Monday, July 22, 2013

SPH REIT - A Lesson on Financial Engineering 101

SPH REIT is a spin-off from SPH, comprising of Paragon Mall and Clementi Mall, offering an annualised yield of 5.58% for FY 2013. At this income supported yield, it offers a 0.5% higher yield than CMT and 0.2% lower than Fraser Centrepoint Trust. Retail REIT has always been a favourite of REIT investor due to their defensiveness and ability to squeeze extra rental cost from the tenant.

However, why is it that they delayed their listing on 24th June 2013 before lodging their prospectus on 9th July 2013? In a mere 3 weeks, an unattractive IPO is now the hottest thing on the market, with an indication of interest from institutional investor being 42x the placement tranche. . At the end of the day, many investors define the attractiveness of a REIT based on the yield. This prompts me to look at what forms of financial engineering have been used to increase the yield. Shall start the analysis with the most obvious and end with the hidden trap. The hidden trap is what that allows SPH REIT to be priced at 0.5% higher yield than CMT.

99 Years Lease. Similar to K-REIT, SPH sold a 99 years lease of Paragon Mall to SPH REIT while retaining the freehold ownership of Paragon Mall in our prized Orchard Road. According to the Knight Frank valuation certificate on the circular by SPH, Paragon mall is worth $2.61 billion as a freehold property and $2.5 billion as a 99 years leasehold property. The Freehold Lease is worth only $110 million, which is ridiculous. Who will not want to pay an extra 4% of their property value to upgrade their property from a 99 years lease to freehold? 99 years lease represent a 1% depreciation each year, which means the payback is theoretically 4 years to secure the freehold right. Of course, it is likely that maintenance and capex will be needed for an asset past 99 years.

Income Support. SPH has guaranteed that Clementi Mall will produce $31 million in NPI for the next 5 years. The reason is that Clementi Mall is a relatively new mall and that the current rent signed is lower than the market rental. Income support is common for such new property, but does SPH really lose money from providing income support? According to the valuation report in the prospectus, the $570 million Clementi Mall is only worth $550 million without the income support. Projected NPI from Clementi Mall is $26.7 million in FY 2014. On the conservative assumption that it remains the same for the next 5 years, SPH will provide a total income support of $4.3 million x 5 = $21.5 million. Thus, SPH is unlikely to have to fork out more money by providing the income support on a net basis (it earns extra $20 million from selling at $570 million). Yet, investor can be sold on a higher dividend yield though it is a partial capital return of the IPO investor. In addition, given the income support for 5 years, it means that growth for Clementi Mall will already be factored in for the unitholders unless they can grow their NPI beyond the income support mark of $31 million.

Lower capitalisation rate in valuation. The gearing ratio of 27% looks attractive and helps to alleviate fear of rising interest rate. However, gearing ratio can be engineered through a change of the property valuation which is the denominator. A cap rate of 4.75% and 5% have been used to value Paragon Mall and Clementi Mall (the income support has been taken into account) respectively. In comparison, CMT uses an average cap rate of 5.4% to 5.85% while FCT uses an average cap rate of 5.50% to 5.75% to value their properties. Some might argue that as 99 years leasehold asset, they should be worth a much higher valuation than the 70+ or 80+ years remaining leasehold asset. However, Atrium@Orchard with 94 years remaining lease and Yee Tee Point with 92 years remaining lease do not have a lower cap rate. This reflects how conservative or aggressive a management has been in valuing the property and thus tweaking the gearing ratio.


Lower interest rate. According to the prospectus, SPH REIT has been assumed to pay a constant 2.35% interest rate on its loan. The $850 million loan is to be repayable 1/3 each in 3,5 and 7 years time which gives an average loan maturity of 5 years. s of 31 March 2013, the effective interest rate for FCT and CMT are 2.73% and 3.3% on average term to maturity of 3.35 years and 4 years respectively. How did SPH REIT manage to secure a lower interest rate of 2.35% and higher term to maturity of 5 years when the fear is that interest rate is going to rise in the near term? Firstly, I cannot find the exact interest rate charged on the loan in the prospectus and the 2.35% has been quoted as an assumption. Thus the actual interest rate might be much higher than the assumed 2.35%.

Even if the assumption is true, how did SPH REIT do it? They actually got a secured loan over Paragon Mall which accounts for 80% of their total value. CMT's unencumbered assets as % of total asset is 76.7% and FCT is 43% compared to 20% for SPH REIT. (Unemcumbered means the asset has not been mortgaged. A secured loan is cheaper than an unsecured loan. However, when financial crisis comes, an unsecured asset might be what that will give the bank the confidence to lend you money. Thus, by taking a secured loan up to 80% of their total asset, SPH REIT is taking a higher refinance risk as compared to CMT and FCT just to inch out a lower interest rate and hence 0.19% higher dividend yield. On the other hand, it is likely that CMT will not face much refinancing issue given their unencumbered assets and well-spread debt profile.

The Finale

This is the most important point to take note of on how SPH REIT actually financial engineered a 0.5% higher dividend yield than CMT using an old, legal and similar technique of option expensing.

The Manager's management fee is $15.2 million in FY 2014 and they have chosen to be paid 100% in units. This is equivalent to taking a stock option, which convert employee's cash expense into 0 though it actually results in dilution in EPS the subsequent year. The $15.2 million to be paid in units is equivalent to 11.6% of the Income Available for Distribution. In contrast, the proportion of management fees paid in unit as percentage of Income Available for Distribution is only 1.5-2.5% for CMT and FCT.

