Stoking up the sales engine

EQS Group 19 November 2020 Update
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EQS Group

Stoking up the sales engine

Q3 results

Software & comp services

19 November 2020

Price

€24.00

Market cap

€173m

Net debt (€m) at 30 September 2020
(non-IFRS)

7.0

Shares in issue

7.2m

Free float

69%

Code

E1SX

Primary exchange

XETRA

Secondary exchange

FRA

Share price performance

%

1m

3m

12m

Abs

(0.8)

6.4

110.8

Rel (local)

(3.0)

3.8

110.9

52-week high/low

€24.40

€10.00

Business description

EQS Group is a leading international provider of regulatory technology in the fields of corporate compliance and investor relations. Its products enable corporate clients to fulfil complex national and international disclosure obligations, minimise risks and communicate transparently with stakeholders.

Next events

FY20 results

February 2021

Analyst

Fiona Orford-Williams

+44 (0)20 3077 5739

EQS Group is a research client of Edison Investment Research Limited

EQS Group’s Q3 results were good, with revenues up 16% to €9.2m, boosted by a strong performance in Investor Relations, up by 28%. This points to the higher end of management’s FY20 target ranges for group revenue and EBITDA and we have lifted our forecasts accordingly. FY21 should be a pivotal year, with the opportunity to sign up clients ahead of the upcoming EU whistle-blower directive. Additional investment is being made to boost sales and marketing, dampening EBITDA in the short term but increasing the medium-term potential, with the €100m revenue target for FY25 intact.

Year end

Revenue (€m)

EBITDA
(€m)

PBT*
(€m)

EPS*
(c)

EV/EBITDA
(x)

P/E
(x)

12/18

36.2

0.2

0.7

6.1

N/A

N/A

12/19

35.4

2.5

(0.3)

(6.3)

71.8

N/A

12/20e

38.0

4.9

1.4

13.7

37.3

N/A

12/21e

44.5

5.3

1.5

14.7

34.8

N/A

Note: *PBT and EPS are normalised, excluding amortisation of acquired intangibles, exceptional items and share-based payments.

Good underlying progress

The group has made good progress with migrating clients across to its COCKPIT platform and 93% of its Investor Relations customers have now signed new contracts. Revenues have been boosted by the need for companies to deliver their regulatory and communications obligations online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once clients are using the platform, it becomes an easier up- or cross-sell to add additional functionality. Compliance segment revenues were up 12% year-to-date (adjusted for last year’s sale of ARIVA), with the number of SaaS customers up 7% y-o-y. The upcoming whistle-blower directive (in the EU initially, but similar regulations are likely to follow elsewhere) presents a clear opportunity for EQS to build its client base. The timing of implementation is end 2021, so companies will need to have a system in place by then, but sales may be skewed to H221.

Investing to grow

We forecast that FY20 results will be at the high end of company guidance, with 9M20 EBITDA already falling within the interval. However, Q4 earnings will be lower as investment is ramped up in sales and marketing to capture the whistle-blowing opportunity. This additional spend will continue in FY21, reflected in our EBITDA forecast, which comes back from €8.5m to €5.3m. While management guidance is in place for FY20 with a target for FY25, the intervening trajectory is not. The implication is that likely profits are more back-end loaded than we had anticipated.

Valuation: Strong FY20 performance

EQS’s share price has performed strongly over the year to date, up by 90%. With the emphasis now moving back onto investment, we believe EV/sales is again the more appropriate valuation metric. Here, the company is valued at around one-third of the large global peers. On a DCF basis, the current share price is discounting a more modest growth rate and margin than outlined by management through to FY25, indicating that there may be some further potential upside.

Financials by quarter

The pattern of trading between segments and by activity is shown below. We would highlight the very high growth being achieved by the cloud-based offering, particularly in the Investor Relations offering. The pandemic has provided fertile territory for selling online communications solutions. While customer numbers have shown only modest growth, there has been some thinning out of those clients not able or willing to transfer onto the new contracts. SaaS customer numbers for Investor Relations are flat year-on-year while those for Compliance are up 7% at 1,326.

