Not-so-happy returns mark a tough year for WA stocks

18/07/2013 - 14:05

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Not-so-happy returns mark a tough year for WA stocks
Sirius Resources managing director Mark Bennett released an inaugral resource estimate this week for the Bollinger nickel discovery.

Investors who kept their money in Australia's top blue chip stocks enjoyed great returns in the 2012-13 financial year.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 17.3 per cent last year, as the big banks, the major retail groups and Telstra enjoyed strong share price gains.

The All Ordinaries Accumulation Index, which includes dividends paid by Australia's top 500 companies, was up an even stronger 20.7 per cent.

But in Western Australia it was a different story.

Research group Morningstar has compiled data showing the total shareholder returns (TSR) of more than 700 listed companies based in WA.

After accounting for share price movements, dividends, capital returns and so on, it found that only 17.1 per cent of WA-based companies delivered a positive TSR in the year to June 30.

That was almost as bad as 2009, when the market was battered by the GFC; in that year, only 16.4 per cent of WA companies delivered positive returns.

And it's a long way from the halcyon days of 2007, when 75 per cent of WA companies achieved a positive TSR.

Like the national pattern, there were some very strong performers among WA's blue chip stocks, led by the state's two largest companies.

Wesfarmers achieved a TSR of 39 per cent, as its Coles business continued to perform better, and Woodside Petroleum chalked up a 19 per cent return, helped by the successful commissioning of its Pluto gas project.

Education services company Navitas, media group Seven West Media and property investor BWP Trust were other big companies to achieve healthy positive returns for their shareholders.

Two of the best performers were in the telecommunications space. iiNet delivered a spectacular TSR of 109 per cent and Amcom Telecommunications returned 91 per cent.

They were well and truly outshone by the year's star performer, Sirius Resources.

The company's spectacular Nova and Bollinger nickel and copper discoveries in the Goldfields region transformed Sirius from a little-known junior explorer trading at just a few cents a share to one of the state's top 30 stocks worth more than $400 million.

It achieved a one-year TSR of 3,550 per cent.

However, Sirius was one of only a few mining or mining services companies to deliver a positive TSR last financial year.

BC Iron, which recently lifted its stake in the Nullagine iron ore mine to 75 per cent, was another exception; it achieved a one-year return of 33 per cent.

WA's third-largest company, iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group, was one of many weak performers; it delivered a TSR of minus 37 per cent after being hit by the weak commodities outlook.

Engineering contractor Monadelphous Group (minus 21 per cent) was not saved by its outstanding track record of profitable growth over the past decade. Investors focused instead on the weakening pipeline of future work opportunities.

Similarly, Regis Resources (minus 26 per cent) went backwards despite being one of Australia's lowest-cost gold producers.

To put these numbers in context, many of their peers had a far worse year.

Gold miners Silver Lake Resources (minus 79 per cent) and Medusa Mining (minus 68 per cent) and contractors Ausdrill (minus 73 per cent) and NRW Holdings (minus 67 per cent) were some of the bigger companies that were savaged by investors.

Many smaller companies took an even bigger hit.

The worst performer last year was MyATM Holdings, a company that has tried to make a profit from renting automated telling machines from their owners and installing them in small business locations.

The company had its shares reinstated in mid-June after a period in administration; the net result was a TSR of minus 98 per cent.

MyATM Holdings should not be confused with another Perth listed company, EzeATM, which has also been going through a rough patch.

EzeATM suffered a damaging boardroom rift late in the financial year when managing director and co-founder, Todd Zani, was ousted by his fellow directors.

Prospect Resources, Straits Resources and ZYL were not far behind MyATM Holdings in the list of poor performers (see table).

In some cases, the weak performance of a company creates new opportunities. Style, which originally focused on bamboo flooring, has been a consistently poor performer over the past five years.

The company is now under the leadership of former Forge Group chief executive Peter Hutchinson and Gilbert & Tobin dealmaker Marcello Cardaci, who are expected to take it in a new direction after a recapitalisation.

Other chronic poor performers include one-time biofuels company Mission NewEnergy and gold producer Apex Minerals, which fell into administration in June after long-running attempts to improve its profitability came to nought.

Timing returns

The calculation of TSR is critically dependent on share prices at the close of each financial year.

Interestingly, many of the top performers last year would have delivered even higher returns if they had been able to hang on to their share price peaks.

Sirius Resources is a prime example. Its share price at the end of June was $1.86 and that equated to a spectacular one-year TSR of 3,550 per cent.

Yet in March, its share price was nearly three times higher at $5. If the TSR had been calculated at that moment in time, the TSR would have been even more spectacular.

It's a similar story for the number two stock last year, Peel Mining. Its TSR was 323 per cent, based on a share price of 33 cents.

Yet in April its share price was about 70 cents, on the back of its Mallee Bull copper discovery near Cobar in NSW and a farm-in deal with CBH Resources.

Most of the top 10 companies last year were in same boat – Matsa Resources, Empired, Azure Minerals and Buxton Resources all achieved higher share prices during the past 12 months.

The tables also highlight the challenge businesses face in maintaining consistent, high shareholder returns.

In 2011, the top performers included C@, which was in the process of transforming itself into coal company Draig Resources, AusGold and Northern Minerals.

In 2012, the top stocks included Buru Energy, Jameson Resources and Western Manganese.

Very few of these companies ranked highly in the 2013 survey.

The more consistent performers emerge from the three-year and five-year data, though even in these cases the data needs to be interpreted with caution.

Take the six companies that delivered the top returns over the past five years – gold stocks Papillon Resources, Regis Resources and Northern Star Resources, copper miner Sandfire Resources, contractor Decmil Group and US-focused shale producer Aurora Oil & Gas.

All of these companies posted negative returns over the 12 months to June 2013, yet their very strong performance in previous years meant they were still the top performers over five years.

With uncertainty surrounding commodity prices, investors will need to weigh up whether they want to put more money into the property companies, the telcos and other businesses that have delivered good returns over the past year, or take a countercyclical view on the ability of miners to once again rise to the top.

 

For TSR data on 700-plus WA companies, visit http://www.businessnews.com.au/total-shareholder-returns

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