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.
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:
- Ali Mohammed Magashi: Chairman
- Adekunle Demoola Adedigba: MD/CEO
- Musa Ahmed Musa: Director
- Olutoyin Okeowo: Director
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 company, Maimuna Aliyu, was prosecuted for an alleged N57 million fraud. Although she was never found guilty, the case further damaged the company’s already shattered public image.
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.
Why Shoprite is “exiting” Nigeria
Shoprite’s intention to divest from its Nigerian operations appears to be anchored on these factors.
Africa’s largest retail chain, Shoprite, announced on Monday that it is considering divesting from its Nigerian retail entity, Retail Supermarkets Nigeria, the owners of Shoprite Supermarket Nigeria.
Shoprite Nigeria operates about 26 outlets across the country and employs about 2000 employees who are 99% Nigerians. A divestment means it will sell its holdings to another investor who will continue to run the business.
According to the company, it has taken a decision to leave “following approaches from various potential investors” looking to invest in the Nigerian entity. The group also said the decision is in line with its “re-evaluation of the Group’s operating model in Nigeria” one of the 15 countries where it currently operates.
Shoprite also confirmed it has initiated a formal process to sell its entire stake in the Nigerian entity or a majority stake.
Why the exit?
Shoprite’s explanation of its intention to divest from its Nigerian operations appears to be anchored on its investment expectation and operating environment. However, there could be more to it.
Firstly, Nigeria is a highly competitive space, where retail is the survival of the fittest. Following Shoprite’s foray into Nigeria in 2002, the retail chain disrupted Nigeria’s retail space giving ordinary Nigerians a taste of what it feels to shop with family and friends. But the fairy tale was not going to last forever. Previous retail outlets like Park n Shop rebranded and injected significant funds in their operations and business expansion. Park n Shop rebranded to Spar and has 14 outlets across the country. It only makes sense for them to divest having held on to the Nigerian operations for almost two decades.
Shoprite also competes with homegrown retail outlets especially in Nigeria’s commercial city, Lagos State. Retail outlets like Ebeano, Citydia, and Adiba are now household names that are expanding rapidly across the state. There are also several neighbourhood supermarkets in the nooks and cranny of Nigeria’s commercial capital piling pressure on Shoprite’s market share. Shoprite does not disclose revenues from its Nigerian operations.
Shopping is also going online as evidenced by the growth in online shopping since COVID-19 hit Nigeria. Jumia, one of Nigeria’s largest online retail outlets, revealed lower earnings in the first quarter of 2020. However, the company is optimistic of higher revenue growth in Q2, on the back of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Jumia had earlier noted that “we are seeing unprecedented demand to join the Jumia platform, especially for named brands. We believe those dynamics will help accelerate the shift toward online.”
Local competitors like Spar and Ebeano already offer online shopping experiences and deliver goods to your doorstep. Shoprite’s business model relies heavily on physical store visits.
As internet services become faster and cheaper, more Nigerians will rely on e-commerce to meet their shopping needs. Jumia has often struggled in this space and remains unprofitable. However, gravitation towards online shopping is inevitable and only those who have the capital and know-how will come out winners.
Jumia’s competitor in this space, Konga, was also recently acquired by Zinnox. Konga was then merged with another Nigerian retail giant Yudula. Interestingly, Konga’s model includes a combination of online and brick and mortar. The company has since been acquiring warehouses across the country as delivery points for its retail expansion drive.
Nigeria’s harsh operating environment is also another major challenge Shoprite faces. The Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, through the CBN, has focused on supporting locally made goods by banning forex availability for the importation of local substitutes. This has negatively impacted the number of products Shoprite can sell and how many new shelves it can create per floor space. It also creates supply chain challenges, especially with locally produced goods.
Note that supermarkets sell on very thin margins. Therefore, the more products they can sell the higher the operating profits. Taxes are also higher and Nigeria’s susceptibility to exchange rate devaluation is also a major challenge. The company makes money in Naira and must convert to dollars before converting back to Rands.
In 2017, when Nigeria last faced a currency crisis, Shoprite explained that it has about Rand 2.3 billion in cash locked up in Angola and Nigeria due to currency restrictions (inability to repatriate their money on time). Information reaching Nairametrics from traders suggest most foreign-owned investments in Nigeria are also facing “restrictions” due to limited liquidity in the NAFEX window.
