Category Archives: Admiral

Topdanmark A/S – A “Cannibal” soon to be set on a dividend diet ?

Topdanmark – The Danish Cannibal

Topdanmark, a local Danish Insurance company has been on my extended “to do” list for a long time for 2 reasons: It is the second most profitable European insurance company after Admiral (based on ROE) and  as Charlie Munger would call it a “true Cannibal”.

Those are some selected numbers from Topdanmark over the last 18 years:

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Driverless cars + Uber –> Death of Car Insurance ?

As this became a long post, a quick management summary upfront:

The case for 100% self driving cars without accidents is not so clear for me
1. Based on current facts, the Google car doesn’t seem a lot better than human drivers
2. From other areas (Airplanes, chess) we can learn that a human-machine combination is often better than a “machine” alone
3. Driving cars is also an emotional experience, many people might not fully sacrifice this
4. Some innovations take longer than one thinks, especially if they take away freedom from consumers
5. A gradual decrease of claims could actually be positive for car insurers over an extended period of time

Additionally, I don’t see a combination of driverless cars with a service like Uber replacing private cars anytime soon. There are a lot of practical issues with renting out private cars to complete strangers. However, taxi driver might not be a job with a big future either.

So from my perspective, as shareholder of a car insurer like Admiral there is no reason to panic, however for traditional insurers this might be one more nail in their coffin.

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UK Banking – A look at IPO Aldermore Plc (ISIN GB00BQQMCJ47)

Within my Handelsbanken mini series (part 1, part 2, part 3), I have identified their UK business as one of the potential value drivers. So it was a luck and coincidence that a few days ago, Aldermore PLc, a “start-up” UK Bank went public.

Aldermore itself was founded only in 2009 by a then out-of-job former Barclay’s Banker called Philip Monks. They tried to go public already last year but had to pull the IPO in October.

As I have mentioned a couple of times, an IPO prospectus is always a good opportunity to learn about business models in general and about competitors and the specific sector as well.

There are some interesting parts from the prospectus on the UK banking market:

A high number of mergers and acquisitions in the sector has resulted in sector consolidation (Lloyds’acquisition of HBOS being the largest as well as a number of smaller building society takeovers such as Santander’s acquisition of Alliance & Leicester and Nationwide’s acquisitions of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Dunfermline Building Societies). This has resulted in the UK banking sector becoming one of the most concentrated and least competitive in Europe according to a Treasury Select Committee report published in 2011.

The report concluded that the top five UK banks controlled 75 per cent. of total gross new lending in total mortgages, 85 per cent. of the personal current account market and 62 per cent. of the savings account market.

For a potential shareholder in a UK banking business stock, “most concentrated and least competitive” sound not that bad as it implies some pricing power.

Handelsbanken is mentioned as one of the few foreign players:

Although there are exceptions (e.g. Handelsbanken), more generally, foreign banks have exited or reduced their presence in the UK market. For example, ING exited their mortgages and savings business and stopped writing new business in Asset Finance towards the end of 2012 and the UK business banking subsidiaries of Irish banks have restricted lending.
Furthermore, UK banks have been forced to carry out major cost-cutting exercises, including centralising credit selection functions; in some cases, ring-fencing retail operations; and spending significant amounts to improve the performance and security of their IT platforms.
UK banks have also been significantly impacted by legacy issues arising from, for example, the mis-selling of PPI and swaps and from legacy and underinvested infrastructure. Since 2011, the total bill for litigation,fines and customer redress has been £28.5 billion, equivalent to two-thirds of the cumulative profits of the top five banks over this period
 Customer dissatisfaction in the UK banking sector has also risen. One effect of this, as discussed in a recent Oliver Wyman report, is an increased propensity of customers to review and switch banking provider

Similar to my argument for Handelsbanken, UK customers seem to be fed up with UK banks and are open for new entrants like Handelsbanken and Aldermore.

