‘Country of risk’: Here’s how ASX-listed stocks exposed to Brexit are dealing with the chaos
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Investors with an interest in Brexit have had the popcorn out lately, as events in British parliament lurch from one chaotic scene to another.
March 29 remains the key date for whether a deal will be reached, rejected or postponed.
In the meantime, markets will be left to wonder what it all means for the UK share market.
How does all this adjusting the risk equation apply to Australian small caps?
Our Stockhead researchers have uncovered a list of eight ASX-listed small caps for which the UK is designated as their main “country of risk”.
The parameters for country of risk are based on an international standard, including management location and country of revenue.
The list is comprised of four metals and mining companies, two healthcare stocks and two tech stocks.
We took a look at how they performed on the day of the Brexit vote — June 24, 2016:
It was generally pretty negative, with the exception of Nzuri Copper which promptly shot higher on the day.
Since then, the company has had a couple of false starts at its copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
By early February this year it had slipped to 15.5 cents, only slightly above its pre-Brexit range of 11-12 cents.
But that was before the announcement of an all-cash takeover offer from Chengtun Mining Group at 37 cents per share on February 27, which was unanimously approved by the board.
As a result, shares in Nzuri are back trading at 31.5 cents, and the company now tops our group of 8 small caps in overall post-Brexit returns:
The worst performer? Oneview Healthcare — a tech company based in Ireland which offers a patient “engagement” system for carers in hospitals and nursing homes.
The company peaked at $7.28 shortly after Brexit in October 2016. But its product has failed to gain any traction since then, posting steady declines to its current level of 40.5 cents.
So, for ASX-listed listed small-caps, how much of a headache has Brexit caused?
In mining analyst Tim Treadgold’s opinion, it has tightened capital flows out of London, as companies hold off pulling the trigger amid the increased uncertainty.
Mr Treadgold witnessed the shift first-hand when he attended a mining conference in late 2017. However, he says the Brexit saga has been going on so long it’s been a while since he’s given it much thought.
“As a general observation, I suspect British investors are so caught up in Brexit they’re probably forgotten where Australia is,” Treadgold told Stockhead.
“What you can say though is that the absence of UK investors removes what has always been a substantial plank under the sector — but it’s impossible to pin that down to dollars and deals.”
As Mr Treadgold notes, one of the main Brexit-related headwinds from an investment perspective is the reduction in risk profiles due to the lack of regulatory clarity.
Dr Sean Hall is the CEO of Medlab Clinical (ASX: MDC), which makes a range of pharmaceutical products including a cannabis mouth spray to treat cancer pain.
The company recently announced plans to expand into Europe, but Hall is wary of the UK.
“We’ve chosen for the most part to stay away from the UK, because what the hell are they going to do with Brexit?”, Hall says.
He believes there’s every chance the UK won’t exit the EU in a clean way.
He notes the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has already moved to Amsterdam from Canary Wharf in London. In addition, Medlab thinks regulatory developments in medicinal cannabis are likely to advance elsewhere before the UK gets on board.
“We’re hoping to get national regulators like the FDA (US), TGA (Australia) and the EMA on board, then the guys in the UK have to concede the point on some level,” Mr Hall says.
However, Josh Fegan from Althea Group (ASX: AGH) is much more optimistic about the UK operating environment.
Althea’s core operation is as a supplier of medicinal cannabis products to registered healthcare professionals, who then prescribe them to patients.
The company has a network of around 100 doctors in the Australian market and has now set up a subsidiary in the UK, where new legislation was passed last November which gave doctors the go-ahead to prescribe medicinal cannabis.
Mr Fegan told Stockhead the UK was evolving fast and they were already talking to doctors. He thinks they can catch and overtake Althea’s Australian progress because they’re more experienced in setting up an operation and the UK is a very similar similar market to here.
He says it’s also a massive population and a single framework — there are no states — and that should mean uptake is faster.
However, Mr Hall isn’t so sure. While medicinal cannabis prescriptions were legalised in the UK on November 1, Mr Hall said growth in the industry has proved to be slow going.
The NHS releases data on how many scripts of medical cannabis they’ve allowed, and there’s been not a lot, he says.
A big complaint is the public saying they went through hell to get a script and got laughed out of the pharmacy because the latter doesn’t know where to get product.
Ultimately though, Mr Fegan says the systems Althea is setting up to enter the UK means it won’t be very affected by Brexit.
For the production of its product, Althea has done a deal with the Toronto-listed Aphria Inc, a supplier of medicinal cannabis products. Althea’s job will be to expand its network of doctors.
“In terms of the complexities that the UK government has put in place around medicinal cannabis, they don’t have any idea — they’re relying on us for that. And we’re relying on them for production.”
Two cannabis company CEOs, two conflicting views — perhaps a reflection of ongoing uncertainty Brexit throws up.
For now, investors will have to make do with watching the ongoing fireworks in British parliament.