Saturday 30 March 2024

First Quarter Portfolio Update: Purchase of Nanofilm and China Construction Bank, Sale of Few Companies

While Sea Group has run up in share prices, my holdings in Elite Commerical fell. So its both happiness and sadness. I have sold both of these companies and bought Nanofilm & China Construction Bank. A partial divestment was done for my long held Yangzijiang Financial to fund the nanofilm purchase because nanofilm seems to have better recovery prospects.

Nanofilm is a company that does coating using its unique technology and has factories across Asia with its largest factory in China. It is a proxy to the state of China's manufacturing and consumer activities. In my view, the lowest point in China's manufacturing has past and therefore, I have bought 27,000 shares in Nanofilm. 

China Construction Bank's (CCB) purchase is to maintain a good dividend yield and I do feel the bank's results is strong despite the real estate downturn. CCB has a large segment of its loan book portfolio in real estate and construction. 

Portfolio Valuation

Due to the surprise suspension of dividend by Keppacoak, my portfolio has taken a beating. However, I have not sold off any of my US REIT shares, reason being, I do feel we are at one the lowest end and therefore, holding it will be wiser.

Readers would notice my PRIME US Reit has increased by 30,000 shares. This was not due to a purchase but because these are bonus shares given by the company in its latest year end financial results at no cost.

Friday 29 March 2024

What's the Progress of Manulife US Asset Sales? Brookfield Sales Shows It Might not be Smooth Sailing

I am not vested in Manulife US REIT (MUST), but am following it because it reflects the state of the US Office market which affects my other 2 investments.

Recently, MUST insiders have been buying up shares which is good news. However, a recent news of Brookfield asset sale in Figueroa might dampen news, it does not seem like its good news in the progress of Tranche 1 asset sales for Figueroa.

BrookField Asset Sale

Just 1 block away from MUST's Figueroa property, Brookfield has sold off its 777 South Figueroa street at US$145 million and with 15 offers. The office tower was only 50% occupied and sold at 25% of its 2020's valuation. The good thing is MUST's Figueroa property is 81% occupied, so it is on a better footing. Hence in my view, it is possible for MUST to start selling it at 35% of its 2020 valuation of US$337.6 million. This means about US$118 million.

For MUST, it is a definite it cannot sell its property at say 25% of its 2020 valuation. This is due to the Decemeber EGM circular which was approved by shareholders in its recap plan.

The Dec 2023 Recap Plan

Shareholders of MUST approved the share sale for Tranche 1 assets at the following parameters:

Pre-approved MUST can only sell its Figueroa asset at the lowest price of US$106.2 million, if it happens. Right now, at its current year end valuation, it can only be sold at US$132 million. However, with the recent comparable sale of Brookfield's asset one block away, I will not be surprised a further downward valuation happens for MUST's Figueroa, this should bring it near to the floor price of US$106.2 million. My baseline valuation is US$118 million. To why I think the value of MUST's Figueroa value would fall, this is because BrookField's Figueroa has a larger floor area by 40% and is 1 year younger than MUST's. The saving grace for MUST is its higher occupancy rate. Nett nett, I do think MUST should be able to fetch about US$118 million based on sales comparable approach. However, given that Centrepoint is below the circular agreed sale, the sale of Tranche 1 office assets seems to be increasingly hard.

Secondly, its worth noting in the recent devaluation, Centrepoint's value is now lower than the pre-approved price to sell its Tranche 1 asset. While MUST can still sell, the lenders approval to sell at the lower price has to be sought. This hinders the target goal of raising US$328.7 million from sale proceeds. 

I am not surprised the sale of a few Tranche 2 assets may occur. The sale of US$230 million target is important as well because failure to meet it results in a higher interest rate levied by lenders. And while Centrepoint can be excluded, it makes the required sale execution to be close to perfect. Diablo is already at the bottom price range of the circular.

The above are my opinions.

Progress of MUST's Tranche 1 Sale?

I hope MUST brings good news that it has sold at least 1 of its Tranche 1 property during the AGM or release of its Q1 results. The progress of the sales has been rather quiet thus far. A sale at its current end 2023's value would bring good news.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Yangzijiang Financial Holdings 2023 Results Review

 Yangzijiang Financial Holdings (YZJFH) delivered a result which was within expectations.


