Small Cap Value Report (29 Apr 2015) - BMK, THT, SVCA, RGD

Wednesday, Apr 29 2015 by
28

Good morning! Well no profit warnings for me this morning, so far, so that's a good start. Ramridge posted an interesting comment after yesterday's report, saying that he'd crunched the numbers, and according to an EY report, 2014 was a record year for profit warnings, and the rate is about 15% - so if you have a portfolio of 50 shares (roughly what I have) then you should expect 7-8 profit warnings per year.

If you invest more in small caps, then the profit warning rate will probably be higher, because smaller companies usually have less earnings visibility, and can be heavily dependent on a few contracts, customers, staff, etc (e.g. Thorntons (LON:THT) this morning saying that their fall in FMCG sales is down to one customer).

This got me thinking about the margin of safety. With markets now fully, or over-priced for many, maybe most, small caps, I am increasingly firming up my view that it's dangerous to pay such high prices for stocks, because you then have no margin of safety if/when something goes wrong.

Also, if 15% of your stocks are going to warn on profit, then you have to be sure that the other 85% have enough upside potential in them to more than make up the shortfall. So if you're paying toppy prices for fashionable stocks with strong momentum, where is your upside going to come from? More momentum? So what happens when momentum eventually breaks? I think it could get very messy when eventually buying the dips stops working.

With us only days away from the start of "Sell in May and go away", made worse by General Election uncertainty this year, I'm thinking about putting a self-imposed ban on opening any new long positions, and possibly trimming back a little on existing long positions, and maybe opening or increasing a few of shorts on over-valued stocks.

What do readers think? Do you follow the (statistically proven) sell in May approach? Comments in the comments, below.


Benchmark Holdings (LON:BMK)

Share price: 82p (down 26% today)
No. shares: 219.3m
Market Cap: £179.8m

Profit warning - if the share price drops sharply on a trading update, I rename it here as a profit warning, for clarity. Shares in this fish medicines group have dropped sharply this morning, although they've bounced somewhat from the…

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Benchmark Holdings plc is engaged in the provision of aquaculture health, genetics and nutrition. The Company’s segments include genetics, advanced nutrition and health. The Company develops products that helps fish and shrimp to improve their sustainability and profitability by improving yield, quality, and by reducing mortality. The Company’s products include high genetic quality ova for salmon, shrimp and tilapia, and breeding, program, specialist feeds for early stage shrimp and fish; probiotics, Vaccines, biocides, and medicines. more »

LSE Price
46.5p
Change
 
Mkt Cap (£m)
259.5
P/E (fwd)
131.3
Yield (fwd)
n/a


Servoca Plc is a holding company. The Company provides specialist outsourcing and recruitment services to customers in the medical, educational and security markets. Its segments include Outsourcing and Recruitment. The Outsourcing segment provides services to the domiciliary care and security sectors. The Recruitment segment provides recruitment services to the healthcare, education and police sectors. It operates in five markets: education recruitment, healthcare recruitment, homecare, criminal justice and security. Its Education Recruitment division supplies school staff ranging from qualified teachers, middle managers, senior leadership and learning support staff. Its Healthcare Recruitment division focuses on the supply of Specialist Nurses, Student Nurses, Healthcare Assistants and associated roles. The Homecare business supplies care at home. Its Criminal Justice operation focuses on supplying people and services in areas associated with the civil and criminal justice markets. more »

LSE Price
8.5p
Change
-37.0%
Mkt Cap (£m)
n/a
P/E (fwd)
n/a
Yield (fwd)
n/a



  Is LON:BMK fundamentally strong or weak? Find out More »


22 Comments on this Article show/hide all

janebolacha 29th Apr '15 3 of 22
2

The Thorntons (LON:THT) problems are self-inflicted, imo. Their USP was in having their own chain of shops. This is being run down in favour of competing head-to-head with dozens of other brands, perhaps equally good, on the bought-for shelf space of rapacious supermarkets, where the notion of « a premium price for a superior quality » is almost certain to be submerged in a sea of competing price reductions and special offers. Why would Thorntons do that, turning their backs on what makes them unique? Surely, there must be the opportunity in UK for a chain of boutique, higher-range chocolate shops, offering « more » (chocolate club, rewards scheme, chocolate tastings, pavement hot chocolate cafés, etc, etc)? There is in other countries, here's one example from France (sorry, it's in French):

http://www.chocolat-deneuville.com/son-histoire.html

This chain has over 150 shops, many or most franchised, and seems to be successful and expanding.

