Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Reflections on life and the Casino

Well well.... It’s been a while since I posted but despite that I've still been closely watching (and occasionally trading) AIM shares. It’s just that the reality of starting a very demanding job together with a close family bereavement have left my free time severely compromised. And the free time that has been available has been spent considering and doing the things that really matter in life. It’s an important, if difficult, lesson to be reminded of. It’s so easy to spend day after day watching the markets with angst, moaning about this and that - the games of the mm’s, the delays and broken promises, the BB morons. But the reality is that life is here one moment and gone the next and so my reflection on this is never to take for granted a single moment of it. Watch and play the casino that is AIM by all means, but we must try to avoid spending time glued to a screen when there is a real life to enjoy passing us by.

That said, AIM Oil and Gas is my hobby and so without overdoing the life lesson I thought I would recap the last couple of months. In particular a message about emotional attachment....

I’m as "long" as you can be on Xcite energy, you should know that by now. I wrote about waiting and the value I see several times. Of course I also realise the market currently has no interest at all in anything that requires value to be built over the medium term and therefore the market thinks there is no value in Xcite. There is just too much waiting around for anyone still in AIM after the last few years to take any future value seriously at the moment. The market wants sellers at the moment. But huge 2P reserves proven to flow commercially and a host of other incredible benefits thrown in for free and yet Xcite are valued at less than they were before they had proven their technical ability is bonkers. That’s a really disconnected price but it’s fair enough I guess for now. If the company can’t demonstrate how they can afford to get the oil out of the ground, and no one else is demonstrating that they will help them do it yet, then it’s fair enough that it’s valued at what people will pay – around 65p-70p at the moment seemingly

Incredible news

The recent news of the collaboration with Shell and Statoil is quite frankly in my opinion nothing short of incredible. Two massive majors working with a tiny minnow exploring an approach to what will be a huge and financially significant project and prize. I’m hoping very much that Xcite now go all the way to production as the income that this would throw off and the potential for them to grow into a major valued in the billions is real in my mind. That would be a great outcome for a "few" years patience. What a pension pot?!

That said, the last few months have been dismal. To alleviate the boredom I went back to trading the shares I hold. This has generally involved selling my holding early in the morning (when it always seems to rise slightly) and then setting a limit buy later in the day for a few pence less. Typically this has been filled, meaning I have had very few mornings out of Xcite in case of 7am news. And even if I have, with the ongoing down trend the opportunity is still there to rejoin the party a few days later. Its small money, but I've ploughed each gain back into more Xcite shares thus reducing my average to somewhere under 75p.

The AGM doesn't look like it will produce any news in the morning and in which case I suspect the price will fall back into the 70’s or lower depending on how long the wait continues. I don’t really care, I intend to hold, trade and build my Xcite holdings for as long as it takes until they lay out exactly how the oil will flow and then I will hold for the end game.

What else have I been watching and trading?

Well I bought some more Fox Marble (FOX) as a hold into the second half of this year. They are currently constructing a processing factory for their marble quarries and look to be potentially capable of turning a massive amount of marble into a cash cow. But they still need to demonstrate their sales are coming in so it’s moderately to high risk in my opinion. DYOR.

I bought a load more shares in Bowleven at 31.5p and have recently taken some of that profit at 36p, mostly bought back in again though as the eventual EEAA news will see a big spike IMO. But it’s another painful wait.

I nearly bought back into Blinkx having traded it a few times in the past but not recently and the falls and shorting and Gotham report just leave me speechless to be honest. How this can be allowed to carry on as part of a “free market” I just don’t understand. It’s hardly a free market when a concerted attack on a share, whether for good reasons or not, can be allowed to carry on and wipe out hundreds of millions of pounds of investors money. That’s not free, that’s controlled IMO. Disgraceful. But the share price hasn’t recovered leaving me wondering if there is more truth than one might initially have suspected and so I am wary of further revelations or lost relationships or deals for Blinkx. That said I might dip my toe in if it falls into the 50’s.

I like the look of Ithaca for a hold to 2015 and the Stella development coming to fruition. The recent price has been hit by a modest delay but to be honest that doesn't really make a huge difference to the eventual value and I would think Ithaca could be on the radar of a predator at some point.

That’s all for now though. I’m enjoying having no emotional attachment to Xcite at all and trading it whenever I feel like it, whilst remaining completely loyal to the end game and long climb to fair value that will come one day I'm sure. I’m sitting tight on my Bowleven and waiting for Cameroon officials to pull their finger out. And I’m stake building in Fox. A few on the watch list and some cash in the bank awaiting the next market drama when a perfectly good share will no doubt get hammered on not a lot of bad news and then correct itself over the coming days/weeks.

