Schibsted ASA's (SBSNF) CEO Rolv Erik Ryssdal on Q4 2016 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

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Schibsted ASA (OTCPK:SBSNF) Q4 2016 Earnings Conference Call February 8, 2017 3:00 AM ET


Rolv Erik Ryssdal - CEO

Trond Berger - EVP and CFO


Preben Rasch-Olsen - Carnegie

Unidentified Analyst -

Unidentified Analyst -

Unidentified Analyst -

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Good morning everybody. Welcome to this Quarterly and Full Year Presentation for Schibsted. So 2016 has been another eventful year in the media industry, transformation happening at an increasing speed all the time. In the middle of this I'm happy with the way Schibsted have performed. And we are continuing to develop all our major business areas, we are continuing to invest in products and tech and I believe that we’ll deliver also good results for the full year.

So the headlines, for the full year is that our classifieds business continues to deliver good growth and also with good margins. So in France, Leboncoin continues to do very well. We have launched real estate and we have a bit more of the year ago as a standalone. We’re launching job verticals that's going well. I think in Scandinavia we have continued high growth for our classified sites.

In Spain it's been more of a challenging year. So let me get back to that. Then most of our other classified businesses in the emerging markets are continuing to do well. On publishing many interesting things are happening. It's a challenging advertisement market of course especially for print but, what I'm happy with is to see that we're constantly rolling out new products in the ad market that are being well received by advertisers. And the other positive thing is the digital subscriptions, of course that continues to climb.

Schibsted growth, there's been a strong and continued positive development especially in the field within personal finance but, also actually in price comparison. Then the Board has proposed to the AGM to keep the dividend of 1.75 which is the same level as last year. Those are some of the highlights from 2016 and let me go more into it. I don't think here are some highlights from the Q4. I won't go into that now as I'll get more into it during the presentation.

This is the Agenda that we're going to go through and Trond will take care of the financial part. Together with me also here are several senior representatives from management who will be able to answer questions. So let me start with online classifieds and online classifieds has been a good business for Schibsted for many years. And as a combination of organic growth and acquisitions we've been able to keep a good and steady growth rate, and thereby creating good value for our shareholders. And let me talk a little bit about the model because, online classifieds is a great business model. I think we've proven throughout the years that you can continue to have high growth rates. I think Sweden is the best example of that 16, 17 years after launch that still continues to develop the business in a very good manner. And as you know there's a lot of leverage in that model a lot of the costs are fixed, meaning that when you achieve top line growth it's very value creative.

But I also like to state that there is a further potential for us in the classifieds business. We can do more in organic growth, we've done some in market consolidation previously, and we believe there is a further scope to do that. And we have the financial strength to do it. But I also like to stress is of course, classifieds is changing like other businesses whereas I would say a few years back it used to be more when you established position it used to be more of a market driven game. Now it's much more a product and technology gain. That's why we're investing huge resources throughout the group in order to enable us better to be at the forefront of that development.

If you look at our portfolio. You can see that I like to call it the balance portfolio because most of the sites are in the developed phase and you know the big ones, the big countries. They contribute of course the lion part of the revenues but, also all the biggest part of the results. And there are several contributors to that and the good thing is that also other sites rather in addition to the four main countries continue to grow.

Investment phase has a very positive revenue development. You can see that the EBITDA result is at the same level as last year's. But the stress that this is as expected is mainly to do with our investments is book and this is as we have actually also guided the market on.

It's also important for me to underline is that most of the revenues from our classified sites they come from the verticals; so real estate, cars, jobs. Those are the main verticals, that's where you find most of the professional customers and they are the ones who generate most of our revenue. Generalist is also contributing mainly also as a traffic driver.

Alright, then let's start looking at the sites. I think I'll start with the Leboncoin which is having a very positive development. They are actually increasing in all their verticals. So we know that real estate is going very well there. They also increase the monetization in cars and the exciting thing now is that they've started monetizing also their jobs revenues. And with the volumes you have in Leboncoin what happens when you when you start charging is the volumes drop. But the volumes that are still there that were charged was actually is still a bit ahead of our expectation, so the start has been good.

