Trinity Biotech looks interesting here

The bull market is raging ahead with the S&P500 and the Dow both less than 1% away from key levels and Apple breaking $100 yesterday. Given my cautious stance on the market, as articulated in multiple posts for over a year now, it is therefore uncharacteristic of me to be talking about establishing a new position. After having watched Trinity Biotech, ticker TRIB, for nearly a year now (I previously posted on the firm last year here), I have been doing some more research and modelling on the firm.

Last September, when the stock was trading around $19, I concluded that despite an attractive pipeline of new products following a number of acquisitions by TRIB, the stock was overvalued given the execution risks involved. Since that time, the stock climbed steadily to over $27 after Q3 and Q4 results last year before falling to trade around $23 since March before dropping to around $21 for the past few weeks. The graph below shows the quarterly EPS for the past 14 quarters.

click to enlargeTRIB Quarterly EPS 2011 to Q2 2014

The past two quarters have been hit by subdued revenues, due to timing delays on Premier reagent income and lower lyme sales, and higher expenses from consolidating manufacturing costs and trial expenses on the Meritas Troponin cardiac test. In addition to the EPS misses, the recent drop may be as a result of cooling off on the tax inversion restructuring craze by US firms. There is always the possibility that it’s a result of some as yet unknown development!! Notwithstanding such a development, I spent some time going through TRIB’s releases and calls. The graph below represents my best efforts at a forecast.

click to enlargeTRIB Revenue Split & EPS Projections August 2014

My revenue and EPS estimates for 2014 are slightly below estimates. My revenue and EPS estimates for 2015 are 10% and 15% below consensus respectively. Using my EPA estimates with the consensus estimates for TRIB’s competitors from yahoo-finance, the graph below shows the relative valuations of TRIB and selected competitors.

click to enlargeTRIB PE Multiples August 2014

This analysis shows a stock with good growth potential but one which is trading at 22 times forward earnings. Add in that TRIB have spent their cash-pile and have intangibles of $138 million making up 58% of assets (with a history of having to write-off intangibles, see previous post). Not exactly a cause to jump up and down. Indeed there are many similar growth stocks trading at lower multiples (such as SIRO as per a previous post). So, what’s the reason for my change in heart on TRIB?

Well, it’s really all about the aforementioned Meritas Troponin cardiac tests, the high sensitivity quantitative point-of-care immunoassay platform TRIB purchased in the Fiomi deal (Note – the financial projections above exclude any assumed benefit from these products). The worldwide market for point-of-care cardiac testing currently stands at about $650 million (with a larger potential for other related add-on tests) and is heavily U.S. centric. The market is dominated by three firms – Alere, Roche and Abbott – and will be a tough one to break into. However, new guidelines in the US mean that the existing products are no longer fit for purpose. A letter, dated the 25th of June 2014, from the FDA stated that “laboratories and clinicians using these troponin test results are not generally aware that the performance data listed in the device labeling is obsolete.” The letter further states the following:

“To address these concerns while improving patient care, FDA has started working with troponin assay manufacturers to modernize the performance evaluation and regulatory review of these critical tests. Our main interest is to ensure that laboratories and clinicians are informed of the true performance of troponin assays to help in result interpretation and laboratory verification of performance parameters. This is particularly important for newer, more sensitive troponin tests which may render values that can be difficult to interpret if sufficient information is not available in the device labelling. These recommendations solidified troponin’s importance in MI diagnosis and triage; at the same time, they formalized an adjustment in the clinical cutoffs and changed the way troponin results were interpreted and used.”

TRIB have obtained a European CE certificate for one of their Troponin tests and hope to gain another shortly (end of August was mentioned). However, Europe generally follows the US and the real approval required is from the FDA in the US. Studies conducted for the CE certificate show very positive results albeit with approximately 20% of the sample size required in the US, on US patients. The size of the studies required in the US has been the reason behind recent delays although TRIB hope to complete the studies and submit the results to the FDA by year end. FDA approval could then take up to 6 months so mid-year 2015 is a reasonable target date. However, these studies are dependent upon getting enough targeted patients into the study and that can be uncertain.