For THT to deliberately jettison perhaps the only thing that makes them commercially unique seems mad. That « the sales decline in UK Commercial is now solely due to reduced levels of orders from one customer which have continued into the second half of the year » is hardly surprising, the supermarkets play hardball and THT is learning that. This demonstrates, imo, that THT are giving over control of their business to rapacious sharks, rather than having a strategy they can control themselves, one of building up an alternative and unique business.

I find it rather sad.

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janebolacha 29th Apr '15 4 of 22
4

Benchmark Holdings (LON:BMK) is a story stock, another one sold on a nice line of patter to private investors.
It's what we aren't told that always matters more than what we are told.
Was the threat of the development of generic alternatives ever mentioned in any of those "presentations to investors"?
It's better to give this kind of stock a very wide berth.
Wait until the business is grown up before investing.

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bsharman 29th Apr '15 5 of 22
4

I've had 2 companies warn in two days... BMK and IND... I going to stop looking and drink more Sake!

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WatsonNimrod 29th Apr '15 6 of 22

I think profit warnings will be the least of our worries if its an 'anyone except the Tories' coalition.

I've had a look at Labours manifesto and it's terrifying.

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lightningtiger 29th Apr '15 7 of 22

I checked the valuation of BMK with Vector Vest from a year ago at about 80p to yesterdays close at just 23p, clearly an overvalued stock. Having said that the estimated earnings and profits over the next 2 years with Stockopedia look very positive. They have 46 products to market. according to Reuters, so it appears it is only one of these that is giving a problem right now. One for the watchlist. There is plenty of fish in the sea to choose from.

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brucepackard 29th Apr '15 8 of 22
1

In reply to post #97828

Agree - Thorntons (LON:THT) is an example of how NOT to run a chocolate factory
http://brucepackard.com/how-not-to-run-a-chocolate-factory/

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herbie47 29th Apr '15 9 of 22

In reply to post #97822

I have not followed it but I have cashed some shares as I think the market could fall next week due to the election result, so locked in some profits on housebuilders and sold a few that I've lost interest in or have not gone up for a while.

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purpleski 29th Apr '15 10 of 22
1

Hi Paul

I am still forming my opinions but the statistic that most gains are made on relatively few days and that if one is not in the market on those days (ie you are trying to time entry exit points) then your overall returns will suffer but I think I am tending towards being a different type of investor to yourself? That said I do like the idea of keeping a substantial amount of cash (I think Klarman often has 30% in cash) ready to deploy when the next 87, 2008 etc comes along. That said I have been keeping cash in case my business has liquidity problems, which is beginning to look less and less likely so I am looking to deploy some fresh cash over the coming months.

Quick example. A chap I was "advising" retired in May 87 and received his pension cash lump sum that month but wanted to defer his investment in Unit Trusts and Insurance bonds because of the sell in May etc. thing. He could not be persuaded that he could not time the market. So he came back to us and invested his money on roughly 10th October 1987. After 19th October we managed to persuade him to hold fire and not sell but it was hard going.

So if one beats what ever bench marking you are measuring against maybe it doesn't matter. At the moment I am measuring against making a bit of money and increasing my knowledge benchmark.

Thanks as ever for a great column.

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BrianGeee 29th Apr '15 11 of 22

In reply to post #97834

Jane, to be fair to Benchmark and its advisers, the generic threat to Salmosan has been up-front in all presentations, and in the fundraising literature. Also if you look in the prelim results from January, it's mentioned in the outlook statement. In those results they indicated that Salmosan sales were stronger than expected due to the generics not penetrating the market as much as they'd though likely, but now it seems they have.
For me, the issue is more the delay to the replacement treatments, and I'm not a believer in HypoCat.

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purpleski 29th Apr '15 12 of 22

In reply to post #97854

The other problem with Thorntons (LON:THT) is that the chocolate tastes horrid! But even if it didn't the brand I think is very fusty and dated.

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janebolacha 29th Apr '15 13 of 22
1


This was in the Benchmark Holdings (LON:BMK) Outlook statement on January 27:

"Your Board is pleased that the Company is successfully executing the growth strategy set out at the time of the IPO and is optimistic about the opportunities ahead. We are enthusiastic about the continued development of the new product pipeline and progress with corporate acquisitions where the Company is evaluating a number of targets. We have been successful in diversifying our revenues away from Salmosan and this, together with the relative resilience that the product has shown to the introduction of generics, puts us in a solid position. The integration of Stofnfiskur and Salmobreed is progressing well with early indications of synergies and growth opportunities materialising as expected."

