Is Seeing Machines a takeover target?

Seeing Machines interims yesterday were slightly disappointing in so far as Fleet sales have yet to take off, although they are progressing.

I’m not going to rehash the numbers here, except to say that with nearly A$40m in cash it isn’t in any immediate danger of needing a fundraise to fund the further development of Fovio.

My hope is that the V2 version of Guardian which apparently costs around US$625 vs US$1000, together with Mix Telematics’ product incorporating the integrated SEE system should boost Fleet sales. I anticipate both will be ready within 3-6 months.

Still, I could be wrong about the timeframes and therein lies the risk. Although the spending on Fovio is capable of being scaled back SEE is trying to grab OEM automotive market share in the hottest sector of the automotive market. The funding to cover this is intended to come from Fleet and Mining sales.

Only if Fleet doesn’t scale up and make a substantial contribution, might SEE require a further fundraise before it reaches profitability — unless it chose to scale back spending on Fovio.

That said, I don’t expect this will happen. I believe that an imminent deal with Progress Rail, along the lines of the it struck with Caterpillar should provide short term funding to avoid even the slight risk that they might need to raise more money further down the line, before it becomes profitable.

That a deal with Progress is close at hand was confirmed in the interim statement yesterday, when SEE stated: “The company is in final negotiation stage for a global agreement with Progress Rail. We expect an agreement to be in place during 2017.”

Lorne Daniels

Analyst Lorne Daniels, in a note issued yesterday from house broker finnCap, reduced his sales estimates for Financial Year (FY) 2017 to A$13.4m with a pre-tax loss of A$33m, with estimated sales of A$52m for FY2018 and a pre-tax loss of A$17.3m. Only in FY 2019 is SEE forecast to deliver a pre-tax profit of A$2.8m on sales of A$117.8m.

I’d urge caution on the numbers as there are a lot of unknowns, but the direction of travel is clear.

More importantly, I think investors need to appreciate the bigger picture here, as Lorne Daniels eloquently stated:

“The struggle with Fleet sales is disappointing but solvable and should not detract from the overall focus on the goal Seeing Machines is working towards. While new competitors like Tobii, SmartEye and EyeTech are seeking entry to the market, Seeing Machines remains well ahead in terms of product development, routes to market, experience and proof of success in the field; already deployed in thousands of mining vehicles where its rivals can point to no real-world use at all. Seeing Machines is deliberately investing heavily to capitalise on its leadership by deploying its cheap and easy to adopt SiP solution. This will entrench its market leadership across a wide range of operator monitoring markets but primarily that huge automotive market.”

Nevertheless, as SEE’s share price languishes at a pitiful 3.5p, despite all the progress made in a variety of end markets, the company is easy prey for a speculative offer.

Indeed, given the recent purchase of Mobileye for $15bn by Intel, you have to wonder how long it will be before one of the big players (perhaps Google, Apple?) will make Seeing Machines an offer they can’t refuse.

Lorne Daniel estimates that applying the 42x sales multiple (on which the Intel bid for Mobileye was based) to Seeing Machines’ 2017 sales forecast provides a valuation of A$563m (£353m) or 24p a share.

I’m sure that would satisfy many private investors frustrated at the current share price. And yet…apply that to the projected sales for only one year later in 2018 and you end up with A$2184m (£1,370m) or 92p a share.

In my view, a little more patience is required while realising that investing isn’t risk free.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Seeing Machines develops hardware chip

Seeing Machines’ announcement today that it has launched its first generation ‘Fovio’ embedded hardware chip has sent the share price flying. The reason being it appears strengthen its technical leadership in transport tech for fatigue and distraction monitoring while also broadening its reach, towards a diverse range of Artificial Intelligence and ‘Internet of Things’ applications.

Lorne Daniel, analyst at house broker FinnCap, commented: “The latter is new, and hints at an even broader market than previously supposed. Current contracted OEM vehicle deliveries (assumed to mean GM 2017 CT6 Cadillac with SuperCruise) are on track to launch in 2017 as software; however, the FOVIO chips are likely to be used in the second generation rollout to the entire GM range as agreed in the follow-on OEM contract. Embedding the software in a chip reduces the cost and time to market for OEMs and their tier-1 suppliers, facilitating mass market rollout since driver distraction is becoming a critical issue for the industry.”

There has been no update on its automotive spin-out, although technical progress clearly continues. Ken Kroeger, chief executive officer of Seeing Machines, commented in the RNS: “I am delighted to announce the introduction of our FOVIO DMS Chip which, as a World first, further cements Seeing Machines’ position as global leader in the Driver Monitoring industry. The FOVIO Chip will greatly reduce the cost of DMS deployment, helping to accelerate not just our growth but mass market uptake of DMS technology in general. This product will become the key offering of FOVIO, our new stand-alone automotive business that is currently being structured and staffed.” 

One assumes that any hard negotiations taking place with potential investors in the auto spin-off should be made easier by this announcement. Certainly, it can only make SEE a more attractive target for any cash-rich company wishing to dominate this space.

With all the talk about Apple buying McLaren recently, one wonders if this company is on its radar? Certainly, See’s market cap is too small given its leadership in the DMS space.

Q&A with Ken Kroeger

Below is a brief Q&A that Ken Kroeger, chief executive officer of Seeing Machines replied to late today (Australian time). Unlike a robot he still has to sleep – still, I am sure SEE are working on that.

1) Why was the news announced now, 2 weeks before the results? Is it to strengthen the hand of SEE in negotiations with the spin-off partners for Fovio and telemetric partners re. Guardian?

We demonstrated the chip to the first tier-1 this week and our Nomad felt that the market should be informed at the same time considering the quantum of the investment that has been made in the design, development and first runs of samples, which is now in the millions of dollars as it’s been two years of work from a sizeable team.

   

2) How does this news affect the auto spin-off? I’d assumed that a chip manufacturer/designer such as Intel or Arm might be a possible investor – does it make that more or less likely now?

The chip has been in development for two years. The semiconductor companies are all interested in our business and would all like us to migrate to their silicon in order to drive sales of their offering. We have a current silicon strategy working with an unnamed major partner that delivers not only the required hardware performance, but also the margins that are essential to the long term success of the auto business. The technical team has been built specifically around this particular silicon technology so a change would require additional investment.

3) How would you describe the significance of this move?

It’s an amazing step when you think about the fact that until two years ago everything we had ever sold ran on a very expensive computer and that everything ran on the Windows platform. Here we are today, running higher performing software on a device that we can sell for a tenth of the cost of that older processor and still have healthy margins in the business.

   

 4) Do you have any information on how much cheaper it will make the cost of DMS deployment?

We can say that if it was available for the first generation OEM automotive product, it would deliver a greater than 15% saving to the end price of the system. A significant number when you’re buying things such as millions of cars.

My Conclusion

As it’s well known that the growing ambitions of this company require more funding I’m very keen to hear more about how this development plays into Seeing Machines’ overall strategy.

Its results presentation will be on October 3rd, which should be a very interesting day.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines