Sunday share tips: Greene King, IMImobile
In her ‘Inside the City’ column for the Sunday Times, Sabah Meddings looked ahead to Greene King’s trading update due this week, noting that investors would be holding their breath at this stage - and hoping not to be shedding tears “into their pints of Old Speckled Hen”.
Meddings said shareholders in the brewing group have had a few bitter pills to swallow in recent years, with its share price now half what it was at its peak in December 2015.
The company, with chief executive Rooney Anand at the helm, was not shying away from admitting trading was tough at the moment, with the firm expecting to take a £600m hit in the current year from a number of factors beyond its control - higher business rates and the national living wage chiefly among them.
Meddings said Anand has also had a year of unpredictable weather to contend with - a miserable summer, followed by a snowy, icy winter and a wet Easter, all likely to hit Greene King where it hurts.
But some of its injuries have been self-inflicted, with the acquisition of Spirit Pub Company in 2015 leaving the group with its pants down amid a severe downturn in casual dining, thanks to the inclusion of the restaurant chain Fayre & Square.
Anand wasn’t sitting on his hands there, however, taking the axe to the Fayre & Square brand and converting the properties into classic Greene King boozers.
He was also implementing a £10m action plan, which includes price cuts, along with plans to save between £40m and £45m by slashing the company’s overheads.
The firm’s fish restaurant chain, Loch Fyne, was also up for grabs.
Meddings said some of Greene King’s fans in the City remained hopeful that value could be squeezed out of these asset sales, along with the possibility for an activist investor to rustle up some activity.
However, she also noted that there was only so much a company can raise through disposals, with a large part of any proceeds likely to go to Greene King’s listed bondholders - those bonds being secured against the chain’s pubs.
With those headwinds in play, Meddings said it was less than surprising that short-sellers were moving in, with 15.8% of the firm’s shares out on loan according to IHS Markit, up from 12% at the start of January.
Greene King was indeed trading on a rather attractive 6.8% dividend yield, thanks to the beating it has taken on the stock market, with a price-to-earnings multiple of 8.4x making it look cheap.
By comparison, Mitchells & Butlers - which doesn’t pay a dividend - was at a seriously heftier 17.4x.
But Meddings said Greene King was cheap for a reason, with 13-year CEO Anand “fiercely protective” of the dividend, while the market suggested he might have to cut such rich distributions.
“The 53-year-old once boasted that investors ‘know they are going to get it straight from me’,” Sabah Meddings wrote.
“There may be a case for investing in Greene King - it has a good track record and a bullish management team - but it may be a little early to jump on board. Avoid.”
Over in the Mail on Sunday, Joanne Hart looked at a shift in the way delivery firms communicate with customers for her 'Midas' piece - from the much-maligned scribbled-card-through-the-letterbox to the sending of text messages and emails - and an AIM-traded company behind that sort of thing, IMImobile.
The company’s shares - which are currently at 267p - should move higher, Hart claimed, with the business boasting a number of well-known clients and operating in a field which was still expanding.
At its core, IMI is a software business, having been founded in India in 2000 and evolving into a global firm over the ensuing 18 years.
Its clients in the UK include mobile providers such at BT, O2 and Vodafone; banks including Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and NatWest; retailers such as IKEA; and public services, including parts of the NHS.
The firm worked with 140 NHS Trusts, Hart said, supplying technology which allowed them to text or email patients about their appointments - a faster and less labour-intensive communication method than the post, and one which allows patients to cancel or amend appointments with a few clicks or taps.
IMImobile was gradually rolling out the technology, and should save the NHS significant cash given the current £1bn price tag of missed appointments, according to Hart.
The technology also allowed banks to send messages to their customers about activity on their account, including when money leaves or arrives, when a new payee has been added, or when they were entering overdraft.
Phone providers and utilities, meanwhile, are using the software to inform customers that their bill is ready, that they are eligible for an upgrade, or that new services are available.
Hart said the company’s technology was popular among big firms because it was easy to implement and because it tied in with a wide range of digital mediums, from the somewhat more traditional text and email, to notifications on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
It was also behind many of the automated phone systems and live chat implementations seen across the customer service industry, with the company responsible for more than 27 billion messages and 15 billion automated voice conversations each year, with operations in 80 countries and it occupying the market leading position in the UK.
IMI is led by Jay Patel, who invested in the business in 2004, became managing director in 2010 and rose to chief executive in 2013.
It floated on AIM in 2014, at which point pre-tax profits were £5.3m.
For the year to March 2017 they had risen to £9m, with profits expected to grow to £9.4m for this year and £12m the year after that.
The group has been busy expanding, both organically and through acquisitions, with a lot of cash being poured into research and technology too - taking dividends off the table even though the balance sheet remained strong.
That lack of distribution should change in coming years, Hart asserted, as the group became more profitable.
“IMImobile shares are 267p and have done well recently, but they should continue to deliver strong growth,” Hart said of the company’s prospects.
“Buy and hold.”