ARB Holdings (ARH) is my favorite boring wholesaler of cables. The business model is simple. They import and/or manufacture cables and lighting and then distribute these directly to construction companies, contractors and other operators in the construction industry. The barrier to entry is relatively high, as they have distribution licenses for certain products in the lighting division, have the land and real estate to keep bulk cables in stock, as well as relationships to source them economically at scale.
The share price, like everything else in the South African small cap market, has taking a pounding dropping from around R6.50 two years ago to R4.20 today. The market cap is R1.1bn, with the company ungeared and a net cash position of R148m.
When ARB acquired lighting company Eurolux, they issued a Put option tied the the ARB share price. As the value of the share price changes, the option’s value is adjusted on a mark-to-market basis and these fluctuations confuse earnings and make them difficult to compare. Ignoring the put option, operating profit for the 6 months is down 15% to R92m. But HEPS is only down 12.8%, as a result of share buybacks. This means that they earned 33c or 66c annualised, placing the company on an undemanding PE of 6.2.
The results were impacted by the electrical division, which is struggling with no new work from Eskom. This division will continue to struggle as the unbundling and squabbling over Eskom will likely take several years. However, the division continues to generate cash and whilst construction currently has a bad reputation, activity in the sector is ongoing. ACSA announced a large expansion to the OR Tambo International Airport, Balwin keeps churning out apartments, Vedanta is building Zinc mines at Black Mountain, The Leonardo is about to become the largest building in Africa, the Northern parts of Durban are being developed at a lighting pace and all this activity taking place in a depressed economy requires cables and lighting. Eskom, too, will race to keep existing infrastructure functional and government will cough up the cash, so cash flow is likely to continue in the short and medium term, with growth in the longer term.
The lighting division is growing earnings and will increasingly do so with the Radiant acquisition at an opportune time in a depressed market.
The company continues to generate substantial cash of around R150m per year. This is easily sufficient to cover both the normal and special dividends of R0.25 and R0.10 that have been paid in recent years. A continuation of this policy would put the company on an 8.5% dividend yield. I am of the view that they should maintain both dividend streams. In addition, at these depressed prices it will be pleasing if they continue to buy back shares. It may even be worthwhile to consider introducing some gearing into the company in order to buy back shares with a current cash yield that is significantly higher than the expected cost of debt.