuneration payable to the Class B shareholders and the general partner is calculated taking unrealised capital gains and losses into account and is recognised in the income statement. The debt is recognised as a liability on the balance sheet. Under the Articles of Association, unrealised capital gains are not taken into account in the amounts paid to Class B shareholders and the general partner.

So this is in fact a 18% “carried interest” of the general partner (i.e. the CEO) on any realized profits of the company. So for 2014 for instance, 87 mn EUR of realzed income “shrink” to 57 mn EUR shareholder income as first the management fee gets deducted and then further 18% profit share.

So the “privilege” of a shareholder to invest into APX via Altamir is purchased quite expensively. This also puts the CEO investment a little bit in perspective. Yes, he has invested around 100 mn of his own money into Altamir, but in 2014, the management fees and profit share netted him close to 30 mn EUR direct, whereas the proportional profit of his share position was “only” 15 mn EUR.

Ok, maybe being the Ex Founder of APAX France opens the door to invest into APAX, but charging “3% and 18%” for this privilege (all in) looks quite expensive and explains some of the discount.

Activist angle:

The whole fee issue might also explain why French asset manager Moneta seems to have started in 2012 and “activist campaign” against altamir, see here and here.

They seemed to have pushed for a run-off of the company but so far only succeeded in pressuring to pay a higher dividend than before (increase from 0,10 EUR 2012 to currently 0,50 EUR).

According to Moneta’s homage, they are still active. To me it looks like that the increase in the CEO’s share position has much more to do with control than with actually believing that the shares are undervalued, but of course this could be wrong.


In principle, a listed PE vehicle specializing in French mid-market Private Equity could be interesting if the discount is significant. At Altamir however, as I have described above, the structure takes out a lot of money and one needs significant Alpha over time to break even compared to a “do it yourself” portfolio of French small and midcaps.

Tha activist involvement is interesting, but I don’t know enough about French Governance rules to assess the chances of a fundamental change.

So for the time being no investment, however if for some reason (market stress), the discount becomes really large I might be revisiting the case.

GP Investments (GPIIF US) – Your chance to team up with Brazilian Investment Superstars like Uncle Warren did ?

That some Brazilian investors know how to make BIG money is no secret anymore, especially since Warren Buffet teamed up with Brazilian 3G to take over Heinz in a 26 bn USD deal.

What if you could team up with similar Brazilian guys like good old Warren did ? In theory, there is a good chance by buying shares in GP Investments, a listed Brazilian Private Equity company. GP Investments is not any Brazilian Private Equity company, but was the original Private Equity vehicle of “genius” investor Jorge Paolo Lemann. He sold the company in 2003 to his Junior partners and then went on to found 3G.

So in theory, GP Investments is like the “Junior” version of 3G with a LatAm focus and some of the employees of GP have actually been hired by the 3G guys which are all bilionaires now (Lemann is according to Bloomberg now number 28 in the world with a net worth of 24,8 bn USD).

Back to GP Investments:

There is a pretty comprehensive case study on Value Investor’s Club, so no need to replicate everything here.

The basic investment idea is simple:

GP investments trades at a discount to its holdings (in which it invests along its 3rd party private equity funds) plus you get the asset management company for free. On top of that, management is aligned with shareholders and repurchases shares.

Further, two “gold standard” value investment firms have large positions, Third Avenue with 11,65% and “legendary” Sequoia with 11,8%. Finally, GP Investments announced two very succesful exits over the last weeks which made them good money (BR Towers and SASCAR).

The stock price increased a little bit since then, but still, the stock looks very much undervalued and almost a “No brainer” if one is looking for a Brazilian investment opportunity.

What is the asset management business worth ?

My answer: Not much. Look at this table:

Management Fees Salaries, expenses Bonuses Net
2006 15.5 -18.99 -5.2 -8.69
2007 26.2 -38.1 -9.2 -21.1
2008 13.9 -47.9 -3.9 -37.9
2009 16.2 -47.9 -13.4 -45.1
2010 25.0 -48.6 -15.3 -38.9
2011 17.4 -45.4 -7.7 -35.7
2012 22.4 -60.2 -19.3 -57.1
2013 20.5 -74.9 -8.4 -62.8
Total 157.1 -382.0 -82.4 -307.3

Based on the available US GAAP account I created this table showing the assets maganagement fees charged to third party investors against salaries, expenses and bonuses for GP’s employes and operation. We can easily see that the balance has been increasingly negative over the years. Since the IPO, the “Asset Management Business” has cost the shareholders some serious money. Even if we assume that expenses include other general expenses, then to me the value of the Asset Manegement looks rather negative, it looks like that GP shareholders are subsidising 3rd party investors to a significant extent.

