Is Purplebricks worth £1.1bn?

Tuesday, May 30 2017 by

Purplebricks Group (LON:PURP) has taken the stockmarket by storm having listed at 100p in December 2015 the share price is now over 400p. The company has 270.6m shares giving it a market value of £1.087bn.

The business model is as a hybrid estate agent with a "local property expert" combined with an online estate agency service. This is meant to provide "the best of both worlds" and differentiates the group from other online estate agents. This model means that the group prices its services above that of online-only agents but substantially below traditional estate agents. Home owners don't have to deal with home buyers directly and can obtain the advice of the local agent.

Purplebricks has run an extensive advertising campaign in the UK and built up market share ahead of online rivals. Looking around the UK and the Purplebricks for sale sign has become increasingly ubiquitous. The group has also moved into Australia and plans to expand in the United States.

In the six months ended October 2016 the group generated revenue of £18.7m with nearly all of this from the UK. At first glance the circa £1.2bn market value looks pretty punchy.

Long-term success is not a given with expansion in the US yet to be proven. In my view, Purplebricks is essentially a service company with it advertises client property on portals such as Rightmove in the UK.  In the long-term the group appears to have few means to generate high returns and see off the competition. Looking at the four competitive moats:

Intangibles - Yes Purplebricks has a strong brand but that is only due to an advertising campaign. A new entrant could simply advertise to get people to sign up. The group does have a first mover advantage. But we have seen countless examples where the first mover has fallen by the wayside.
Cost advantages - the main advantage is spreading the fixed admin cost and the cost of marketing. Marketing costs are a barrier to entry to, for example, in the price comparison sector.  It is perhaps the biggest barrier to entry in this area.
Switching costs -  Property sales are a one time transaction and as such there isn't a long-term relationship.
Network effects - This is probably the most important competitive moat and Purplebricks doesn't appear to benefit from it. It is the platforms that benefit from network effects.

Competitive dynamics - A property seller can easily use emoov, housesimple or any of the other cheaper online agents than Purplebricks. Alternative online platforms do mean conducting the viewings yourself but the costs are also lower than Purplebricks. However, with an online agent you pay whether or not you sell a property.  There is therefore an incentive to go with the lowest cost firm.

Looking in my area (N1) and I had to go to the third page of Rightmove to find a property advertising on Purplebricks. Are Purplebricks better than traditional estate agents?  With online agents like Purplebricks you pay a fixed fee even if you don't sell the property. I think this puts the seller in a weaker position with the buyer knowing they will be keen to sell i.e. otherwise they have paid a fee for nothing.   A local estate agent will only charge in the event of a sale and will be able to offer advice.

Purplebricks is suitable for part of the market but I think it will probably hit a limit at some point. People in a chain will value a successful sale more than they do paying an estate agent's fee. High value properties are also typically able to negotiate down the estate agent's fee.

With regard to US expansion and I find it hard to believe that a country as entrepreneurial as the US has left such a big gap in the market. It is notable that a number of Purplebricks directors sold their shares recently.

To justify the current market value the group would need to make net profit of £50m to £100m. In my view, the company is in the catch 22 position that many fast growth companies occupy.  If it is successful and sees rapid growth it will then see a step up in competition. With few barriers to entry returns will fall back and market share will most likely be lost.

The same catch 22 is in place with electric car maker Tesla.  If the electric vehicle does grow significantly then the group will see competition step up.  We shouldn't extrapolate Tesla's early success given that there aren't any meaningful competitive moats in electric vehicles.

Purplebricks is not an attractive risk/reward investment in my view. There are better investments out there. This is a stock afflicted with "internet" and "growth" hype.  The company will no doubt report significant growth going forward but competition is also likely to become more intense.  This will put pressure on both fees charged to sellers and the company's market share. 

