Brian Baldwin (Trian) Long Ferguson: Sohn London Conference ~ market folly

Monday, December 9, 2019

Brian Baldwin (Trian) Long Ferguson: Sohn London Conference

We're posting up notes from the Sohn London investment conference.  Next up is Brian Baldwin of Trian Fund Management who presented a long of Ferguson (LON: FERG).

Brian Baldwin's Sohn London Conference Presentation

Trian disclosed a 5.2% stake in Ferguson in June 2019. It’s an activist investment and Trian has been in discussions with the board and management. Trian is the largest shareholder.

Ferguson’s main business is selling parts for plumbing and heating (80% of profits). They also sell waterworks and fire protection products (20% of profits). They have 1700 branches and 11 distribution centres in the US.

Plumbing products distribution is an attractive business in the US. Trian likes businesses that provide products at a fair price to their customers. Ferguson’s products cost much less than the labour costs to install them. Eighty percent of sales are done through their branches. Ferguson has the scale to get good prices from suppliers. Its scale also allows it to provide a wide range of products (100,000SKUs) to meet plumbers’ need.

Ferguson has used this scale to take 3-4 percentage points of market share per year over the last nine years. Revenue has been growing at over 9% CAGR for the last five years. EBIT at 11% CAGR over the same period. It is the market leader with 20% market share. There is still room for growth.

Ferguson announced that the remaining part of the UK business, Wolseley, would be divested just weeks after Trian disclosed their stake. At the same time, the CEO was replaced by the head of the US business, Kevin Murphy.

While the US business is a leader in a fragmented market the UK business operates in a less attractive consolidated market with several large players. Once Wolseley has been sold off, Ferguson will be a completely US business.

Ferguson’s main listing is on the London Stock Exchange. The company is not well known by US investors and is under-owned by US institutions. Trian are pressing for a listing on the NASDAQ.  European analysts misunderstand Ferguson because they focus too much on the UK operations.

Ferguson should be compared to other specialty distributors in the US. If Ferguson was listed in the US and traded in line with other specialty distributors its shares that sell for £68 today could be worth £105.

Be sure to check out the rest of the presentations from Sohn London conference 2019.

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