Friday, November 15, 2019

Interestingly Ekovest's venture into Musang King may have its leads

It started when Ekovest bought into PLS Plantation, acquiring a 23.42% from its Chairman, Lim Kang Hoo. This was a related party transaction and it looked particularly bad when it was the company one controls buying the shares from himself.

Secondly, it looked like a rescue of PLS Plantation. Immediately, after the purchase from LKH, Ekovest continuously bought more PLS shares from the market. Now, Ekovest owns 30.44% of PLS Plantation. First of all, PLS did not seem to be an interesting stock. One would wonder, why would a company that has good business concessions in Setiawangsa Pantai Expressway, DUKE and traditionally a decent construction outfit be keen in diluting itself into plantation. It is neither a strong palm oil stock nor any other plantation business for that matter. At around the same time, PLS announced that it was moving into durian plantation. It acquired a company called Dulai Fruits.

Wow! How is one to value a durian plantation business? Palm oil is difficult enough for a small to medium sized company. PLS was not profitable for last few years. Then durian? Worse, durian is seasonal. The only thing I can think of is the company's strong affiliation with China given it has business dealings with large companies there through Bandar Malaysia and Lim Kang Hoo's partnership with large developers from China through IWCity. China's Chinese adore durians - at the moment. The thing I learned about when I was in China recently - the typical supermart in China would sell durians - Thai's durian. We do not even see durians so commonly available in Malaysia. Also, Malaysia was only allowed to export whole durian fruit only recently. How then Chinese were able to taste Malaysian Musang King previously. I learned about this from a Singaporean in China. We used to export our Musang King via Thailand. That was how bad the situation.

Just recently, Navis Capital invested RM400 million into a Malaysian durian exporter, Hernan Corp. Navis being a long established private equity firm must have done research about durians. They must have seen a trend and China's appreciation of Malaysian durians. And this trend is not a passing trend - as like the bird's nest and arowana. China to me has changing habits. It seems that their reverence over durian may last longer, hopefully forever.

BFM's had an interview with the CEO of Hernan Corp. It is good knowledge for me, not just on perspective of durian business but also perhaps why Ekovest is into the business of Musang King. Perhaps, Lim Kang Hoo by going himself, he is not able to leverage on the durian trend on the large scale basis, and it needs to be done quick, as well.

For durian planters, it takes 5 years for any to start yielding results. That is the bad part. Bursa's investors do not like to wait for 5 or more years - I learned that from WCE. The good part is durian plantation is not an open competition situation. I believe that only a few countries can have that position given the costs of land, position, climate and costs. It can be a moat if done right as competition can be curtailed.

Now, it may not look that bad. Especially given that Bandar Malaysia is alive and back - the construction division will have continuous deal way past SPE while the plantation and toll concessions will bring the long term consistent revenue - ideally.

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