Seeing Machines is worth US$10, even £10, but not 10p

At the Automated Vehicles Symposium (AVS) held in San Francisco last week, one presentation made was by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), about the first Tesla crash involving Autopilot. The NTSB said that “steering wheel torque is a poor surrogate measure” for driver attention. In a tweet highlighting the presentation, Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research commented: “This only really leaves camera-based DMS to fulfil driver engagement function.”. In a subsequent tweet Colin also identified a possible scenario where Waymo buys Seeing Machines, maybe even in a 12-18 month timeframe, for US$10 billion.

Here’s Colin’s reply in full to my asking about his thinking behind these tweets and the jaw dropping valuation.

Colin Barnden

The NTSB presentation at AVS. That’s a game changer. If you are a transport executive and you value your freedom, you don’t ignore NTSB recommendations. This even applies to anyone with the first name Elon too.

Level 3 is starting to gain traction so Waymo are looking like they have called the handover problem incorrectly and L3 is possible after all. Time will tell on this. L2/L3 is where the volume will be in my view, at least for the next decade.

Robo-taxis may get investor and press attention, but the volume will be in the mass market. Seeing Machines is the classic ‘pick and shovel’ play, the tech can go almost anywhere in transport applications that humans and machines interact. It certainly isn’t obsolete.

Price… who knows? Could be higher, depends how desperate the bidding war gets (see Sky as a good example). Remember what I wrote to you last week “I can see ten bucks a share persuading the Board to sell up soon, or even ten pounds, but not pennies. That would be stupid, and they (the Board of Directors) aren’t”. [This refers to us discussing privately the likelihood of Seeing Machines’ management accepting a low-ball bid in the next few months].

The current market cap simply reflects that the market is clueless to what SM has achieved. The company isn’t clueless, the executive management are whip smart. The market is coming to them (and Smart Eye too) it just needs patience. Maybe even as little as 12-18 months.”

You can follow Colin at @semicast_res

You can follow me, Chris Menon, at @Penforjustice

The author holds shares in Seeing Machines

Understanding management priorities on price

I’ve been wrestling with the issue of divergent interests between management and shareholders of a public company. How can the stock price of a great business be very undervalued and management be unconcerned? (Successive fundraisings that dilute long term holders are a sign of that, for example).

I didn’t have the smarts to work it out but fortunately I know a man who does. Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing, worked this out 50 years ago in his book “The Intelligent Investor”.

I’ll quote him at length below, where he cuts the Gordian knot:

Benjamin Graham

“Why is it that insiders may have no interest of their own in following policies designed to provide an adequate dividend return and an adequate average market price? It is strange how little this point is understood. Insiders do not depend on dividends and market quotations to establish the practical value of their holdings. The value to them is measured by what they can do with the business when and if they want to do it. If they need a higher dividend to establish this value, they can raise the dividend. If the value is to be established by selling the business to some other company, or by recapitalising it, or by withdrawing unneeded cash assets, or by dissolving it as a holding concern, they can do any of these things at a time appropriate to themselves.

“Insiders never suffer loss from an unduly low market price which it is in their power to correct. If by any chance they should want to sell, they can and will always correct the situation first. In the meantime they may benefit from the opportunity to acquire more shares at a bargain level, or to pay gift (and prospective estate) taxes on a small valuation, or to save heavy surtaxes on larger dividend payments, which for them (sic) would mean only transferring money from one place where they control it into another.”

Battle of the Titans?

In response to my latest blog post, Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research, wrote to me explaining why he thinks Fovio is of strategic importance to both Apple and Alphabet. Indeed, his analysis reinforces my feeling that the two may soon battle it out to acquire Seeing Machines — regardless of any initial low-ball bid in the 25p-30p range from another party that kicks off a bidding war. 

