Edison report: Rare opportunity in e-learning technologies

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Through a buy and build strategy, Learning Technologies Group (LTG) has established a distinctive international position in corporate e-learning with a broad range of software and service offerings. LTG has been growing apace and profit margins have been rising strongly. The recent acquisition of LMS provider NetDimensions is the last major piece in the technological jigsaw. Attractive growth drivers and synergies from the NetDimensions acquisition put the company in a strong position to generate positive surprises. Given these factors, the c 23x our FY18 EPS is not demanding and our DCF analysis indicates upside potential of 43% to 103%.

Investment case: e-learning consolidator

LTG is consolidating the corporate learning technologies space, having made six acquisitions since it joined AIM in 2013. The corporate e-learning industry is growing at rates in the mid-teens supported by a structural shift to online/blended learning. LTG has benefited from its increased scale and profit margins have been rising. The recent investment in software platforms is boosting earnings quality and margins should continue to move higher. Following the NetDimensions deal, more than 40% of revenues are recurring in nature, up from 10% in FY14.

H1 trading update: Strong growth, record order book

Management reported strong organic growth in H1 along with a record order book. Notably, LEO achieved 50% growth in sales over H116. The 100-day plan to reduce operating costs and integrate NetDimensions into the group has been successfully completed on time and the transformation program will continue into H217.

Forecasts: Robust growth and margin profile

Our near-term forecasts are complicated by acquisition activity, particularly the acquisition, restructuring and integration of NetDimensions, where the company is adopting consistent revenue recognition policies, is reducing NetDimensions’ costs to $16m and focusing on bedding down the integration (hence revenue contribution of $24m in FY18e vs $25.6m in FY15). Once complete we conservatively expect to see a group growing at a robust, high single-digit organic rate generating mid-20s operating margins and healthy levels of cash. With strong execution and if market conditions remain buoyant, mid-teens growth and c 30% margins may be possible.

Valuation: DCF analysis suggests 56-77p range

Given these qualities we do not believe that the current PE rating of c 23x in FY18 and 21x in FY19 is at all demanding. Our DCF model suggests a value of 68-97p if management can generate organic growth rates in the mid teens and drive operating margins to 30% from 24.6% in FY16. Further acquisitions could also increase the company’s scale and enhance earnings.

Investment summary: Rare opportunity in e-learning technologies

Company description: Learning technologies consolidator

LTG was established to consolidate the learning technologies space. Traditionally, LTG was a services business, building e-learning content solutions for enterprises, both in the private and public sectors. Through acquisition, LTG has added a specialist in the financial services sector – Eukleia – and a gamification specialist – Preloaded – to its services portfolio. LTG has also added a software business called Rustici that provides Application Programming Interface conformance software – essentially digital plumbing for the e-learning industry and it has developed its own authoring tool, gomo, which is very helpful for establishing customer relationships. The most recent acquisition, NetDimensions, brings a respected learning management system (LMS) with a strong customer base to the portfolio.

Financials: Profit margins rose strongly in FY15 and FY16

When LTG joined AIM in November 2013, management’s stated aim was to generate revenues of £50m in the medium term and LTG is well on target to meet this goal. Since then, the company has made six acquisitions and revenue has risen nearly 300% in just three years. The acquisitions of NetDimensions and Rustici, as well as the in-house development of gomo, have added cash generating software solutions to the portfolio. These software solutions all have rental business models and we estimate that more than 40% of group revenues are recurring in nature. The most recent of these acquisitions – NetDimensions – is easily the group’s biggest acquisition at £53.6m. We forecast revenue to grow 75% in FY17 to £49.5m and 16% in FY17 to £57.7m, with margins falling in FY17 due to the low margins at NetDimensions, but rising in FY18 and FY19 as synergies come through. The group had net debt of £6.1m at 30 June, or £9.8m after including the final payments for NetDimensions and share options exercised near the period end. In addition, there are contingent acquisition liabilities of c £7.4m that are expected to be paid over three years.

Sensitivities: Managing the growth

As with all companies pursuing a consolidation strategy, selecting the right acquisitions, maintaining price discipline and successfully integrating the new businesses will be key to success. We believe that the company’s track record so far, particularly delivery on the 100-day integration plan for NetDimensions, offers reassurance in this regard. There can be challenges for a fast-growing technology-driven business in recruiting suitably experienced employees, and in the availability of freelancers when the company has a high level of projects, although the CSL project run in FY16 demonstrates how the group can scale quickly. The corporate e-learning market is characterised by an evolving technological backdrop, evolving industry standards, changes in customer needs, competition and frequent new product introductions. IT and HR budgets are subject to changes in economic cycles, although many of the group’s customers are required by regulation to offer training, which may provide some resilience. On the LMS side, the group’s smaller scale may put it at a disadvantage to its larger US multi-tenant SaaS competitors, although NetDimensions’ platform provides certain barriers to entry.

Valuation: Plenty of upside if LTG can sustain the growth.

The stock trades on c 32.5x our FY17e earnings, falling to c 22.6x in FY18 and c 20.9x in FY19. Our DCF model suggests a value of 68-97p if management can sustain organic growth rates in the low teens and drive operating margins to 30% from 24.6% in FY16. This outlook is supported by an industry growing in the mid-teens and the group’s expanding high-margin software portfolio. Our valuation scenario does not include any potential future acquisitions.

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