Queen Elizabeth, Energy Caps, Verici DX, Equals and Paypoint

The sad death of Queen Elizabeth reminds me of my own mother’s death at the age of 100. They looked similar in later life. Both managed to die in their own home which is the best place from which to leave. Will Charles III make a good king? We will have to wait and see but his name is not propitious bearing in mind the track record of the previous two. As I am not a monarchist I will say no more.

It was interesting to see an open coal fire in use in the photographs of Liz Truss with the Queen. Balmoral does not have central heating apparently while Buckingham Palace does have a CHP plant. But the bill to run the later was about half a million pounds per annum before the projected price increases. So King Charles might welcome Truss’s announcement to cap the maximum price of gas and electricity.

This is a cap on prices, not on overall cost so people with big houses with large gas consumption will still pay more. But at least it will replace the OFGEM price cap which was an irrational policy that would not encourage people to reduce energy consumption. Fracking is also being permitted to boost local gas production.

Truss did not give in to calls for this largess to be funded through a windfall tax. She said this would undermine the national interest by discouraging the very investment we need to secure home-grown energy supplies. You can’t tax your way to growth she said. So it will be funded by more Government debt in essence.

Is this wise? I believe it is the lesser of evils as it will help to bring inflation under control which is essential to keep the economy healthy and avoid a severe recession. These decisions by Truss and her new cabinet are positive in my view and should help the stock market.

But she is still committed to net zero by 2050 which is simply an unrealistic and unachievable objective.

I attended a couple of interesting results webinars this week. The first was from Verici DX (VRCI) who provide pre and post diagnostic technology for kidney transplants to avoid rejection. This is a subject in which I have a strong interest as a transplant patient and I do hold the shares which were acquired free as a scrip dividend when they spun off from EKF. The company is making progress but revenue is some way off and profits impossible to forecast so I would not purchase the shares at this time.

I did attend a two-hour seminar at Guys Hospital recently for pre-transplant patients as I need another. It was apparent that transplant procedures have not changed much in the last 25 years. Back then there was hope of xeno-transplantation but that faded away. More recently a bioartificial kidney has been developed (see  https://pharm.ucsf.edu/kidney ) but that could be years away from clinical use.

The other webinar I attended was that of Equals Group (EQLS) which I have held in the past. Financial figures are improving and a focus on the SME sector has clearly helped. It’s a complex payment business though and the webinar only helped in some degree to understand it. It might be another UK technology business vulnerable to being acquired by a trade buyer who understands the technology and regulatory environment. The company has been tipped recently by Simon Thompson in Investors Chronicle.

One company I do hold which is also looking cheap in the payments world is Paypoint (PAY) – probably because it operates in the retail sector and has been around a long time. There is a good write-up on the company in the latest Techinvest newsletter. But like Equals it is a complex business providing a number of different services. Both Equals and Paypoint could do with better communications on their business activities.

All of Verici DX, Equals and Paypoint have one advantage – they are not affected by the price of energy except very indirectly!

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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EKF Diagnostics AGM, Verici DX, Eleco Issues and Boku AGM

I attended the Annual General Meeting of EKF Diagnostics (EKF) today via Zoom. This was one of the better organised electronic format AGMs I have attended. To quote from the company’s web site: “EKF Diagnostics is a global medical manufacturer of point-of-care and central lab devices and chemistry reagents including hemoglobin tests, HbA1c tests, glucose and lactate tests. EKF also manufactures and distributes products associated with COVID-19 pandemic”.  The latter has enabled the company to generate very high revenue growth recently and the AGM statement said this also: “Strong trading continues into the second quarter 2021 and the Board is now confident that trading for the full year will be comfortably ahead of already upgraded management expectations”.

There were a few questions posed by the approximately 50 attendees to the AGM and as they gave the proxy vote figures I asked why they got 11% of votes against the approval of the accounts. Such a level of opposition is unusually high. The answer given was that this was because of a recommendation from a major proxy advisor with the added comment “It’s just stupidity”. This is not a very helpful kind of answer. Why exactly was there a recommendation to vote against? And why was it stupid?

Note that EKF holds interests in companies RenalytixAI (RENX) and Verici DX (VRCI) who are focused on renal disease, the latter on diagnosis of kidney transplant rejection. Both companies listed on AIM last year and have zero or minimal revenue. I recently read the prospectus (admission document) for VRCI. As a transplant patient myself, I have a strong interest in this subject but the company seems to be some way from developing a saleable product or service, i.e. fund raising seems to be for financing research. I won’t be investing in either company until the prospects are clearer. It is very clear that it is possible to list new companies on AIM at present that are not just early-stage ones but pure speculations, but that has probably always been the case. These companies might meet a strong demand for new diagnostic and treatment options for renal patients if they are successful but success is far from assured and large amounts of capital have been raised and expenditure incurred with no certainty of profitable revenue resulting. At least that’s my opinion but anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to try and convince me.  

