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Edited Transcript of JSE.J earnings conference call or presentation 31-Jul-19 7:00am GMT

Half Year 2019 JSE Ltd Earnings Call

2146 Sandown Aug 5, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of JSE Ltd earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, July 31, 2019 at 7:00:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript


Corporate Participants


* Aarti Takoordeen

JSE Limited - CFO & Executive Director

* Nicky F. Newton-King

JSE Limited - CEO & Executive Director

* Nonkululeko Merina Cheryl Nyembezi-Heita

JSE Limited - Independent Non-Executive Chairman




Operator [1]


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the JSE Limited Interim Results for 2019. (Operator Instructions) Please note that this conference is being recorded.

I'd now like to hand the conference over to Nicky Newton-King. Please go ahead, ma'am.


Nicky F. Newton-King, JSE Limited - CEO & Executive Director [2]


Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us on this call. I thought that given the news of my retirement yesterday, my stepping back from the Exchange after 23 years, that it probably would be a good idea for you to hear from our Chairman, Nonkululeko Nyembezi, and she will speak for the first couple of minutes. And then we will deal with the actual results and then open up for questions at the end also on my stepping back. Nku.


Nonkululeko Merina Cheryl Nyembezi-Heita, JSE Limited - Independent Non-Executive Chairman [3]


Thank you very much, Nicky, and good morning, everyone who's joined the call. Thank you for honoring the invitations. I thought it may be useful for everybody just to get a little bit of context as to how the Board sets about this succession planning and in particular the steps leading to it. As my ninth year was coming to an end at the May general election in 2019, sometime in 2018 Nicky and I started to talk about my succession actually, which is how the conversation started.

In the midst of that discussion, we started -- actually we did not start. Nicky started to, well, put on the table a different process because as you would appreciate, we'd want to be able to sequence our departures in a sensible way, so as not to disrupt governance and leadership at the Exchange. And her proposal is that -- eventually it just went as follows, "Well, I've been here 23 years, been CEO for 8, been a Deputy CEO" -- well, at that point, she's been CEO for 7 -- "been Deputy CEO before that, for 8, I think it may be a good time -- it feels like a good time to step down." And of course, at that point, we also had ITaC landing very shortly and felt that, that would be a good interregnum and a pause in the technology rollout plan to bring in new leadership.

I think you would well understand that when you are a Chairman and the Board and you have a great CEO, this is not something that you wouldn't necessarily be open to right away. So we did need quite a bit of persuasion that that would be the right thing to do for the organization. And I think we got to December and said, "All right. Let's go and think about it in a far more sort of intentional way and come back in the new year and make a final call as to who between us goes first." And we did that and I think we both came to a place of understanding that it was probably a good time.

So actually, we just set about [ordering] her succession plan which was buttressed by an external search and interviewed candidates through the second quarter of this year and finally landed the candidate we announced yesterday. So essentially -- I mean I think the main thing you should take away from this is the Board is very nervous about changing what has been a successful formula. We are actually quite confident that we've made the right call and the place we've got to is good for staff, good for shareholders, good for the organization. But that doesn't mean that we're not going to sorely miss her. She's been absolutely fantastic for this organization.


Nicky F. Newton-King, JSE Limited - CEO & Executive Director [4]


So thank you, Nku, for that. And from my side, I have to say it's -- this has really been the privilege of a lifetime to lead the Exchange. And it's an incredibly difficult decision to take, to step back when you have so much that is so positive about what we are doing now already in construction and platformed so well for where the Exchange needs to go and wants to go in the future. But I know that Leila coming in with her long history at the JSE, with her experience elsewhere, she's going to really be able to work with my very special team and will be really thrilled with where the Exchange goes in the future.

So with that background, let me -- let us get into the results and then we can take questions, as I said, at the very end. As you don't need reminding, the first half of the year has been relatively tough both locally and internationally. From the JSE's perspective, and I think we guided you very much in this regard during our pre-close discussions, that you do have -- one does have to look at the results in the context of a very good H1 2018 and a much more muted set of trading statistics in H1 2019.