I’ve reproduced his comments in full below so you get the benefit of his insights:

Colin Barnden

“Do you hear the thud? That’s the sound of the penny dropping in Silicon Valley that autonomous driving is not easy peasy after all. Witness no robo taxi development stories since March, after the Uber crash. As you report today, witness also the speed of conventional OEMs starting to adopt camera-based DMS. This is a technology which I have repeatedly been told by people at Silicon Valley based tech companies is “at best an interim solution and at worst already obsolete”. Elon might think something like that, but a steady stream of auto OEMs seem to want to work with Seeing Machines anyhow. My view is that every auto OEM will have announced their plans for camera-based DMS by the end of this year, with most implementing the technology for production from 2021 to 2023.

Apple have been trying to get into automotive for several years. Project Titan never really got off the ground, but CarPlay has been well received. For Alphabet, they have to hedge their position that Level 3 is redundant and have already moved to Level 4. There are many articles discussing this, here is one: https://www.wired.com/2017/01/human-problem-blocking-path-self-driving-cars/

I totally disagree with that view and Level 3 is very much possible, but it needs advanced DMS and sufficient human factors research to understand what humans do in the seconds and minutes following handing over driving to machine intelligence. Seeing Machines are underway with this work, led by Mike Lenné and the CAN Drive project. As Tesla have found – and Cadillac proven – you cannot even do Level 2 safely without camera DMS and the recent EC legislation calls for mandatory advanced distraction DMS (camera-based) even for Level 0. Other regions will follow in my view.

Both Apple and Alphabet need it, ideally so the other doesn’t have the technology. Whoever wins gets a minimum 3-5 year lead on the other (automotive qualification alone is 3 years – and Fovio is automotive qualified). Remember Zuck bought WhatsApp for $19 billion so Facebook had a potential rival under control. Conventional metrics for valuing a company won’t apply, this would be a straight Battle of the Titans. I’ll be watching.”

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Toyota or bid announcement?

The good news for investors in Seeing Machines is that I’m hearing from multiple sources that Seeing Machines is set to win a contract with Toyota next.

Apparently, it’s the only driver monitoring system (DMS) that is being specified in multiple Tier 1 bids – as was the case with the big BMW win recently. If true – and I see no reason to doubt my sources’ information – it just goes to further reinforce the global domination of Seeing Machines’ Fovio DMS in the auto industry.

Bid coming?

For that reason, I’m not surprised that there are now 10 market makers for the company on the London Stock Exchange, up from 4 a year ago. Most recently, Berenberg have started broking them. The better news is that I think this German bank may be acquiring shares for a company that plans to bid for Seeing Machines.

I could be wrong about that last assumption: Berenberg may be buying for a German fund. Nevertheless, various sources are warning of an imminent low ball bid – somewhere around 25p-30p a share for Seeing Machines. 

Some of my sources believe it is a Tier 1 auto supplier, others discount that theory. Interestingly, when asked about this in a previous interview back in March, Ken Kroeger did tease: “I agree it is either someone like that who can see the full value or a really diverse Tier 2 or Tier 1, as opposed to the OEM.”

While traders might be impressed by that figure, anyone with any knowledge of the auto industry and even an average understanding of Seeing Machines proven technological global dominance in driver monitoring systems shouldn’t be.

If such a bid should materialise I’ve been told by multiple sources that certain chip manufacturers (Intel/Nvidia, Xilinx and Qualcomm) would most likely be prepared to offer a lot more than a measly 30p. So I fully expect a competitive bidding situation to materialise if the rumour turns out to be fact.

Seeing Machines house brokers haven’t issued any upgrades in a long while. Still, based purely on old figures from Canaccord Genuity’s Caspar Trenchard note of Jan 9, (which excludes any figures for the huge Ford win as well as the big BMW win) it must be worth at least 59p a share. That is 30 times forecast revenues for 2019 of A$79.5m = 59p a share.

You could even argue that SEE should be on a higher multiple, such as the 42 times revenue multiple that Intel paid for Mobileye when it went for US$15.3bn. That would equate to roughly 83p a share for Seeing Machines. (This obviously ignores any value for Fleet, Rail and the Caterpillar business).

Yet, the strategic importance of Seeing Machines to the future of transport (never mind vision for robotics) will have been noted far and wide. In such a situation, I’ve been told that the chip companies are often prepared to pay up without months of haggling over the odd US$1bn. It’s small change to them when global domination is at stake.

