Domestic online media; Amazon in Australia; regulatory oversight of financial advisers; risks for automotive dealerships; booming electric vehicle sales.
-Are returns on invested capital sustainable for Australia's online media sector?
-Amazon entering Australia with a retail offering considered negative for incumbents
-Independent investment admin platform providers positioning as threats to incumbents
-Caution prevails as automotive dealer lending practices under scrutiny
-Lithium in strong demand in electric vehicles but excess supply still likely
By Eva Brocklehurst
UBS is seeking answers to the question of investing in the online classifieds sector. The issue is about whether domestic online businesses are ex-growth and whether returns on invested capital are sustainable. Is there upside from international expansion?
REA Group ((REA)) may disappoint the market in FY17, UBS asserts. Performance versus expectations relies on second half volume outcomes, which are difficult to predict. The broker believes investors may not fully appreciate the potential for Australian residential revenue to re-accelerate in FY18, even without a rebound in volumes. UBS upgrades to Buy from Neutral and elevates the target to $56 from $52.
The broker notes Carsales.com's ((CAR)) domestic business is perceived as well entrenched, offsetting a lower earnings growth profile. Core domestic revenue growth has slowed to 5% in FY13-16 from 21% in FY10-13. The broker envisages incremental headwinds from retreating dealer profitability pools and competitive threats, and suspects recent initiatives may only be a partial offset. Rating is upgraded to Neutral from Sell with a $10.50 target.
The broker retains a Sell rating for Seek ((SEK)) and a $14.00 target. Drivers of domestic growth include yield, volume and new investments. UBS envisages limited near-term financial contributions from new earnings streams and, instead, expects initiatives will bolster the company's value for its two key stakeholders: hirers & applicants.
A strengthening of the network potentially adds placements but monetisation of a greater market share will be long-dated and the broker suspects consensus expectations for an expansion in margins of 8% in FY18 are unrealistic.
The broker believes, if the three companies could replicate their domestic models overseas, upside would be material, given the penetration of smart devices and rising wealth and urbanisation. On the other hand, market structures are also less favourable elsewhere and competition fiercer.
There is speculation that Amazon will enter Australia. Citi believes the probability has increased albeit this could be 2-3 years away, but the impact on Australian retailers could entail more than a 20% cut to earnings. The broker notes more detailed information has been forthcoming about the company's entry to Singapore in early 2017, with reports signalling Amazon is looking for a retail CEO.
Reports suggest more than 250 trademark applications across a wide range of retail categories have been made by Amazon. This could relate to the export of Australian brands to Asian markets. The broker conceives an entry in 2019 as more probable, given the need to build distribution centres and secure branded supply in Australia.
Citi expects electronics will be the most affected, with earnings declines of 23% predicted for JB Hi-Fi ((JBH)) and 19% for Harvey Norman ((HVN)). This would be closely followed by Myer ((MYR)) at 18% and Super Retail ((SUL)) at 17%.
Shaw and Partners notes the consequences of increased regulatory oversight has meant Australian financial advisers need to evaluate their business models and, most probably, implement a fee-for-service, and annuity-style business model rather one based on transactions. The main beneficiary from the changing landscape is the customer, with cheaper fees, upgraded transparency and improving advisor education for giving retail advice.
The broker notes a number of independent investment administration platform providers which generate revenue through fees, such as HUB24((HUB)), Praemium ((PPS)), OneVue ((OVH)) and the unlisted Netwealth have experienced notable growth in recent times, positioning as competitive threats to the incumbents such as the banks, AMP ((AMP)) and Macquarie Group ((MQG)).
The broker believes their success has been driven by regulation favouring independent financial advice, competitive pricing and the growth in separately managed accounts (SMAs). Most importantly, their nimble technology has resonated with the advisor community. Nevertheless, the broker believes future growth will be hard to come by, as competitive pressures intensify and pricing models evolve.
The broker believes administration fees will evolve to a flat structure as platform technology becomes commoditised. As well. regulatory burdens will weigh on profit margins and achieving economies of scale will be hugely important for the longevity of the business and industry. The broker initiates coverage of Fiducian ((FID)) with a Buy rating and $4.60 target, Managed Accounts Holdings ((MGP)) with Hold and target of $0.33 and HUB24 with a Sell rating and $4.10 target.
Further data has reinforced some of the risks facing automotive dealerships. Morgan Stanley also notes BMW Finance will pay $77m to compensate customers for lending failures, which should act as a warning to other finance companies. VFACTS data has shown further underperformance in Western Australia, which is a negative for Automotive Holdings ((AHG)).
Concerns about lending practices have been underscored by the update from Carsales.com at its AGM, where the company indicated its financial services arm sustained borrowing capacity reductions in the fourth quarter of FY16 which continued into FY17. While this is mainly from BMW Finance, which provides finance through Strattons, Morgan Stanley suspects other lenders have been more cautious as well.
The broker believes tightening consumer credit will pose a headwind to new car sales, which are normally financed. The broker is uncertain of the outcome from the pending update on regulation changes from ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission) but believes it will change the way finance is sold at dealerships, which will result in a period of instability as changes are implemented.
Macquarie observes electric car sales are booming and will soon enjoy a large market share. This will have implications for a range of commodities. In 2015, China, North America, Japan and Europe, where the vast majority of such cars are purchased, accounted for 664,000 electric vehicle purchases, more than double the number of 2014. Between January and October this year Macquarie estimates year-on-year growth was another 48%.
The broker believes such sales growth can only be maintained with some difficulty. In 2015 in Europe the increase owed a lot to customers buying ahead of the expiration of generous subsidy schemes in markets such as the Netherlands and Sweden. This year, although many incentives remain, some appear to be expiring at the end of the year. Still, the impact of the burgeoning market is expected to be felt over a long period.
What are the commodities being impacted? So far electric vehicles are pitched at the small end of the market, with limited range or, as with Tesla, a decent range at a higher price point. None are cost-effective compared with standard vehicles as yet. Macquarie estimates around 14% of global lithium demand will be accounted for by electric vehicles this year. Over the long term, average battery capacity should grow.
Chinese lithium spot prices have been falling since May following a substantial rally. Inventory overhang has been blamed. The broker does not believe growth in the electric vehicle market will be fast enough to absorb a wave of supply coming from Australia and elsewhere over the next few years. Nickel, unlike lithium, is used in two of the five prevailing lithium ion battery chemistries.
The demand case for nickel is much less compelling. Assuming that around 50% of electric batteries contain nickel, nickel demand could grow to 38,000t in 2021 from around 10,000t in 2016. Macquarie expects strong growth, but from a low base.
Cobalt is more tied to consumer electronics and China's moves to secure raw material. Given a dependence on Democratic Republic of Congo for supply, there are challenges for its use in electric vehicles and the broker suspects substitution risk is high. Macquarie assumes global cobalt demand for batteries grows at around 5% compound to reach 53,000t by 2020.
Platinum group metals derive most of their demand from autocatalysts, which are found in vehicles with internal combustion engines. The situation is bleak for these metals as both platinum and palladium are expected to experience significant declines in volumes, as autocatalysts from scrapped cars are recycled.
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