  • Earnings per share of 5.5 cents
  • Dividends of 2.2 cents
  • Done slightly more than 10% of share buyback since spin off
Currently YZJFH trades at a share price of 32 cents or SGD$1.13 billion market cap.

$900 Million in Cash and Cash products in Singapore

One important point from the year end results is that YZJFH has transferred a significant amount of cash from China to Singapore. With the cash in Singapore, it can be easily verified and reduces the allegations that the cash items in its balance sheet is fake. 

The rest of its $340 million of Singapore funds are in investment funds, investments in other companies shares and funds. The total amount of funds in Singapore is now SGD$1.246 billion. This exceeds its current market cap. 

The market is currently valuing YZJFH at 10% discount to its Singapore assets and I find this rather undervalued. Currently, 80% of the market cap is in liquid cash in Singapore.

China Investments

Based on current market prices, the stock market is valuing its China investments at zero value. One concern is that the allowance YZJFH has set aside for its debt investments have risen from 8.8% to 13.3%. This means the company sees an elevated risk of getting all its money back from China companies it has lent to. In my view, the concern is valid. Given that YZJFH gets about 10% returns from its debt investments, this means the individuals it is lending to are not of blue chip status but of lower credit ratings. 

In China, the prime lending rate is 4.35% and the blue chip companies in China are borrowing at 4-5% interest. For YZJFH to be earning 10% interests (PRIME + 5.5%), this means its borrowers are not of strong credit profile. To worsen the situation, China is in a credit crisis. However, I do not think a zero value is fair value of its debt investments. Its parent company Yangzijiang Shipbuilding sold all its debts at 56% value of principal. To me, in a worst case scenario, the debt investments held by YZJFH is at 50% of its principal value. It currently holds SGD1.92 billion of debts and I think the fair value of this debt is SGD$0.96 billion.

In addition, the company has SGD$0.72 billion of cash and short term cash investments in China. In total, I do think its China investments carry a worth of at least SGD$1.68 billion. Netting off the 10% tax for transferring the cash from China to Singapore as dividend. The China portfolio should be worth SGD$1.4 billion.

Fair Value of YZJFH

I would say $1.246 billion of YZJFH assets are real because it has been shifted to Singapore. With potentially another SGD$1.4 billion from China and netting off its $0.25 billion in liablities, the company is worth SGD$2.4 billion. This places it at 68 SG cents fair value.

Thursday 22 February 2024

US Office Commercial REITs- PRIME Pulls Positive Surprise With Its Young Property Age.

The full year results for the 3 US Office REITs are out. Downward valuations, as expected were reported with varying magnitudes.

Below are their current financial health:


To me what came as a surprise is the CAPEX needs of KORE's property portfolio. KORE spends more CAPEX than the rest. This is due to KORE's portfolio being the oldest among the 3. While KORE claims the higher CAPEX is needed to retain tenants, the main (probable) reason is due to the need to refurbish its old buildings to match tenants needs.

As a result of the higher CAPEX needs as compared to PRIME US, KORE has decided to suspend dividends. PRIME US REIT on the other hand, due to its smaller CAPEX by virtue of having newer buildings, has slashed it to 10% payout ratio with a plan to delever wtih US$100 million. 

On the point on CAPEX, its interesting to note KORE puts in nearly twice the CAPEX expenses but still obtains the same ratio of "NPI to property revenue" or "Revenue to Valuation" as compared to PRIME. This clearly shows the main reason why KORE needs to pay so much for its CAPEX is because its properties are old and there is a need to spend more to maintain. This showed Keppel Capital had tried to fool public investors by IPO'ing older assets in a way to get rid of the looming cash needs then. Keppel seems to have pulled a fast one over Singapore investors.

PRIME- All eyes will be on debt Maturing on Jul 2024

PRIME carries a significant risk where a 600 million debt facility is due July 2024. This is a make or break segment, if it succeds, PRIME will have a very strong chance of an upside and rebound. A failure to renew and there will be a massive haircut to building valuation during the firesale. PRIME management has to present to the syndicate of bankers that its properties are of good balance sheet, the manager is committed to the REIT future and preferably the sale of 01 building should be done before this. 

