Land Transport – OCBC
Another step towards sustainability
- “Government contracting model”
- Turnaround in operations expected
- CDG likely to benefit more than SMRT
Restructuring Singapore’s public bus industry
LTA announced that it will restructure the public bus industry to a “Government contracting model” beginning from 2H14 (but implementation to take place only in 2H16 after the expiration of the current Bus Service Operating Licenses on 31 Aug 2016). This is aimed at improving service quality and injecting more competition into the industry. The key implication of this is that revenue risk will now fall under the Government instead of the public transport operators (PTOs). Under this model, bus operators will bid for the right to operate bus services via a competitive tendering process. The Government will own all bus infrastructure and operating assets. We believe this means LTA may buy over existing bus assets from the PTOs in the future, although the timeline is unclear. The net book value of SBS Transit’s (75%-owned by ComfortDelGro) buses is S$817.5m (as at 31 Dec 2013), while that of SMRT is ~S$200m (as at 31 Mar 2014), based on our estimate. Three out of 12 bus packages (~20% of existing buses) will be tendered out starting from 2H14, and the contract length will be five years (can be extended by another two years on good performance). The remaining 80% of buses will continue to be operated by the incumbent operators, and these will also come under the new contracting model when their licenses expire on 31 Aug 2016 (five year tenure).
CDG to benefit more than SMRT
Overall, we believe this will enable the PTOs’ bus operations to return to profitability. During their most recent full-year results, ComfortDelgro (CDG) and SMRT reported operating losses of S$14.4m and S$28.4m, respectively, for their core Singapore bus operations (excluding advertising and rental income). We expect CDG to be a bigger beneficiary than SMRT as the former operates the largest bus fleet in Singapore (~75% market share via SBS) and also has experience operating a gross cost contracting model for its UK and Australia bus businesses. It generated an operating profit margin of 8.4% and 19.2% for these two areas in FY13, respectively. We believe a 6-9% operating margin can be achieved by the PTOs.
Upgrade sector to OVERWEIGHT
The Singapore Government’s initiative to move towards a gross cost contracting model is a positive paradigm shift which we believe will help to ensure the longer-term sustainability of Singapore’s public bus operations. Although the financial impact will only take place in 2H16, we believe efforts to improve productivity (PTOs’ bus losses have narrowed) and changes to the fare adjustment system will aid the sector’s recovery in CY14 and CY15. Hence we upgrade the land transport sector from Neutral to OVERWEIGHT. We maintain our BUY rating on CDG (FV lifted from S$2.30 to S$2.56) and HOLD rating on SMRT (FV lifted from S$1.25 to S$1.40).