Finally! I executed my first share purchase since the beginning of this crisis. I bought some Ryman shares @ NZD 10.45. It is a relatively small position now (~2%) and I aim to buy more if situation becomes favourable again.
Ryman Healthcare is a company that I have been following for more than one year now. I really started to do work on the company in Nov 2019. It is the largest retirement village operator in New Zealand. Globally, retirement villages are typically average businesses but there is one little quirk about retirement villages in New Zealand that completely transforms the economics of the business. For most real estate asset developers, there are really two ways to generate profits – either sell the assets for a profit upon completion or rent the property to collect the fixed income. For example, most residential property developers would sell the asset upon completion while shopping mall developers often choose to rent the retail property as the long term rental growth would generate a higher return over time. The IRR is better if the property is sold upon completion while the rental model has lower IRR initially and can be more profitable over the long-term if rental growth is respectable.
But is there a business model in which the property is sold immediately upon completion while also retaining the right to collect rental payment over time? You know, have the cake and eat it too.
Turns out that is exactly Ryman’s business model.
It builds retirement villages and “sells” elderly folks the right to live in their villages. The resident pays a deposit that is roughly equal to the value of the retirement unit. Ryman would charge up to a maximum of 20% of the deposit value as a management fee and the residents are granted the right to live in the retirement unit for as long as they wish to. At the point of exit, the resident is paid back 80% of the original deposit. In reality, most residents only stay in the retirement villages for 6-7 years on average because the average entrance age is more like 75+. This business model allows Ryman to recycle capital on day one through the deposit (great for IRR) while retaining the ability to collect fixed payment through the form of the management fee.
So why do the elderly folks chose to move into a retirement village? Many elderly folks find it very hard to maintain their large house as they get older. Property management service provided by the village operators relieves them of these chores. Another important motivation is a change in life circumstances such as the passing of one partner. Many prefer to live in a close-knit community than living alone. There is the hospitality aspect of living in retirement villages. There are weekly drinks, movies, field trips, exercise classes, and parties. It is kind of like living in a hotel with strong healthcare capability. Finally, a move into a retirement village helps to release equity in their home which can be used to finance their lifestyle.
New Zealand has a rapidly ageing population which will see the 75+ population grow by ~3.5% for the next 10 years. The supply of retirement village is growing 5% and hence the penetration of retirement village is growing. The retirement village sector is ramping up supply to meet the growing demand; I would keep a vigilant outlook on the pipeline of new supply. However, Ryman should continue to do well relative to its peers because its villages offer better value for money. Ryman charges 4% management fee p.a. capped at 20% while most competitors charge 5-6% management fee p.a. capped at 25-30%. Furthermore, people will always want the best care and safest pair of hands to take care of them in the twilight of their lives. They also need to trust operators that don’t take advantage of them when their mental and physical states are not in the best shape.
Hence Ryman’s competitive advantage comes from its reputation as a high-quality care provider and a trust-worthy retirement village operator. It offers a continuum of care model for its residents where independent units (normal houses with minimal care provided) and care centres (including hospital care) are on the same site. Elderly folks are not the most flexible bunch. Ryman pays its care staff above market rate to provide premium care and a strong culture of care.
The market also clearly acknowledges Ryman’s superior quality as its valuation is twice of its peers such as Summerset, Oceania and Arvida. Despite the valuation premium, I prefer Ryman over its peers as a strong culture of care is the best protection for long term franchise value. For example, I have found Summerset to have a mercenary attitude as compared to Ryman. This is not to say I will not invest in Summerset. Just that I think the valuation premium is at this moment reasonably justified. While I believe that Ryman is the best operator in the sector, the entire sector is likely to do well given the favourable economics of the business model.
If I am asked to buy the entire business (which I do sometimes fantasize about), I would value Ryman in a similar manner to an asset management company in that it clips ~3% of the total capital base. The capital base is generated by resident deposits. If I assume that Ryman builds out its existing landbank in the next 5 years without adding to the land bank, it would be able to generate, in my estimation, ~NZD 200m of incremental earnings. Note I exclude new sales gain from this analysis. Putting on a 25x earnings multiple, it would imply a share price of ~NZD 12. I think 25x is reasonable because the capital base enjoys 2-3% of house price growth even if there is no unit growth. This is comparable to the 4-5% rental yield in New Zealand. Of course, in reality, Ryman will maintain its land bank for growth beyond 2025. Hence our entry price is a very attractive one.