Private Equity track record

If you read through GP’s investor presentation, they always stress their great track record since 1993 with a lot of examples of exits where they made a lot of money. However, we never find a “real” track record which shows the real IRR for all assets. For an Asset Manager, the track record is the most important asset, before anything else.

In the following table, I tried to recreate their PE track record based on their published numbers since their IPO 2006 (in USD). I used disclosed US GAAP numbers and then calculated a simplified annual IRR. One remark: Minorities are a big contributor in GP’s P&L. I assumed that all minority results are PE related. In the table, a positive number in the column minorities means that the loss has been shared with minorities and vice versa for profits.

Investments eoy Realized gains, Div increase in value Minorities Total return in % a.m.
2006 173.9          
2007 1165 59.2 279.8 -169.0 170.0 25.39%
2008 1381 11.8 -513.9 304.2 -197.9 -15.55%
2009 1568 229.0 241.5 -284.0 186.5 12.65%
2010 1431 -47.8 -39.0 68.2 -18.6 -1.24%
2011 1173 38.3 -348.0 236.0 -73.7 -5.66%
2012 1279 133.0 -120.3 44.0 56.7 4.62%
2013 998.3 -284.2 191.6 89.6 -3.0 -0.26%
Total   139.3 -308.3 289.0 120.0

It’s not hard to see that the Performance only looks good the first year, after the they went public.Since then, the track record has been very weak. The Bovespa made in the same period a total return in USD of ~0,7% p.a. So yes, they performed slightly better than the Bovespa, but after bonsues and expenses, GP shareholders would have been better off with an index fund. Bad timing plays clearly a certain role here as well, however on the other hand it is hard to understand how the justify paying out more than 80 mn USD in bonuses for such a mediocre perfomance.

A few additional remarks on that from my side:


After the IPO, GP took on leverage, both as a bank loan and with an issuance of a perpetual note. Especially the perptual note in USD with 10% might have looked as a good idea when interest rates in Brazil were high and the real gained against the dollar, but now, with the real loosing significantly, this currency bet is of course making things worse. Additionally shareholders have additionally lost money via a “negative carry” on the debt funding compared to their low single digit investment returns.

Stock options / Alignment of interest

Since 2006, more than 50 mn options have been granted to the employees (against around 160 mn shares). Some are pretty far out of the money, but still, combined with the bonuses it doesn’t look like that there is “full alignment” between shareholders and employees. The executed share repurchases look rather small compared to the option grants.


In the last few years, GP diversified into infrastructure and real estate. For me, this is a clear sign that they focus on asset gathering rather than on performance. I think their problem is that they cannot raise a new PE fund as their perfomance is most likely substandard and many more competitors are now active in Brazil then when they started. Additionally, on of their recent pruchases, a Swiss based listed fund-of-fund vehicle called “APEN” s also not really consistent with their LatAm focused strategy.

So the big question is:

Is GP Investments a good investment despite the substandard track record ? Will they be able to generate better returns going forward ?

What I am concerned about is the fact that they seem to hang on their loosers and sell winners pretty quickly. Making 100% in 3 years sounds good, but the real money is made with investments that make 5 or 10 times their initial investment. Overall, to me it looks like that the bonuses which are paid independent of overall investment results are the biggest issue. In a “Good” private equity structure, the employees only cash out AFTER the full portfolio has been cashed out and the overall result. In my opinion, this is the only way how to align incentives in such an environment.

Finally, a few words on the “Lemann / 3G” connection: In the book “Dream Big”, which I just finished reading (review follows soon…) and which sketches the carreers of the 3G guys, Lemann is quoted that he left GP Investments because of 2 reasons:

1. GP did chase too many deals, as he wanted to focus only on a few for the very long term
2. He didn’t like the way his younger partners payed themselves big salaries. His credo was always that salaries and bonuses had to be fully reinvested into the company and employees should have a simple life style

So for me at this stage, I will not invest in GP. Despite the interesting and initially compelling story, I am simply not convinced that GP going forward will be a better investment than a Bovespa index fund. Full stop.


