FW THORPE: Dutch Profit Up 15% And Improved Management Outlook Support ‘Resilient’ H1 Results

23 March 2021
By Maynard Paton

Results summary for FW Thorpe (TFW):

  • Resilient” figures that showed both profit and dividend up 2% despite the pandemic, Brexit and a factory fire.
  • Management’s previously gloomy tone has improved and the second half is now expected to witness a “steady” performance.
  • Expectations seem pinned on TFW’s Dutch divisions, where profit gained a remarkable 15% and progress generally within the group has been positive.
  • The cash hoard improved further to a record £65m, but the group margin still languishes below the healthy 18%-plus level of the past.
  • A P/E of 22-29 feels generous, although might reflect TFW’s operational reliability, opportunities for market-share gains and/or potential growth beyond lighting systems. I continue to hold.


Event: Interim results for the six months to 31 December 2020 published 18 March 2021

Shares in issue: 116,551,808
Market capitalisation: £382m

Disclosure: Maynard owns shares in FW Thorpe. This blog post contains SharePad affiliate links.

Why I own TFW

  • Manufactures commercial lighting systems with a long-established reputation for high product quality, leading technical innovation and first-class customer service.
  • Board led by a veteran executive and assisted by family non-execs who steward a 50%-plus/£191m-plus shareholding.
  • Conservative accounts showcase enormous cash reserves, consistent working-capital management and illustrious dividend.

Further reading: My TFW Buy report | All my TFW posts | TFW website

Results summary

Revenue, profit and dividend

  • This H1 performance was very acceptable given the pandemic disruption.
  • The statement’s highlight was the management outlook, which has improved notably since the preceding FY 2020 update.
  • September’s annual results had carried this gloomy warning:  

It seems inevitable, however, that there will be a global recession, and that the UK, against a backdrop of Brexit uncertainly and the intense lockdown enforced by the Government, could be affected worse than many countries.

It is difficult to predict anything other than a downturn in orders at the end of the 2020 calendar year.

We plan for the future carefully, but at this present time we remain cautious about the Group’s second-half performance.

  • The chairman then turned optimistic for this H1: 

Supported by the Group’s healthy order book, I foresee a steady second-half performance better than expected at the start of the pandemic.”

  • During this H1, revenue fell 2% while profit gained 2% — a performance TFW described as “resilient“. (The comparable half-year was not influenced by the pandemic.)
  • Non-Covid disruptions to this H1 included Brexit “presenting some barriers to export sales” and a fire at the primary manufacturing facility within the Netherlands.
GroupH1 2019H2 2019H1 2020H2 2020H1 2021
Revenue (£k)52,66957,97457,41255,93056,374
Operating profit (£k)7,01910,6307,4898,8437,653
  • The H1 dividend was raised 2% to match the rate of payout uplifts witnessed during the last two years.
  • The dividend lift should extend TFW’s run of consecutive annual payout improvements to 19 years:
Source: SharePad

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  • TFW’s largest division — Thorlux — represents approximately 60% of the group and manufactures a range of commercial lighting equipment:
  • Thorlux reported revenue up 3% and profit up 2% for this H1 to underpin the wider company performance:
ThorluxH1 2019H2 2019H1 2020H2 2020H1 2021
Revenue (£k)28,44233,86232,36333,25233,470
Operating profit (£k)4,6596,9194,8395,3114,918
  • TFW did not provide any narrative to Thorlux’s H1 performance.
  • But the 2020 annual report (point 6) did reveal the division last year enjoyed:
    • Good trading within healthcare and rail markets;
    • SmartScan revenue climbing 18%;
    • Improved overseas sales, particularly in Germany and Ireland, and;
    • The appointment of a new managing director.  
  • Of course these benefits must have been offset by various weaknesses to have left Thorlux’s revenue up just 3% during this H1. 
  • TFW also said Thorlux’s performance had been supported by “some large project orders“. Such large orders could mean Thorlux’s sales have become ‘lumpy’ and perhaps more unpredictable.