But the lesson that matters

That's all and best of luck in whatever strategy you are following. To be honest the AIM market is sick as a parrot at the moment and making any money is incredibly hard. The only money in AIM should be money you can afford to lose. But as I started this post there are many other things which in my opinion bring real value, happiness and meaning to life – I've learnt that lesson again recently and I dedicate this blog to Peter who was an incredible inspiration to everyone who met him. He certainly wouldn't have spent any time staring at a screen - he was simply too busy out and about enjoying life and making other people's lives better for his knowing them. Something to reflect on during tomorrow's inevitable moaning about Xcite's AGM news, or lack of it....?

Thursday, 27 February 2014

#Xcite : Is it worth the wait?

What sort of return is worth waiting for? Well it seems on AIM a return is now only worth a few hours or days. But what if I asked you to lend me £4,000 for 2 years and said I would give you back £16,000? Would you think that was a reasonable wait? Or what about buying an antique for £5,000 and selling it for £30,000 4 years later? Would that be worth the wait? It’s funny how timescales outside of investing seem reasonable when measured in years, but that the stock market drives an expectation for 100% return in the space of weeks or months.  

And so what about returns from Xcite Energy? I'm fed up of hearing everyone moan about the wait. Yes I am bored. Yes 2013 was not the “exciting year” that Rupert Cole said it would be (well not from an investment point of view anyway). Yes I tweeted the other day that I wished they would just release some news, any news, to break the boredom. Even if it was just what they were having for breakfast. But the way I see it is that Xcite is a substantially undervalued asset, which has been proven commercial beyond doubt, and eventually, however long it may take, will be produced or bought, resulting in a far higher share price than today’s 91p.

At this point I have to recognize the pain for those investors who bought and held from 2010. The wait for them is just as long for what may turn out to be a much more modest gain. But the reality is that the O&G market is completely different from those days when increases were seen on nothing more than news of a licence being issued or the move of a tug boat. That’s not Xcite’s fault, although the board seem to get plenty of blame for the collapse in the O&G small cap market.

This week Xcite released yet another unanticipated RNS, containing nothing especially significant, but definitely nothing negative. In fact once again they released news containing positive content with no prior warning and no leaks. But it’s not the RNS that really matters; the one that confirms they have secured the financial fire power to pump their huge reserves of oil out of the ground. I still wait for that one to pop up on the i-phone out of the blue one morning.

For the last 2 years Xcite’s news has all been positive but the share price has remained stuck at around £1. The market simply does not yet believe that Xcite will be able to secure the funds required to move forwards to production. That leaves longer term development assets, especially in the O&G sector, completely unloved and undervalued.

For those of you who have spent the last 2 years on planet Zog here’s a quick reminder of Xcite’s “positive only” news flow during this time:

·         April 27th - Xcite confirm 1P, 2P, 3P reserves of 96MMstb, 116MMstb and 140MMstb
·         June 12th - enhanced marketing and offtake agreement arranged with BP to provide dilutent, marketing and sales of Bentley crude.
·         June 22nd - $155m reserves based lending facility arranged with consortium of banks.
·         September 20th - Pre-Production Flow test results exceed management expectations producing 149,000 barrels of oil, with less water than expected and the wells suspended as future producers, generating revenue of over £13.3 million.
·         January 30th - Westface loan notes extended for an additional year to end of March 2014
·         April 8th - Following the well test and new 3D seismic, Xcite reserves are upgraded to 1P, 2P, 3P of 198MMstb, 250MMstb, and 312MMstb.
·         May 20th - Confidential well data is sold for $15m plus $1m when certain milestones are achieved by the purchaser. This is complementary to the farm out process and without compromising Xcite’s intellectual property.
·         June 12th - a memorandum of understanding is entered into with AMEC to cooperate on the development of Bentley.
·         July 2nd - environmental statement for Bentley field is submitted to DECC
·         November 20th - Statoil confirmed as the well data purchasers at the same time as they announce that as a result of what they have learnt from the data they are to shelve their current Bressay development plan and go back to the drawing board for a new one. And supposedly Xcite never compromised their IP as part of the sale so what does that mean for Statoil’s new development plan? License deal? Further collaboration?
·         December 30th - $80 million of unsecured loan notes raised to repay the West Face loan notes at a 2% reduction to the previous interest rate.
·         February 26th - Revised production methods result in an increase to reserves of 1P, 2P, 3P to 203MMstb, 257MMstb, and 317MMstb. P50 Contingent resources are 48MMstb. There are also over 30BCF of 2P natural gas reserves. Reservoir modelling and draining work is underway to optimise enhanced oil recovery which is not yet factored into the above reserve numbers.

I don’t think there has been one negative news release during this period. And not one of the releases was leaked or anticipated to any great extent.

They say the stock market transfers wealth from the impatient to the patient (I’d also add from the PI to the II) Patience really is needed with Xcite. The BoD have been working for well over 10 years on this project and have always been focused on delivering right to the end game - production. Whether they get there as an independent or not is another matter, but I’m certain they won’t give up their dream of building Xcite Energy into a Heavy Oil Major E&P company without good reason.  

