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Results season offers plenty of encouragement for our AIM portfolios

Results and trading updates over the past few weeks from our AIM universe of companies have been generally encouraging, with growing profits and cash generation supporting investment in the business and raised dividends. Here is a brief summary of the highlights from some.

Tristel (LON: TSTL), the manufacturer of infection prevention and contamination control products, announced the regulatory approval of its Duo High-Level disinfectant product in China. Duo is a hand-held dispenser which applies Tristel’s powerful chlorine dioxide chemistry as a foam to the surface of medical devices.

Frustrated by the length of time it is taking to gain regulatory approvals in the United States, Tristel is placing greater emphasis on China where it proposes to sell Duo through its own sales force. Our associates Investor’s Champion provide in-depth coverage of Tristel here.

Remaining in the medical sector, AIM portfolio company EMIS Group (LON:EMIS) announced decent results for the year ended 31 December 2018, growing revenues across all key segments and raising its dividend 10%. Having had a good look at the business we sense that new Chief Exec Andy Thorburn is looking to make more of the group’s fantastic position in the market and deploy the excellent cash flow to greater effect. Post results it announced the sale of its non-core Specialist & Care segment for £14.0m.

Adept Technology Group (LON: ADT), formerly Adept Telecom, has grown into of the UK’s leading providers of managed IT services. The trading update for the year ending 31 March 2019 confirmed a 13% rise in revenues and underlying EBITDA, in line with expectations. The full year dividend was lifted 12% to 9.80p. We like the recurring revenue attributes of this business from its sticky customer base, which results in lots of delightful cash being generated.

The share price of Smart Metering Systems (LON: SMS), the leading installer and manager of electric and gas meters, has been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride over the past few months. The UK government’s mandated smart meter programme requires all UK households and small businesses to be offered a smart meter by the end of 2020 and SMS will be a prime beneficiary of this huge change. Needles  to say this substantial government initiative has had a few problems.

There are approximately 53 million gas and electricity meters in the UK and, as of the end of December 2018, there were 14.9 million smart and advanced meters installed in homes and businesses across the country. SMS now has agreements with twelve of the independent energy suppliers, equivalent to a potential 8 million meter points highlighting the potential for its business.

While the domestic smart meter exchange may be extended into 2023, SMS will still be a long-term winner, thereafter generating reliable, index-linked returns from its vast portfolio of meter assets. The financial statements and high level of debt taken on to support the acquisition of meter assets take some understanding, however, the operating cash flow hints at the future potential.

Anexo Group (LON: ANX), which only arrived on AIM in June 2018, issued a promising set of results for the year ended 31 December 2018. Anexo is a specialist integrated credit hire and legal services business targeting the impecunious not at fault motorist, who does not have the financial means or access to a replacement vehicle, notably motorbike riders and motorbike couriers. Anexo provides customers with an end-to-end service including the provision of Credit Hire vehicles, assistance with repair and recovery, and claims management services.

This could be a fascinating business to follow as it endeavours to settle the large number of outstanding cases on its books and increase the cash recoveries. With a growing number of in-house litigators it’s looking promising, if little understood by the investment community. You can read an in-depth commentary on Anexo Group here from our associates Investor’s Champion here.

Away from AIM and returning to the main UK market, general portfolio holding Games Workshop (LON:GAW), the creator of fantasy miniatures, including Warhammer, confirmed that sales and profits have continued to climb, with pre-tax profit for the year ending 2 June 2019 rising 7% to £80m. Shareholders are rewarded with both a rising share price and lifted dividend – what more can one ask for!

As usual, there is plenty of variety from the stock market and some great companies to invest in. Please contact Chris or Stephen to find out more about our specialist investment services, including the high performing AIM for Inheritance Tax planning service, which has now been running for more than 15 years.


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AIM stocks on the move: the good, the bad and the ugly

In this video interview, Chris Boxall, co-founder of Fundamental Asset Management, discusses changes to the IG AIM portfolio originally put together for IG Markets back in 2016.

Chris discusses his reasons for selling out of XLMedia (XLM) earlier in the quarter and outlines the attractions of new portfolio holdings dotDigital Group (DOTD) and Quartix Holdings (QTX). He also considers the lacklustre share price performance of Fulcrum Utility Services (FCRM) and whether the latest trading update may now offer some suppport for the share price.