As a result of these factors, there have been a number of new entrants to the UK banking market. They have adopted a variety of models targeting different credit segments (i.e. retail, SME, corporate) and adopted different distribution models (i.e. branches, intermediary, direct). These include retail-focused branch-based banks such as Metro Bank and Virgin Money and required disposals under State Aid such as Williams & Glyn (currently part of RBS) and TSB (majority owned by Lloyds Banking Group). In addition, these are specialist lenders such as Close Brothers, Shawbrook, Bibby and Paragon, challenging the share of the UK banking market controlled by the incumbents in targeted lending segments.

Aldermore however has a complete different set up than Handelsbanken. They don’t run any branches:

Aldermore does not have a traditional branch network and as such does not have the significant costs associated with running such a branch network.

Instead they run Online/Broker/intermediary based business model, claim to avoid unnecessary costs for branches.

The Directors believe that Aldermore’s branch-free distribution model is better suited to the digital era,with the regional offices representing the physical footprint that Aldermore requires to service its SME customers. The absence of a large, under-utilised branch network enables Aldermore to distribute products and service customers more cost effectively

Interestingly, their actual cost income ratio 2014 is  60% vs. 53% at Handelsbanken. This might have to do with size (Handelbanken is 2-3 times bigger). So it is clearly not a “no brainer” to run an online bank only.

What I didn’t like about Aldermore:

– Intermediary model is not that easy. They don’t have direct client contact, clients are “owned” by brokers
– How do they cope in a downturn test if work outs are necessary and they don’t have client contact ?
– large potential bonuses for management
– targets for management are only EPS and Share price

They do state an explicit ROE ambition:

The Directors are targeting a return on equity of approximately 20 per cent. by the end of the financial year ending 31 December 2016.

Targeting is great, but having it included in compensation would be even better.

Could Aldermore be the same story like Admiral 10-15 years ago ?

I think that Aldermore differs in a very important way from Admiraml: It is not structured at as capital-light model, Aldermore keeps the risk on its balance sheet and will at some point in time need additional capital if they grow like this, which then will dilute shareholders.

Additionally, they are not active in the comparison space. I do think that in the long run will bite into their profitability as the comparison siteswill be able to charge them significant comissions for referals. In the insurance space, referral fees in many cases are already as expensive as sales commissions for agents.

A good reminder that not every new and online based financial company is “the next Admiral” is for instance Vardia, the Norwegian direct insurance newcomer. After explosive growth, out of the blue they had to announce a recapitalization recently. The stock price of course got hammered.


Aldermore is clearly riding the wave of disgruntled UK bank clients, but I would not invest there. I don’t see a real competitive advantage,at least not for now.
Valuation wise, the company trades at around 2,5x book value and 15 times earnings which is OK but not cheap. The biggest risk in my opinion is that with their aggressive growth, the might attract a lot of bad risks. Their long-term underwriting abilities will be tested in the next down turn for sure. Anyway, the Aldermore IPO clearly shows that there is room for smaller players in the UK and that there is a good chance for Handelsbanken to grow for quite some time.

Additionally i would argue that the UK banking sector still looks attractive compared to other countries. In Germany for instance retail and commercial banking is dominated by Government backed banks (Sparkassen) which have a built-in advantage of extremely low funding cost. The local UK market in comparison looks much better, especially as interest rates are still positive…..

Short cuts: Installux, Gronlandsbanken, Admiral


Compared to Poujoulat and other French company, Installux released almost sensationally good 6M results. Sales went up +3% which is quite impressive for a domestic, France focused company and net result went up almost +14%.

According to the half year report, cash is now around ~86 EUR per share. Only with the 15,80 EUR 6M Earnings per share, Installux would trade at a single digit p/E ex cash even if they make no profit at all in the second 6 months. With a realistic 25-30 EUR per share for the whole year, we are at an cash adjusted P/E of somewhere between 5-6. In my opinion, despite the illiquidity, Installux still offers a great return/risk profile.


