Company Meetings Autumn 2020

We met the companies below and you can learn more on any of these by contacting the person at JM Finn with whom you usually deal.

Hill & Smith Holdings

Price £12.24
52 week high-low £15.34 – £8.44
Net Yield 0.88%
Hist/Pros PER 20 – 21.45
Equity Market Cap (M) £962

Derek Muir (CEO) and Hannah Nichols (CFO)

Hill & Smith is an industrial engineering firm whose revenue and earnings derive from three core segments; roads and security infrastructure, utilities infrastructure and galvanising services. Geographically, the company operates across seven countries although revenue and profitability heavily derive from operations in the UK and US. 

The company has achieved growth over a number of years through a combination of organic and  acquisitive growth. Yet, unlike some other businesses the group operates with a decentralised management structure that gives the underlying subsidiaries more independence; Hill & Smith believe this drives a more entrepreneurial culture.

Recently management outlined how this culture is fostering an exciting product development avenue for their composite materials group. Worsening storms across the US are highlighting deficiencies of wooden electricity poles and damaged poles in California are contributing to wildfire issues. Hill & Smith’s composite group are developing a high strength and fire resistant composite utility pole for US utilities to evaluate. Whilst the initial cost outlay for these composite poles will be higher, the lifetime cost and safety benefits could create a new market opportunity. 

Like many firms, Hill & Smith has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic but results have been buoyed by the ongoing growth and resilience of their US business. If governments begin shifting away from their fiscal austerity mind-set of the post 2008-09 decade then the ageing US infrastructure backdrop could provide a prolonged growth tailwind across Hill & Smith’s infrastructure and galvanising divisions. However, a question for investors to consider is the extent to which Hill & Smith controls its own destiny or relies upon fleeting government budget priorities.


Intuitive Surgical

Price $741.57
52 week high-low $778.83 – $360.50
Net Yield 0.00%
Hist/Pros PER 62 – 79.99
Equity Market Cap (M) $82,476

Phillip Kim (Investor Relations)

Intuitive Surgical is a truly innovative medical technology company: it is the only commercial player in the fast growing soft-tissue robotic assisted surgical market. Its surgical robot - da Vinci - is controlled by a surgeon on a nearby console and allows minimally invasive surgeries to be conducted through a few small incisions, typically 5mm–10mm in diameter. The superior precision and control results in improved surgical outcomes for patients (less scarring, faster recovery, lower remittance etc.) and also lowers total healthcare costs for hospitals.

On conservative assumptions, Intuitive estimate da Vinci has achieved 24% penetration of applicable surgical markets, leaving plenty of room for the business to grow in the long-run. Short-term, however, the Covid-19 pandemic presents a material headwind. It has caused delays to elective surgeries – 50% of the procedures conducted on da Vincis – and perhaps more importantly, has cast uncertainty over the future capital expenditure (capex) decision of hospitals. With 30% of sales coming from da Vinci systems, any change to hospital capex could have a big impact.

So far, system sales have held up better than expected. Intuitive confirmed that support had come from large US orders agreed pre-Covid and from an existing quota with China, which remains only half fulfilled. In the coming quarters, aside from China, demand is highly uncertain. With 70% of the business in the US and the CARES Act only partially covering Covid-19 costs, US hospitals are likely to cut capex. Intuitive have been upfront about this risk to investors, but have also stated they have minimal visibility on the size and timing of these cuts. For investors, the conundrum is whether the valuation of shares (69x December’s estimated earnings) fairly accounts for both the substantial long-term opportunity and highly uncertain near-term outlook. 



Price £10.03
52 week high-low £12.11 – £7.16
Net Yield 4.23%
Hist/Pros PER 21 – 28.20
Equity Market Cap (M) £4,363

Susan Davy (CEO) and Paul Boote (Finance Director)

Pennon is the holding company for the regulated water company South West Water. In July they finalised the sale of Viridor, their waste management and energy recovery business operating across the UK, and announced proceeds of £3.7bn. We spoke with the newly appointed CEO and the Finance Director to discuss how they intend to use these proceeds across four targeted areas.

Firstly, following the sale of Viridor, they plan to realign the capital structure for the Group to ensure that borrowing is at an appropriate level going forward. They intend to pay down £900m of debt to remain within the regulator’s guided range and maintain balance sheet strength despite the current uncertain environment. Secondly, they have made a contribution to their defined benefit pension scheme. They recently closed the scheme to future accruals. However, at the last review in 2019, the pension deficit stood at £45m and they have since paid in £36m to reflect the fact that Viridor was a participating employer and has now left the scheme.

Following their successful acquisition and consolidation of Bournemouth Water, they intend to look for similar growth opportunities within the UK water sector, ensuring any acquisitions are value accretive to shareholders. Finally, they intend to return any remaining cash to shareholders, the extent of which will depend on the scope of any growth opportunities that have arisen over the year. 

Having consolidated the business to focus solely on UK water, investors will hope that the half year results in November provide a clearer plan for any acquisitive growth and on the promise of returning cash to shareholders. 


Mercado Libre

Fevertree Drinks
Reckitt Benckiser Group

Royal Dutch Shell
John Wood Group

Burford Capital Limited
HSBC Holdings
Lloyds Banking Group

Edwards Life Sciences
Intuitive Surgical
Novo Nordisk
Roche Holding
Smith & Nephew

BAE Systems
Grafton Group
Intertek Group
Otis Worldwide Corporation
Spirax-Sarco Engineering

Microsoft Corporation
NVIDIA Corporation

BHP Group
Croda International
Hill & Smith Holdings
Johnson Matthey
Rio Tinto

British Land Company
Derwent London
Weyerhaeuser Company

National Grid
Pennon Group
Severn Trent
Telecom Plus
United Utilities Group

James Ayling, CFA Research Analyst
Michael Bray, CFA Research Analyst
Maude Holloway, Assistant Research Analyst

Understanding Finance

Helping clients understand what we do is key to building relationships. To explain some of the industry jargon that creeps into our world, we’ve pulled together a section of our site to help.

Managing your wealth

Managing your wealth

Also in this issue

Most articles about bonds need to start with the question of where do interest rates go from here? In the short term that depends on how the world copes with Covid-19.

During this difficult year, we have been proud to have picked up a number of awards and accolades, which recognise the services we offer to our clients.

As part of our focus on providing a high quality, personalised investment service, we look to support our investment managers in their decision making when it comes to constructing client portfolios.

Autumn Issue Thirty Two