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FOCUS: Something is happening to Aso Savings and Loans Plc 

There is a need to worry when virtually all the news reports about a company are unflattering. To a large extent, this has been the case with Aso Savings and Loans Plc. 

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Aso Savings and Loans Plc

In the world of business, some things are inevitable; one of such things is bad press. Little wonder companies typically expend billions every year in desperate attempts to either cover up stories or address negative news reports. So yes, companies will always be faced with negative press every now and then. However, it becomes worrisome when virtually all the news about a company is unflattering. To a large extent, this has been the case with Aso Savings and Loans Plc. Should this worry the company’s current and potential shareholders? 

Welcome to Nairametrics’ company focus. This week, we are focusing on the above-mentioned corporate. The latest negative report about the company is basically what informed this article. Therefore, besides looking back at Aso Savings and Loans Plc’s history of bad press, we shall also be examining everything else from the company’s business model to its target market, competitors, ownership structure, as well as its financials.  

Before we proceed, remember that Nairametrics’ company focus is a weekly profile of little-known companies that are listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. This is done for the benefit of investors who may be considering where to put their money.  

About Aso Savings and Loans Plc 

Established in November 1995, Aso Savings and Loans Plc is a Nigerian company which provides financial services. It is headquartered in Abuja FCT, and has about 600 full-time employees. According to information available on the company’s official website, it was previously majority-owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria until 2007 when the Government divested much of its stake to private sector players, retaining only 16% of the shareholding.  

[READ: Nigeria’s only listed waste management company serves a very specific market]

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Note that even though Aso Savings and Loans Plc became incorporated in 1995, it did not commence full operation until January 1997. Eight years afterwards, in 2005, it transitioned to a public limited company in preparation for becoming a quoted company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. In April 2008 (about 13 years after incorporation), the company listed its shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. It currently has a market capitalisation of about N7.3 billion. 

Listed below are some of the company’s top executives: 

  1. Ali Mohammed Magashi: Chairman
  2. Adekunle Demoola Adedigba: MD/CEO
  3. Musa Ahmed Musa: Director
  4. Olutoyin Okeowo: Director 
  5. Risikatu Ladi Ahmed: Executive Director 

The company’s Business Model/Target Market 

As a financial services provider, the bank has a very specific focus, in that it provides primary mortgage services. A primary mortgage institution is usually a bank, which specialises in the provision of funding for potential homeowners looking to purchase houses or other properties. Based on this definition, it can then be seen that Aso Savings and Loans Plc’s target audience include potential homeowners. The company also offers the following services: 

  • Savings, Fixed Deposit, and Corporate Accounts 
  • Personal Loans 
  • National Housing Fund 

These are the Company’s Competitors 

According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), there are twenty primary mortgage institutions in Nigeria. Out of them all, only Aso Savings and Loans Plc and Infinity Trust Mortgage Bank Plc are listed on the NSE. The rest include the likes of Abbey Building Society Ltd, CENTAGE Savings & Loans Ltd, Imperial Homes Mortgage Bank Ltd, etc. This long list of Nigerian mortgage banks could only mean one thing – competition is rife and our company focus must constantly innovate if wants to remain relevant and profitable. 

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[READ: Focus on this IT firm, its glorious days and rough patches]

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How profitable is Aso Savings and Loans Plc? 

One of the easiest ways for analysts to ascertain a company’s financial situation is by simply studying its financial reports. Therefore, when such reports are difficult to find, it becomes very difficult to make this important analysis. This has been a problem when trying to examine Aso Savings and Loans Plc’s profitability or lack thereof. This is because the company has not released any audited financial report since its full-year 2013 result was released. 

Aso Savings

This is Aso Garden Estate by Aso Savings and Loans Plc

For the first quarter period ended March 31st 2017, the company released an unaudited interim result which showed that interest income declined by 23.9% to N992 million, compared to N1.3 billion in Q1 2016. The company also recorded a profit after tax of N10.4 million against a loss after tax of N12.4 million during the comparable period in 2016. 

