Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Curious Case of Al Thouraia Project Management Company WLL


This company has come up more than once in earlier posts on Global Investment House ("GIH"). 

Today it's time to take a closer look. 

Documents related to the Offering of AlThouraia can be found here. If that doesn't work, go to GIH's website.  Click on the Investor Relations tab. And then Global News. And then scroll down to 2 June 2008.

On 2 June 2008, with great fanfare GIH announced this KD180 million (US$630 million or SAR 2.5 billion) private placement.
Global announced the launch of Al-Thouraia Project Management Company's capital increase to KD180 million.  Al-Thouraia shall be utilized as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to invest its whole capital in Mazaya Saudi for Commercial Investment Company "Mazaya Saudi", which has been incorporated in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and will be managed by Mazaya Holding Company "Mazaya". Global Acts as Lead Manager Al-Thouraia Project Management Company. Mazaya Saudi will operate as a real estate development company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in order to capitalize on the opportunities available in the Saudi Arabian real estate sector, which is known to be a vibrant, growing and a lucrative market.  Mazaya Saudi will have a paid-up capital of SR2.5bn.  Mazaya Saudi shall conduct its business in accordance with Islamic Shari'a.
The Al Thouraia Summary outlined the attractiveness of the deal:
  1. The market opportunity in Saudi. 
  2. Strategic partners from Kuwait (Al Mazaya Holding) and Saudi (Abdullatif Alissa Group and Abdulaziz AlAjlan) plus some unnamed other strategic investors. As noted in GIH's press release above, to include Global itself. 
  3. Excellent promised financial results: An IRR of 20.1% with solid cashflow -- an average dividend payout ratio of 60%. All achieved with moderate use of debt. Leverage ratio (no more than 35% at its peak). 
  4. As well as the prospects of a liquidity enhancing listing on the Saudi Stock Exchange.
As is common, the "teaser" was accompanied by a Private Placement Memorandum . That link will take you to the copy posted on GIH's website. Surprising for a deal this size, this document is rather disappointing. Certainly, this is not as polished or professional as efforts by say Arcapita or Investcorp – two firms that I would expect GIH considers its peers. Perhaps, this is an earlier version which was revised later. Perhaps, this fundamentally reflects on the relative state of Kuwaiti regulations vis-à-vis some other GCC states?

As I read it, some items caught my eye. And some did not – that is, while I was expecting them, they didn't appear. 

The language and content of the Disclaimer need work and tightening. No doubt for some a technical quibble. But how one deals with the details is often a good indication of how one deals with the big picture.  The sort of thing a professional looks at to gauge the professionalism of his or her competitor.

The Term Sheet is rather short and incomplete. It should discuss all significant aspects of the deal, thus, providing the investor with a summary snapshot of the transaction in a single place. Besides the financial aspects, the identity of major parties, relationships/contracts among them, expenses and fees, length of the Offer including various steps, e.g., Offer Period, Allocations, Issuance.  And so forth