ManuLife US REIT Has to Execute Well

MUST did a year-end valuation. With the revaluation, the expected sales from Tranche 1 assets are still within range of the announced sales proceed in their December circular for Tranche 1 sale.

However the resultant leverage places MUST very close to 50% (estimation is 49.7%). The sale to Diablo to me will be difficult because it is of a Class B asset (least desired) and it has not undergone refurbishment since its completion in the 1980s. Hence, there may not be many interested buyers. If the US Commercial office issue persists until 2025, MUST might need to sell off 01 additional building in Tranche 2 because the next revaluation in end 2024 would put it above 50% leverage again.

Sale of Buildings

In all likelihood, both PRIME and MUST could be selling buildings at the trough of the business cycle to delever to safety. It is a neccessary move but one that is forced due to the breach of leverage. 

Sunday 18 February 2024

Lesson from my US REIT Investing: Understanding CAPEX Requriments and Age Profile of Buildings

Investing in the US Office space taught me a lesson. Its not about the US real estate cycle but the need to understand the CAPEX requirement of the REITs and the building age profile. For these US office REITs, capital expenditure has to be spent to ensure the property is refreshed As a building ages, more capital expenditure is needed. And CAPEX is a cash expenditure.

It got me wondering why does Keppel Pacific Oak (KORE) require so much CAPEX as compared to Manulife US and PRIME US REITs. A further delve into the IPO prospectus reveals an area investors often not looked at.

KORE Building Age

 MUST Building Age

PRIME US Building Age

Different REIT, Different Age

If one looks at the age of the different buildings each REIT owns, one can notice KORE has a significant number of properties built in the early 80s, putting it as the oldest profile. This is followed by MUST and then PRIME US. For older buildings there is a need for more CAPEX to ensure its relevancy and for things to not fall into a state of disrepair. In fact, corresponding to the age profile, we can see the CAPEX spent by the 3 REITs follows closely to their age profile.

PRIME spends the least and that could be because its buildings are newer. 

How It Affects Us Investors?

For us investors, we have to know CAPEX is not added under the distributable income metrics. This means while the US REITs can give 100% of their income as dividends, they are adding more to their debt for the cash needs of CAPEX. In KORE's case, because its buildings are older, it has to increase its CAPEX, not just to attract tenants but to ensure their buildings do not go down. And the expense effects of CAPEX takes a delayed period of time and not one-off

Distributable Income is not a fair metric for us investors to guage. What we in fact need is to gauge the CAPEX requirements of each US Office REIT to know the sustainable dividend we can get. As shown in my previous article on KORE results, KORE's actual cash generation ability is only about 4.5 US cents and not 5.0 US cents due to the need for CAPEX.

Alibaba Quarterly Earnings: Matured Company and Reveal of Management Thinking in Buybacks

Alibaba latest quarterly results revealed how its largest 2 performing segment- local E commerce and cloud, have evolved into a mature state business. Revenue is growing in single digits which shows the difficulty of the company growing further. 

Cainaio is the only positive with a large growing in revenue and further steps to profitability.

My Thoughts

Alibaba China e commerce have cloud are still churning through with margin improvements being made. This has helped the company to report flattish profits. However, what is terrible was its digital commerce group, in particular South East Asia.

South East Asia is turning to be a financial black hole because Tiktokshop and Shopee are present and desperately fighting for market share. In my view, South East Asia is too small a market of 3 e commerce players to be earning billions. Previously Tokopedia, Shopee and Lazada were fighting. Only Shopee was profitable churning at an estimated profit level of US$1.2 billion per year (based on the 2 quarters it was profitable), while Lazada and Tokopedia were loss making and slowly making themselves to go to breakeven.

However, the surrender of Go-to and entry of Tiktokshop makes it worse. All are now engaged in a cut throat pricing war with Tiktok being supplemented by the tens of billions it earns from douyin and the brainwashing advertisement empire it has built. Douyin is immensely profitable and rivals Alibaba's e commerce profitability. Alibaba's Lazada has sought to efficienise by closing its highest loss making market of Vietnam. However, I feel this is too small. Lazada should layoff its entire Malaysia and Singapore staff to reap cost savings. As evident by the latest quarter, the losses are widening. Lazada is a black hole which seems to never break even; pherhaps Alibaba should learn to cut losses and close down more unprofitable operations or sell off to either Shopee or Tiktok. In my view, it will be a more accretivie move.