Filed Under: Short Selling,


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Purplebricks Group plc is a United Kingdom-based company engaged in the business of estate agency. The Company operates through the division of providing services relating to the sale of properties. The Company uses technology in the process of selling, buying or letting of properties. The Company operates in the United Kingdom. more »

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77 Posts on this Thread show/hide all

paraic84 21st Nov '17 58 of 77

In reply to post #243723

"is that it continually has to compete and win new customers. It has no ongoing, durable customer relationships"

I think this is the nature of estate agency and one of the things that attracts me to Purplebricks (LON:PURP). Because estate agents constantly have to win new customers it is easier for Purplebricks (LON:PURP) to disrupt the incumbents than say it is for a company like Boohoo.Com (LON:BOO) which needs to win people over away from their loyalty to other brands (which Boohoo.Com (LON:BOO) has been very good at).

Traditional estates could be left with the fixed overheads of their own buildings and selling hard to shift properties of customers that don't think their property will sell easily through Purplebricks (LON:PURP).

That said, I am contemplating selling out for the short-term because the slowdown in numbers of properties being listed mentioned above concerns me and the tide seems to be turning against high growth & momentum shares at the moment.

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dangersimpson 21st Dec '17 59 of 77

Time for this month's Purplebricks (LON:PURP) update:


That the overall numbers are weak shouldn't be a surprise given the season but what is interesting is that Purplebricks (LON:PURP) market share (as measured in the top 20 UK cities) has had a big drop this month.

Either their business model is not as robust in weaker market conditions or they are facing increasing competition.

This is backed up by google trends data - again we have seasonality but the peak to trough drop is higher this year:


The produced their interim results since I posted last:

They showed rapid top line growth but they are to 30 October which is before the drop off in market share and google trend data started to dip.

Overall I'm becoming increasing bearish on Purplebricks (LON:PURP) for the following reasons:

1. Reviews

My own research into the online review industry has led me to conclude a personal opinion that I would not use trustpilot to guide any of my purchasing decisions. Maybe others have done the same? I note that the allagents site has returned it's Purplebricks (LON:PURP) review page and it is less than flattering:

It is also a strange decision for Purplebricks (LON:PURP) to add Feefo to their review platforms given that Feefo gets terrible reviews on trustpilot:

Either trustpilot reviews are all accurate which means Feefo is terrible and Purplebricks (LON:PURP) is great. However if Purplebricks (LON:PURP) is correct when they state:

“Feefo is widely regarded as being transparent, independent and secure, and is trusted by consumers as a vocal advocate of honesty in the reviews industry.”

Then the trustpilot reviews may not be trusted and the view they represent about Purplebricks (LON:PURP) cannot be relied upon.

2. Other Revenue

Based on the base fee they charge and their overall revenue per instruction you see that Purplebricks (LON:PURP) actually generate somewhere between £200-300 extra per instruction from additional fees. Some of this will be viewings and EPC's but I expect the vast majority of this is referrals to their solicitor. That there is a £360 break fee for not using their solicitor shows the sort of value that can be earned here - I doubt they are paying Close Brothers anywhere near that amount to cover the interest costs on a 1 year £849 loan.  This could be considered bullish how good they are at generating other revenue from customers however I also think that this also opens them up to significant regulatory risk. In my opinion the estate agency regulators seem to be reluctant to address any industry concerns surround the business practices of the large fixed-fee agents. However since the referred solicitors are generally getting poor reviews online and are considered un-competitive in their fees by some users. Since their use is linked to loan conditions I could see a more effective regulator like the FCA getting involved if enough complaints are made. Without the extra fees Purplebricks (LON:PURP) UK would have made a loss so far not a profit.

3. Major shareholders

Neil Woodford has never been shy to use media or share purchases to shore up a flagging investment in his portfolio. See the media blitz following the fall in Provident Financial (LON:PFG) or the purchase of direct stakes in the subsidiaries of Allied Minds (LON:ALM) which he also holds at the company level.