The Saudi Real Estate Market section does not discuss major items such as:
  1. Laws and Regulations affecting a landlord's right and ability to increase rentals, including requirements, timing, procedures.
  2. Commercial Issues:  The types of leases commonly used in the Kingdom, e.g., short or long term, escalation and early termination/cancellation clauses, whether operations and maintenance are separate from rental and what controls exist on increases in those critical cash outflows, etc.  The prevalence of rebates, decorating/finishing allowances to tenants, etc in the market.
  3. Legal  Issues including mechanisms for challenges to rental and fee increases.  The ability, procedures and timing to evict of clients in breach, etc. 
  4. Status of Mazaya Saudi.  There is a disconnect between the press release  ("has been incorporated") and the PPM ("being established").  A small point admittedly.  One simply explained no doubt.  But one wonders why the two weren't conformed.
  5. Mazaya Holding Kuwait:  On Page 25 we learn that Mazaya Saudi will be "positioned to leverage on Mazaya Holding (Kuwait's) competitive market advantage". One that provides as we are told an "absolute advantage against competition". Certainly an enviable position to be in for this Kuwaiti Company not only in its home market but in what is for it the relatively new market of Saudi Arabia.  On Pages 26 -28, we get more details on the remarkable Mazaya Holdings. Formed in January 2004, it has 18 projects – of which it has completed a grand total of 4.  Of the 4, there is the 22 storey Global Tower, 32 villas in the Al Maha Project, the Al Roya Tower and 6 buildings in Dubai Healthcare City.  With these major accomplishments under its belt, it already enjoys an absolute advantage. Imagine its market position today. I'm guessing The Donald may be its latest apprentice. He's going to have to hustle to make the cut!  Or "You're Fired!"
  6. Strategic Shareholders:  We also get a partial glimpse into the proposed shareholding structure. There's a list of three entities and the promise of other strategic investors. Perhaps for competitive or business confidential reasons the target holdings of each are not disclosed, though one might expect a prospective shareholder to wonder just what level of financial commitment these entities were going to make to the venture. 
  7. Management:  There's no mention of the proposed members of the Board and CEO, their CVs and  perhaps more importantly what rights the investor has in choosing them. Recall that the investor is a unit holder in Al Thouraia and Al Thouraia is the shareholder in Saudi Mazaya. Al Thouraia as an entity will vote for the Board at Saudi Mazaya.  And that is precisely where the assets and cash generation take place.  As an aside, I'd guess (note that word) that this structure is used to "get around" Saudi Capital Markets Authority regulations on floating shares in Saudi companies. The share flotation is outside the Kingdom and therefore outside the CMA's regulations. 
  8. Investor/Shareholder Rights: The usual enumeration of rights is missing. Such things as voting for the board and management, pre-emptive rights, requirements for the mandatory provision of periodic information (financials and otherwise) by the company as well as rights to demand information.  
  9. Use of Proceeds: No separate page. No real discussion. From Page 7 we see there is a 1% placement fee and 4% marketing fee – both non refundable. Unclear if this means that GIH earns 4% even if it doesn't place the Units? 
Risk Factors are Jenny Craig slim. 

At one level to the point of being obscure. I'm really not sure but it seems that what is being said regarding Regulatory Risk is that the investor only has to fear regulations that are "vague and incomplete in nature". Would that mean that a clear imposition of tax or a definitive cancellation of a permit would therefore be benign? 

On the other hand there are some very clear and very true statements here, such as "Future Performance is Difficult to Predict". 

Mostly though  there's a lot that I would have expected to see but didn't.  And to be fair it's not only in GIH's PPM but in many many others issued not just in the GCC:
  1. A clear statement that this is a speculative investment.  If you build it, they may not come.  This is after all spec real estate.  New developments. 
  2. Contractor performance issues:  If you hire them they may not build on time or to specification. 
  3. Availability and sufficiency of utilities and other public services. If you build it, you might not have electricity, water, sewage. And maybe no or  inadequate roads into the area. 
  4. Re-letting rental risk. If they move out, you may get less rent from the new tenant.
  5. A wider definition of competition – more than price:  quality, location, amenities, etc. 
  6. Increases in operating and maintenance costs above rental increases. 
  7. Structural Issues: an SPV in Kuwait stands between the investor and the income generating property in Saudi. Repatriation of funds. Potential tax issues. FX risks. 
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest:  I was surprised that this wasn't discussed since Mr. Omar El-Quqa, EVP at GIH, was also a member of the Board at Mazaya Holding. As we learn in this press release from July 2007, GIH then sold some 48 million shares in MH, but remained the second largest shareholder with 5.5%. Perhaps, between July 2007 and June 2008, there were further changes in shareholding. I didn't see anything on GIH's website, nor in its first three quarterly reports for 2008. But I may have missed something. Depending on the various stakes the proposed Strategic Partners might hold, it would seem that good form would require some contemplation of potential conflicts of interest.In any case, I suppose we can conclude that GIH saw no conflicts of interest nor any potential for them and so rest comfortably. At the end of 2008, GIH reported in Note 19 (a) that it owned 21% of Mazaya. Note this year end shareholding is well after the private placement. And it may have been a Victor Kiam moment. "I liked the razor so much I bought the company". Having done the deal and seen more evidence of MH's absolute advantage, it may have seemed like a good deal to reacquire some shares.  In which case perfectly innocent.
  9. Material Contracts:  Summary of contracts with Mazaya Holding and any other parties.  All fees they are entitled to. On Page 35 we see they get an annual fee of 0.75% of paid up capital. KD1.35 million a year seems a rather small incentive for MH to apply its "absolute advantage" for Mazaya Saudi instead of for its own projects where it gets to keep the lion's share of the profits.
As we know GIH's placement effort was successful, though I couldn't find a press release on GIH's website. In fact there seems to have been almost total radio silence on the topic going forward. No mention in its 2008 annual of its great success in raising KD180 million. No press release. But then I may have not looked hard enough. The only GIH driven publicity I could find was a Bloomberg press item referring to advertisements that GIH placed in the Kuwaiti press in November 2009. Those trumpeted the fact that the Appeals Court had ruled it was not guilty in a civil case brought by a Japanese real estate firm regarding this transaction. There were, to be fair, the mandatory disclosures in GIH's financial reports.

