Activist Insight Online reported live from the Sohn Foundation’s eighth annual conference in London.
Odey Asset Management pitched an old investment idea – embattled online trading firm Plus500. The activist said the company has an “outstanding track record,” proprietary technology and “best in class” balance sheet but has been hit by worries over the quality of its customers, regulatory oversight and high short interest. These risks, Odey’s portfolio manager James Hanbury suggested, are overdone.
The activist first revealed a stake in 2014 and owned more than 20% at the peak in May 2019. Now, Odey owns 13.8%, as of September 2019.
CIAM has revealed a long thesis on European hotel operator Accor, believing the company is a perfect acquisition target for private equity firms and could fetch a premium of up to 50%. CIAM, which first invested in the company earlier this year, said it is supportive of management and does not intend to become activist, although Catherine Berjal, CIAM co-founder, said the fund remains vigilant.
Berjal believes the company is undervalued, has a “massive cash pile” and its luxury franchise offers strong prospects. CIAM believes a private equity owner could create value by spinning off non-core stakes that do not align with the company’s current operations. This would derisk the business, and improve shareholder returns, the activist believes.
Activist Insight Online understands that CIAM’s stake is below 1%.
Måns Larsson’s Makuria Investment Management disclosed a short thesis on the largest grocery retailer in Sweden, ICA. Larsson admitted his short call was “controversial,” but listed a host of factors that could lead to a swift deterioration of the company’s stock price. ICA, which operates a franchisee model, has no underlying growth, weak return on capital, while its EBIT margins are under severe pressure from increased competition from companies such as Schwarz Gruppe’s Lidl, according to Larsson.
ICA believes the stock has a downside of as much as 77% from current levels. Shares in ICA were slightly down at market close on Thursday.
Lucerne Capital Management is bullish on Altice Europe, a French telecoms and mass media company based in the Netherlands. Lucerne’s founder Pieter Taselaar said he believes the company’s fair value is 15 euros, three times higher compared to the current stock price.
Taselaar has been engaging with the firm over ways to improve its valuation. He believes leveraged companies such as Altice need to deliver sustainable growth in order to provide an attractive risk-adjusted return profile, and the firm is on track to post strong growth rates in the upcoming years. He also suggested the firm could monetize its mobile communications infrastructure for additional upside. In 2018, the company sold a 49.99% stake in French infrastructure wholesaler SFR FTTH.
Bodenholm Capital is short Koenig & Bauer, a German printing press manufacturer. Per Johansson, Bodenholm’s founding partner and chief investment officer, said the company is making money mostly by selling banknote printing presses, and banknote printing is in decline. As a result, the company is expected to have cash flow issues and may have trouble decreasing its leverage, according to Johansson.
The short seller said expectations for 2020 EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) are too high, and believes the stock could fall at least 70% from current levels. Koenig’s stock was down 1.6% at around 4:30 p.m. Central European Time in Frankfurt. The company has a market capitalization of 530 million euros.
Next is a short with an ESG (environmental, social and governance) overtone. Lombard Odier Investment Managers is short U.S.-based Air Products & Chemicals. Lombard’s chief investment officer, Arnaud Langlois, has said Air Products’ gasification business runs a host of risks, including country, customer and joint venture risks, and environmental risks.
While other major companies are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and steer clear of gasification projects, Air Products is doubling down on such endeavors and is in the top 15 U.S. emitters of CO2, according to Langlois.
Shares in Air Products were slightly up at around 10:21 a.m. EST in New York.
Partner and senior analyst at Trian Partners Brian Baldwin pitched industrial products distributor Ferguson as an investment idea, arguing it is undervalued. This is the first time the investor has publicly confirmed it is engaged with the company, after disclosing a position in June this year.
Baldwin said the company intends to demerge its U.K. operations and added that a U.S. listing would attract U.S. shareholders, which could plug the valuation discount to similar U.S. peers. The firm said in September it would spin off its U.K. operations and assess its listing structure going forward in consultation with its shareholders.
Baldwin said the U.K. listing impacts trading volumes, resulting in an undervalued stock, adding the stock market underappreciates the magnitude of the company’s evolution. He noted that Ferguson has a more attractive market structure and growth profile than home improvement retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s.
SpringOwl Asset Management Managing Partner Jason Ader discussed gambling software company Playtech.
He described the firm as the most undervalued gaming company on the planet. The activist made some recommendations to the company, including exiting non-core assets and entering the expanding U.S. market. He has added the company should improve its core business.