You can find out more about Fundamental AIM portfolios, including the latest fact sheets, from the link here.


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Brexit effect on AIM stocks

In this video interview, IGTV’s Jeremy Naylor sat down with Chris Boxall, co-founder of specialist investment manager Fundamental Asset Management, to discuss the impact that Brexit is having on AIM stocks and AIM in general.

Companies mentioned include AIM newcomer Diaceutics (DXRX), energy services provider Fulcrum Utility Services (FCRM), timber distributor James Latham (LTHM), provider of accident management services Redde (REDD), franchised lettings agency Property Franchise Group (TPFG), corporate broker WH Ireland Group (WHI) and foreign exchange experts Alpha FX Group (AFX) and Fairfx Group (FFX).

You can find out more about Fundamental AIM portfolios, including the latest fact sheets, from the link here.


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Looking for ISA bargains ?

With the end of the tax year fast approaching, many investors will be looking to use their ISA allowance. Here is our brief introduction to some potentially interesting ISA bargains.

AIM shares have only been permissible investments in ISAs since August 2013, but since then they have proved a very popular choice, notably for those investing with an eye on potential inheritance tax savings.

AIM had a difficult 2018 and despite a strong opening to 2019, many excellent smaller companies are trading at modest valuations, offering compelling dividend yields and decent growth prospects.

Chris Boxall and Stephen Drabwell, co-founders of Fundamental Asset Management, would be delighted to discuss the investment opportunities on AIM through our bespoke AIM portfolio service. Please email [email protected] or call 01923 713890.

Our recent Blog commented on Redde (LON:REDD), a substantial business where the dividend yield had risen to more than 11%. While the shares have rallied marginally since our original Blog, the forecast yield is still over 10%.

The share price of Fulcrum Utility Services (LON:FCRM), an independent energy and multi-utility infrastructure and services provider, has been extremely weak over the past few months. Fulcrum’s primary business is the design and installation of utility services from single site properties to large complex multi-site projects. It also owns and operates gas and electrical assets that connect properties to the main UK gas and electricity networks.

Fulcrum has delivered consistent earnings growth over the past 4 years and in 2018 acquired the Dunamis Group, an electrical infrastructure services company. Unfortunately, the Dunamis business has experienced some Brexit induced contracts delays which has accelerated the share price decline. While the Dunamis business is made up of larger, lower margin projects, it’s operating in a very dynamic market with a notable opportunity in the area of electrical vehicle charging.

This week’s trading update provided some reassurance that bsuiness was not as bad as many believed it to be. The modest earnings multiple of 9x current year earnings falling to 8x for the year ending March 2020 and a forecast dividend yield of 6.3% means Fulcrum warrants a closer look for ISA investors.

The Property Franchise Group (LON:TPFG), one of the UK’s largest property franchises, has seen its share price pulled down principally due to fears surrounding the impact of the tenant fee ban on its business. The ban is due to be introduced on 1st June 2019 with the impact on group revenue less than originally anticipated.

TPFG was founded in 1986 and encompasses a diverse portfolio of longstanding high-street brands and a hybrid, no sale no fee agency, called EweMove.

The lion’s share of group revenue is made up of service fees (royalties) charged to franchisees, principally relating to lettings business. Therefore, this is a business which generates relatively stable revenues, high operating margins and returns on equity and excellent cash flow. With modest capital expenditure requirements, the attractive cash flow is able to support a generous dividend, with the yield just over 6.5 per cent at the current share price.

Fundamental AIM for Inheritance Tax planning portfolios may hold shares in the companies mentioned in this article.

Our associates Investor’s Champion publish in-depth research reports on many exciting AIM companies.


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Inheritance tax planning AIM favourite yielding 11% – what’s the catch?

The share price of AIM quoted Redde (LON:REDD), the provider of accident management services and an inheritance tax planning AIM favourite, has been in the doldrums ever since the announcement of its interim results at the end of February 2019. Recent news of its failure to secure the renewal of a sizeable contract has also pulled the shares down further to 4 year lows, this has also seen the forecast dividend yield rise to 11 per cent, but is this compelling return sustainable?