So, TRIB have a market opportunity for a new product line which they say has been proven in trails (albeit smaller than the FDA mandated sample sizes) to exceed the new guidelines. The opportunity is significant and will pit TRIB against some big names competitors (although Alere seems to be in a bit of a mess right now). Analysts estimate the option value of the cardiac products at between $8 to $10 per share depending upon the underlying assumptions of probability of the FDA approval and subsequent market penetration for Meritas.

I like the potential risk dynamic here as I see TRIB’s core business improve its performance over the coming quarters. News flow on the Troponin trials will likely drive share volatility but if future profits on the stock over the coming quarters from improving operating results could be used to buy options to play the embedded call in TRIB share price on the Troponin products, I can see a win:win situation arising. That does require taking a risk today however with the share price around $21. Although it is against the grain of where I believe the overall market is headed, I therefore established a small position in the stock earlier this week. Maybe I am just getting bored of the sidelines and being reckless!! Time will tell whether I am timing this really badly or not.

When does one plus one equal more than two?

S&P released a thoughtful piece on Monday called “Hedge Fund Reinsurers: Are The Potential Rewards Worth The Added Risk?” I couldn’t find a direct link to the article but Artemis has a good summary here. They start by asking whether combining a reinsurer strategy with a hedge fund strategy can create higher risk adjusted returns than the two approaches could achieve separately. They conclude with the following:

“The potential crossover between hedge funds and reinsurers offers compelling possibilities. However, a commensurate focus on additional risks would have to supplement the singular focus on higher investment returns. Considering both is necessary in determining whether one plus one is truly greater than two. This depends on whether combining hedge funds and reinsurers can create additional diversification benefits that don’t occur in these two types of organisations independently, thus creating a more capital efficient vehicle. We believe it’s possible. However, in our view, closing the gap between reinsurer and hedge fund risk cultures and implementing prudent risk controls is necessary to realize these benefits.”

I have posted on this topic before. One of the hedge fund reinsurer strategies is to combine low volatility P&C business (primarily as a source of cheap “float”)with the alpha seeking asset business. My problem with this strategy is that every reinsurer is looking out for low volatility/stable return (re)insurance business (its the holy grail after all!), even more so in today’s highly efficient and competitive market. So what can clever chino wearing quants living on a tropical island offer that every other established reinsurer can’t? I suspect that the answer is to price the business with a higher discount rate based upon their higher expected return. S&P point out that this may create increased risks elsewhere such as liquidity risk in stress scenarios. Another strategy is to combine volatile property catastrophe risk with higher asset risk, essentially combining two tail risk strategies. This pushes the business model more towards the highly leveraged model as per that used by the monoline insurer, the ultimate “picking up pennies in front of a stream-roller” play.

To get an idea of the theory behind the various strategies, the graph below illustrates the diversification of each using the calculation in the Solvency II standard formula, with different concentrations for market, counterparty, life, health and non-life risks (selected for illustration purposes only).

click to enlargeHedge Fund Reinsurer Diversification

The graph shows that a hedge fund reinsurer with a low volatility liability strategy shows the least amount of diversification compared to a composite, non-life or a property cat reinsurer due to the dominance of market risk. Interesting, the high risk strategy of combining a hedge fund strategy on assets with property cat on the liability side shows diversification at a similar level (i.e. 78%) to that of a non-life reinsurer where non-life risk dominates.

Hedge fund reinsurers would no doubt argue that, through their alpha creating ability, the 25% correlation between market and non-life risk is too high for them. Reducing that correlation to 0% for the hedge fund reinsurers gives the diversification above, as per “Diversification 1” above. Some may even argue that the 25% correlation in the standard formula is too low for traditional players, as this post on Munich Re’s results excluding catastrophic losses illustrates, so I have shown the diversification for an illustrative composite, non-life or a property cat reinsurer with a 75% correlation between market and non-life risks, as per “Diversification 2” above.

