New blog post:  Analysis of Benefit Systems S.A. (Market cap EUR 2.1bn)

26/05/2024

Business description

Founded in 2000 by the Canadian James van Bergh, who directly and indirectly is still its largest shareholder, Benefit Systems (www.benefitsystems.pl) is today the No 1 provider of non-payroll work benefits incl. discounts for fitness, culture, restaurants, health in CEE. At the end of March 2024, the company worked with >41,000 employers (2011: 2,850) in all its regional markets. The number of its primary product, the MultiSport card, equalled 1,996,600 (2011: 235,000), thereof 1,508,800 in Poland, 231,800 in the Czech Republic (BFT has been active there since 2010), 62,000 in Slovakia, 142,200 in Bulgaria (both since 2015), 44,600 in Croatia (since 2018) and 7,200 in Turkey (since 2021). In addition to its bonus card business, for the last few years Benefit Systems has also built a chain of own fitness centers (Q1/24: in total 255 centers, thereof 224 in Poland under 14 different brands e.g. Zdrofit, Good Luck and Fit Fabric as well as 31 abroad). According to management, it currently operates the largest such chain in Poland.

Benefit Systems’ business model is comparable to an insurance in the sense that its corporate clients (sometimes also their employees to 50%) pay the company a monthly flat fee for each bonus card and the company will only have costs if the employee uses the card. Employees gain access to >9,300 facilities within a single product and can use a wide range of services, including various online add-ons/courses, for a relatively small amount of money. When users want to try out a new place to work out, they do not have to worry about filling out paperwork on site – all they need to do is show their BFT bonus card with proof of identity or the BFT app. 

When it comes to employers, the bonus card makes them more attractive on the labour market, promotes employee retention and improves employee’ fitness and health, which can translate into lower costs. Moreover, Benefit Systems’ corporate clients receive one invoice rather than dozens from different facilities, which reduces their administrative work significantly.

Financials

Since 2011, when it was listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange at a price of PLN 107/share, Benefit Systems has increased its revenues and net income at a CAGR of 22.4% and 22.9% respectively. For 2023, the company paid a dividend of PLN 41/share (DYield = 1.3% at present), but between 2016 and 2022 it re-invested all its profits. In 2023, it generated a ROCE of 22.3% compared to 10.6% in 2022.

For the Jan-Mar 2024 period, Benefit Systems reported revenues of PLN 801.1m (+28.1%). While the number of bonus cards went up by 12.7% y-o-y, ARPU in all markets increased by low double-digit percentage points. The Polish business contributed 72.6% to total revenues and generated an EBIT margin of 17.7% (Q1/23: 11.6%). The international business (thereof Czech Republic: +14.1% y-o-y to PLN 124.3m, Bulgaria: +11.6% to PLN 53.2m) reported an EBIT margin of 11.6% (8.6%). With PLN -3.6m, Turkey was the only geographical market that reported an operating loss in Q1/24.

At 29.7% (Q1/23: 23.3%), BFT’s Q1/24 gross margin was strong. In Q1/24, the company’s EBIT increased to PLN 123m (+87.2% y-o-y, 15.4% margin vs. 10.5% in Q1/23, EBIT ex ESOP: PLN 130.6m) and net income to PLN 92.1m (+75.9%, 11.5% margin). Consequently, operating and free cash flow improved from PLN 177.1m in Q1/23 to PLN 244.8 and from PLN 137.5m to PLN 194.8m respectively. As of 31/03/2024, Benefit Systems’ net cash (excl. IFRS 16 leasing) amounted to PLN 505.6m compared to PLN 373.5m at the end of 2023 and PLN 7.8m as of 31 March 2022. 

Conclusion

We like Benefit Systems’ attractive and highly profitable business model, which given the strong competition for employees and the popularity of non-monetary employee’ benefits in CEE/SEE has excellent growth prospects. Given its long track record and clever strategy (-> combination of bonus cards and own fitness clubs), we believe that other players such as Medicover will not threaten the company’s market leadership in the foreseeable future. In our view, there is especially strong growth potential in Turkey, a country with 85m inhabitants, 9 cities with 1m+ inhabitants and a highly dispersed fitness market.

We believe that Benefit Systems is a great stock to hold for the long term. While in 2024E management guides for max. 230k new cards (150k in Poland, max. 80k on foreign markets), a high single-digit ARPU growth and a similar unadjusted EBIT margin y-o-y (without the costs of the employee incentive scheme that management estimates at PLN 68m), we see the possibility for an increase of the guidance especially in Q4/24E, which is typically the best period of the year for the company (>30% of its annual net profit).