Grondlandsbanken delivered very strong 6 month numbers. 6 month profits of 30 DKK per share were almost 20% higher than in 2013, althhough there were significant positive one time effects included (valuation and disposal gains). Nevertheless, operating results also increased yoy despite overall still muted economic activity. What I found most interesting in the report was this statement from the outlook:

After a weak socio-economic growth and negative GDP in 2012 and 2013, no or a weak growth in the Greenland economy is expected in 2014, however, still with much uncertainty. In the expectation that the prices and
quantities of fish hold steady, that no raw material projects are initiated, but that large construction activities will start in the second half of 2014, the bank expects an increase in activity in 2014. It is, however, si gnificant that the activity in Nuuk remains low, while there is in creased activity in a number of coastal towns. A noticeable activity increase is thus essentially not expected until 2015.

So it seems to be that finally the big projects will be realized with a delay. As Gronlandsbanken has shown that they can increase earnings even without economic growth, I think the stock is “worth” to be upgraded to a “half position”. I will therefore increase the position from 1,9% to around 2,5% at current prices.


Already a few days ago, Admiral released H1 2014 numbers. Looking at the stock price, many investors seem to have been dissapointed:

Analysts have mostly lowered their ratings and/or price targets:

Firm Analyst Recommendation Tgt Px Date↑ 1 Yr Rtn BARR Rank
Credit Suisse Chris Esson neutral 1350 08/18/14
Canaccord Genuity Corp Ben Cohen sell 1220 08/15/14 4th
Berenberg Sami Taipalus sell 1168 08/14/14
Nomura Fahad Changazi buy 1493 08/14/14 10.64% 4th 5th
Exane BNP Paribas Andy Hughes underperform 1070 08/14/14
Deutsche Bank Oliver Steel hold 1260 08/13/14 2nd
Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Greig N Paterson market perform 1227 08/13/14
Oriel Securities Ltd Marcus Barnard sell 900 08/13/14 6th
Numis Securities Ltd Nicholas Johnson add 1720 08/12/14 10.97% 3rd
Barclays Andrew Broadfield equalweight 1428 08/12/14 3rd

Tha analyst “consensus” rating in Blommberg is 2,57 which is pretty bad and one of the worst for all European insurers.

Actually, Admiral posted higher profits than the comparable 6 months in 2013, however the released above average reserves. On the other hand, they still invest a lot, especially in US price comparison and the international business. For me, the results were pretty inline with what management has been saying all along. UK car insurance is in a tough spot and will remain so for some time. Interestingly, the all important “auxiliary” income remained constant despite lower premiums which in my opinion is a very good sign.

International premium has increased by 10%, however the loss has increased as well. Allthough I usually don’t like investor presentations that much, but the Admiral presentation is extremely good. There is also a lot to learn about insurance in general, such as the claim inflation example on page 20 or the detailed reinsurance terms on page 48. Also their view on the US market is quite interesting, especially slide 35 with the acquisition cost per insurance contract. For me, this is showing that the Admiral guys know what they are doing which is unfortunately not the general rule in insurance.

The only disappointing part in my opinion is the Italian subsidiary. Admiral says that they didn’t undwrite more as prices were un attractive. Other than that the international business seems to expand nicely.

Reader Musti forwarded me a link why Morgan Stanley sold out Admiral in one of their funds.

The team became more wary of Admiral (LSE:ADM) after the 2011 turbulence in the stock price, after a scare about the potential for large personal injury claims. While the 2011 claims ratio eventually turned out to be fine, it caused a revision in our view of the quality of the name. The combination of the stock’s recovery, and long-term concerns about the effect of autonomous driving on the motor insurance industry, caused us to reduce and then exit the position.

I think this is quite interesting and revealing. They became nervous because the stock price was volatile and that caused a revision of the “qualitiy of the name”. Self driving cars is definitely something to look at but I think no one can say now how quickly this will come and what impact this will have. A self driving car will still need insurance, so much should be clear.