Exhibit 1: Quarterly financials

€000s

Q120

Q220

Q320

Compliance Cloud

2,670

2,870

2,540

– Growth y-o-y

18%

20%

10%

Compliance Service

1,520

2,360

2,230

– Growth y-o-y

27%

3%

3%

Compliance

4,190

5,230

4,770

– Growth y-o-y

20%

12%

6%

IR Cloud

1,670

1,750

2,280

– Growth y-o-y

42%

59%

50%

IR Service

2,490

3,120

2,120

– Growth y-o-y

11%

24%

11%

IR

4,160

4,870

4,400

– Growth y-o-y

22%

35%

28%

Group revenue

8,350

10,104

9,166

Growth y-o-y

21%

22%

16%

EBITDA (IFRS)

799

2,197

1,299

Margin %

9.6%

21.7%

14.2%

Source: EQS Group, Edison Investment Research. Note: *IFRS 16 not adopted retrospectively; comparisons exclude ARIVA (disposed July 2019); segments may not tally due to rounding.

Net debt at the end of the quarter was €7.0m and our modelling indicates a year-end figure of €7.3m, falling to €4.1m by the end of the following year.

Adjusting for investment

As indicated above, we now expect EBITDA to be at the high end of the forecast range. The cumulative EBITDA for Q1–Q3 of €4.3m has already reached management’s previous indicated range for the year (€4.0–5.0m). The quarter by quarter progression is shown in Exhibit 1, above. By maintaining the target range for EBITDA, the implication is that profitability for the final quarter of the year will be notably lower than the levels achieved in Q2 and Q3. We have moved our FY20 EBITDA estimate to the top end if the range, implying a Q4 EBITDA result of €0.6m.

The adjustment to EPS reflects a high tax expenditure in the current year, due to deferred tax liabilities (non-cash).

Exhibit 2: Revisions to forecasts

EPS (c)

PBT (€m)

EBITDA (€m)

Old

New

% chg.

Old

New

% chg.

Old

New

% chg.

2019

(6.3)

(0.3)

(0.3)

2.5

2.5

2020e

11.0

14.7

+34

0.6

1.4

+133

4.1

4.9

+20

2021e

43.1

15.7

-64

4.7

1.5

-68

8.5

5.3

-38

Source: Company accounts, Edison Investment Research

This retrenchment of FY21e EBITDA reflects the investment that the group is putting into place to grasp the time-limited opportunity to build the customer base ahead of the introduction of the Whistleblowing Directive, ie Directive (EU) 2019/1937 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law. This was passed in December 2019, with member states given a two-year window to get it onto their statute books. The timing of the demand peak for EQS’s solution could therefore be at any point over the next year.

We have therefore also loaded up the personnel and other expenses for FY21 for additional sales and account management individuals. This makes a considerable reduction in the forecast EBITDA, as shown in the table above. There is no management guidance as yet for FY21 (we would expect this to be published at the publication of the year-end figures) but the company’s ambitions are unchanged for FY25 (see our Outlook note); it aims to achieve revenues of €100m; Compliance growing at a compound rate of 25% to reach €68m; and Investor Relations growing at 15% to reach €32m.

Valuation

A reverse discounted cash flow (DCF), using a weighted average cost of capital (WACC) of 8% and terminal growth rate of 2% beyond 2025, suggests that the current share price is discounting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for revenue from FY21–25e of 16.3% on an EBITDA margin of 20% throughout this period. This revenue growth rate is below management’s expectations, which imply a revenue CAGR of 18.9% through to FY25, and the EBITDA margin of 20% is significantly below the 30% expected by management by FY25.

The scale of the internal investment in the platform, and now the step up in investment in the sales resource, affects profitability and the most reliable traditional multiple is once again EV/sales, in our view. There is a wide range of multiples for the peer group, as shown below. For FY21, EQS is trading at 4.1x sales versus the average for the entire peer group of 12.0x. From FY22e, we would expect to resume consideration of EV/EBITDA multiples. EQS is considerably smaller than these other peers, chosen as they provide B2B platforms, often embedded in their clients’ workflows. It is also a much less mature business, so we would expect it to trade at a discount. The size of the appropriate discount is obviously subjective. For illustrative purposes, a 50% discount, averaged across the three years, would indicate a share price of €29.70.