Another unhelpful response to a question I received today was from Eleco (ELCO). I have been a shareholder for some time in this construction software company. The company announced on the 26th of April that it had received a requisition notice that covered resolutions to reappoint two directors, that all directors stand for re-election at future AGMs and that the remuneration committee report be approved.

It was certainly unusual that such resolutions were not on the AGM agenda on the 6th of May and the above requisition was ignored (probably too late anyway). It is of course standard practice now for all directors of listed companies to stand for re-election, and a remuneration resolution is also normal at most AIM companies even if not legally required. The AGM was held in a format that discouraged questions also so I did not attend.

On the 14th May the company announced that the requisition notice had been rejected as it did not comply with the Companies Act and the company’s Articles, but gave no further information.

So I sent a question addressed to the Chairman, asking what was the reason for the requisition and exactly why was it rejected. The answer I received from advisor SECNewgate (not from the Chairman) was: “Thank you for your email regarding Eleco. It has been discussed with the Company’s NOMAD and lawyers and we do not believe we need to add any further detail other than that the requisition notice does not comply with the requirements of the Companies Act 2006 and is also contrary to the provisions of the Company’s Articles of Association”.

Hardly a helpful response. Why should the company avoid answering such simple questions? Will they continue to evade answering, which legally could be difficult at the next AGM? If they have one or more disgruntled shareholders who chose to submit the requisition why should not other shareholders know about their concerns? This is just bad corporate governance.

I also attended the Boku (BOKU) Annual General Meeting today. This was another Zoom event with about 10 attendees. The CEO gave a short presentation and the Chairman covered the issue that proxy advisor ISS had recommended voting against the remuneration resolution (there were some votes against). The ISS complaint was apparently that the LTIP was not solely performance based. The Chairman said they needed to match the more normal US remuneration structure, i.e. options based on length of service.

Several questions were posed by attendees after the end of the formal meeting and the CEO gave his usual fluent responses. I questioned the new focus on e-wallets. Surely there were lots of companies offering such wallets? How were they to compete? The answer apparently is by focusing.

Both of the on-line AGMs I attended today were useful events if rather brief and not nearly as good as a physical meeting. It’s also difficult to put in follow-up questions after initial responses. Let us hope we can revert to physical or hybrid meetings soon (hybrid ones will at least make it easier for those with travel difficulties to attend so I hope the electronic attendance option is retained).

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Ideagen Results, Stock Speculation and Verici DX

Ideagen (IDEA), which is one of my long-standing holdings, announced their interim results this morning. There were no surprises in them but it included a note that David Hornsby, Executive Chairman, would be retiring this year. I think I first met David at a Mello event in 2012 and I purchased some shares soon after because I was impressed by how much he knew about selling software. That turned out to be a wise investment as he has grown the business many times subsequently. My shares were originally purchased at about 15p and are now 285p.

A recent conversation with David did give me the impression that it might be time for him to retire. I submitted a written question to the AGM in October, but it was not answered so I took it up later. The question related to the write off of past sales transactions as being uncollectable which were treated as an exceptional item in the accounts. David then calls me and tells me he did not consider the question reasonable (or “somewhat crass” as he later called it). He also suggested if I was not happy, I should sell my shares. This is not the kind of aggressive response I expect from a Chairman to questions that might have been “pointed” but not unreasonable. I also tried to attend the on-line results presentation this morning but for some technical reason it did not allow me to register. Not at all satisfactory. Anyway thanks for the ride David.

Stock Speculation

There is a very good article in the Financial Times today under the headline “Retail investors rush to find the next stock market unicorn” by James Bianco. It reported how investors have piled into technology stocks in recent months. A Goldman Sachs index of non-profitable tech stocks has risen by 400% since March.

It notes three things have dramatically changed retail investor perceptions of investment in small cap stocks: 1) the cutting of broker commissions to zero; 2) the adoption of fractional purchases; and 3) the increase in savings helped by Government assistance payments (which Biden promises to increase further). In effect money is being spent “chasing unicorns”.

If you read my recent review of the book “Boom and Bust” you will realise that these changes (a rise in liquidity from lower trading costs and money being pumped in) are common drivers of speculative bubbles. It is surely time to be wary.

Verici Dx

I am still on the look-out though for interesting small cap stocks. One company I thought I might understand is Verici Dx (VRCI). The company is focused on producing better control of immunosuppression in kidney transplant patients who often suffer from damaging graft rejection. That may not be obvious from current blood tests used to monitor transplants.  As a transplant patient of 20+ years standing I thought I might understand the business.

So I read the prospectus for their IPO on AIM last November. Market cap is now over £100 million but with no revenue or profits. The company is a spin-off from Renalytix AI (RENX) with a similar financial profile and market cap of £640 million but they do expect some sales in 2021.

Both companies have some interesting technology which might certainly be beneficial to kidney disease patients, but the technology is not just unproven but adoption by clinicians might be slow and there are potential competitors.

I consider the valuations way too high for such early-stage businesses even if the potential markets for the technology might be large. A frothy market for such companies puts me off investing until they actually show some revenue. Perhaps these are companies to keep an eye on rather than jump in now.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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