Excerpt from Greenlight Capital’s recent letter to investors which talks about Punch Taverns (PUB).
PUB is an operator and lessor of over 8,000 pubs in the United Kingdom. Approximately 875 are owned and operated, and 7,500 are leased to live-in long term lessors. PUB charges “dry rent” equal to 50% of the estimated 5-year average of pre-rent profits and “wet rent” of markup In beer. Lessors are required to buy all their beer from PUB, which PUB sells at a markup, acting as a distributor from the brewers. U.K. pubs are suffering from the initiation of the U.K. wide smoking ban, supermarkets’ aggressive beer discounting, and the U.K. consumer crunch. We believe the franchise model creates high margin revenues with low volatility. In addition, it appears the stock is under pressure because the market misunderstands PUBs debt structure. PUB has three debt securitizations, each structured to pay down incrementally between now and 2036 without needing to be refinanced. In addition, PUB has £283 million of convertible debt at the parent company due December 2010. During the quarter, the market began pricing in a high risk of default or cash trapping within the securitizations. In addition, PUB announced its intention not to pay a final dividend for fiscal year 2008 to conserve cash at the parent company. The market took PUB’s conservatism as a sign of potential cash flow problems regarding the debt and began pricing in an equity issuance to pay down the convertibles. Based on conversations with the company and analysis of the debt documents, Greenlight believes PUB has the flexibility to manage its securitizations without a liquidity crunch, even in a difficult period for pubs. PUB is likely to use the cash savings from the cancelled dividend to pay down some of its debt early. We do not think the chances of an equity issuance are high. Greenlight initiated the position at £2.83 or less than 4x estimated 2008 profits. PUB shares ended the quarter at £1.32 (you do the multiple).