Benefit Systems also has an attractive dividend policy. For the years 2023-2025, it foresees the payout of at least 60% of the consolidated net profit.

Regarding risks, we believe the main ones are: 1. The outbreak of another pandemic, 2. Overinvestment in new fitness centers (in 2024E, BFT plans to open 15 new centers in Poland and min. 20 abroad).

Blog post:  Updated analysis on XTPL S.A. (XTP PW, Market cap EUR 71.8m) 

20/05/2024

Recently, we had a call with XTPL’s management. We have once again confirmed our conviction that the company has chosen the right commercialisation strategy and the business is moving in the right direction.

In the US and Asia, XTPL has been able to hire experienced sales managers from its main competitor Optomec, which confirms the results of our research that the company’s technology is considered superior to all comparable international providers. In addition to its local sales teams, XTPL works with currently 12 distributors. So far, the company has sold its products to clients from 21 countries worldwide.

In terms of staff size, in 2023 XTPL increased its team by 25 people to 70. Since January 2024, it has hired 20 more employees, which are necessary for reducing production times and growing sales, but we believe will negatively affect profitability this year. Further, larger hirings are only planned in 2026E. Currently, XTPL employs 11 own sales & marketing staff. 

Regarding the sales pipeline and products, the most important area of activity is of course industrial implementation, which will allow XTPL to significantly ramp up its revenues and generate a high share of recurring revenues. According to the CEO, there are currently 20+ industrial projects in the company’s pipeline, of which 9 are at least in the 2nd evaluation phase (out of 5 in total), and 4 in the 4th stage. We believe that at one of XTPL’s industrial partners a machine that uses the company’s technology is already ready and undergoing final tests, which makes a first industrial implementation in 2024E likely.

When it comes to other products, apparently 80 Delta Printing Systems are currently in the sales pipeline and due to investments in 2023 the company has reduced their production time by half. Moreover, XTPL has extended its offer by gold nanoinks and plans to introduce copper-based ones soon. 

With a cash level of c. PLN 20m, we estimate XTPL’s current monthly cash burn at PLN 2-2.5m. In our view, additional funding – if at all necessary in the future – will be debt.

Below are our updated estimates for XTPL in 2024E-2026E. While our assumptions for 2025E-2026E remain unchanged, we now believe that growth this year will be weaker and the company will still not be at EBITDA break-even . We expect higher sales of Delta Printing Systems y-o-y, the majority of which will be generated in H2/24E. By 2026E, XTPL is supposed to sell up to 100 (2023: 3) industrial modules – the production of which is very scalable and will also be conducted by contract manufacturers, according to management – and max. 40 Delta Printing Systems. 50% of sales then should stem from industrial implementations. 

CCC S.A. (Market cap: PLN 6.06bn/EUR 1.41bn) – The revitalization of the Polish footwear powerhouse

24/04/2024

Business description

CCC S.A. was formally established in 1999 and has been listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange since 2004. With over 15,000 employees and operations in 23 countries, 90 e-commerce platforms, and 979 physical stores, the company is the leading footwear retailer in Central and Eastern Europe. Since its debut on the WSE, CCC has increased its revenues by 3296% (CAGR of 20.4%), reflecting the enormous growth that Poland has experienced in the last 20-30 years. CCC stores, with its own shoe brands and top global brands, can be found in almost every shopping center in Poland. Over the years, CCC has acquired many local brands that have become leading sellers in Poland, including Gino Rossi and Lasocki.

CCC’s largest shareholder is its founder, Mr. Dariusz Milek, one of Poland’s richest people, with a 33.33% stake. Many Polish funds have invested in CCC in the past, the largest being OFE Allianz Polska (a pension fund) with a 7.65% stake. Mr. Mi?ek returned to the position of CEO in 2023, having previously been Chairman of the Supervisory Board. The company’s shares can be traded on stock exchanges in Poland (Warsaw), the UK (London), and Germany (Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Berlin, Düsseldorf).

CCC Group’s business is divided into 5 main divisions: CCC (offline footwear retailer), eobuwie.pl (e-commerce footwear), Modivo (online fashion platform), HalfPrice (off-price stationary fashion stores), and DeeZee (fashion brand). Originally known as a footwear retailer, CCC Group aims to become the number one omnichannel fashion platform in the CEE region, and there are already signs of this, as recently it generated only 68.9% (-2.5% y-o-y) of total sales from footwear, while clothing already accounted for 16.5% (+3.7%).

