Tag Archives: stock prices

Stocks in Focus: Prudential Plc

This week I am looking at Prudential, the multinational life insurance and financial services company.  Prudential has had a strong year after economic conditions turned in its favour, reporting a new business profit increase of 17 per cent for the year to September 30. The third quarter trading update also reassured investors that there are still clear structural opportunities in each of its three key markets – Asia, the US and the UK.

Much of the rise in the new business profit has come from the Asian market. This growth is expected to continue to drive the share price going forward. Management are hopeful that the Asian business will double in size every five to seven years thanks to a growing and increasingly affluent Asian middle class that has driven demand and sales.

Elsewhere, the company intends to strengthen its position in the UK asset management market, targeting the retirement income needs of an aging UK population, following its merger with M&G asset management. Prudential also own one of the largest life insurance providers in the US, Jackson National, and expect this area to perform well given the demographic shift of Baby-Boomers moving into retirement.

The Asian business now accounts for over a third of group profits but faces strong competition, with companies such as AIA having a much greater presence in China. Other concerns include how a weakening of the US Macro backdrop could impact the US business, and whether an excessive rise in UK interest rates could threaten the UK annuity business. While the company appears to be well-poised for further growth, these threats are significant.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

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Stocks in Focus: RBS Group Plc

Following the UK budget last week, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced plans to begin selling the government’s remaining 71 per cent stake in The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) towards the end of 2018. It is his intention that the FTSE 100 bank will once again become entirely privatised. At the height of the financial crisis, RBS had no choice but to accept a £45bn government bail-out on the back of the largest annual loss in UK corporate history.

On previous occasions, the Chancellor has avoided setting a deadline until RBS had reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) over a multi-billion dollar fine for miss-selling mortgage-backed securities in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement came shortly after a good set of third quarter results, which demonstrated a broadly reassuring outlook for RBS. Following several years at a loss, RBS posted a net profit of £392m for the quarter, which was largely attributed to lower costs and significantly lower restructuring and litigation charges compared to 2016. More importantly, a number of legacy issues it has faced since the crisis appear to be coming to a close including the DoJ fine which the Bank expects to settle in the coming months although it is still unclear what the final bill may be.

It is promising to see that the business appears to be on track to achieve its 2018 targets and hopefully see its first full year of net profit since the bail-out. If its recovery continues, investors should eventually look forward to a reinstated dividend. However, RBS still faces a number of risks given that it is significantly geared towards the UK in the face of Brexit and there are still other litigation cases yet to be settled.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

Stocks in Focus: Connect Group

This week I am revisiting Connect Group, the UK-based distribution and logistics company, following the announcement of its preliminary 2017 full year results last week.

The last few years have been challenging for the company, which has been managing decline in its traditional newspaper and magazine distribution business whilst focussing on its broader distribution offering.  Having sold off its Education and Care division earlier this year, the group now operates across three key divisions: News & Media (at the heart of which sits Smiths News, the UK’s leading newspaper and magazine distributor), Books and Parcel Freight (predominantly under the Tuffnells brand).

Following a strategic review earlier this year, the group now has centralised leadership teams across all of its divisions with the primary aim of becoming more efficient. Reducing costs is particularly vital in the News & Media division as the downward trend in newspaper and magazine sales looks set to continue – it is therefore encouraging to see that profits for Smiths News rose by £2.7m this year.

Unfortunately, the growing areas of the business did not perform quite so well, with Tuffnells seeing operating profits fall by 20% despite an increase in volumes. The division faced higher variable costs due to erratic volumes on top of one-off costs to upgrade depot facilities. Pass My Parcel, the ‘click-and-collect’ business, is delivering strong volume growth thanks in part to the introduction of a returns service for Amazon late this year. However, the business is still loss-making at this early stage of its growth and is not expected to break even till the end of 2019.

Investors have reacted positively to the update, driving a significant recovery in the share price following a period of weakness. Looking forward, the shares still look cheap on many metrics – although management must ultimately convince the market that the growth areas of the business can offset decline in the traditional newspaper and magazine distribution market.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/company-report-library/

Stocks in Focus: HSBC

This week I am looking at HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, which delivered promising half year results at the end of last month.

The results showed a pre-tax profit for the first half of 2017 of $10.2billion, an increase of over 5% on the same period last year.  The better numbers were thanks to a boost from rising US interest rates, which generally enables it to make wider margins on loans, and an improved trading environment. In particular, the bank continues to see growth opportunities in Asia, where it makes three quarters of its profits.

Additionally, management announced a new $2billion share buyback, which will raise the amount of total stock that they have pledged to repurchase in the last year to $5.5billion. On the subject of management, investors are keeping a keen eye on the bank’s succession planning. Mark Tucker has recently been appointed as the new chairman and one of his first priorities will be to find a replacement for existing Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver, who is due to step down next year.