Looking at the DPU sensitivity yield above, if SPH REIT were to take 100% of management fee in cash, the annualised yield for SPH will drop to 4.93% and 5.15% for FY 2013 and 2014, which will price it at a lower dividend yield than CMT. This is but a financial engineering move as the dilutive effect and selling of shares will weigh on the share price in the long run. The reason why the management fee is such a high percentage of distributable income is because SPH charges 0.25% of asset value and 5% of NPI as a REIT Manager and 2% of Revenue and 2% of NPI as a Property Manager.

To conclude, it is certainly not fair to simply compare the dividend yield of the REIT and determine how attractive it is. As always, the devil is in the details and I believe the market is a weighing machine in the long run.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Random Thoughts on Investing

Ever since I got started in Sep 2011, I have been in the market for close to 2 years. I have had many thoughts about investment but have yet to pen them down. This will be random thoughts about investing and the lessons that I have learnt. I can't find a way to categorise them, so there's no structure and it's pretty messy.

Value investment is not about buying something at ridiculously low PE/PB nor buying a company with a sustainable competitive advantage. Neither is it about buying low nor selling high. Who purchases an equity share without believing that he is buying low and selling high? Or rather who buys the share of a company believing that he is buying high and will be selling low? No one, but belief and action often diverge in the market.

Whether it is buying Graham's net-net or buying Buffett's strong moat company, these are merely manifestation of the underlying value investment philosophy. It is easy to be confused that anyone buying the same "value investment kind" of company as Buffett, Seth Klarman and e.t.c. are value investors. One might even buy the exact same companies at the exact same price as the renown value investors are, but that will not make you as successful as they are.

The 2 key principles that define a value investor lies in Mr Market and margin of safety. They are mentioned in the famous chapter 8 and 20 of The Intelligent Investor. Mr Market is the fluctuation in prices of securities and mood of the market. One can profit from the maniac of Mr Market if he is able to control his emotion and avoid being a slave to Mr Market. Understanding the existence of Mr Market entails that price fluctuation and volatility is part and parcel of the market. Price can move in either direction and intensity regardless if you have made the right decision. However, by making the right decision, you know you will come up right in the long run.

Margin of safety is about protecting your downside and reducing the risk. This is often quoted as buying something worth $1 for $0.50. There're many reasons for it:
1) We might make an error in our judgement of its fair value
2) We do not have perfect information to make a good judgement
3) There's no way we can predict the future with 100% accuracy
4) It might be fake/fraud
5) Black Swan ( Anything that you can't think of - that's why it's called black swan)

Margin of safety is demanded in areas other than the price. Diversification is needed because you do not want to let a single mistake or black swan wipe you off the game. However, the problem is that people often diversify for the sake of diversifying, which increases their risk instead of reducing it. Diversification should be done only if one can find a company that can offer similar or even better risk return profile than the portfolio.

Investing is a game of probability or even a gamble. Before the outcome is out, there's no way to know if we will win or lose. In a casino game, the edge is always with the house and statistically we will lose money in the long run. However, the game in the market differs from the casino as the autonomy is with us. We get to decide the probability of the game by choosing which hand we are interested to play. If we consistently choose to play a game where the risk reward ratio is not attractive, we are likely to lose money in the long run. If we choose to play a game only when the odd is highly tilt to our favours, we are likely to profit in the long run.

Over a long period of time, the law of large number will ensure that your investment return will track the kind of odds that you play with. However, in the short run, it is easy to assume that early success equates ability to spot games with asymmetrical risk return profile where others are not capable of. Success in investing does not come from out-performance in the market, though that is the easiest method of evaluation. Instead, an investor should focus on the analysis and decision that he has made.

As it is a game of probability, excellent analysis and decision made does not equate to a rise in share price. Even if the share under-performs, an investor should not blame himself if he knows that he has made the right analysis and decision at that point in time. Instead, he should continue making the same kind of decision if he knows that he did not make any mistake. Do not let a good decision gone wrong becomes a baggage for you in the future. In a game of probability, we can never be right 100% of the time even if we made the right decision 100% of the time. Similarly, if you have profited in a situation where you made an erroneous analysis or decision, be glad that it didn't cost you a penny but remind yourself that you should not repeat the same mistake.

While a fan of Buffett might not be interested in cigar butt or a fan of Graham will not be interested in investing in an excellent business at fair value, they are not contradictory in nature. One is buying at a discount to future value while another is buying at a discount to present value. Benjamin Graham knew that he cannot predict the future with much accuracy and feel that it is much safer to look at the current state of the company than future profitability. Warren Buffett's experience with Berkshire Hathaway as a textile business taught him that finding great companies that are able to consistently deliver return above the cost of capital is likely to present a more attractive option. Both are great and they play the game according to their personality, style and area of competency. It is not the style that matter but the underlying philosophy and principles that drive their decision.

Investing is never easy but there will always be people that try to convince you that by obeying a set of rules and formulas you can easily outperform the market and compound your wealth. Because the famous investor has been using it, copying them will allow you to reach the level of wealth and competence they have. Before you can get your hand onto it, you will have to pay a significant fee to attend the course or even buy some robots.

Investing is not easy as it is often a zero-sum game. A trade constitutes a buyer and a seller who have similar motive in making profit but whose action contradicts one another. Either the buyer or the seller is right, it is rare to have both correct. How do you know that you are on the correct side of the trade? You can try to increase the chance that you are right by asking yourselves what insights do you have about this company that others do not? It is not about possessing insider information, but forming your own independent opinion and analysis about the company. If everybody thinks that Myanmar is going to experience fast growth, obviously this will have been factored into the price of the stock and there will be not be significant upside potential other than speculation.