At first glance the interim results for the 6 months ending 31 December 2018 were actually pretty good with revenue up 14% to £291m and pre-tax profit up 7.2% to £21.3m. An interim dividend of 5.50p, equivalent to a yield of 5.5 per cent, highlighted the inheritance tax planning appeal of this AIM company.  However, cash flow wasn’t quite as rosy as usual, with claims taking longer to settle and debtor days rising to 109 from 105 previously. Reported net debt at 31 December 2018 had also risen to £41.2m from £8.5m at 30 June 2018, however in mitigation, this relates to asset backed finance leases, rather than bank debt, so is fairly low risk. The Group increased its car fleet 27% to meet increased hire days which meant finance leases rose.

It’s worth noting that the business doesn’t have any bank borrowings, reflected in the finance costs which only encompass interest on finance leases and bank facility fees; the latter for a facility which isn’t even used.

Management cautioned that growth for the remainder of the second half would not have the beneficial effect experienced last year from the “Beast from the East” – Redde was a beneficiary of the terrible weather.

While the interim results tempered investors’ enthusiasm for the shares, it was the contract renewal announcement which really accelerated the selling.

The failure to secure the renewal of a hire and repair contract with a large insurer won’t have any immediate effect for the current financial year ending June 2019 but will impact 2020. Management now expects a net reduction in sales of approximately £111.9m (representing 18.2 per cent. of consensus expectations) and a reduction in adjusted operating profits of approximately £4.7m (representing 8.7 per cent. of consensus expectations).

Thankfully the pipeline of new business remains encouraging with a number of live prospects, and management remains hopeful it can fill the void.

The stated £4.7m reduction in operating profits on sales of £111.9m suggests the lost contract was at lower margins than the majority of the Group’s business.

At the current share price of 105p the shares trade at an estimated 8.2x revised earnings estimates of 12.8p for the financial year ending June 2020. This looks a very modest rating for a business which will remain highly cash generative and should therefore be able to support the dividend.

Having consistently raised its dividend every year for the past 6 years, the dividend is now forecast to remain flat at 11.7p, moving the forecast dividend yield to approximately 11% at the current share price. That looks appealing to patient, long term inheritance tax planning investors, looking out for some extra income.

There will be concerns that the failure to renew the contract could be the start of other problems, however Redde is well diversified across contracts large and small, regularly winning and losing contracts with insurers. As at 30 June 2018, the most significant five customers represented 23% (2017: 25%) of receivables. That implies an acceptable level of customer concentration.

While the car fleet has grown materially, they have the flexibility to trim this back at short notice.

Hargreaves Lansdown’s reporting of a claimed JPMorgan target price of 11p (rather than 111p!) wasn’t terribly helpful for the share price either – we suggest HL should pay closer attention to their reporting!

Directors have shown their confidence in the business by snapping up £185,000 of shares in aggregate.

Fundamental AIM for Inheritance Tax planning portfolios hold shares in Redde


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AIM needs more newcomers

A recent update from our associates Investor’s Champion highlighted how February 2019 was yet another poor month for new arrivals on AIM, with only 1 proper new arrival and 7 more departures. AIM certainly needs to be re-energised!

While the quality of companies on AIM has improved considerably over the 15 years we have been investing in AIM for Inheritance Tax planning purposes, we are becoming concerned by the shortage of suitably attractive new arrivals.

AIM’s reduced appeal to many high growth businesses is countered by its evident attraction to the legal and professional services sector. Of the 7 new arrivals in December 2018, which was AIM’s best month for IPOs in a long time, one of the newcomers (finnCap Group) was a corporate broker and two (Manolete Partners and Litigation Capital Management) were providers of litigation funding solutions. While profitable businesses, they are unlikely to set investor’s pulses racing in the same way a fast growing technology company might, although we quite like the look of Manolete! The litigation funders join several legal services groups already enjoying life on AIM.

Investor’s Champion pointed out that, as AIM has struggled, its rival Nasdaq First North, which encompasses junior markets across the Nordic region, has started to attract a growing number of small technology companies. Many companies on First North also carry similar attractions for Inheritance Tax planning purposes to those on AIM. First North welcomed 2 newcomers in February, one a video game development studio, the other a cloud-based software group, just the sort of innovative high growth businesses needed on AIM. Should the flow of attractive newcomers to First North continue, it could become a viable market for those with an eye on mitigating potential inheritance tax.