A full closure of Lazada could help Alibaba as a group improve its margins by 8%.This to me could be a good move for Alibaba investors. I am supportive of Lazada closing down more markets for the benefit of the parent company.

Management Talk- Too Slow a Buyback Pace

The transcript during Alibaba's analyst call was interesting. While Alibaba had announced a larger share buyback program, the US stock analyst were quick to pick up that the increase in buyback amount corresponded to a longer duration. Doing simple maths, Alibaba was not increasing the intensity of its buyback per quarter; there was no change. An analyst voiced this as a question.

CFO Toby Xu's reply shed a few insights. I quote verbatim: 

"And we can use it if we need it. You know, we can increase the leverage, you know, also to sort of get sufficient cash for us to do the share buyback. So, as I said in my script, you know, we're targeting to reduce -- to have a net reduction of share count at least 3% every year in the next three fiscal years." & 

"And if -- so combined with the buyback, accretion, and the dividend yield, you're looking at, you know, about 4.4%, 4.5%, which is actually quite close to the 10-year Treasury yield. So, if you buy Alibaba stock, it's like you've bought a 10-year Treasury bond "

What I intrepret is we can expect earnings of the company to grow by about 5.3% due to declining no of shares (3.3%) and Alibaba's ability to improve its margins (2%). We should not expect much in revenue growth because most of Alibaba's key business has plateaued. In addition the company will continue to give about US$1 to US$2 in dividends, the company is not going to give more dividends. Alibaba will only continue to reduce the amount of shares by 3.3% per year.

The End of Alibaba as A Growth Stock

With a maturing state of itself and the cloud business being unable to grow further because the communist party favours Huawei as its cloud vendor and flag bearer and not Alibaba, it is very hard to peg Alibaba as a growth stock.

It is now a matured value play. However, on an operations front, Alibaba is improving and the share buybacks increases earnings organically. Moving forth, I anticipate Alibaba to improve earnings by 5% per year. It is not that impressive but good enough. 

I expect this year Alibaba will clock full year earnings of S$7 per ADR. This translates to a P/E  of 10.5 times. However, with given knowledge that Alibaba will be improving its earnings albeit gradually by 5%, Alibaba is a hold for now; however, I truly do not think bulls who are shouting for Alibaba US$300 will see it be a reality. Because a 40+ price earnings with 5% earnings growth does not justify valuations. If i were to value, a company who can grow its earnings by 5% deserves to be awarded a 20 times price earnings max, this means a fair price for Alibaba is US$140.

However, the closure of Lazada could be a positive move which adds US$20 to share prices and a one-off earnings boost of 8% (equivalent to 4 years of cost cutting)

Thursday 15 February 2024

Keppel Pacific Oak (KORE) Suspension of Dividend- A Too Cautious Move

In the latest financial result, KORE announced the surprise of suspension in dividends. The REIT elaborated it had considered other avenues such as fund raising and sale of building, but they were not beneficial to Unitholders. While the REIT is rational, I feel the REIT is being too cautious with its cashflow.

Debt Profile

KORE has US$78 mil of debt due in 4Q2024. With a cash generation ability of US$77 mil, expected CAPEX of US$30mil and cash balance of $43.7 mil, KORE is too cautious with expectations it is unable to refinance its tranche due in 4Q2024. With its cash flow and cash balance, KORE can repay in full without going to the bank.

KORE Cashflow is US$77 Mil per year

Effects of Full Repayment

Assuming a full repayment of US$70 mil at end 2024, KORE leverage will fall to 38.2% (barring further valuation fall). This I feel shows KORE is too cautious. It could have paid out a bit of dividend and maintain leverage at 41.0%, refinance 50% of the debt due in end 2024, it will still be below the 45% leverage ratio it fears of breaching.

Net Property Income (NPI) has remained stable

KORE NPI has increased slightly and I forsee for 2024, it will remain stable with slight uptick. With a cash generation ability of US$77 million (before interest expense), the REIT will be stronger. I am biased because I own KORE but what I have described is based on empirical reporting of its financials. KORE has only about 27.5% of leases due until end 2025, hence I feel the risk of its financials deteriorating is rather low.