Investing is when you buy an asset at a discount to its fair value and expect that the fair value can be realised or the fair value can grow. On the other hand, speculation is when you buy an asset in the expectation that a greater fool is going to buy it from you one day. It is often hard to distinguish investing from speculation merely by looking at the stock purchased or the price paid. Famous phrase like "This Time is Different" is often used to justify the act of speculation. Perhaps, only the investor/speculator will know whether he is investing or speculating, that's if he has been able to control his emotion and think rationally.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Croesus Retail Trust

This May, we will be seeing IPO of Asian Pay TV and Croesus Retail Trust (CRT). They are both business trust (not REITs), highly geared and most importantly offering a 8% yield. Where else on SGX can you find a 8% dividend yield? The question should then be why are they not pricing at lower dividend yield and hence leaving money on the table?

Total unit is 430,178,000, NAV is $378,337,000 or $0.88. The IPO price is trading 1.05x NAV.
CRT is made up of 4 main assets situated in Japan worth 57 billion yen. As seen from the table below, other than Luz Shinsaibashi, they are mostly located in small cities with population of 200,000 and below.

Figure 1 - Classification of Cities for Asset

Lease Structure

Figure 2 - Breakdown of NPI in 2014

The figure above shows the contribution of the 4 assets, where Mallage Shobu contributes the largest proportion of Net Property Income (NPI).

Aeon Town Suzuka and Moriya
Aeon Town Suzuka and Moriya are master-leased to Aeon Town, a subsidiary of Aeon Group, that catered towards neighbourhood shopping centre (NSC) as compared to Aeon Mall which specialises in higher end shopping centre. In a master lease, the owner of the property will lease it usually to 1 master leasee who will be put in charge of the sublease and running of the mall. The NPI margin will be much higher as most of the operation expense is bore by the master leasee which gives CRT a 90% NPI margin for its 2 master leased mall.

The master-lease is signed for a long period of 20 years from 2007 to 2027. Unlike most master lease we see in S-REITs, there is no step-up rental which means that the total rental revenue to be earned by CRT is FIXED for the next 20 years - 932 million Yen and 660 million Yen respectively. The good thing about master lease is that unit holder has a great certainty about what they are likely to get and will get. However, with no step up rental, the real yield after accounting for inflation (in Singapore) will get lesser and lesser. This is not unexpected as Japan has been in a deflationary environment for decade and hence no step up has been in place to account for possible inflation. In comparison, most leases in Singapore will take into account inflation, introducing step-up and positive rental reversion each year.

The only potential for growth for these 2 assets which account for 45% of total NPI will be a restructure of the lease, converting it from master lease to individual lease with the tenant. However, this option don't look much more attractive as Mallage Shobu (not a master lease) only has a NPI margin of 50% as compared to the 90% that these 2 assets enjoy. Such a conversion is not likely to bring in much positive as the margin will be lower and there will be an added risk of re-branding the mall and ensuring full occupancy.

In addition, the master lease has been structured such that from 2016 and 2017 onwards, contracts will be renewed every 2 years subject to agreement between both parties. Thus, there exists a risk that Aeon Town might not want to master lease the mall, leaving CRT in a lurch. Though this risk is remote as Aeon Group is the 2nd largest Japanese retailer by sale which makes them a strong counter-party, it is still something that unit holder should be aware of.

Luz Shinsaibashi
This is their prime asset in Osaka, though it accounts for only 14.4% of NPI. H&M is the major tenant here accounting for 58.4% of the space with the rest of the space occupied by 2 restaurant and 1 karaoke lounge. Once again, H&M has signed a long term lease that will only expire after 2024 and they accounts for 85% of the asset's total rental income. The 4 tenants have a lease term of 7-15 years which is very long lease term as compared to the standard 2-3 years in Singapore retail. While 2 leases are on variable rent, it is stated in the prospectus that "the Trustee-Manager expects that the turnover threshold which trigger variable rent will not be met."  Once again, growth is not to be expected. The earliest expiry of rental will be in 2017, where 1 leasee that accounts for 5.6% of the rental income of the asset will be up for renewal. This leaves us with only 1 asset - Mallage Shobu which accounts for the largest proportion of NPI.

Mallage Shobu
This is their only asset with the potential to grow the NPI as they are generally variable rental and not a master lease structure. They have 7 anchor tenant with lease term of 6-20 years and account for 1/3 of Net Lettable Area. The rest of the lease are variable rental and the contract term is typically 6 years. According to the prospectus, 151 out of 243 fix term leases are up for renewal in November 2014 and significant rental reversion is expected given the low rent signed during 2008.

These rental will account for 26% of gross rental income of CRT which works out to be 1.3 billion yen. From the prospectus, NPI in 2014 from Mallage will increase by 13% from 1.26 billion yen to 1.43 billion yen. Overall, the NPI will increase by 5% for CRT and the net impact to dividend yield will be that it will increase from 8.0% to 8.1%. Thus, their only hope for growth is not going to be of much impact in 2015. After 2015, the lease term will be on market rate and hence not likely to see much positive rental reversion. Given it is another 6 years before lease renew in 2021, this one-off reversion is not going to happen soon.

