On 9th October 2023, Tigné Mall plc issued a company announcement explaining that HSBC Bank Malta plc, acting as custodian for HSBC Life Assurance (Malta) Ltd., sold its entire stake in Tigné Mall amounting to 7,227,000 shares. Tigné Mall also informed the market that Marsamxett Properties Ltd acquired 7,227,700 shares of the company, representing 12.82 per cent of the total issued share capital of Tigné Mall.
Although the company announcement issued by Tigné Mall did not mention the consideration price paid by Marsamxett Properties, details of the trading statistics transacted on the secondary market of the Malta Stock Exchange show that between 5th October and 6th October, a total of 8,409,919 shares of Tigné Mall changed hands at a weighted average price of €0.82 per share. Furthermore, publicly available information from the Malta Business Registry shows that Marsamxett Properties is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hili Ventures Limited.
Hili Ventures is one of the largest Maltese conglomerates with multiple operations both locally and overseas. Its business activities are spread across various economic sectors including retail, real estate, technology, hospitality, energy, engineering, shipping, as well as logistics. For the 2023 financial year, Hili Ventures is expecting a record performance with projected revenues exceeding €1 billion, resulting in an estimated EBITDA of nearly €120 million and a net profit of approximately €42 million.
Conversely, Tigné Mall owns The Point Shopping Mall and adjacent car park in Sliema through a temporary subemphyteusis agreement with MIDI plc which is valid until June 2099. The Point was inaugurated in March 2010 and is Malta’s leading and largest shopping destination. It offers circa 15,000 sqm of retail space leased for the long term to well-established tenants.
Throughout the years, The Point maintained very high occupancy rates (virtually always operating at full capacity) and its footfall grew steadily to 2.5 million annually from 1.8 million in 2011. In FY2022, Tigné Mall reported revenues of €8.17 million and a net profit of €3.77 million. Moreover, during the first half of 2023, the company achieved a record performance as revenues increased by nearly 7 per cent to €4.09 million whilst net profit surged by 20.5 per cent to €1.93 million. As at the end of June 2023, Tigné Mall’s net asset value per share stood at €1.081.
The indirect acquisition by Hili Ventures of a sizeable stake in Tigné Mall is interesting from various aspects. Firstly, it came at a time of prolonged weak investor sentiment across the local equity market. This is evident both in terms of the market’s overall performance as well as the level of activity on the secondary market. In fact, the MSE Equity Price Index staged an uplift of only 3.87 per cent between the end of 2022 and September 2023 which is truly disappointing when seen in the context of the performances of international equity indices and the consecutive annual declines suffered by the MSE Equity Price Index between 2020 and 2022 which resulted in an aggregate loss of 24.61 per cent.
Furthermore, although the total value of equities traded on the secondary market of the MSE between January 2023 and September 2023, amounting to just under €33 million, exceeded the level of almost €32 million registered in all of 2022, this must be considered against the poor volumes transacted in 2022. In fact, the value of local equities traded in 2022 was the lowest in 13 years and by far inferior to the record high of just over €89 million in 2019.
The fragile dynamics of the local equity market, coupled with the significant increase in inflation and the ensuing upsurge in interest rates by the European Central Bank, resulted in a marked downward pressure on the valuation of local property equity issuers. In fact, the average price-to-net asset value (which is the key pricing metric of property companies) of the seven property equity issuers which were listed on the MSE as at the end of 2019 (namely, Main Street Complex plc, Malita Investments plc, Malta Properties Company plc, MIDI plc, Plaza Centres plc, Tigné Mall plc, and Trident Estates plc) stood at 1.16 times. In contrast, this was at 0.68 times as at the end of September 2023 which essentially means that the market is giving a near one-third haircut to the valuation of these companies. Meanwhile, the shares of VBL plc, Hili Properties plc, and AX Real Estate plc were admitted to the Official List of the MSE between October 2021 and February 2022. The share prices of these three companies are all below their respective net asset values and at a significant loss to the offer prices set at the time of their listing.
Against this background, it is indeed telling that a company like Hili Ventures, which has such a longstanding and superlative track record in the real estate business (mostly through Hili Properties), not only opted to invest in the local equity market at a time of weakness, but also did so amid rising questions about the health and sustainability of the local commercial property sector at large. Although the latter is mostly directed towards the office market, the fact is that the voluminous amount of new retail space that is expected to come to the market in the foreseeable future amid the completion of a number of largescale projects did not impede Hili Ventures from investing in Tigné Mall.
Other considerations worth mentioning are related to the possible adjustment in the strategic direction of Tigné Mall following the entry of a plausibly more active investor, as well as the trigger that this transaction could have on market sentiment in general including any appetite for sector consolidation. Although Tigné Mall has consistently delivered sterling results over the years while maintaining a firm focus on its financial strength, one of the company’s main weaknesses has perhaps been the lack of any inorganic growth initiatives – something which could undoubtedly change after the entry of Hili Ventures as one of the company’s principal shareholders. Equally exciting would be to observe whether this transaction will fuel any merger and acquisition activities, both within the existing structure of Hili Ventures (via Hili Properties) and also across other local property equity issuers a number of which (like Plaza Centres and Main Street Complex) own just a single property asset.
Whether or not the transaction involving Hili Ventures and Tigné Mall will turn into a catalyst for improved dynamics across the local equity market is naturally something that is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, it is testament of the investment opportunities that could still be in existence for investors seeking exposure to local companies at valuations that justify the lack of depth and liquidity of the overall market. Moreover, the transaction could also serve as a sign for other listed and unlisted entities to utilise the local equity market as a platform for pursuing new avenues of growth and diversification.
This article was written by Josef Cutajar, Financial Analyst at M.Z. Investment Services Limited (“MZI”). The author has obtained the information contained in this article from sources believed to be reliable and has not verified independently the information contained herein. The contents of the article are the author’s views and may not reflect the other opinions in the organisation. The article is being published solely for information purposes and should not be construed as investment, legal, or tax advice, or as a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security, investment strategy or market sector. The financial instrument referred to in this article may not be suitable or appropriate for every investor. Prospective investors are urged to consult their Investment Advisor prior to making an investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, and the value of investments may go down as well as up. MZI accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any expense, loss or damages arising out of, or in any way connected with, the use of all or any part of this article. No part of this article may be shared, reproduced, or distributed at any time without the prior consent of MZI.
MZI is a member of the Malta Stock Exchange and is licensed by the Malta Financial Services Authority to conduct investment services business under the Investment Services Act (Cap. 370) (License N° IS23936). M.Z. Investment Services Limited, 63 ‘MZ House’, St Rita Street, Rabat RBT 1523. Telephone: +356 21453739; Email: [email protected]; Website: www.mzinvestments.com.
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