Even Apple and Alphabet (parent of Waymo) can surely see the sense in DMS, so for what is petty cash for them they could also come in.

The writer holds shares in Seeing Machines.

Euro NCAP agrees camera-based DMS crucial to prevent driver distraction

Last week I spoke with Richard Schram, Technical Manager at Euro NCAP. For those backing camera-based DMS systems he provided a very positive update on the organisation’s plans.

He agreed that the problem of driver distraction could not be solved without cameras but he doesn’t think it is feasible to mandate that by 2021 (for 2020 the coffee cup DMS is what will be pushed for, as it’s easily achievable). By 2022 he expects EURO NCAP to be incentivising the introduction of AEB linked to camera-based DMS. Moreover, Schram agrees that: “by 2024 camera-based DMS will be part of most European passenger cars”.

Given the 3-year lead times for the introduction of technology into cars, it’s clear why the more safety-conscious car manufacturers are moving swiftly to integrate camera-based DMS systems into future car models.

I asked Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research, to put Schram’s comments into context and he said that it “clearly confirms that Euro NCAP and the EU are in alignment”.

The he went on to explain how:

  • “Drowsiness and attention detection (DDR-DAD) – coffee cup : mandate introduction from 1 September 2021 to 1 September 2023. Euro NCAP 5 star rating starts with these systems in 2020.
  • Distraction detection (DRD-ADR) : mandate introduction from 1 September 2023 to 1 September 2025. The importance of the comment, “[in] 2024 camera-based DMS will be part of most European passenger cars” cannot be overstated and confirms my understanding that distraction detection systems will only be camera based. This will apply also to vans, coaches, buses and trucks – a total of between 20-25 million vehicles per year in my estimation (and that is just the EU28).”

Barnden added: “As previously mentioned the adoption rate for camera-based DMS will be dictated by the rollout plans of the OEMs and they are well ahead of the advisory bodies (Euro NCAP, Consumer Reports) and the legislative bodies (the EC, NHTSA) already. My attention has moved from Europe to where’s next.”

His opinion is that Japan is next. “FotoNation, Seeing Machines and Smarteye are all making a concerted effort there and that is a clear signal of OEM interest. Development of mobility services (eg Waymo) are much more advanced in the US.”

Personally, I’m expecting Seeing Machines to clinch OEM a big contract with Toyota in the next few months (then Honda), as first mentioned in my blog article: Seeing Machines set to win 75% of global DMS market. In that article I also forecast that further progress in the US is close at hand.

I think the evidence is clear that Seeing Machines is set to be the next Mobileye.

The writer holds shares in Seeing Machines.

Seeing Machines is worth £2bn

I know a few investors thought I was ramping when I wrote in a previous blog post ‘Seeing Machines wins BMW contract worth between US$125m to US$250m‘ that this AIM-listed minnow was worth £2bn (89p a share).

My reasoning is simple: it’s currently the leading specialist supplier in the global automotive market. (Read that slowly and ponder the implications as automotive is one of the hottest tech sectors in the world).

You want proof? Fovio, Seeing Machines’ world leading driver monitoring technology is currently being used by General Motors in its Super Cruise system for semi-autonomous cars, and is set to go into production in Mercedes and BMW cars within the next couple of years. 

Note that even before the BMW win, house broker Canaccord Genuity affirmed Seeing Machines was worth 21p in note dated 9th January. Analyst Caspar Trenchard also indicated that “the Fovio ‘platform’ technology might well be of specific additional worth to a corporate acquiror.”

Increased regulation is driving this adoption and many other car manufacturers and Tier 1s are queuing up to use Seeing Machines over the next year. I fully expect Subaru, VW, Audi and a host of others to follow in due course. (Tesla really ought to be banging on Seeing Machines’ door to get their kit into its cars.)

Lorne Daniel

Lorne Daniel, Head of Research at FinnCap, is a well respected tech analyst who has previously compared Seeing Machines to Mobileye, which was bought by Intel for US$15.3bn. 

