Tianmei Beverage Group Corporation Limited is a Chinese company based in Guangzhou with two arms to the business. The first is as a distributor and promoter of packaged food products, placing different suppliers’ goods at convenience stores and supermarkets. The second is a bottled water company that sells water produced by a Chinese water processing plant they have a contract with. They are using the Prospectus to raise 10 million dollars, selling 25% of the company in the process. The money will be used to buy the water bottling plant they currently source their water from and to start importing Australian food products to China and promoting it at their contracted stores.
From a pure valuation perspective, Tianmei China is a fantastic deal. According to the Prospectus they made a profit of over 4.3 million dollars in the first half of 2016, and the IPO values the company at 34 million, meaning the Price to Earnings (P/E) ratio is well under five if you annualised those earnings. On top of this, both arms of the business are in massive growth areas: The bottled water market in China has seen double digit annual growth due to pollution concerns and the growth in demand for Australian food and health products in China has been astronomical. You can see this in the impressive premiums that the market places on any Australian company that is exposed to Chinese consumers: Bellamy’s was trading at a P/E of 40 a little while ago, and even after sacking their CEO and concerns about their accounting, the share price has only shrunk to a P/E of 10. The A2 Milk company is trading at a massive P/E ratio of 68 and Blackmores is trading at a P/E of 20 largely thanks to growth potential in China.
It’s basically impossible to come up with a valuation that isn’t higher than Tianmei’s listing price using a discounted cash flow analysis. Even if you put a ridiculously high discount rate of 20% and assume a conservative growth rate of 6% for the next 8 years before levelling off to 1%, you still end up with a company value of over $40 million. The way I see it then, if you are evaluating this stock, investigating the exact growth rate of the bottled water market or Chinese supermarket conditions is a waste of time, as whatever you come up with is going to show the stock is a good buy. Instead, the simple question for any potential investor is can we trust this company? As a relatively unknown company operating in a country that doesn’t exactly have a spotless reputation for good corporate governance, it is hard not to be suspicious. The story they are selling through their accounts is one that anyone would want to invest in. The question is, is this story true?
According to John Hempton, a role model of mine and someone who inspired me to start this blog, the best way to find out if a company is dodgy is to look at the history of the key management personnel. Hempton’s hedge fund Bronte Capital does just that, following people who they believe have been involved with companies that were fraudulent for potential targets to short sell.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find nearly any English information on most of the key people in the company and I don’t speak Mandarin, so the only person I can really look into is the chairman, an Australian guy called Tony Sherlock. Tony Sherlock has been around for a long time in the M & A and finance world. He was the chairman of Australian Wool Corporation, worked at PWC in the risk division for ten years and co-founded Bennelong capital, a boutique corporate advisory firm. Judging by his Linkedin profile he looks like he is in his late sixties at the youngest, as he finished a Bachelor of Economics in 1969. Would a guy nearing the end of a successful career working risk his reputation promoting a company that wasn’t above board? It seems unlikely. He’s built up a solid reputation for himself over the years and it would be strange for him to risk it that late in his career. Of course nothing is certain, and it’s possible he’s got some secret gambling condition that makes him desperate for cash or simply doesn’t know that the company is fraudulent, but overall it seems like a positive sign that he is the Chairman.
One of the initial things that made me suspicious of Tianmei is its age, as according to the prospectus the company only started in 2013. Trying to unpick the exact history of Tianmei China is a painstaking undertaking, as there are a ridiculous amount of holding companies that have been created along with business name changes. As far as I can understand it though, it looks like the Tianmei business was created in 2013 by Guangdong Gewang, a Guangzhou based business started in 2010 that sells supplements of selenium, a chemical element that Guangdong Gewang claim is vital to human health. While I was initially suspicious of a company selling a supplement that I’d never heard of, after doing some research it actually looks legitimate. Although selenium deficiency is very rare in the West, apparently it is a problem in some parts of China due to crops being grown in selenium deficient soil. During a restructure in 2015 Guangdong Gewang separated the selenium supplement business from the water and FMCG businesses, and as a result created Tianmei. Interestingly enough, Guangdong Gewang is applying for admission to the Nasdaq for their own IPO currently. Guangdong Gewang still hold 22.5% of Tianmei through Biotechnlogy Holding Ltd, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. (Both these companies seem to have a real love of the British Virgin Islands, Tianmei’s ownership also is funnelled through a British Virgin Islands company.) While the history isn’t exactly stable, there are no obvious red flags I could find to turn me off investing in Tianmei.
One of the things I like about this IPO is that the initial listing at least isn’t just a way for the owners to cash in. As a jaded, though still cautious believer in the theoretical benefits of capitalism, it’s nice to see an IPO doing what a stock market is meant to do; allocating capital to a business that wants to grow.
A strange thing about the ownership structure is that the equal largest shareholder with 22.5% ownership is a woman called Han Xu, an Executive Director who from her photo looks to be in her mid-twenties. How does someone who finished their bachelor’s degree in 2011 and a Masters of International Finance in 2013, afford 7.2 million dollars’ worth of shares in the company? Perhaps a more basic question is how can someone who left university three years ago and never studied law end up as the ‘legal expert’ and executive director of a soon to be publicly listed entity, when fully qualified lawyers of her age are still working 70 hour weeks as Junior Associates? The most obvious explanation would be she is the daughter of someone important. After doing some digging around I found that one of the co-founders of the original Selenium supplement company was a guy called Wei Xu. While I don’t know how common the Xu last name is in China, it seems reasonable to assume that they could be related.
Is this potential Nepotism enough to be a concern? I don’t really think so. While she might not be the most qualified person for the job, If anything it’s reassuring that the co-founders of the company are maintaining their holdings. The third largest shareholder of Tianmei is a guy called Mengdi Zhang, whose father Shili Zhang was another initial co-founder of the Selenium business according to Guangdong Gewang’s filings for their Nasdaq IPO.
Overall I think this looks to be a pretty good IPO. While of course there are always risks with investing in a company this young and especially one operating in a foreign country, the price is low enough to make it worthwhile. It seems the listing is about both raising capital as well as creating a link with Australia so they can start importing Australian foods, which perhaps explains why they have listed at such a low price; the benefits for them isn’t just the capital they intend to raise. If the market gains confidence that Tianmei is legitimate, the company could well double its market capitalization in the next 12 months and I will definitely be along for the ride.