So this is part 2 of the post about Sistema, the Russian conglomerate, part 1 can be found here…

Sistema offers quite a lot of material for investors on their website, including some nice investor presentations, including a relatively recent one from November 2013. As with Koc Holdings, I found the material surprisingly good for a Russian conglomerate.

Some positive aspects (compared to other Russian companies):

+ clear financial targets in place (Cash flow to HoldCo, ROI above CoC)
+ focus on cash generation and shareholder return
+ compensation of management linked to share price development
+ clear split of corporate center financials esp. debt. Again, this is more transparent than for instance with the Belgian HoldCos I have been looking at

Interestingly they seem to follow a little bit the “Koc playbook” by teaming up with foreign companies and listing their subsidiaries. They do claim that the Sistema Holding company acts as a “private equity” investor, although some of their “Monetization strategies” (dividends) are not really private equity style. Also they can show some significant disposals, such as the Power Generation business last year or their insurance company in 2007, so “empire building” is clearly not their highest priority.

Major businesses:

Sistema has two major businesses which are both listed:

Bashneft, one of the larger Russian oil explorers and refiners active in Bashkortostan (west of the Ural, European part of Russia) & & the Arctic region.

MTS is a large Russian mobile phone company with more than 100 mn clients in Russia and neighbouring countries.

Bashneft is owned 75% by Sistema, MTS 53,4%. Now comes the interesting part: The value of the two stakes (MTS 5,5 bn EUR, Bashneft 5,4 bn EUR) is already significantly higher than Sistemas Market cap plus holding debt. With Holding debt of around 0.6 bn EUR, total Holding EV is 7,7 bn EUR vs 10,9 bn EUR market cap of those two holdings.

Their other participations include Rail cars, a toy retailer, a local power grid, a hospital chain, a retail bank, farmland,and finally a struggling Indian mobile operator. Most of the other stuff made losses at least in the first 6 months in 2013, but even if we attach zero value on that, Sistema trades at a significant discount to its sum of parts.

Most of the other businesses are relatively new, for instance the Rail car business has just been bought and combined in 2013. A very interesting subsidiary is the toy retailer Detsky Mir which seemed to have just more than doubled profits from 14,7 mn USD to 36 mn USD. This proves to a certain extent that they are able to grwo new bussinesses and create value. Assuming a 10X P/E multiple for a fast growing retailer, this would add another 250 mn EUR or so to the valuation. They initially planned to IPO Detsky Mir in March 2014, but I am not sure if they might postpone it for the time being.

The Bashneft acquisition in 2009

The EPS development of Sistema clearly correlates to a large extent with Bashneft and MTS plus any realized gains from disposals. If we look a the last couple of years, we can see that the overall increase in Sistema’s earnings per share correlates mostly with the significant increase in earnings at Bashneft. Bashneft has grown very quickly over the last years with a significant increase in output.

Much more interesting is the timing and the price paid. Sistema acquired the majority in Bashneft in March 2009 for 2,5 bn USD. Remember, this was the time when the Russian Index had lost 2/3 of his value within 15 months or so. In their 2009 annual report, one can clearly see that the transaction was a “bargain” purchase at around 50% of “tangible” book. If we look at Bashnefts financials, we can see that the timing was really good. According to the 2010 Bashneft presentation, Bashneft made around 420 mn USD profit in 2009, so Sistema was buying it around 6x P/E. Already a year later net income was around 1.4 bn, a nice 240% increase, and despite the rouble losses, Bashneft will again earn more than 1 bn USD in 2013. So clearly, this 2.5 bn USD investment has more than paid off for Sistema so far.

One interesting aspect about Bashneft: The reserve replacement ratio, which shows if an oil company is discovering more new oil than it takes out of the ground, is around 800-900% for Bashneft. To put this in perspective: Most major Oil companies have ratios slightly above 100%, BP’s for instance went down to 77% two years ago. So overall, Bashneft seems to be a pretty attractive asset for Sistema. Even Lukoil for instance, another big & cheap Russian oil company has a replacement ratio of only slightly above 100%.

Bashneft got the rights to 2 very promising oil fields in the region in 2010. According to this article, this might be part of a strategy not to allowing any Russian oil company becoming too big.

Although there are clearly risks as well. There seemed to be a rumour, that state controlled Rosneft was “interested” in Bashneft but this was denied by Sistema.