Exhibit 3: Peer ratings

Price (reporting currency)

Market cap (m)

Share price changeytd (%)

EV/sales (x)

EV/EBITDA (x)

P/E (x)

FY0

FY1

FY2

FY0

FY1

FY2

FY0

FY1

FY2

Euromoney (£)

966

1,056

-26

2.8

3.4

3.4

10.1

17.0

16.5

12.5

24.8

24.2

Thomson Reuters (US$)

83

54,299

18

7.4

7.3

7.0

29.3

22.6

21.4

64.5

47.1

40.6

Envestnet (US$)

77

4,138

10

5.0

4.6

4.2

23.4

19.2

18.0

35.7

31.0

29.3

Swissquote Group (€)

83

1,266

70

20.9

15.3

15.0

27.5

13.6

14.1

GlobalData (£)

1545

1,828

20

10.7

10.6

10.1

42.9

36.0

32.5

53.5

54.1

48.1

MSCI (US$)

388

32,198

51

22.0

20.3

18.4

40.3

35.4

31.7

60.3

49.9

46.0

S&P Global (US$)

342

82,266

25

12.8

11.7

11.4

24.9

21.3

21.0

35.9

29.9

28.8

MarketAxess Holdings (US$)

523

19,852

38

38.2

28.6

26.1

70.4

48.6

44.2

96.8

67.9

63.5

Average

26

15.0

12.7

12.0

34.5

28.6

26.5

48.3

39.8

36.8

Median

23

11.8

11.2

10.8

29.3

22.6

21.4

44.7

39.1

35.0

EQS (€)

23.8

171

90

5.2

4.8

4.1

71.8

37.3

34.8

(376.7)

172.1

160.2

(Discount)/Premium

-65%

-62%

-66%

108%

30%

32%

-879%

333%

335%

Source: Refinitiv, Edison Investment Research. Notes: Prices as at 18 November.

Exhibit 4: Financial summary

€'000s

2018

2019

2020e

2021

Year end 31 December

IFRS

IFRS

IFRS

IFRS

INCOME STATEMENT

Revenue

 

 

36,210

35,367

38,000

44,500

Cost of Sales

0

0

0

0

Gross Profit

36,210

35,367

38,000

44,500

EBITDA

 

 

239

2,546

4,900

5,250

Operating Profit (before amort. and except.)

 

 

(1,299)

(2,441)

1,400

1,750

Amortisation of acquired intangibles

(821)

(743)

(600)

(600)

Exceptionals

0

0

0

0

Share-based payments

0

0

0

0

Reported operating profit

(2,120)

(3,184)

800

1,150

Net Interest

1,954

2,094

5

(298)

Joint ventures & associates (post tax)

0

0

0

0

Exceptionals

0

0

0

0

Profit Before Tax (norm)

 

 

655

(347)

1,405

1,452

Profit Before Tax (reported)

 

 

(166)

(1,090)

805

852

Reported tax

913

(322)

(242)

(169)

Profit After Tax (norm)

439

(449)

984

1,057

Profit After Tax (reported)

747

(1,412)

564

682

Minority interests

20

121

35

42

Discontinued operations

0

0

0

0

Net income (normalised)

439

(449)

984

1,057

Net income (reported)

767

(1,291)

599

724

Average Number of Shares Outstanding (m)

7,175

7,175

7,175

7,175

EPS – normalised (c)

 

 

6.12

(6.26)

13.71

14.74

EPS – normalised fully diluted (c)

 

 

6.12

(6.26)

13.71

14.74

EPS – basic reported (€)

 

 

0.11

(0.18)

0.08

0.10

Dividend per share (c)

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

Revenue growth (%)

19.3

(2.3)

7.4

17.1

Gross Margin (%)

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

EBITDA Margin (%)

0.7

7.2

12.9

11.8

Normalised Operating Margin (%)

(3.6)

(6.9)

3.7

3.9

BALANCE SHEET

Fixed Assets

 

 

41,219

43,827

42,516

40,471

Intangible Assets

37,293

32,008

32,459

30,414

Tangible Assets

2,241

8,824

8,824

8,824

Investments & other

1,685

2,995

1,233

1,233

Current Assets

 

 