AIM may soon have another rival to contend with in the rejuvenated Nex Exchange, where Oliver Hemsley, the founder of UK stockbroker Numis Securities, is looking to take control and inject new capital into Nex, which will also be given a new name. Nex could find some willing supporters in those investing for Inheritance Tax planning purposes.

Thankfully there remains a large pool of attractive AIM companies in which to invest, it would simply be nice for this pool to grow, rather than shrink, as has been the case for the past few months.


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Quartix (QTX) – timely, clear reporting from this cracking AIM company

In a recent podcast with our associates Investor’s Champion, Chris Boxall of Fundamental Asset Management discussed some of the problems with company reporting, notably with reference to UK banks, and and why clear, easy-to-read financial statements, with a minimum of adjustments, can be good for your investment portfolio. In this regard, full year results from AIM quoted Quartix (AIM:QTX) yet again set the benchmark for other AIM companies to follow.

The first thing one notices with the results announcement from Quartix is that these represent final ‘audited’ numbers and not the usual ‘preliminary’ accounts many listed companies tend to issue. With a financial year end of 31 December 2018, it’s highly commendable that Quartix can issue these prior to the end of February.

Founded in 2001, Quartix is a leading supplier of subscription-based vehicle tracking systems, software and services. The Group provides an integrated tracking and telematics data analysis solution for fleets of commercial vehicles and “pay as you drive” motor insurance providers that is designed to improve productivity and lower costs by capturing, analysing and reporting vehicle and driver data. Quartix is based in the UK but growing strongly in overseas markets, particularly in France and the United States.

While the financial highlights do mention ‘adjusted EBITDA’ the results are mercifully free of too many references to adjusted numbers and thankfully there is no mention of the dreaded ‘underlying’ anywhere. This is in stark contrast to the banks discussed in the podcast, who clearly have plenty of adjustments to make excuses for!

For a business of Quartix’ small size, which is making meaningful investments in research and development expenditure and supporting overseas growth, the absence of adjustments is all the more refreshing. Many small listed companies relish the opportunity to adjust or exclude certain costs from the ‘underlying’ result. Quartix financial results happily state that they ‘expense all research and development investment, tracking system and installation costs as they are incurred unless development spend meets the criteria for capitalisation.’

Operating margins of 31% and a return on equity touching 40%, reflected in excellent cash flow, highlights the quality of this small business.  While a single customer dominates its insurance related activities, this part of the business is in planned decline as it focuses on growing its fleet operations, where no single customer dominates.

Our associates Investor’s Champion also interviewed Quartix founder and Chief Executive Andy Walters in a podcast here; it’s worth listening to.


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AIM’s old guard continues to shine

With January 2019 being the first month we can remember no newcomers joining AIM, it’s reassuring to note that many of AIM’s longer established businesses appear to be in fine form. Our Blog here comments on two of our more mature favourites.

Flooring manufacturer James Halstead (AIM:JHD) celebrated 70 years as a listed company in 2018. The Group was established even earlier in 1914 and continues to operate out of the original premises in Bury. In its factories in Bury and Teesside, it manufactures resilient flooring for distribution in the UK and worldwide employing around 830 people, the majority of whom are in the UK.

While not the sort of high growth business many investors are drawn to, the £970m market cap AIM favourite has been a consistent performer over many years delivering high operating margins and returns on equity. Furthermore, unlike many AIM quoted peers, its financial results are mercifully free of accounting adjustments.

For the last full year ending June 2018 revenue rose 3.6% to £249.5m and profit before tax was flat at £46.7m (2017: £46.6m). The final dividend was lifted 4.3% to 9.65p and, with just over £50m of cash on the balance sheet, another special dividend might be on the cards.

The launch of their new Palettone range, a premium homogenous sheet vinyl collection with a collection of 50 colours, offers plenty of encouragement for the future.

James Halstead exports to far more countries outside the EU than are members of the EU. In addition they have attained full Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status with HMRC. AEO status is an internationally recognised quality mark indicating that their role in the international supply chain is secure and that customs controls and procedures are efficient and compliant. This will minimise the risk of any post Brexit border delays.

The end of January trading update reassured that trading in January 2019 was ahead of the comparative period and profit for the half year will be at record levels. Group cash balances had also increased even after material outlays for dividend and tax payments

James Halstead is a terrific business which is prudently overseen by the Halstead family but one that is still making material investments to support growth.

