Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ryman Healthcare Ltd: Australian Expansion Needs Care

Ryman Healthcare Ltd [RYM.NZ],the retirement village and aged care provider, is one of the NZXs best performing companies and historically it has increased earnings by at least 10% for each of the last 10 years.

Its full year result to March 31 2010 was up 16% on last years 2009 full year and indications are that these sorts of results are likely to continue for the foreseeable future considering the increasing age demographics for the New Zealand population and the seemingly unparalleled popularity of their offering to their prospective customers.

New Zealand has and will remain an important area of growth in revenue and profit for the long term and this has been stated by Ryman management on many occasions.

The decision announced today at the Ryman Healthcare Ltd [RYM.NZ] annual meeting to start looking at property in Australia to build one of their villages is a two edged sword for the company and its shareholders.

In an interview with Ryman Chief Financial Officer, Gordon Macleod coming up next week at Share Investor I put the question of expansion into Australia before today's announcement and the answer, now somewhat academic, will be adding to today's news.

On the one hand the company has a good business model, is brilliantly managed and Australia is a vast untapped market for them but on the other hand Australia is littered with the corpses of listed companies that have tried to expand there and have headed back with their tails between their legs and millions of dollars less in their pockets.

Ask management at The Warehouse Group Ltd [WHS.NZ], Telecom NZ [TEL.NZ], Restaurant Brands Ltd [RBD.NZ] Burger Fuel Worldwide [BFW.NZ] and a whole host of other companies that thought they could foot it in a much more competitive market. Australia has been the bogeyman of failure for New Zealand businesses looking for more opportunities for growth.

There have also been successes. Michael Hill International [MHI.NZ], Mainfreight Ltd [MFT.NZ] Pumpkin Patch Ltd [PPL.NZ], Sky City Entertainment Group Ltd [SKC.NZ] (after new management and a number of years) and others set out to achieve their goals and promises to shareholders for more growth across the ditch and have done well for shareholders in terms of returns.

One of the major stumbling blocks for Kiwi companies expanding across the Tasman has been their lack of research and the tendency to go full steam ahead without testing the market in a small way first. Significantly the aforementioned failures all bought standalone businesses (apart form BFW) and thought they could run them in a similar fashion to their New Zealand business model. The successful ones all tried their new businesses in Australia in a small way and grew a base from their initial success.

Management at Ryman have indicated that they have done their research for years and they are going to develop one village and see how it goes before committing any further shareholder cash to growth there:

“We have been carefully studying the Australian market for several years,” and we see it as the next logical step in the growth of the company. The Ryman model will be relatively unique in the Australian market.”

“We are in a strong financial position and the management team is ready to take this next step.”

“Shareholders can be reassured that we will be taking one step at a time, and that we will be very focussed on getting the first village successfully established.” Ryman Chairman Dr David Kerr at 2010 Annual Meeting.

Ryman shareholders should indeed be pleased that the company is taking the softly, softly approach to Australian expansion but cautious nonetheless that the outcome of expansion in OZ could be disappointing.

This company has been well managed in the past and I am mostly pleased about the announcement today, apart from the reservations I pointed out.

If the Australian move is executed with as much care and consideration - subject to proper research by RYM management and taking into account the vast differences in business, investment, employment practices and other country specific variables - as has been in New Zealand the company and shareholders are going to be richly rewarded in the long term.

I look forward to positive results from our Aussie branch over the next few years .

Disclosure: I own MHI, MFT, PPL RYM, WHS shares in the Share Investor Portfolio


Ryman Healthcare @ Share Investor


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Ryman Healthcare Ltd: Australian Expansion Needs Care
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