Tag Archives: French stocks

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.

Summary:

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.

Trilogiq SA (ISIN FR0010397901) – Another of those hidden French champions ?

DISCLAIMER: The author might own the stock already before the release of this post. The stock discussed is very illiquid. Please do your own research. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell or anything.

As many readers might have figured out, I am currently looking a lot at French stocks. I already had mentioned in my August review that I am building up a stake in a company which I didn’t disclose back then. Well: here is the company: Trilogiq SA.

If one looks at Bloomberg, the description is quite short and meaningless:

Trilogiq SA manufactures a wide range of flow racks.

However, looking at the Corporate Website is much more revealing:

Trilogiq is manufacturing a modular system of flexible components which supports the material handling at an assembly line. The underlying philosophy is based on the Japanese “Kaizen”. More on that later.

The company went public in late 2006 at a price of EUR 28.59 per share, a level the share hasn’t seen since as the stock chart clearly shows:

Valuation:

Traditional value metrics look OK, but not super cheap (at 18,15 EUR) :

Market Cap: 68 mn EUR
P/B 1.46
P/E 12.0
P/S 1.1
Div. yield 0%
EV/EBITDA 6.0
Debt: Net cash of ~5 EUR per share

So why do I think the company is interesting ? Well, if we look into the last annual report, they seem to do something right:

Net Margin 8.6%
ROE of 12.2% BUT: ROIC (ex cash) is 20%

ROE was higher in previous years, but adjusted for Cash, ROICs are relatively constant at 20%.

EPS DIV ROE ROIC
29.12.2006 0.87 #N/A N/A 25.6% 25.7%
31.12.2007 1.48 #N/A N/A 29.0% #WERT!
31.12.2008 1.45 #N/A N/A 22.1% 19.7%
31.12.2009 1.64 0.50 20.7% 19.9%
31.12.2010 1.75 0.50 18.3% 18.7%
30.12.2011 1.50 0.50 12.6% 23.7%
31.12.2012 1.68 0.00 12.4% 20.7%

So this now gets interesting: We get a company with a (cash adjusted) PE of 8 and an ROIC over the last 7 years of around 20% and the company is growing. This is very good and hard to find these days. On top of that, the company is growing quite nicely and : only around 15% of the business is in France, 85% is “Export”.

So in current times, this definitely is a good reason to investigate the company further.

Business model:

In such a case as Trilogiq, where I do not know the company really well, I usually try to figure out what they are doing in more detail in the next step. Here, fortunately, we can still find the (French) IPO prospectus on Trilogiq’s web site

General Remark: IPO prospectuses are always a very good source for information about the business model, competitors etc. So if one can get hold of it and it is not too old and outdated, this is usually the single best source for such information. Much better than annual reports, because the risks are usually disclosed quite extensively.

The founder of the company worked as an engineer at Renault and had the task to study Japanese car manufacturing. He then started out on his own, producing equipment to improve manufacturing efficiency for Renault and Peugeot.

The basic “philosophy” is to have a lean flexible production process which avoids unnecessary material, handling steps, heavy machinery, large quantities etc. Among others, it is advised to transport small amounts only within the assembly lines, avoid unnecessary distances etc etc.

Now comes the interesting part: Trilogiq itself does not only provide the tools, but is offering the full consulting service as well. So a company calls Trilogiq and they start with simulating the production process on a computer (CAD) and then optimize it using their various tools. They will then go on site and then implement the stuff including full project management etc.

So in essence, Trilogiq rather seems to be a specialised consulting company with a physical product than your typical car parts supplier. This in my opinion also could explain the rather high margins which are quite unusual in the automobile industry.

A few videos which explain the principles:

(company movie)

Some product presentations

In order explore this thesis a little bit more, let’s look at two ratios:

– What amount of raw material etc in relation to sales does Trilogiq show against other companies ?
– What amount of sales do they generate per employee ?

Lets look at some companies, I have chosen 2 car parts companies + 3 of my portfolio companies as comparison:

material cost/Sales Sales per Employee (K EUR)
 
Trilogiq 43% 350
     
PWO 55% 33
Sogefi 56% 15
 
Poujoulat 59% 73
Installux 48% 198
Thermador 60% 389
     
G. Perrier 26% 90
 
Accenture   295
IGE 22% 284

The result is quite interesting. PWO and Sogefi are 2 “typical” car parts manufacturers. Material cost is more than 50% of sales, sales per employee are relatively small, so implicitly this is rather pretty “low tech” work.

If we look at my Portfolio companies, only Thermador has a similar per employee sales number but this is normal as it is primarily a trading and logistics company. Poujoulat for instance needs more material than Trilogiq as well as Installux and even Installux only manages 2/3 of Trilogiq’s sales per employee.

Just for fun, i also listed software company IGE + Xao and Accenture. Interestingly those companies generate similar sales per employee volume.

While this is clearly no scientific proof, I think it is however fair to say that Trilogiq is not your typical “manufacturer” but rather something different. It is no trading company either so I think my thesis that it is a kind of consulting company with a physical product might not be unrealistic.

Another interesting aspect shown on page 33 of the IPO prospectus is the aspect that they do create significant recurring revenues out of their products. According to this, they have a 4 year cycle. If they sell an amount of 100 in the first year, they will expect 20 maintenance revenue in year 2 and 3 and then (if renewed) another 40 in year 4.