The shares have performed well of late and are currently trading close to a four year high following a rise of more than 50% over the last year. This leaves the shares trading on a relatively high valuation of 1.4x book value at a time of management uncertainty. Set against this, there are still plenty of positives. The bank is financially strong, offers an attractive dividend yield of over 5%, and is well placed to benefit from further normalisation of US interest rates.

Stocks in Focus: Reckitt Benckiser

This week I am revisiting Reckitt Benckiser, the global consumer goods company. In November of last year I mentioned how the company had a good start to 2016, supported by a successful cost savings programme and sales figures beating expectations. This year however, things have turned a little sour for the company with the news of a cyberattack taking its toll on operations and revenue.

The global cyberattack on multinational companies last month disrupted Reckitt’s ability to manufacture and distribute products to customers in multiple markets. Some of its factories are currently still not functioning normally but plans are in place to return them to full operation. Management stated that while it expects some of the sales lost in the past 3 months to be recouped in the current quarter, continuing supply chain disruptions mean that they could lose customers. As a result of these problems, Reckitt now forecasts a 2% revenue growth instead of the 3% originally expected.

Acquisition speculation is also in the news for Reckitt Benckiser as Unilever and Hormel Foods are believed to be bidding to acquire its £2.2 billion food division known for brands such as French’s Mustard and Worcestershire sauce. All three companies involved have not commented about the speculation, but we will surely find out more in the coming weeks.

Although Reckitt Benckiser is facing a tough period at a time when its shares are valued relatively highly, the company has historically shown resilience in difficult periods and consistent growth over the long run. Furthermore, its non-cyclical nature continues to be attractive to the long term investor.

https://www.nwbrown.co.uk/news/2017/jul/19/stocks-focus-reckitt-benckiser/

Stocks in Focus: Smith & Nephew

This week I am looking at Smith & Nephew, a leading UK-based global manufacturer of medical devices, following a transitional year bringing the business back to growth. The company operates across three specialist divisions: Reconstruction (hips and knees), Advanced Wound Management and Sports Medicine & Trauma.

The group has faced a number of setbacks in recent years, many of which stemmed from a flawed corporate structure of separately operated ‘silo’ divisions, which led to restricted innovation. This allowed competitors to catch up and take market share, although the company still enjoys a top 5 position across all the categories it operates in.

Management was then put in to question last year with the announcement that the CEO, Olivier Bouhon, had been diagnosed with cancer and would require treatment across much of the year. In addition to this, it was revealed that the CFO, Julie Brown, would be leaving to join Burberry after 3 ½ years with the company.

Despite these challenges, Smith & Nephew recently published positive full year results, demonstrating a return to growth and an encouraging outlook for the future, particularly within Sports Medicine. The internal restructuring of the business is now complete, which promises improved execution across the divisions and a stronger pipeline of new products. Olivier Bouhon (CEO) is now back at the helm and has recently announced the appointment of a new CFO, Graham Baker, who has 20 years’ experience at AstraZeneca and is expected to be a good addition to the board.

With a better structure in place and strong management team behind it, Smith & Nephew should now be well positioned to take advantage of an era where an ageing population and active younger generation mean health solutions are more essential than ever. Nevertheless, competition remains fierce and management will need to continue to drive innovation within key growth areas to keep ahead in this market.

http://www.nwbrown.co.uk/library/

Stocks in Focus: Hilton Food Group

This week I am looking into Hilton Food Group further to its recently published full year results for 2016. Hilton was established as a meat packing facility in Huntingdon in 1994. Since then it has grown to build processing and packing facilities and factories across Europe, with the business focusing on helping customers improve processes and become more efficient. More recently they have expanded further overseas through joint ventures with supermarket group Woolworths in Australia and food retail group Sonae in Portugal.

Following the results, which were above expectations thanks to strong volume growth in the UK, Ireland and Australia, I spoke with Robert Watson (CEO) and Nigel Majewski (CFO). The model for expanding into new territories is interesting. To develop the relationship with Sonae, Hilton initially sent a consultancy team to Portugal to review their current processes and systems. The consultancy period gave Hilton the opportunity to demonstrate their business case and as with the arrangement with Woolworths in Australia, Sonae went on to sign a full joint venture to redevelop its production facilities. While the core business is focussed on the processing and packing of meat, Hilton have been able to respond to their customers’ needs in wide range of fresh food preparation and packaging solutions, as shown with their fresh pizza range in Sweden.

Hilton now operates as a more diverse business geographically, with the ability to offer customers a more extensive range of solutions.  Expanding too far from the core business could create some challenges, but management remain optimistic that Hilton will be able to steer through these challenges and remain in a strong market position.

http://www.nwbrown.co.uk/library/