Bashneft itself last year paid significant divdends. The 220 rubles per share would be a dividend yield of more than 12% at current prices. This seems to be a confirmation of Sistema’s strategy to upstream cash into the holding. Unfortunately, Bashneft is only traded very illiquid outside Russia on the German stock exchange, with bid/ask spreads of around 10%. Otherwise, Bashneft would be a very interesting additional investment as well.

Rusneft transaction

Another example for a succesful “private Equity” style transaction ist a smaller Russian oil company, Rusneft. In 2010, Sistema bought 49% of the highly indebted company for 100 mn USD. 3 Years later in June 2013, Sistema sold the very same stake for 1,1 bn USD. An 11-bagger in three years, not that bad. One could consider this as a “proof of concept” regarding their private equity business model.

Comparison Sistema with Koc:

After investing in Koc Holding from Turkey, I think it makes sense to make a quick comparison:

– Sistema doesn’t have the same long-term track record as Koc (20 years against 3 generations)
– the Russian market is clearly even “more dangerous”
– Sistema is less diversified than Koc, mostly Oil and Telco
– until now no proof that they are a “value adding” HoldCo

+ they do not have a political problem with the current local leadership
+ no fx issues (oil revenues are in USD anyway), only small exposure to financials
+ Sistema is much much cheaper, both compared to sum of parts and P/E etc.
+ from a true contrarian perspective, Russia is even more interesting than Turkey
+ they seem to be able to pull off really lucrative deals like Rusneft and Bashneft with “eye watering” ROIs

Is a Russian stock really “investible”

This is a big question for me. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post why I would not invest in Greek stocks (mistake !) or German-Chinese companies (score).

Honestly, a Russian stock is clearly in general much more a “speculation” than a German or French one. Compared to Italian stocks however, I am not so sure anymore, as the EMAK and ASTM example clearly showed that Corporate Governance for instance in Italy is not that much developed.

The two most relevant questions in my opinion are:

a) Are the managers fraudsters or thieves ?
b) Can someone else easily interfere and take away assets etc. ?

In the case of Sistema, I do not have the impression that management are explicit fraudsters or thieves. I have certainly no prove for that, but the effort they make with con-calls etc. indicates a certain interest in shareholders and a higher share price. Ron Sommer, the former CEO of Deutsche Telekom is actually the boss of the supervisory board of MTS. They never sold any new shares to the market since the IPO, so the motivation behind the German-Chinese frauds seems not to be relevant here.

The majority owner Vladimir Yevtushenkov is clearly a typical “Russian Oligarch” (but he looks like Bill Gates 😉

However, he seems to be among the more “moderate” Oligarchs, as for instance this NYT article describes.

Another factor “pro” Sisteam is the fact, that both major subsidiaries are listed as well with separate, audited statements which increases transparency a lot and makes it easier to validate the “sum of parts” valuation. On the other hand one could argue: Why don’t they pay higher dividends ? They do have a dividend policy, however they promise to pay out only a minimum of 10% of what they can stream up to the HoldCo. According to this research from Gazprombank, rising dividends can be expected, but still we are talking only about 4-5% if this turns out to be correct. Not much for a company in a country with interest rates above 10%. On the other hand, if they are able to to investments like Bashneft and Rosneft, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay out huge dividends but rather to reinvest the money in such “multi baggers”.

The second point is harder to answer. It looks like that Sistema is at least on neutral to good terms with Putin. In the case of the Indian Mobile subsidiary for instance, Putin put the problems of Sistema on the table when he visited India in 2012. From the NYT article linked above, I think this quote from Sistema’s owner is revealing:

And business can only prosper, he added, if the size of business is commensurate with the owner’s political influence. “We didn’t understand it” at first, he said. “Many businessmen grew their portfolios very fast but didn’t understand that one must invest time in connections, human relations, invest in human capital.”

Mr. Evtushenkov is not alone in operating along Western lines. One Russian billionaire who also did was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil tycoon arrested in 2003 who has been in jail ever since.

As Mr. Evtushenkov told the Russian Web television station Dozhd recently, he knew Mr. Khodorkovsky when the latter was a young man and worked for him at a Moscow plastics factory. “He was terribly hyper, ambitious,” Mr. Evtushenkov said — and thus, he implied, forgot the rule about operating commensurate with political influence.

This sounds like a guy who knows how to maneuver (so far) within the harsh Russian political and business climate. So the risk should be a lot lower than for instance for Pharmstandard, but clearly, a dispute with government (see Rosneft/Bashneft) or a more powerful oligarch could change this real quickly.

