Research

IN BRIEF: CTRIP (CTRP US)

Cashflow confusion questions premium rating

Mark Webb · 7 December 2017

Online travel agency Ctrip has delivered remarkable revenue growth. Moreover, despite the cost of integrating new businesses, Ctrip’s free cash flow also appears to have improved, with rising reported operating cashflow and falling capex. However, rather than indicating robust health, Ctrip’s headline performance shows how easily investors can be misled by the cashflow statement. The cashflow is primarily designed to assess liquidity and omits payments made using debt and equity rather than cash. In the case of Ctrip, if we include significant outflows from share-based staff pay and share-funded acquisitions in 2014-16, performance deteriorates from a headline free cash inflow…
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IN-BRIEF: CHINA HONGQIAO (1378 HK)

Unresolved Issues (SELL/AVOID/SHORT)

Nigel Stevenson · 29 November 2017

China Hongqiao’s post-suspension share price appreciation might lead some to believe that fraud allegations have been addressed, but we are not entirely convinced. Even if investors can accept that the company had four different auditors in two years, they still have to grapple with a less than satisfactory response to fraud allegations and a very worrying set of financial statements containing similar traits to past frauds. The stock might be trading on 5x 2018 PER (assuming profits are real) but we would still be sellers. The cost of shorting is expensive at 9% but might be a strategy for risk…
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COMING UP SHORT

Manipulating cash flows

Mark Webb · 22 November 2017

Investors increasingly view the income statement as unreliable; instead modelling cash flows to gauge performance. But the cash flow statement is flawed from an investment perspective as it only aims to reconcile movements in cash. This means that purchases funded with debt or equity are excluded which can materially distort operating and free cash flows. In this report, we discuss the most common practices affecting cash flows and highlight those stocks most impacted, such as China Southern, JD.com, Ctrip.com, China Resources Pharma and CKH Holdings. GET PDF VIEW SLIDES Payments using debt Items paid directly with debt, rather than cash,…
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IN-BRIEF: SINA (SINA US)

Your vote now means nothing

Nigel Stevenson · 9 November 2017

Sina’s management has taken control of the company without shareholder approval through the issue of new preference shares, as allowed under Cayman Islands law, taking its share of the voting rights to 55%, from 11% previously. This comes in response to attempts by a US hedge fund to place two directors on its board. Other companies have similar provisions in their articles of association, which we detail within. We recently wrote about the corporate governance risks of investing in foreign incorporated US-listed companies, and this incident further highlights those risks. It raises the question: what rights do shareholders in these…
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REVENUE RECOGNITION

Major changes ahead

Nigel Stevenson · 2 November 2017

Country Garden boasted that revenues were up 36% in 1H17 but neglected to tell investors that this was primarily due to an accounting change. The introduction of IFRS 15 in 2018 will result in major changes to how revenue is recognised and investors need to know which sectors and companies could be most affected. They also need to be aware that the transition could distort comparisons with prior periods. A small number of companies have implemented the standard early or quantified the impact on their financials. Not all companies will be revising up profits, other companies have experienced large profit…
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IN-BRIEF: SINOPHARM (1099 HK)

From bad to worse

Gillem Tulloch · 31 October 2017

Sinopharm’s 3Q17 net profit decline of 16% YoY means that consensus expectations for 12% growth in 2017 just became a whole lot more unrealistic. The company is suffering from a double whammy of rapidly deteriorating operating performance stemming from regulatory changes, while finance costs are ballooning as it sells ever-greater quantities of receivables in an attempt to flatter financials. We think these trends will become more acute in 4Q and would not be surprised if there were a material profit miss. Given high leverage and an inability to generate recurring operating cash flows, a capital increase is likely. Results are…
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NOT IN YOUR INTERESTS

Offshore incorporation (CBPO and Cogo)

Gillem Tulloch · 25 October 2017

How did China Biologic Products (CBPO) persuade shareholders to allow it to redomicile from the US to the Cayman Islands, and then downgrade to foreign private issuer status? This new structure means that shareholders are getting substantially poorer disclosure, less accountability and limited legal redress in return for nothing. Last time it happened, with Cogo, investors lost everything. While CBPO does not appear to have abused minorities since the change, an expensive acquisition has led to a 20% share price decline and is hardly a ringing endorsement for greater management freedom. Redomiciling is extremely rare but 35 large Asian companies…
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IN BRIEF: TIBET WATER (1115 HK)

Tip of the iceberg

Mark Webb · 17 October 2017

Water and beer bottler Tibet Water Resources (TWR) has the dubious distinction of being accused of fraud by two anonymous short-sellers in just one week. Our analysis of its financials raises concerns that something is amiss: (i) Operating margins are super-normal despite minimal capex, which would appear to be a dichotomy. (ii) Free cash inflows have gone into acquisitions and, despite super-high cash balances, dividends have been reduced to zero. (iii) Unusually high investment flows are consistent with companies window-dressing their financials and, in some instances, past frauds. Management’s response to these accusations has been to threaten litigation as opposed…
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SPECULATIVE INVESTMENTS

Now you see them, now you don’t

Gillem Tulloch · 12 October 2017

It appears contradictory that Asia’s most leveraged corporate sectors, India and China, also have the highest incidence of companies likely to be window dressing their short-term investments. The removal of dubious assets prior to reporting periods may be a way of avoiding awkward investor questions. For companies engaging in such behaviour, risks should be re-evaluated and management held to account. Worryingly, our short-list of 125 Asian companies contains a disproportionately high percentage that have either been accused of fraud, or have fraud-like traits. The layering of short-term investments might be a means of obscuring the source of cash from auditors….
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IN BRIEF: ZTO (ZTO US)

Risks rising on Alibaba’s plans for Cainiao

Mark Webb · 4 October 2017

China has a fragmented and commoditised parcel delivery industry which is dominated by goods purchased on Alibaba’s (BABA US) platforms. This is ZTO’s key business which currently reports world-beating margins and returns on capital. Alibaba’s acquisition of an increased stake in Cainiao Network is probably not an attempt to take-over the delivery market itself; unlike Amazon and JD.com, it does not want to control the entire value chain. Instead, we suspect it is part of Alibaba’s strategy to ensure the delivery market is low-cost and efficient, and will help Alibaba monetarise Cainiao’s services. That’s good news for Alibaba and the…
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