09-Feb-2020: I haven't looked at RFF for a little while, but they are looking reasonably interesting once again. The high-profile short selling attacks of last year have faded into the background somewhat, and RFF are just getting on with business, and business seems to be reasonably good:
17-Dec-2019: Investor Newsletter
They have now sold all of their poultry assets, and have already invested some of the proceeds into further cattle properties which they view as likely to provide a superior return on investment compared to poultry farms, particularly as much of their poultry infrastructure was aging and in need of significant capital investment (now somebody else's problem). RFF have other cattle property purchases in their sights also.
Their latest newsletter (link above) has another interesting article in it by their Managing Director, David Bryant (who continues to accumulate further RFF shares himself on-market):
Productivity: The key to improving the world food supply, by David Bryant, RFM Managing Director:
Meeting the challenge of feeding more people better food.
If you are 60 years old, or claim to be 40 and a Monty Python fan, these lyrics should ring a bell:
"Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power."
Eric Idle and John Du Prez, The Galaxy Song, Performed by Eric Idle in The Meaning of Life, 1983.
Idle’s reckoning of 19 miles per second, is correct, which means our planet is moving at 110,000 km/h so that it can complete its journey around the sun every 365.25 days. While all of this is going on, we will experience the four seasons, the growth and senescence of the plants that sustain us…. and get one year older.
During the 52 weeks and 6.15 hours that it will take us all to complete our next circumnavigation, an additional 82 million people will join us here as permanent residents on planet earth. As an added bonus, the average wealth of all of us here on this speeding orb, will have increased by around 3.5%, driven by the fairly constant economic growth that is the product of the collective striving and inventiveness of what will soon be eight billion people.
These two forces, population and economic growth, are having profound, but differing effects on the agricultural systems required to feed us. They also have enduring effects on the value of agricultural land and the increasing productivity we must derive from it. [continues...]
I don't have the room to copy more into this straw, but I recommend you read the rest of it by clicking on the link above. It's a good read.
My next excerpt is from further into the newsletter, in the "Rural Funds Group Update" section:
Redeployment of capital
Funds realised from the poultry asset sale [A$72m] will be partially used to acquire three cattle properties in Western Australia ($22.6m including transaction costs), and to convert a recently acquired sugar cane property ($1.6m including transaction costs) to a macadamia orchard. These acquisitions are examples of the two types of investment strategy RFM is pursuing, being the development of assets for:
Both strategies aim to lift the value and income earning potential of an asset. The productivity strategy achieves this objective by enhancing a property’s ability to produce a given commodity. Whereas, the higher and better use strategy aims to transform the use of an asset to a different, more profitable commodity. Put simply, increased productivity or production of a more valuable commodity enhances the ability of the operator to generate higher profits, leading to a higher valuation and enabling the landlord to charge more rent.
The first of these strategies will be applied to the WA properties by: developing land for new improved pastures and forage crops, improving existing grazing areas with fertiliser and other inputs, increasing irrigable area, and improving operational functionality with new fences and cattle handling infrastructure.
The WA properties will increase the number of natural resource predominant assets to 16, comprising 14 cattle properties and two cotton properties. [continues...]
As I have mentioned before, I sold out of RFF on valuation grounds prior to last year's short-seller attacks, but RFF are now trading back at more reasonable levels - in a trading range between $1.80-$2.00 (and they're in the lower half of that range currently), rather than the $2.20-$2.40 range they were stuck in between January and July last year, and they continue to pay a rising stream of dividends. They are unfranked, due to their structure (stapled security/trust structure) but based on their current 2.71 cps paid quarterly (10.84 cps annually), that's a 5.8% dividend yield based on their last traded SP of $1.86). Quarterly paid dividends could also be a benefit to income-orientated investors.
02-March-2020: HY20 Financial Results release
Highlights of the HY20 results (compared to the prior corresponding period) include:
Their net tangible assets (NTA/NAV) per unit increased from $1.22 (June 30, 2019) to $1.27 (Dec 31, 2019). Their adjusted net asset value per unit including water entitlements held at market value rose from $1.80 to $1.84/unit over the same period. I'll update my valuation now to reflect that $1.84 value, as that's the most recent one we have for RFF now.