We get questions to reveal more information about Leboncoin from time to time. And I won’t take you through all this but, this actually shows within cars and the real estate, what's the position of Leboncoin compared to competitors. So that's in the terms of market shares and traffic positions. And it takes sometimes for you to study this, the point that I like to underline is that Leboncoin as you can see has a very solid position especially when it comes to traffic. But it's also so that Leboncoin then especially in real estate but also in cars has a potential to increase and increase their revenue. So I think Leboncoin is in a very solid position.

Come to Spain, situation is more mixed. I would say that the last six months has been a disappointment when it comes to the development in Spain. And the worst the jobs part and the cars are doing well and continue to grow. I think it's been more disappointed with the developments in real estate and this player advertisement. And what we've seen particularly in the fourth quarter is a stronger competitive pressure in real estate especially in price. That of course affects the revenues. We are not just watching that carefully. I think course we're going to respond to that and it's important for us to maintain and keep our market shares.

As you noticed we also have acquired the third player in the Spanish markets Habitaclia, I am very happy with that. It has a particularly strong position in Catalonia. At the same time we're continuing to develop the product continuously. So there are a lot of new futures coming up, easy to draw if you are somewhere in Spain and you want to show which area I want to search for, you have all those kind of search facilities.

And I think it's fair to say also that both with that portfolio for Fotocasa and Habitaclia I think we're well prepared and we're going to continue to invest in product development and make sure that we are an aggressive leader in this market. Overall on the macro situation things looks a bit better now in Spain and that gives me, therefore I have a positive view on both the job sector and also the cars. And the cars sector I think is also doing very well traffic wise and now we have the opportunity to combine Milanuncios together with Coches and I think that is a very attractive offer for advertisers.

Okay back to Norway, very solid performance by Finn last year and you can see this growth numbers and although personal finances included there, the bulk and the majority of the growth comes from the classifieds, the main parts of Finn. I'm very happy to see that and the development taking place in Finn. If you dive a little bit into it you can see the jobs actually is doing very well in the fourth quarter and I think it's fair to say that it's especially in the Eastern region and middle part of Norway.

Cars is also having a positive development and of course we can see the people immediately search into what is the most popular thing. So I think there, there was a ban on diesel cars and also suddenly the search for normal petrol cars search like 70% or something. But I don't think we were curious whether there be a lot of diesel cars on sale the next day but that hasn't really happened so far. So we'll see how that develops.

When it comes to the real estate I would say that although the price development is increasing, the volume has been flattish or actually a bit down. I think it was 4% or 5% down year-on-year basis of course that is connected to what you're seeing with the price here. There is a lot of buyers not that many sellers. And when it comes to Finn and the app development, I think I'm very happy with that as well. You can see the Finn target is actually growing healthily both in traffic and the number of ads. And I encourage you to use it like I do it myself. It's a very effective marketplace.

Then of course there will always be other players trying through and through the classified space with little bit Facebook groups for a number of years. That doesn't really seem to impact Finn in a negative way. I would rather say it's enlarging the market. Same thing with some of the new native apps we're having. There's a couple of new players in the regional market of which Shpock is owned by us and I think they're also contributing to enlarging the total market but very far from Finn when it comes to the impact and also effectiveness in marketplace.

Alright moving over to Sweden, it has been a good year for Blocket overall. I think -- and remember I said that last presentation that the fourth quarter won't have the same growth rate as the previous three that was due to some price increases being done at the beginning of the fourth quarter in 2015. I think it was going well in Sweden as jobs where we're taking increasing market shares. And the focus for Blocket this year will very much be product development and working together with their customers.

Other developed markets as we call them, there are a number of those as we see and they are now for the fourth quarter, probably also for the full year actually contributing positively also on the result line. And we're seeing a positive revenue development across all of those sites. I think if you look at Willhaben in Austria they’re getting the real traction now when it comes to the ad markets and that's a development is also seen in some of our more mature markets. So that's good to see.