While the valuation looks quite demanding in the light of short term Brexit concerns, there appears to be a higher degree of certainty that JHD will deliver, when others may not!

Our associates Investor’s Champion have published in-depth research on James Halstead here 

 

Nichols (AIM:NICL), owner of the Vimto brand, has lost its crown as the beverage darling of AIM to the high flying Fevertree Drinks. However, there are signs that this highly profitable soft drinks business might be springing back into growth mode.

Nichols’ Vimto drink was created over 100 years ago as a herbal tonic to give drinkers ‘Vim and Vigour’ and is now available across the world.

The Group’s brand portfolio now includes Levi Roots, Feel Good, Starslush, Panda and Sunkist, which are all sold in the UK. The brands span the still, carbonated, post-mix and frozen drinks categories.

Nichols acquired the Feel Good brand in July 2015 which extended their portfolio into the adult premium and health soft drink categories. Following the acquisition of Noisy Drinks in 2016 the Group also now supplies an extensive range of frozen drinks to the UK consumer.

The £540m market cap business operates an outsourced production model with manufacturing undertaken by well established, trusted, long-term partners.

It has been growing organically by developing the portfolio of brands and distribution channels and has also made targeted acquisitions. Revenue growth over the past few years has been steady, if unspectacular, growing from £106m in 2013 to £142m for the year ending December 2018.

Earnings per share growth has been somewhat more impressive rising from 38p in 2013 to 63p for the year ending 31 Dec 2017, with the dividend also being raised each year to last year’s 34p (+15%), representing an historic yield of 2.3% at the current share price (1475p).

The latest trading update covering the year ending 31 December 2018 offered some encouragement.

Group sales rose 6.9%, ahead of forecasts, to £142.0m boosted by an excellent performance in the UK business where sales grew 12.6% to £114.6m.

In its 110th year Vimto significantly outperformed the UK soft drinks category with sales increasing 12.9% during the year compared to the total UK soft drinks market growth of 7.4% (Nielsen MAT year to 1 December 2018).

In its international business, a strong sales performance in Africa during the second half of the year delivered full year growth of 6.5% in this region.

The one disappointment was the reduction in sales to the Middle East from £13.0m in 2017 to £9.6m in 2018, due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen and the timing of shipments to Saudi Arabia. A turnaround in this region could see a material boost to group sales.

The shares trade at 20x forecast earnings for 2019 which looks fair for a high-quality, cash rich business with well-established distribution.

Our associates Investor’s Champion have published in-depth research on Nichols here

 

These AIM old-timers have seen it all before over their long existence and should continue to deliver for many years to come, Brexit notwithstanding!

 

 

Fundamental AIM for IHT portfolios hold shares in the companies featured in his Blog


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Fundamental IG AIM portfolios – Dec 2018 update

In this video with IG markets, Chris Boxall, co-founder of specialist investment manager Fundamental Asset Management, comments on the recent performance of the AIM for Inheritance Tax (‘IHT’) portfolios created for IG.

It’s been a very tricky period for AIM and small caps in general, with the AIM Index having fallen significantly in the final quarter of 2018. While Fundamental AIM portfolios haven’t avoided the sell-off entirely, thankfully they haven’t suffered to the same degree as the AIM index, with strong performances from some.

Chris picks through the portfolio of ‘Standard’ AIM for IHT stocks and also looks at the ‘High Yield’ portfolio of AIM shares, highlighting what investors should be focusing on for reassurance on the big dividend payouts.

Companies discussed include: AB Dynamics (ABDP), Bioventix (BVXP), Character Group (CCT), Fulcrum Utility Services (FCRM), Jarvis Securities (JIM), Morses Club (MCL), Shoezone (SHOE) and Zytronic (ZYT)

You can find out more about Fundamental AIM portfolios, including the latest fact sheets, from the link here.


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Why we invested in Patisserie Holdings

Patisserie Holdings (AIM:CAKE), is a UK branded café and casual dining group offering cakes, pastries, snacks, meals and hot and cold drinks from over 200 stores in the UK.

It currently operates under five different brands – Patisserie Valerie, Druckers – Vienna Patisserie, Philpotts, Baker & Spice and Flour Power City.

The largest and best-known brand, Patisserie Valerie, represented 75% of Group turnover and 80% of Group operating profit in the last reported 6 month period ending 31 March 2018.

