Saturday, June 10, 2017

Accordia Golf Trust

As we all know, STI has been moving up steadily this year, driven by bank and property counters. Year to date, it’s one of the best performing index in the world. Hence to search for good yield, I have expanded my radar to look beyond just blue chips and the common REITs. Recently, Accordia Golf Trust's attractive yield caught my attention when it reported its earnings. It is operated in Japan and I don't have much knowledge on golf business and it's future prospect. So I did some read up and in this article, I will be focusing more on the outlook on the golf sector in Japan rather than the numbers.

Brief History – Asset Spinoff

Ok, it’s just 3 years ago, but basically this is how it all started. In August 2014, Accordia Golf, which owns 133 golf courses, decides to be asset light and focus more on golf course management. Accordia Golf Asset LLC was then set up and Accordia Golf transferred 89 golf courses to Accordia Golf Asset LLC (fully owned by Accordia Golf then). Next, it transferred this silent partnership stake in Accordia Golf Asset LLC to Accordia Golf Trust for approx 113bn Yen. This purchase was financed through IPO by listing in SGX, JPY 25.4bn from Accordia Golf (28.85% stake in AGT), and JPY 45.0bn loans.

Accordia Golf Trust Management Pte Ltd then acts as the Trustee- Manager of AGT, which manages the business trusts and safeguard interests of investors, jointly owned by Daiwa Real Estate Asset Management Co. Ltd and Accordia Golf Co Ltd. Currently AGT is granted the first right of refusal over the sponsor’s golf courses and driving ranges and Daiwa Real Estate Asset Management Co Ltd provides asset management advice to AGT i.e. acquisition/disposal of golf course.

The below image, extracted from the annual report basically summarize the whole picture.




In simple words, Accordia Golf spinned off 89 of its golf course asset by listing AGT to focus on providing golf management services . With Accordia Golf Trust having call options over Accordia's Golf course and first right of refusal over the courses that Accordia buys or sells, it will be able to acquire golf courses to grow its revenue.

Next up, would be some of the trends I see in the golf sector in Japan and what it means for Accordia Golf Trust


Aging Population




The chart above shows the rise in population aging with a steady increase in population aged 60s and projected to rise till 2040. On the inverse, there is a fall in population below age 20-59 due to falling birth rates.

Not a good news for Japan but that would potentially mean more golfers in the future, as the chart below shows a rising trend of percentage of golfers above 50 & 60, which occupies about more than 50% in 2011. A possible reason may be that golfers at those age group are retired and have more free time to play. With medical advancement moving forward, life expectancy in Japan is also set to increase albeit a gradual one.



High Barriers of Entry/ Competitive Advantage


According to Accordia Golf Trust IPO prospectus, land price remains high and a typical golf course requires 50-80 hectars, costing about JPY5 billion to JPY6 billion in construction costs (excluding acquisition price). According to IPO prospectus, there has been no development of new golf courses partially due to lack of develop-able land, which shows that competition is limited and is likely that Accordia is able to maintain its market share in Japan.

To understand why the economies of scale and market competition makes it harder for new entrants, you have to look back into the development of the golf industry since the 1900s.

The 100 years timeline can be concisely broken down into 4 phases.



Phase 1
It started in 1956 when golf as a sport gains it’s popularity.The number of players has grown steadily with the number of golf courses, hitting a million golfers and about 500 golf courses in the country. Back then membership are obtained via shareholder memberships.

Phase 2
Few years later, golf courses doubled to 1,000 in 1975 and golf became a very popular sport to entertain clients by mixing business and pleasure. This was when a deposit system was introduced which was to be paid by a new member and could be fully refunded with no interest should one terminates the membership.

Phase 3
The deposit system became very well established with membership were easily sold with an increased demand. Golf companies then used the cash for golf development purposes as well as investment products. With the surge in players, they had never expected that one would consider to terminate their membership.

Here’s one article which depicts situation then in 1987, where a membership costs up to a few millions



Phase 4
Japan’s economic bubble unexpectedly burst in 1999, and many golf course then were still under construction, causing an oversupply when golfers shrank. That was when many golf companies faced pressures from members to request for refund. Many finally troubled firms couldn’t pay off went into bankruptcy and some were bought over by Accordia Golf and Pacific Golf Management (PGM).

Today, it becomes the situation where large size golf companies like Accordia are expanding their market share through acquisitions which smaller companies finds it hard to compete as they are lacking in economies of scale. The smaller golf courses located in more outskirts of city are poorly managed and had to resort into alternative ways to dispose/convert their assets As reported in the IPO prospectus, 37 golf courses have plans to turn their land into solar power plants and the chart below shows the reduction in golf courses after peaking in 2002.





Market Leader

Today, Accordia Golf is the largest corporate operator of golf courses in Japan, followed by PGM group. As mentioned, both have acquired much golf courses since 2000, and specialize in golf courses and driving range management compared to other companies, who are conglomerates and dealing with financials, real estate, etc. For instance, OrixGroup, third in line is a financial services group which owns baseball teams.


