Vikram Kumar Short Kier Group: Sohn London Conference ~ market folly

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Vikram Kumar Short Kier Group: Sohn London Conference

We're posting up notes from the recent Sohn London investment conference.  Next up is Vikram Kumar of Kuvari Partners who presented a short of Kier Group.

Vikram Kumar's Presentation at Sohn London Conference

(Note: On the day after the conference Kier Group made an emergency rights issue of £264m and the shares fell 34%.)

Kuvari have held a short position in Kier Group since August 2017. They are currently short 0.71% of the company’s stock. They previously held a disclosed and successful short position in Carillion, the support services company that collapsed in Jan 2018.

Kier Group are in the construction and contracting business, mostly in the UK. The UK government is a big customer – infrastructure services, road maintenance and development and civil work such as schools and hospitals.  They also build residential houses and commercial buildings.

Kuvari do not like these types of businesses because they are low margin, commoditised and competitive. If government contracts cost more than anticipated to fulfill the company is liable.

Kumar called the accounting aggressive. The contract nature of the business means that income does not come in steadily but in lumps.  The contracts can be multi-month and multi-year. There is a temptation to try to smooth revenue by booking work that may have been done but not paid for. With the IFRS 15 regulation coming in Kumar believes the company will be forced to re-state some of its revenue.

With short positions, Kuvari pay great attention to working capital and particularly receivables – how quickly once you’ve invoiced your customer can you collect cash? Kumar believes that Kier’s customers are slow to acknowledge the work that has been done and slower to pay up. He believes that Kier have been booking income before customers have acknowledged work has been done.

There is a lack of cash generation in the business. According to their accounts, Kier generated £95m in cash over the last five years. Kumar believes that they have overstated that cash. Kier had to restate their full year 2017 FCF from over £100m to -£56m after pressure from regulators.

The most worrying aspect of Kier’s business is the high leverage. Kuvari estimate debt could be as high as 6.8 times, taking them well into distressed territory. Kier owns the equivalent of 68% of the equity in JVs. Kumar believes that the JV’s are being used to hide the leverage. The debt is not being consolidated. Kier also calculates leverage at a low point during the financial year and does not average it which would lead to a higher figure.

Be sure to check out the rest of the presentations from the Sohn London investment conference.

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