I have written about this name in 2017 and not much has changed since then. The stock did well and the thesis played out and it seemed that it should continue to perform. The company entered a rough patch during COVID and I think this presents an opportunity for us to buy / add today.
The following is what I wrote on Substack a few months ago and am reproducing here.
Vicom is Singapore's leading testing and inspection company with two core businesses. The first is the vehicle inspection business which it has 70% market share across 7 inspection locations in Singapore. The second business housed under the brand SETSCO does industrial testing and calibration. It also provides certification services to various industries. The important ones are construction, oil and gas, aviation amongst food, sanitation and other test-heavy industries.
I believe little has changed since my last analysis a few years ago. Vicom enjoys very strong fundamentals with stable demand that comes from regulatory requirement for vehicle testing. It conducts tests for 500,000-700,000 vehicles annually across its 7 test centres in Singapore. There is room to increase pricing as with everything else in Singapore.
SETSCO which makes up its second business in industrial testing, benefits from the global ESG* global trend. There will be more requirements and demands for tests and certifications in various industries. Singapore, the South East Asia’s hub for many industries, can also attract companies to do tests from other countries and SETSCO stands to benefit from this.
The company stopped disclosing the business splits years ago. We can only speculate that revenue is split roughly half in each and margins also more or less similar at 20+ percent. Putting the two businesses together, Vicom comes out as a solid compounder. Its revenue has grown from c.SGD50m in 2003 to c.SGD100m today. Similarly, its operating profit expanded from c.SGD11m to SGD30m with margins maintaining at 20-30% throughout the last 20 years
The ompany has never had a single year of negative free cashflow (FCF). It averages c.SGD20m over the last 20 years and is poised to generate a higher average over the next 10 years. In some good years, it has achieved over SGD30m and as you can imagine, cash has piled up nicely, reaching SGD100m back in 2017 but is at SGD65m today after returning some to shareholders. Its ROE is a healthy 18-20%, mostly on the back on strong margin and high asset turnover
That said, Vicom is not without risks. Every investment idea will have downside and it is vital to get these out in the open. Nothing is worse than being blindsided by obvious risks that we should have considered. Even when we have identified the risks, we have to keep monitoring and make sure things are under control. It will take willpower and courage to cut loss when things go wrong. Case-in-point is Hyflux, Singapore’s poster child in water purification that went bankrupt. I lost 100% of my capital even though I identified the key risk!
For Vicom, the key risk pertains to its passenger vehicle business. While this business does not account for the majority of revenue (only c.30% or less of overall revenue by my estimate), it is very visible and top of mind. Analysts and market participants immediately think about the drop in the number of passenger vehicles in Singapore when stratospheric COE prices and vehicle quotas are announced. These announcements come regularly!
It may be true that the number of passenger vehicles in Singapore will not increase much. But the majority of inspections are actually made on commercial vehicles (trucks, lorries, buses and also taxis) and importantly, there is room to raise prices to offset any volume decline. As such, the bigger risk, in circumspect, is the cyclicality that comes into Singapore’s economy for both vehicle inspection and industry testing and certification businesses
Vicom's end customers are subjected to the whims and fancies of business cycles. This is more pronounced in Singapore because we are a small open economy in the global ocean with big fishes generating bigger waves. In 2016, Vicom suffered a small revenue decline in more than a decade as the global economy plunged into crisis with China slowing down and Europe imploding on Grexit and Brexit. Although the share price did not react much, it did stagnate until 2019 and only crossed $1.5 for the first time around June in the same year.
Then in Mar 2020, at the height of the pandemic, share price suffered a 20% drawdown and fell through $1.5 again. On hindsight, that was also a good opportunity to add to this rare Singapore compounder
This is a good segue to talk about technicals. As mentioned, all stocks have risks and the even best compounders suffer from drawdowns. With Vicom, we face a similar situation as the share price dropped from $2.1 to $1.9, c.10% decline in the last few months of 2022. This was likely due to:
- a slight decrease in dividend and special cash over the calendar year when comparing 2022 against 2021 (8.5c vs 9.2c). Singapore shareholders hate dividend cuts. So, they voted with their feet (or sell orders in this case).
- the relentless increase in COE prices bringing the initial cost of owning a car to SGD150,000-200,000 which was enough to buy a small 3-room HDB flat just a decade ago. Market is postulating that the Singapore car population will decline, therefore the number of inspections will decline and hence the share price weakness