I needed a sanity check to ensure I wasn’t deluding myself as to its intrinsic value, so I asked Lorne Daniel a simple question: “Do you think a £2bn valuation on Seeing Machines is unrealistic, given its increasing dominance in the auto OEM market?”

His reply: “Absolutely it’s a realistic valuation. The end markets are enormous and time and again the company is delivering on its promise with very big companies.”

Of course, I can imagine many readers moaning, “But its price is less than 5p!”

Well, as Warren Buffet once famously said: “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

Low-ball bid

Given the fact the stock is currently languishing below 5p, my own concern is that there is a distinct possibility an opportunistic bidder may soon seek to take advantage of this valuation anomaly with a low-ball bid.

Should that event materialise, my hope is that the management and quality institutional investors, such as Herald’s Katie Potts and Miton’s Gervais Williams (who’ve been invested here for years and fully realise what it is now worth), would resist any such offer and seek a price that fully reflects its value.

After all, the likes of Apple, Google, Samsung and Tesla — not to mention a host of Tier 1 automotive suppliers (Autoliv, Bosch, Aptiv, Denso and Continental etc)— are likely to be keen to acquire Seeing Machines’ technology. 

Think about it. £2bn is a realistic valuation for Seeing Machines. Moreover, £2bn for some of these companies is money that they can easily afford to spend in order to build market share in the automotive market.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Seeing Machines wins BMW contract worth between US$125m to US$250m

I’m convinced that Seeing Machines has recently been awarded a contract worth more than US$25m a year by BMW to supply its driver monitoring system in its cars, some of which should be available for sale by 2020.

From discussions with auto industry contacts, I believe the contract is for many forthcoming models (several million cars) and the DMS is likely to eventually end up being standard issue within the instrument cluster of all BMW cars. Given that BMW sells roughly 2.3m cars a year and that Seeing Machines would get approximately US$30 a car, that makes a potential annual income of US$57m a year by 2020, rounded down to US$50m.

Given that in the auto industry the lifetime of a model lasts for roughly 5 years, the lifetime value of this contract should be at least US$125m, though it could be as much as US$250m.

When this news is officially announced I’d expect broker upgrades to be the order of the day.  FinnCap currently has an estimate for full year revenues of A$141m for 2020 and Canaccord Genuity has an estimate of A$128.5m — of which only A$24m is from auto!

Aptiv

There has been no official announcement of the contract win aside from an announcement by Aptiv on page 9 of this document that I take as confirmation. 

When questioned, Aptiv were unwilling to discuss any details, saying: “…unfortunately we have nothing incremental approved to share beyond what’s in the document.”

Given the scale of BMW’s operations, the BMW contract may be shared with at least one other Tier 1 but no others that I’ve contacted are keen to confirm or deny involvement.

BMW itself remained rather coy. Asked how it plans to solve the problem of driver disengagement and the associated issue of ensuring the driver is alert and ready to take back control from the car, whether it would use a driver monitoring system and who would supply it, a spokesman said: “So far we have only announced that interior cameras will play a role ensuring the vaild point you mention. Details on functions and suppliers have not yet been announced. We have to ask for a little more patience.”

Seeing Machines was contacted but declined to comment.

Winning BMW so soon after it won a huge contract with Mercedes last year truly cements Seeing Machines’ Fovio driver monitoring system as the leading DMS in the auto industry. The premium choice for premium auto manufacturers.

Note that General Motors Cadillac already features Seeing Machines Fovio DMS.

Not only is Seeing Machines working hand in glove with Autoliv and Bosch, but I believe its DMS is now being used by LG (Mercedes), Aptiv and probably others that I don’t know about.

Driven by regulatory changes many other car OEMs are going to be tendering for DMS systems and Seeing Machines is set to be the industry standard. A standard that i’m consistently told no other company can yet match.

Thus, I’m confident that Fovio is likely to be chosen by many other global OEMs as they gear up new, increasingly semi-autonomous, vehicles for production over the next year.

Valuation

By my reckoning the automotive side of Seeing Machines must already be worth £1bn and with every new win is only increasing in value.