So it’s not entirely surprising that he recently added 3.4m shares to his Purplebricks (LON:PURP) holding.

What is surprising is his subsequent article declaring the stock market to be in bubble territory and the overvaluation of growth stocks vs value stocks:

While I have a certain sympathy to the view that there is irrational exuberance in today’s market it seems to me that Woodford has been one of the contributors to that exuberance by putting growth stocks like Purplebricks (LON:PURP) in his income fund and could well be one of the worst hit fund managers when markets turn.

I don’t bring this up purely for a bout of Woodford bashing but to note that with his current holding he can only buy another 4.5m shares before having to make a mandatory offer for the company. This means his ability to support the price further is reducing.

And it was after he reached the same sort of level of holding in Allied Minds (LON:ALM) and was unable to buy any significant amounts more that the share price started to accelerate downwards:

4. US Expansion

There wasn't much detail on the US expansion in the H1 results so we have to go by external indications. One shouldn't draw too much conclusions for google trends data butthe picture isn't exactly promising here:


5. UK Market share

As already shown there is a risk that this is weakening leaving a marginally profitable business. It will take a big advertising push to regain market share and this does seem to be planned in the New Year. However this will cost money in advertising  and eat into net margins. If they don't spend the money then they lose market share. This is what happens in an industry without a sustainable competitive advantage - long term all participants earn their cost of capital or less.

Given their net funds they are unlikely to go bust but the current market cap has a lot of downside if the worst case happens and you are left with ex-growth, marginally profitable UK & Aus businesses, failed US expansion, regulatory risk and the largest shareholder as a forced seller.

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paraic84 26th Dec '17 60 of 77

In reply to post #258038

Thanks again for these numbers dangersimpson. However, the slowdown you're spotting doesn't yet seem to be reflected in half year results although I imagine we won't get a full picture until the next set of results given your data shows a slowdown from September.

Have pulled out the figures for UK revenue in last three half years and H1 17/18 UK revenue looks quite good compared to the previous two halves, especially as I was under the (mis?)understanding that sales would be more H2 weighted around the start of the year and spring time. (H1 is end of April- end of October)

H1 16/17: 18.3m
H2 16/17: 24.9m (+36% on H1 16/17)
H1 17/18: 39.9m (+60% on H2 16/17)

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Andrew L 26th Dec '17 61 of 77

DangerSimpson - thanks for that. It was a very useful bit of research. My overall bearish thesis here is still in place. Whether or not Purplebricks is a well run business it is in a very competitive market. Some thoughts on your posts:

- Google Trends - presumably this is how much the name Purplebricks is searched for? What seems interesting is if you look for a five year trend for the UK. We are now nearly at the same level of searches as a year ago in the UK.
This might highlight that users are moving to cheaper online competitors in November and December:
- Australia/US - I'm not sure due to seasonality and their short time in existence if we can really draw any conclusions from the Google Search trends for Australia and the US.

Market Share - The fall in market share for Purplebricks you highlighted in December is obviously for the whole UK market and so includes offline and online. The drop from 3.75% to 3.65% isn't large but does tie in with the above data of falling internet searches for Purplebricks. Part of my bearish thesis is that Purplebricks would only take so much market share in the UK then hit a ceiling. I can't really see any reason why Purplebricks should see off cheaper competitors.

Valuation - the bottom line is that this company is generating about £100m in annual revenue (annualizing first half revenue) and is valued at £1.1bn. That might be fine if it had the prospect of becoming massively profitable. However, given the competitive nature of the space I can't see that happening. The other alternative is that Purplebricks sees incredible growth. However, the market share may have already peaked in the UK as your data shows. US and Australia are unproven and likely to be very competitive.

Woodford stake - I personally think Neil has lost the plot a bit. Without his support this stock it would of tanked. This is one of the few positions in his Patient Capital Trust that has performed well. Patient Capital has been a lousy investment to date in any event. I haven't looked but I am guessing the trust has a wind up provision.