Does Value Investing and investing in countries like Russia contradict each other ?

I want to make one thing clear here: This is no Warren BuffetT “great investment”. It is maybe an “above average” or even “quality” company in a really tough country.

On a pure stand-alone basis, there is clearly no Margin of Safety. As discussed above, certain things outside the perimeter of the company could happen which could impair the value of the stock severely. On the other hand, Value Investing is not only about Warren BuffetT style concentrated portfolio of great companies. There is another style with a more diversified “deep value” approach. I think Sistema clearly fits the “Deep Value” bucket. With this approach however it would be stupid to invest a large portion of the portfolio into a single company. The “Margin of Safety” in those cases comes from investing in a “Bucket” of extremely cheap companies where you can afford that 20-30% will actually turn out worthless, 50-60% are doing Ok and the remaining 10-30% will turn out spectacular.

Sistema in my opinion is a potential stock with a low weight for such a contrarian Emerging Market “bucket”. Yes, a lot of things can happen, but the stock is so cheap that if things turn out positive, the stock could easily tripple or quadruple.

I do have sometimes the impression that especially in the last few years the “BuffetT & Munger” approach is hailed as the ONLY way of value investing. But there are a lot of other succesful investors you had very similar track records with radically different approaches. Among them for instance were John Templeton and Mark Moebius. This ise an excerpt of the 16 investing rules from Sir John Templeton:

3. Remain flexible and open-minded about types of investment.
4. Buy low.
5. When buying stocks, search for bargains among quality stocks.
6. Buy value, not market trends or the economic outlook.
7. Diversify. In stocks and bonds, as in much else, there is safety in numbers.

This is quite different to “buy concentrated and only what you know best”. Just out of interest I have looked into the Templeton Emerging Markets funds. Mark Moebius only owns two Russian stock, Sberbank with a weight of around 3% (7th largest position) and Lukoil (2,7%). Interestingly, Mark Moebius even seems to have a blog with a recent comment to Ukraine. Personally, I would not invest in Sberbank as this could be one of the easier targets for sanctions.

Timing and other considerations

Looking at the 5 year chart one could think that Sistema would have a lot of space to fall further:

But one should not forget that from 2009 to current, Sistema turned a 2.5 bn USD investment in Bashneft into a stake currently worth 7,5 bn USD….Clearly the risk is real that I am much too early.

To give an example: In February 2010 I wrote in my home forum that Public Power Co., the Greek utility looked like a good risk/return situation at around 12 EUR per share (and a P/E of <5). I even said that it looks like that the stock is bottoming out. This is the stock chart:

Although the stock is now back at that level, the stock bottomed out -90% lower at around 1 EUR per share. Luckily I got out pretty soon before disaster struck, but this should be clearly reminder that it can always get worse.

Where is my “edge” ?

Cleary, I do not have any direct “edge” with regard to Russian stocks. I do not speak Russian, I have never been there and I have only access to published reports and research. I am as far from being an insider as one can possibly be. On the other hand, I do have one valuable advantage (as any private invetsor): I do not need to explain this to clients or bosses. I do not have to fear to loose my bonus or even my job if anything goes wrong. Ok, the readers of my blog might think of me as a gambler and my portfolio will suffer but that’s about it.

The biggest risk

A final remark on risk. I have gone through many of the risks related to a Russian stock and I am sure I obly scratched the surface. Nevertheless, I think the biggest risk is not an escalation in the Ukraine. This would be rather a buying opportunity. The biggest risk in my opinion is a hard landing in China. Russia is completely dependent on their natural resources exports. Lower prices for Oil, natural gas etc. will kill the investment case for Sistema. So this is to watch out for.

Summary and what to do

The main attraction of Sistema is clearly the valuation, comparably transparent reporting, professional management and (for a Russian company) shareholder oriented approach. The downside is, on the other hand, that Russia is dangerous for investors which explains the low valuations along the curent political turmoil.

Koc from Turkey is clearly the better company, but Sistema is only half as expensive. In building up my “basket”, I think Sistema has a place, although with a relatively small weight.

Additonally and most important to me, Sistema has shown in the past that they are able to pull of ridicoulusly succesfull deals in tough times as Bashneft and esp. Russneft have shown. So the possibility is high that Sistema again might be actually a winner from the current Russian crisis if they are able to close some more deals at “rock bottom” valuation levels.