Shoprite’s less talked challenge is its Legal Issues. In 2011, Nigerian company A.I.C Limited (the Claimant), which is owned by Chief Henry Akande, issued a summons against Shoprite South Africa and its Nigerian subsidiary for an alleged breach of a joint venture agreement (the JV Agreement) allegedly concluded in 1998. The company took Shoprite to court claiming it breached on an agreement to set up the Nigerian arm of the business.
The Federal High Court then ruled in favour of AIC and awarded damages of $10 million against Shoprite in 2017. Shoprite appealed the judgment in the appeal court and lost again earlier in 2020. It is unclear if Shoprite has any plans to take the matter up to the Supreme Court. Could this be another reason why the owners are deciding to divest?
Whatever the reason is, officially, it perhaps makes sense for the company to exit its Nigerian operations in the light of the points mentioned above. Its Nigerian entity is worth 1.1 billion Rands (N24 billion) per its financial statements and could be worth more when the sale is eventually consummated.
Okomu Oil: Home is where the heart is
Okomu Oil has its tires on the track and is not slowing down.
Despite the teeming opportunities in the Nigerian agriculture industry, very few companies in the agro-space have been able to put in place the right processes and systems to create huge corporations out of farm produce. But there is one that is doing just okay. With a market capitalization of N71.5 billion, Okomu Oil Plc sits at the top of the industry.
While many companies, big and small, are losing their grip to the volatile global economic landscape of 2020 birthed largely by the COVID-19 pandemic, Okomu Oil has its tires on the track and is not slowing down. More so, it is not only proving COVID-19 wrong. Just a little over a year ago, Nairametrics had downgraded the company to a “Sell” owing to its faltering revenues. Today, with huge increases in revenue in 2 out of 2 completed quarters, Okomu Oil plc is laughing last.
READ ALSO: Okomu Oil half year profit drops by 57%
Winning by the Numbers
The company’s Q1 financials had revealed a 65.2% growth in revenue as the company recorded a turnover of ₦6.9 billion in comparison to the ₦4.2 billion it made in Q1 2019. It had also recorded a profit after tax of over ₦2 billion in comparison to the ₦1 billion recorded in Q1 2019 resulting to a 101.4% jump in profits. In the second quarter of the year, its unaudited results reveal that the company has also increased its revenue. Turnover jumped by 50.6% from N4.3 billion in Q2 2019 to N6.5 billion in Q2 2020. This jump was not totally reflected in its profits after tax, however, owing to a significant increase in income tax from nothing in Q2 2019 to N462 million in Q2 2020. PAT was still able to increase by 30% to 1.9 billion in 2020. While there could be a myriad of reasons for the tax burden, the company’s foreign operations are starting to rain on its parade.
Why it has to watch its foreign operations
Okomu Oil’s wins can be directly attributable to its domestic activities, bolstered by devaluation impact and a larger market share as a result of border closures. A closer look at both its Q1 and Q2 financials reveal that a majority of its earnings have been from improved domestic operations. In Q1, the company witnessed a decline of ₦89.8 million in Q1 2020 from its 2019 figures, representing a drop of 12.5% in the comparative quarter. In Q2, its export revenue took an even greater plunge. Export sales experienced a 35.3% drop from N730.6 million in Q2 2019 to N473 million in Q2 2020. Domestic sales had increased by 67.9%.
While this is reflective of the current economic activities, there are rising fears that it will keep relapsing. Failure to contain its activities will, sooner than later, have it in the same position as some of the equally large companies that had to eventually spin off ailing foreign activities. Reduced turnover is not the only diaspora-induced challenge being faced by the company. Its Q2 financials also reveal exchange losses of over N17 million for the quarter. Compared to the exchange losses incurred in Q2 2019 which stood at 1.2 million, it recorded a 1284% increase in foreign exchange losses.
In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly tough for businesses to ward off the allure of foreign opportunities in trade as well as in the area of raising finance. While these, no doubt, have immense benefits to businesses, there’s a long list of reasons why staying home and penetrating local markets has been underrated. Being able to source inputs locally, produce locally, and even finance locally is becoming even more of a luxury to Nigerian companies especially given the challenges around the relatively weak currency to stronger currencies.
