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4 things to consider about the Lafarge Africa rights issue

Following the consolidation of Lafarge’s operations in Nigeria and South Africa, the company has reported negative earnings.

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Lafarge Africa provides grant for startups, Lafarge Africa’s latest earnings report reveals 8.5% decline in gross profit , Lafarge Africa gets new CFO one month after resignation of former finance director, Lafarge Plc reveals why it invited Italian man with Coronavirus to Nigeria, Lafarage Africa group Plc posts a revenue of N213 billion in 2019, profit up N17 billion

On January 28, 2019, Lafarge Africa’s N89.2 billion rights issue will close. So investors have a few more days to pick up this offer. The capital raise comes at the end of another difficult year for the cement maker. Following the consolidation of Lafarge’s operations in Nigeria and South Africa in June 2014, the company has reported a few negative earnings surprises. Things appeared to get worse after the second quarter of 2017 when inventory write-offs, impairment charges, other restructuring costs, and elevated finance costs pressured earnings further. Expectedly, investor sentiment for the stock has turned sharply negative, with the stock price down 80% since mid-August 2017.

Many investors have become very wary of the stock. However, it may be useful to look beyond the firm’s recent history and consider what Lafarge offers investors going forward. Here are four things that are worth considering before you make a decision on Nigeria’s second largest cement producer.

The stock is cheap

At N12, the Lafarge rights issue offers a low risk entry opportunity for the patient investor. Several analysts report that the rights offer price is at a discount to their post offer valuation of the stock. While Renaissance Capital puts the offer at a 10.4% discount to their fair value of N13.40, RMB Nigeria is a lot more bullish and says, the rights offer presents a potential 66% upside potential to their fair value of N20.00. Given, the series of negative earnings surprises over the last 3 years, it’s easy to understand why many analysts and investors are hesitant. However, it’s important to isolate the biggest challenges facing the company. While many observers are quick to point out that Lafarge Africa operates older and less efficient production plants than main rival Dangote Cement, I think the more “fixable” issues could be summarised into two major challenges; the drag of an underperforming subsidiary (in South Africa) on earnings and the finance burden of the cost of debt capital. Later on, I will explain why I think these issues are less of a concern today than a year ago. Clearly, these issues remain a concern in the short term but the overwhelming majority of analysts that I have spoken to hold the view that the worst is over and while a rebound in sustainable earnings growth could be slow, the low rights price limits the downside risk. The big question is “what will catalyse a recovery in the share price?”. I think that the improving performance of the company will eventually attract investors seeking exposure to the industrial good sector. Dangote Cement currently remains the toast of the market but at some point, the market valuation of that stock will become too expensive for even the most optimistic investor. Lafarge Africa should offer an attractive alternative for portfolio diversification.

Post-rights issue performance should be a lot better

Over 67 percent of the rights issue proceeds will be used to pay down loans. This will further address the impact of leverage on the company’s earnings. In addition, Lafarge Africa is set to continue to optimise its operations. It’s noteworthy to state that its South African subsidiary became EBITDA positive in the third quarter of 2018 and, for the first time since the South African operations became a serious drag on earnings, management recently provided earnings guidance for the S.A. operations, projecting a sustainable EBITDA margin of 10% (compared to -14.6% in the second quarter of 2018). Additionally, going forward, the company’s bottom line will be buoyed by less administrative expenses following some restructuring. Management projects that the company should pay down the last tranche of cost associated with the implementation of SAP in the first quarter of 2019. I think the biggest takeaway on this point is that while Lafarge is still owing a lot of debt but the outstanding loans should reduce significantly over the next 2 years. This puts the company in a stronger position to achieve sustainable earnings growth.

Dollar loans less of a problem going forward

Forex related losses were a major drag on Lafarge Africa’s earnings in 2016 and 2017. Total forex losses linked to dollar loans was N36.2 billion over the two years. However, in the event that the central bank bows to pressure to depreciate the currency later this year, Lafarge has bought some fx loss protection for its dollar loans in the form of non-deliverable forward contracts provided by the central bank of Nigeria. Unlike in prior years, Lafarge’s dollar loans are hedged.

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Management may decide to sell its South African subsidiary

Okay, this is a bold prediction that could take several years to pan out but this reflects my view on the outlook for the company in Africa. I believe that the company will focus a lot on operational efficiency and while it has come a long way with the “clean up” of the S.A. business, I think that the dynamics of Africa’s second largest economy does not present a great opportunity over the longer term. I expect Lafarge Africa to seek higher margin opportunities across the continent while consolidating on its operations in West Africa. A sale of the S.A. operations will not only provide much needed cash but will also enhance Lafarge Africa’s profit margins going forward.


