Stock of the moment – North Midland Construction The Turnaround

Stock of the moment – North Midland Construction The Turnaround

Stock of the moment – North Midland Construction

NMD: North Midland Construction current stock price: £4.08. Intrinsic value: £7.20. Margin of safety: 76%

The key to a successful turnaround

Peter Lynch said :

“Bottom fishing is a popular investor pastime, but it’s usually the fisherman who gets hooked. Trying to catch the bottom on a falling stock is like trying to catch a falling knife. It’s normally a good idea to wait until the knife hits the ground and sticks, then vibrates for a while and settles down before you try to grab it.”

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Who is North Midland Construction?

North Midland Construction is a civil engineering firm which operates nationally with twelve strategically located regional offices and workshops. They have six operational divisions which provide focused services to customers across five chosen core market sectors: Construction, Power, Highways, Telecommunications and Water.

Legacy costs will disappear

Their results have been turbulent of recent years due to mispricing of legacy contracts which have been incurring heavy losses. Legacy contracts are construction contracts entered into at the height of the recession which carried a high contractual and commercial risk. These contracts have impacted the Group’s income statement in 2013 and subsequent years. Last year the total loss before tax recognised on legacy contracts was £3.85 million which left £2.6m total profit overall.

Last year the group completed all on site works for the one remaining legacy contract, therefore removing any further uncertainty around costs to fulfil the contract. If we know that there will be no legacy hits this year, then we know that all NMD has to do is equal last years adjusted performance to double earnings per share.

The turnaround questions

While looking for investing in potential turnarounds, some points to be considered are:

How much cash and debt does the company have?

NMD has a 0.31 debt to equity ratio with £11m in the bank as of last year. This suits me well however the biggest risk I see with NMD lies in its current ratio which sits just shy of 1. The current ratio is a liquidity ratio that measures a company’s ability to pay short-term and long-term obligations. NMD technically can’t quite do that.

What is the company’s strategy?

The company had a huge shake up mid 2016 with the appointment of a new CEO, John Homer. John was previously with Morgan Sindall and had also worked at Galliford Try. This gives NMD two big green ticks in my box as these companies have delivered tremendous shareholder value. He’s also a self-proclaimed maths nerd which is another big green tick.

Following last year’s major upheaval to address the bottom line, Mr Homer is leading the group towards achieving an ambitious target of a 5 per cent operating margin within five years on top of £500m revenues. That represents a doubling of the business with a much healthier margin than today. Generally you don’t come out saying things like that a week before interims unless you know that you won’t look silly.

Will this make a big difference in earnings?

Well the above plan would give shareholders an EPS of £2.50 in FY22. (Oh that’s another beautiful aspect of this company – it has 10 million shares outstanding so per share calculus is exceptionally simple). The short-term key to this trade is the knowledge that when we add-back this final legacy loss to FY16 then net profits would have been at least £5m last year – essentially doubling earnings per share from 26p to over 50p. 15 x earnings on 50p = £7.50 per share. This means that earnings should double before the above margin improvements are even implemented giving a substantial margin of safety.

Is business coming back?

Business has always been growing It’s simply a case of poor commercial decisions on big contracts which didn’t properly account for risk. Quite a dangerous game with the wafer thin margins in construction. In fact, they have recently won a new joint venture infrastructure contract for Severn Trent Water worth in excess of £100m. North Midland Construction has also been shortlisted for a portion of the £1 billion YORcivil2 project.

The company will release interim results on 10th August 2017 which will provide us with further insight here.

The answers for these questions for NMD are very positive indeed.

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The fundamentals

The above contract wins lead me to believe that revenue growth will continue to at 15-25% per year. If this is the case and net margins achieve 2% (fairly likely given the legacy costs are disappearing) then we are looking at a Net Profit of £5.75 million this year. Across 10 million shares that gives a forward earnings per share of 58 pence. Even by the BREXIT battered construction sector’s standards (an opportunity for us contrarians) it makes the share exceptionally cheap at 7 x earnings. The construction industry’s average forward PE is 16 x earnings so comfortably below its peers. At 15 x forward earnings the shares should be worth £8.70.

So what return can you comfortably expect on this? long-term holders at these prices can expect a return of 14.28% per year (1 divided by a P/E of 7 equates to 14%).  That return comfortably covers the risk of holding NMD.

DCF says yes!

The other valuation metric I use is a discounted cash flow. Lets assume that the average cash flow for the last three years continues at a comfortable £5 million (I expect it will be more but let’s be conservative).

I capped the growth rate at 10% per year for ten years (again very conservative). I set a discount/required rate of return of 14% on future cash flows which provides £36 million in future discounted cash flows. Then I add the perpetuity rate of 2% giving me a further £10 million cash flow into perpetuity. Let’s not forget the cash in bank of £11 million. In total this equates to an EV of £57 million. £5.70 per share for those of you who haven’t got your abacus beside you. That’s 38% upside from today’s price and an inbuilt return of 14% per year.

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The market

I tend not to focus on the market but it’s necessary for cyclical companies such as NMD. The market is certainly pricing in a correction on many construction firms and who can blame them? We have been riding this bull for quite some time and BREXIT did knock us somewhat.

Despite the headwinds facing the UK overall, my overarching theory is that if another correction came then the government has no other option than to revert back to classic Keynesian economics and therefore it may invest heavily in infrastructure. This bodes well for NMD in the long-term. If a correction doesn’t come, well this also bodes well for NMD. I’m not talking about the share price here – I’m talking solid shareholder returns.

My first turnaround

Overall I’m pretty happy to dip my toes into this turnaround. Taking the forward EPS and DCF gives me an intrinsic value of £7.20. The short-term earnings boost now that the legacy contracts have disappeared will build my margin of safety. The general low price relative to earnings potential will continue to be a catalyst to the share price over time. I can quite easily see this being £37 in 5 years if John’s vision comes into fruition.

The one key risk area that I will be keeping an eye on is the current ratio and NMD’s liquidity. If a contraction did occur and our short-term assets couldn’t cover short-term liabilities then money will need to sourced from somewhere. I’m sure that this is an area that John will be addressing.

As per Peter Lynch’s quote – the knife has hit the ground, stuck, vibrated for a while and now settled down so I’m ready to grab it. The upside for North Midland Construction more than compensates for the downside.

Find my other stock tips here.

Book influences:

Disclosure: Long North Midland Construction

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