That said, if you look at the highlights on Page 3, we certainly delivered what we have -- what we wanted to do in the first half of the year. ITaC went live in April. We think it has been a really good addition to our technology suite. I would be the first person to recognize that some of -- for some of our clients the implementation itself had some downstream [niggles] which they have had to work through. But as a project of this size and this complexity, both us and our -- and all of our clients really recognize what an achievement it has been to get that behind us.

And for us, the issue now in relation to ITaC is to transition the remaining products, derivative products onto those platforms and to use those platforms to grow those products and also to grow the capacity in our post-trade space.

We had our first monthly expiry, which as you know is one of the product suites we were able to innovate using that platform, just a couple months after ITaC went live. A very small monthly expiry, but it's the first and it was absolutely perfectly executed. We have also gone live with tick data in the cloud in a joint venture with CME. This went live at the end of June, and essentially is our first real foray into opportunities in the cloud.

Luckily, our -- we had our first sale within the first week and that is one of the areas where we will start to see growth out of our data services space. So we're also very pleased with that. And I think you'll be also pleased to note that we have already achieved ZAR 170 million worth in cost savings in IT 6 months ahead of schedule. So the first half of the year, while people might have been struggling to find their trading mojo, we certainly have been executing what we have wanted to and committed to doing.

If you look at how this has impacted our drivers -- and I know that you all follow our statistics very closely and so no need to be reminded of these in absolute detail -- but you can see, obviously, that when equity billable value traded is down, that obviously has an impact on our income statement. But it is down 11% and not -- and that's clawed back somewhat from where it was when we spoke before the pre-close. You can see the equity transactions, the actual number of transactions up slightly, a reflection of the high-frequency traders in the colocation environment, and obviously that has a positive impact on BDA. The bond nominal value growing following the net foreign investment in the bond space, and commodity derivatives growing because of the activity in the underlying agricultural market.

So those drivers -- we are to some extent a taker of these drivers. But as you know, from a business model perspective we work very hard on seeing what we can do to influence them in the technology that we use, the actual trade cuts that we expose our clients to, and we'll talk a bit about where our spend in the future is going to enhance the trade types that we offer our clients, particularly in the equities markets, so that they can do more with us. We try to influence this in pricing.

And certainly in relation to equity derivatives, which is -- which continues to show relatively underwhelming performance, we think there is work that we still need to crack. It's not that the work hasn't been done, we have done the work but we have not yet found how best to land a model of trade types and pricing in centers that would get clients to do more. We do think that looking at the way we risk-manage equity derivatives and the indices -- the index construction, will also have a role to play there and we're in deep conversation with our equity derivative clients in that regard.

And so I think before I hand to Aarti on how this has translated, I think your take away from this is that, yes, we understand that we are operating in a relatively strict economy, but that is just the context within which we then have to say, "Well, within that environment, how do we move our business models, our approaches to clients in order to give them the best opportunities to do more with us." Because if they do more for us, that's obviously good for our business model, and obviously keeping a very tight handle on costs, which we will talk to during the course of Aarti's comments, then produces a result that we think would be good for shareholders.

Aarti, do you want to take over from here?


Aarti Takoordeen, JSE Limited - CFO & Executive Director [5]


Thank you. On Slide 5, we unpack the key financial metrics. And you can see that operating revenue is down 7%, with operating expenses up 11%. It is negative operating leverage but we are perfectly comfortable that we understand exactly what is driving this negative operating leverage. And really, it is a story of 2 things. One is the base effect, as you know and as Nicky has explained, the lack of trading mojo in half 1 this year, is the base effect on our revenue. And the deliberate action is the second part of the story, our deliberate management action to reduce pricing. So of course, the new billing model was in effect for all of half 1 this year and it was absent in half 1 last year.

On the costs side, the base effect is coming through from the low headcount we saw last year, throughout last year, which was -- which we understand very well. And we worked very hard, as you know, in half 2 to close that vacancy gap which landed us on a half 1 that had higher headcount than half 1 last year. So that's the base effect in our costs that's come through.