Now let me address the elephant in the room – can Ryman survive current pandemic?
Ryman’s care revenue is well protected even in a national lock-down as the residents still live in the care centre. New residents are allowed to be admitted because these are typically need-based demand. Of course, there will be stringent isolation protocols in place
Ryman’s care revenue more or less covers the fixed cost of the entire company. So they have liquidity to cover fixed cost even in a prolonged lock down situation
New sales activity will cease but the company has a lot of leeways to stop existing construction projects to conserve cash. As of Sep 2019, the capital commitment is NZD 150m.
Resale activity will cease too and this would impact Ryman’s ability to repay resident deposits on exit. Typically, Ryman promises to repay the deposit within six months after which Ryman will pay ~1-2% interest on the deposit. Legally, Ryman has three years to repay the resident. Even if we assume that COVID-19 lasts for 3 years (super unlikely in my view), Ryman can sell the apartment to pay back the resident
It has roughly NZD 300m of liquidity headroom in an NZD 1.9bn credit facility. The credit facility is secured with underlying assets.
According to the company, there are two main covenants – interest rate cover and gearing ratio
Given the above facts, it seems that Ryman has a very high probability of surviving this crisis.
The demand for Ryman product is mostly like to be delayed and not lost. Hopefully, we should see a reasonable demand recovery.
There is a risk with house price deflation in the event that we go into a recessionary environment coming out of this pandemic. Even though Ryman’s units usually sold at a discount to comparable houses in the same market, it would still impact Ryman because elderly folks need to sell their house to afford a Ryman unit.
I am re-evaluating how much Dart Group (DTG) could be worth coming out of this crisis. In considering the reasonable price to buy DTG under the current conditions, one would evaluate the following factors – 1) chance of DTG survival (liquidity analysis); 2) loss incurred during this crisis, 3) competitive landscape, and finally 4) the normalised earning power coming out of this crisis.
1. Chance of survival
Based on GBP 1.5bn of cash and roughly GBP 800m of the annual fixed cost base, I estimate the following chances of survival. In theory, DTG can sustain itself for an entire year based on the current liquidity profile. However, there are a few catches. DTG customers pay upfront for their summer holiday. Typically Jan and Feb account for a bulk of the summer holiday bookings. If the current lockdown extends into the summer months, customers would want their refunds. This could severely impact the liquidity situation if it so happens. Many UK travel companies are issuing Refund Credit Notes (RCN) that is backed by the UK package holiday regulator, ABTA, to avert the liquidity crunch. In the case of travel company failure, consumers can buy another holiday using the RCN. ABTA’s backing ends on 31 July 2020 after which customer can demand cash repayment if they have not used the RCN to book another holiday. On the hotel side, DTG typically buys up some capacity to guarantee supply quality. DTG would have to balance the long term commercial relationship and the short term need for cash. Given the level of unprecedented fiscal and monetary policies that are announced, the government’s willingness to intervene is strong. While I would not count on that necessarily, it is a factor in considering the chance of survival.
Length of lockdown
Chance of survival
The main point here is that on balance DTG’s chance of survival is very high even in extreme scenarios.
2. The loss incurred during this crisis
The first step to estimating the possible range of loss sustained in this crisis is to estimate the revenue decline. I used Jet2’s monthly traffic in 2018 and 2019 to approximate the amount of volume decline and layer on price declines.The table below shows the weight of each month traffic as % of the full-year traffic. So if we assume a three-month lockdown, there would be zero revenue in Apr / May / Jun which meant a loss of ~30% of full-year traffic. The actual traffic loss is going to be greater than 30% because the process of demand recovery is going to take time. For simplicity sake, I will use 5% to account for the volume loss during the demand recovery process.
Length of lockdown
The assumption of the price decline of 20% might be too generous but it does not really matter. Because the point of this analysis here is to show that the revenue decline is close to 100% as long as the summer months are lost.
Assuming 3-6 month of lockdown and a fixed annual cost base of GBP 800m, the loss incurred is likely in the range of GBP 400-800m.
