Family focused Trifast locks down growth plans

Trifast was around a week from going bust when Diamond and former CEO Jim Barker were parachuted back into the business, in the last seven years the turnaround has been remarkable - and now it is in rude financial health.

Trifast's “loyal and motivated” staff were the nuts and bolts of the recovery

Malcolm Diamond is disarmingly frank when he tells me that Trifast Plc (LON:TRI), the company he chairs, has a problem recruiting senior staff.

“They have to be family, so to speak,” he explains.

By that he means they should be steeped in the business.

Mark Belton, the new chief executive (CEO), has been with the company 16 years, while Diamond, in his second stint at the fasteners specialist, is a 33-year veteran.

The last time the company recruited for the top job from outside, it didn’t end well.

In fact Trifast was around a week from going bust when Diamond and former CEO Jim Barker were parachuted back into the business.

In the last seven years the turnaround has been remarkable, with Trifast now in rude financial health.

Diamond is modest about his part in the recent success, praising the instead the “very good, loyal and motivated” staff.

The share price has mirrored this recovery having advanced from a low of less than 9p in March 2009 to just under 140p today.

Judging from the latest trading update, there is no lack of forward momentum

Trifast revealed Trifast was trading ahead of expectations, prompting modest upgrades in forecasts from the six brokers covering the stock.

It also showed just how robust the operation is. For while business in the UK had been a little ‘slow’, Mainland Europe and Asia more than made up for this.

Trifast makes around 60% of its income from just three business sectors: automotive, domestic appliances and electronics.

Its scale and technical ability in the field of industrial fasteners means increasingly it has been included on approved vendor lists of large manufacturers, when others have been cut.

This is because Trifast has the financial muscle to work with big boys as well as the international infrastructure required to sustain, say, a large car maker.

To do this it has gone where the business is, following customers literally to the four corners of the earth.

It is not always the cheapest on the roster, but Diamond says Trifast aims to be the most innovative.

“Price in our business is important,” he explains.

“But we tend to ask for credit when we implement a change that saves costs.

“Nobody’s turned down that proposition and sometimes we can save them a six figure sum.”

City broker Peel Hunt is predicting Trifast will post adjusted profits of £15.5mln this year (up from £14.3ml), rising to £16.5mln and then £17.3mln.

The introduction of technology on the warehouse floor and more widely across the operation will bolster operating margins, while the company is always looking to expand its footprint geographically.

Spain is of interest as many of the European car makers headed south from traditional northern European bases such as Belgium.

The company is also interested in building a presence in Thailand.

The US is growing quickly, but from a modest base, Diamond reveals.

It has looked at acquisitions in the States only for them to fall at the last hurdle, with price being the issue.

Discerning deal-making could see growth via acquisition

It has made three purchases in the last three years, which shows it is quite discerning when it comes to deal-making.

Trifast will likely continue in that rather cautious manner as it targets takeovers in the £30mln revenue range.

“We could do that without stretching ourselves unduly,” Diamond says.

“We are constantly looking for the next family fit. I think financially we have quite a bit of headroom.

“Our reputation is good in the City as we under-promise and tend to over-deliver.”

Valuing a business such as Trifast is a tricky one. It is unique on the UK stock exchange, so there is nothing to benchmark it against.

Analysts have come up with price targets of 150-185p a share using varying methods from discounted cash flow to marking Trifast against its return on capital.

The stock is valued at just over 13 times forward earnings, or around a 20% discount to the wider market.

What that says is the shares are still reasonably cheap – even after the upturn we’ve seen in recent years.

Quick facts: Trifast

Price: 117.5 GBX

Market: LSE
Market Cap: £159.72 m

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