Netherlands and Other

  • TFW’s Dutch businesses — Lightronics and Famostar — represent approximately a quarter of the group, while a handful of ‘Other’ UK operations represent approximately an eighth.
  • These non-Thorlux subsidiaries collectively produced a mixed performance, with revenue down 9% but profit up 3%:
Non-ThorluxH1 2019H2 2019H1 2020H2 2020H1 2021
Revenue (£k)24,22724,11225,04922,67822,904
Operating profit (£k)2,3603,7112,6503,5322,735
  • The best performer appeared to be Famostar, given Dutch profit improved 15%…
  • …and the aforementioned fire halted manufacturing at Lightronics for a few weeks. 
  • TFW did not explain why Famostar’s emergency exit lighting (apparently) remained so popular during the six months. 
  • I am surprised a Dutch managing director has not been appointed to the main board (point 14):
  • The main board presently includes the managing director of the Philip Payne subsidiary, which has revenue of less than £3m. Dutch sales by comparison run at £31m.
  • A Dutch board appointment might be able to assist Thorlux’s sales within the Netherlands, which remain very low (point 9).
  • The Dutch businesses seem to have flourished within TFW.
  • Since then, with GBP:EUR at the average 1.125 seen during 2020:
    • Total Dutch revenue has climbed from €22m to €35m, and;
    • Total Dutch profit has climbed from €1.6m to €4.6m.
  • TFW’s Other divisions predictably suffered a difficult H1, with their aggregate profit diving 28% to less than £700k.
  • The Other performance was no doubt influenced by the Portland subsidiary, which manufactures lights for shops and pubs. 
  • The 2020 annual report (point 7) admitted Portland had lost money during the initial lockdown and had been “in steady decline for a number of years“.

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  • TFW has submitted a £3.9m insurance claim following the Lightronics fire:
  • The cash flow statement contained entries relating to the incident:
  • Assets with a £3.9m book value were written off, while the creation of a £3.2m “reimbursement receivable” explains the receivables cash movement.
  • Assuming the insurer pays the full £3.9m claim, the net effect on earnings from the fire ought to be zero — although earnings will not be compensated from the ‘consequential loss’ to Lightronics’ sales.  
  • TFW’s cash-flush balance sheet allowed the group to handle the fire without any knock-on financial implications:
  • Cash and term deposits ended the half at a record £65m. Other assets include investment property of £2m, loan notes of close to £2m plus an equity portfolio and associate investment of more than £4m.
  • Conventional debt remains at zero. 
  • Free cash flow of £5.9m plus £1.3m from loan-note/option proceeds funded the £4.9m FY 2020 final dividend and left £2.1m to be added to the cash reserve after currency movements. 
  • Note the 2020 annual report (point 34) reveals almost £16m is earmarked as deferred considerations for the former owners of Lightronics and Famostar:
  • These deferred considerations are due to be paid on or before 30 June 2021.
  • Cash plus the various investments less the deferred considerations come to £57m or 49p per share.
  • TFW’s healthy asset position must have reassured customers and suppliers that, during the pandemic, orders would still be delivered, servicing would still be completed and bills would still be paid.
  • Perhaps that is why TFW could refer to a “strong order performance” for this H1 and claim a “better than expected” start to the second half.
  • The £57m net cash and investments are equivalent to more than four times trailing reported earnings and nearly nine times the trailing dividend.
  • The 2020 annual report (point 2) stated “customers come to us for peace of mind“. Maybe the cash hoard is to give shareholders similar “peace of mind“.
  • Stock levels at £20.7m were the lowest since FY 2016:
  • TFW typically carries stock worth approximately 20% of revenue, but this H1 finished with stock at 18% of revenue — the lowest proportion for at least ten years. 
  • Whether the reduced stock position reflects a timing issue, greater operational efficiency or something else was not explained.
  • TFW’s stock, trade debtors and trade creditors as percentages of revenue have been remarkably consistent over time:
Source: SharePad
  • TFW’s operating margin remains reasonable but some way below the levels of yesteryear.
  • The group margin for this H1 was 14%, with Thorlux at 15%, the Netherlands at 11% and Other at 9%.
  • The group margin during FY 2018 was 18% with Thorlux that year at 21%:
Source: SharePad
  • TFW has in the past cited larger projects for the lower margin. Other explanations (aside from the pandemic and Brexit) may include:

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  • TFW’s positive outlook could mean the upcoming H2 2021 performance exceeds the comparable H2 2020 performance.
  • H2 2020 covered January to June 2020 and therefore included the initial lockdown period from March 2020.
  • Assuming a repeat of the pandemic-affected H2 2020 for H2 2021 gives a £16.5m operating profit for FY 2021.
  • But a repeat of the pandemic-free H2 2019 for H2 2021 would instead give an £18.3m operating profit for FY 2021.
  • Those projections translate into earnings of 11.5p and 12.7p per share after standard 19% UK tax.
  • Subtract the 49p per share net cash and investments from the 328p share price, and the underlying P/E might be 22 or 24.
  • The P/Es then rise to 26 and 29 if the cash and investments are in fact essential to the business and not really ‘surplus to requirements’.
  • The 22-29x rating appears generous given TFW’s modest progress during recent years.
  • Mind you, investors may be willing to apply a premium multiple because of TFW’s:
    • Operational resilience displayed during the pandemic;
    • Potential to capture market share as competitors “struggle to recover as economies restart” (point 1), and/or;
    • Opportunities beyond lighting systems through the fast-growing SmartScan product.
  • The 5.69p per share trailing dividend meanwhile provides a modest 1.7% income. 

Maynard Paton

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