Cashburn - Well they could use up cash fairly quickly if they ramp up advertising in the US and Australia. The crux though is whether they need another cash call to further their ambitions. In a year's time we could be down to £50m. I agree, though, that this isn't a slam dunk short given that they can survive for a while and the underlying business in the UK appears to be profitable.

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dangersimpson 3rd Jan 62 of 77


I think Purplebricks (LON:PURP) will have slightly different seasonality to other agents. H2 which is to 30th April should be stronger because peak houses will be marketed March April and Purplebricks (LON:PURP) get their fee up front. Whereas traditional agents will have peak income on chain completions later in the year.

The point is that if my (admittedly limited being only top 20 cities) analysis is correct that the slow down has not appeared in the results yet since these are to October and the slow down happened post reporting period.

Their own guidance for UK revenue is only +10% for H2 on H1 so this wouldn't seem to be great given the seasonal affects that should favour H2.


I think the current strength of Purplebricks (LON:PURP) is related to Woodford buying. I note the statement that his third fund Woodford Income Focus has been buying:

we have been able to free up a small part of the portfolio to opportunistically capture some long-term capital growth potential for the fund, in stocks which are misunderstood by the market and which are therefore profoundly undervalued. As such, we introduced three new positions to the portfolio during the month, in the form of Allied Minds, Prothena and Purplebricks.

The cynic may argue that this decision may have more to do with year end mark- to-market reporting of the other Woodford funds that have big holdings in these stocks and have been performing badly this year.

Long term it is business fundamentals that matter more and to me these are little competitive advantage, questionable behaviour regarding reviews, portal management & advertising, and high market & regulatory risk.

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dangersimpson 4th Jan 63 of 77

A small addendum.

According to holding RNS Woodford funds combined increased their holding in Purplebricks (LON:PURP) by1.27% in November 2017:

They could have added up to 0.69% without declaring but it seems unlikely that they would add up to the threshold and stop.

Based on the blog post:

...the holdings of Allied Minds, Prothena & Purplebricks were new holdings to the Income Focus Fund in November 2017.

Trustnet puts the current AUM of the Income Focus Fund at £738m which means that this fund added 2.3% of the equity of Purplebricks (LON:PURP) in November 2017. So we have at least 0.3% of the Purplebricks (LON:PURP) equity and probably closer to 1% that was transferred between funds. Most probably form the Equity Income Fund that was facing redemptions.

So it would seem that the Income Focus fund maybe be bailing out it's bigger brother both indirectly by supporting Purplebricks (LON:PURP) share price and directly through taking some of it's holding.

In the same way the income focus fund probably added about 0.9% of the Prothena equity and given Woodford's 29.9% holding already it is most likely that all of this came from the other funds.

If I was a holder of the Income Focus fund I would be most worried about this development since it is the presence of companies like this in the Equity Income fund that has led to the under-performance and maybe a lot of the redemptions. If redemptions continue they will be stuck holding the same highly priced, non-income bearing, illiquid stocks that the rest of the funds hold.

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thirty fifty twenty 2nd Feb 64 of 77

is anyone able to get hold of the revenue recognition policy in PURP?
the web site has nice menu headlines re investors and presentations but none of the links work.
even the link below the CEO statement doesn't work.

they all send you to the RNS!!

is this deliberate?? surely not it would be unbelieveable if it was?

but as a basic it seems a very poor quality PLC website that doesn't take you to the Annual Report in a couple of clicks.

disclosure: i am short

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dfhscgfsd 2nd Feb 65 of 77

In reply to post #308563

Not sure about that particular policy, all the links seem to work though

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thirty fifty twenty 2nd Feb 66 of 77

below is Revenue recognition policy.....

"Revenues are recognised on the basis of the performance of contractual obligations and to the extent that the right to consideration has been earned and the flow of economic resources is probable.