For the last full year ending 30 September 2017, the Group had sales of £114m and pre-tax profit of £20.1m, having generated operating cash of a similar of a similar amount. In every practical sense, it therefore looked in great shape.

– Background

Patisserie Valerie was first opened in Frith Street in London’s Soho in 1926 by Belgian born Madam Valerie. During the Second World War the Frith Street premises were bombed by the Luftwaffe and Madam Valerie subsequently set up shop around the corner in Old Compton Street where her legacy continues to this day in the Group’s Soho branch.

But enough of the romantic past!

– AIM admission

Patisserie Holdings PLC, the holding company of the Group, was admitted to AIM on 14 May 2014 at a share price of 170p.

£32m was raised by the company for the purpose of paying down senior debt (£21.9m) and shareholder loans (£10.9m). Total borrowings prior to admission were £33.2m.

£46.5m was also raised by selling shareholders of which Executive Chairman Luke Johnson received £23.6m, Chief Executive Paul May £5m and Finance Director Chris Marsh £1.45m.

These were the only Executive Directors with the Non-Executives:
Lee Ginsberg – former FD of Domino’s Pizza
James Horler – ex Frankie & Benny’s and La Tasca restaurants

The Board has the same composition today and, given the rapid expansion since IPO, seems to have needed bulking up!

At the time of Admission the Group had 138 stores.

The Executive Directors oversaw a period of growth from 8 stores in 2006, suggesting they initially had a fairly hands-on involvement from relatively humble beginnings.

The Group’s main bakery in Birmingham, its only freehold site, is also the head office.

All the stores are leased.

– Why we invested

Unless the valuation looks very compelling, we are generally reluctant IPO investors, preferring to see how new AIM arrivals develop in the public eye. Having had a good look, we first invested in CAKE in December 2016, attracted for the following principal reasons:

Growing sector
A business that is simple to understand, follow and monitor
Retail roll-out self-funded from internally generated cash flow
Attractive operating margins 16%+
Attractive Return on Equity 15%+
Highly cash generative
Growing dividend distribution – interim dividend was raised 20%
Strong net cash position and zero debt
Experienced senior management who had a material stake in the business, despite selling down at IPO
UK domiciled
Clean financial statements with an absence of adjustments

In summary, we invested in what we considered was a relatively simple, well-run, cash rich business, overseen by highly regarded sector specialists, operating in a very vibrant sector, that was easy to understand.

We like investing in companies where senior managers are large shareholders and have grown with the business. Luke Johnson and Paul May both come with excellent reputations in the sector and, despite selling down, retained material equity stakes.

We were slightly wary of Mr Johnson’s multiple directorships, but reassured that, with a 37% stake in a sizeable business he would hopefully be keeping a close eye on things.

– What has happened

On 10 October the Company announced that the board of directors of the had been notified of significant, and potentially fraudulent, accounting irregularities and therefore a potential material mis-statement of the Company’s accounts. This had significantly impacted the Company’s cash position and may lead to a material change in its overall financial position.

On 11 October they announced that, without an immediate injection of capital, there is no scope for the business to continue trading in its current form.
Chris Marsh, the Chief Financial Officer, has been suspended from his role and was subsequently arrested by police, although then released on bail.

– Recent Director option sales

In July 2018, Chief Executive Paul May and Finance Director Chris Marsh exercised options and immediately sold shares for a combined value of £5.26m. While they were both sizeable transactions, Mr May still held 4.54m shares, representing a sizeable stake with a value of approx. £20m.

Option exercises followed by share sales by senior managers are a regular part of the stock market and AIM and we are particularly wary if this results in the said managers having little or no stake afterwards. This was not the case here, although Finance Director Chris Marsh, who is considerably younger than Johnson and May, has only ever held a relatively small stake in this business.


– Cash flow was the real attraction

We aren’t big on earnings numbers or the mythical EBITDA so often quoted by analysts. Cash flow is our focus and the real appeal of CAKE to us.

In the 6-month period to 31 March 2018 claimed operating cash flow of £14.6m in the period, was up £2.9m or 25% (2017: £11.7m). There was nothing untoward on the balance sheet to suggest any unusual movements.

