We here at the Motley Fool tend to love founder-led companies as they normally mean great management teams with a huge incentive to run the company well over the long run. Sadly, they aren’t many of them left these days, but of the few that are left a handful make a compelling investment thesis.
Arbitrage at its best
The first one on my list is Mountview Estates (LSE: MTVW). Its founder no longer runs this £400m market cap company but this is entirely forgivable as it was established all the way back in 1937. Furthermore, the company is now run by the co-founder’s son and he and the wider family own around half of all outstanding shares, giving them plenty of skin in the game.
Befitting a family-run company with a long history, its business model is buying at a steep discount buildings with flats that have regulated rents below market value and then waiting, sometimes decades, for these flats to become unoccupied and selling them on at market value.
While no new regulated tenancy properties have been created since 1988, the company still has a very large and constantly evolving portfolio of just under 4,000 properties as of the end of fiscal year 2016. Since around half of all its properties are in London and another 33% in the Home Counties, it has benefited from rising property values there.
In each of the past four years rising sale prices have led to double-digit increases in earnings and allowed dividends per share to nearly double to 300p in 2016. This is still a very conservative one-third of earnings, but shareholders still enjoyed a respectable 2.7% annual yield.
Management’s conservative approach to shareholder returns also carries over to its policy towards debt as the gearing ratio was a very low 11.8% at year-end. This healthy balance sheet means the business is in a good position to benefit from any downturn in the property market as it will have the financial firepower to make deals at an even deeper than normal discount.
Shares of Mountview are pricey for a property firm at 12 times trailing earnings but with a very long history of rewarding shareholders since going public in 1960 I reckon this business is one to hold for the long term.
A truly long term outlook
Another family-run business with a long history of keeping shareholders happy is iron foundry Goodwin (LSE: GDWN). Despite being set up in 1883, it is still run by a Goodwin and the family retains a large stake.
It has been in a holding pattern in the past few years as the downturn in oil, gas and commodities prices has significantly dampened demand for the company’s valves, pumps and other industrial products. However, management has been through many, many downturns before and was prepared for this one.
It has invested in recent years in expanding its capabilities into creating products for the aerospace, jewellery and automotive industries that are paying off and keeping it highly profitable even during the downturn in energy markets. In the nine months to January the diversification helped increase sales from £87m to £105m year-on-year, although pre-tax profits fell from £9m to £8.2m.
With a long history of adapting to ever-changing market demands and a proven ability to withstand very deep market downturns Goodwin is one share I’ll be looking at more closely once energy markets rebound.