It should be noted that quoted companies on the NSE are required by the NSE listing rules to periodically disclose their financial reports for public perusal. The fact that Aso Savings and Loans Plc has not been consistent in doing this means that it has been abusing the rules of the Nigerian bourse. For this reason, the company is liable to be sanctioned. This corporate governance lapse has also constituted some of the reasons the company has often been trailed by bad press.  

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[READ: Report shows private equity investors’ bullish outlook for Africa]

Struggle with bad press 

As Nairametrics reported in early 2019, Aso Savings and Loans Plc was among 38 companies that the Nigerian Stock Exchange fined the sum of N429.5 million for a list of offenses committed. just last week, we also got to understand that some funds belonging to the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) are currently trapped in Aso Savings and Loans Plc following what Nigeria’s Accountant General, Ahmed Idris, implied to be an uninformed investment decision on the part of the NHIS. 

More Scandals for Aso Savings  

Perhaps the above incidents are nothing when compared to the other scandalous situations the company has been immersed in. In October 2018, investigations by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) revealed that Aso Savings and Loans Plc refused to remit N9.8 billion to the Federal Government, following the sales of properties belonging to the Government. 

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As if all these weren’t enough, Nigerian lawmakers threatened in October last year to arrest the company’s Managing Director after it was discovered that some Government funds (outside of the Treasury Single Account) were allegedly hidden in an Aso Savings and Loans account.  

Earlier in 2018, a now-former Executive Director of the companyMaimuna Aliyuwas prosecuted for an alleged N57 million fraud. Although she was never found guilty, the case further damaged the company’s already shattered public image. 

[READ: Is this company quietly planning its exit from the NSE?]

In conclusion, one would have thought that 2018 was the last time we would hear bad news about Aso Savings and Loans Plc. However, the recent revelation by the Accountant General of the Federation has proven otherwise. It has, therefore, become imperative for the company to get its act together before it is too late. 

Emmanuel is a professional writer and business journalist, with interests covering Banking & Finance, Mergers and Acquisitions, Corporate Profiles, Brand Communication, Fintech, and MSMEs.He initially joined Nairametrics as an all-round Business Analyst, but later began focusing on and covering the financial services sector. He has also held various leadership roles, including Senior Editor, QAQC Lead, and Deputy Managing Editor.Emmanuel holds an M.Sc in International Relations from the University of Ibadan, graduating with Distinction. He also graduated with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division) from the Department of Philosophy & Logic, University of Ibadan.If you have a scoop for him, you may contact him via his email- [email protected] You may also contact him through various social media platforms, preferably LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Analysis: Access Bank’s valuation highlights merger blues

Access Bank is valued much less than its peers and this is why.

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Access Bank, Star Lager unveil talent hunt show

From green bonds to foreign listings and a determination to plant its seeds across various nations on the African continent, Access Bank over the past few years has shown its desire to grow across its triple-bottom-line. 

On the people front, the bank has a reputation for offering arguably the best incentives to its employees in the banking sector even though last year’s plan to cut down salaries threatened to dent this reputation.

It has also introduced some of the sector’s most innovating products aimed at driving financial inclusion and protecting the bank’s market share from FinTechs. The bank has also supported small businesses through loans and financial advisory in line with the CBN’s quest to improve private sector credit.

READ: Access Bank completes acquisition of Zambian Cavmont Bank Ltd

On the environmental front, it’s spending big bucks on CSR, making a name for itself as a leader in Sustainability, and in terms of dominance, its merger with Diamond Bank and other expansionary measures have turned it into Nigeria’s largest bank and one of Africa’s top banks.

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While these moves have shed a positive light on the bank,  investors are left to play catchup as the benefits of the mergers and acquisitions are yet to result in improved return on investment for anyone who bought the shares over a year ago. 

READ: CBN, NDIC to set up bridge bank for struggling financial institutions

Its low Return on Investment (ROI)  

While Access Bank has many strides to its name, a lot more needs to be done to make it a winner with investors. Its share price has struggled to gain the same momentum achieved by its rivals in the banking sector, particularly the FUGAZ. 

Year to date 2020 Access Bank stock has performed poorly when compared to its peers. While the likes of Zenith Bank (33%), UBA (21%), Fidelity (23%), and FCMB (80%) posted double-digit returns, Access Bank fell by 16% in 2020.