Wole is former West Africa Editor, CNBC Africa

Nairametrics frequently publishes articles from experts such as financial analysts, economists, researchers and investors. We also feature articles from guest writers and bloggers who wish to push their views and opinions through our platform. To get your articles on Nairametrics, kindly send an email to [email protected] and we will publish it within 24 hours of approval by our editorial team.

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Julius Berger’s rebound contingent on full economic bounce back

Julius Berger’s construction portfolio includes infrastructure, industry, building, and facility services solutions.

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Expatriates

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the economic impact of the measures put in place to slow the spread of it, many industries have experienced slower growth. The construction industry was not left out. According to reports by GlobalData, the construction output growth forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been revised to 2.3%, down from the previous projection of 3.3% (as of mid-April) and 6.0% in the pre-COVID-19 case (Q4 2019 update).

The reason for the contraction was noted by GlobalData to be as a result of the global slowdown and the outbreak of COVID-19 in the region. Other factors responsible include economic headwinds such as inflation, spending cuts, widening fiscal slippages, suspension of certain projects and more that could disrupt the construction sector. This contraction is projected to be 4.3% in South and Southeast Asia while France is expected to shrink by 9.4% in 2020.

Leading Construction Company, Julius Berger, had foreseen the contraction in the industry and commenced efforts to mitigate its impact and cushion the blow. One of such efforts was the reduction in dividend pay-out. After initially announcing a dividend pay-out of N2.75K per 50K share for the financial year ended December 31, 2019 and a bonus of 1 (one) new share for every existing 5 (five) shares held, the company eventually recommended a final cash dividend pay-out of N2.00K per 50k share.

READ ALSO: Lafarge Africa is cutting it all out

It noted that the Group had “carefully considered the emerging social, operational, financial and economic impact of the COVID 19 pandemic, the outlook for Nigeria for the financial year 2020, and the impact on the business and cash flows of the Group.”

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The company’s fears have been confirmed by its recent financials which, among other negatives, showed huge foreign exchange losses of N3.102 billion in the first half of 2020.

Q2 was the hardest

Julius Berger’s construction portfolio includes infrastructure, industry, building, and facility services solutions. With companies and nations alike revising scheduled capital expenses as a result of the shrinkages in product demand (owing to global quarantine measures), uncertainties around supply logistics as well as supply of materials, the company had gotten hit. Q1 had its own issues, but Q2 birthed a new dimension of challenges for the company.

Revenue was down 33% from N68.9 billion in Q2 2019 to N46.1 billion in 2020. There was also a huge loss in profit after tax of around 200% from a profit of N2.3 billion in Q2 2019 to a loss of N2.3 billion and this can be attributed to lower revenue, and increased losses from the company’s many investments.

Exchange difference on translation of foreign operations for the quarter alone increased by 227% to N1.4 billion in Q2 2020 from N438.5 million in the comparative quarter.

READ ALSO: Petrol importation drops by 512 million litres in 3 months

Outlook for the company and for investors

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The disruptions the construction industry is currently experiencing is expected to continue for the medium-long term. Reports by Beroe Inc., a procurement intelligence firm, reveal major concerns that companies in the industry will witness profits being hurt and may even incur losses on a number of projects.

Companies having worldwide supply chains could see tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers highly affected by disruptions related to the pandemic. Worse off, it explains that construction materials like “steel, wood, plaster, aluminum, glazed partition systems, cement and cementitious products, paints, HVAC equipment, electrical equipment, and light fixtures from China are expected to be delayed.”

For the company, cost-cutting has never been more important. While there are a series of strategies it could explore to augment the challenges, its growth right now depends largely on the speed of global economic recovery. This is because both the company’s input needs as well as its output in terms of the recommencement of projects, depends on the speed with which business as usual commences and the amount of time it takes for the industry to find a new balance for its operations.

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READ MORE: The “new normal” in business and economy

For investors, however, this presents a long term opportunity. Julius Berger currently trades at N15.05, falling 44.26% just within the last 3 months. The share price is also on the downside of its 52-week range (N14.42 and 22.92) and its price-to-book ratio of 0.6331 shows that the stock is undervalued.

While the company’s EPS is currently low at N2.52, investors who are willing to wait the time could find a gem in the stock particularly with the increased infrastructural needs born out of the population expansion which is taking place in many parts of the world in the years to come.