And the other part of the story on costs on our deliberate management action was along the lines of ITaC delivery. So as you know, ITaC delivery comes with a consequential depreciation which we anticipated and that's also bumping the growth on costs up. So we're very comfortable that we understand where these [mix] of operating jaws are coming from and that translates into the EBIT number down 28%, and profit after tax earnings down 29% year on year.

Our cash flows are extremely strong. And as you know, we have a seasonal half 1 which is lower than half 2. And we're very comfortable, still very cash generative business, which I can unpack later. The earnings per share and headline earnings per share follows our profit number, the 29% down. And our capital investment of ZAR 33 million, fairly low over the past few years for half 1, and we unpack that later.

On Slide 6, I want to call out the EBIT percentages, 38%, still strong for any business in that space. The share of profit from Strate also taking strain on the back of the lower volumes for half 1 this year. And the income tax expense is the other side of the base effect that we saw on our income statement coming through from half 1 last year. Remember we had a ZAR 31 million credit as a result of tax gains from prior years coming through in half 1 last year, and this year, we have a normal tax cycle. So that landed us an NPAT percentage of 37%, still strong and within our guidelines for the group.

On the next slide, our trends, you can see the revenue trending down. We continue keeping our eye on the costs at 11% up, but as I explained, perfectly understandable on our part. We would have had seen a lot worse and more pressure on the revenue had it not been for our diverse revenue split across the different markets, because a key driver of 11% down on value traded would have been the -- our entire result had it not been for multi-asset class exchange, which brought that revenue number voided up to 8% down.

So our June exit headcount number, I know you watch that number carefully, is 401 including the 18 IT contractors that we converted. And our headcount -- planned headcount number at full complement remains 427. Nothing has changed in that regard since mid-2017 after the headcount reductions. So we have continued to keep the headcount plan number for the last 2 years.

If I move to Slide 8, the external and internal CapEx total spend has been unpacked. The solid part of the graph on 2019 refers to the ZAR 33 million that has been spent and how we spent it, and then the hashed parts of the graph refers to our forecasted spend for half 2 totaling ZAR 144 million CapEx for this year. You can see that trending down, as we have guided. We are keeping a strong handle on the capital intensity ratio for our business and making sure that we do a lot more within that bar compared to previous years.

If I move to Slide 9 and unpack the operating expenses for you, really the [reason] it's coming up at a high level is due to those 2 items, predominantly the personnel expenses. You'll see that our average headcount was up 11% throughout the year, average of 397 heads versus last year's mid-300s, despite -- and as you know, we exited 401.

On the technology costs, we have banked or rather fully achieved the ZAR 70 million that we committed, annualized ZAR 70 million technology cost savings, and you'll see that coming through. Part of it did come through in half 1 this year. I unpacked that in an annual way, as you have requested, later on in the deck. But really for half 1, it's exacerbated by the post-ITaC go-live costs as well as some OpEx licenses on the back of some new reference data systems in the information services space that we are laying foundation for future revenue-generating products. Our cybersecurity continues to be an increased spend year-on-year and the ZAR 4 million just -- the rest of the technology costs is unpacked later.

On Slide 10, the depreciation for ITaC comes through for part of this half, but in addition to that we had the application of IFRS 16 leases. The only lease that we have in -- at the JSE that IFRS is applicable to is the buildings, so this building and the Cape Town building, and that has a half 1 impact of about ZAR 4 million in total to our income statement. And of course there is a reclassification according to IFRS 16 between general expenses, where we used to report the rental expense, and the depreciation amount.

If I move to the technology cost composition on Slide 11, that really unpacks where we're spending our technology. And you can see the levels of savings coming through year-on-year within those categories. And included in that is the new spend.

On Slide 12, we end the half on a very strong cash base, just under ZAR 2.2 billion. And included in those numbers are the restricted cash levels for the capital requirement. I have to share that we are not yet in a position to share the exact levels of cash that we are keeping as restricted cash on the back of the regulatory capital requirement because we've not been able to land confirmation with the prudential authority in terms of our interpretation and the quantums that we're keeping. We would have liked to, but unfortunately we did not make this deadline.

JSE Clear has seen issued capital in the month of June on the back of the compliance that we needed by August. And there's ZAR 100 million raised issued capital on JSE Clear, and that's included in that cash balance.