The only thing which is really annoying to me is the fact that the spread between the GDRs and the Russian shares has now reached ~13%, a lot higher than a few weeks ago. Still, I am prepared to get my feet wet and will therefore invest into a 1% position for the portfolio as part of my “Emerging Market” basket along Ashmore and Koc holding. The low percentage reflects the (much) higher risk for Russia.

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.

Compagnie Du Bois Sauvage (BE0005576476])- See’s Candy in a Belgian wrapper ?

While researching Ackermans & Van Haaren, I stumbled over another smaller diversified Belgian holding company called Compagnie Du Bois Sauvage (CBS).

The company doesn’t look too exciting with the following “standard” metrics:

P/B 0.92
P/E 16.6 (mostly meaningless for Holdcos)
Div. Yield 3.3%
Market Cap 340 mn EUR

The company presents itself as a holding company, active in Real estate and strategic participation plus a so-called “treasury” division.

The strange name of the company (wild forest) is explained on the website as well as the origins.

However it is much more interesting what they are doing now, especially the strategic holdings. The company divides the participations into the following pillars:



This segment consists only out of 2 investments:

1) A 26.41 stake in a tiny Belgian Credit insurance company and

2) much more interesting a 12% stake in one of Germany’s oldest and most succesful private banks, Berenberg .

According to the CBS report, Berenberg has around 300 mn EUR equity and earned on average around 20% return on equity over the last 3 years, which is very very good. They seemed to have bought the stake in 2002 from an US shareholder.

I tried to reconcile the numbers in CBS annual report with the official annual report of Berenberg but it did not match. I think Berenberg reports only their bank, not the complete Group

Nevertheless a very interesting and high quality asset


CBS discloses the following stakes:

– a 1.56% stake in listed Belgian metal group Umicore

– a 29% stake in listed Belgian automotive supplier Recticel

– 29% in an unlisted US plastics company called Noel

Nothing special here, very diversified but in my opinion without a clear focus or strategy.

Food – Neuhaus Chocolate & Pralines

This is in my opinion the “highlight” . The main company in this segment is Neuhaus, a famous Belgian chocolate manufacturer where CBS owns 100% of the company . According to Wikpedia, Neuhaus has actually invented the “praliné” as we know it.

Neuhaus was actually a separate listed company until 2006 and then taken private by CBS.

Out of curiosity, I did not follow my normal “Armchair investing” approach but did some real research. Neuhaus positions itself at the very high end of Chocolate and praline manufacturers. When i went into one of the biggest downtown department store in Munich, i was surprised that they actually charge 5 EUR for a 100 g chocolate bar and up to 75 EUR for a 1 Kilo representative praline selection. I bought myself a 250 gram pack for 17 EUR which looked like this:

I am not an expert chocolate, but someone else is, Warren Buffet. That is what he said about See’s Candy: (from 1998):

It is a good business. Think about it a little. Most people do not buy boxed chocolate to consume themselves, they buy them as gifts— somebody’s birthday or more likely it is a holiday. Valentine’s Day is the single biggest day of the year. Christmas is the biggest season by far. Women buy for Christmas and they plan ahead and buy over a two or three week period. Men buy on Valentine’s Day. They are driving home; we run ads on the Radio. Guilt, guilt, guilt—guys are veering off the highway right and left. They won’t dare go home without a box of Chocolates by the time we get through with them on our radio ads. So that Valentine’s Day is the biggest day.

Can you imagine going home on Valentine’s Day—our See’s Candy is now $11 a pound thanks to my brilliance. And let’s say there is candy available at $6 a pound. Do you really want to walk in on Valentine’s Day and hand—she has all these positive images of See’s Candy over the years—and say, “Honey, this year I took the low bid.” And hand her a box of candy. It just isn’t going to work. So in a sense, there is untapped pricing power—it is not price dependent.

Neuhaus is doing pretty much the same but with a twist: Their increase in sales seems to come to a large extent from Airport duty free stores. So instead of the Californian car driver you have the European business man or tourist but the principle is the same.

The biggest difference in my opinion is only the price. While See’s currently charges 18 USD per pound, Neuhaus actually gets away charging more than twice with 33 EUR (~40 USD).

It seems to be that for one, “Belgian Chocolate” allows them to charge premium prices. On a recent inland flight I quickly checked an Airport store in Munich, and indeed, Neuhaus together with Lindt was sold at very high prices at a premium location. The third brand was Feodora, the premium brand from Hachez, a privately owned German chocolate manufacturer.