Examining Mallage Shobu, it is located in a mid-sized city called Kuki-Shi in Saitama. It is 7km from Kuki Station and 10km from Kitamoto Station which is really far away. The figure below is the age profile of those staying 5km within the mall. 44.5% of the population is older than 50 years and this is the highest among the location of its 4 malls and is higher than the national average. Population is stagnant and large-scale retail sales for Saitama has dropped almost every single year since 1998 other than in 2002 and 2005-2007. Thus, the variable rent structure is not going to be of much help.
Figure 3 - Age Profile within 5km of Mallage Shobu

Figure 4 - Large-Scale Retail Store Sales for Saitama

Macro Retail Trend
Figure 5 - Total Retail Sales

Figure 6 - Average Retail Floor Space

As seen from figure 5, the total retail sales of Japan since 2001 has been flat. Shopping Centre Sales only grown from 19.5% to 20.5% of total retail sales which is insignificant growth considering a 12 years period. However, from figure 6 the dark green line, retail floor space has grown and is on a upward trend. Thus the annual sales per sqm has dropped since 1991. This is obviously not a good sign for any shopping mall owners. The key to positive rental reversion is growth in sales of the tenant. Only when your tenant is making more money, will you be able to increase your rental as no tenants will enjoy a lower profit margin. This is perhaps why malls in Japan are generally master-lease or of long-term lease structure unlike in Singapore.

Figure 7 - Large-Scale Retail Store Sales for the perfecture of its 4 malls

Figure 7 is large-scale retail store sales for the perfecture of its 4 malls. As we can see for the past 15 years, they are all on a downward trend else flat. Ibaraki has done the best by staying flat while Osaka has seen sales dropping by 25%.
Figure 8 - Historical Shopping Centre Rents

Looking at the historical rental, they have also stayed flat just like the total retail sales. The perfecture which CRT's malls are located are Osaka (Orange), Saitama (Light Red), Ibaraki (Light Blue) and Mie (Purple). On the macro level, there really don't seemed to be much of a growth unless Abenomics is successful.

Before people starts to jump into CRT for its 8% dividend yield, maybe the leverage should be considered. Leverage plays an important role in determining the dividend yield of a REIT. Assuming an unleveraged REIT with an Return on Asset of 3%, a unit holder who purchases the REIT at NAV will get a 3% dividend yield. This is obviously unattractive considering that some blue chips can yield 4-5%. Thus, REIT will often borrow more money to buy more asset, so that the dividend yield will be higher. By borrowing 30 cents on $1 of equity, the yield of the REIT will now be 3% x 1.3= 3.9%. This is why almost every single reit is borrowing near the 35% gearing ratio as allowed by MAS for those that do not get rated by a credit rating agency.

In the case of CRT, the gearing ratio (calculated by debt/value of property) is 48% whereas most S-Reit stays within 30-35% after learning their lesson in the GFC 2008. Thus, how can it be fair to compare the levered 8% dividend yield to a less levered yield reit? If we were to compare CRT with a S-REIT with a 30% gearing ratio, the 30% levered dividend yield will be 8% /(100/52) * (100/70) = 5.94%! What a big difference the high gearing can bring about. Leverage is always attractive and I am sure many folks are more than willing to dismiss it.

Given the high gearing, it is imperative that we look at the way the debt has been structured. Leverage is particularly dangerous for REIT/ business trust given that most practices 100% payout ratio on distributable income. Thus, when the time comes to pay the loan, they will refinance it as they have no mean to pay it back since they do not retain cash.

What struck me when I look at their debt is that they are only funded by 2 sources of debt - S$299.8m in loan and S$31.9 million in bond. Both debts are provided by only 1 bank, Mizuho Corporate Bank, and the tenor will be 5 years with an additional 2-year Tail period. The interest rate will be Base Rate + 0.5 % (0.75% for bond). The problem I have is that it is very dangerous to borrow from only 1 bank with the same repayment date when they need to re-finance their debt. If CRT just happen to have to refinance their debt during a crisis, bank will tighten their lending activity and CRT will find that it may not be able to borrow the same sum of money again. The result will be either to sell off your asset or to do a much dreaded cash call. A good reit/ business trust manager will not only diversify the source of funding but also spread the repayment date over several years.

For the issue of debt covenant, there do have quite a bit of buffer.2 main covenants will be to maintain a minimum stressed debt service coverage ratio of 1.3, calculated based on NPI dividend by 6.6% of debt and not to exceed the maximum loan-to-value ratio of 60%. Current debt service coverage ratio is 1.88 while LTV is 48%. NPI will have to drop by 30% which is unlikely given the master lease structure and value of property needs to drop by 20%.

Lastly, I find that the interest rate of 1.7% paid by CRT seemed a bit too low and is more than likely to rise in the future. If interest rate were to rise by another 1%, it will incur additional interest expense of 2.5 billion yen which will reduce the distributable income and hence dividend by 10%.

Corporate Structure
Why is CRT not offering it in Japan where the Japan Reit Index has an average dividend yield of 3-4%? In Japan, there is not limit on the gearing ratio and they will also be able to enjoy tax transparency. One possible reason could be that their asset size of 57 billion yen will make them the third smallest reit among the 40 listed in Japan. There was a wave of merger and consolidation since 2008 such that number of J-Reit has dropped from 42 in 2008 to 36 in 2010. Currently, there are 39 J-Reits that are listed after 2 new listing in 2013.

So why are they listed as a business trust and not as a REIT? Most J-REITs are highly geared as they do not have any limit on gearing ratio. CRT is highly geared and will have to get a credit rating agency to rate their credit standing if they want to be listed as a REIT. Since they do not want to be rated, it is better off for them to list as a business trust. Neither will they be required to distribute 90% of their profit to be exempted from paying corporate tax.

