Within the value-investing community, it is no secret that Gigaset (AQU) is cheap. What is not readily understood is that the addressable market of the company has been expanding at double-digit rates.
Value and price
The company has 50 million shares outstanding. Shares change hands on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Code: GGS, ISIN: DE0005156004 at €1.55 apiece for a market cap of €80 million. Americans can try the thinly traded OTC market.
As of March, Gigaset had €40 million of cash and no debt worth mentioning. In 2011, the company earned roughly €20 million before tax.
From an owner's perspective, that’s a 50% yield after adjusting for excess cash.
Business and Competition
Gigaset Communications was established in 2008. That year, Arques Industries bought 80% of Siemens' home and office communication division. Siemens was in deep trouble at the time.
In the '80s, analogue cordless phones began to reach Europe from the Far East. After a few years, it was realized that if you did it digitally, this would result in:
- Less crackle and interference
- More phones within a small space
- Security against eavesdroping
- The ability to move throughout buildings by 'handing over' between base stations
It was decided by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute that a new standard would be developed – DECT.
In 1992, the first domestic cordless DECT phone, the Gigaset 900, was launched. The Gigaset range of products evolved to become the industry leader. By 1997, Siemens had sold 10 million DECT gigasets. That number has now grown to 150 million.
Today, the market for handsets (DECT and other) is roughly 100 million units. By revenue, Vtech and Gigaset each have a share of 30%. By unit volume, Vtech (after the acquisition of AT&T's division) leads. They sell 45 million handsets. From this, Vtech generates revenue of $700 million (they sell other stuff too). Vtech's gross margin comes in at 30%.
Gigaset sells about 15 million handsets. Gigaset too generates revenue of $700 million (€500 million). At Gigaset, gross margins are higher – 45%.
Panasonic and Philips also compete in the space.
In recent years, DECT volumes were driven by the displacement of 900 Mhz analogue and 2.4GHz/5.8GHz digital handsets in the U.S. The U.S. adopted the DECT standard in 2005. Since then, the market for DECT handsets has grown. India is in the late stages of adopting DECT and China is thinking about it. There are quite a few homes with phones there too.
That’s an interesting opportunity for a company that is:
- 100% focused on this particular market (no one else is)
- Universally regarded as the premium brand within the space
- By far the most profitable player
- Currently selling 15 million units in a 100 million-unit market.
Gigaset doesn’t try to sell you your first handset. The company is more interested in selling you the last one you’ll own. Yes, some of their models are well suited for senior citizens but that is not the point here. Gigaset designs and manufactures handsets to the highest possible standard. It is common for customers (including myself) to go looking for an identical replacement for a handset they and their family have been using for a decade or more.
It is a slow but profitable model for growth. Like Porsche, Loewe AG and for that matter Apple, the products will not win each and every “objective” consumer test. They win where it counts: customer satisfaction. It shows.
You don't get better by being bigger, you get bigger by being better - Buffett.
Technology and Innovation
DECT has survived two decades of innovation because it is tied to the 1.9 Ghz frequency. The reverse is true as well. If you want to use that frequency you have to comply to the DECT standard.
It so happens 1.9 Ghz is just right for penetrating brick walls with enough information to get high-quality digital audio (better than old-school 900 Mhz). 5.4 Ghz Wifi can carry more information (more than you would need for clear audio) but it requires a lot of energy. This is a fundamental problem for an elegant cordless device.
A typical example of the Gigaset approach to innovation is the L410 clip. This is a tiny handset lacking some important features. You can't even punch in a phone number. All you can do is accept calls. The audio quality is great. The small battery lasts a week. Bluetooth doesn’t have the range and Wifi will eat your battery before lunch.
At $50, this is a high-margin product. In addition, once you have a couple of these in your house, your next base-station is probably going to have a Gigaset logo.
Whereas Vtech, Panasonic and Philips have several lines of business to occupy their attention, Gigaset is focused on DECT. The others are not going to get a major upgrade in the perception of their brands without upgrading their entire product line. Meanwhile, because of their high market share and superior gross margin, Gigaset AG can afford to spend more on innovation than anyone else within the space. That is precisely what they are doing.
Peter Löw is the man in charge. He sits on the supervisory board and owns 1.8 million shares.
As of this year, there is a fresh new executive board. This requires some explanation.
Prior to 2011, the company we know today as Gigaset AG was called Arques Industries. Arques, founded by Löw, was a publicly traded firm that focused on the acquisition and the active restructuring of companies in transitional situations.
Dr. Löw retired in 2007 with an impeccable record. Two years later, Arques found itself in a frozen credit market holding a dozen unrelated and unprofitable businesses. Management had a choice. Liquidate before or after bankruptcy. They chose the former.
As management began to sell off the portfolio, the founder returned as head of the supervisory board to rescue the hidden gem from the rubble – Gigaset. The CEO promptly resigned. A new CEO, Maik Brockman, resolves the remaining issues with Siemens and buys the remaining stake (20%) from that company. Arques is subsequently renamed Gigaset AG. Maik specializes in restructuring businesses.
In January of this year, Maik handed the reins to Charles Fränkl. Fränkl is a CEO with significant experience in wireless technology. Maik is still on the executive team along with a newly promoted young CFO, Alexander Blum.
The supervisory board, with six members including Löw, meets almost monthly. Members are paid about €20,000. They get the cash only after the shareholders have approved their performance at the next annual meeting. Some, like vice chairman Professor Judis, have spent most of this money buying shares.
The three executives, including the CEO, get paid about €150,000 annually depending in part on the stock price.
Peter Löw and Alexander Blum own 1.8 million and 35,000 shares, respectively. This means the CFO spent a significant chunk of his income buying shares.
Why is this cheap?
The investor/analyst/writer concluded this was a case of inferior management and sold in disgust. That's the same CFO who spent a huge chunk of his income buying shares and who, this week, announced the company will be buying back shares after resolving the last of the issues with former parent Siemens.
This is not a recommendation to buy or sell anything. I had no position in any of the stocks mentioned at the time of writing.
Any and all questions welcome as usual.
P.S. It just occurred to me that this one probably scores well on Phil Fisher's 15 point checklist.