In my opinion, one plus one is always two and under-priced risk cannot be justified by combining risk strategies. Risk is risk and combining two risks doesn’t change the fundamentals of each. One strategy that hasn’t re-emerged as yet is what I call the hedging reinsurer whereby liabilities are specifically hedged by asset strategies. Initially, the property cat reinsurers tried to use weather derivatives to hedge their risk but an illiquid market for weather derivatives and the considerable amount of basis risk resulted in difficulties with the strategy. The strategy is commonly used on the life side of the business with investment type business, particularly business with guarantees and options. Also the appetite for longevity risk by those reinsurers with significant mortality exposure that can significantly hedge the longevity risk is a major developing market trend. I do not see why the strategy could not be used more on the non-life side for economic related exposures such as mortgage indemnity or other credit type exposures.

In the immediate term, the best strategy that I see is the arbitrage one that those who have survived a few underwriting cycles are following, as per this post. On that point, I noticed that BRIT, in their results today, stated they have “taken advantage of current market conditions in reinsurance to significantly strengthen group wide catastrophe cover. These additional protections include a property aggregate catastrophe cover and some additional variable quota share protection”. When risk is cheap, arbitrating it makes the most sense to me as a strategy, not doubling up on risks.

A visit to the dentist

Last week, Raghuram Rajan, the current governor of the Indian Central Bank and the author of the excellent book Fault Lines, warned about asset prices and macro-economic policies in the developed world. Rajan said that things may work out if “we can find a way to unwind everything steadily” but added “it is a big hope and prayer” and that the reality of history is one of sudden movements and volatility. Also this week, hedge fund manager David Einhorn said that his fund was having “difficult time finding new investments this quarter” and that “as the market continues to rise in the face of conflicting economic data, global unrest, and looming overdue Fed exit from quantitative easing we remain cautiously positioned”.

As regular readers will know, I am also wary about valuations in the current market which seem to be largely driven by the lack of return as a direct result of macro-economic policy (see Buttonwood post). I am comforted by the fact that, as a part-time investor, I am not bound by the pressures that professional money managers have in the beauty parade that is the relative annual performance competition. So that affords me and other part-time investors (our own family offices in a way!!) the luxury of watching developments from the sidelines. Trying to find the holy grail of an undervalued stock in today’s market is unrealistic and fanciful in my opinion, given the resources of a lone investor at one’s disposal. So I tend to let my attention drift to whatever comes my way with the intention of broadening my mind and maybe broadening my list of stocks to keep an eye on.

That brings me to my visit to the dentist last week. My visit was primarily to get a new crown on a neglected tooth. I had rescheduled the appointment a number of times and as a result had not really thought about the procedure beforehand. Compared to a similar procedure a number of years ago, the process was totally different. First off, my mouth was scanned by a camera and a 3D image of my teeth was produced. I was then asked to wait in the reception for 20 minutes and upon my return the ceramic crown was ready having been produced in a milling machine onsite. The crown fit perfectly and was easily fitted. My dentist conducted the procedure using a new one-day crown system produced by a German firm called Sirona Dental Systems. The system includes a computer that takes digital images of the damaged tooth, software to design the crown and a milling machine. There have been some concerns about the use of such crowns for front teeth due to colouring issues or the suitability of such crowns for people who grind their teeth heavily. Within my mouth, I have a live comparative test of a laboratory fabricated crown and a new one day procedure produced one. It will be interesting to see how the new crown gets on!

I had previously heard about new technology that could impact the dental sector. A specially designed camera, fitted to a smart phone, can scan your mouth and then send a 3D image to a central database whereupon a panel of dental experts could diagnose the issue and then submit the recommended procedure to a marketplace of dentists to provide a quote on a solution. Naturally, my dentist was skeptical on diagnosing problems with a smartphone scan! Given my first experience with a scan, I think such ideas may have potential to disrupt a protected professional sector. As a further illustration of how technology is impacting medicine, this article on a new app that can turn a smartphone into a highly portable and low cost eye scanner to diagnose eye health issues in remote areas is interesting.