Steven Kew stated “We see 2 billion barrels or more in the triangle between Bentley, Kraken and Bressay. We see a lot of potential there and it is a long life production” He went on to say “there are many fields like that emerging and we have worked out how to get it out.” Xcite retain the intellectual property for their technical ability and knowledge surrounding heavy oil and the North Sea is expected to hold at least another 7 billion barrels of the stuff.

We know Xcite have one of the largest undeveloped proven assets in the North Sea. We know Statoil bought data from Xcite and are now reworking their plans for Bressay. We know Xcite achieved a significant Reserves Based Lending facility on a far lower reserve figure. We know Bentley has a net present value in today’s money of $2.1 billion after tax and excluding enhanced oil recovery, contingent reserves or surrounding licence potential. We know that Blackbeard could potentially be another Bentley. We know that they are in discussions with potential farm in partners.

We just don’t know, for certain yet, whether Xcite can find someone to fund them to production. But at less than $2 value per barrel that’s a big discount for this uncertainty. Fair enough if that’s how the market wants to value this monster - I don’t set the prices. But provided Xcite can do the deal, and I have no reason to believe they won't based on their previous achievements, not to mention the importance of this asset, then I look forward to the day when the uncertainty is removed and the valuation starts to look seriously wrong. Because I am certain the news will come out of the blue with no prior leak. 

In the meantime I’ll wait for as long as it takes. No doubt I’ll still be completely hacked off with not knowing what the board are having for their breakfast when the crucial RNS arrives. It might be a long boring wait, but I think it will be worth it when it comes. Happy waiting......

Friday, 21 February 2014

A #FOXy little number: Fox Marble

This is only my second purchase of 2014, as I’m waiting to see what plays out with a few of my holdings in what is generally an ongoing poor oil and gas market. But I’ve taken a stake in Fox Marble (FOX) at 20p. This isn’t my usual oil and gas play; in fact nothing they produce flows through pipes at all. And they don’t have any exciting drill results pending to get in a flap about. The FOX bulletin boards are quiet and there is an absence of hype. Thank God. But they do have a huge potential reserve base and 2014 should see some solid progress if all goes to plan.

Founded in 2011 by Christopher Gilbert (a former record label entrepreneur) and Dr Etrur Albani (an electronics engineer) Fox Marble is taking advantage of the unexploited marble reserves in Kosovo, South Eastern Europe. “But what’s the attraction in a collection of marble quarries backed by an engineer and a music guy” I hear you ask?

Well my interest was caught because Fox has been on the journey to production since 2011 and was floated on AIM in 2012 at 20p. Since then it has made good progress and recently made its first shipments of marble, first sales, first repeat orders, and first invoicing. The share price has fluctuated around the 20p mark, dipping to 15p at one point, but is back at 20p. The market cap sits at £25m, only just ahead of its float value. If recent sales can be built upon and cash flow begins to crystallise then I would hope to see a rise in the share price from here.

Historically Kosovo has a proven track record in supplying stone for fine buildings around the world. Marble from Kosovo was used in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and one of the very same quarries that Fox now operate previously supplied marble for the White House.

The company acquired rights and licenses to five quarries (in 3 locations) covering 488 hectares and listed on AIM in August 2012, raising c.£9m, to be used to equip and operate these quarries and build a processing plant to polish and finish the stone. The quarries are now equipped and either producing or moving to production, and the processing plant site has been bought, planning permission granted, and is due to be built this year in order to align the main cost with the growth in sales. Fox has since acquired a licence for another quarry and operating agreements for a further two.

In total Fox’s quarries contain over 300 million cubic metres of premium quality marble and decorative stone, 91.3 million of which is currently classified as reserves. Their maiden JORC resource implies an in situ valuation of €16.5 billion!

Currently the rough mined product is being sent to Italy for cutting and preparing into saleable blocks. The plan is to construct their own processing facility in Kosovo to allow Fox to refine the product themselves thus commanding a higher price and margin. The overall ambition is to establish itself as the leader in decorative stone from Kosovo and South Eastern Europe.

The Board
On face value a record industry mogul and electronics engineer might not be an obvious pair to head up a marble quarrying company. Digging a bit deeper however, the board have a solid track record in value creation and also hold a significant number of shares in the company - something that I like to see. A quick overview of some of the members is as follows:

Andrew Allner: Non-Exec Chairman
Andrew holds a number of Chairman / non exec Chairman / NED positions across a range of companies including the Go-Ahead Group, CSR Plc, Northgate Plc and AZ Electronic Materials SA. The one that caught my eye was that he is also Non-Exec Chairman for Marshalls Plc, a significant player in the decorative stone industry. He has previously held numerous senior positions across companies such as Moss Bros, RHM Plc, Amersham International Plc, Guinness Plc, and was a Partner at PWC.

