Our latest perspective - What's behind under-performing listed companies?
Outperforming through the downturn
Breaking Covid-19 / Corona-virus pandemic news, how to lead
Decreased uncertainty, improved decisions
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Global Advisors’ Thoughts: Outperforming through the downturn AND the cost of ignoring full potential
Press drew attention last year to a slew of JSE-listed companies whose share prices had collapsed over the past few years. Some were previous investor darlings. Analysis pointed to a toxic combination of decreasing earnings growth and increased leverage. While this might be a warning to investors of a company in trouble, what fundamentals drive this combination?
In our analysis, company expansion driven by the need to compensate for poor performance in their core business is a typical driver of exactly this outcome.
This article was written in January 2020 but publication was delayed due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Five months after South Africa’s first case, we update our analysis and show that core-based companies outperformed diverse peers by 29% over the period.
Management should always seek to reach full potential in their core business. Attempts to expand should be to a clearly logical set of adjacencies to which they can apply their capabilities using a repeatable business model.
In the article “Steinhoff, Tongaat, Omnia… Here’s the dead giveaway that you should have avoided these companies, says an asset manager,” (Business Insider SA, Jun 11, 2019) Helena Wasserman lists a number of Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed shares that have plummeted in recent years.
In many cases these companies’ corresponding sectors have been declining. However, in most of the sectors there is at least one company that has outperformed the rest. What is it about these outperformers that distinguishes them from the rest?
The outperformers have typically shown strong financial performance – be that Growth, ROE, ROA, RONA or Asset Turnover – and varying degrees of leverage. However, performance against these metrics is by no means consistent – see our analysis.
What is consistent is that the outperformers all show clearly delineated core businesses and ongoing growth towards full potential in these businesses alongside growth into clear adjacencies that protect, enhance and leverage the core. In some cases, the core may have been or is currently being redefined, typically through gradual, step-wise extension along logical adjacencies. Redefinition is particularly important in light of the digital transformation seen in many industries. The outperformers are very seldom diversified across unrelated business segments – although isolated examples such as Bidvest clearly exist in other sectors.
Analysis of the over- and underperformers in the sectors highlighted in the article shows that those following a clear core-based strategy have typically outperformed peers through the initial months of the downturn caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
As many as 70 – 90% of deals fail to create value for acquirers. The majority of these deals were the subject of commercial or strategic due diligences (DDs). Many DDs are rubber stamps – designed to motivate an investment to shareholders. Yet the requirements for a value-adding DD go beyond this.
Strategic due diligence must test investees against uncertainty via a variety of methods that include scenarios, probabilised forecasts and stress tests to ensure that investees are value accretive.
Firms that invest during downturns outperform those who don’t. DDs undertaken during downturns have a particularly difficult task – how to assess the future prospects of an investee when the future is so uncertain.
There is clearly an integrated approach to successful due diligence – despite the challenges posed by uncertainty.
It’s not enough to just have great returns – top-line growth is just as critical.
In fact, S&P 500 investors rewarded high-growth companies more than high-ROIC companies over the past decade.
While the distinction was less clear on the JSE, what is clear is that getting a balance of growth and returns is critical.
Strong and consistent ROIC or RONA performers provide investors with a steady flow of discounted cash flows – without growth effectively a fixed-income instrument.
Improvements in ROIC through margin improvements, efficiencies and working-capital optimisation provide point-in-time uplifts to share price.
Top-line growth presents a compounding mechanism – ROIC (and improvements) are compounded each year leading to on-going increases in share price.
However, without acceptable levels of ROIC, the benefits of compounding will be subdued and share price appreciation will be depressed – and when ROIC is below WACC value will be destroyed.
Maintaining high levels of growth is not as sustainable as maintaining high levels of ROIC – while both typically decline as industries mature, growth is usually more affected.
Getting the right balance between ROIC and growth is critical to optimising shareholder value.
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