Overall, for me nothing has changed with regard to Admiral. If you want to see smoothly increasing earnings then you have to go somewhere else. If you want a truly great business at a fair price then you should hold or buy more which I might do if the price falls further. I plan to make this a “full” position until the end of the year.

Admiral Plc (ISIN GB00B02J6398) – Short candidate or “Outsider” company with a Moat ?

Disclosure: The author might have bought the stock well in advance of publishing the post. In this special case, the idea has been presented already some weeks ago to a group of value investors.


Admiral is a UK based P&C insurance company. A brief look into Admiral’s multiples would single it out as a potential short candidate (~15 GBP/share):

P/B 8,0
P/S 4,5
P/E ~14,5
Div. yield 3,7%

Especially P/B and P/S look overvalued if compared to other P&C companies. The average multiple for European P&C companies is ~2,1 for P/B, 1,6 for P/S and 11,6 P/E. So the company looks wildly overvalued.

Admiral – “The UK Geico” ?

Admiral is definitely no stranger for value investors. Metropolis Capital, a value investing shop with a good reputation presented Admiral as their pick for the London Value Investor conference some weeks ago.

The pitch is relatively simple: Admiral is the UK version of GEICO, the famous low cost direct insurer owned by Warren Buffet. Just look at the cost ratios of Admiral compared to its 4 main competitors:

Cost ratio P&C 2013
Aviva 32,8%
RSA 32,6%
Direct Line 22,3%
Esure 23,8%
Admiral 19,9%

Clearly, the cost advantage against “traditional” companies like Aviva and RSA comes from the fact that they don’t have to pay insurance agents. But even compared to the direct competitors, Admiral seems to have a cost advantage. Among other things, Admiral is the only FTSE100 company located in Wales which implies quite “reasonable” salaries.

However there is a big difference compared to GEICO:

GEICO’s business model as we all know, combines low cost / direct with investing the “float” Buffet style, so every premium dollar earned is kept and invested as profitable as possible, preferably in stocks. In principle, this is the strategy of all insurance companies, but very few are able to get “Buffet like” returns.

So I have compiled 3 statistics which show that Admiral “ticks” differently:

2013 Ratio Financial income /total profit Net retained premium “Other” in % of profit
RSA 116,4% 93,6% 0,0%
Aviva 72,9% 88,2% 0,0%
Direct Line 35,2% 101,6% 36,3%
Esure 11,3% 91,4% 40,1%
Admiral 3,3% 25,0% 85,0%

A quick explanation of those ratios: The net profit of an Insurance company is the result of 3 major components:
a) Underwriting result
b) investment result
c) “other” stuff

The first column in the table above shows what percentage of the total result in 2013 can be attributed to the investment result. RSA for instance actually makes a loss in insurance, so more than 100% of their profit comes from the investment portfolio. Admiral, on the other end, attributes only 3% of the total profit to investments. So what’s going on here ? Do they manage their investments so badly ?

The second column explains this “conundrum”: All the other players keep more or less all the insurance premiums they are collecting. Admiral, on the other hand only keeps 25% of incoming insurance premiums, the other 75% get “ceded” to Reinsurers.

Finally, the third column shows, that Admira is actually earning most of its money with “other” stuff whatever that means. To solve the puzzle, one has to look back into history of Admiral: Admiral was founded by a Lloyds syndicate to act as a kind of “Underwriting agency” in order to generate premium for the syndicate. So from the start, Admiral had a very lean structure, selling only direct etc. At some point in time they decided that the syndicate was too expensive and that they actually want to issue the policies themselves. Nevertheless, they kept their lean set up and lined up reinsurers to shoulder the majority of the risk.

Most people familiar with Insurance would say that the concept of Admiral doesn’t make sense. Why should you give up profits both, on the insureance side as well as in investments by passing 75% ? The answer is relatively simple: Capital efficency. Most insurance companies are notouriously capital inefficient. Long term ROEs for most major players are below 10% p.a. despite often significant leverage through subordinated debt. The main reason for this is the fact, that in many jurisdictions, the “GEICO” model requires to hold a large amount of capital to buffer capital market movements. Unless you are Warren Buffet, the returns on those investments are often below average so as a result, ROEs are bad. Plus the fact that growth often requires a lot of upfront capital as well.