Christopher Gilbert: CEO
In 1992, Chris co-founded Infectious Records which grew to be a very successful UK independent and was sold to Rupert Murdoch in 1999. He then founded technology and satellite transmission companies with major blue chip clients. In 2005, he co-founded Crosstown Songs, a music publishing venture which became a major independent and was sold to KKR / Bertelsmann in 2009.

Dr Etrur Albani: Managing Director
Etrur has a working knowledge of Kosovo. He developed his career at PTK, the Kosovo national telecoms company, where he became MD. He increased the number of subscribers by 40% and profit by 85% by developing the infrastructure according to developed world standards. He gained his Ph.D. from London South Bank University, following a Bachelor of Electronic Engineering from North London University.

Roy Harrison OBE: Non-Executive Director
A former Chief Exec of Tarmac Plc, Roy completed the sale of Tarmac to Anglo American Mining in 2000. He is currently the Chairman of Renew Holdings Plc and also acts as a consultant to Arriven, a private partnership, advising and investing in the UK building materials sector. Previously he was a Senior Independent Director of the BSS Group Plc.

Dr Paul Jourdan: Non-Exec Director
Dr Paul is CEO of Amati Global Investors Limited, a fund management company based in the UK. He has been involved in managing equity funds for 14 years and founded Amati Global Investors with Douglas Lawson in 2010. His fund holds almost 5% of the share capital in Fox Marble.

Significant Shareholders
I think it’s important to see board members owning decent wedges of their company and in this area Fox doesn’t disappoint. The founders, Dr Albani and Mr Gilbert hold between them 35% of the total share capital of Fox. Three other directors hold smaller amounts, 2 of whom increased their holdings last August as part of a modest fund raising which incidentally was made at a premium to the share price at the time. In total around 60% of the share capital is held by directors or large institutions as follows: 

Dr Etrur Albani
Mt Christopher Gilbert
Mr Dominic RN Redfern
Majedie Asset Management
Standard Life Investments
Amati Global Investors

Recent operational progress:

Four quarries are now operational and the first sales of marble were made towards the end of 2013. The December statement ahead of year end results (due in March) highlighted €500,000 worth of marble orders with the first repeat orders coming from their new sales agents with €100,000 worth of sales invoiced at this point.

A distribution agreement for the USA has been agreed and the first shipments of 300 square metres of cut and polished product has been shipped for sale. See Agents Twitter account of received product here. An agent in China has been appointed, two in Italy, and a strategic partnership with Pisani (an established leading wholesaler in the UK) is in place from which they took their first orders recently following an open day and launch. See Facebook launch event here

Recent quarrying work has seen marble similar to “Calacatta Gold” discovered, a rare premium marble found only on the Italian coast. As winter set in blocks were shipped from the fully operational quarries in Rahovec (quarries A and B) and Suhogerll. A total of 200 tonnes of various types of marble has been shipped to a processing facility in Italy for cutting and polishing for onward supply during 2014. In early 2014 Fox will also commence production of marble in commercial quantities in Malesheva and has also commenced operations in Macedonia a “white Sivec” marble quarry, which is also expected to produce commercial quantities this spring. The production operation genuinely seems to be moving from ambition to reality.

The processing plant development in Kosovo was due to be completed early in 2014, but they recently confirmed that the plan is to develop this in parallel with, and dependent on, sales and order growth in order to protect risk to capital (my assumptions based on their statements) and also as they can continue to take advantage of unused capacity in the Italian factories which they currently use to process their rough product. This could be seen as a negative as delays Fox’s in house capability, but I accepted it as prudent cash management ahead of sales growth. But that’s only my opinion. The processing plant is therefore due to be completed during 2014 and will increase gross margin and production capacity.

At the end of November cash reserves stood at €5.7m so they seem to be reasonably well funded for 2014 and as already mentioned sales revenue this year should see them cash neutral, if not positive. My expectation is that they will therefore complete the processing factory without further dilution or fund raising.

Let’s not forget the risks though!
  • Kosovo is not Cornwall and so it is worth remembering that there is a risk of operations being hampered or disrupted by politics or economics or other such risk. To prove this point at the end of 2011 local officials annulled 3 of Fox’s 4 mining licences with no prior warning. This seems to have been local corruption rather than official state interference and Fox immediately set about challenging this action and succeeded in getting their licenses back. But it does go to show the risks here.
  • Another challenge is that harsh winters in Kosovo can halt or disrupt quarrying operations and whilst this winter hasn't been as severe as sometimes, there is the ongoing risk of disruption each winter. That said, as pointed out in the December update, Fox have already shipped 200 tonnes of marble to Italy to be finished and to provide supply over this winters worst weather. 
  • Funding seems to be in a good place, but never say never. Funds were raised in the summer last year and was well supported and subscribed at over the share price at the time. Fox still have €5.7m in the bank at the end of November and most of the equipment for the quarries seems to have been bought. The processing plant needs to be paid for, but as stated this is planned to be built in parallel with sales growth. So whilst I am not expecting a fund raising I just flag that this is still a small company with modest resources. 
  • Sales are growing and product is being shipped to agents and distributors around the world. This doesn't mean that cash is flowing in, just yet, and there is always a chance that sales don’t build as quickly as hoped, pushing back break even. 