7,250

6,004

7,055

10,975

Stocks

0

0

0

0

Debtors

5,030

3,751

4,030

4,719

Cash & cash equivalents

1,308

1,184

1,956

5,186

Other

912

1,069

1,069

1,069

Current Liabilities

 

 

(14,330)

(14,590)

(13,727)

(14,066)

Creditors

(1,472)

(1,848)

(1,985)

(2,325)

Tax and social security

(129)

(46)

(46)

(46)

Short term borrowings

(6,961)

(7,173)

(4,018)

(4,018)

Other

(5,768)

(5,524)

(7,678)

(7,678)

Long Term Liabilities

 

 

(6,013)

(9,238)

(9,148)

(9,148)

Long term borrowings

(3,475)

(7,481)

(6,125)

(6,125)

Other long term liabilities

(2,538)

(1,757)

(3,023)

(3,023)

Net Assets

 

 

28,125

26,003

26,697

28,232

Minority interests

420

(34)

(50)

(92)

Shareholders' equity

 

 

28,545

25,969

26,647

28,140

CASH FLOW

Op Cash Flow before WC and tax

3,106

4,318

4,664

4,782

Working capital

1,270

1,061

558

50

Exceptional & other

(1,646)

(2,794)

447

67

Tax

(135)

(188)

(242)

(169)

Net operating cash flow

 

 

2,595

2,397

5,427

4,731

Capex

(5,441)

(3,120)

(1,500)

(1,500)

Acquisitions/disposals

(5,115)

4,888

2,246

0

Net interest

0

0

0

0

Equity financing

0

0

0

0

Dividends

0

0

0

0

Other

1,792

(4,408)

0

0

Net Cash Flow

(6,169)

(243)

6,173

3,231

Opening net debt/(cash)

 

 

3,556

9,127

13,469

7,296

FX

75

53

0

0

Other non-cash movements

522

(4,153)

0

0

Closing net debt/(cash)

 

 

9,127

13,469

7,296

4,066

Source: Company accounts, Edison Investment Research

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This report has been commissioned by EQS Group and prepared and issued by Edison, in consideration of a fee payable by EQS Group. Edison Investment Research standard fees are £49,500 pa for the production and broad dissemination of a detailed note (Outlook) following by regular (typically quarterly) update notes. Fees are paid upfront in cash without recourse. Edison may seek additional fees for the provision of roadshows and related IR services for the client but does not get remunerated for any investment banking services. We never take payment in stock, options or warrants for any of our services.

Accuracy of content: All information used in the publication of this report has been compiled from publicly available sources that are believed to be reliable, however we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this report and have not sought for this information to be independently verified. Opinions contained in this report represent those of the research department of Edison at the time of publication. Forward-looking information or statements in this report contain information that is based on assumptions, forecasts of future results, estimates of amounts not yet determinable, and therefore involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of their subject matter to be materially different from current expectations.

Exclusion of Liability: To the fullest extent allowed by law, Edison shall not be liable for any direct, indirect or consequential losses, loss of profits, damages, costs or expenses incurred or suffered by you arising out or in connection with the access to, use of or reliance on any information contained on this note.

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This report has been commissioned by EQS Group and prepared and issued by Edison, in consideration of a fee payable by EQS Group. Edison Investment Research standard fees are £49,500 pa for the production and broad dissemination of a detailed note (Outlook) following by regular (typically quarterly) update notes. Fees are paid upfront in cash without recourse. Edison may seek additional fees for the provision of roadshows and related IR services for the client but does not get remunerated for any investment banking services. We never take payment in stock, options or warrants for any of our services.

Accuracy of content: All information used in the publication of this report has been compiled from publicly available sources that are believed to be reliable, however we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this report and have not sought for this information to be independently verified. Opinions contained in this report represent those of the research department of Edison at the time of publication. Forward-looking information or statements in this report contain information that is based on assumptions, forecasts of future results, estimates of amounts not yet determinable, and therefore involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of their subject matter to be materially different from current expectations.

Exclusion of Liability: To the fullest extent allowed by law, Edison shall not be liable for any direct, indirect or consequential losses, loss of profits, damages, costs or expenses incurred or suffered by you arising out or in connection with the access to, use of or reliance on any information contained on this note.

