ProSieben’s (ETR:PSM) growth story is a lie: earnings manipulation, huge put liabilities – Published March 6, 2018
ProSiebensat.1 Media SE (ProSieben) is a European media company focused in the German-speaking TV and digital market. The company’s core business is advertising-financed free TV, supplemented by digital segments built by a diversification campaign over the last half-decade.
Diversification has proven a costly and ultimately unsuccessful strategy. Viceroy believes ProSieben is a highly leveraged entity with non-performing subsidiaries offering no synergies. ProSieben’s core business – which has carried ProSieben’s investment losses – appears to be in accelerating decline, with a potential death knell spurred by the EU’s implementation of its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- ProSieben’s acquisition and expansion strategy has been catastrophic, unfocused, and expensive – the company is currently attempting to control the damage caused. Many expensive investments are loss-making, hidden through segment accounting gimmickry, and offer no synergies. It is unlikely that ProSieben will be able to offset losses through divestment. There is no clear rhyme or reason to their business and such disjointed segments have proven difficult to manage and integrate.
- Viceroy believes ProSieben’s non-cash barter transactions have artificially boosted revenues by EUR 210m in 2016: almost 50% of net income. Viceroy believe ProSieben’s media-for-equity and media-for-revenue transactions will never be realized in cash because investments have been pulled from the bottom of the barrel. Despite classifying these transactions as revenue items, ProSieben does not appear to adjust its operating cashflows to reflect this non-cash item, as equity/investments are inherently not a working-capital account.
- ProSieben has subsidized a fabricated digital “growth story” using cash flows from its TV advertising business and idle TV advertising inventory. As its core business declines, ProSieben can no longer counterbalance its underperforming digital segments – the earnings structure is on the verge of collapse.
- Significant unmet financing needs and dividend commitments far outweigh ProSieben’s cash flows. We believe shareholders will inevitably be subject to increasingly dilutive equity raises. Outstanding amongst these are ProSieben’s acquisition-related put liabilities which amounted to EUR 366m as of EOFY 2016.
- ProSieben’s unconditional put liabilities have the characteristics of former management “bonuses” which bypass the consolidated income statement and stagger the company’s cash outflows (despite being unconditional). This allows ProSieben to consolidate entities (through majority ownership) without full cash outlay and minimizing P&L effects.
- ProSieben has lost at least 14 senior executives & board members in 2017 alone. It is very telling that almost the entire finance-related management team has left the company within that period. It seems the people most familiar with the true financial state of ProSieben have jumped ship. The collective Executive Board and Supervisory Board directly hold a mere 65,244 shares in ProSieben as of December 31, 2017. This is equivalent to 0.0% of the share capital.
- ProSieben is locked-in to new “output deal” contracts with major US studios to the tune of EUR 3,022m which it acknowledges does not meet the appetite of German viewers. Viceroy believe this will substantially increase costs in a declining market – a margin-trimming exercise.
- The head of ProSieben’s M&A team who processed an acquisition was employed by the seller a short period after. Viceroy believe the transaction was extremely favorable to the sellers.
- The Company’s dividend rates are fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable. Viceroy believes the capital raise in November 2016 which followed a large dividend payout was totally nonsensical.
Viceroy believes that ProSieben will be forced to issue another capital raise or cancel its dividend to zero to deal with these problems.
ProSieben displays all the signs of a business in an advanced state of decay in every operating segment. Viceroy believes that these issues have gone unattended for too long, and a correction is imminent as ProSieben’s market becomes stressed.
We value ProSieben at EUR 7.51 per share, representing a 75% downside on the closing price at March 5, 2018.
*Edit – 6 Mar 2018 – Correction on Figure 1.