I stumbled across Fox Marble and on further investigation liked what I saw and have taken a stake at 20p. I like the fact that they floated at 20p, have spent cash wisely investing in quarrying equipment and making good progress, and yet are still priced at 20p (albeit a slight increase in shares in issue). I like the fact that this doesn't have a massive PI following and isn't the latest hot topic on the boards. I like 60% of shares being with longer term holders and that the co-founders own 35%. I like the fact that they are now building sales through established channels but that this is still in its infancy, offering the potential for some serious revenue growth and profitability over the coming year(s). And finally I like the fact that this isn't an oil and gas E&P company and therefore adds some diversification to my portfolio.

To be balanced I don’t like the fact that Fox only hold licences and that there have been challenges with this in 2011. I don’t like it that sales could take longer to grow than anticipated or that severe winters can halt operations. But on balance I see more chance of medium term success than failure and have taken the stake to hold throughout 2014 and see where sales have got to by the end of this year.

As ever please do your own research and make your own decisions based on your own comfort with risk and investment.

Additional coverage:
Fox Davies Flashnote Jan 2013 Target price 48p, 55% discount: here
November 2013 Daily Mail article, top 5 stocks for ISA: here
Shareprofits article buy Fox Marble up to 24p: here

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

2014 Stock Picks: Group 5 Micro Caps

Last, but certainly not least, it’s time to have a quick look over the final group of stocks that some of my twitter followers selected as their hot picks for 2014. To see the full list of 41 stocks click here.

But these final few are the micro caps, those lovely little tiddlers with a market cap of under £12 million. These are the stocks that are going to make us all millionaires! These are the ASOS’s of the future, who may go from a £5m to a £1billion market cap and turn our £2500 investment into £500,000! Well.... that’s how the dream goes and for some the reality too. So let’s have a look at what you’ve chosen. Once again this is only a briefest of overviews to allow you to follow up and do your own research an anything you like the look of please.......

Micro Cap (Under £12m)

Chosen By
Starting Market Cap
Starting Share Price
Nostra Terra
@paul18280, @X1ACX
Reach Entertainment
Motive TV

Herencia Resources Plc (HER)
Herencia is a multi-commodity explorer with a focus on developing its high quality projects in Chile. It is well-established in the Chilean resource sector. A quick summary of its projects is as follows:
  • As part of its Paguanta project, Herencia has completed a feasibility study into its Patricia Mine (zinc, silver, lead) and is proceeding with preparation of permitting documentation with the goal of bringing the mine into production in 2015. Herencia has also acquired an exciting tenement package over a potential porphyry target immediately adjacent to Paguanta
  • At its Guamanga Project (copper-gold), Herencia has signed a term sheet with OZ Minerals, one of Australia's leading copper miners, with a view to jointly advancing this project. OZ is covering much of the financial cost of exploration here. They also recently advised that they propose to expand the footprint of the Guamanga project area due to the significant potential they see at Guamanga. 
  • Herencia has acquired an option over the producing Picachos Mine (copper), located adjacent to Teck's large Andacollo Mine (over 400m tonnes of resource). This project is looking like it has the potential to be an excellent copper prospect with over 8kms of combined strike length. There could be anywhere in the region of 10-50 million tonnes. 
Herencia have just received £1.86m, the second tranche of arranged funding, from Shining Capital Management by way of issuing 300m shares above the current share price. One of the directors has also just bought 4.5m shares in Herencia. So there is some confidence in the current share price and prospects for 2014.

Infastrata (INFA)
InfraStrata is an independent petroleum exploration and gas storage company. It demerged from Egdon Resources in 2008 and is focused on exploration in two areas in the UK - in Dorset, England and in Antrim, Northern Ireland. It aims to complete its programme to realise value from its “Islandmagee” gas storage project in Northern Ireland, albeit BP have just announced that they have decided not to continue with their involvement in the project and therefore a new partner needs to be found. The shares have fallen 40% since this news broke.

In Antrim a site for an exploration well (PL1/10) has been selected and negotiations with landowners are ongoing whilst consents are sought. In Dorset, planning permission has been granted for a “California Quarry-1” exploration well. Both these wells are hoped to start drilling towards the end of 2014.