Moreover, there’s a strong case for arguing the rest of the business (Fleet, Aviation, Rail and Off-road)  is worth another £1bn.

Given the success of Seeing Machines in winning large contracts and the increasing momentum of M&A activity in the auto industry I believe it’s only a matter of time before a bid is forthcoming from an industry player. Let’s hope the price soon reflects the value of the business.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines

Seeing Machines delivering on long-term strategy

In an exclusive interview with Seeing Machines interim Chief Executive Ken Kroeger, he has confirmed that the company remains on track to hit its first half financial targets and is making no adjustments to its full year figures.

Following the departure of former chief executive Mike McAuliffe, who had only been in place a few months, private investors have been concerned as to whether there was likely to be any strategic change of direction. Happily, as Ken Kroeger confirmed: “The strategy that we’re executing is exactly the same one that we were executing when he arrived. Moreover, the executive team that is delivering that strategy remains the same.”

It’s a point that was well made by Lorne Daniel, analyst at house broker FinnCap a week ago, when he wrote: “We know that the second tier of management in this business is particularly strong and will continue to follow the strategy and deliver on the milestones as expected.”

The business certainly seems to be making steady progress across fleet, auto and aviation and Kroeger stressed the efforts of the executive team in having built them up. “These are businesses that didn’t even exist a few year ago and Paul Angelatos (Fleet), Nick Di Fiore (automotive) and Pat Nolan (Aviation) have done a great job in creating and building these markets for Seeing Machines.”

Auto industry

Not only is Seeing Machines working with GM to deliver driver monitoring systems for its cars (most notably the Cadillac CT6 whose Supercruise system uses it), but on October 30, 2017 its Fovio Driver Monitoring System was chosen by a premium German OEM (who I believe to be Mercedes).

Kroeger wouldn’t comment on who the German OEM is but did confirm: “It is extensively pushing the boundaries in driver monitoring, taking it to a whole new level. That is underway. That is a real state of the art delivery, very technically challenging but it sets a completely new performance standard for DMS.”

Given recent bulletin board discussions as to the respective merits of Seeing Machines technology vs. SmartEye, Kroeger was happy to explain: “We have the best technology, there is no doubt about that at all. SmartEye has an okay technology, which is cheaper…we’re much better positioned to take the premium car models that are interested in performance, who need this to work because it is a safety critical feature. For models that are being rolled out where it is nice to have comfort features in the car, which only require rudimentary head and eye-tracking, SmartEye is a viable option.

He added: “Right now we definitely have a leadership position from a technical perspective. That is very much respected by the auto OEMs.”

In addition, I’m optimistic that other OEMs will select Seeing Machines DMS technology, doubtless driven by the NCAP requirement for any car model wishing to have a 5 star safety rating from 2020 to have a DMS in place.

In Japan strong market opportunities are being helped by the effort of Kevin Tanaka working out of the West Coast in the US. Also Kroeger confirmed: “There is a very strong alignment with Xilinx in Japan, who are doing a lot of our on the ground marketing for us. It is definitely getting well received by the Japanese.”

Fleet

While a comprehensive Fleet update is due this week that should provide much awaited news on further wins, Kroeger did reveal that the Guardian 2.0 device will start shipping by the end of March. The upgraded system is significantly cheaper to manufacture, smaller and easier to install, which should also help increase penetration rates.

Takeover

Given the much higher profile of Seeing Machines since the launch of the Cadillac CT6 and the most recent CES show, where it was showcased by both Bosch and Autoliv speculation is increasing daily over whether it is being tracked for takeover, whether by a Tier 1, a telematics company, or even Google or Apple.

Asked about this Kroeger coyly replied: “There is always interest. We would never say ‘no’ to a conversation but we also recognise that there will a time when the time is right to return the best value to shareholders. We’re very cautious about the conversations we do have and, if we were to contemplate selling the company, we would have to find somebody who valued the entire organisation to obtain the full value for it.”