So I had a look at Sirona, ticker SIRO, who coincidentally reported quarterly results last week. SIRO’s year end is September and, based upon an estimate for Q4, revenue has grown on average by 9% for the last 3 years with operating income by 15%. The stock price has doubled over that time. The graph below shows the share price since 2007 and the 12 month trailing PE ratio and the next 12 months (current quarter and estimated next 3 quarters) PE estimate.

click to enlargeSIRO Share Price & Earnings Multiples

SIRO’s revenue is split into 4 main segments: dental CAD/CAM systems (such as the one I experienced), imaging systems, treatments centers, and instruments. The first two segments are the larger making up approximately 35% of revenue each and are the higher growth and margin segments. Each are described below:

  • Dental CAD/CAM systems address the market for dental restorations, which includes several types of restorations, such as inlays, onlays, veneers, crowns, bridges, copings and bridge frameworks made from ceramic, metal or composite blocks. SIRO estimates it has an approx 15% market share in US and Germany.
  • Imaging systems comprise a broad range of systems for diagnostic imaging in the dental practice. SIRO has developed a comprehensive range of imaging systems for 2D or 3D, panoramic and intra-oral applications that allow the dentist to accommodate the patient in a more efficient manner.
  • Treatment centers comprise a broad range of products from basic dentist chairs to sophisticated chair-based units with integrated diagnostic, hygiene and ergonomic functionalities, as well as specialist centers used in preventative treatment and for training purposes.
  • SIRO offers a wide range of instruments, including handheld and power-operated handpieces for cavity preparation, endodontics, periodontology and prophylaxis, which are regularly updated and improved.

The graph below shows the historical segment & geographical revenue split and the historical operating margin.

click to enlargeSIRO Revenue Split & Op Margins

The growth in operating results is impressive, as is their balance sheet and cashflow. The issue is one of valuation with SIRO trading around 26 times this year’s earnings and about 20 times next year’s projected earnings. However, despite SIRO having some major competitors, they are growing their highest margin segments impressively and, in the vein of Peter Lynch’s philosophy of investing in what you know, I shall be putting SIRO on my watch list to keep an eye on them whilst I do some more research (the most obvious of which is seeing how my crown gets on!!) and wait for a better entry point.

Speaking of valuations, my dental experience did get me thinking about the much hyped 3D printing sector. The number of applications for 3D printing continues to grow from construction, to aerospace, to medical/dental, to fashion, to biotech, to a whole host of industrial design applications. Wohlers Associates project a CAGR of 30% for the sector over the next few years (I’d love to know on what basis these guys come up with their projections). I had a brief look over two of the most hyped firms in the sector – Stratasys Ltd (SSYS) and 3D Systems (DDD). Historical comparisons are difficult as both companies have been aggressive acquirers. SSYS has had more favourable results of late compared to DDD due to SSYS acquisition of MakerBot and to DDD’s recent stumble due to heavy investments in growth. A quick snapshot of some metrics since 2011 are in the graphs below.

click to enlargeSSYS & DDD Share price revenues and earnings multiples

With SSYS and DDD trading at 36 and 40 times next year’s projected earnings respectively, these firms are not for the faint hearted. Hyper growth stories in new sectors are normally areas outside my comfort zone due to the inherent uncertainties. In this case my experience at the dentist may mean I will do some more digging in the future of this new technology, time permitting. For the sake of curiosity if nothing else.

More musings on the online gambling sector

A previous post on Paddy Power, William Hill and Ladbrokes showed how online sportsbook and gaming revenue are becoming an important part of the revenues of these firms. Another recent post on Betfair showed a similar import. This post will focus on the online gaming (which is a gentlier word used in the sector for what is more aptly described as online gambling) part of the equation.