This is in today's results statement, results to March 31:

"Overall, the Company continues to make good progress with its strategy and it is successfully integrating the businesses it has acquired to form a new Breeding and Genetics division. It has however become clear that the competitive pressure in the market for our Salmosan product, a core part of our Animal Health division, has intensified. As a result, the Company is providing guidance that it expects revenue and profits to be significantly below market expectations for the full year. "

So it all went suddenly wrong between January 27 and March 31 and the "solid position" deteriorated to become "revenue and profits to be significantly below market expectations for the full year. "?

That makes it much worse, imo, since it raises questions about whether the CEO and the BOD know what's really going on in the company.

All IMHO, DYOR.

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PFhunting 29th Apr '15 14 of 22

In reply to post #97864

My impression on BMK is that the generic competition did not start as early as they expected and with the mergers going through management has very much taken its eye of the ball with regards to generics which has now required a bigger response , I can only assume this is now going to not only effect volume of sales but also the margin thereof so they need to get the pipeline moving forward quickly which unfortunately they appear to have failed to do upto this point. Hopefully this is a wake up call for the management and they will learn from the errors made here, I am will be holding for now as I can see the long term appeal of the company especially following the recent deals but management need to up their game.

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Ramridge 29th Apr '15 15 of 22
1

Bookies today are predicting Ed Milliband Prime Minister (4/6) forming a Labour minority government (7/4). Bookies have a history of being better at predicting general election results than opinion polls.
I have a sudden urge to run for the hills!
OK. Time to trim my portfolio to absolute 'must keep' only.

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FREng 29th Apr '15 16 of 22

In reply to post #97872

Ram - a Labour government would need to come to some deal with the SNP, so why aren't index linked bonds rising sharply?

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Funderstruck 29th Apr '15 17 of 22
1

Given the combination of the 'May flight to the seas' & the general election with forecast Dire results, I have certainly been unloading, after all the gains have been v good & I only have a few with wide spreads. Left holding solid stocks that will rebound and meanwhile hopefully provide the same Divi. Still fully invested in USA & looking to part sell whilst fx rates are very favourable. Shall wait & have a breather until some of the Global events calm down; it will only require one to erupt for all balls to roll down hill.

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Patxi 29th Apr '15 18 of 22
2

Regarding Margin of Safety, the notes by Robert Redfield on Seth Klarman's original book are, in my opinion, a must-read for all investors, http://rbcpa.com/Notes_To_Margin_of_Safety.pdf

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TheWatchmaker 3rd May '15 19 of 22

In reply to post #97897

Thanks Patxi - the notes were an interesting read. I must track down and read the Seth Klarman book.
Cheers
Geoff

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cig 3rd May '15 20 of 22

In reply to post #97857

The "most gains on a few days" thing is a bit of a fallacy: it's sort of true, but it's equally true that most losses are made on a few days, so being out is sort of neutral: you miss both up and down outliers.

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purpleski 4th May '15 21 of 22

In reply to post #98088

Couldn't disagree more but will have dig out the research from some pretty eminent people and come back to you in a week or so as I am away from tomorrow (yes through the election) and I have not adjusted my holding at all as, to use Ramridge phrase, my holdings are only ever must keep holdings until the fundamentals change and the UK election is not a fundamental.! Have a good bank holiday.

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herbie47 9th Jul '15 22 of 22

Servoca (LON:SVCA) has been on my watchlist for a while, its looking quite good value now its fallen back. I did see Paul's comment about why buy and not Staffline (LON:STAF), so I did a comparison and now Servoca (LON:SVCA) looks better value to me: http://www.stockopedia.com/compare/?tickers=LON:SVCA,%20LON:STAF,%20LON:EMR

I also added EMR as similar size to SVCA. Maybe the minimum wage rise will affect Staffline (LON:STAF).

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About Paul Scott

Paul Scott

I trained as an accountant with a Top 5 firm, but that was so boring that I spent too much time in the 1990s being a disco bunny, and busting moves on the dancefloor, and chilling out with mates back at either my house or theirs, and having a lot of fun!Then spent 8 years as FD for a ladieswear retail chain called "Pilot", leaving on great terms in 2002 - having been a key player in growing the business 10 fold. If the truth be told, I partied pretty hard at the weekends too, so bank reconciliations on Monday mornings were more luck than judgement!! But they were always correct.I got bored with that and decided to become a professional small caps investor in 2002. I made millions, but got too cocky, and lost the lot in 2008, due to excessive gearing. A miserable, wilderness period occurred from 2008-2012.Since then, the sun has begun to shine again! I am now utterly briliant again, and immerse myself in small caps, and am a walking encyclopedia on the subject. I love writing a daily report for Stockopedia.com on most weekday mornings, constantly researching daily results & trading updates for small caps. Cheese! more »

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