Infastrata had 2 license successes in the 27th offshore licensing round and are looking for farm out partners for some of their prospects. Meanwhile Egdon Resources are planning to drill a well in Burton on the Wolds in which Infastrata have a small interest.

If it wasn’t for the recent news that BP are pulling out of the Islandmagee gas project and leaving Infastrata needing large amounts of funds or a new Partner to progress Infastrata would be an interesting little UK based explorer with fingers in lots of little pies, which could grow big. But for me this is a watch and see stock until it’s clearer on the funding news for Islandmagee gas project.

Crawshaw Group Plc (CRAW)
Crawshaw Group came into existence in 2008 following an acquisition by Felix Plc. It is basically a “reet gud north’n butchers” (by the way I am from Sheffield so no offence intended). The business comprises a chain of 20 butchers (currently) across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Humberside and 2 processing and distribution centres in Grimsby and Rotherham.

Crawshaw prides itself on innovative meat retailing, focussing on quality and value. Their web site has a positive, confident feel about it and cuts through any drab corporate stuff to focus on the customer experience and value. I haven’t been to a shop but get the impression that I would be greated by cheery professional butchers keen to help you choose a perfect cut of meat at a good price with quality to match.

It would seem that this impression could be the reality recently as recent trading has been excellent. Like for likes at the interim stage in July were up 5% to £9.8m. Gross profit increased 6% and profit before tax increased 3 fold to £300,000 (2012 £100,000). The business generated £500,000 cash in the first half and announced an interim dividend of 0.09p. Around 64% of shares are held by ii’s or directors and the Chairman is also Chairman at which is a very impressive fast growing internet retailer.

More recently the board announced a post Christmas trading update which again showed good performance. Like for like sales for the 7 weeks to 29th December were up 21% and at a higher gross margin. With costs under control the Chairman commented that he expects the full year results to end of January to be “materially higher than current market forecast”. They have also opened a new market unit in Sheffield and have a leased property in Sheffield close to completion.

This is a very different kettle of fish (actually meat) to my usual oil and gas interests but I have to say it looks a great little company in my opinion. The shares have already risen from 17p to the high 20’s but if they continue to carefully control their expansion plans whilst driving sales at recent gross margin rates there seems to be a promising future for shareholders here.

Nostra Terra Oil and Gas (NTOG)
Most investors on twitter will know about Nostra Terra as their CEO, Matt Lofgran is an avid tweeter! That said, for those of you who have missed him, Nostra are focussed on oil and gas prospects across Kansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma. A bit like Magnolia, their working interests have been generally small but have been growing recently as their production and cash flow increases. They are interested in applying new drilling and recovery techniques across shale plays and old fields that were previously not thought to be commercially viable. Using 3D seismic mapping, horizontal drilling, and multi well completions they aim to target reservoirs that were left behind when previous operators moved on following traditional vertical drilling.

The strategy is working and production and cash flow are growing, albeit from a relatively small base at this stage. Their last quarterly report (13th January) contained the following highlights:
  • 150% increase to production (Jan to Nov 2013 versus whole of 2012)
  • Net production for October at 60boepd (80% oil/liquids)
  • Participating in 5 new wells since previous update
  • Cash flow positive on an operational basis. 
  • Successful progress on recovery of debts owed to Nostra by Richfield.
There are multiple wells being planned by Nostra and its operators across their prospects. Some of them, like the upcoming Hunter well in the Chisholm Trail, will see Nostra take its highest working interests to date.

Nostra are following a steady business growth strategy and have plenty of prospects to progress. For those who like extreme risk/reward prospects this might be too safe for some, although I’m not sure you could ever describe oil and gas as anything other than risky! Nice growth and future prospects here in my opinion.

Xtract Resources Plc (XTR)
Xtract Resources, formally Xtract Energy, underwent a complete change of strategy and board recently. After the appointment of a new CEO, Jan Nelson, the board started a strategic review which saw them dispose of their licenses in Denmark and entire holdings in Equus Mining. They cut operational costs significantly, and are now focussed on establishing a portfolio of early stage precious and base metal projects with growth potential.

The boards stated plan is to “work with management teams to ensure project delivery…help finance early and development phase business activity…. and look to crystalise value at an appropriate exit point”. Xtract own 6million shares in Global Oil Shale Group Ltd, with a further 1.5m shares due in the event that the company lists. The board is actively reviewing other opportunities.

At the half way point last year they made a tiny net profit of £10k against an £8m loss the year before. Operating expenses had been cut significantly, but cash stood at just £600,000 and net assets were £1.26million.

Since then Xtract have signed a heads of agreement on a proposed joint venture with Polar Star Mining for a Phosphate prospect in Chile. The Executive Chairman announced at the time that the company had been successfully reorganised and that second half of the year should see more progress on its stated mission. Since then we have heard nothing more, suggesting either imminent news flow or that the stated mission is going to take a while longer to realise.