Subsequent to the Offer, Al Thouraia placed roughly KD83 million with GIH in an "Islamic" transaction. A KD43 million deposit was also placed with a Kuwaiti bank. It's unclear to me why the funds were not immediately transferred to Saudi Mazaya. The 2 June 2008 press release was clear. "Al-Thouraia shall be utilized as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to invest its whole capital in Mazaya Saudi for Commercial Investment Company "Mazaya Saudi". And we're told on Page 24 that among its other activities, Mazaya Saudi would engage in Portfolio Management to "amplify shareholder value". No mention that Al Thouraia would do more than invest in Mazaya Saudi.  So shouldn't investments, if any, be in Mazaya Saudi's name?  The need for the funds in Saudi would seem to be manifestly urgent. The PPM (Page 24) discloses that Saudi Mazaya intended to begin work on three projects the first year. What better preparation for that than to get the funds in Saudi so they would be ready to be employed?

Perhaps, out of caution in a deteriorating market, the Board at Al-Thouraia decided it would be wise to keep the money in Kuwait where it would be safer. Perhaps just about the same time that the Board at Global MENA Financial Assets decided to park a significant portion of its assets and liquidity at GIH. Two rather strong market endorsements of the financial stability and security of GIH. A possible example of the market phenomenon known as "a flight to quality". And as I've noted before both entities were well positioned to well understand the financial condition of GIH.

Anyways let's follow the story using GIH's 2009 financials
  1. Note 24 Page 57: It seems that a KD43.3 million AlThouraia deposit with a local bank was offset by that bank against a loan made by that bank to GIH. It's unclear to me what the legal basis for this offset is. Did AlThouraia guarantee the loan made by the bank to GIH? If not, how does the bank cross legal entity lines? Particularly, if GIH only owned about 83.36% of AlThouraia, what is the basis for stiffing the minority shareholders on the offset? There are all sorts of theoretical possibilities. And without picking one, let me just list some of them. Was the problem at the outset, when the deposit was placed? Perhaps, Kuwait doesn't have an ironclad "trust" law covering such deposits? And GIH placed the deposit with the bank "in trust for Al Thouraia" only to be rudely surprised later? Perhaps, there was an innocent clerical error about the name of the bank account holder when it was set up? Perhaps, the funds were mistakenly described as collateral? I'd appreciate a post from anyone out there with any insight on this. 
  2. Note 25 Page 57: GIH acquired Al Thouraia through an asset swap – a non cash transaction. The assets exchanged are described on Page 58. It would be interesting to know if Al Thouraia's Articles of Association provided for Al Thouraia conducting the sort of activity that this asset swap implies. Or if Al Thouraia's shareholders either approved this step and/or amended the Articles. In any case through this transaction, GIH acquired control.  In so doing it added KD28 million or so to its cash balance, and removed KD83 million in borrowings (from Al Thouraia) from its balance sheet on consolidation. Note GIH did not necessarily obtain control over that cash. And it's likely that the KD83 million in debt remained a legal obligation of GIH.  In addition to these benefits, GIH's shareholding also implied the right to disconnect the feeding tube.
As we learn in Note 5 to the Company's 1Q10 financials, on 14 March 2010, GIH liquidated Al Thouraia recognizing a KD0.824 million accounting profit, while experiencing a KD18.725 million cash outflow. What explains this rather perplexing move by a Company desperately in need of cash to pay hungry creditors? The liquidation extinguished GIH obligations in the amount of KD125.6 million. The rationale for KD18 million tradeoff is suddenly a lot clearer. 