Fee Structure
I find the fees earned by the asset manager much higher than the almost all S-REIT. The base fee charged is 0.6% of the value of property and 3% of NPI. The common fee charged is 0.3% of value of property and 3% of NPI. I believe this is one of the highest management fees being charged.

Secondly, I find that the property management fee for Mallage Shobu is incredibly high at 9.5% of gross rental income and 30% of amount of net operating income in excess of an unspecified agreed figure. In comparison, ARA only earns 3% of gross rental income for managing Suntec Convention Centre. It seemed like Sojitz is getting a much better deal than unit holder. The reason given below seemed unconvincing.

"However, the Trustee-Manager believes that the incentive fee payable to the property manager of Mallage Shobu is commercially fair and reasonable for the reasons stated below.

Mallage Shobu faces competition from Viva Mall and Ario Washinomiya (newly opened in November 2012), both located within a 5km radius from the Property.
In addition, the property manager has been managing Mallage Shobu since November 2008 (being the opening of the retail mall) and is therefore well placed to continue with the management of Mallage Shobu given its knowledge and experience with Mallage Shobu. In the context of the competitive operating
environment, the experience of the property manager and the substantial level of operating and management effort required in respect of the large number of sub-tenants, the Trustee-Manager believes that such
incentive fee is commercially fair and reasonable to incentivise the property manager towards realising revenue growth for Mallage Shobu and achieving performances that are challenging to attain."

Other Risks
No Insurance Against Earthquake - Earthquake insurance is expensive in Japan given that it is a common phenomenon. Earthquake insurance will be taken up only "where the Probable Maximum Loss for a Property is in excess of 15% of current building replacement construction cost. Probable Maximum Loss is
defined as the probable maximum loss (i.e. repair and reprocurement expenses) that would be
incurred if a major earthquake struck. Specifically, it means the loss generated by the largest
earthquake that has a 10% probability of occurring during a 50 year assumed service life of a
building." The probable maximum loss for the 4 shopping centres are 1%,5.5%, 7.2% and 2.1%. I always have my doubt about such statistics and we should never forget about Taleb distribution.

Currency Risk - Currency risk is another real risk that we face.Successful Abenomics will cause Yen to depreciate whereas MAS is likely to continue letting SGD appreciate. Dividend translated will then be lesser by the amount of which Yen depreciate. Currency risk is a real risk that anybody should be prepared for. Just look at how much USD and GBP have depreciated against SGD.

One common counter-argument will be that if Japan succeeds in its monetary policy, inflation will resume and hence rental will go up which will counter-act the depreciation in Yen. However, the rental structure of CRT is long term such that the shortest lease is usually 6 years. It will take time to renew the rental at the market rate should the market rate goes up. Many leases expire beyond 2020 as many simply do not expect any inflation given the 20 years history.

While 8% yield is high, lets not forget that high yield usually comes with higher risk. The 8% yield is achieved as a result of its much higher gearing ratio. Unlike many S-REITs where we can expect organic growth coming from step-up or positive rental reversion, there is not going to be any significant growth for the years to come. It will also be hard to conduct any AEI as 3/4 leases are long term leases where it is unlikely that the leasee has the incentive to conduct AEI. Neither should we expect too much from Abenomics as there are certainly much better play out there on Japan's depreciating currency and inflation than CRT.

The debt seemed dangerously structured and lets hope that 2018-2020 will be recession-free else they will be having trouble refinancing their debt. All unit holders should also be prepared for a cash call given the high gearing. Any acquisition is going to come from the pocket of unit holder.

Inevitably, I am sure that this will be oversubscribed because there will be chase for yield and those that are going for a stag in expectation of those chasing the yield. Will be interesting to see what kind of yield and price it fetches when trading begins. Doing a simple Dividend Discount Model shows that at $0.93 it is rather fairly valued.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Review of 2012

The year 2012 marks my first full year as a serious fundamental investor, having indulged in 3 months of speculation in late 2011. It has been a great learning journey through the many ups and downs of the STI as well as my personal portfolio. Early in the year, STI rebounded sharply from the lows to the 3000 level and stayed there until May where the upcoming Greece Election resulted in a temporary flu that saw a 10% dip. Subsequently, STI broke past the 3100 level in October before dropping to 2945 in mid-November. And out of the blue, STI rebounded strongly past the 3100 level before ending at 3167.08 for the year.

My Portfolio

Anyone that has stayed invested throughout 2012 will have reaped substantial return with the STI returning 19.68% year-to-date so long as they have held tight to their stocks during some of the panics. My portfolio (including idle cash) has returned 37.28% through some luck as well as a highly concentrated portfolio that now only consists of 4 stocks: Boustead Singapore, The Hour Glass, Silverlake Axis and VICOM. Given the high concentration of the portfolio, return from any stock will have a huge impact on the portfolio return, be it negative or positive.

Personally, I do not expect such spectacular return every year and neither should you believe that anyone is going to deliver such return year after year. For our public listed companies, quarterly and annual result are sometimes of little guidance to how a company will perform in the long run. For our individual investment track record, it is not the 1 or 2 years of out-performance that counts but rather the total return in 1 full investment cycle (from one big bear [>50% decline] to the next) against the benchmark index return.

My targeted annual return will be 15% in the long run, which comes from a 4-5% dividend yield coupled with a 10% capital appreciation. Dividend has been an important factor for my return this year as they provided me with a 5% return in 2012. The 15% return will be achieved through investing in undervalued stock with great underlying business, through adopting a minimum investment time frame of 1 year and preferably 3 years and beyond. For more details, you can look at this post which I have written a while ago for my selection criteria of companies.