3. Competitive landscape
On the supply side, the materially higher debt level will limit growth capex in the next 2-3 years. This would provide a favourable backdrop to medium term (2-3 years) ticket price recovery. However, it also provides an opportunity for new entrants with a clean balance sheet to compete against the incumbents as they don’t have to carry the cost of debt. On the other side, many smaller competitors will probably go out of business and free up more demand.It is not clear what this means for Easyjet’s venture into the package holiday. Maybe they are less committed to a large marketing budget to support the new business. Or maybe it doesn’t cost that much to push the packaged holiday business.For Tui, I think DTG is likely to come out of this in a stronger position relative to Tui as DTG’s balance sheet is stronger and a lot less asset-heavy versus Tui. Tui’s offline distribution network is going to be massive cost drag while DTG relies on more nimble independent travel agents.Generally, I do expect DTG to come out stronger relative to its core competitors.
4. Normalised earning power
Assuming that by 2024, the traffic volume is back to 11m per pax vs 14m in 2019. And assuming a pre-coronavirus ticket yield of GBP 82 and average holiday price of GBP 680, DTG’s leisure revenue looks like GBP 2.4bn. Putting an 8% EBITDA margin on the top, DTG would be making GBP 200+m. The normalised earning power is probably ~ GBP 150m. With a 10x multiple, DTG is worth ~ GBP 1bn. There would probably be another GBP 100-200m of net debt. That leaves the equity value around GBP 800m.So given the risk-reward and the opportunity cost, I would consider buying DTG shares around GBP 300-400m market capitalisation which gives me an IRR of 25%.
What a roller coaster journey I have had with Aimia for the past 2 years. I initially bought Aimia share around CAD 1.3 in Sep 2017. There was a lot of debate around what Aeroplan would look like once it breaks away from Air Canada. My purchase was driven mainly by the insight that the redemption liabilities originated from issuing loyalty points do not carry nearly as much economic value as its nominal value would suggest. As the issuer of your own currency, there are multiple ways to deflate the liabilities denominated in your own currency to effectively zero. Anyhow that debate got resolved when Air Canada bought back Aeroplan for a sweet CAD 450m which more than double Aimia’s market capitalisation at the time.
I sold the majority of Aimia position but kept a sizable 5% position because I believe the activists’ chance of monetising the remaining holdings (such as PLM and Cardlytics) are quite high and the discount to NAV is substantial (30-50%).
Fast forward to the current situation, the activists have taken over the board at Aimia and completed monetization of smaller stakes such as Cardlytics. However, the real value is PLM which is Aero Mexico’s loyalty program. Aimia owns 49% of PLM.
The biggest variable in Aimia’s NAV calculation is the valuation of PLM stake. This valuation is a balance of three factors:
The balance of negotiation power
How much can Aeromexico realistically afford to pay given its highly leveraged b/s
The intrinsic value of PLM
I ranked them in order of decreasing importance. The relative negotiation power of Aimia vs Aero Mexico is the most important driver of the actual value realisation and not the intrinsic value of PLM. It is not clear that Aimia is in a position to push for high valuation because Aeromexico can always opt for the status quo indefinitely. Yes, Aeromexico would have to share the dividend value with Aimia but it would also be very hesitant to add to its already high debt load. Of course, Aeromexico can issue equity to Aimia but this is further compounded by the current coronavirus situation.
My original expectation was that there could be a reasonable chance that Aimia can sell PLM stake at 10x EV/EBITDA multiple. I must admit that this is looking increasingly remote. I still believe that Aimia easily have 20-50% upside from its current share price. However, there is a real opportunity cost to holding Aimia shares as other companies are becoming more attractively priced.
So I have decided to sell Aimia position down to zero at the prevailing market price (CAD 2.2)
In Feb 2020, I have added to AddCN (0.7%) @ 230 and 6% (Yixin) @ 1.69.
In addition, I have also opened a short position to BITA (-7%). I shorted BITA because of the unique characteristic where BITA’s downside in a case of deal failure is likely to be higher than Yixin. While the Yixin upside (20%) is substantially higher than BITA (~6%). So this creates an attractive situation where I can create a long/short value ratio of 10:3 (Yixin / BITA) to almost fully hedge out the downside risk of a deal failure
Sold ~20% of GAW position at GBP 61.3 because I have another opportunity in the game sector that I would like to deploy capital. Given the current market environment, I think the option value of keeping some cash is very high. So I sold some GAW to make room for the new idea while keeping a healthy cash level.
On another side note, Bill Gates published an article on Coronavirus (Link here) where he advised government around the world to assume that “Covid-19 has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about”. And then he went to outline measures to combat the virus and highlighted the importance of pre-emptive measures in the emerging markets. Bill is just an amazing human being.