When pressed further about Google, Apple or Amazon seeing the long term value in Seeing Machines technology, which has applications far beyond transport alone, given it can enable robots to see and perhaps eventually even empathise with humans, Ken Kroeger commented: “I agree it is either someone like that who can see the full value or a really diverse Tier 2 or Tier 1, as opposed to the OEM. The Tier 1s sell to the OEMs but some of the Tier 2s which sell to the Tier 1s are exceptionally diverse. They might be building stuff for automotive, stuff for aviation and stuff for medical devices, stuff for consumer electronics. They might not just be an automotive-centric supplier. They are really hard to find and pinpoint but they are out there because they are always talking to us.

Of the partners that Seeing Machines currently has some are definite possibles. “Or, it could be someone who sells image processors and wants to start packaging it with software already on it on a smart camera or smart sensor,” teased Kroeger.

Despite being a world leader in DMS tech, a key plank in the forthcoming generation of semi-autonomous cars and increasingly being considered in trains, planes, trams and buses, it’s current share price languishes at approximately 5.5p. This valuation anomaly cannot last much longer, especially as with the recent fundraise it has been largely de-risked as an investment provided sales continues.

Ironically, such a deeply discounted valuation could well be the catalyst for an opportunistic bid from a cash-rich global player before the year end.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Financial scandals: it’s time to punish the guilty

We need to strengthen the law and ensure it’s rigorously enforced to punish those responsible for financial crimes and mismanagement.

For far too long those running financial institutions have had a ‘get out of jail’ card, while their foot soldiers take the blame.

Here’s an article on Enforcement I wrote prior to the Carillion debacle.

I hope it proves of interest.

Seeing Machines secures premium German car manufacturer

Seeing Machines (AIM: SEE) has today announced that it has won a contract with a premium German auto manufacturer in conjunction with a major Tier 1 auto manufacturer.

This is a further striking endorsement of its Fovio Driver Monitoring technology, which is already in the new Cadillac CT6’s Supercruise feature – the car was launched by General Motors this autumn in the US.

The awarded models are scheduled for mass production in 2020. My own guess is the manufacture is probably Mercedes. If it is, the tech is likely to debut in its top of the range S series, which is scheduled for a relaunch in 2020.

Motoroids wrote an interesting article about the Mercedes S Class 2020/21 a few months back.

However, it could equally well be Volkswagen with whom Seeing Machines have been working — they exhibited together at CES in 2017,  or even BMW as there is some evidence to suggest Seeing Machines have been working with them.

What is more important than the actual name of the manufacturer is how much money it is likely to bring into this very undervalued small cap tech play in one of technologies hottest sectors; semi and fully autonomous driving.

This is what Seeing Machines had to say: “According to previously given guidelines, this may be considered a Medium value program (from A$10M-A$25M revenue) based on the initial included models and lifetime volume projections, with the potential to become a Large value program in time (>A$25M revenue).  It is worth noting that volume projections can change materially, up or down, and as is typical in automotive industry contracts, there are no guarantees beyond engineering milestone payments.”

For me, this contract from another of the world’s leading car companies establishes that the Fovio Driving Monitoring system is best in class. Moreover, given the contract could be worth as much as 50% of Seeing Machines current market cap, it looks very undervalued.

Certainly, Seeing Machines seems very confident, as  Nick DiFiore, General Manager of Automotive at Seeing Machines, commented: “We are proud to be awarded this benchmark DMS program from both an OEM and Tier 1 with state-of-the art requirements.  Their confidence in us is a testament to the leading-edge nature of our FOVIO DMS technology, which is the culmination of years of innovative development and hard-earned Automotive application expertise by our team.  We look forward to delivering this leading-edge DMS program and further delivering our new FOVIO platform products to our growing Automotive customer base worldwide.”

Lorne Daniels, analyst with house broker FinnCap, believes that Seeing Machines is now the “go-to supplier for DMS in automotive”.

In a note published today, Daniels wrote: “Euro NCAP’s recent announcement mandating DMS as a key criterion for vehicle safety has sharpened the timeline and focus for OEMs; it takes years to design a model and if they want a 5-star rating after 2020 they will need to integrate a good DMS. Fovio is proven, reliable and quite literally, already on the road; a natural choice for the global automotive industry.”

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.