Olympic 2020



A possible catalyst to reignite the popularity of golf would be it's inclusion in 2020 Olympics in Toyko, starting from Rio in 2016. However to stimulate interest in golf  and tourism much also depends on the government continuing initiatives and it's abit hard to forecast the numbers at this point. A question to ask is that would one start playing golf after realizing that his country is hosting Olympics in 2020 with golf being introduced as an Olympic sport? It may create some awareness but I doubt that it would arouse much interest among the younger generation.

I used to think that Olympic Games will boost the the host country's economy via tourism growth, and was quite bullish on emerging markets like Brazil, as they hosted the World Cup and then Olympic Games 2 years later. However, the analysis report suggest otherwise.
Based on the analysis conducted by McKinsey, host countries for Olympic games sees mixed momentum in tourism growth. Hence, I wouldn't be too optimistic that Tokyo 2020 would bring much golf tourism to Japan.





There are three strategies that Accordia Golf Trust could grow it’s profit and distribution:

(1)    Internal Growth - growing number of visitors

(2)  External Growth - Acquisition from Sponsor through first right of refusal

(3)  Cost Cutting  



Internal Growth (Attracting more visitors)


As utilization rate is low on weekdays, they introduced a rewards programme (Jan to Jun 2015) to encourage more players during weekdays.  They also implemented the loyalty card programme and as of March 2016, there are 4.14mil loyalty card holders, which represents 57.5% golf holders in Japan. Since its launch, there is a steady increase in the membership. So today, one can imagine that more than half of the golf players in Japan actually owns a Accordia Golf loyalty card. Having a loyalty card helps to retain and capture new market share.



As golf course fees has been on a downtrend since the economic bubble due to decline in golf visitors, internal expansion will be limited in the short to medium term.  The below article shows that Japan’s golf courses are closing at a rate of one a week, due to declining interest among the young and the older generations.


A better strategy to capture market share would be via external growth.

External Growth (acquiring more assets)

This means to acquire more golf courses. One of the advantage of having sponsor is having first right to refusal in purchase of assets. Currently Accordia Golf has 25 golf courses, and Accordia Golf Trust has call option over 17 of them. As the LTV stands at a conservative 28.8%, there is ample room to fund acquisition via debt. 

Cost Cutting

Management has also been pursuing cost cutting measures such as promoting services without caddies, centralized administrative work to a main administration centre, promoting self-service or installation of automated payment machines. This means cutting down expenses to improve profit margin and cashflow for distributions. However, it's hard to read from the report if this actually pays off or whether it's effective.

Next, I will be discussing about the potential risks:

Seasonality/ Natural Disaster Risk

Unfavorable weather conditions or natural disasters could affect operating income (golf course revenue and restaurant revenue). Depending on the severity, it might cause structural damage/infrastructure damage which resulting in expenses being incurred. Unlike Singapore which only has 2 seasons- hot, and hotter, Japan experiences heavy snowfall and rain which could affect the business operations with closure of golf courses for days.


Currency Risk

As earnings are in JPY but distributions are paid out in SGD, a weakening of JPY or strengthening of SGD would affect it's payout. However, it's partially mitigated with foreign exchange forward contract. On the flipside, it's fortunate that there's also strengthening of Yen against SGD since early 2017, and this gave a slight boost in the distribution.


Interest Rate Risk

Accordia currently obtained three different term loans from 9 banks and divided into three tranches of 15b JPY each. I think interest rate is the least of worries, as it's LTV ratio is only about 29% (relatively low compared to Reits and other business Trust) and they uses interest rate swap contracts to convert the floating interest rates to fixed interest rates. Moreover, interest rate in Japan has been maintained at a low level due to loose monetary policy so it's unlikely they will face much issues in refinancing their loans in future.


Will I buy?

I have given some thought and won't be purchasing this counter because the earnings are very unpredictable especially with seasonality risks and complicated operating structure. Moreover Japan's golf population has been declining which seems like a sunset industry. This stock indeed has competitive advantage compared to other golf courses and it has high yield among Reits in Singapore but in this case I am willing to forgo the high yield for something safer. What are your thoughts and would you invest in Accordia?


8 comments:

  1. I like this counter and will continue to grow my position over time and if prices remain stable. Need to factor in potential from the Japan IRs that will sprout and increasing foreign tourists into Japan. Also MBK could be a savvy investor and that could enhance value over time.

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    1. Hi, thanks for sharing your view. Yes, MBK bought over it's sponsor- Accordia Golf and they mentioned that they will acquire golf courses and improve on it's tourism.

      As for the IR bringing in more tourists, I am not too sure if would translate to revenue growth. I have clients who travels to JB to play golf with friends that's because it's cheaper and near to Singapore; But I doubt it's cheap to play golf in Japan. I may be wrong as I am not a golfer and unsure on how are they gonna executive the strategies.

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  2. Yes I would and more if the prices remai stable and so do the yields.

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  3. With the nature of business of accordia golf trust, one has to demand a yield of at least 9%

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    1. Yup I agree, but I am willing to forgo its high yield for something more stable.

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  4. Great insights and good take on AGT.

    I am currently holding a small position on this counter and will continue to hold it for the time being.

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    1. Thanks Richard for the compliment. Glad you find it useful.

      With MBK's recent acquisition of it's sponsor, I hope AGT will do well and take its business to new heights! :)

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