I am put to shame as I have been preoccupied with the opportunity to profit from the market dislocations created by this virus and have not so far thought about how I can help with the pandemic. And frankly, there is probably little I can do anyway. Nonetheless, I am very grateful to people like Bill who are fighting the virus tirelessly. Without them, there would be no recovery and nothing to profit from. So for that, I am very grateful.
With that gratefulness in mind, I will resume my work to find the best opportunities to make money from!
This post will not be about the Corona shock itself. Rather forward looking & on knock-on effects.
Summary on the shock
I do believe this virus is in the sweet spot of characteristics between % mortality and other characteristics like incubation period to cause more simultaneous deaths (not anything like steady flow of traffic deaths) than ever before in absolute casualty cases. On the other hand, it is a mathematical certainty that consumer society will resume +- normal in a few months as the % of recovered population goes up and makes the viral reproduction multiple (R0) plummet. In simple terms: viral reproduction ability plummets as recovered population can’t infect others, nor can others infect recovered cases except for some exceptions (see most rudimentary math model in epidemics SIR model).
I personally haven’t deployed any cash/gold into stocks this week (though I do believe I should be almost always 90-100% invested in stocks as a stock picker).
while exogenous temporary shocks like COVID are +- noise for long-term investors most of the time, these shocks tend to cause recessions late in the cycle:
Consumer / business confidencecan only fall a lot if it is falling from a record high base level (e.g. not in March 2009)
Corporate debt built-up after a long cycle can cause domino effects from a short-term economic shock
the long-term indicators that correlate best with consecutive 10 year stock market returns, Shiller PE & Tobin’s Q compare the price of equities to measures of value for equities . (respectively: equity market cap vs cyclically adj. net earnings after interest costs and equity market cap/equity book value)
these indicators are far from perfect but have worked best in the past. Is today different?
blue chips balance sheets have deteriorated A LOT since ’09 : a lot of cheap debt has been added
Shiller PE, while at historically high levels, is oblivious to huge corporate debt loads when the interest cost of debt is ~0% as net earnings are ~unaffected
this is problematic for all P/E ratios, ~zero interest debt does not detract from earnings (i.e. debt is invisible), but the fact interest is ~0% does not mean the nominal debt balance is 0! the outstanding debt is still there and is highest in history
equities are residual interests in the business value after those historically high nominal debt balances that cannot be ignored
valuation measures based on enterprise value (market cap + debt) such as EV/EBIT, EV/sales have never been higher than today (for the US)
when compared to the ’09-’15 period, it seems the buy the dip mentality is deeply ingrained in my proverbial neighbors
are stocks cheap when they cross the level they were at not so long ago before the recent feverish melt-up
At this point I’m inclined to buy the low debt names in sectors that were already cheap before this shock started.
High cash yields with bond-like robustness to a recession are key.
Energy is a good example.
Huge advances in shale technology were pitched by Wall Street as a reason to pour money in shale. Ironically, technological progress was the very enemy of shale investors (stocks are down ~90%) .
Not unlike Buffett’s Berkshire textile operations, technological advances lead competing producers to pour money and invest in new technologies simultaneously. A decision that seems rational when a consultant presents it in isolation (invest 1000$ in this machine that saves you 700$ annually per factory, payback time = 1.4 years) is not rational when every competitor is doing the same. The end result is more efficient production for all producers and hence price deflation. The only winners are consumers. This is why Buffett stopped investing in the ever-efficient textile business.
Back to shale.
A widely known consequence is that this amazing technological progress (machine learning is still improving fracking efficiency) has led the US shale producers to be the new global “swing producer” of oil. Shale acts as a ceiling on the oil price as the global supply cost curve has flattened. Technological efficiencies cause the absolute cost difference in developing a cheap Permian barrel and say more difficult Bakken barrel to tighten. India needs an extra barrel? Oil price barely needs to go up to drill more. No one talks about peak oil these days.
What is not widely understood right now – with energy equities at a multi-decade record low % of total market cap – is that the corollary is also true.
In stark contrast to conventional and deep water reserves, existing shale developments have very high annual decline rates (in the second year, 40% less oil flows vs the first year; in contrast to conventional decline rates which are in the single digit % p.a.).
Since 2015, the growth of shale production has been astonishing. Today, shale oil satisfies 7% of total global consumption (the latter is ~100m barrels per day).
