ThaiBev’s tipsy valuation risks a hangover for investors

Visual from the company website

Here’s an anomaly: The third-largest company in the world’s biggest Buddhist-majority country is ThaiBev, which makes its money selling rum and beer to a population whose religious texts exhort them to abstain from alcohol.

Fully 63 percent of working-age Thais are teetotallers, according to a 2007 study, and yet trailing 12-month revenues at the maker of Chang beer and Mekhong rum have risen 53 percent over the past five years.

Drink Up

ThaiBev’s revenues have risen smartly in recent years

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You might expect the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej last Thursday to have interrupted this revelry. Public drinking will be frowned on during the 12-month period of mourning and ThaiBev’s own website was switched into somber black and white to mark the event. Alcohol sales will be more strictly limited to particular times of the day, according to the Guardian, and hypermarket giant Tesco Lotus suspended all sales of alcoholic drinks, according to AEC News Today.

If that’s bad news for ThaiBev, someone omitted to tell the shareholders. After falling last week as the king’s health worsened, the Singapore-traded stock rebounded with a 1.7 percent gain ahead of the official announcement of his death. In a classic example of sell-the-rumor, buy-the-fact, it rose as much as 3.8 percent on Friday — the sharpest gain since July. By the close of trade it had only modestly underperformed the benchmark SET index over the period since the King was hospitalized.

Part of this may represent doubts that the mourning period will turn out to be quite as stringent as everyone expects, though the wailing crowds thronging Thai streets since news of the king’s death broke argue against such a conclusion.

ThaiBev’s very success is a testament to the country’s relaxed interpretation of some of its moral codes. Indeed, one 2002 paper found that Thai men who’d spent periods in their youth living in Buddhist temples were more likely to be heavy drinkers in adulthood than those who had not — the opposite of what would be expected if the sanction on alcohol was unbreakable.

It’s certainly not based on an expectation that ThaiBev’s other businesses will help the company ride out a decline in drinking: Just 4.1 percent of its 2015 revenues came from overseas, and 13 percent from food and non-alcoholic drinks.

In Moderation

Blended forward 12-month price-earnings ratios of major brewers and distillers

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Shareholders at present give ThaiBev a forward price-earnings ratio of 21 — bang on the median for brewers and distillers globally with more than $1 billion in trailing 12-month sales, and ahead of the likes of Diageo, Heineken, Carlsberg and Kweichow Moutai. If more Thais respond to their monarch’s death by abstaining from alcohol than choose to drown their sorrows, that valuation could start looking tipsy.

Bloomberg

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Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.