KORE is Going to be Low Levered 

If KORE keeps saving aside US$45 million per year; in 2.5 years, the REIT will set aside US$135 million. It has US$601.9 million of debt. This means in 2.5 years; it will be able to repay 22% of its debt without refinancing. Assuming property and asset base valuation of US$1,350 million with little revaluation and debt position of US$466 million, KORE will be 34.5% levered at end 2025. This makes it one of the lowest levered REIT in the SGX REIT space.

What I Feel Will Happen

Again my biased view, I feel KORE will resume dividends from the start of 2025. The chief reason is that its leverage will be far from 45%. KORE is being very cautious to stop dividends until end 2025. Based on its current trajectory, KORE has provisioned for a further 20% drop in real estate commercial value. If Manulife US REIT CEO and PRIME CEO views are considered with both saying we are at the bottom of the cycle, KORE is being too cautious.

Amount of Reinstated Dividends

This is where I feel KORE must be careful. Based on its cashflow, it is apparent KORE is only able to distribute about US$40 million in dividend to unitholders. It must set aside CAPEX to ensure its buildings are in good conditions. Even if finance expenses are lower due to dropping interest rates, US$50 million should be the maximum sustainable level. This translates to about US$4.5 cents in dividends per year.

With the above overview, I feel KORE is a 9-10% dividend yielder if it executes well. From the above empirical observation of its financials, there is a low probability KORE needs equity fund raising or sale of building. With good execution and barring a sudden deterioration of market valuations, KORE should be able to return 4.5 US cents annually to unitholders post 2025 or even in 2024. A fair value of 45 US cents value is where KORE should be.

KORE is too cautious in how it is controlling its cash. It could continue to pay a small amount of dividend. With what it is doing, it will generate US$40 million in cash annually which it is keeping for rainy days. KORE is too pessimistic, and I hope when the storm clears, KORE does not use the spare cash to lever up by buying new buildings. It is a dumb move to buy new buildings at low cap rates due to an upturn. 


Thursday 25 January 2024

Prepare for a 14% valuation drop in PRIME US and a lower drop in Keppel Pacific Oak

Manulife US REIT has announced its year end valuation and it did not look pretty. For year 2023, Manulife US REIT reported a 22% drop in valuation, primarily due to increase in discount rate and cap rate assumption used.

How about PRIME US, Keppacoak REIT?

Cap Rate assumption, discount rate and higher leasing cost will definitely affect the 2 REITs. PRIME US REIT will be affected more due to its loss of tenants especially for One Washingtonian Centre. For PRIME US REIT, I am looking at a decline of valuation of 14% while for Keppacoak, it should be an approx decline of 10%.


Keppacoak REIT should remain safe, standing at 43-44% leverage ratio. But for PRIME US REIT, it is different.

PRIME US REIT Difficulty

I expect PRIME US to slightly breach the 50% leverage ratio and along with it a few convenants. In my view, PRIME US has to do a few things urgently to return to below 50% leverage:

Firstly, reduce the dividend payout ratio from 100% to 90%. This should help the REIT reduce its leverage by 0.3 percentage point per year. Secondly, PRIME should evaluate if it can sell 1 building to lower its leverage. Thirdly, equity raising should be on the card if the second step fails because PRIME needs to enter the negotiating table with lenders on a stronger financial footing. In my view, a 1 to 5 rights may happen to recap the REIT with about US$35 million with underwriting taken by the REIT manager.

What I Hope PRIME US REIT Manager will Do

Out of goodwill, PRIME US REIT manager should consider the witholding of its cash base fees and use it as proceeds to fund the probable right raising or if there is no rights, give a 1 year grace period interest free.

A sponsor led loan should not be decided because such a measure should only be considered out of desperation, unless the sponsor is willing to backstop with a loan that is SOFR + 2.0%; otherwise, it is a no-go/ investor unfriendly action for a loan rate that is higher than SOFR + 2.0%.

Has China Stocks Bottomed?

 Measures have been announced that China has decided to reduce its reserve ratio rate to boost liquidity of its monetary system

Is it Over?

