Current thoughts on Shriram City Union Finance (SCUF)

The markets have been unforgiving in many different ways. Off late, the route the market has taken is to sell all risk and get into safer instruments. Entire sectors have been brushed with a broad stroke and left to bite the dust. One such sector is the NBFC sector. While opaque accounting, financial shenanigans and unconstrained lending in the name of growth has brought some well deserved nails on some coffins, there are others that have been dragged down by sheer association.

I believe that Shriram City Union Finance is one such case.

SCUF is a deposit taking NBFC that serves the predominantly in the south with a sizeable operations in the west of India as well. They serve the underbanked, specifically the self-salaried and MSME who get easier access to NBFC’s (shadow banking system) as compared to banks.

The security closed on March 27th at INR 765.35 / share on the NSE. The market cap is INR 5,332 crores with ~6.6 crores shares outstanding. The security has a book value of INR 1070 per share or INR 7,062 crores. First nine months earnings for 2019-20 were INR 128.38 per share or INR 845 crores. 2018-19 full year earnings were INR ~150 / share or 988 crores. AUM was 29K crores.

SCUF is earning around INR 43-44 per share per quarter and growing. The market is valuing the entire company at 4.5 times earnings or earnings yield of 22%. It will be worthwhile to take a look deeper into what might be driving the same.  A quick snapshot of the financials is as seen below.

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 4.03.13 PM

As you can see, the company has fairly good NIM, high spread, good ROA and ROE and fairly manageable leverage. Furthermore, CRAR seems to be good and decent cash on hand as well.

Since the company serves the self employed and small businesses, the GNPA and NNPA is higher than usual but the company has managed fairly well in the past on the actual write downs. SCUF has been conscious of the market it is serving and has managed with lower LTV ratios, stronger security, higher spreads and a good ecosystem to manage collections. The situation before Covid was as follows:

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 4.06.47 PM

There are several factors that would have impacted the business or caused the valuations to drop.

  1. Covid impact and net payments
  2. Concerns on repayments
  3. Liquidity in the market
  4. AL mismatch and liquidity concerns
  5. Corporate governance

Covid Impact: It is very early to estimate the real impact of Covid. This could go several different ways but I think we can draw large enough boundaries and what the expected outcome could be for SCUF. Just because of the sheer segment that SCUF lends to, we should expect a lot of stress. The small businesses are on the first line that will get affected by Covid and the subsequent economical slowdown that comes along with it. There are broadly two lines of thoughts that investors are divided upon: one is that this will be a short disruption, everyone self isolates, the virus dies and we have a V-shaped recovery. The other narrative is that because of the exponential growth in the cases we have been having, it will be many quarters or years before it becomes business as usual again.

In the former case, there are two more tailwinds that are there: RBI has provided permission to defer payments for three months, interest will continue to accrue, and the effects of the virus will be short-lived. Even if we assume that the operating expenses of the company will not come down, it will cost the company INR 375 crores with no income to keep the shutters open and incur every single rupee to keep the shutter open. This will impact the business around INR 57 / share. One quarter of earnings lost. This is like losing a dividend check. With the NPA rule being waived, it is the best case scenario.

In the latter case, beyond the initial tailwind due to the deferral from RBI, if things deteriorate further, we could see customers falling behind on payments, GNPA and NNPA spiking up and write off spiking up as well. Given the P/B of 0.71 that is the market is attributing indicates that they expect this scenario to play out. The market is expecting a INR 1700 crore write off (as of today) from this episode or close to 6% of the entire book (net of assets recovered) as an outcome of this prolonged exposure in the market. The markets that provide us some advance information is the China and the South Korean market. Things are recovering back but at a slower pace. I think it is fair to assume at this point that the same may repeat in India as well. It will eventually recover but at a much slower pace than most people expect. A fair amount of this write-off is already baked into the price. Why will the write offs not be higher? We will address it in the repayments section.