Okomu Oil plc is creating a sustainable market in Nigeria and its efforts are paying off. Until order is restored, an increasing focus on its domestic market will do the company more good. That said, the company is a great stock to have in your investment portfolio to serve as a hedge against companies that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Its current share price is N74.95. While its price to book ratio is high at 2.2857 hinting that it could be overvalued, its EPS is stable at 7.33.
Why you should avoid investing long term in Nigeria’s stock market
The stock market is only as resilient as the economy.
Thirteen years ago today, I was getting set to oversee a meeting with a group of partners in a newly formed investment club. About a dozen of us, young and just at the cusp of family hood thought it was important to come together and put money aside for the future.
We had several options such as real estate or treasury bills, but we settled for the Nigerian Stock market. The decision wasn’t difficult to make especially when you look at the performance. Stocks were up 37.8% in 2006 and will close the first half of 2007 55% up.
Demand was high as everyone wanted a piece of what was then the fad. Private placements, right issues, IPOs were fast and coming and it was as if any offer placed in the table was sure to sell. The early signs that this was a bubble was when spare part traders abandoned their trade to get in on the gold rush.
The All Share index showed its first signs that the bears were around the corner when it fell by 5.15% in August 2007. As investors who were made to understand that investing in stocks for the long term was wise, we ignored the temptation to sell believing that stocks will rise again.
It’s 13 years now and the Nigerian All Share Index is down 52% between June 2007 and June 2020. In hindsight, we should have sold everything we had and simply bought dollars and kept it under our pillows. The stocks, we had hoped will deliver compounding returns over the years have delivered nothing but losses.
The Nigerian Stock Exchange is not a long-term market. We learned this 13 years ago but believed that experience was just a massive correction and that things will change. It did not and is unlikely to change so long as we remain a highly import-dependent economy. The stock market is only as resilient as the economy. If you have an economy like Nigeria that is good at growing its population and not its economics, investments in capital and money markets is a risky activity.
READ MORE: Where to Invest N5 Million right now
The more we remain reliant on crude oil and high imports, the worse it gets and you lose more money. Thus, it is my firm belief that investing in Nigerian stocks for the long term is folly. There are much better investments out there that will deliver you better returns and reduce capital erosion, two of the major symptoms of the Nigerian Stock market. But why is this market not a long term investment?
Firstly, stocks rely heavily on foreign portfolio investors to drive demand up. Since former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi allowed foreign investors to repatriate any portfolio investment into the country without restrictions, stocks have become heavily reliant on hot money to keep valuations high. Thus, when foreign investors exit, stocks suffer. They create a bubble when they enter our markets and leave bears to dominate when they exit, until they are ready to get back in again.
READ MORE: A New Wave: Where to Invest in H2 2020
Secondly, Nigeria’s susceptibility to frequent currency devaluations keeps market valuations in perpetual risk of capital erosion. For example, if your portfolio was worth N165, 000 in 2013 it was the equivalent of $1,000. Today, that portfolio is worth just $412 assuming N400/1. So, even if you are lucky to have a portfolio that has performed well over the years, it will struggle to outperform dollar investments on the medium term.
Also, Nigerian companies are hardly accountable with the way their businesses are run. Insider trading persists without control and suspicions are immediately swept away. There are no consequences for reckless corporate behaviour. Most of the corporate fraud and unscrupulous activities perpetrated in the great stock market crash of 2008/2009 did not lead to a single jail term for anyone.
Billions lost in stocks over the years have not been recovered. Whilst some companies have continued to grow their revenues and profits most remain unprofitable and lack the basics of corporate governance.
Investor protection is weak in this market as there are no reliable remedies for fraud induced market losses. The stock market is also very limited in the number of products available to buy. Apart from buying and owning stocks, there are little options to short-sell. We understand this is in the pipeline but it has remained there for years.
These are examples that explain why investing for the long term cannot work in Nigeria for now. Buy and hold forever is a myth at least in today’s Nigeria. You will get burned and likely lose the value of your investments.