Cox and Kings (India) — IPO: Invest

The company's strong brand image, wide geographical reach, synergies of operations and the economies of scale it enjoys are positives.

Mr A. B. M. Good, Chairman, and Mr Peter Kerkar, Executive Director.

Srividhya Sivakumar

Investments with a long-term perspective can be considered in the initial public offering of the global tour operator Cox and Kings (C&K). The company's strong brand image, wide geographical reach — both within the country and across major global markets — synergies of operations between its various subsidiaries and the economies of scale it thus enjoys are positives to the offer.

Despite last year's declining trends in the global travel and tourism space, C&K managed to not just grow it revenues but also improve its operating margin and profits. C&K's strong domestic market position helped by improving discretionary spends by Indian consumers and its newly acquired presence in high potential markets of the US and Australia offers it bright growth prospects.

The highly fragmented domestic travel market, with few organised tour operators, also leaves sufficient scope for market share gains. The valuation, though a tad stiff given the current market conditions, is at a discount to that of Mahindra Holidays and Resorts (29 times its likely FY10 per share earnings).

The offer price of Rs 316-330 discounts the C&K's likely FY-10 per share earnings by 22-23 times on post-offer equity base. The company's superior growth rates, high operating margin in this business and the likely scarcity premium for the business do offer room for premium valuations.

Business prospects

The company's domestic business straddles leisure travel, corporate travel, forex and visa processing. While it designs packages for both individuals and groups for their domestic and international travel-tagged outbound travel, it also offers destination management and ground handling services for foreign tourists visiting India.

C&K has also built a web of subsidiaries that complement each other's business offerings. For instance, while on the one hand, its overseas presence through its subsidiaries help attract business for the domestic inbound business, on the other, it also helps keep a check on service levels and costs.

Similarly, its UK subsidiary, ETN, that does destination management for European sites stands to gain from its acquisitions in Australia and the US, both of which enjoy a high outbound travel volume to Europe. The high synergies and travel volumes afford the company better bargaining power with airlines and hotels, in turn, helping it competitively price its products and services.

Other ventures such as Maharaja Express, a luxury train to be launched in January 2010 in collaboration with IRCTC and visa-processing business for which it has received approvals from six countries, also offer long-term growth potential.

Marketing presence

On the whole, C&K has presence in 19 countries. In India, which made up more than half its overall revenues last year, the company has 255 points of presence covering 164 locations through a mix of owned and franchised sales shops, general sales agents and preferred sales agents.

The company, may need toimprove its reach in order to keep competition at bay. Its franchise distribution model holds potential in this regard. Not only does it offer a cheaper expansion mode, it may also help convert potential competitors into partners; the established client relationships of converts offering an added advantage.

C&K may also have to fight with vacation ownership companies for consumers' wallet share. In that, however, tour operators appear relatively better placed as besides being asset light, they offer a wider basket of travel destinations.

Results and IPO proceeds

Over the last three years, C&K has grown its revenues and profits at a compounded annual growth rate of about 66 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively. In the same period, it managed to expand its operating profit margin by 10 percentage points to 42 per cent. Attributable mainly to increasing interest burden, the company's NPM fell to 22 per cent from 28 per cent. With C&K seeking to use a portion of the IPO proceeds (Rs 129.6 crore) to repay loans, its interest outgo can be expected to come down significantly. C&K also plans to earmark IPO proceeds for acquisitions (Rs 150 crore), invest in overseas subsidiaries and upgrade corporate office.

Offer Details

The company seeks to raise Rs 584-610 crore from the issue, which also comprises an offer for sale of 3,046,640 equity shares by Lehman Brothers Opportunity Ltd, Deutsche Securities Mauritius Ltd and Merrill Lynch Capital Markets Espana.

The offer is open from November 18-20

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