Out of fun, I created a table of the developement of Neuhaus from the CBS annual report. The turn around and growth since acquisition is impressive:

Neuhaus 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Sales   64.52 70.88 83.9 96.25 102.25 105.7 119.9 133.47 149.27
Net   0.505 1.34 3.33 6.95 8.94 10.31 10.95 11.63 12.02
Equity   25.98 26.5 29.55 36.37 45.18 50.89 57.6 53.24 58.79
Net margin   0.78% 1.89% 3.97% 7.22% 8.74% 9.75% 9.13% 8.71% 8.05%
ROE     5.1% 11.9% 21.1% 21.9% 21.5% 20.2% 21.0% 21.5%
CAGR Sales     9.9% 18.4% 14.7% 6.2% 3.4% 13.4% 11.3% 11.8%
CAGR Earnings     165.3% 148.5% 108.7% 28.6% 15.3% 6.2% 6.2% 3.4%

Not only did they achieve a great turnaround, but Sales doubled and ROEs have been constantly at 21-22% p.a.since 2007. This resulted in a 10 times increase in earnings over this period.

If we look for instance to market leader Lindt from Switzerland, we can see that Lindt has a slight advantage in margins, but Neuhaus in growing more and has a better (and more stable) ROEs .

Lindt 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Sales p.s.   9,151 10,255 11,721 13,210 11,389 11,126 11,309 10,944 11,765
Net incom p.s.   684 788 947 1,123 1,158 851 1,061 1,084 1,198
Equity   3,638 4,421 5,224 6,195 6,519 7,168 7,410 7,095 7,695
Net margin   7.47% 7.69% 8.08% 8.50% 10.16% 7.65% 9.38% 9.91% 10.19%
ROE     19.6% 19.6% 19.7% 18.2% 12.4% 14.6% 14.9% 16.2%
CAGR Sales     12.1% 14.3% 12.7% -13.8% -2.3% 1.6% -3.2% 7.5%
CAGR Earnings     15.3% 20.2% 18.6% 3.1% -26.5% 24.6% 2.2% 10.5%

Don’t forget that the market is valuing Lindt at a 30x P/E, I think a 25x P/E for Neuhaus would not be unrealistic, as the business looks like a nice high ROE compounder.

In a M&A transaction, I could imagine even a higher multiple for such a premium brand from a strategic buyer.


Interestingly, CBS discloses NAVs on bi-annual basis, the last value being 270 EUR per share at June 30th 2013.

So we can easily use the template from the annual report and plug in own values:

What about a Holding Discount ?

I have written about how I look at Holding Comanies. In CBS case, I am neutral. I like that they are able to strike really good deals (Neuhaus, Behrenberg) and hold them for the long term. On the other hand, some of the activities look like trying to kill time. Positive: transparent and conservative NAV calculation. Overall I would not necessarily require a big discount here, maybe 10-15% or so.

Compared to GBL/Pargesa for instance we do not have a double holding structure and the main assets cannot be invested directly. So definitely a lower discount here. Compared to CIR, there is also only little leverage in the company.

SO let’s look at the sum of part valuation now:

% Value Comment
Neuhaus Chocolate 100.00% 300.00 PE 25(2012)
Behrenberg 12.00% 54.00 at 1.5 times book
Umicore 1.56% 60.53 At market
Recticel 28.89% 47.67 at market
Noel Group 29.37% 4.64 PE 10
Other   20.00 as disclosed
Codic Real Estate 23.81% 24.52 at book
other reals estate   60 as disclosed
cash etc.   20  
Sum   591.36  
Net debt   -80  
NAV   511.36  
shares our   1.6  
NAV per share   319.60  
Holding Discount   271.66 -15%
Upside   25.19% at EUR 217

What we see is that before applying the holding discount, the stock would have an upside of around 50% which would be OK for me. After applying the discount, the potential upside shrinks to 25%.

Other Info:

The guy behind CBS is Guy Paquot, a well-known Belgian investor. He owns close ~47% of the company.

According to this article, he comes from a rich family and was knighted in 2000 by the Belgian King. He stepped down in 2010 and is no official director anymore, but I guess he still influences the company to a large extent as the dominating shareholder

The Fortis situation

There is one dark chapter in CBOs history: As part of their activities they also invest into Belgian stocks. In 2008 however, they seemed to have received insider information about the upcoming nationalization of Fortis and were able to sell the stock before.