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In terms of value, the market prices the stock lower when compared to its earnings, making it one of the cheapest stocks in the sector. This is buttressed by its 2.9x (as of January 22nd) price to earnings ratio, one of the lowest in the sector.

READ: The Nigerian insurance sector; repositioning for efficiency

In the same vein, the Tier 1 bank also has a lower dividend yield compared to its contemporaries and has not been able to breach its 52-week high of N10.90. One reason for this is that investors are wary of the bank’s loan book mostly inherited from its merger with Diamond Bank. Investors will rather go with some Tier 2 banks that have better upward trends in price appreciation than getting stuck with low valuation multiples. 

READ: CBN to increase loans to agricultural sector to 10% of total bank credit

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Access Bank merger blues

As mentioned, one Achilles heel to its valuation problems could be its aggressive expansion strategy, driven by acquisitions. Since its acquisition of Diamond Bank, its valuation has plummeted piling on paper losses for investors who have held the stock since then.

Access Bank is currently valued at N325.2 billion in market capitalization less than half of its N679 billion suggesting a price to book ratio of 0.47x.

While being large provides the benefits of economies of scale, it needs to be nimble and focussed to milk the opportunities provided by the synergies

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READ; Africa to spend $9 billion on Covid-19 vaccine, access to supply is big problem

The bank recognizes this challenge, recently holding an investor call where it explained its move towards a HoldCo structure.

Access Bank will maintain four core subsidiaries under the holding company. They are Access Bank Group – focussed on commercial banking services, Payment Business – its mobile money and payment services business, Lending & Agency Banking – microfinance and microlending services, and Insurance.

Its efforts in restructuring into a HoldCo structure as well as expansions to other African regions – from Kenya to South Africa, is expected to further enhance its overall returns,  and perhaps drive up valuations. 

READ: Access Bank will no longer accept cheques with logo of defunct Diamond Bank

Fundamental analysis of recent financials 

Access Bank has recorded positive strides in terms of its fundamentals.  In its latest 9 months results, net interest income decreased by 6.6% year-on-year, but profits increased by 15% to N102.3 billion. 

Access Bank also implements one of the most aggressive recoveries of bad loans in the banking sector pulling in N38.9 billion in recovery in 2019 and N24.7 billion in the first 9 months of this year. These recoveries filter into the bottom line and bolster confidence about its ability to confront its challenges and win.

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How Access Bank got Japaul to pay up N37 billion loan that had gone bad

Brute force, Courts, quid quo pro are hallmarks of Access Bank’s debt recovery schemes.

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Access Bank, Scam Alert: Access Bank issues warning to customers over fraudulent acts , Director, West Africa region, IE, Onyekachi Eke, Access Bank lists N30 billion bonds on NSE , Access Bank, Zenith Bank Plc, Access Bank Plc and United Bank for Africa Plc, Zenith Bank Plc, Access Bank Plc and United Bank for Africa Plc, A new BVN guideline to curb e-fraud is coming soon - CBN announces , Access Bank donates 66 laptops to children in underserved communities, Access Bank postpones closed period for 2019 Year-End financial statement, Access Bank dispels rumour about its CEO being arrested, Access Bank set to establish subsidiary in Cameroon after acquiring Kenyan bank, Access Bank finally acquires Kenyan bank, Transnational Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe: We are clamping down on malaria with the Malaria-To-Zero Initiative, Access Bank to list N15 billion green bond on Luxembourg Stock Exchange 

In 2018 when Access Bank took over Diamond Bank, in what is the largest merger in Nigeria’s banking history, they knew it was not a match made in heaven like their PR agencies will make you believe.

In merging with Diamond Bank and taking over their juicy assets, they had also taken over the lemons that had for years bedeviled the bank who had pioneered mobile banking applications well ahead of its time.

When Access Bank merged with Diamond Bank, the latter had total loans and advances of N787.8 billion out of which N219.9 billion in loans were impaired. Oil and gas-related loans made up a significant chunk of the loans and were estimated at about N302.6 billion, most of them distressed.

