A couple of copies of the Investors Intelligence have come to our attention. In them, financial analyst Aubrey Brocklebank entertains doubts about the viability of Dignity plc.
He expresses himself very technically, so some of his argument and most of the graphs go somewhat over the heads of Team GFG. We’d be interested to know what they say to you.
Here are extracts from Brocklebank:
The bull-case on Dignity is very simple. It is a very safe, stable, and predictable business. People will keep on dying, despite any recession, and they will need to be buried or cremated. Dignity is also a very cash generative business and that has been exploited to use leverage to generate significant returns for shareholders.
It is a very simple and convincing argument, and it is one that has won over many institutional holders.
This argument is however seriously flawed.
The number of funerals or cremations per unit is dropping (as expected) though the only means that Dignity have been able to use to increase revenues is by price increases and acquisitions.
The cost of a basic funeral has risen 6.2% per annum since 2004. However it is the cost of burials, up 9.9%, that has caused much of this increase. Thus the 5.7% increase in prices posted by Dignity is above market average once one has stripped away the increased cost of burial.
This gives Dignity very little room to increase prices and remain competitive with the competition. It is also possible given the scale of Dignity’s price in comparison with the competition that prices could soon come down. This may not necessarily be due to like-for-like prices having to be reduced but customers opting for less expensive offerings … By cutting the amount spent per funeral Dignity could suffer a significant fall in earnings.
Whilst it may take some bravery to short this stock the low volatility of the share price, the low growth estimates, and the low implied returns, do mean that there is very little upside to Dignity even if all goes well for them, and they certainly lack the safety that the story would suggest!
Concerning Dignity’s acquisition of Yew Holdings at the beginning of the year, Brocklebank observes:
It is curious that the average price per funeral charged by Yew is £1565 compared to Dignity’s £2,350 when Yew have an EBITDA margin of 46% comparative to Dignity’s 34.7%. Thus their margins can only be held up by sales volumes. Should Dignity raise prices and find a significant fall in volume then they could see a significant drop in EBITDA.
If Dignity are not very careful with their handling of this acquisition it is quite possible that this could be the straw that breaks the proverbial back.