If I move to Slide 13, you can see the quality of our earnings in adjusted earnings terms or cash earnings terms to cash generated from operations. And you can see a still very, very healthy business.

On Slide 14, the external CapEx which represents the cash outflow for the business is unpacked further, and you'll be more interested in half 2. But in half 1, under Other initiatives, tick data in the cloud that Nicky referred to as well as the monthly expiries investment is included in that ZAR 5 million but that's because all the -- these initiatives have just been bundled up, they're just too immaterial to dedicated a line item to.

The ZAR 54 million on new initiatives for half 2 is the focus for the rest of the business, and that is unpacked. Nicky can talk to that a little bit later. But you can see we've been having conversations along the lines of smart reg, along the lines of noncash collateral and the value -- the cost of capital reduction it has to our clients and new functionality. We continue to put out new functionality in the cash equity trading engine.

On Slide 15, for the first time we are forecasting multi-year depreciation views for your benefit. And you can see that we have unpacked all the CapEx that are known for this year and pulled that through over the years against useful life. This of course will not include any incremental CapEx that we will incur from 2020 onwards. But you can see the income statement pressure that we anticipated. And so we are quite grateful for the proactive cost reduction program that we went through in 2017. Had it not been for that, we would've been in a far worse position than we are right now. So whatever we have, we're quite confident that we have managed the cost base in order to support the profitability numbers on the back of this increased anticipated depreciation.

On Slide 16, for the first time also, we are forecasting the remainder of the year's technology cost. And you can see essentially what the graph is highlighting, that we've effectively baselined our technology costs for this year back to the levels of 2016 and slightly less in fact. So if we will end the year on ZAR 280 million of technology costs and we ended 2016 on ZAR 283 million.

So on the right-hand side, we reconcile these numbers and includes the base effect, the baseline 2016 costs -- total annualized costs of ZAR 283 million. We add 3 years of inflation which would've been the projected number for this year, we remove what we had already anticipated and -- we add the post ITaC maintenance and support costs and we remove the anticipated cost reductions. And you can see that, in fact, we've achieved slightly more than ZAR 70 million cost reduction from the technology cost base. And we've unpacked the new spend that is canceling out that cost reduction. So I'm sure you're grateful for this slide's key entries in forecast terms, and that explains really 1 of -- 2 of our very, very significant line items in our income statement.


Nicky F. Newton-King, JSE Limited - CEO & Executive Director [6]


So then turning briefly to the business review, you have the slide -- starting on Slide 18 from a capital markets perspective, there is no doubt that the equity primary market pipeline has been low this year. This is in fact not unlike many of our international peers, but it is not helped by a low South African growth environment. We think that, particularly as government starts to look at needing to fund infrastructure development in order to get growth going, it will have to go to the primary markets to do that. And obviously, our bond platform in particular will be a very useful space for that.

But other theme-type investment products -- green ETFs, [STG] ETFs, those are the social bonds and the like -- all of our regulatory environment is ready for that. All of our product environment is ready for that. And we have -- we're obviously talking to potential issuers about that. But there's no doubt that in a slow-growth environment, this is how the primary market part of our business is affected.

Turning then to the trading space, you can see -- because billable value traded down, you can see impact of that in the revenue line. Looking forward, we are focusing then on the new functionality in the equity space that we will introduce -- some in September, some in November, to allow dark -- more dark trade functions, (inaudible) large trades, executed between the bid/offer spread without moving the price. This is bringing our dark functionality, which we already have, but bringing it closer again to international trends which have evolved. And next year, we will be upgrading the equity platform so that we can actually then bring in even further functional -- functionality improvements. And when I said equities platform, I actually mean the trading platform for all of our equity and derivative products that are on the ITaC platform. And if you go back to the CapEx slide on Slide 14, you will see that this is the first line of the use of this -- of the CapEx for new initiatives this year.

In bonds and financial derivatives, net foreign investment in bonds and disinvestment in equities, investment in bonds, you can see the impact of that in the bond space. I did mention the fact that the -- in the derivatives space, that is under pressure, and I just talked to the initiatives that we are looking at in that regard to reenergize that particular product line. You will see once again in the CapEx slide a line there for the CapEx attributable to the new platform for bond repos. We are going to move bond repos onto the same technology as we have government bonds and -- because it has been so successful and so low cost.