Because of this episode, the CEO actually was imprisoned for a few days and Guy Paquot came back from “retirement”.

It seems to be that one member of the supervisory board of CBS was also in the supervisory board of Fortis and passed the information. In 2008, it was speculated that the fine might be 40 mn or more.

The company settled the dispute finally in last November for a 8.5 mn EUR payment without committing to any wrong doing.

Stock price

Interestingly, the November settlement seems to have been some sort of catalyst, as the stock gained almost 30% in the aftermath.

The stock seems to have bounced off from the 2011 level of 230 EUR but overall I would say the chart looks ok.


Compagnie du Bois Sauvage is an quite unusual stock. Among a strange combination of businesses, there is a prime asset hidden which I think is comparable to Buffet’s famous “See’s Candy” which accounts currently for 60% of the value of the company under my assumptions. If Neuhaus keeps growing at this pace for 2-3 more years, the percentage of Neuhaus could be even bigger.

My own valuation shows an upside of around 25% from current prices after a 15% holding discount which is too low for me to buy . So although I like the company and the two great assets (Neuhaus, Behrenberg), the current price is not attractive enough for me +. For me, A stock price of 185 UR would be required or maybe profits (and valuations) of the two prime assets increase enough to justify an investment.

P.S: I started looking at the company and writing this post already in November 2013, when the stock was around 190 EUR. This is the reason why the post is so long despite the missing upside.

Rallye SA (ISIN FR0000060618) – another Holding company at a discount ?

Rallye SA, France is the holding company for 49.97% of Casino Guichard, one of the big French retail chains.

In their annual report they present the company as follows:

Their major assets are:

– 49.93% of Casino Guichard Perrachon SA (ISIN FR0000125585)shares (61.24% of voting rights)
– 72.86% of Groupe Go Sport SA (ISIN FR0000072456)(78.73% of voting rights), another small listed French company
– “investment portfolio”.

There is some qualitative description of the “investment portfolio” on page 19 of the report, it seems to be a quite divers collection of participations and real estate.

Rallye’s investment portfolio was valued at €365 million as of December 31, 2011, compared to €435 million as of December 31,
2010. At the end of 2011, the portfolio consisted of financial investments with a market value(1) of €272 million (vs. €295 million
at end-2010) and real estate developments measured at historical cost(2) of €93 million (vs. €140 million at the end of 2010).

Net external debt stands at 3 bn as of year end 2011. Other than that i did not see major positions.

The trickiest part of Rallye’s balance sheet is the 2.5 bn EUR receivables position the show in their single entity balance sheet.^2.3 bn of that seem to be receivables against Group companies:

The current account advances made by Rallye to its subsidiaries are part of the Group’s centralized cash management system. They are
due within one year.

The point I am struggling with most is the following:

If those receivables are against Casino, then one would add those assets for the Rallye evaluation. If those receivables are against their various subholdings which also hold Casino shares, then one would need to fully eliminate them.

I have quickly checked the 2011 Casino annual report, but didn’t find any liability against Rally SA. So we should assume that those internal Rallye receivables are a technical position which is financing the Casino stack and should therefore not be counted extra. Only the “external” part (~200 mn) should be used).

So with that assumption we can now calculate the “sum of part” or intrinsic value of the Rallye SA share:

EUR mn
Casino Guichard (50%) 4,112.3
Group Go 34.8
Investment Portfolio 365.0
Receivables, other assets 220.0
Sum assets 4,732.1
Debt -3,000.0
Other liabilites -110.0
Net Assets at market 1,622.1
Number of shares 47.2
Value per share 34.37
Current market price: 25.80
“Discount” 24.9%

Overall, a 25% “discount” seems to be quite normal for such a slightly in transparent structure including extra financial debt. However if one thinks Casino is a great investment, then investing through Rallye might be a good idea:

Casino Guichard itself is not uninteresting. Although it is not cheap, they are growing pretty strongly. Especially interesting is the fact that 60% or more of their sales are now in LatAm (Brazil and Colombia), two markets which seem to be the most interesting retail markets at the moment.

On the other hand, I am not a big expert on retail chains, so from that point of view I will not analyze Rally/Casino further.


If my assumptions are correct, the current “discount” of Rallye vs. its sum-of-parts as a holding of 50% Casino Guichard is only 25%. Considering the extra leverage and the lack of visibility, it does not look greatly undervalued.