Not one for me on the basis of no revenue, and small prospects at this stage, with the challenging market conditions for tiny caps raising funds not going to help, but that’s only my risk preference and others may be very comfortable taking a stake in a company at what could be the start of a growth journey.

Reach 4 Entertainment enterprises plc (R4E)
Reach4enterprises describe themselves as “the premier in entertainment and brand building”. They operate in the theatrical, film and live entertainment advertising, marketing and merchandising industry, through their four divisions and strategic partnerships.

They have four companies in the group, Dewynters who are a global leader in marketing and branding campaigns, Spotco an arts and live entertainment advertising agency, Newman Displays the UK’s leading outdoor signage, marquee display and installation company, and finally who provide in theatre merchandising operations for leading theatres.

The last year has seen performance in line with expectations at every stage, and a set of results which they have described as stabilised and confident. Revenues at the half way mark were just over £35m which was +2%, and a tiny profit of £23k was made after tax. Since then trading performance has been consistent and the board are confident of meeting market expectations for the full year. Costs are down on last year and their loan facility has been restructured. Trading updates in November and January reiterated the stable nature of trade and the expectations to meet expectations for the full year. The full year results will be announced before the end of April 2014.

Motive Television (MTV)
Motive television provides advanced software and services to the broadcast industry. They are at the cutting edge of cloud based smart phone and tablet television type services, satellite broadcasting, video on demand and catch up TV. They were established in 2005 and have offices across the world. Their products and services allow us, the consumer, to watch TV and video anywhere, any time, on any device and they have patented this technology which they call Television Anytime Anywhere™. They operate a business to business sales model, selling to satellite and terrestrial broadcasters, enabling the public to watch TV on their devices anywhere.

Their sales are modest to date, with revenue for the 6 months ending June 2013 of £573k, up 16% on the prior year. Gross profit was also up to £208k, with a loss on continuing activities of £984k down 20%. Cash at hand was only £566k at this point.

Clearly operating in the cloud based Tablet TV sector means operating in an industry which is seeing transformational and disruptive changes to technology and possibilities opening up meaning there will be some massive winners. But to be honest I couldn’t really get to grips with the potential of MTV, as my attention was distracted by the ongoing and significant dilution of shares at regular intervals. There are currently over 29 billion shares in issue, with the price seeming to fluctuate around 0.02p which makes small percentage gains pretty meaningless, and every few months there seems to be another few hundred million or in some cases few billion shares issued by way of loan conversions or equity fund raising. For me this detracted from their business model and potential that they may or may not have and I couldn’t get past this issue. But once again I would encourage you to do your own research as there are plenty of technology shares which have literally exploded in value after many years of floundering in the pennies.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

2014 Stock Picks: Group 4 Small Cap Non Resource Stocks

Group 4 of the list contains just 4 stocks. That’s a shame really as it would be good to consider a wider number of small caps that are NOT in the oil gas sectors. I like to have a few non resource stocks in my portfolio and have done very well with Blinkx, Top Level Domain Holdings and some banks in the past. For the original list of 41 stocks chosen by twitter followers please see here....

But now, I say, bring on the small cap non resource stocks and let’s see what they are made of…….

Small Cap non resource stocks (£10m - £30m)

Chosen By
Starting Market Cap
Starting Share Price
Fox Marble
Ashley House

Parity (PTY)
First up is Parity. Parity offers a suite of services to businesses across the technology, recruitment and talent management services. They are developing a “Technology Lab” to harness the latest breakthrough technologies and in 2012 bought Inition which pioneers the use of 3D technology such as filming, printing and scanning. Originally formed in 1993, they were pioneers in PRINCE project management methodology and built their business around this and IT solutions. 

In 2009 the business slipped significantly into the red following steep revenue declines and embarked on a significant restructuring and cost cutting exercise. The business has since re-focused its strategy on growing its Resources, Talent Management, Systems and Inition divisions, whilst making moves into the digital media and 3D technology markets. The business returned to profit in 2012 and at the half way point in 2013 saw revenues up 8.5% to £46.5m and profit before tax and non recurring items of £0.5m (2012 £0.09m loss). Cash at period end was £3.15m and net debt was £5.86m. Ongoing pension costs and pension liabilities had both been reduced thanks to the improving financial position.

Recent trading has continued to improve and the December trading update reported that EBITDA was expected to exceed £2.5m, over 80% ahead of last year. The business has now been divided into 2 divisions - Parity Professionals (mainly IT resourcing) and Parity Digital (newer technology, 3D, web and business intelligence services). Parity Digital is expected to grow strongly in a rapidly growing market and both divisions are expected to benefit from the economic recovery.