Brazil, lot of focus on Brazil. Well what I told you last time that we just started monetization there and so I would say that the development continues to be positive. There's a seasonal drop there of course in traffic when it comes to the Christmas season. The important thing is that we're on track and the company started charging for a number of ads last year in the pro segment and that has continued to go well. That's why we said that sometime this year they will reach breakeven.

Right, then over to Shpock. Shpock is their native app that is of course a big force now in the UK and Germany market. Then we have it also in Norway and Sweden and Italy. It is one of the biggest native apps actually globally with the total number around 35 million. It's the biggest native market place in UK and Germany. I think as I mentioned and related to these apps are actually contributing to enlarging the market, make it easier and more accessible, attracting some young sellers and buyers. And I think this is an interesting entry for us into those two big markets. And I'm quite impressed there is a number of entrepreneurs who started this company and the way their developing continuously working with their product, measuring their sales trends, etcetera and the transactions they're able to close in Germany and UK is actually increasing.

So that was the classifieds part of the business. For the media houses of course we know there is challenging times and we are doing two things at the same time both investing in product and when it comes to advertising, when it comes to reader products. And at the same time also keeping a very close eye on the cost side. And I think we've been -- we had a good year there where you see that actually the margins has gone a little bit up and there is operating expenses have been reduced.

Print advertising revenues as expected. I think important thing again is there's so many things happening on the product side. So digital advertising revenues slightly down last year. I think we're seeing a more positive trend for many houses at the beginning of this year. And what we're seeing now is that the products that we're rolling out when it comes to what we call targeting products, that means that you can -- advertisers can buy based on geography, based on gender, based on age and also now more and more on intent, and interest. That is one example from outside Bergen where the combination of Finn together with Aftonbladet and VG but fantastic effect for advertisers.

So we're seeing more of those coming, I'm very happy too that we have invested in that and we’ll continue to develop those product. And of course digital subscriptions continue to grow. And you can see that the digital subscribers have gone up here, you see that Aftonbladet and VG is doing well. I think perhaps the most significant development we've seen last year is of course that the subscription newspapers and there we can see particular in Norway has had a very positive development.

Overshooting target that we have and looks good also this year. And there's a positive spirit. Many very talented people are working continuously with product development. Let me give an example here because for those of you who are not on Snapchat I would advice you to go on Snapchat many might be a lot like myself that you have teenagers who are there and that's why I started using Snapchat myself. Snapchat is actually a very for the younger people 14 to 18, very effective challenge to reach those. In many ways much more effective than Facebook. So VG is now running on Snapchat as the first Nordic provider or content there. It provides video content and its news, sports, entertainment and so far that seems to be very promising. Actually the ads there were sold out I think in less than two weeks.

And this is kind of then the first opportunity for those advertisers to reach in the region people via Snapchat. When I say people I mean the bulk of it is actually them girls in the age of 13, 14, up till 17 I think. Very attractive group for advertisers but we're also learning a lot by doing those kind of experiments.

Right, then I'll turn my attention to Schibsted growth. Well Schibsted growth has existed for a number of years and I would say continue to do well. So you can see that Hitta is part of its price comparisons and others and of course personal finance is the one that has been growing mostly the last few years. And here you can see the Lendo part in Sweden which has had a healthy growth. These are full year numbers. It's also growing well in Norway and has been now launched also in Finland.

Finally before handing over to Trond let me give you a short update on some things we're doing on product and tech. Well let me start with the classifieds part. So what we're doing and what we're developing this year is to a lot of tools for the verticals in those six big markets in order to serve the professional customers better. We think it's very important to keep a close relationship with the big professional customers be it real estate developers, real estate brokers, car dealers, etc, etc and develop products that can make their life easier and better.

So we have a focus on developing there and there you can see the countries where we prioritize that. In addition to that of course we're also working hard on finding developing the next generation marketplace. We have an exciting project internally that is we call Rocket, it is now being tested actually in some markets. And that will be the next generation that will create, that will replace the legacy platforms. And we believe that will be a much smoother and better classifieds experiment -- experience for users.

