HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries ($HQS)

HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries, Inc. (HQS) is a producer of tilapia and nutraceuticals operating in the People’s Republic of China (Hainan Province) and selling predominately to customers in North America, Europe and Asia. HQS is trading at a P/E of <7x for a market capitalization of approximately $82m despite having NCAV of $110m ($100m adjusted for A/R – see below point 3). The company has been growing revenues every year, even throughout the recession. With no debt, positive (and greatly increasing) cash flow from operations, and stable revenues, this company looks like a bargain, so I decided to assess its Tangible Asset Reproduction Value and Earnings Power Value.

For Tangible Asset Reproduction Value, I eliminated “Intangible Assets”, included an estimate of the Present Value of Operating Leases, reduced Accounts Receivable by 20% (see below, point 3), and added an asset equal to 2x the 3-year average marketing & advertising expense (in line with Bruce Greenwald’s approach in Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond). The resulting value per share is $6.15, a 33% increase over today’s price.

For Earnings Power Value, I used a five year average (though I generally like to use a 10 year average, the company had significant changes in 2004 with respect to the acquisition of Jiahua Marine) of the various operating expenses as a percent of revenue. Surprisingly, HQS has had extremely stable COGS as a percent of revenue (Standard Deviation of just 1.8%) and fair stability amongst its other operating expenses, indicating a fairly variable cost structure. Using a figure less than last year’s revenue and a 12% discount rate for the perpetuity calculations, I came up with a value per share of $7.77, a 69% increase over today’s price.

On both accounts, I have found the company to be undervalued.

A potential catalyst event exists in the near term, as management is committed to spinning off its Jiahua Marine division (which produces healthcare and nutraceutical products) into another company with the goal of the floating up to 35% of the new company’s shares on a public market in Hong Kong. Management believes that the separation of the divisions will allow investors in the new company to assess Jiahua independently of HQS’ seafood division, which will then create a datapoint for valuing the 65% still held by HQS. Separation of the two divisions will, in short, create clarity for the market.

There are a few issues that value investors won’t like about this company:

  1. There is a moderate concentration of sales in that the top five customers account for slightly over 40% of revenues. As detailed in past posts, value investors like a large number of diverse customers, minimizing the likelihood of a single event causing a large amount of revenue to disappear. I don’t find this level to be as worrisome as many of the companies I have looked at, though I would prefer to see this number decline over the coming years as the company continues to grow internationally (in 2005, the top five customers accounted for 62% of revenues, so there is a positive trend).
  2. Management holds 90% of the voting power of the company, despite only owning 22.5% of the economic value of the company. This creates perverse incentives and significant corporate governance issues. If management wishes to unlock value, this seems like the easiest place to do so!
  3. The company’s Accounts Receivable balance has grown substantially in recent quarters, leading some to dismiss the company as a value opportunity. With a few more months’ worth of information available regarding HQS, we can now see that the Accounts Receivable increase, though alarming, was confined to the two quarters comprising the latter half of 2009. So far, 2010 has shown the company reducing its Accounts Receivable.  When valuing the company’s assets above, I eliminated 20% of the the Accounts Receivable balance (even though the reported amount is Net of allowance for doubtful accounts!) just to be safe.

Talk to Frank about HQ Maritime Industries

Author Disclosure: At publication, the author DOES hold securities of the HQS.

  • shlomi ardan

    Hi frank-
    Is there anything about this company that gives it any competetive advantgage over others?
    Why would people want to get their tilapia from the other side of the world?

    also, could you briefly explayin what the company’s products are? frozen fish? fish meals?

    • Frank Voisin

      Hi Shlomi

      You’ll need to acquaint yourself with the company’s products by visiting their website and reviewing their SEC filings. As to competitive advantage, I am always hesitant to say that one exists, but I think that it helps in their case to be vertically integrated with retail stores in China. Also, their branding helps in the United States, but I am not sure whether that would qualify as an enduring competitive advantage (I doubt it).

      Frank

  • shlomi ardan

    thx for your honest opinion.
    another topic I would like to raise-
    the company is chinese, and I’ve heard
    several times of false filings and reporting
    profits that never happened. Did you consider this possibility?
    It’s surprisingly common in china..

  • Frank Voisin

    Hi Shlomi

    That is definitely a consideration, but I believe that given the company’s long history, US-based management, connections with US retailers, and the fact that the CEO, Norbert Sporns, seems to be at every industry event and has been interviewed in dozens of magazines, this is less likely to be a scam. Of course it is still a possibility, but I am less worried about this company than other Chinese companies where there doesn’t appear to be any actual operations, or marketing of operations, or involvement beyond “here’s our financials, so give us more money!”

    Also, I am not sure how common it actually is in China. It could be that there have simply been a few high profile cases that make it appear to be more prevalent than it is. I would be interested to see some research on the subject. The SEC is now investigating Chinese companies that have gone public in the US via reverse mergers, so perhaps we’ll see something come from that.

    Take care,

    Frank

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  • Eric

    Frank – There is an issue with their auditor. HQS says it has a lot of cash on its BS but their auditor is a small Canadian firm that had a warning a couple of years ago from the Canadian association of auditors/CPAs (I can’t remember their exact name) because they has poor review processes. So, my worry is that the cash in the bank that is reported might be overstated… The next question is by how much? And there is no good way to know…
    Also, I don’t think it’s a scam but I think they are not that good operationally. From my sources, I know they tend to over-promise and under-deliver.
    This is sad because it’s a business that has a huge potential and – if the disclosed numbers are correct – it’s incredibly cheap. But you can’t fight stupidity of management.
    I wonder if the delay in producing the latest earnings reports is not due to a problem with cash or accounts receivable.
    Eric

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