Peak Magellan: What Does the Share Price Mean for MFG?

Peak Magellan: What Does the Share Price Mean for MFG?

This has been a tumultuous week for the markets.

The Aussie market copped a hiding on Thursday. It was down 2.80% for the day.

Is the worst over, or is there more coming?

Well, long-time readers of The Daily Reckoning Australia know I’m bearish on the Aussie economy. This week’s selloff and today’s subsequent headlines should be seen as a warning sign.

Your regular weekend editor, Nick Hubble, is in the process of moving house. So this week, I reached out to my old colleague Greg Canavan, Editor of The Rum Rebellion.

As markets heave and react to global news, Greg reckons there is another thing investors should be cautious of.

Read on for more.

Until next time,

Shae Russell Signature

Shae Russell,
Editor, The Daily Reckoning Australia

Peak Magellan: What Does the Share Price Mean for MFG?

Greg Canavan, Contributor

Greg Canavan

Markets rebounded last week as President Trump pulled back on some of his earlier tough talk on tariffs. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Stocks, bond yields and commodities jumped Tuesday as news that the U.S. would delay some tariffs against China rekindled investors’ hopes for an eventual trade truce.

The Trump administration announced it plans to delay and remove items from the roughly US$300 billion of Chinese imports facing tariffs on Sept. 1. The development sent investors rushing back into stocks after an extended bout of market volatility and two days of declines for major US indexes. Investors also piled into commodities, while shedding exposure to assets considered relatively safer such as government bonds and gold.

Don’t be confused here, dear reader.

This is pretty standard Trump fare.

That is, he goes out hard early, then pulls it back a little.

But the underlying theme here is that the US is in a soft war with China. It’s not going away…

Trade tensions and a military response

Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a brief stop in Australia.

His visit included a talk and Q&A session at the State Library of NSW. As reported by The Spectator:

Mr Pompeo was adamant that not only Australia, but the US and the West in general, had for far too long been complacent about China’s more sinister intentions; citing cyberwarfare, unfair and unprincipled business practices, the creation of large-scale debt in tiny nations throughout the South Pacific, the militarisation of the South China Sea (despite repeated promises from Xi Jinping that this would not happen) and so on.

In particular, Mr Pompeo reminded us that we share values that are anathema to the communist Chinese, regardless of how “mesmerising”, to quote John Howard, their baubles may appear.

The trade war relief rally is but a brief respite. Markets tumbled again on Thursday.

As if that wasn’t enough, China has its hands full in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters have shut down the airport for two days running.

Reports suggest China is preparing a military response.

This Twitter account shows a disturbing military build-up in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.

Bringing the troops and tanks in might quell the riots, but does China really need another Tiananmen Square? The capital flight out of Hong Kong would be very destabilising for the region.

This is the problem with totalitarianism. It rules with an iron fist. It can only shut down protests with coercive force. There is no logic to its imposition, apart from the logic of force.

So, we watch and wait while the market gives us some respite.

The MFG ASX share price…

Meanwhile, in Australia, I have to ask: Is this another sign that the market has peaked?

Or is it just peak Magellan? By that, I mean Magellan Financial Group Limited [ASX:MFG]. Have a look at the chart:

Magellan Financial group - MFG (ASX)- 1 Day Bar Chart - AUD - 14-08-19

Source: Optuma

From the December 2018 low to the July 2019 peak, the stock price is up a massive 175%. It trades on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 32 times forecast FY20 earnings.

That’s because boss Hamish Douglass has made big returns from largely investing in tech stocks, which have been in their own bubble of sorts over the past few years.

Earlier this week, MFG took advantage of its hefty multiple to raise $275 million. When your stock is trading on a high P/E multiple, it means your cost of capital is cheap.

For example, a P/E of 10 means the cost of equity capital is 10%. For MFG trading on a multiple of 32 times, its cost of equity capital is just 3.125% (1/32). That’s cheaper than some corporate bonds!

Some of the capital raising will be used to invest in a new retirement income product MFG is in the process of developing.

Now for the hubris (as reported by The Australian Financial Review):

Looking seven years ahead, assuming its funds under management stay the same, Magellan expects to generate 7 to 9 per cent revenue growth a year. That translates to 11 to 14 per cent in total shareholder returns, including dividends, a year, Mr Douglass said, excluding new opportunities that might expand funds under management.

There you go. In seven years, MFG expects to deliver shareholder returns of 11-14%, inclusive of dividends. That’s certainly a possibility, but not if the starting point is from where the share price is now.

For example, MFG is expected to generate a return on equity (ROE) of around 42% in FY20. Let’s say your ‘required return’ is 8%. What would you pay for a share?

To answer this question, a rough rule of thumb is to divide the ROE by the required return. In this case, it’s 42/8 = 5.25.

In other words, to get an 8% return from the business, you should not pay more than 5.25 times the equity, or book, value.

But MFG currently trades on a price-to-book value of nearly 11 times. Shifting the above equation around, that gives you a required return from the business of just 3.8%.

What does that actually mean?

Well, based on MFG’s current price and earnings expectations, and assuming there is no change to the current P/E multiple, the best you can expect to earn from this business is around 3.8% per annum.

Of course, the P/E multiple won’t stay the same, so it is really just a theoretical exercise to give you some idea of the future returns the business can deliver. If the P/E multiple continues to expand, shareholders will earn a better return than the 3.8%. If it contracts, they will earn less.

I’ll leave it for you to decide which way things will go from here.

To me, it’s just another reason to be cautious about this market.


Greg Canavan Signature

Greg Canavan,
For The Daily Reckoning Australia