PLDT (TEL) – Deep in the Woods

It was reported by on March 9, 2018 that telco giant PLDT  (TEL) sounded off hope hat its business struggles were coming to a close this 2018. believes that it won’t be so.  Its balance sheet would show that as of the end of 2017 it is still loaded with debt.  PLDT’s total debt stood at 348 Billion pesos while its capital stood at 111 Billion giving it a total debt to equity ratio of 3.14.  PLDT is heavily leveraged.  In 2011, PLDT was just leveraged to a ratio of 1.61 total debt to total equity.

Meanwhile, its cash flows from operations is dwindling.  For the year 2017 it generated cash flows from operations of 58.6 Billion, 27% lower compared to the cash it generated from operations in 2012 when PLDT generated 80.4 Billion.  PLDT’s slowing cash flow generation ability has been due to the fact that it has not respond well to the needs of the time.  This is very evident in the erosion of its revenue. From 170.8 Billion for the year 2014 its revenue for the year 2017 was just 160 Billion down 6% from the 2014 level. is changing how we use and think about money. Click here to enroll!

PLDT did not re-invest enough its earnings during the good years to attune its capabilities with the time, instead PLDT distributed it mostly to its stockholders.  It was made a milking cow by its controlling stockholder, the First Pacific Co. Ltd..  In its full-year 2017 results presentation, PLDT boasted that over the last 13 years it has distributed dividends totaling 400.6 Billion or an average of 30.8 Billion per year to its stockholders.

PLDT has put itself deep in the woods – huge debt load, dwindling revenue and cash flows from operations, and huge capital expenditure requirements to update its capability with the demands of time.  PLDT has no where to go to funds its capital expenditure (capex) requirements.  It is already debt laden, its capability to add more debt to fund its capex is now constrained.  To go deep on its balance sheet its remaining material investments is now Rocket Internet with a carrying value of 12.8 Billion Pesos and MediaQuest PDRs with a carrying value of 10.8 Billion as of end of 2017.  The two assets are the only material investments left available for sale to fund capex requirements. reported this earlier. believes that eventually PLDT will have to lower its dividend payout.  As of end of 2017 at a price of 1,480, PLDT’s (TEL) dividend yield stands at 5.1%.  It is of our opinion that to sustain such dividend yield, the market has to price PLDT (TEL) lower at around 990 or maybe higher at 1,000.  At that price we recommend to include it in your portfolio.


SM Prime Holdings Inc. (SMPH) – Real Estate Domination

SM Prime Holdings (SMPH) reported an impressive 15.8% growth in net income.  The reported net profit results show SMPH domination in Philippine real estate.

The growth came mostly from the expansion of malls/retail space for rent and the consistent 7% annual growth in same-mall-sales.  In 2017, it opened 6 new malls adding a gross floor area of around 377,000 square meters. Same-mall-sales represents the growth of consumption spending of the Filipinos.  It is a reflection of the growth in spending power of the population as a result of the growth in the over-all economy.

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SMPH as of year-end 2017 has 67 malls in the Philippines and 7 malls in China.  The malls lay the “golden egg” for SMPH.  The malls are cash gushers creating money year after year after they have been established.   The more mature the mall is, the more it is profitable for SMPH.  The most mature malls of SMPH creates an almost free money to SMPH.  In those mature malls, SMPH has long recovered their costs and the revenue they are generating are almost free of costs.  This makes SMPH the most profitable Philippine real estate company.  SMPH has in 2016 a gross margin percentage of 84.10 meanwhile competitors Ayala Land (ALI) had 34.91, Filinvest Land (FLI) had 49.55, and Megaworld Corp. (MEG) had 56.30.

The profitability of SMPH strengthen its balance sheet. As of year-end 2017 it has a net debt to equity ratio of 0.56 as compared to ALI’s 0.77.  This means SMPH is less reliant on debt to expand. Being a pioneer in mall development in the Philippines gives it a unique insight and capability to know when and where to build a mall in the Philippines. And once it builds a mall, that mall will print money for SMPH forever and long after the costs are recovered it will still mint money and almost for free for SMPH.  This cycle repeats again and again creating a domination in Philippine real estate for SMPH.

The capability of SMPH to dominate Philippine real estate is being chased by institutional, mutual fund, and retail investors resulting to a Price-to-Earnings (PE) ratio of 39.37, the highest among its peers and making the SMPH the largest real estate company in terms of market value. SMPH has now a market capitalization of 1.02 Trillion Pesos dwarfing ALI’s 680.73 Billion Pesos market capitalization.