£2.7m of this cash was used to make income tax payments and £5m invested in capital expenditure, leaving free cash flows of £6.8m (2015: £4.9m). Of the £4.4m, £2.9m was invested in new stores and £1.5m in refurbishment of the existing estate or additional bakery or fleet facilities. Normalised Free Cash Flow for the 6 months, excluding new store investment, was therefore £7.7m.

The business is apparently well-funded with zero debt and claimed net cash at the end of the first half of £28.8m.

– Any clues in the cash flow?

Hindsight is a wonderful friend to the investor and, looking at things afresh, cash flow post IPO may have been a little too rosy, however, glorious cash is an attribute of a business such as this.

In the period prior to IPO, when the group was opening 15 sites per annum, capital expenditure represented approximately 58% of operating cash flow and 10% of turnover. For the period ending 30 Sept 2017, when the group opened 20 sites, cash flow represented 36% of operating cash flow and 7.6% of turnover.
Capital expenditure for the year ending September 2017 was in line with the prior year which may be viewed as mildly surprising given the ongoing maintenance requirements of a larger estate. However, allowing for lease expiries the net increase in the store estate was only 15.

Finance expenses of £36,000 in the period suggested the Group was using an overdraft facility on occasions.

– Low level of finance income

The single orange flag which may have suggested that something unusual was going on was the low level of Finance income for a business that claimed such significant cash reserves at its accounting period end.

Finance income for the year ending 30 Sept 2017 was only £44,000 whereas the Group stated period end cash was £21.5m.

However, rapidly growing businesses of this nature, which are collecting small amounts of cash on a daily basis and periodically paying out large sums to contractors can experience wide swings in cash flow, necessitating cash be available at short notice. Furthermore, deposit rates have been extremely low over the past few years.

– Wage inflation

We were concerned about the impact of wage inflation but the Group appeared to be taking this in its stride.

While inflation on food costs was high, management commented how they had benefited from a number of contract renegotiations, and in some cases switched suppliers to mitigate inflationary pressures. This, along with production efficiencies from investment in their bakeries helped them maintain a gross margin of just below 78%.

Management commented that ongoing labour inflation was built into budgets and is being absorbed as the group continues to grow.

– Too many pies….

At the time of AIM admission Luke Johnson was a Director or Partner in more than 50 companies and limited partnerships, including some high profile names. However, he was not a Director of many of Patisserie Holdings’ key operating subsidiaries, notably Stonebeach Limited, through which Patisserie Valerie trades, where Messrs May and Marsh were Directors.

Companies House currently lists him as Director and Partner in 33 companies and Partnerships although the list excludes Elegant Hotels PLC (see below), where he also a Director. Another list indicates he is a Director or Partner of 40 companies or LLPs.

Of significance, since June 2015 Mr Johnson has been Executive Chairman of Brighton Pier Group, which owns and trades Brighton Palace Pier, as well as twelve premium bars and six indoor mini golf sites. This business had a very active period this year.

In May 2017 he was also appointed Non-Executive Director of AIM listed, Elegant Hotels Group. However, the influential advisory firm ISS urged shareholders to oppose his election to the Group, on the grounds he is already on the boards of two other listed companies.

He stepped down from the Board of Arden Partners (AIM: ARDN), the AIM listed institutional stockbroker in May 2018.

He also has a controlled function in Risk Capital Partners LLP an FCA regulated firm.

Mr Johnson also has an interest in Gail’s Bakery (a trading name of Gail’s Ltd) and there was rumour of a combination of this business with CAKE. Gail’s Ltd is ultimately owned by Bread Holdings Ltd in which Luke Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners II LP and RCP Co-Investment LP have a combined controlling stake.
Surprisingly, financial statements have never been filed for either of these 2 LPs whose ultimate ownership seems to be hidden behind an extensive web of Limited Partnerships.

Mr Johnson also writes a regular column for the Sunday Times.

Paul May is involved with FD Chris Marsh in another business called Christian Lewis Performance and Classic cars, a company which appeared to be technically insolvent at 31 May 2017.

With due regard to current events, it now seems clear that Mr Johnson needs to have more focus in his business interests and extract himself from a number of executive and non-excutive roles….for his own financial well-being and that of his fellow shareholders!

 

We are absolutely staggered how a profitable, cash generative business of this nature could have collapsed so dramatically and suddenly. We will issue an update when we know more.