Fees earned on instruction of residential property are accounted for at the point of publication of advert to property portals, the point at which the Company’s obligations are complete. Where property particulars have not yet been published to property portals, the fees are recognised as deferred income and presented within liabilities.

Conveyancing fees are accounted for on completion of the service being provided, being legal completion of the transaction. This may lead to the recognition of accrued income.

Fees earned under lettings contracts are recognised on a straight-line basis over the term of the agreement and/or at the point of delivery of the service as appropriate.

Accompanied viewings revenue is recognised when its receipt is assured over the period in which the Company fulfils its obligations."

So they book instruction fee when the add listed!
By their own definition they have no cntractual obligation to help sell the property!
i think their policy will be debated with new IFRS nest year on Revenue Recognition,
and it certainly is not good, or consistent PR!!
this could get fun...

PURP is in my top5 (short)

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thirty fifty twenty 2nd Feb 67 of 77

In reply to post #308628

the links send you to the RNS or similar summary information.

the links to Annual report just send you back to the RNS.
also the link beneath Chairman's statement just send you back to the RNS.

very shoddy!
at least we know they don't stalk these BB as it would have been fixed by now since my note this morning!

Revenue Recognition Policy below is from the 2016 Annual report - that link works :-)

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thirty fifty twenty 7th Feb 68 of 77

did anyone else have their short forced closed yesterday?
my short with IG was forced closed yesterday

it would seem like NW is calling the shots,
in innocence maybe the lender wants the shares back so they can sell them?
either way it is horrible to have such manipulation
but it does so they can in the terms - i just didn't think they ever would.....

so any short position in any company they can close out with no notice!!
why would i take the risk of any short again??
how IG prioritise who to call first?
i got no explanation as to why other than lender wants their shares back

it all adds to the smoke and mirrors of PURP

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dangersimpson 8th Feb 69 of 77

The disclosed purplebricks short interest is very low at only 3%.

So recalling shares is unlikely to have much SP impact.

The only real reason for recalling shares that have been lent is to sell them. So it would seem that a larger holder is looking sell.

We can guess that this is Woodford Funds due to the collapse of a number of his other key holdings £PRTA, AA (LON:AA.), Provident Financial (LON:PFG), Capita (LON:CPI). The drop in £PRTA has probably pushed the Patient Capital Trust over its borrowing limits and both Income Funds are down more than the market this year. So it would make sense if he had to sell.

I would not expect the market to take kindly to any NW sale though - he has been a vocal supporter of the company and willing to put money into the company at ever increasing prices. If he is now selling he represents a massive share overhang and a source of future funding being removed form the company. It will be a lot harder for the company to get their next fundraise away without NW willing to buy in size at any price.

We won't really know until an RNS appears though.

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BlueFrew 8th Feb 70 of 77

In reply to post #312093

Hi thirty fifty twenty,

You stated "so any short position in any company they can close out with no notice!!"

I wasn't short Purple Bricks, however I have had similar happen a few times to me with other short positions. It's one of the risks that you have to take if you are going to short.

I've also had a situation where some borrow has been pulled, but not all, where I've been asked to reduce my short position by a certain percentage.

It's annoying, but you have to be sanguine about these things. Assuming it is Woodford that is selling (quite likely considering the state of his funds) then perhaps once those shares are sold, borrow will become available again. I've also seen that before, forced closure, wait a week, reopen as borrow became available.

I do think Purplebricks (LON:PURP) is a good short candidate at these prices if you can get borrow.

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dangersimpson 8th Feb 71 of 77

I ran these at the end of last month but didn't get chance to post.

Good news for Purplebricks (LON:PURP) is that their big tv advertising campaign drove higher market share in January to a level not seen since google trends interest started to fall off in October.

The bad news is that google trends data is suggesting that the bump in interest was shortlived. Also interest seems to be weakening in Australia. The level of google trend interest in California shows that they appear to have failed to make any long term impact there at all - which is probably why they have gone very quiet about this.  The New York launch seems to be an intention at the moment since there is no discernible google interest in the company in that location (as of 25th Jan when I captured these graphs.)