So a lot of activity going on there, especially within development and classifieds. And of course ad products, I mentioned some of the ad products that we're working on in Norway and we have introduced a number of features in Norway as we can see here. Some of it is also introduced now in France with the after some start up problems in the middle of last year and now we’re running well. And then will also run out this -- will also run it out in the major markets later this year. This is a corporation with Nexus and I think it's -- they are very dedicated to developing the right products for us.

And of course the media houses, we are constantly developing those. I mentioned a Snapchat experiment, should I mention other examples. Here also we're doing testing of new products that will be much more personalized than what you have in the market today. So, a lot of interesting developments and experiments going on there. Right, okay that's it for the business activities. Now I think I'll leave it to you Trond.

Trond Berger

Thank you. I will go through the finance part. I'm happy to report that if you look at the full year 2016 and before investments we have 2.9 billion in profit -- gross operating profit and that is actually a record year, so good to notice that. Looking at then the fourth quarter, also we have a solid performance. We have 682 compared to 627, if you look at the operating profit before investments. We then have profit before taxes of 288 which is up of course compared with last year where we had a significant impairment especially in connection with the media houses in Norway.

If we look at the development between then the two quarters, you see that we have a continuous good development in France. The same also with the classifieds in Norway and Sweden. Bear in mind that in Sweden we have continued to do branding in Q4 especially related to job and also some other branding of Blocket. And Spain is clearly the somewhat weaker but its promising prospect going forward. And then we do see still continuous to growth in the online classifieds in the other countries. Media houses continue to do well both in Norway and Sweden. And then of course as Rolv Erik said we continued to invest in product and tech.

If we look at the different segments we see continued online classified improvement in -- if you compare all the quarters from 2014 to 2016 so that's good to see. And also we have a stable development and actually a slight increase in Norway in the media houses which is I would say we are very satisfied with. Knowing that of course the print has declined significantly in the same period. And the same goes also for the media houses in Sweden.

If you look at the different markets in our classified business, you see that I mean France strong quarter I would say. And also there we did a bolt on acquisition with MB Diffusion. It's around 3% effect of that in the figures. And then in Norway continues a good growth in Finn and Sweden as well although we have done some marketing there and Spain is as I mentioned a slight disappointment but some are more promising prospects in especially job and cars going forward. And work in [indiscernible] in our other developed market, we have 22% growth and then starting also to be a meaningful contribution over time to the EBITDA. So overall I would say it is a solid and good quarter for our main classified operations.

We have investments as we have talked about. If you look at 2016 our main investments there has been into first of all Shpock in UK and Germany doing by the way great and also then in Mexico and some other markets. Our JVs continue to go down. We see a good development especially in Brazil as we have talked about. So going forward we also expect that to improve and we will continue to do some investments of course in some of the markets and also into Shpock.

Just to restate what Rolv Erik we remain with the target of 15% to 20% online growth. And that’s also what we have delivered over the last few years. And we believe that we can continue to use or see some operational leverage in our main operations and we will continue then to invest in product and tech. And we also foresee that we in 2018 can take out some of course further efficiency and duplication in that area. But if you look at then the spending, we restate what we have said before that it will go significantly down. So that's the same as we said in Q3. And then there is also a slight increase of course in the capital around 100 million if you compare 2017 with 2016.

Looking at our key financial figures we have still a good cash flow of operating activities. The CAPEX is fairly stable. And as I said it is slightly up as a result of investments in product and tech. And we have an underlying tax rate of 32%. It is first of all due to that we have significant earnings in countries like France and Norway and other European operations. We pay them fairly high tax rate compared with other competitors like Facebook and Google which is not nearly paying any tax in Europe. So I think that is worth mentioning that we see a little bit skewed type of a competitive situation.