Repayments:

Here we need to digress a bit to understand the culture of Shriram and why ultimate repayments are Shriram will be higher than what we would think in a conventional sense. Shriram group hires people from the same social standing and the communities as their customers. Since they were serving the underbanked, their offices are frugal as as possible and they speak the same layman language as that of the customer. Furthermore, they are connected to the customers at the place of business and are well versed with the balance sheets etc. The credit process is designed in a way that the branch manager, who is effectively connected to the community is responsible for the approvals and is also held very responsible for the collections as well. Typically, customers prefer to work with Shriram group in general because of two main reasons a. they had a connection with the branch manager and an existing relationship. The system and offices were designed in a way that it would not scare the customers and would make him feel like he was borrowing from someone just like himself. b. compared to a bank where they would have to wait for 45 days to get a loan sanctioned, with the right data, they could get a sanction within 48 hours at Shriram. Furthermore, most of the customers getting a loan from Shriram City already have a relationship with Shriram Transport or Chits or insurance or have an existing relationship with the branch with a manager.  Coupled with the fact that most of the loans are with low LTV / higher security than required, incentives aligned with a branch manager who is responsible for collections and a connection to community, defaults are on the lower side than what one would expect from this clientele.

This ecosystem is not going to change anytime soon. While the clientele will be hit by Covid, it is fair to assume that the branch manager will work closely with the customers to figure out the best possible way to get repayments done. The last thing the branch manager or the customer wants is a security pulled in from someone in the community. This has been evidenced through low real losses through previous recessions. However, it must be clearly noted the repayments are different from reported NPA’s. It is safe to presume that GNPA’s and NPA’s / stage 2 and 3 assets will spike but ultimately will get repaid. The repayments will depend on the pace of recovery more than anything else.

Liquidity in the Market:

It is no secret that Piramal has been trying to pare his stake in Shriram for a while now to further boost capital at the Piramal group. There will be always be a hang over the stock that over 10% of the shares outstanding will trade. If Piramal decides to sell in the open market like they did with STFC, it will create a glut of liquidity pushing the prices further down. However, it does look highly unlikely something would happen at these prices. It is a good 33% lower than where Piramal took his stake and I just don’t see him selling at these prices. Furthermore, TPG is trying to exit SCUF parent company at Shriram City as well.

AL Mismatch and Liquidity concerns:

Screenshot 2020-03-29 at 8.45.16 PM

This will be a quick back of envelope calculation: If one assumes that Jan and Feb was business as usual at Shriram City, you will see that they would have excess liquidity of 5000 crores. This will need to be netted for disbursements that would have happened. If you use the prior quarter number, it is around INR 1900 crores per month. This would have left around 1200 crores in excess liquidity. Their cash balance was another 800 crores. Their scheduled repayments was ~2200 crores in March. With a collection efficiency of 10% in March, they could meet that. I am sure the number was a lot higher. Now with the NPA moratorium, I think it will provide some relief to Shriram repaying back its creditors as well. Over the 4 next months (which I think will be more like 6 months with the RBI moratorium), they will own around INR 5000 crores out of which they have access to 2000 crores; and receivables of INR 6,200 crores. If the collection efficiency is above 50%, their ALM will be fine over the next 6 months. However, one needs to account for the CET ratio and minimum cash they will need to maintain as per regulatory norms etc. If India does not get back to 50% of its efficiencies over the next 6 months, we are going to have much bigger problems. Given the current situation, I think they are sitting okay for now. Unless the situation deteriorates extremely badly, I think they will do okay. On top that, the conservative balance sheet will continue to have access to the capital markets. While the interest rates might wary, it is tough to imagine a balance sheet like Shriram city shut from capital markets.

Corporate Governance Concerns: I think between Shriram Capital, Transport Finance and City Union, the Shriram Group has shown a fair amount of good corporate governance till date. We have had RT leading the group, Ajay Piramal and there has not been a peep about governance. They have taken their lumps where needed and moved on. Nothing to indicate that minority holders are at an disadvantage at this point. We will need to see who will be at the helm once Piramal moves on.

All in all, while there are headwinds that SCUF is going to face, at ~22%+ earnings yield most of these concerns are baked in. Investors need margin of safety. The company is trading at 70% of liquidation value. They are yet to lose money in a single quarter. They have the ability and the cushion to lose money for a while and still be okay. The ecosystem is still firm and recovery will be on the back of companies like SCUF. It does provide an enterprising investor with a variety of possibilities.