For Admiral, the big structural problem of course is the following: If I pass most of my premiums and cash to reinsurers, how do I then earn money ? This is where the “other” column from my table above comes into play. Due to this business model, Admrial very early concentrated on making additional money by selling “ancillary” stuff.

This is what Admiral writes in its latest annual report (by the way: all annual reports since 2003 are highly recommended for clarity and insight !!!):

Other Revenue
Admiral generates Other revenue from a portfolio of insurance products that complement the core car insurance product, and also fees generated over the life of the policy. The most material contributors to net
Other revenue are:
> Profit earned from motor policy upgrade products underwritten by Admiral, including breakdown, car hire and personal injury covers
> Profit from other insurance products, not underwritten by Admiral
> Vehicle Commission (see page 25)
> Fees – a dministration fees and referral income (see page 25)
> Instalment income – interest charged to customers paying for cover in instalments

This additional income is extremely high margin with almost no capital requirement and drives the profitability of the company.

The result

This low capital requirement leads to ROE’s which are compared to its peers “from outer space”:

Average 16% 17%
TRYG A/S 19% 21%
AMLIN PLC 19% 10%

Other unique aspects of Admiral’s business model

Comparison sites

Admiral runs in addition to its insurance operation, its own insurance comparison sites (e.g. in the UK). Although those comparison sites themselves only contribute less then 10% of total profit, it gives Admiral a strategic advantage: Via their comparison site they can monitor in real time what competitors are doing and how they are pricing stuff. Other comparison sites also sell this kind of data but usually with a significant time delay. So running its own comparison site is clearly an advantage against a “normal” onilne insurer.

Capital allocation

With regard to capital allocation, again look at this statement from the 2013 annual report:

Admiral believes that having excess cash in a company can lead to poor decision-making. So we are committed to returning surplus capital to shareholders. We believe that keeping management hungry for cash keeps them focused on the most important aspects of the business. We do not starve our businesses but neither do we allow them the luxury of trying to decide what to do with excess capital.

Charly Munger would say at this point “I Have nothing more to add”. This is how it should be done but rarely found especially in the Insurance industry.

Managment & Shareholders:

The current CEO, Henry Engelhardt founded the company on behalf of the Lloyds Syndicate in 1991. He still holds ~12,8% of the company.

Co-founder David Stevens owns around 3,8%. Both founders only pay themselves ~400 k GBP per year salaries and no bonuses. The only exception is the CFO, who is relatively new. He earns around 1 mn GBP including a bonus and doesn’t have a lot of shares. There are quite some interviews available on Youtube with the CEO, among them this one is especially interesting:

Largest outside shareholder is MunichRe with 10%, who is also providing the majority of the reinsurance capacity. Other noteworthy shareholders are PowerCorp from Canada and Odey, the UK Hedge fund with a -0.79% short position. All Admiral employees are shareholders and there is a program for employes to purchase shares.

Stock price

Since going public, Admiral has performed very well:

Including dividends, Admiral returned 25,5% p.a. since their IPO against ~8% p.a. for the FTSE 100. Since 2004, EPS trippled and dividends per share increased by a factor of five. Interestingly, Admiral never traded at a level which one would asociate normally with such a growth stock, at the peak, the share had a P/E of 22 in 2006. I think this has to do with the general discomfort that many investors have with financial stocks.

Challenges for Admiral

Some of the additonal income sources for Admiral are clearly under regulatory thread. Referral fees, bundling etc. are currently investigated by UK regulators (see here and here) but especially Admiral seems to be quite creative on how to find different ways to earn fees.

Another and maybe the biggest strategic issue is that in theory comparison sites could start to sell additional products as well as we can see in the car rental market. However Admiral has the big advantage as they cover both, the comparison area and the insurance “sales funnel”.