As a recap, the graph below shows the online gaming revenues from Paddy Power, William Hill, Ladbrokes and Betfair (with PP converted to sterling at today’s rate) which make up 17%, 16%, 8% and 17% of their 2013 revenues respectively. Ladbrokes has approximately half the amount of its competitors. The considerable growth in William Hill’s online gaming (mainly casino) revenue after the creation of WH Online (WHO) in 2008 can clearly be seen. H2 Gambling Capital are forecasting an approximate 9% annual growth in online gaming gross win figures over the next few years

click to enlargeNet Gaming Revenue

None of the firms above split out their operating margins for the online gaming sectors. As casino is the dominant source of revenue for many of the firms, it is interesting to look at a diminutive online casino firm called 32Red, as per the graph below. Although 32Red is relatively small, the reduction in its margin to an average of 6% suggests that competition has pushed margins down in this business.

click to enlarge32Red Operating Metrics

Another two public firms that have a majority of their business in online gaming are 888 and BWIN. 888 is a well established player, particularly in the online casino market, with 40% of revenues in the UK and 40% in the rest of Europe in 2013, and it has been rebuilding its profit margins in recent years. 888’s operating metrics are summarized in the graph below.

click to enlarge888 Operating Metrics

BWIN, following its merger with PartyGaming in 2011, has a higher revenue base across Europe (excluding UK) making up approx 70% of 2013 revenues (25% from Germany) with only 10% from the UK. After some poor results and pressure from shareholders, BWIN is currently cutting its expense base by €30 million or approx 5.5% and is looked at ways it “can increase shareholder value”. BWIN’s operating metrics are summarized in the graph below.

click to enlargeBWIN Operating Metrics

The share performance of these firms has been distinctly mixed in recent years with little old 32Red blowing the others away, as per the graph below. BWIN has clearly underperformed and may likely be broken up. Analysts have speculated that a number of potential bidders, including William Hill and Paddy Power, are looking at various BWIN assets. Janus Capital Management has being building its stake in BWIN over recent months to 11% as at mid-July.

click to enlargeShare price since 2011 888 BWIN 32Red

Comparing the mainly online gaming firms with their more established betting firms in terms of the PBT margin shows the trend for both is downwards, as per the graph below. Headwinds include increased regulation and taxes such as the proposed UK POC tax. Opportunities include the explosion in mobile gambling, the slow re-opening of the US market (although I am sure established US bricks and mortar gambling firms will fight hard for their turf), new product development such as social gaming and the expected market consolidation. Amaya’s recent purchase of PokerStars has focussed minds on what will be needed to succeed in the US.

click to enlarge2003 to 2013 PBT Margin Betting & Online Gaming Firms

One of the more colourful firms in the sector, Playtech, has some interesting things to say about where the future is leading. On increased regulation, Playtech say that “the regulation of online gambling can be a catalyst for market growth, depending on how regulation is introduced, what product verticals the regulator allows and the tax rate applied” and that ”opportunities exist as markets move from a ‘’ to a ‘dot.national’ regime, although some uncertainties through the transition period are expected”.

Specifically on the UK, Playtech commented that “many smaller operators are understood to generate operating margins lower than the expected tax rate of 15% and in the view of industry experts, will struggle to compete. Larger operators can rely on economies of scale and their leading brands to remain competitive. Analysts expect that in 2015 the UK market will undergo significant change led by consolidation, as those operators with the strongest brands, best technology and means to invest in marketing will prevail”.

Playtech is a software gaming firm which offers a fully integrated platform across games and sports-betting called IMS that many of the main players use (licensees include Betfair, bet365, William Hill, Paddy Power and Sky, amongst others). They also run a white label turn-key operation called PTTS and a joint venture business. Their most well known joint venture was one where they very successfully partnered with William Hill in 2008 in the creation of William Hill Online (WHO). William Hill recently bought out Playtech of their 29% stake for £424 million. In March 2013, Playtech entered into a deal with Ladbrokes (in an attempt by Ladbrokes to diversify their business and catch up with their competitors – see first paragraph of this post) where, according to Morgan Stanley, Playtech “has effectively been given a quasi-equity stake, where it will “own” 27.5% of any increase in profits”. A Morgan Stanley report, although over a year old, has more interesting background on Playtech (they are still hot on the stock). The graph below highlights some of the metrics behind Playtech.