Optimism has come in with a slight boost in share prices of Chinese companies. However, I would caveat against being too optimistic if it is a turnaround

Poor Government and Civil Service Messaging

One would remember back in Oct 2022 after President Xi's cabinet reshuffle investors were spooked due to the installing of his yes men; the president and cabinet shortly came out to reassure investors that business regulations will be lessened in an attempt to stabilise the market.

1 year on, the Chinese government and Civil service went on another wave of technology company reform and of course the worsening of the real estate market. We are now back to the lows of October 2022.

The Chinese Civil Service has been incoherent in the messaging it wishes to send to investors. The posturing is max with a calming message followed by a policy which further strangles companies. This puts investors on see-saw and have stayed away from the market. 

What is there for Now?

I do not know where it goes from here, but what I am pretty certain is that money is going to keep flowing out of the Chinese Capital markets, the poor messaging by the civil service which goes all the way up to the highest senior ministers is sending markets in jitter. The current turmoil caused by China is due to negative policies introducted to hurt business and the civil service trying to quell investor fears but its words are not matched by actions where policies occassionally crop up to hammer sentiments down.

Until the Chinese Civil service improves, I think the chinese capital market will continue to flounder. China continues to report positive GDP but I also caveat on believing the actual figures reported. Former President Richard Nixon has a quote of "Trust, but verify". This is entirely true for the current chinese communist regime while we can trust, our own verifications still shows how anti business China is. 

President Nixon faced the threat of communist powers during the cold war era, investors now face a similar communist threat in investing in China. It is indeed an era of cold war for China stocks which I do not think can be easily resolved until the communist become coherent and investor friendly in their policies.

China can keep injecting liquidity but the poor execution of its civil service and policies will continue to drive foreign capital out. If capital flight continues, it may signal the end of China as an economic no 2. The stock market will be stuck in a rut and has been down for 6 years. However, Japan has shown how a loss of confidence led to 2 decades of trough, China is not even halfway there

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Invest Overseas For Higher Yield and its REITs

This is a strategy I am executing so I am putting my actions where my mouth is.

Dividend Yield of Local REITs

Singapore REITs are currently valued at 4-8% dividend yields. It is indeed one of the highest in investment recent times due to the hike in interest rates. However, on the SGX, there are a group of overseas REITs which presumably have a stronger balance sheet and are near double digit yields. Just look at Keppel Pacificoak US REIT, Utd Hampshire REIT US, Elite UK, Cromwell Europe REIT. In terms of dividend yield, they are at an expected forward yield of 12.5%, 11%, 9.5%, 9% respectively. 

Stronger Balance Sheet and Lower Tenancy Risk

While they are in the weak commercial and retail spaces, their occupancy rate has not been that adversely affected. In addition, their leverage ratio are now far from MAS's regulatory ratio (even Suntec REIT at 7% yield is closer to breaching MAS's regulatory limit).

Earn 3-5% more Per Year, while taking on Exchange Rate Risk 

These REITs carry the risk of currency exchange because they are in USD, UK Pounds or Euro. No doubt the Sing Dollar has been appreciating but if we look over the long term, the Sing dollar has been appreciating at about 1.5% annually to these currencies (USD is only about 1%).

With the dividend rate differential so high as compared to our local REITs, I do feel these 4 reits makes sense enabling me to earn above average dividends.

I have been accumulating Elite Commercial REIT and soon, my entire portfolio will become a high dividend REIT yielder with the exception of Alibaba. Even my holdings in Ping An Insurance is granting about 8% yield which is triple that of Great Eastern Life. Ping An is much larger than Great Eastern and one of the important companies to China.

Sunday 21 January 2024

E-commerce War in South East Asia: Explaining Lazada's Action and the Future.

By now, investors would be aware there is intense competition in South East Asia's e commerce scene. Bytedance's Tiktok has entered since early 2023 and been utilising its US$10+ billion annual profits from China to subsidise the large losses incurred in South East Asia, the aim is simple to be the one of the de facto 2 e-commerce players (given South East Asia population and lesser spending power, it seems this region can only support 2 profitable players)

Shopee (Sea Group's e commerce arm) demonstrated how profitable e commerce could be when it posted 2 quarters amounting to an annual US$1 billion of annual EBITDA gains (or about US$500 million in annual net profits). Lazada and Tokopedia being the no 2 in each of their country was starting to turn EBITDA positive and would have turned profitable in a few years time.