And that is a conversation we are currently concluding with our market participants and then we will start to build the relevant technology improvements that we need to do in order to roll out the MTS platform for that. That's likely only to go live at the beginning of next year but there's a whole host of the development work that will happen as soon as we've closed out on the actual specs with the clients.

In the commodities space on Slide 21, obviously the commodities market had a good first half of the year. And here, there is a big push from our clients to move this market on to the ITaC platform as well, which would obviously accelerate our opportunity to move off our legacy technology and remove that cost base, and that, once again, is a good feature for the JSE's financials. That we have not allowed for capital -- CapEx in this half, H2 2019, because we're still busy planning exactly when would we do that. But I'm signaling to you that that is something that we certainly have a lot of client appetite and we would -- we can see the benefit of that from a JSE perspective, making our technology real estate much simpler.

In the Back-Office Services, BDA, as you know, follows the number of transactions. As the number of transactions is up, BDA performs -- goes up. In this particular area, as we start to look at the equity CCP -- and you'll see once again in the CapEx slide that there is a reference to some CapEx that we are keeping for the development of the equity CCP, there is going to be some impact on BDA. We have not yet finalized on that. And we did discuss this in the pre-close period, but I'm -- but clearly, we are -- we recognize the importance of BDA as a revenue line items to the business. But we also recognize the importance of BDA as a technology suite to us and to our clients. So as we roll out the CCP, though, there will be some impact on BDA. And we will be monitoring that and reverting to you as that becomes clearer over the coming 18 months.

Then on equity clearing and settlement on Page 23, you will see that once again, as you know, tracks value and so value -- Equity Market value traded is off, this has also then suffered. Then it has an impact, obviously, on the bps charge for clearing.

In the information services space where revenue is up 17%, I want to caution that in reading this, this is an impact of a number of things. Firstly, the absence of the prior year revenue understatements in ForEx, but also a pricing mix and product mix. So as clients change what they buy from us, this has impacted this. The actual pure driver impact here, so in other words, are clients buying more data, are clients buying -- do they have more assets under management tracking our indices, has not turned in the right direction. This is absolutely the history that we have in relation to bear to when -- in more bearish conditions. As you can imagine, traders don't then have to choose between the Bloomberg or the Reuters screen, or the Bloomberg and the Iress screen, they don't have both and that impacts the purchase of those screens. And asset under management is a reflection also of how much there is in savings and how much people have withdrawn.

So, but back in this particular area, our teams are very clear about what we are rolling out. Tick data in the cloud is the first event, valuations as a service, where we'll be consulting with some of our clients on -- we are -- we have transitioned our bond indices to FTSE, which they are now running in parallel with us. And the intention will be to roll out a series of bond products, tradeable products, which will encourage people to do more in the bond space with us. And so this remains an area where we believe there should be real growth. But it is an area which in this most strict time, that growth has been more elusive for us than we would have liked.

Then I just wanted to, before talking about some of our clear future plans, deal with a couple of issues. Firstly, competition. There is no doubt that 2.5 years after our competitors have received licenses, we are surprised at how little market share they have achieved. We still have 99.8% of all the market activity in JSE-listed securities. But I would not want you to think that we take that, by any means, as -- that it's the end of the competitive space. We fully believe that the competitors will continue to push extremely hard. They are struggling just like we are in attracting value traded.

But what that means for our trading clients is they will be particularly acutely focused on cost, and we will continue to keep an eye on that. They will particularly focused on market quality and where they get the best executable value, and we think that's where we are. But we will continue to focus on how much we have to do in improving what we do in order to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy: come to the JSE, you will get they get the best price, the best execution, et cetera. So we are by no means sitting back. We are focused very clearly on the competitive space.