READ: Access Bank will no longer accept cheques with logo of defunct Diamond Bank

Included in the oil and gas loans was a $66.4 million in loans owed to the bank by Japaul Oil and Maritime, as they were referred to at the time. The loans had gone bad accumulating unpaid interest of about $11.2 million. By the time Access Bank took over the loans, Japaul agreed to a restructuring rolling over both the principal and interest.

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This is typical of most Nigerian companies burdened with debts they cannot pay. To avoid being run over by the bank, the debtors will negotiate a restructuring, extending the loans by one to three years and if lucky, reducing the interest rates. In return, the bank books new fees (which are often paid in advance of the restructuring) and then gets to avoid huge provisioning mandated by the central bank.

READ: Over 1 million people took loans from banks below 20% interest rate in 1 year- CBN

It is often a ‘win-win’ situation that essentially kicks the can down the road until, like in the case of Diamond Bank, the chicken comes home to roost. But Access Bank is not new to slugging it out with debtors, particularly those who do not pay up. Upon takeover in 2019, Herbert Wigwe, the CEO of Access Bank announced that his bank was going to go after Diamond Bank debtors. In an interview in 2019 he maintained that “we recovered N2.2 billion bad debt in the year under review. Access Bank will intensify effort to ensure that it recovers the debt owed to Diamond Bank. We will go out for Diamond Bank’ debtors and if they are not ready to redeem their debt we will publish their names in the newspapers.”

In 2019, Access Bank swooped on Japaul Plc seeking repayment of their Diamond Bank loans which was now about N37 billion. The bank took over Japaul’s trading assets and integral to the going concern status of the company. Before now, Japaul made money rendering marine services, dredging, mining and construction mostly for the oil and gas companies.

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READ: Access Bank vs. Seplat: Of subterfuge and corporate brutality

But business has been bad for years now leading the company into net accumulated losses of over N50 billion as of 2018. For the 5 years leading to 2018, the company posted back to back losses with revenues going from N5.3 billion in 2015 to about N85.8 million in 2019. External loans had also ballooned from about N18.8 billion to about N38.8 billion. Its share price had also fallen to about 20 kobo per share by the end of 2019. It was nearing bankruptcy and something had to give.

They began a court battle with Access Bank over the loans and the threat of a liquidation eventually settling for a deal. Sources inform Nairametrics that Access Bank is one of the most aggressive banks in the business when it comes to playing dirty with debtors. Unlike Diamond Bank, Access Bank is ready to battle in the courts and is ready to deploy any legal means necessary to recover their loans even if their actions are viewed as uncanny.

READ: Former bankers who stole from Diamond Bank (Access Bank) get jail terms 

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Recently, the bank obtained a Mareva injunction sealing the offices and taking over the assets of Seplat due to a related party loan owed by the latter’s Chairman, ABC Orjiakor. Just like Japaul, the loans owed by ABC Orjiakor were also obtained from Diamond Bank. According to sources, when Access Bank swoops in for their loan recoveries, they deploy all tactics in the books to ensure all or most parts of the loans are recovered from chronic debtors.

Eventually, Access Bank and Japaul agreed to settle the matter outside the court. In exchange for repaying the N38 billion loan, Access Bank settled for a repayment of N30.9 billion. The deal involves Access Bank taking over two of Japaul’ s Dredgers (12& 13) for N5 billion and a Barge (Beau Geste) for N25.9 billion. Japaul also gave up its land in exchange for working capital of N1.5 billion from the bank.

READ: Access Bank recover N14 billion in bad loans after merger with Diamond Bank

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In return, Japaul gets to clean up its balance sheet erasing what is left of its debt, booking a profit of about N40 billion and wiping off its negative equity of N35.5 billion. However, in one fell swoop. From negative equity of N35.5 billion, the company’s net assets are now N4.69 billion. A win-win for everyone.

We are not exactly sure what Access Bank plans to do with dredgers and barges it took over from Japaul. Interestingly, in the deal, Japaul also gets to lease back the two dredgers for a period of 6 years from Access Bank for a sum of N1 billion paid annually from 2021 – 2026. Japaul got a one-year moratorium on repayment expiring in December 2020.

