Share Sleuth: why this share passes the Sleuth’s tests

The educational products supplier has an attractive valuation and earnings yield, making it a buy for Richard Beddard.

This month, I have added RM, a company I profiled in the May issue’s Share Watch pages, to the Share Sleuth portfolio. I was cautious about it back then, but digging into its history has emboldened me.

RM supplies schools with equipment and IT, and examination boards with e-marking software. These businesses are not obviously natural bedfellows, which means the company is complex and has to do lots of things well – one reason for my caution.

There are coherent aspects to RM’s multifaceted strategy, though. All three parts of the business lower costs by using the company’s Indian office for customer support and software development. RM Resources, which supplies everything from furniture to footballs, and RM Education, which supplies IT, share a customer base in UK schools.

RM Education is increasingly positioning itself as a supplier of software and services (as opposed to hardware), along the same lines as RM Results, the e-marking company. Most public exam scripts in the UK are scanned in and marked electronically, and RM Results appears to be the market leader. Since it has a good product and software is easy to export, RM Results has growth potential.

Another thing I had to get comfortable with before committing to the share was RM’s profitability. RM is highly profi table, but it has not always been so. The company was heavily dependent on Building Schools for the Future, a massive government-funded programme axed in 2010, and had to cope as the scheme wound down and revenues at RM Education fell dramatically. It has also been extricating itself from unprofitable business contracted during the boom over the previous decade. I believe this process is substantially complete and the profitable core of RM is now exposed. However, the shares remain attractively valued. RM’s earnings yield is 10%, which is very high for a decent business.

I added 1,275 shares at a shade over 236p, a price quoted by a broker. Including £10 in lieu of broker fees and £15 in lieu of stamp duty, the transaction cost £3,038, just under 2.5% of the total value of the portfolio.

Coherent strategy

RM does not have the clockwork strategy I have valued so highly in recent additions. The trade is a step back to the thinking that led me to add shares in companies such as Dart and Tristel. They were out of favour, but I could see glimmers of coherent strategy and their shares were cheap. Those companies turned out to have great strategies and are among the portfolio’s best investments. Glimmers can disappear, though. They may have at System1, the portfolio’s worst performer.

The trade has used up the portfolio’s cash, so my next trade will necessarily be a sale. One company in the frame is Science, profiled in the June issue’s Share Watch pages. I left the write-up of Science on a cliff hanger. The company is in good shape, it is embarking on a bold new acquisition strategy and its valuation is modest, but I am unmoved.

Science may, as planned, prosper as a cash cow – executive chairman Martyn Ratcliffe will use the cash to fund unrelated acquisitions – but this is not what I bought into when I added its shares to the portfolio many years ago. At the time, Science was a turnaround. It was a research and development consultancy that changed its business model from developing its own intellectual property to developing products for other companies.

As a gun for hire, it was more profitable, allowing it to expand through the acquisition of related consultancies. I thought the firm would grow this business, but its primary resource is scientists, and people businesses are not easy to scale. Now that Science is allowing itself to buy unrelated businesses, anything goes.

As well as turning around Science and some of its recent bolt-on acquisitions, Ratcliffe has had a hand in successful revivals before. One, ironically, was RM. He was executive chairman at RM between 2011 and 2013, and having done much of the surgery required, he left it a more coherent business.

Coherence is something I look for because I prefer judging strategies to assessing people. That is why our future probably lies with RM, the company Ratcliffe left, rather than Science, the company he is sticking with

Solid month for the Sleuth

A chart showing the performance of the Share Sleuth portfolio and RM

 

RM adds profit potential

Portfolio     Cost (£) Value (£) Return (%)
Cash       269  
Shares       123,770  
Since 9 September 2009     30,000 124,038 313.00
           
Companies   Shares Cost (£) Value (£) Return (%)
ALU Alumasc 938 999 868 -13
AVON Avon Rubber 192 2,510 2,703 8
CFX Colefax 434 943 2,322 146
CGS Castings 1,109 3,110 4,303 38
CHH Churchill China 341 3,751 5,473 46
CHRT Cohort 1,600 3,747 6,240 67
DTG Dart 456 250 4,293 1,617
DWHT Dewhurst 735 2,244 7,901 252
GAW Games Workshop 198 568 7,983 1,306
GDWN Goodwin 266 6,646 8,459 27
HWDN Howden Joinery 748 3,228 3,894 21
JDG Judges Scientific 252 5,989 7,825 31
NXT Next 45 2,199 2,550 16
PMP Portmeirion 349 3,212 4,188 30
QTX Quartix 1,085 2,798 2,767 -1
RM. RM 1,275 3,038 2,977 -2
RSW Renishaw 92 1,739 4,013 131
SAG Science 2,660 2,908 5,373 85
SOLI Solid State 1,546 4,523 7,606 68
SYS1 System1 463 1,793 1,116 -38
TET Treatt 1,222 1,734 4,888 182
TFW Thorpe (F W) 2,000 2,207 6,300 186
TRI Trifast 2,261 3,357 5,200 55
TSTL Tristel 750 268 2,400 795
VCT Victrex 150 2,253 3,381 50
XPP XP Power 339 6,287 8,746 39

Notes: New additions’ transaction costs include £10 broker fee and 0.5% stamp duty where appropriate. Cash earns no interest. Dividends and sale proceeds are credited to the cash balance. £30,000 invested on 9 September 2009 would be worth £124,038 today. £30,000 invested in FTSE All-Share index tracker accumulation units would be worth £65,701 today. Objective: To beat the index tracker handsomely over five-year periods. Source: SharePad, as at 8 May 2019

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