In the last fiscal year ending February 2024, both footwear business units reported declines, while the offline/online fashion units HalfPrice and Modivo reported sales increases of 68.2% and 21.9%, respectively. In terms of profitability, the mainly offline CCC business segment reported the highest EBITDA margin of 17.3% (2022/23: 8.1%), while Modivo reported the lowest at -2.4% (+1.9%). Last year, the share of e-commerce fell to 46% (-2% y-o-y).

CCC’s management expects the rapid growth of its off-price stores under the HalfPrice brand to continue and that they will be the company’s main growth driver in the coming years.

Financials

Before the pandemic, the company experienced dynamic growth with a revenue CAGR of 21.9% (2004-2019 period). However, due to the global consumption slowdown and inflation, revenue growth slowed significantly (CAGR 15% for 2019-2023/24) in the last years. In 2023/24, CCC generated revenues of PLN 9.4bn (+3.5% y-o-y), EBITDA of PLN 778.4m (+46.6%, margin 8.2%, an improvement of 2.4% y-o-y), and a net loss of PLN -124.7m (2022/23: PLN -443.9m). The Group generated operating cash flow of PLN 820.9m (+51.8% y-o-y), free cash flow of PLN 495.8m (+479.2%), while net debt / EBITDA decreased to 2.35x (2022/23: 4x). CCC’s ROCE was 5.1% compared to Zalando’s 3.7%. Key factors contributing to improved profitability were the absence of foreign exchange losses (2022/23: PLN 60.7m), a lower number of write-offs on trade receivables (PLN -3.9m vs. PLN -44.7m in 2022/23), and financial income (PLN 124.1m vs. PLN 54m in 2022/23).

CCC S.A. Revenue, EBITDA margin and Net Income (2019-2023/24)*

*From 2020, the reporting period has started in February of the given year and has ended in January of the following year

  Net income/loss including non-controlling interests 

Source: CCC S.A., East Value Research GmbH

In 2023/24, CCC Group generated 54.4% (PLN 5.1bn) of its revenues in the Polish market. The largest foreign market was Romania (revenues of PLN 817.8m, +3.9% y-o-y, 8.7% of total revenues), while the fastest-growing one is Ukraine (PLN 187.9m, +587%). CCC had operated under a franchise model in Ukraine until 2023 but last year acquired a controlling stake (75.1%) in CCC Ukraine Sp. z o.o. and is now developing its own distribution chain. After stabilization in Ukraine, it is highly likely that CCC will achieve sales levels similar to those in Romania there. CCC is a recognizable brand within the CEE region, and recent results have demonstrated significant growth potential for CCC in the Ukraine.

In terms of dividends, before the pandemic CCC paid them for 11 consecutive years. The company’s current dividend policy foresees the payout of 33%-66% of consolidated net profit.

Summary & Conclusion 

In our view, CCC is a strong brand with a long and successful history and potential for further growth in the e-commerce segment. Despite being heavily indebted due to the pandemic, the company has swiftly reduced its debt to reasonable levels. We anticipate a further improvement in the EBITDA margin and expect double-digit revenue growth in 2024/25E. Favorable conditions boosting consumption in Poland, such as a positive real change in wages, suggest potential for CCC to enhance its financial performance for 2024E and beyond.

By the end of 2024E, the company plans to spin off its subsidiary Modivo S.A. (MODIVO and eobuwie.pl), which are responsible for its e-commerce business and accounted for 41.7% of the group’s total sales in 2023/24. The aim is to position it as a strong competitor to Germany’s Zalando. Modivo S.A., in which CCC holds a controlling 74.6% stake, was recently valued at PLN 4.9bn, with CCC’s stake valued at PLN 3.67bn (= 60.6% of its current market capitalisation). The Japanese Tech giant Softbank owns PLN 739.3m of Modivo’s convertible bonds with a duration until April 2026E and the right to convert to shares at a valuation of PLN 6bn.

Investors have taken note of CCC’s positive traction, with the stock gaining 43.9% YTD. With a consensus EV/EBITDA 2024/25E of 7.8x respectively compared to a 3y average of 14.9x (Source: marketscreener.com), we believe that CCC represents an attractive opportunity for investors seeking exposure to consumer stocks in CEE. In the long run, the company should also become a reliable dividend payer.

Author: Mateusz Pudlo 

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