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Total Nigeria caught in the oil demand and lockdown saga

In Q1 2020, the company had recorded a revenue drop of 9.3% to N70.2 billion compared to Q1 2019.

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Total Nigeria caught in the oil demand and lockdown saga

The year 2020 was supposed to be a good one for the global oil and gas industry. Save for the unprecedented fangs of the Covid-19 pandemic, the IEA had forecasted in February that the global oil demand would grow by 825,000 barrels a day in 2020. On the contrary, lockdown measures restraining travel and other economic activities to contain the pandemic in many parts of the world had global oil demand down around 90,000 barrels a day from 2019. While the upstream sector had a direct hit owing to this reduced demand, the impact of the pandemic on the downstream oil industry caused the price of crude oil to fall significantly in a short period of time. GlobalData had forecasted that the energy sector would face downward earnings revisions of 208% in 2020.

READ MORE: Analysis: Total Nigeria needs a financial overhaul

With the pandemic leading to a slowdown in a wide range of business and personal travel, even gasoline demand had reduced and this has led to inventory challenges in both the distribution network as well as the refineries. In Nigeria, following the challenges of the pandemic, the federal government deregulated the downstream sector of the oil industry through the removal of fuel subsidy. While it presents a level playing field for the downstream oil private sector, it didn’t take long before companies like Total Nigeria plc. started caving into the overall reduction in inventory from the reduced demand for oil products in Q2 2020. Consequently, the company witnessed a 45% reduction in inventories from N33.6 billion as at 31st December 2019 to N18.5 at the end of Q2 2020.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s Foreign Trade hits N9.18 trillion in Q3, as non-oil export rose by 374.5%

How the exogenous shocks affected an already ailing Total Nigeria

The success or failure of any organization depends on both the macroeconomic environment as well as the operations of the company itself. For Total Nigeria, the timing for the crisis had been off as it too had operational challenges to deal with. In Q1 2020, the company had recorded a revenue drop of 9.3% to N70.2 billion compared to Q1 2019. While the headwinds of the pandemic might have played a small role in the decline at least in the latter part of the quarter, the loss after tax of N163 million it had recorded was 65.6% better than the loss after tax of the  comparative quarter – a testament of the series of operational challenges it had from huge loans to raging expenses. While the company had set off on a strategic trajectory deploying a series of initiatives around cost efficiency, process optimization, as well as a significant reduction of working capital requirement and finance costs, Q2 had its own troubles waiting.

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Restrictions in the oil market had led to weaknesses across product lines. Total revenue fell by as much as 50% from N73 billion in Q2 2019 to N36.5 billion in Q2 2020. Revenues from petroleum products had contracted by 55.7% while lubricant sales also fell by 26.7% in the quarter. Across the company’s core business sectors comprising Networks, General Trade, and Aviation, revenue from aviation experienced the most decline, falling by 83.0%. Its performance can be predominantly attributed to the fall in demand owing to strict lockdown measures even in major Nigerian cities.

READ MORE: Five oil majors reduce value of their assets by $50 billion in Q2

Outlook

The outcome of the company’s internal and external challenges is a loss after tax of N373.9 million from N604 million in Q2 2019 – an alarming drop of 161.9%. However, its strategic intent is also visible. Net cash balance was a negative N19.6 billion at the end of the quarter, compared to negative N41.8 billion a year ago. Finance costs also declined by 76.1% to N830.3 million as the company sought to reduce its leverage position. In the same vein, borrowings came at N31.0 billion in Q2 2020 as opposed to the N39.9 billion in Q2 2019. Yet, the success of the company in the immediate future is somewhat bleak.

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This is because of the conditions of the oil market and overall economic landscape which is set to take a few years before returning to the norm as well as the financial and operational position of the company. That said, its earnings per share (EPS) of N4.37 and its price-to-earnings ratio of 18.12, reveal that the company has a good potential to make a rebound. However, it could take a few years. Hence, investors must be willing to wait for the long term. With its share price of N79.10 at the far bottom of its 52-week range of N78 and N129.50, it’s a great time to purchase its shares if you are willing to wait the long term.

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Implications of CBN’s latest devaluation and FX unification

This move portends significant implications for Nigeria’s public and private sector.