Clearly the ability of SMPH to dominate the Philippine real estate justifies its expensive value, however, it is without challenges ahead. Its present valuation factors in future growth prospects.  Its future growth prospects is being challenged by expensive land banking.  This challenge is being manifested in a recent report of the Inquirer titled “SM bags seafront property for 18B.”  It was reported that the price SMPH paid for the said lot is at 50% premium from the offer of ALI.

While it is clear that SMPH has the ability to dominate the real estate market it is also clear that it is being disrupted by increase in market values of land and to a lesser extent by technology.  So we recommend that if its stock price dip by 10% make an opportunistic buy.  It is presently trading at 36 just 9.32% below it 52-week high of 39.70.

SMC , PF – The winners and losers in the re-creation of the San Miguel Food & Beverage giant

On November 3, 2017, San Miguel Corporation (SMC) disclosed to the public the re-creation of the San Miguel Food & Beverage giant.  (For a copy of the PSE disclosure please click – PSE-SMC-Consolidation of Food and Beverage Business [11.03.17]).

SMC will swap its 7,859,319,270 shares of San Miguel Brewery Inc. (SMB) representing 51.16% of SMB and its 216,972,000 shares of Ginebra San Miguel (GSMI) representing 78.26% of GSMI for an additional 4,242,549,130 shares of San Miguel Pure Foods Company Inc. (PF) with a total value of 336 Billion Pesos based on an expert valuation report of ING Bank N.V.  The transaction will raise SMC’s ownership over PF to 95.87% from 85.37%.

After the share swap PF will rename itself into San Miguel Food & Beverage Inc. after which SMC will sell up to 30% of PF to raise 150 Billion Pesos as reported (Inquirer Business Report 08Nov2017 and BusinessMirror Report 18Jan2018).

Prior to the announcement, PF was trading at a 300 level. After the disclosure, PF went as high as 640 a share and as of 24Jan2018 was trading at a range of 602-612.  We believe it is time to sell and unlock the value.  It is now trading at twice the value of where it was once, so reap the reward.

PF will be the loser in this consolidation game. PF will be buying SMB and GSMI at a hefty price and its balance sheet will be saddled with intangibles/goodwill.  The 336 Billion price of SMB (GSMI valuation is neglible if lumped with SMB) will translate to 37X Price to Earnings (PE) ratio. In 2016 SMB earned 17.7 Billion of which 9 Billion is attributable to SMC’s 51% ownership. 336 Billion divided by  9 Billion results to around 37X.  Please see SMC 2016 IR Briefing.

The hefty price for the assets will erode future earnings of the company in the form of goodwill impairments.  We believed that their will be impairments as cash flows from the units will be roughly the same (beer/beverage is a mature market) but the price paid for such cash flows are higher. Future returns will be lower as the asset-based is overvalued with goodwill. The net assets of the recreated food and beverage giant will be inflated with goodwill as a result of the hefty price it paid to acquire the said assets. The overprice/goodwill could have been deployed to acquire other earnings and cash flows accretive assets so growth might be slower in the future as resources have been tied up in goodwill. This will shrink the value of PF. Don’t wait for it, encash your gains now.

SMC is also setting a new 52-week high when it reached 141 on 23Jan2017 trading.  But its gain is not as remarkable as that of PF.  SMC is only up 39.39% in a one year period while PF is up 142.04% in the same period.  SMC has still more room to grow.  After the execution of the share swap, SMC will sell 30% of PF to comply with the float requirement for a total of 150 Billion Pesos.  The 150 Billion will be new money for SMC that can be used to grow further its earning assets.  SMC will be able to invests more in high profit margin and fast growing industries such as power and infrastructure and this will expand SMC’s earnings.  Currently SMC’s PE ratio is low at 19.84 as compared to Ayala Corp.’s (AC) 23.26, Aboitiz Equity Venture’s (AEV) 20.45 and JG Summit Holding’s (JGS) 62.11. We conclude that SMC at 140 is still a good buy given its new fire power.

TEL – A Culture of Under-Investment in Telco Capabilities

TEL (PLDT) has for quite sometime has hovered at around 1,450 – 1,500 level. This is despite frequent press releases by the company of good news about it. It is imminent that TEL will still have to go down.

The woes at TEL can be traced back to its culture. When First Pacific took over TEL from Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP), the present TEL CEO, was criticising TEL’s previous management group as like the “government.” It was said that the first order of business of the previous management was the capital expenditure/capex rather than advertising and creating a brand. It was like a government because in the government it is usually capital projects that is being sought first by the politicians. There is a culture of entitlements among politicians in government.