Portfolio Component

As of 31st December 2012, I have 32.1% of portfolio in cash and 67.9% invested in stock. Cash is king and especially in crisis where it can generate extraordinary return when rightly deployed. I have been building up my cash position as I have not bought anything for the last 6 months as a result of the market rebound and that there seemed to be no feasible target at the right price at the moment. Patience is a virtue in the market and I shall continue to wait for the right opportunity to surface. Preferably, I will hope to raise the invested portion to 80-85% to ride with the companies for the long term.

Boustead Singapore

Purchased in Mid-April 2012, this company has returned me one of the highest dividend yield among all my holdings. This is certainly a deeply-valued company that's not easy to understand with 4 divisions and 3 investments. Neither are the divisions easy to understand for the general public, being involved in Geospatial Technology as well as items like Process Heater and Waste Heat Recovery Unit.

The crown jewel in the company lies in its distributorship of ESRI as well as its slowly growing Design Build & Lease portfolio which generates recurring income. ESRI is likely to continue to enjoy double digit growth as GSI still has immense potential and coupled with the fact that both Indonesia and Malaysia have chosen ESRI as the official platform for the government.

Boustead International Heater is a well-established player in the field of process heater where competition is sparse. Their margin for this division has been slightly impacted recently due to their customer, the South Korea EPC, that has practically won almost all the contracts in Middle East with their competitive pricing and hence squeezing their subcontractors. Other than process heater, they are also involved in Waste Heat Recovery Unit for refineries. What the WHRU does is that it recycles the waste heat back into the system as a form of energy. This reduces energy cost and need to flare off gases which are important for refiners as they run on very tiny refinery margin. Every cost savings count. They also have a subsidiary Boustead  Control & Electric that is involved in the upstream business providing process control system.

Other than the current 100,000 sqm DBL portfolio, Boustead Project is the market leader in design and building of industrial building in Singapore, with an added capability of Green Mark with strong execution and delivery record. Lastly, that will be the poorest performing segment of all, Salcon Water which Mr FF Wong has not fully turnaround though its losses are no longer what they used to be. However, Salcon Water does have the technological advantage and is a different specie from the other water treatment companies found on SGX. It is pre-qualified by the Japanese EPC and provide industrial water treatment where the purity and quality are of utmost importance for the manufacturer.

What I like about the business model is that it is involved in the high-margin, asset-light area in the design, project management and execution while not being involved in the asset-heavy and high capex manufacturing which is outsourced to their pool of subcontractors. The problem with such a model is often the lack of control on the quality of manufacturing, but I believe that Boustead Singapore has done a good job to achieve where it is today.

With its net cash of $180m (representing more than one-third of its market capitalisation), strong free cash flow generation with its business model, and high ROE despite its $180m cash hoard and a capable leader, Mr FF Wong, who has certainly delivered more hits than misses - this is a company that I will hope to increase my position in if the price is right. The intrinsic value is certainly far away from its current price. However, this is certainly not a stock where one can expect strong return within months. This is the type of company where one should hold on tightly and ride with the company to enjoy great compounded annual return. As such, this is a stock where I have a investment horizon of 3 years and more, and will be willing to look beyond some of the poorer results that come with its partial order-book driven lumpy revenue. While time is needed to fully realise its value, the ~5% dividend shall be an appetizer during the wait. However, this is certainly not a company for the impatient.

The Hour Glass

Purchased in early January 2012, this company has delivered my highest return to date. A luxury watch retailer based primarily in Singapore, it has been a key beneficiary of the rising wealth of South-East Asia as a whole over the past decade. Luxury watch retailer does not really enjoy strong competitive advantage as the RSP and cost of watches are determined by the respective watch manufacturers ranging from Rolex to Cartier. In addition, retailer also suffers from the rising rental cost that is a further hit to their tight profit margin. So what is it that draw me to this company?

Strong management capability and a tight focus are what I see in THG. In fact, it has delivered one of the best performance I have seen in a pure retailer. Net Profit Margin in 2012 is 9% despite the increase in expenses in preparation for 2 new stores opening in 2012. ROA is very impressive at 14.9% and ROE at 17.7% considering the type of business and industry they are in. This high return on asset and equity is achieved through a respectable profit margin coupled with high inventory turnover that's traditionally more than 2x. For this upcoming fiscal year, inventory turnover has dipped below 2 times, as a result of a dip in macroeconomic condition and the added inventory requirement for the 2 new stores. However, this does not worry me as this is merely a temporary issue and the business is still sound. In any case, the financial metrics make it one of the best luxury watch retailer to be found.

Other than the financial metrics we have seen, there are many other positive signs. Looking back to its history, this company has been fond of diversification to irrelevant industries like selling pizza. However, since the current management, the uncle-nephew team, has taken over, the company has regained their focus in being a pure luxury watch retailer. Of course, the Gems TV mistake has been a bad one and I believe this will be a reminder for the management.

In early 2008, luxury watch industry in Singapore is still enjoying very strong demand. However, THG made a decision to reduce their inventory level despite the healthy demand they still enjoyed. This has been an amazing decision made as the demand collapse and the other retailers are forced to sell their inventory at a discount to generate cash. What this show is not only that they have great foresight but that they dare to act differently from the crowd.