Competitors:
They only consider 2 companies as direct competitors: Fastube in the US and Yakazi from Japan, both privately owned. As Trilogiq is currently expanding quickly in the US it seems like Fastube is maybe not the strongest competitor. They don’t seem to be active in Asia, maybe too much respect versus the Japanese “master” like STarbucks and Italy ? Of course, the “traditional way” is a competitor too.

Why is the stock cheap ?

– One reason is clearly the non-existent financial communication. Minimalistic reports in French only, only a few small research houses cover the stock (5 according to Bloomberg, only 2 in 2013). Interestingly, in 2007 and 2008 they still made some additional press releases about large new orders, but from 2009 on they only released their reports and nothing else
– they only paid a dividend once (50 cent in 2009). Since then they are accumulating cash.
– data for the company for instance in Bloomberg is not very accurate, 2011 and 2012 numbers are not updated. TheyWon’t show up in many screeners
– it is a French company and sentiment is still bad for France
– they are viewed as an “average” car parts producer

Now it gets interesting: Shareholders

No reliable data in Bloomberg. According to them, French value fund Amiral Gestion owns 2.13%.

According to this research report however, the founder still owns 77%, but Amiral Gestion owns 13%. Leaving a tiny free float of 10%. Amiral in my opinion is one of the better European Value companies and maybe the best in France.

Shareholder activism:

AMIRAL, actually has increased its stake to 13,55%. On the general assembly a few days ago they went kind of activist and demanded a special dividend of 3.75 EUR per share.

As the owner most likely seems to have been present at the AGM, I guess this was voted down, but nevertheless it clearly shows the strategy Amiral is running here. They are in for the long run and will press for some form of payout, be it dividend or share buy back.

In my opinion this is also an interesting kind of “insurance” against any unfriendly behaviour from the CEO and majority owner, as Amiral is not a small fund. With their 13% stake (which is more 56% of the free float) Amiral is automatically committed for the long-term as it will be extremely hard to get out of this stake via the rather illiquid market.

I found this interview with the founder and CEO (in French), where he explains the company and mentions that taking the company private would be worth a consideration….

There is a quite active discussion (in French) on Boursorama about Trilogiq and someone is even claiming that the special dividend was approved, however I am not sure that this is the case.

France / Portfolio concentration

As some readers might recall, I sold my Bouygues stocks when I bought Thermador because I thought that my exposure to France is big enough. With Trilogiq, I don’t have this problem. trilogiq has only 15% of its sales in France and is currently expanding rapidly outside France, especially in the US. So I don’t see an issue here.

Interestingly, french sales haven’t improved much over the past years, the growth came almost exclusively from outside France.

Summary:

In my opinion, Trilogiq is a very interesting company and might even be a true “Hidden champion”. For me it looks more like a consulting company with a physical product than a manufacturer which helps to explain the good margins and 20% ROICs.

There are clear reasons why the company is cheap compared to the quality of the business, especially the negligence of shareholders so far. However, with Amiral having built up a 13% stake, this could improve.

Nevertheless it shares many characteristics I like in a stock:

– founder/owner majority owned
– relatively illiquid and negelected from investors/analysts
– business model not too easy to understand
– negative headline news for home country

In my opinion, the company is worth much more than its current price. Conservatively I think if this would be a German or UK company, People would pay 15x earning plus the cash which would be 25 EUR +5 EUR or 30 EUR per share.

Trilogiq is therefore a clear “buy”. For the portfolio I assume that I was able to build up a position of 20000 shares at 18,27 EUR per share which is roughly 50% of the trading volume since July 1st and represents a 2.3% allocation of the portfolio.

Quick updates: G. Perrier, Maisons France Confort, April

Some quick updates on French stocks:

G. Perrier

Already some days ago, G. Perrier announced preliminary 2012 numbers.

Highlights:

– Sales up 7% (+4% without acquisitions)
– Profit up 13.2% to 7.94 mn or 4.02 EUR per share

In my opinion, this is an absolut outstanding result if one considers that G. Perrier is more or less a purely domestic French company and clearly shows the quality of the company and their business model. I am not sure when the annual report is out, but as discussed perviously, I will increase the position further, target is now a full position.

Maisons France Confort

Also already a few days ago, Maisons France Confort issued annual numbers including the annual report. As some readers might remeber, i had two posts about them (part 1 & part 2), but didn’t include them in the portfolio yet.

Looking at the stock price action, it seems to be that market participants had expected better numbers or a better outlooK:

Final numbers were 2.70 EUR EPS for 2012. With around 7 EUR net cash per share, this translates into a trailing P/E of ~5.9. Of course, 2013 will not be easy for them, i guess the late spring in Europe will not improve things and the business model of MFC has much more exposure to the weak French economy. Nevertheless it looks like a potentially interesting cyclical entry point into a real good business. I will have to follow up on that one.

April SA

Quite similar to MFC, April came out with its 2012 numbers and the stock got hammered quite significantly.

The company earned 1.31 EUR per share, additionally there were some positive effects in the other comprehensive income. April clearly has the same problem as any financial services company which is very low interest rates. Nevertheless it is not clear to me, why the share price has now decoupeled from peer company AXA.

I will clearly have to look at the annual report, but so far I don’t see any reasons to sell.