No personalised advice: The information that we provide should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as, personalised advice. Also, the information provided by us should not be construed by any subscriber or prospective subscriber as Edison’s solicitation to effect, or attempt to effect, any transaction in a security. The securities described in the report may not be eligible for sale in all jurisdictions or to certain categories of investors.

Investment in securities mentioned: Edison has a restrictive policy relating to personal dealing and conflicts of interest. Edison Group does not conduct any investment business and, accordingly, does not itself hold any positions in the securities mentioned in this report. However, the respective directors, officers, employees and contractors of Edison may have a position in any or related securities mentioned in this report, subject to Edison's policies on personal dealing and conflicts of interest.

Copyright: Copyright 2020 Edison Investment Research Limited (Edison).

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Edison Investment Research Pty Ltd (Edison AU) is the Australian subsidiary of Edison. Edison AU is a Corporate Authorised Representative (1252501) of Crown Wealth Group Pty Ltd who holds an Australian Financial Services Licence (Number: 494274). This research is issued in Australia by Edison AU and any access to it, is intended only for "wholesale clients" within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001 of Australia. Any advice given by Edison AU is general advice only and does not take into account your personal circumstances, needs or objectives. You should, before acting on this advice, consider the appropriateness of the advice, having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs. If our advice relates to the acquisition, or possible acquisition, of a particular financial product you should read any relevant Product Disclosure Statement or like instrument.

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The research in this document is intended for New Zealand resident professional financial advisers or brokers (for use in their roles as financial advisers or brokers) and habitual investors who are “wholesale clients” for the purpose of the Financial Advisers Act 2008 (FAA) (as described in sections 5(c) (1)(a), (b) and (c) of the FAA). This is not a solicitation or inducement to buy, sell, subscribe, or underwrite any securities mentioned or in the topic of this document. For the purpose of the FAA, the content of this report is of a general nature, is intended as a source of general information only and is not intended to constitute a recommendation or opinion in relation to acquiring or disposing (including refraining from acquiring or disposing) of securities. The distribution of this document is not a “personalised service” and, to the extent that it contains any financial advice, is intended only as a “class service” provided by Edison within the meaning of the FAA (i.e. without taking into account the particular financial situation or goals of any person). As such, it should not be relied upon in making an investment decision.

United Kingdom

This document is prepared and provided by Edison for information purposes only and should not be construed as an offer or solicitation for investment in any securities mentioned or in the topic of this document. A marketing communication under FCA Rules, this document has not been prepared in accordance with the legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is not subject to any prohibition on dealing ahead of the dissemination of investment research.

This Communication is being distributed in the United Kingdom and is directed only at (i) persons having professional experience in matters relating to investments, i.e. investment professionals within the meaning of Article 19(5) of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Financial Promotion) Order 2005, as amended (the "FPO") (ii) high net-worth companies, unincorporated associations or other bodies within the meaning of Article 49 of the FPO and (iii) persons to whom it is otherwise lawful to distribute it. The investment or investment activity to which this document relates is available only to such persons. It is not intended that this document be distributed or passed on, directly or indirectly, to any other class of persons and in any event and under no circumstances should persons of any other description rely on or act upon the contents of this document.

This Communication is being supplied to you solely for your information and may not be reproduced by, further distributed to or published in whole or in part by, any other person.

United States

Edison relies upon the "publishers' exclusion" from the definition of investment adviser under Section 202(a)(11) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and corresponding state securities laws. This report is a bona fide publication of general and regular circulation offering impersonal investment-related advice, not tailored to a specific investment portfolio or the needs of current and/or prospective subscribers. As such, Edison does not offer or provide personal advice and the research provided is for informational purposes only. No mention of a particular security in this report constitutes a recommendation to buy, sell or hold that or any security, or that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person.

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United Kingdom

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Frankfurt +49 (0)69 78 8076 960

Schumannstrasse 34b

60325 Frankfurt

Germany

London +44 (0)20 3077 5700

280 High Holborn

London, WC1V 7EE

United Kingdom

New York +1 646 653 7026

1185 Avenue of the Americas

3rd Floor, New York, NY 10036

United States of America

Sydney +61 (0)2 8249 8342

Level 4, Office 1205

95 Pitt Street, Sydney

NSW 2000, Australia

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