12-Feb-2020: Judgment regarding Bonitas litigation
Rural Funds Management Limited (RFM), as responsible entity for the Rural Funds Group (ASX: RFF) advises that a judgment in the legal proceedings against Bonitas Research LLC (Bonitas) and its principal, Matthew Wiechert, as disclosed 13 September 2019, has been handed down in the Supreme Court of New South Wales this morning. The Court gave judgment in favour of RFM, made declarations about the contraventions of the Corporations Law by Bonitas and Matthew Wiechert and will consider the assessment of damages on 6 March 2020. The Court found that Bonitas and Matthew Wiechert had made statements in Australia which “were false in material particulars and materially misleading” and were “deceptive and likely to deceive”.
A fully copy of the judgment is available at https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/5e4251d7e4b09d076393de17
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About Rural Funds Group (RFF)
RFF owns a diversified portfolio of high quality Australian agricultural assets. RFF’s investment objective is to generate a stable income stream derived from leasing its assets to suitable counterparts and capital growth through any appreciation in the value of those assets. RFF is a stapled security, incorporating Rural Funds Trust (ARSN 112 951 578) and RF Active (ARSN 168 740 805), trading under the ASX code ‘RFF’. Rural Funds Management Ltd (RFM) is the responsible entity of RFF.
Disclosure: I don't currently hold RFF shares, but I have held them at various times in the past and made good money by doing so.
I don't know if any of you read my previous straw here about Wiechert's ex-business partner at Glaucus Research, Soren Aandahl, describing their relationship as being similar to the collaboration between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel that resulted in the very succesful band, Simon and Garfunkel, before Paul Simon (who Aandahl clearly thought he represented in the Aandahl/Wiechert relationship) felt he just needed to go out and do his own thing (had outgrown the relationship presumably). I questioned whether Wiechert was as good as their Glaucus record suggested, or whether most of that success had been down to Aandahl, with Weichert possibly believing that his own abilities were perhaps a little greater than reality might suggest - over time, now that he is operating without Aandahl. Perhaps this court judgement (in favour of RFF, and against Wiechert and his company, Bonitas) does back up my hypothesis. For one thing, he managed to make misleading statements IN Australia according to the judgement. That's something that I believe Aandahl avoids.
High Profile Shorting 101: Make your misleading statements in a jurisdiction where your target company can't touch you, then they can't sue you. Or perhaps even rely on the facts - and avoid the misleading statements altogether, where possible.
Reading through Weichert's original short thesis material, and then RFF's initial response, it seemed to me that Weichert didn't really have a very full understanding of how his target (RFF) was operating or was supposed to operate, and there appeared to be multiple holes in his thesis. For that reason I did suggest that unlike the previous Glaucus targets, RFF would almost certainly survive the attack, but would be wounded by it for a while. In particular, I thought Weichert's ascertion that RFF's value was actualy $0 was patently rediculous.
I think we can chalk this one up to RFF.
One thing that Weichert does seem to have done right however is to pick a half-decent name for his new company: Bonitas Research. The Latin word "Bonitas" is defined as goodness, integrity, moral excellence, kindness, benevolence, and tenderness. By contrast, Glaucus atlanticus is a species of small, blue sea slug.
Staying with that blue theme, but moving up the food chain somewhat, Wiechert's former Glaucus partner, Soren Aandahl, named his new company, Blue Orca Capital, named after the Orca, or Killer Whale.
Bucephalus Research, who also had a tilt at RFF, after Wiechert's Bonitas Research had already got well and truly stuck in, is named after Alexander the Great's horse, considered by some to be the most famous horse in history. Bucephalus Research claim that their purpose (or mission statement) is "Exposing Creative Accounting - To help clients reduce risk and outperform", and they describe Creative Accounting as "the legal abuse of shareholders". Fair enough. I'm not sure if they have landed too many punches on RFF either, or did any lasting damage. One positive is that RFF and similar types of companies (with similar structures) are going to have to focus more on being very upfront and transparent with their accounts going forwards so as to avoid more of these attacks, which are costly to defend, consume valuable time and resources, and distract management from their real jobs.
RFF will release their HY20 financial results on Monday morning (2 March 2020).
Further Reading: BusinessNewsAus.com article