Bytedance seeing the potential returns came in to fight for the top spot. This has resulted in a 3 corner war where the top 3 (Shopee, Lazada, Tiktok shop) are now selling below cost in order to kill each other. It is a war of attrition. Consumers gain because lots of incentives are now dished out. Tokopedia gave up and sold itself to Tiktok.

Why E Commerce is lucrative

E commerce profits on (i) the traditional format of users looking for products and (ii) the peddling style where products look for users. While (i) contributes to some amount of profits, (ii) is where money is made; products looking for users tend to be inferior in the hierarchy of needs and of the highest margins. Additionally, a few products are OEM goods which is slapped on with a brand and superior marketing (peddling the product to users), the branded good commands a larger margin compared to its OEM peer. Singapore's PRISM is one such product line which relies on OEM products and then slapping its brand and asking for 40% more to a comparable products. Due to its superior marketting, naive consumers in this region would pay close to 40% more.

In recent times, both E commerce platforms and Short form social media like tik tok helps in the marketing aspect of such products, they earn a cut from (ii) where they peddle goods to its user base. Live-streaming is another example. The China e commerce space is rift with such advertising to the extent that Douyin, Bytedance's Tiktok in China and its army of influencers helps Bytedance command close to US$10+ billion in profits selling "unneccessary" products to the China base.

Both Lazada and Shopee used the same method albeit a less intrusive by offering the goods to be the first few searches when being searched by consumers or placed in the front of the app home page. This is akin to being on the first floor of the shopping mall or similar to how Google and Apple charges websites to be the first few search results when we search on browsers. 

The Current No 2: Tokopedia and Lazada

Tokopedia was no 2 in Indonesia and close to becoming cashflow positive. This proves to show how only the top 2 e commerce platforms can be profitable and lucrative in South East Asia. 

However Tiktok shop entered and Tokopedia started to make large losses again. This resulted in Toko shutting down, selling their marketting channels and infrastructure to Bytedance Tiktok shop. Bytedance is now using this and their cash hoard from China to burn to become the no 1 in South East Asia with the aim of securing US$1-$2 billion in annual profits.

Lazada is still loss making in South East Asia but the no 2 in other countries. However, the amount of losses they have raked up is about US$1 billion a year so far. As the penetration of e commerce improves and efficiencies, the original intent was to continue improving until positive EBITDA is achieved. However, that ended when Bytedance entered disrupting the natural evolution.

Differing Strategy

Bytedance's Tiktok is addictive, it attracts users to be hooked to its short form video. With the addiction and attraction of eyes, it moves to monetise by peddling products to its users. The purchase of Tokopedia helps it to build its infrastructure of shopping channels. Bytedance is doing quick time by overhiring staff in order to set up quickly. It has cash to do this because Bytedance has a warchest in the US billions to support loss making in the short term.

The mass hiring by Bytedance is only a temporary move; many of its workers will be made redundant once it moves to the maturity stage. However, now it requires all the manpower to fight with Sea Group to take the no 1 spot. The current no 2 spot will only make a very small amount.

Sea Group's Shopee has responded in kind by slashing prices to negative margins and hired influencers to market more goods on its shopee platform. In the process, the e commerce losses amount to a US$1.5 billion of negative equity. Shopee has a US$7.5 billion in cash warchest and a cash generating sister in Garena which earns US$400 million in cash. In all likelihood, Shopee has a runway of 4 years to fight while Byedance's tiktok loses billions in cash each year in South East Asia.

Explaining Lazada Strategy

Lazada do not want to paratake in the cash burning war. Instead it is opting for optimisation to minimse cash losses. Its e commerce strategy continues to focus on mainly the traditional format of allowing users to search for products with a little of (ii). It is currently selective choosing which South East Asia countries it wants to be the no 2 and focusing its resources there. For other countries, it is shutting down its operations.