MVP then change its culture and increased its advertising budget then relegated the capex to a lesser priority. At that time there was an explosion in the usage of mobile data then limited to SMS and ringtones and mobile calls. It was a bonanza for TEL. MVP then stepped-up the dividend pay-out ratio of TEL. From 2007 t0 2013 pay-out ratio was 100% of “core earnings,” before slowing it down to 90% in 2014.

First Pacific at the time of its TEL take-over was also reeling the effects of the “Asian Currency Crisis.” First Pacific executives in Hong Kong tried to sell its TEL stake to the Gokongwei Group behind the back of MVP. MVP fought back and vowed that TEL will be the saviour of First Pacific.

True to his words, MVP made TEL profitable, thanks to the SMS addicted Filipinos, and repatriated most of the profits of TEL to First Pacific. The cash flows from the dividend pay-out of TEL reinvigorated the then diminished First Pacific. MVP was made the CEO of First Pacific. At that time, it was boasted that marketing savviness was the key to the profitability and that it had killed the “government-like” culture of capital expenditure first in TEL. This will come to haunt back MVP and TEL.

The killing of the “government-like” culture of capital expenditure firsts in TEL led to under-investments in the capabilities of TEL. The under-investments allowed TEL to pay-out most of its earnings to its stockholders, the largest of which is the First Pacific Company. Technological innovations and disruptions fueled the demand for more data capability out of telcos. Because TEL under-invested in its capabilities it was not able to satisfy it customers. No matter how savvy its advertising and branding is, customers can’t just be appeased by TEL’s lack of capability to satisfy customer demands.

At the outset of LTE, TEL failed to immediately expand its capability to LTE. Instead it bought a telco, Digitel, with also less capabilities. It bought Digitel only to pare down the number of towers it owns because many became redundant. The Gokongweis sold out Digitel because it was capital intensive and that it may not have the resources to compete and transition it to a more digital telco.

Because most of the profits TEL had earned during the good years was paid-out as dividend, it has now to dig deep on its resources to fund its transformation. It is now reaching on its MERALCO stake to fund its capex.

Most of TEL’s investments have already been sold out to fund its capex to date. As of end of 3Q 2017, the only significant investments left are MediaQuest PDRs with a carrying value of 13.16 Billion and Rocket Internet with a carrying value of 12.74 Billion. MediaQuest spans newspapers (Business Word, Philippine Star), radio broadcasting, TV Broadcasting (ABC 5), and pay-TV (Cignal). TEL has planned to spend 50 Billion for capex in 2018. TEL may need more than that amount in the future as demand for data has been increasing year to year as people, homes, and enterprises adopts internet of things. TEL may have to sell also MediaQuest and Rocket Internet stakes to fund further its capex in the coming years. This is why we recommend that you sell.

Proceeds from asset divestments may not enough to fund further its capital expenditures to make its capabilities at par with the best in the world (a capability which the government and its customer demands from them). So TEL may have to reduce further its dividend pay-out. Its dividend pay-out stands at 60% from 100% in 2013 and 90% in 2014. As dividend from TEL get smaller, market might react to maintain the dividend yield of TEL which is currently at 6.41%. This means, market will have to price TEL also lower. So if you are holding it now, it it is time to cut your losses and sell.

PHN – A Company with an Identity Crisis

PHN has not found what it is really is. PHN started as Bacnotan Consolidated Industries, Inc. (BCII) with investments in cement, steel, pulp and paper, and financial services and ran by Philippine Investment Management Consultants (PHINMA), Inc. BCII was basically an investment vehicle of PHINMA. BCII was a vehicle of PHINMA to raise funds to be invested in what was then growing industries.

The partnership in PHINMA cratered and changes were made. BCII divested its investments in the industries it nurtured and change its name to PHN. Along the way it lost its identity. PHN seems not to know what it is. Is it an aspiring conglomerate or an investment vehicle?

This identity crisis makes PHN hard for the investors to understand and value. PHN touched a 52-week low of 8.26 and as of December 29, 2017 it closed at 8.40 which is 21.69% down a year ago. We believe PHN is undervalued and we recommend to buy the same.

PHN has potential values. PHINMA should refocus PHN into an investment vehicle. If PHINMA will not refocus PHN as an investment vehicle then it should have no right to collect management fees from PHN. PHN is once a venture fund, it invests in growth industries and once it matures it sells them. Like the cement which it sold to Holcim and banking which it cashed-out during the banking consolidation years of the early 2000s.

We can see PHN investing and scaling two industries the steel & construction technologies and educational services. The two investments are cash flows and earnings positive.