I am interested in your thoughts and comments. please mail me: contact@beowulfcap.com

Disclosure: Long several NBFC’s and Banks including Piramal, SCUF, STFC.

Disclaimers: See FAQ here. Not a recommendation. Not a registered advisor. Just sharing my thoughts.

 

 

Market behaviour and its implications

Investing is easy but not simple. Investing can be skinned in many different ways creating possibilities that are extremely far off from each other yet produce similar results over the long run. Emotional equanimity through the process is a completely different animal with varied outcomes depending on the part of the cycle one is in.

While markets are largely efficient, it is just as often extreme in its views of certain sectors of the market. Either investors are completely enamoured by the business and its quality that they want to own it at any price and project the future with a lot of certainty that the underlying business might or might not possess. On the other hand, they completely shun some businesses and refuse to touch it even when the value proposition gets compelling. Couple this phenomenon with the narration bias where glowing articles galore on businesses that do well and doomsday articles on businesses that rile on businesses that are out of favour. This creates an interesting pond of opportunity as the market analyses the information fairly well but there are times when the market also struggles to separate the wheat from the chaff. Other times, the narration changes very quickly.

Let us look at a business that is viewed very favourably today by the market. Apple Inc. The market cap of Apple is $1.395T today and the shares trade at $318.31 as we speak. The PE is north of 26 and the dividend yield is just shy of 1% (Yahoo Finance)  The market is pricing in what is expected to be a strong holiday season sales; the subscription growth of Apple+, the newly launched streaming service last year; the AirPods pro launch and the upgraded iPhones; the 5G compatible phones that are expected to be released later this year. All are valid reasons and you can find several articles that dissect any of the above mentioned reasons and you can get a fairly good sense of the narrative. All in all, it is priced like a technology leader who relevancy is solid with a strong moat that will protect the business (at least for the next decade).

Rewind a year ago, the market cap of Apple was close to 50% of what it was today. Jan 21, 2019, Apple closed at $157.9 a share; a tad less than half of today’s price. In less than a year, the company has added close to $700B of market cap. Around the same time last year, the company was coming of a bad holiday season, profit warnings, gloom and doom articles appeared around how companies could bypass the App Store and even though Apple was better than RIM and Nokia, it faced an uncertain future in a technology driven market and was much better priced at a lower valuation like a declining business.

What a difference a year makes. In context of Apple though, it needs to be kept in mind that the market does not owe a down year just because it had a stronger than expected 2019. Nor does it mean that the momentum will continue forever either. Remember, the market is supposed to be largely efficient. Yet, the narrative changes quickly. This is why investing is simple but not easy. 8.2% of the entire S&P growth in 2019 came from Apple alone. Apple and Microsoft, accounted for 15% of the S&P growth. If you owned the market, you benefited largely from the technology growth of 2019 or if you owned Berkshire, the value of your holdings benefited from Apple (as the single largest equity held by Berkshire). If you were a single name investor and did not have the index or Apple or Microsoft in the portfolio or were not big into FAANG or technology in general, you had an uphill battle in 2019 to beat the market.

However, that was an easy one. If you are investing in the markets, you probably were aware of the Apple example. If you had to benefit from Apple’s massive run, you had to buy / hold the stock through some scary headlines. Just being contrarian does not work either. Every bankruptcy has been preceded with scary headlines. Differentiating the wheat from the chaff is the key there.

Let us look at some examples at the other end of the spectrum. Pan out from the US and pan in into the Indian banking and shadow banking system. A poster child of things gone wrong. DHFL posted close to a $900M loss on a $14B loan book; financial irregularities are being investigated and the company is going through a bankruptcy process in India. Yes Bank is losing all credibility in the market for waffling around instead of raising capital. As of 30th Sep, the bank had a book value of INR 109, the market clearly does not believe that Yes bank is still marked properly. It has valued the stock the close to 40% of the reported book value. Very rarely have banks that have fallen more than 90% recovered quickly from debacles like this. Even if one were to assume that the bank was technically insolvent because liabilities exceeds assets, there is still a large piece of the balance sheet that is healthy that will earn positive cash flow and earnings. The only way in the medium term, the bank can come out of the mess is through a cap raise. Then the question becomes. at what margin of safety will investors be willing to invest capital in the bank? 50%? 60%? 90%? If the bank is not able to raise any capital even at a massive discount to the book value, they might as well go the same way as DHFL. In the case of no capital being raised, the market essentially signalling that it has no trust in the bank and with no trust, there is no banking. If not, they need to quickly raise capital and reverse the downward spiral they have been on for the last 24 months.