Fox Marble (FOX)
Fox Marble is focused on marble quarrying, extraction and production from Kosovo and the Balkans. It has mining licences across 6 separate quarries and a maiden JORC resource indicating an in situ valuation of approximately €16.5billion. It potentially has over 300 million cubic meters of premium marble (91.3m cubic meters in reserves classification) and is aiming to transform itself from an extractor of raw material to an established supplier of premium quality marble worldwide. Recent work in a new quarry has revealed marble similar to “Calacatta Gold” a rare premium marble found on the Italian coast - the things you learn doing this!

Four quarries are now operational and the first sales of marble were made only recently towards the end of 2013. A distribution agreement for the USA has been agreed. A processing plant development in Kosovo is progressing, albeit they are developing this in parallel and dependent on sales and order growth (my assumptions based on their statements) to protect risk to capital and to take advantage of unused capacity in Italian factories. The plant should be completed during 2014 however. Fox’s first shipments of slab marble have been made to the USA. An agent in China has been appointed, two in Italy, and European sales potential is developing with a strategic partnership with Pisani (an established sales channel) from which they took their first orders recently.

Their December pre close statement in December highlighted €500,000 worth of marble orders and repeat orders coming through. At the end of November cash reserves stood at €5.7m so they are well funded. They have just invested another €500,000 in quarrying equipment.

I liked the look of this whilst researching it. A lot actually! Good development and growth to date and production now translating to sales. Interest reportedly building and potential for global sales channels which should be helped by economic recovery. The management team seem focused on growth whilst taking their risk management seriously but have high ambitions and some decent track records. And best of all the 2 founders own over 35% of the shares in issue. Together with others and a couple of funds over 60% of the share float is out of public hands. So, I've bought a small amount of these and will be looking to change my kitchen work-surfaces, fireplaces, and bathroom surround to marble very soon!!

Camco Clean Energy Plc (CCE)
Camco is a project developer working to develop, construct, deliver and operate projects globally. They have more than 20 years of successful project delivery across Asia, North America, Africa and Europe, implementing clean energy and emission reduction solutions, reducing costs and maximising financial and environmental benefits. They pride themselves on their track record in technical delivery and commercial expertise, working with local industry, multinational companies, governments and regulatory bodies.

Camco are involved in Biogas facilities, renewable energy projects, emission trading solutions, carbon offsetting trading, energy storage, and advisory services across all of the above. They were formed in 1989 and operate globally, with more than 200 staff in 12 countries. They have won numerous awards for their pioneering projects as well as winning a couple of “Top 50 best places to work” type awards. The almost total collapse of the EU carbon markets was a challenge for them but they reduced costs and focused on other growth markets.

The share price rose last year from 1.5p to over 8p, but has since fallen back to under 5p. Half year results ending June last year showed revenue rising from €3.7m in the previous half to €5.2m. Gross profit of €2.6m compared to a loss of €7.4m previously. Two directors were buying in November and performance recently has been strong with some good business in North America and an impressive win for some biomass plants across Africa as part of a Clean Tech funding award. At the time of the half year results the CEO Scott McGregor stated “We have now completed our cost reduction program to structure the Company with a lower cost base more appropriate to our current business initiatives and accelerated our business activities in US, Africa and the UK to deliver top-line results as quickly as possible. We are now positioned to benefit from the significant increase in opportunities that we have generated and for the remainder of 2013 and 2014 we will focus on delivering these.”

Ashley House (ASH)
Ashley House operates in the health and care market and provides solutions to building challenges for properties such as surgeries, hospitals etc. It was established in 1991 and grew by specialising in the design and construction of new purpose built doctors surgeries and medical centres. In 2004, a new company was set up to purchase properties designed by Ashley House and other primary care facilities. Since then they have grown into a national organisation that develop tailored solutions for properties in the social care sector, matching the needs of the various providers. Its mission is “to deliver the most cost effective health and community care property solutions through enduring partnerships and proven expertise”. They partner with health and care professionals, providers, visitor centre operators and charities.

The market has been challenging recently but the board state that they are building momentum and that they expect further progress to come from their healthy forward pipeline of schemes and bids.

At the last set of results (end of October) they reported a forward pipeline of £103m of value and new business from their Extra Care of £62.7m. Both of these figures were well ahead of the comparison for the previous 6 month period. Revenue for the half was £5.5m but that was down from £7.2m the prior year. Loss before tax was £0.8m and net debt stood at £1.2m, albeit they had reduced that by £1 since the year before.

This seems to be a business which has had its share of challenges over the past years due to the market and the challenges of the health and care sectors, but is back on the road to recovery according to the board and the recent reports. Most recently they have just received over £3m from two previous projects which were well overdue and had impacted their balance sheet.

This isn't one for me, it’s too far from my core interests, but I can see that they are turning around the company and are operating in a market that they know and understand. That should set them up for success if they can maintain the forward momentum they have created recently.