I also think that for the comparison sites, it is not that easy to sell additional insurance products. Insurance policies are less standardized than rental cars, with very individual pricing so it is harder for a comparison site to actually close the deal intead of passing the client on to the insurer for a fee. Clearly comparison sites will try to get into this game as well but again, Admiral is the best positioned insurer.

Finally, the UK car insurance business shows almost a “brutal” cyclicality, for instance in 2013 premiums for the whole market dropped ~20%. Nevertheless, Admiral has shown that they are profitable over the cycle.


Admiral is currently trying to expand its business model into 4 other countries: Spain, France, Italy and the US. An earlier attempt in Germany failed a couple of years ago, mainly because the German market renews policies only once a year and Admiral was not able to really use its strengths (dynamic offers and pricing) on that basis.

If they succeed in any one of those markets similar to the UK, then there would be significant upside in the stock. If they suceed in 2 or more, Admiral could become a multibagger. If they don’t succeed at all, one could imagine that they might take additional market share in the UL, but then the upside is limited.

Although the subs are growing strongly, they still made a loss in 2013. Car insurance is however to a certain extent a scale business. You need a certain scale to become profitable. Clearly, just buying a competitor (and paying a lot of goodwill) would look better in the short term. Building up your own operations takes longer, but if you do it right, the value generation is significantly better than via M&A.

SUMMARY: Bringing it all together

Personally, I think Admiral has a very unique “outsider” business model. Reinsuring most of their business allows them to focus on the core product, car insurance underwriting and ancilliary services. They don’t have the complexity of traditional insurers with complex investments, expensive investment management and “asset liability management” departments etc. etc.

This keeps structural complexity low, lowers cost and allows them to scale up business much quicker than any “traditional” model and with very low capital intensity. Traditional insurance companies have always the option to realize investment profits in order to make results look good in the short term. In the long term, this often leads to a detoriation of the core business. Admiral doesn’t have this luxury. Additionally it insulates Admiral mostly from capital market volatility and enables them to move aggresively if other insurers are nursing their investment losses. Additionally, they don’t need to sell complicated subordinated debt etc.

Overall, I think the likelihood that someone succesfully copies Admirals business model is low, because for any Insurance executive, it is extremely counterintuitive to give premium away. Any insurance CEO would rather sell his grandmother than increase the reinsurance share and give away investment money. GEICO for instance in my opinion is not a “real” outsider company. It is a traditional insurer with a focused direct sales force. Admiral is really a very different animal.

Clearly, the thread of Google & Co is real, but on the other hand, Google & Co hesitate to to move into regulated areas. However if they would want to seriously move into this business, I would think that Admiral could be an interesting acquisition target for cash rich Google & Co.

Against the traditional competition, in my opinion Admiral has a 10 year headstart in understanding how to sell insurence and especially “others” over the internet. I think they will chuckle when they read how for instance AXA tries to become “digital” as they were already selling 70% of their policies over the internet in 2003.

I would go so far as calling the combined business model a “moat”. Yes, it is maybe not that difficult to start an online insurer and does not fit into the classical moat categories, but to scale up quickly and get the whole package right, this is another story and in my opinion very very unlikely. Even the direct clones like Esure only go “Half way” by keeping all the premiums and exposing themselves to capital market volatility.

I also think that this is still a “value investment” despite the optically expensive multiples. In my opinion, the value lies in the business model plus the headstart in online insurance. To put it into s short thesis: This is a high quality company at a “Normal company price tag” and an “above average” growth opportunity due to the cost advanatges.

For the portfolio, I had bought already a “half position” in April at 13,80 GBP per share as I have briefly mentioned in the April post. I know this is a little unfair but I just didn’t have time to finish the write up.

P.S. There will be an extra post for this, but I have sold the rest of my April SA position in order to keep the exposure to the financial sector (~20% of the protfolio including the bonds) constant