It also closes the book on Al Thouraia. A story which GIH no doubt wishes to forget as well hopes that its clients and the market will as well.

As indicated by the title, a curious case indeed.  And one subject to many interpretations.

7 comments:

Laocowboy 2 said...

Ref Mazaya, they have also completed at least two of their Dubai projects (Sky Gardens and Medical City) I believe. That said I would not put too much reliance on their ability to contribute something a strong as "positioned to leverage on Mazaya Holding (Kuwait's) competitive market advantage". One that provides as we are told an "absolute advantage against competition".


At the time of the issue, Al Mazaya was (at best) a tier 3 developer with limited experience, I would not have expected operational of financial success even if the cash did not go AWOL before they could start building. May actually have been a blessing in disguise! far from impressive management and a weak balance sheet. Unsurprisingly, it was yet another product of the GIH new company incubator machine (1.establish, 2.private placement issue, 3. IPO (with GIH selling down)4. stuff with shares in next new icubator company and repeat).

Given this and zero in-house KSA experience, .

Laocowboy2 said...

Whoops. Gremlin scrambled text. Please read this one instead as i cannot find a way to edit the original one.

"Ref Mazaya, they have also completed at least two of their Dubai projects (Sky Gardens and Medical City) I believe. That said I would not put too much reliance on their ability to contribute something a strong as "positioned to leverage on Mazaya Holding (Kuwait's) competitive market advantage". One that provides as we are told an "absolute advantage against competition".


At the time of the issue, Al Mazaya was (at best) a tier 3 developer with limited experience,a far from impressive management and a weak balance sheet. Unsurprisingly, it was yet another product of the GIH new company incubator machine (1.establish, 2.private placement issue, 3. IPO (with GIH selling down)4. stuff with shares in next new icubator company and repeat).

Given this and a lack of in-house KSA experience, I would not have expected operational or financial success even if the cash did not go AWOL before they could start building. May actually have been a blessing in disguise!

Abu 'Arqala said...

Laocowboy2

Agree with your post.

As to your description of their business model ---

It's good to see that an institution with "global" aspirations can still remain grounded in its national traditions.

In that regard, I thought the asset shuffle was "brilliant" for two reasons. Either very high quality assets were shifted out from under the noses of GIH's creditors to settle an unfortunate problem outside of the rescheduling. Or duff assets were shifted to AT's shareholders.

I'm not clear on the details of the asset shuffle - and frankly have been rather lazy about following up.

Do you know? Did GIH set up a company with the assets and then swap shares? Or was there some other mechanism?

Advocatus said...

The Al Thouria money was placed with a local bank in the name of GIH so the bank was legally entitled to claim the money against a non performing GIH loan. Bad governance at GIH for mixing investors subscription funds with their own funds - anything to make an extra return! There was then an asset swap by GIH who in return for Al Thouria shares gave up other assets.

Abu 'Arqala said...

Advocatus

Thanks.

Still not clear on the mechanism for the asset swap.

Were different shareholders in AlThouraia offered different assets?
Or were all the assets put into a new company and the shares in that company swapped for Al Thouraia shares?

Advocatus said...

There were various assets offered to the Al Thouria shareholders at GIH valuations on a first come first served basis. GIH valuation was over inflated but you had to take it or leave it. If you did not move quick you were left with the choice of assets of more dubious quality.

Abu 'Arqala said...

Advocatus

Many thanks.

From your comments, it seems GIH has a diversified portfolio of assets - at least in terms of quality.

A riddle: In Kuwait, what's the sure fire way to tell when an asset's value is being inflated? When the owner's lips are moving. Or when his "auditor" signs off on it.