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Implications of CBN's latest devaluation and FX unification, current account deficit, IMF, COVID-19, CBN OMO ban could give stocks a much-needed boost , CBN’s N132.56 billion T-bills auction records oversubscription by 327% , Nigeria pays $1.09 billion to service external debt in 9 months , Implications of the new CBN stance on treasury bill sale to individuals, Digital technology and blockchain altering conventional banking models - Emefiele  , Increasing food prices might erase chances of CBN cutting interest rate   , Customer complaint against excess/unauthorized charges hits 1, 612 - CBN , CBN moves to reduce cassava derivatives import worth $600 million  , Invest in infrastructural development - CBN Governor admonishes investors , Credit to government declines, as Credit to private sector hits N25.8 trillion, CBN sets N10 billion minimum capital for Mortgage firms, CBN sets N10 billion minimum capital for Mortgage firms , Why you should be worried about the latest drop in external reserves, CBN, Alert: CBN issues N847.4 billion treasury bills for Q1 2020 , PMI: Nigeria’s manufacturing sector gains momentum in November, CBN warns high foreign credits could collapse Nigeria’s economy, predicts high poverty, MPC Member, BVN, Fitch, Foreign excchange (Forex), Overnight rates crash after CBN’s N1.4 trillion deduction, Nigeria’s foreign reserves hit $36.57 billion; Emefiele keeps his word on defending the naira, CBN to support maize farmers, projects 12.5 million metric tons in 18 months

The CBN devalued the naira by 5% at the end of last week, adjusting the official exchange rate to N380/$1  in a major move aimed at unifying the multiple exchange rate windows.

Whilst no official confirmation was issued by the apex bank, its website displayed the buying rate of N379/$1 and selling rate of N380/$1. Nigeria is clearly in a new exchange rate territory.

This move portends significant implications for Nigeria’s public and private sectors. Since March when the CBN last depreciated from N307/$1 to N360/$1, there have been calls for further depreciation to at least close the gap between the official CBN rate and the more market-friendly NAFEX exchange rate. The NAFEX rate has traded between N385-390 in recent weeks.

READ MORE: Manufacturing sector in Nigeria and the reality of a “new normal”

Government Finances

For the federal government, devaluing the naira solves two major issues:

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  • Firstly, it increases the amount available to share from the Federal Allocation (FAAC) between the FG and States.
  • Oil proceeds, which is a major source of revenue sharing for the government is deposited at the CBN and then converted to naira using the official exchange rate of N360/$1. The CBN’s latest devaluation suggests more money for the government as the conversion rate is now N379/$1.
  • Government taxes that are priced in forex but converted to naira also stand to gain a major earnings boost.
  • Custom duties, petroleum profit taxes, and other charges will now be converted at an exchange rate of N379/$1 or whatever new rate the CBN chooses, assuming it will work within the NAFEX band.
  • A second issue the solves is the condition precedent towards obtaining a $3 billion world bank loan. The government applied for a world bank loan as part of its N2.3 trillion stimulus expected to be injected into the economy.
  • It is understood that a unification of the exchange rate is critical to the disbursement of the loan.

Whilst these are positives, the government will record cost escalations for some if not all of its capital projects and expenditure. From vehicle purchases to furniture and fittings we should expect a spike except the contracts are fixed-priced.

READ ALSO: Explained: CBN’s powers to seize bank account of criminals

Private Sector

The impact of the latest devaluation will also be significant for the private sector.

  • While the private sector has recorded its own devaluation via the NAFEX and more recently the SMIS window, the impact of the CBN’s latest move will still be felt.
  • Most private pubic partnership projects, contracts are priced using the CBN official exchange rate. The price will now change to N379/$1 at the least.
  • The latest move could also lead to a reopening of forex sale to BDC’s which the CBN suspended in March as the Covid-19 pandemic ensued.
  • Sectors such as Power, Downstream Oil and Gas where the government has control over pricing will be significantly affected by the new price.
  • An example if fuel prices. With the exchange rate devalued again, fuel prices might increase if the impact of the exchange rate is reflected in the pricing template.

READ MORE: Expert simplifies FIRS’ newly-introduced stamp duty

NAFEX versus Official Rate

It is not clear how the latest round of devaluation affects the NAFEX rate and other separate rates currently in use by the CBN. Whilst the disparity has been closed somewhat, we still do not know if these windows will be retained or if we will just have two major exchange rate windows, the BDC and the NAFEX.

Most critics of the CBN’s forex policy prefer a uniform exchange rate that is floating or under a managed float system. The difference is that the CBN intervenes occasionally to ensure the exchange rate trades within its preferred band. It does this even if it means burning through its thin reserves.

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We expect a string of circulars in the coming days which will perhaps douse some of the confusion providing needed clarity to the exchange rate situation.

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