Looking then at the dividend, the Board now has proposed to the General Assembly and changed dividend of 1.75 per share. And that's according to our policy both to the payout ratio and also to keep a stable dividend as such. And we have a stable strong financial position and with a good maturity profile and we have been interpreting debt over EBITDA of 0.5 so we have a healthy and good balance sheet to continue to do expansion going forward.

So that concludes the finance part Rolv Erik and I give it back to you on the highlights.

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Thank you very much. Now it's works better. The highlights is that for the classifieds I've been through it. France continue to grow well, it's been growing well so is Scandinavia. We have the slower period in Spain, expecting still some price pressure there and competitive situation especially in real estate. But, positive signs in jobs and for the cars. Other markets also growing well especially Brazil on a positive note.

Continuing the digital transformation, keeping costs in check but working a lot on interesting product development in our media houses and we will continue also the expansion within the growth sector. Trond mentioned the dividend and another question that's coming up as you know the spending level which was on how much we are investing in new project and new markets and Shpock. And what we said there is it is going to be reduced this year. I think we even said it's going to go significantly down.

And then some people are asking more guidance than that. I think frankly you should if -- I think you actually should be more concerned if I gave you a specific number because we are doing -- we have a lot of interesting opportunities and we are operating in dynamic markets. There's 11 months left of this year, means it will be a number of interesting opportunities -- and respond to competitors and see what they're doing. So we need to have flexibility and agility, that's very important. And therefore we said what was going to go down even be a significant reduction. We are not going to give a more exact numbers on that specifically. Alright, I think that concludes our presentation. Now I would like to take questions either from this room or from the webcast.

Question-and-Answer Session

A - Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Yes Preben.

Preben Rasch-Olsen

Thank you, two quick questions. Seems like there's been some sort of a one of cost in Blocket for Q4 that you have not rebranded but lifted the brand a bit, could you specify if that's correct and how much money that was? So if you could be a bit more specific on the competition on the real estate in Spain, is it a new competitor that has suddenly arrived on the scene or one you have been fighting against in the past?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Well, to take the Blocket question first. So they kind of run away to the sites and branding and also specifically on the jobs. I don't know exact the numbers

Trond Berger

We don't give that but fair to say that the effect on the margin is due to what you just asked about.

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

And then we come to Spain. I think now it's not a new competitor there's for a long time been a two horse race between Fotocasa and Habitaclia [ph]. What we’re seeing is a more aggressive behavior from our competitors also lowering the prices and that's affecting the market. Right, other questions.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay, we should take some from the webcast and first on the CAPEX guidance that you gave you talked about 100 million increased CAPEX, could you specify that?

Trond Berger

If you take the CAPEX in 2016, close to around 700 and then we guided additional 100 so that’s the figures, yes.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay and then on Spock -- impact from [indiscernible] launch of cars and as [indiscernible] has expanded its leadership in mobile users in December?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

We have not seen an impact on that thus far. On the other hand our own car sites Milanuncios, is developing very well but of course we'll monitor it very closely and watch what the other players are doing.

Trond Berger

But it's fair to say that it's a lot of spare parts out of the low value items times if you look at the -- or so that's the fact.

Unidentified Analyst

Yes, and a follow-up also on Spain. Do you expect a competitive situation in real estate to ease in addition the number three player?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

I think that will strengthen our hand in the competition and I think if you look Habitaclia they’ve had a good start of the New Year. So I think that's a positive thing but I think where you know we're prepared to go into this market share and win that market, so let's see.

Unidentified Analyst

Yeah and then one more on Spain, are you now allowed to monetize professional cars in Milanuncios, and how well this play out going forward, what will be the impact of going from license fees to this new situation?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

I mean it expires end of February so from March and onwards it would be a gradually ramp up of the possibility to monetize the Milanuncios part. So what we have said before is that it could be a positive effect a few million Euros but wait and see, it is at least a positive car segment in Spain.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay and then one on Brazil, could we expect a positive EBITDA in the second half of 2017 in Brazil and could you comment also a little bit on the competitive situation in cars and real estate?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Well -- two players like [indiscernible] which is competitors in the car segment in Brazil. Fair to say that I mean OLX is doing great and continue to take market share both in the -- of course it has been very strong but also they continue to take market share in to B2C [ph] and also in the meantime it is doing quite well in Brazil. So, I mean we are often getting the question will it be a breakeven situation to the second half. Could be, so let's hope for that but wait and see.

