Business Irish

Thursday 2 October 2014

2012: movers, shakers and the heartbreakers

Published 16/12/2012 | 05:00

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Nick Webb and Tom Lyons polled the top analysts to find out what the red-braced gurus with their fingers on the buy and sell buttons made of Irish business over the past year

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WHICH boss of an Irish-listed company really tore up trees in 2012? Who bitterly disappointed investors? What about the smartest and cleverest deal of the year . . . and the one that stank the most?

We polled 40 of Ireland's and the UK's shrewdest fund managers, analysts and wealth management investors to pick their brains. The results are surprising.

MOST IMPRESSIVE CEO

Stan McCarthy

They say he can walk on water. They say he can laser through metal using just his eyes. They say that Kerry group boss Stan McCarthy is the best damn chief executive in the country.

McCarthy positively romped home with the gong this year, having picked up a number of podium finishes in recent years. Paddy Power's Patrick Kennedy was toppled after a three-year winning spree. After all, Paddy Power's share price only rose by a pathetic 33 per cent in 2012!

The no-nonsense McCarthy has continued the extraordinary growth trajectory of food and ingredients giant Kerry throughout 2012. Despite grim trading conditions, McCarthy has been able to squeeze every last bit of oomph out of Kerry engines and grew profits by a healthy 14 per cent in H1.

It looks like Steady Eddie rather than Stig . . . but it's not. There's an awful lot going on under the hood at the €7bn valued food giant. And shares are up 46 per cent in the year.

Patrick Kennedy was a distant second, with Glanbia's John Moloney and Ryanair's Michael O'Leary in the lesser placings. Honourable mentions for Kingspan's Gene Murtagh and Christoph Mueller at Aer Lingus.

Least Impressive

BOSS

Myles Lee

CRH boss Myles Lee is a surprise winner of the least coveted prize in Irish business. Irish and UK fund managers, analysts and wealth managers voted Lee to be the least impressive CEO of 2012.

Lee takes over the mantle from last year's winner, Greencore's Patrick Coveney, who had a far better 2012. He didn't even get a single bad vote this year.

Lee has been at the helm of Irish biggest-listed company CRH since January 2009, during which time investors in the company have been hosed by a 25 per cent drop in the share price – a dismal return by any standards.

A profits warning in August didn't help sentiment much, as CRH's extremely cautious approach saw it walk away from a deal to buy a stake in Indian firm Jaiprakash Associates. This year, Societe Generale, Exane BNP Paribas and Goodbody have all downgraded the stock.

Best company

Kerry Group

This was by far the tightest category in the poll, with the analysts, fund managers and wealth managers in Ireland and abroad ultimately plumping for Stan McCarthy's juggernaut food company Kerry Group.

A stunning share price performance, really healthy earnings growth and a resilience in the face of tricky markets really sealed the deal for investors in the Tralee HQ-ed firm.

Another food company, John Moloney's Glanbia, had a terrific year culminating in the successful spin-off of its Irish ingredients business. It was also given the thumbs-up by investors, as were Michael O'Leary's evergreen Ryanair and Patrick Kennedy's Paddy Power. There was also a first mention of Providence Resources and a shout-out for Gene Murtagh's Kingspan.

DEAL OF THE YEAR

Glanbia

Glanbia pulled off the stand-out deal of the year in reforming its corporate structure, sending its shares rocketing by over 75 per cent this year.

Chief executive John Moloney has brilliantly unlocked value in the cheese to nutritional solutions group. A new venture called Glanbia Ingredients Ireland is now up and running as a result. Glanbia Co-Op is taking a 60 per cent share in this while reducing its position in the overall company, allowing the PLC to focus on its exciting nutritionals business.

Cove Energy's €1.5bn sale to Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production, which delivered a stupendous return to investors, came in second.

Honourably mentioned in dispatches were Kingspan's €65m acquisition of the ThyssenKrupp Construction Group, as was paper and packaging group Smurfit Kappa's purchase of Orange County Container Group.

Worst Deal OF 2012

Abbey's take-private

This tends to be the bitchiest category, as stockbrokers like to stick it to their rivals. But the addition of votes from the fund management and wealth management sector has flattened out the wrinkles.

The worst deal of the year was the attempted take-private in August of listed home builder Abbey by its major shareholders the Gallagher family, who offered a rather miserly €77m to buy out the remaining 53 per cent of the firm it didn't own. Other investors were not impressed and it ground to a halt.

C&C's megadeal to buy the Vermont Hard Cider company and give it a foothold in the US market was dumped on from a height. C&C paid a stonking €234m for the cider business and tied in its executives on long-term deals.

Investors didn't like C&C's deal for Gleeson's either, with Kenmare's financing and the Siteserv buyout all raising hackles.

BEST SMALL COMPANY

Datalex

Travel software firm Datalex has been a star performer on the Irish Stock Exchange in the past year.

Chief executive Aidan Brogan has impressed since he took over in September. Last week, Datalex won an 'Oscar of the travel industry' at the World Travel Awards in India, where it was named the leading travel distribution platform crowning a top-flight year for the company.

Insurance group FBD came a well-deserved second. In a tough climate its business model has proved robust.

Exploration minnow Fastnet Oil & Gas ran a very close third. Chaired by Cathal Friel, it's been a red-hot stock market favourite, with promising interests from Morocco to the Celtic Sea. With canny shareholders like Tommy O'Gorman on board, it is definitely one to watch in 2013.

BEST YOUNG EXECUTIVE

Andrew Langford

Andrew Langford, the chief executive of FBD, has romped a comfortable first home as our analysts' favourite young chief executive.

Langford, 43, runs a conservative (with a small 'c') ship, which is why all the best analysts have learned to love him. The FBD share price has risen by over 50 per cent this year as a result and the company's recent interim management statement put its performance ahead of expectations in a really tough market.

In neck-and-neck second place was Patrick Kennedy, chief executive of Paddy Power, and Tom Hickey, the chief financial officer at Petroceltic International. Hickey spent eight years helping Tullow Oil to the top and now he is impressing again.

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