In addition, the change in location of their stores over the year is also a positive sign of their focus. Before Mr Henry Tay mentioned about the Orchard Quadrangle in the 2012 Annual Report, it has been clear that they have executed the strategy with a high level of focus 4 years before. The company closed down the shop in Lucky Plaza and Peninsula Plaza by 2011 and has now secured shops in all 4 corners of the Orchard Quadrangle. At the moment, it has 6 shops in Ngee Ann City, KnightsBridge, Ion Orchard, Tang Plaza, Paragon and Orchard Central. It is amazing that the management takes the step to close down 2 profitable shops where they have been there for decades. Someone that is only focused on short-term profit will obviously not have closed down 2 profitable shops to reinvest in better locations. This is even more important for watch retailer where their working capitals are often tied in the inventory. The company has also waited for years before they open a 2nd store in Hong Kong when they are able to secure a favourable rental rate. They have often taken advantage of recession to expand and open new stores where the costs are often much lower. In 2008 GFC, while many other retailers are suffering, they chose to open 8 new stores across various geographic location over the next 3 years.

I have purchased this company at an average price of $1.14 which was approximately 5x PER and slightly less than the book value at that point in time. While the company boasts a very high ROA, I feel that this should not be a company that should trade at higher than 10x PER. The reason lies in the business model of luxury watch retailer where huge amount of capital is tied in the inventory. When the business grows, inventory in the balance sheet will also grow which means that higher free cash flow that stems from higher profit will be partially pumped in to feed the inventory growth. During a downtime, when revenue is down, inventory will be reduced, and that's when the company enjoyed the strongest free cash flow yield. However,  at the current price I believe that there's still a long way to grow when the economy recovers and with the 2 new stores (1 in Paragon and 1 in Hong Kong) enjoying a full year of operation in 2013. There's always reason behind why a company operating in the same industry can outperform its peers in terms of all the relevant metrics for a retailer. This will be another company where I have an investment horizon of 3 years and beyond. Should the price dip lower than its book value, I will certainly consider adding to my current position.

Silverlake Axis

Purchased in March 2012 where I also initiated a research report on the company at around the same time. Being a core banking software company, it enjoys wide moat and strong competitive advantage in the form of extreme high switching cost. Core banking system is equivalent to the central nervous system of a bank, where it is highly critical for a smooth operation. To change it comes with huge risk such that many are still using legacy system dating back to the 1980s. It is also certainly the market leader in the Southeast Asia region and in numerous countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

Software company with a strong moat are often worth looking into as they have a high ROA, strong free cash flow generation, high margin and a huge portion of recurring income. These are characteristics that Silverlake Axis have with a 90% profit margin for licensing, and 65% profit margin for its recurring maintenance and enhancement services. While the profit margin for licensing is ridiculously high, it is not what that really matters for Silverlake. What that matters to me is that after they enjoy the one-time 90% profit margin, they get to enjoy the 65% profit margin maintenance recurring revenue for as long as the customers deployed their CBS. The maintenance income is approximately priced at 15% of the licensing fee which is much lower than many other competitors where their rate is around 18-20%. In addition, every 3-5 years, when the new version is created, there will also be additional revenue for the update. And for Silverlake Axis, all that's needed is to develop a one-time CBS which is a fixed cost that can be reduced as more banks chose their software.

To have an idea of the high switching cost involved, the management said that in their 20+ years of operations, only 2 customers have switched to another system. And in both instances, they came back to Silverlake Axis which means that they have never lost any maintenance customers. Such high switching cost allows Silverlake Axis to REPRICE their maintenance contract by around 2-3% per year whenever they expire. Of course, the management prides themselves on the ability to value-add in justifying the reprice of the maintenance contract. Such a business model is certainly a no-brainer and one of the best gems that's found on SGX though it is a Malaysian company.

When I purchase the company, it really seemed very expensive at a price of $0.350 and PER of 20X and that the licensing fee is a one-time. However, when I work out the profit to be derived from all the contracts that it has secured, this company certainly looks attractively valued given its immense growth potential and strong fundamental. This is a company where the sky is the limit subjected to the number of new contracts that they can secure and of which can change the valuation dramatically given its highly scalable business model. Of course, sky will obviously not be the limit given that high switching cost can also prevent them from stealing market share from their rivals.

They are also likely to be a key beneficiary of the trend where the banking system in the Southeast Asia is still highly fragmented and of which consolidation and M&A are likely to continue. When 2 banks operating 2 different systems merge, it is likely that the larger bank will preserve its systems. And in the customer profile of Silverlake Axis, their clients are of the largest in their respective market, namely OCBC, UOB, CIMB, Maybank, Hong Leong Bank, Bank Mandiri, Bank Rakyat, VietcomBank, BIDV, Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam and TAIB. Notably, 2 Malaysian Bank, CIMB and MayBank seemed to have been very aggressive in their regional expansion in the past few years. Merger contract comes with approximately 40% profit margin and the greater reward will be in the expanded customer base.

Another trend will be the outsourcing done by financial institution as they stick to their core operations. Obviously, the cost of developing the necessary software and maintenance is much higher for the banks themselves than vendor like Silverlake Axis. Of course, for large banks like Citibank, JP Morgan and HSBC, they might have the sufficient resources and the scale to develop their own CBS. However, for our banks in the SouthEast Asia, it is much cheaper to outsource it to Silverlake Axis. Given that many banks are still relying on the legacy system, it seemed like the potential revenue base is still huge.