Trond Berger

I'm not so concerned about the month it will break even but -- there's a lot of positive signs in this site. It's a huge traffic machine, it has got big liquidity and that in itself gives you a big strength when you're entering into the verticals, we have seen it before.

Unidentified Analyst

You are also guiding on product and tech investments, are you comfortable with the consensus expectations for central tech consensus around 735 Norwegian Kronas in headquarters and others?

Trond Berger

Well it was a very precise question and I would say that it is. Yeah, I think we are -- I mean when we said it's slightly up I think it's fairly close to that figure if you take the consensus figure. Yes.

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Okay and then finally – any more questions in this room by the way. someone in the back here. Yes

Unidentified Analyst

Yes, excellent work in ABG. So a couple of questions, one on Sweden so growth came in at 3% and it was due to the pricing effect and they also saw some negative momentum in Servicefinder. Just on Servicefinder do you expect to regain momentum in to 2017, that momentum continue and do you expect a 3% growth rate to be representative going forward or you expect to improve?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Well when it comes to the underlying classified operations we have previously said that we are happy with the high single-digit growth on Blocket so that also was the underlying in Q4. So I think that the Servicefinder is somewhat been in a market where you know that the regulations change from 2016 to 2017 -- no, from 2015 to 2016 in Sweden that we have some tax reduction on these kinds of services. That really hampered the Servicefinder in 2016. So I think that we hope that we can stabilize the situation and do some improvements certainly going forward.

Unidentified Analyst

Thank you. And one follow-up question. So investment spend in 2017. You're not going giving any miracle guidance but I believe consensus expects somewhat around 70 million Euro for 2017 in investment spent. Are you comfortable with that figure?

Trond Berger

Well I think I've said enough about this. This is -- we're doing investments that we believe to be value creative. I think we've proven that now with Mexico or Brazil or and Shpock. And I don't want to give on the precise guidance. We will stick to what we’ve said. But we will not give specific guidance. I think -- as I said I think you should be more concerned if I actually did that, put a number on it. I guess some competitors would be happy about it but…

Unidentified Analyst

Thank you.

Unidentified Analyst

A couple of more from the webcast, do you expect native mobile apps to be able to compete in verticals going forward and specifically how about Shpock, what expectations in that respect?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Well I think Shpock is now developing very well in the generalist market and the important thing for Shpock is to build out and take new segments. And then I think we'll see what kind of impact that will have also in verticals a little bit further down. I think as Trond mentioned that in some parts such as spare parts those kind of things, smaller items, they will I have good chance and I think they have a little bit of a different model as well as they are more taking part of the transaction. I think they can also develop other revenue sources such as advertisement futures and perhaps shipping and transactions.

Trond Berger

But I think it's interesting to see the development in UK and Germany and also those started probably a little bit to the highest value type of markets in Europe. So that's why we think it's a very promising at least to develop propositions.

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

You want to add other thing on that.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay final one for now. Can you give us an update on your thinking around the property offering in Sweden?

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

The property offering, well I think what we’re doing there now is to evaluate the situation. We're actually assessing some different way of some different options and I think we'll need to come back to that a little bit later. We're looking at the few things that we think might be might be promising on how to work closer with the real estate agents and their industry and some new concepts. But we don't -- we're not prepared to announce anything about that just yet.

But I think it's fair to say we have a good dialogue with all the big agencies there and trying to develop products that will be beneficial to them.

Trond Berger

Okay any other questions here.

Rolv Erik Ryssdal

Okay and nothing from the webcast any further. There is also a phone conference later today two o'clock so for those of you who want attend please do that. Alright, thank you so much for coming and I wish you a nice continued good day. Thank you.

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