Aside from the two investments PHN has also the following investments: PHINMA Energy Corporation (PHEN, 26.245); PHINMA Property Holdings Corporation (PPHC, 35.42%), Microtel Development Corporation (PHINMA Hospitality, 36.23%), Trans-Asia Petroleum (12.99%), and others. Those investments have as of December 31, 2016 a carrying value of 3.4 Billion.

To focus PHN as a venture fund/investment vehicle and unlock value, it should dispose PPHC, PHINMA Hospitality, and Coral Way Hotel Corporation. With regards to PPHC, real estate development is capital intensive and cash flow negative aside from owning only a minority interest, we could not find a scenario where PHN could make a profit out of it. All other investments where it has minority interests except for PHEN should be disposed of and the proceeds be used to further scale the two investments it already had or find a new investments to grow and scale. We found no reason for PHN deploying capital on those minority investments. What is PHN expecting from those investments, investment cash flows? capital gains?

Right now, PHN’s investments in steel and construction materials and education services are enough unicorns of PHN which could provide tremendous value once unlocked. We exclude PHEN from the divestment because PHN has been realizing the value from the said investment through dividend cash flows and capital appreciation.

PHINMA should remake PHN into a venture fund again, funding and scaling business then unlocking their values through out-right sale or initial public offerings.

We can gamble to recommend it a buy right now and advocate for PHINMA to remake PHN into a venture fund to grow the value of PHN.

ABS – Wait and See

ABS set a new 52-week low as of December 12, 2017 trading session when it reached 34.75. Over this period, the share price is down 21.56%.  Although, the shares is at lowest during the 52-week period, we cannot recommend to buy or sell the same at the moment.  The following is a discussion of why we do not recommend to buy or sell it in the meantime.


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We are in the period of technological disruption.  Broadcast is no longer the prime platform for news, information and entertainment as it was in the 1990s.  The internet and mobile has replaced broadcast as the primary go-to place for news, information and entertainment.  In the advent of mobile internet, people now spend more time on their computers and mobile devices than in their television sets.  This technological sea change is most evident in the recent elections in the Philippines and in the US, where information proliferated in the internet more particularly in the social networking sites impacted the elections more than the mainstream broadcast media outlets.

ABS is the local broadcast giant. For the 9-month period of 2017, 52% of the revenue of ABS came from advertising revenue from its broadcast unit.  The said revenue provides virtually all of the net income of ABS of 2.3 Billion.  As what has been said there is a technological sea change in the telecommunications and media industry and this technological disruption gradually erodes the revenue of ABS.  In the 9-month period of 2017 advertising revenue of ABS is down 517 Million or 3% lower year-on-year.

The technological disruption affecting ABS’ business would be a convenient reason to recommend to sell it but we do not.  First, ABS is generating positive operating cash flows and free cash flows.  EBITDA for 2016 was 9.85 Billion and for 9-month period 2017 EBITDA is 7.03 Billion.  Second, ABS is the local leader in content creation and content is still king.  ABS has invested in capabilities to create local content.  It has Star Magic, ABS-CBN University and it has invested in studios and sound stages.  Its capabilities to create world class content is hard to replicate.  Third, it has been doing something to mitigate the effects of disruption.  It has gradually balanced advertisement revenue with consumer sales.   This endeavor of ABS, makes-up our reason to recommend to wait and see before recommending buying or selling it.

ABS is doing something to mitigate the effect of technological disruption.  It ventured into mobile telecommunications with ABSCBNmobile.  So far, this venture has not been profitable.  Another venture is Kidzania, which in the meantime has also not been so profitable.  Its cable, satellite and broadband distribution platform has not provide meaningful contribution to the bottom line.  To us the more promising investments ABS have made is its investments in digital and interactive media more specifically in Iwanttv and

ABS, no doubt, has great catalog of great contents and has the ability to create best-in-class content.  In the age of broadcast erosion and internet dominance, ABS must find a way to sell its content directly to the consumers as what Netflix is doing. We believe, Iwanttv and are steps in the right direction.  Presently, there contributions to the bottom line is insignificant.  This is so because Iwanttv and are not world-class.  They are mediocre platforms.  The challenge of ABS is to make Iwanttv and world-class.  Those platforms should be like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Fox Plus or NBA Game Time.

ABS has word-class content creation capabilities.  Content capabilities would be not so valuable if it does not have a world-class delivery platform to its consumers where consumers can actually enjoy the content and pay for it.  In the meantime, ABS has a cash pile and positive operating cash flows.  With its cash pile let us wait for few more periods to see whether ABS will be able to build a world-class internet delivery platform direct to consumers as a hedge to the declining broadcast business . Let us wait and see then.