So something for the bulls & bears this month.


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thirty fifty twenty 9th Feb 72 of 77

In reply to post #312378

hi BLuefew and thanks for the information.

Can i ask which companies that was in just to get an idea of the sort of companies it can happen to,
and what were the circumstances at the time....

i.e i see the forced close at PURP connected to the Jeffries research, the Dow falls on Monday and the collapsing PURP share price.

There has been limited borrow available on PURP since early December - which is surprising to me for a 1.4bn company.

I am not at all sure that the lender is Woodford.
I think it more likely he called in favours from other lenders

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BlueFrew 9th Feb 73 of 77

In reply to post #312948

The ones that stick out.

Petroceltic - Was forced to close on the 29th January 2016. Managed to reopen on the 2nd February at roughly the same price. As I recall borrow was quite tight. Took a bit to get a position open there. The incumbent management team were in a battle with Worldview. There were spikes and short squeezes galore. Blog posts stating categorically that Worldview would have to offer 120p or so for the shares. Worldview then offered 3p, were rejected, bought up all the debt that they didn't own and forced it into adminstration. Great fun.

Goldenport - Forced to close into a short squeeze. Price collapsed the next day after borrow had been pulled. Painful.

MySQUAR - Had to phone up to get this one on. Was made clear I was paired with another client who was long. Had to close when they sold. Did OK out of it though.

Telit - Forced to close when borrow dried up at the start of September last year. Have since reopened. It was difficult to open originally and difficult to reopen. Borrow was at a premium last year. Position isn't as large as I'd like though, as a significant chunk of their shares are on loan, so forced closure or a short squeeze is an ever present risk here.

There was one where I was asked to close part of the position, but I ended up closing it all as the rump wasn't worth the monitoring time. Looks like it might have been Kodal Minerals. Should learn my lesson and stop getting tempted into shorting some of the rubbish at the bottom end of AIM.

Purplebricks (LON:PURP) does look a tempting short but I'd guess the borrow situation isn't helped by the fact that Woodford holds nearly 30%.

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JohnEustace 9th Feb 74 of 77

Re Purplebricks (LON:PURP) shorts being closed. Isn't the simple explanation that the holders decided they wanted the shares back in order to sell them because they agree that they are overvalued?
No conspiracy required.

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Andrew L 27th Mar 75 of 77

Interesting Purplebricks (LON:PURP) update. In my view, they are admitting that momentum is flagging in the UK market. The fundraising to expand in the US is effectively admitting that it is tough breaking into new markets. This is a cash consuming business in terms of funding growth. I am amazed that Purplebricks (LON:PURP) persuaded this German media company to invest. It is just insane to me. They are already significantly down on the price they subscribed at.

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paraic84 27th Mar 76 of 77

I'm grateful to dangersimpson's previous data. He helped to show the slowdown in UK growth way before the admission from Purplebricks (LON:PURP) yesterday, helping to inform my decision to sell Purplebricks (LON:PURP) shares towards the end of 2017 and banking a very decent profit. Thanks buddy! My other slight concern with the announcement yesterday was the indication that the German media company would also buy some shares off the directors and there are still few specifics about how the US is going (e.g. how many instructions?). I still think Purplebricks (LON:PURP) looks like a good business - don't forget his has grown super quickly - but growth companies' share prices are unwinding at the moment and there is growing negative sentiment here coupled with concerns that it might struggle to get a bigger share of the market in the UK against other online competition.

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Andrew L 19th Sep 77 of 77

Interesting that they have put fees up in Aus I believe.

Yet another Woodford stock. Also Old Mutual Smaller Companies I believe. I wonder if that is Dan Nichols. I could never figure out the investment appeal of this company. Looks like it may all come crashing down.

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