Analysts expect bumpy road for Jardine Matheson

A car being offloaded outside the showroom of Mercedes-Benz distributor Jardine Cycle & Carriage in Alexandra Road. Jardine Matheson runs Mercedes-Benz dealerships, among other things.
A car being offloaded outside the showroom of Mercedes-Benz distributor Jardine Cycle & Carriage in Alexandra Road. Jardine Matheson runs Mercedes-Benz dealerships, among other things.ST FILE PHOTO

US-China trade war, HK protests and slower auto sales hit earnings; stock now set for first decline in four years

The prospects of Singapore's biggest conglomerate are souring, as it has been caught in a perfect storm of intensifying global trade tensions, prolonged protests in Hong Kong and slowing auto sales.

Jardine Matheson Holdings - whose businesses range from automobiles to hotels to supermarkets all around Asia - has seen its share price shrink by 23 per cent this year, putting it among the worst performers in Singapore.

The sell-off accelerated after the company's first-half earnings missed some analysts' estimates earlier this month and demonstrations in Hong Kong - home to its headquarters - reached a boiling point.

The Singapore-listed units of the 187-year-old conglomerate, founded in Canton as a tea and opium trader, are turning from one of the city-state's steadiest stocks to the embodiment of volatility.

A flash crash, triggered by haphazard sell orders, erased more than three-quarters of Jardine Matheson's value. The stock is now set for its first decline in four years.

"With the backdrop of a trade war and the risk of a currency war, there could be further negative effect on their earnings," said Mr Derek Tay, head of investments at Kamet Capital Partners, a Singapore-based multi-family office.

He added that Jardine Matheson's revenue is mostly from auto sales, which "haven't been great globally".

When reached by e-mail, a Jardine Matheson spokesman referred Bloomberg to the company's annual report for the 2018 fiscal year.

In a statement on Aug 2, chairman Ben Keswick said results "will depend to a large extent on consumer sentiment in our key markets".

Jardine Matheson reported a 3 per cent decline in underlying profit for the first half of the year, amid a "challenging start to the year" for key unit Astra International, an automobile distributor in Indonesia, it said in a presentation to analysts on Aug 2.

Astra's automotive business saw an 18 per cent decline in net income during the period.

Founded in 1832, Jardine Matheson became one of the "hongs", or trading houses, that shaped Hong Kong's development. After moving its stock listing to Singapore in 1990, the group shifted focus towards South-east Asia, where it now runs Pizza Hut restaurants, hotels and Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

Goldman Sachs and Citi analysts have lowered their earnings estimates for Jardine Matheson's 2019-2021 fiscal year by 3 per cent to 12 per cent, citing the trade war between the United States and China.

"We do not foresee a significant pickup in Jardine Matheson's earnings in 2H19," Goldman analysts wrote on Aug 5.

United First Partners' head of Asian research Justin Tang is also worried that the trade war is weighing on consumer confidence.

He said Astra, which is participating in the ride-hailing industry via Gojek, seems "late to the party" as "Grab and Uber have been around".

"There is earnings risk and currency risk, and these are things we shouldn't neglect for a company like Jardine," Kamet Capital's Mr Tay said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2019, with the headline 'Analysts expect bumpy road for Jardine Matheson'. Print Edition | Subscribe