click to enlargePlaytech Revenues and PBT Margin 2009 to 2013

Much of the colour behind the firm has been provided by its 40 year old Israeli playboy founder, Teddy Sagi, who has a bribery and insider trading conviction from his youth in the 1990s. Playtech bought many of the assets used in the WHO 2008 deal from Sagi and also the PTTS assets (70% of this business is from Imperial e-Club licensed in Antigua and Barbuda!) in 2011 which caused concerns about conflicts of interest. Concern over such conflicts on what Playtech may do with its new cash pile from the WHO sale (they returned £100 million in a special dividend earlier this year but still have £376 million in cash as at end Q1) and on potential problems that Sagi’s ownership position may do in gaining access to the US resulted in an offering in March this year which reduced his 49% stake to 34%.

Playtech has stated that their “the Board is seeking transformational M&A opportunities to take the business to the next level.” Although it’s a bit too colourful for me, a number of analysts estimate a 20%+ upside on its current share price and it’s interesting to note that David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital is a believer with an ownership of 3.8%. That, I think, is a good place to end a post on gambling!

Level3 Merger Follow-up

It’s now been 6 weeks since Level3 and TW Telecom announced their intention to merge, as per a previous post. Without any other bidder emerging and with the announcement of the merged entity’s intended management team, basically the existing L3 team with TW senior managers running the US business and the IT side, the deal looks like going ahead absent any unforeseen hic-cup. Level 3 released a S-4 filing which outlined the negotiations and the figures used by each sides’ advisors during the negotiations. I always find the detail behind such deals interesting reading and this is no different, albeit in this case relatively straight forward.

The valuations provided by each of the advisors yielded some interesting data. The management of each side, Level3 and TW Telecom, provide their estimates of future results which the other side then adjusted (the sensitivity case) to use as the basis for the deal. Given that each management team would have tried to maximise the value of their own firm during the negotiations, these estimates are likely optimistic projections. The graph below shows the revenue and EBITDA margin projections of each for a stand alone LVLT compared to the public analysts’ estimates (called Research Derived Projections) and my own estimates.

click to enlargeStand alone Level3 projections

As my revenues estimates were roughly in the middle of the management estimates and the sensitivity case, I have used the average of both for my new estimates of the combined L3/TW entity as my new base case for valuation purposes. I have also used the EBITDA margin from the sensitivity case as my base with the assumed operating savings of $200 million plus the combined capex of each firm with the full savings assumed of approx $40 million, whereby both cost savings don’t fully kick-in until the 2016 year. The results for the 2016 year are not far off my initial estimates in the previous post with revenues of $8.9 billion, an EBITDA and capex margin of 34% and 15% respectively.

The S-4 outlined the different valuation methods used by the advisors, including DCF and EV/EBITDA multiples. Evercore, one of the advisors, applied a 10x to 13x 2014 EBITDA multiple to determine an implied equity value range and calculated illustrative future stock prices by applying a forward multiple range of 8.5x to 10.7x. Rothschild, another advisor, selected a range of implied EBITDA multiples of 9.5x to 10.5x. The graph below shows the historical multiples for a group of peer firms (although LVLT and TWTC tend historically be above the average peer) that I have kept track of. The graphic also includes the ranges offered by Rothschild.

click to enlargeTelecom EV Ebitda Multiple

Based upon all of the assumptions above and the balance sheet details offered in the transaction presentation, I calculated the upside & downside to LVLT’s current share price based upon different multiples to the projected 2016 figures. The graph below shows the results (for multiples from 5 to 13).

click to enlargeLevel3 Upside Downside

There are a lot of assumptions in the analysis above although I have tended to be conservative. That said I am conscious that LVLT has had a great run-up (equity up 110% over the past 12 months with big gains on the calls) and looks fully valued today based upon execution risks in the TWTC deal, as well as the general frothiness in the US equity market. For those who already own LVLT, buying insurance by way of the January 2015 puts around $35 looks like a sensible course of action here to me. For new comers, I would wait for a better entry point (we may get some wobbles in September although my 2013 September post on the subject last year was way off!!).