I then just wanted to deal with Slide 26 before allowing you questions. In Slide 26, we talk about our strategic priorities, and the first one is to deliver meaningful new operating revenues through business lines not currently a substantial part of the JSE income. We are -- had wished to be able to announce something that we are extremely excited about as part of this release announcement. We have not quite finished our work in that regard, but I hope we'll be back with you very, very shortly to be able to give you some good news in that regard.

So I would say watch this space for some of -- how we've taken advantage of the blue sky that's available to us after we've delivered ITaC. In relation to costs, we will continue to keep an extremely tight handle on costs. I think Aarti has dealt extensively with the reason for the cost drive and moving as it is. But what you should be very clear about is that as we execute our strategic priorities, we have no intention of blowing the cost line. These priorities have to stand on their own feet, and so you should be absolutely clear that the JSE is committed to that.

We have invested significantly in moving the way we develop technology into a more agile, nimble approach. Our golden source master reference data system, which you see in the CapEx, is in fact being delivered in this way. It's creating a really exciting hub where people from business and IT are working in a much closer way than we traditionally do and then delivering -- we'll be delivering that product in a much quicker manner than we have been able to do more recently in our bigger projects.

So what we are trying to do is to move away from tech delivery, then size and scope of ITaC into something that gives clients things, what they want, more quickly. And that also is obviously much more cost effective. We are using that to change the entire way that JSE behaves. So it's to really drive a transformed cultural behavioral way within the organization, and we can talk to that if you want to. I come from a school which would say that culture eats strategy. So we need to really focus on that quite heavily, which is what we have done.

But of course, when you have the franchise that we have and you have the legacy systems, we have to keep investing in that and we've talked extensively about how we do that -- what we are focusing on now in H2 in that regard. And when we release the results at the beginning of next year, we will talk to the technological transformation plan in that regard as well.

And then the national agenda remains a point of concern for all of us, and I think there remains every reason for the JSE to be contributing constructively in that regard. In fact, as we speak, we're busy putting the final touches to our annual roadshow, with the sort of top South Africans to New York to really talk about the South African narrative and the stresses and opportunities there, to our international investors in particular.

At the same time, from a BEE perspective, we are tracking well for our Level 3, which is where we ended up last year. With some luck and a bit of innovative thinking, we will -- we may even make Level 2 because we are completely committed as the Exchange to being a visibly constructive part of the South African economy.

And before I open for questions, [Remi], there was one question that I haven't answered that we had already got or...


Unidentified Company Representative, [7]


On multicurrency (inaudible).


Nicky F. Newton-King, JSE Limited - CEO & Executive Director [8]


Sorry. The question that we got, which I think was from [Chris], thank you for that, was regarding multicurrency and the opportunity to trade in multicurrency. We would love to do that. It requires Exchange Control approval. It requires a bit of bravery from the governor and the Minister of Finance, and I do not see that happening in the short term.

Actually, our systems can deal with that at an initial level, but obviously once you trade in 2 currencies in 1 system, you have to actually be able to test all of that, et cetera, and it will require quite a big adjustment from our clients. We are absolutely ready and willing and have been pushing that from a policy perspective for a long time. But I don't think that it's likely that we will see those permissions granted in the short time. Thank you for reminding about that, [Remi].

So with that, let me open up to questions and see whether anybody has anything you want to test the team on. Over to you.


Operator [9]


(Operator Instructions)


Nicky F. Newton-King, JSE Limited - CEO & Executive Director [10]


Stunned into silence. Anybody?


Operator [11]


We don't have any questions at this stage. (Operator Instructions) .


Nonkululeko Merina Cheryl Nyembezi-Heita, JSE Limited - Independent Non-Executive Chairman [12]


Is there anybody actually on the line?


Nicky F. Newton-King, JSE Limited - CEO & Executive Director [13]


Well, that would be interesting. No, the -- Nku was asking whether anybody was on the line. No, I know you've -- many of you've got calls with us and meetings with us during the course of the day. So let me not detain your from your first morning calls, morning meetings. And thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk to you this morning. We look forward to our engagement and -- engagements. And you know how to get hold of the team, you are welcome to get hold of us as you like in the coming days.

Thank you very much, everybody.


Operator [14]


Thank you, ma'am. Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today's conference. Thank you for joining us. You may now disconnect your lines.