Will HSBC Holdings Plc, Lonmin Plc & Poundland Group Plc Ever Return To Previous Highs?

Share prices half their pre-Financial Crisis level surely have shareholders of HSBC Holdings (LSE:HSBA) wondering whether the struggling lender can ever return to its previous commanding heights. 2015’s 7% fall in pre-tax profits will have done nothing to reassure investors that management’s long restructuring plans are any closer to bearing fruit eight years in.

Management will point out that turning around a $2.5trn behemoth takes time, but there are worrying signs that restructuring plans aren’t going as well as hoped. The bank was forced to step back from plans to sell its struggling Turkish operations after failing to find a suitable bidder. Return on equity, a key performance metric for banks, also fell from 7.3% in 2014 to 7.2% this past year, well below the long-term target of 10%.

However, if management can get its cards in order, the long-term turnaround plan does make considerable sense. Cutting back on low-return operations in non-core markets such as Brazil and redeploying assets to the bank’s profitable Asian home should increase margins significantly. At the end of the day though, no matter how good the plan is, if the execution continues to underperform, I see little hope of shares returning to 2008 highs.

The amazing disappearing margins

Discount retailer Poundland (LSE: PLND) has seen shares halve from their 2014 IPO price. The market is rightly worried that earnings are unlikely to increase significantly going forward as margins remain persistently low and are steadily decreasing. EBITDA margins for the last half-year period were 3%, down from 3.9% the previous year.

The situation is unlikely to improve quickly as the company lowered guidance for the full year as Holiday sales, the chain’s most important period, disappointed. Despite continued top-line growth, the company’s low margins lead me to believe shares won’t be skyrocketing anytime soon. And, priced at 17 times forward earnings, they aren’t exactly a bargain either.

The unlikely lad

Platinum miner Lonmin (LSE: LMI) may be the most unlikely of these three companies to ever return to previous highs. Share prices reached over £42 in mid 2007 before cratering to their current level of around 150p. Business issues aside, the dilutive effects of three rights issuances since then makes returning to 2007 prices highly unlikely.

The business problems Lonmin faces are also significant. The price of platinum has plummeted alongside most other commodities as Chinese demand has slackened and Lonmin itself doesn’t foresee any major changes to this until 2020. This drop in platinum prices and stubborn high labour costs were the main factors behind a staggering $2.2bn loss in 2015.

Going forward, I fail to see the catalyst that will push prices significantly higher for a sustained period of time. Shares are up 84% year-to-date, but this rally may prove short-lived. The latest rights issue raised $400m to pay down debts, which are now only $150m. Yet the company was free cash flow-negative to the tune of $167m in 2015 and only has $69m in cash available. Given this precarious balance sheet, murky outlook for platinum prices and high production costs, I’m steering well clear of Lonmin for the time being.

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Ian Pierce has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended HSBC Holdings. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.