Examples like DHFL and Yes Bank coupled with a beleaguered real estate sector, growing NPA’s and slowing growth in India has resulted in separating the perceived very good banks and non-banking financial companies (NBFC’s) in India from the rest. Companies like HDFC, HDFC Bank, Bajaj Finance that are perceived to have less risk continue to enjoy a massive premium over the rest of the sector. They trade at huge multiples of book value, enjoy strong growth, low NPA’s and solid ROE’s and capital cushion.

But the interesting companies are neither of these two buckets but the ones stuck in the middle. The in-between bucket today neither enjoys the premium of a strong franchise nor the discount of a capitally starved financial institution. They are associated enough with the mess that the valuations are discounted due to association effects but decently high enough due to their earning power and robust business models. A decent example of both would be Shriram Transport Finance and Shriram City Union Finance, both of which we have been following (and owned) for years. The stocks have gone nowhere over the last few years even though the capital position is robust, earnings are increasing, the valuations are decreasing. Shriram Transport, which caters to financing of used trucks and new trucks, is largely dependent on the small owners of commercial vehicles. While at first glance, the NPA’s or the stage 3 ECL’s look high; they are more a function of the business model than they are of the underlying business. With a low LTV and a solid guarantor system, the realized losses are far lower than what the NPA’s or the ECL’s suggest. With a ROA close to 2.5%, ROE of close to 17%, Book Value of INR 751 and decent growth of AUM and decreased corporate tax rates, the stock is expected to earn around INR 125 this year and is trading at INR 1050 as of today. The market seems to be projecting the gloom and doom of today well into the future. Shriram City Union Finance, which caters to the SME sector and the MSME sector, is a similar story. With ROA north of 3.5%, ROE north of 17%, low leverage, a segment that is almost captive, high ECL’s but low real losses on loans, with a book value of 1031 INR at the end of Sep is trading at INR 1380 creating interesting possibilities. However, if you owned one of these in the last few years, the stocks and the portfolio went nowhere. Coupled with some big investors and PE looking to cash out, near term tailwinds are capped.

In this context, if one were to tether oneself to beating the market index while picking individual names, one would have to gravitate towards the momentum driven stocks or high quality stocks which are at sky high valuations. On the other hand, if one were to look at through the cycle growth and compare them, the risk-reward function might be changing. So far, the momentum and high quality stocks are miles ahead in the race.

As I am thinking through these examples, there are three broad lessons that I think of: 1. It is very tough to predict markets short term. But through the cycle, they will reflect the fundamentals of the business. 2. Markets are largely efficient but far from always efficient as seen by the Apple example above 3. One can have different investing approaches — the more I think, the more I am inclined towards being more conservative through businesses that have earnings on hand today, trade at low multiples to cash flow than predicting longer term cycles.

Disclaimers: Own several indexes, Banks, NBFC’s, Single Name stocks etc. See FAQ’s. Not recommendations. Please do your own research.

NBFC Watch Continues! Shriram City Quarterly Results!

Last night Shriram City Union Finance announced its quarterly results. Assets under management is up from 29,582 crores in March 2019 to 30,352 crores at the end of June 2019. RoA is marginally down to 3.41% in June from 3.44% in the prior quarter. RoE is down to 15.44% from 16.48% at the end of March. Disbursements are marginally down 5% QoQ. EPS was INR 38.4, Book value at INR 1005, CRAR at 22.5%. Asset quality only very marginally declined with net stage 3 assets holding almost flat at 5.03% with provisions just marginally up. Looking at the ALM statement, looks like their short term liquidity is fine.

And this was supposed to be a bad quarter. Results have help up well and the business model seems more steady than what the news will lead you to believe. It does look like this blood bath will eventually open up interesting opportunities for the patient investor.

Disclosure: Long Shriram City. Also read disclosure here