READ: Nigeria, other African oil-producing countries will lose $1tn oil revenue in 20 years – PWC

Japaul has since changed its name to Japaul Gold and Ventures citing the dwindling oil and gas sector for its reasons. The company believes gold mining and technology are the future and is seeking to raise N25 billion in equity to pursue this course. Its share price has ostensibly risen by 150% since the turn of the new year, the best performing on the stock exchange.

For Access Bank, aggressively going after bad loans have paid off immensely. In 2019 the bank recovered N38.9 billion in bad loans barely a year after taking over Diamond Bank. In the first 9 months of 2019, a total of N24.7 billion was captured in bad debts recovered. It is a strategy that is working and there is no betting against Access Bank doubling down on aggressive recovery this year.

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Champion Breweries, Raysun deal highlights disclosure shortcomings

Is Heineken taking over Champions Brewery?

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This brewer keeps struggling to win as Nigeria’s beer war rages on

Champion Breweries Plc informed the Nigerian Stock Exchange, last week, via a press release that an insider, Raysun, had purchased about 1.9 billion shares at a price of N2.6 per share.

The disclosure was part of the stock exchange’s requirement that listed companies must reveal deals made by insiders of the company for the benefit of shareholders and the investor community.

That’s about how far the press release went. It did not reveal why Raysun was purchasing? Who they purchased the shares from and why the deal is being consummated? In terms of corporate disclosure, this was a dud.

READ: Analysis: Japaul, Ardova, Champion Breweries; What is behind the deals?

Raysun is the largest shareholder and majority owner of Champions Breweries. Raysun is also an entity owned by Heineken, the majority shareholder in Nigeria Breweries Plc – the largest brewer in the country. Thus, Heineken is an indirect shareholder of Champions Breweries.

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These relationships give this deal enough scrutiny to warrant a better disclosure starting from the actual purchase of shares revealed in the press release.

Here are some contexts;

Champion Breweries shares breakdown

  • Champions Breweries has a total of 7.82 million shares outstanding at the time of this purchase
  • Raysun held about 60.4% shares in Champions Breweries according to disclosure in its 2019 annual report.
  • Asset Management Nominees and Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation own 12.3% and 10% respectively. The rest of its shareholders own about 17.3% or 1,351,954 units.
  • At the current share price of N1.12, Champion Breweries is valued at N10.57 billion by the market.
  • However, Raysun’s purchase of 1.9 billion shares at N2.6 per share (valued at N4.9 billion, almost half of the current market capitalization), now values the company at about N20.3 billion.

READ: Court threatens to sell Ecobank and Union Bank branches

Where did the shares come from? This is a vital question and here is why.

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Going by the number of shares they bought last week (24% of equity), they only could have been able to purchase that many shares by buying up all the shares owned by the Asset Nominees (12.3%), all the shares owned by Akwa Ibom Investment Corporation (10%) and another 3% from other regular shareholders.

It could also be that either or both Asset Nominees and Akwa Ibom IC sold part of their shares and then they made up the rest by purchasing some from the market. Why is Heineken, through Raysun, acquiring so many shares? Is there a takeover deal in the offing? Do they plan to merge Champions Breweries with Nigeria Breweries or still keep it as a standalone company? Will Champions Brewery cease to exist if there is a merger or will they delist following this massive acquisition of the shares of their subsidiary?

READ: Champion Breweries gains 32.35% in a week, following Heineken’s indirect acquisition of its shares

The speculation is palpable.

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This is what happens when listed companies refuse to properly disclose transactions involving mega share purchases of this nature. How does a majority shareholder go from 60.4% of shares to 84% and an announcement is not made explaining or clarifying who sold and if this is a takeover bid.

But investors seem not to mind at the moment, if the momentum of the share price is anything to go by. A 57% year to date gain is a testament to this. It appears investors expect a mandatory takeover announcement to be made anytime soon and are scrambling for the shares ahead of any announcement.

READ: Resort savings raises N4.3 billion, as Camey and Rock acquire majority shares  

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Unfortunately, this is not how markets should work anywhere, and the sooner it stops the better. The Nigerian Stock Exchange has made massive progress with compliance to disclosure requirements and we believe strongly that they will at some point bring Champion Breweries to order and have them disclose all the requisite information about this transaction. Better late than never.

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