Beyond what Singaporeans are complaining about the job cuts here by Lazada, Lazada has made redundant its entire operations and staff in Vietnam. This is because it is a distant second. The next in line for Lazada could be the laying off is its entire staff in Indonesia because of how weak its position is there, as the no 3. This shows the reality that Lazada had previously overhired staff in its early years to prepare for war with Shopee at each South East Asia country. When the dust settled, cost optimisation had to take place, optimisation is done to turn profitable.

Lazada is likely to only concentrate its battle in 3 South East Asia countries and let Shopee and Tiktok/Tokopedia fight it out in the whole region in a loss making battle. In short, Shopee and Tiktok are fighting a war of attrition to be no 1 while Lazada has decided for cost optimisation, take the No 2 spot in selected countries (for the time being). I caveat I am not sure if Lazada will mount a challenge again when only 1 is left.

Prepare for Mass Layoffs in Sea Group and Bytedance in the Future

The pay for IT staff, live streamers and influencers are lucrative now for these 2 companies. In times of war, the demand for talents and mercenaries are high. Both Bytedance and Sea Group need to expend large amount of IT manpower and marketting staff in order to take the No 1 market leader position. This means paying over the top for IT resources and influencers.

This is evident in Singapore. However, eventually one of them (Bytedance or Sea) will wave the white flag on the e commerce front. When it is raised, a large number of layoffs will occur becaue it will mean the ending of operations in countries. The National Trade Union of Singapore's FDAWU has to be aware of this and should not complain when the time comes because it is the eventuality, either Singapore introduces a legislative framework to backstop redundancy exercises or shut up when redundancy happens. Union leaders have to start reading more and be learned about realities.

Both Sea Group and Bytedance are now burning cash to duke it out, the loser will go bankrupt and layoff its staff. South East Asia will never be able to support 3 e-commerce giants due to its population size and spending power. Only 2 will remain and the unfortunate third will have to massively downsize including those working in Singapore. Lazada is showing its intent to settle for the no 2 spot and securing it. Bytedance and Sea Group will either be the No 1 or the bankruptee because of their high fixed cost in fighting the war. The e commerce war will likely last for 4 more years and if it exceeds that point, Sea Group would likely go bankrupt or just focus on being Garena only.

Monday 1 January 2024

(What I think) 2024 Theme: Invest in Overseas REITs

Due to the interest rate differential between Singapore and the rest of the World, overseas REITs listed in the SGX are now valued at a much higher dividend yield than that of local REITs. To add to that, the Sing Dollar has appreciated to make the purchase of foreign assets palatable.

Stronger Balance Sheet Overseas REITs 

For many overseas REITs listed in the SGX, most are exposed to the commercial real estate which globally is experiencing a tenant recession/downsizing. However, 2 REITs (Keppacoak and Elite Commercial) are reporting strong tenancy that is above 90%. 

Elite Commercial REIT has just done a round of equity raising to strengthen its balance sheet. This has improved its financial standing when meeting creditors. Keppacoak, on its own, has a balance sheet that is lower leveraged and of a higher interest coverage than many Singapore local REITs. My view is that both REITs have a high percentage of survivial and are of the same level as the blue chip REITs.

In terms of dividend yield, Elite is yielding at 11% while Keppacoak is at 12.5%. These are of a much higher yield and worth the forex risk. Compare that against the local commercial REITs of 6-8% yield, that is a 5% yield differential to earn each year.

Sing Dollar Appreciation

The Sing Dollar has been appreciating against the USD and SGD. However, I feel the difference in yield for these less risky REITs are worth it. Granted the Sing Dollar may appreciate about 1% per year, but I am getting 5% more in dividends per year. This translates to the likelihood of a nett positive return.

Therefore, the theme for 2024 investment will be exchanging Sing Dollars into British Pounds or US dollars to buy these 2 REITs. What makes it even better is that the Sing Dollar has appreciated to an all time high which makes purchase of assets cheaper; same as how Singaporeans travelling to Malaysia and Japan have been shouting that food and items there are cheap. I would say even foreign investments are now cheap to the Singapore investors and it is time to use the strong Sing Dollar to buy.

Taking More Risk

There are riskier REITs such as PRIME US REIT which has a higher leverage close to MAS's regulatory limits. The yield of the REIT is at 20%, which is juicy. However, there is a high risk that the REIT will need to do an equity raising (similar to Elite Commercial) so as to be on a better financial standing when talking to lenders.