Despite its spectacular rise, there still seemed room for further upside. Firstly, its associate Global InfoTech should be listing on the Shenzhen exchange in 2013. Secondly, the new RM 135 million contract add more visibility to its orderbook and comes at a time where there has been hardly any new contract of significant size announced. Thirdly, I believe that there's still quite a huge amount of maintenance income from its CIMB contract that has yet to be realised.

While valuation is rich, I do expect its intrinsic value to grow with the company. New contract will certainly be sparse due to the uncertainty that banks are undergoing, but when dust settles new contract win momentum should continue. In the meanwhile, as the maintenance and enhancement services continue to enjoy its slow steady growth, I shall continue to enjoy its quarterly dividend paid. Silverlake Axis simply has too much cash to spend. Mr Goh has also been forward-looking as he no longer view his company as a core banking software provider but rather delivering a Digital Economy Solution. This has been his direction for the company for this decade and reflects the changing dynamics of the banking IT industry.


Purchased in September 2011, this company has been my first stock purchased and has delivered a remarkable return. I also did an initiation on this company on January 2012 over here. VICOM is in the Inspection, Testing and Certification industry with its 2 core business in VICOM (Vehicle Inspection) and SETSCO (Non-Vehicle Inspection).

Regulation is what that allows the industry to thrive. In Singapore, cars have to undergo inspection every 3,5,7,9 year while buses and taxis have to undergo inspection twice every year. This not only forms a very stable recurring revenue, but also one that will roughly grow with the slow overall growth in the total vehicle population in Singapore.  The tightening of COE has been the key driver of growth for VICOM. In 2005, only 30% of the car population and 110% of the Goods & other Vehicle population undergoes inspection. In 2011, 45% of the car population and 132% of the Goods & other Vehicle population undergoes inspection. This is on top of the annual 3% increase in vehicle population in the past. Hence, what we see is a multi-bagger and one with revenue and profit growth for 9 straight years this coming fiscal year. In addition, it has a 75% market share in Singapore that has further expanded with the closure of Ayer Rajah Inspection Centre by STAI in August 2011.

Given its remarkable growth, it seemed like the time has arrived where VICOM is likely to enjoy slowing single-digit growth going forward. Growth will still be maintained by various policies like the Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme which will encourage take up of diesel vehicle as well as further tightening of vehicle population undergoing inspection. Vehicle population has also grown by around 1-2% this year. Looking at the chart below, one can see that in November 2012, the age distribution of car has reached what is roughly called a Normal Curve. This certainly means that further upside from increase in age distribution profile of vehicle population will be limited

As such, I do hope that its time that SETSCO will take over the growth momentum from VICOM. SETSCO is involved in the inspection, testing and certification of many products that range from chemical, biological, environmental, electrical and mechanical industry. There will be a portion that's highly resilient which include building inspection, food products while another portion will be depended on the economy like civil engineering and e.t.c. While not as attractive as the vehicle inspection business, the return on asset still beats many other businesses out there. Of course, they do have to face certain level of competition but I believe they will prevail with their wide range of services.

Valuation is rich and if we use Peter Lynch's PEG as a measurement, it seemed like it is certainly no longer a buy. This will be one in which I will consider selling should the price continue to rise and should there by a buying opportunity else where. In the meanwhile, I will collect its 4% dividend while awaiting a better switching opportunity.

Learning Journey

The best investment that any investor can make is always to invest in his personal education. In 2012, I have attended 7 AGMs (including 1 as an observer) and 17 seminars/events. This has been remarkable for me given that I have started school in August 2012 and that there has been numerous instances where I have to pull out of seminar due to school commitment. I believed that I have down at least 30 investment books in the year, including 6 books from the fisher investment series. Some of the more memorable books include Ken Fisher's Super Stocks, Pat Dorsey's The Five Rules for Successful Stock Investing, Bruce Greenwald's Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond as well as local writers Dr Michael Leong's Your First Million - Making it in Stocks and Bobby Jayaraman's Building Wealth Through REITs. These are very insightful and offer varying perspectives to the game of investment.

I believed that I have grown quite significantly in terms of emotional stability and principles where it comes to investment. Not only am I now immune to the day-to-day and intraday changes in prices, I have now look towards 3 years as an appropriate investment horizon. Boustead Singapore and The Hour Glass are 2 such companies which I have convinced myself to give them 3 years to grow. Even in the daily life decision, I always remind myself to look at the long term and not the short term.

Going forward, I will strive to make further progress on knowledge and skills. Knowledge will be to understand and gain more breadth and depth of industry. Attending AGM and seminars have been extremely helpful in this aspect. The more one gain the faster it is as one will realise how cross-industries knowledge can come in handy for companies in other industry. Skill will be on valuation as well as on financial statement analysis. While I was lucky to have been barely scarred by S-Chip, Olam has reminded us once again that any company can turn out to fraudulent regardless of their backing. Due diligence is of even higher importance for a highly concentrated portfolio like mine. Hence, I will hope to brush up on my skill on spotting financial shenanigans. Of course, I am highly confident of companies in my current portfolio as they are excellent business with strong cash balance and strong free cash flow generation.

As for the blog, post will be more sporadic as I have to juggle my studies, my investment and the blog. While the post might be less frequent, the quality will still be kept at a high standard. If there is nothing worthwhile to write, I will rather not write anything. Just like if there is nothing worth investing, I will rather not invest in any company.

2012 has been an awesome year and I hope 2013 will be another spectacular year not only in investment return but my growth as an investor. In addition, I will like to thank all my readers for allowing me to hit above 84000 visits in a year which equates to 230 visits a day.

Wish everybody the best regardless whether STI will move up or down :)