In the biggest recession of our lifetime, oil demand declined only a few million barrels, (low single digit %), before it resumed its upward march:
Then why was the price move so abrupt in 2009? Existing developed production does not adjust much to lower prices as the cost to develop the field is already stranded.
The marginal cost of producing developed barrels that are already flowing is much lower than the all-in cost (incl. investment cost to develop) . In the past, oil prices had to fall towards the marginal cost of developed barrels to adjust production downward, as the geological decline rates of existing reserves were so low. In the past, price had to move a lot to balance supply with small changes in demand.
In the next recession, existing shale oil production will decline immediately by virtue of huge decline rates on existing production (i.e. mother earth). New shale development will grind to a screeching halt as the oil price moves down a little, below the all-in cost of development. By the way, Wall Street has already soured on shale producers as they have proven to be cash burning machines doomed by the Red Queen effect described above + a recession will completely halt the easy money flow for new development + we are seeing this already: the rig count is already down more than 20% (incl all types of development incl gulf of mexico).
In other words, my believe is that oil prices can’t move much down in the next recession as the cost curve thanks to technological progress has flattened, and the swing producer adjusts immediately to lower oil prices thanks to mother earth’s decline rate.
Conventional & deep water reserves are long-cycle. Today’s marginal producer is fast-cycle with huge decline rates, dampening oil price volatility for a given demand increase/decrease.
Oil equities have been punished indiscriminately last week, from a low valuation base.
What about ESG/political risk?
I do believe the risk reward of investing in E&P’s with cash flow generative conventional oil reserves in non-liberal democracies (South East Asia, Africa, Russia, perhaps US) is better.
However, climate activism tends to peak with the economy: in recessions there are more pressing issues for democratically elected politicians (job losses, ballooning deficits, bank runs etc.). Abolishing oil production (this causes more job losses, deteriorates export-import balance and deficits) is the last on the bucket list.
In short, I believe political risk will be fine in a recession.
And while society can legitimately choose to curb carbon emissions trough different mechanisms on the demand side, it is a fact that society would screech to a halt when oil production stops today. Stopping O&G production is the most efficient way to propel us back to the stone ages.
Personally, I find it distasteful to look down on investors that have risked real capital (indeed lost much in the last decade) in a sector that risks capital and livelihoods to produce the energy that society (still) needs (and takes) right now. Cheap energy has always been a fundamental driver to improving quality of life for the poorest.
What am I looking at?
I looked at US shale gas producers (AR: own a small position , Range Resources, COG, CNX: probably interesting here)
why do I own a US shalegas producer?
much lower decline rates (15-20 y reserve life),
both the commodity and equities are incredibly cheap (but most producers except COG carry high debt burdens)
US nat gas is the cheapest in the world right now, trading at 10$ per energy-equivalent oil barrel (nat gas prices are not uniform across continents due to relatively high costs of LNG transport vs oil tankers)
nat gas is the cleanest fossil fuel (30-50% lower CO2 per unit of energy vs resp. oil and coal, zero particulate matter & SOx & NOx)
most importantly, I believe the -95% punished shale gas stocks (and the incredibly cheap US nat gas price itself) are counter-cyclical in this weird junction in history.
In a recession, I expect “associated gas” from shale oil wells (cheap competition to pure play nat gas) to decline rapidly, which tightens US supply a lot, while demand for natural gas is not at all volatile (residential heating, electricity demand, chemical feedstock need does not change much in a recession).
I expect nat gas prices to rise in a global recession
but honestly, continuous technological progress makes time the enemy of shale investors in the long haul (the investment they make today is stranded tomorrow due to price deflation)
while investors should be willing to pay a lot for counter cyclical assets (I am) and shale gas E&P seems undervalued, time is not your friend
Right now I am looking at low cost (high margin) cash flow generative oil producers at single digit earning multiples
Even the lowest cost shale producers have low profit margins, making them speculative.
On to more conventional producers:
Lundin Petroleum (family owned & great compounder in the space), Talos, Kosmos Energy, Vermillion, Husky energy
IPCO – spin-off from Lundin, high profit margin developed reserves, valued at ~1/3 of P2 DCF value, opportunistic management buying new reserves with quick payback time, in absence of these deals, company buys back a lot of stock with steady cash flow (good VIC write-up)
The crucial factor of course is capital allocation in the commodity space.
Any recommendations on good managements in this space are much appreciated!