Is Seeing Machines set to be taken over within 6 months?

Following today’s interview with Seeing Machines CEO Paul McGlone, I’m convinced that Seeing Machines is set to soon follow Veoneer and be the subject of a bidding war, most likely within the next 6 months.

The main driver is its dominance in the automotive driver monitoring space, where it is set to win the lions share of a multi-billion dollar market over the next year. (My view is it wins at least 70% of the RFQs).

McGlone was very candid in the interview and the key part I’m going to refer to starts from around 13 minutes in. There he outlined the problem winning most of the DMS/OMS market brings to a relative minnow:

“In my opinion, this is the beginning of the consolidation in interior sensing. Not the end, the beginning. I doubt very much whether there will be 3 or 4 majors in this space 2 years from now.”

“One of the challenges we have right now is that with almost a billion dollars of RFQs, which is more than we’ve seen in our entire life, on our table today, and we expect another billion next year, we have a really important decision to make. Do we pursue it all, do we get selective and strategic about what we pursue? What are the investment implications for either choice?

It is very, very clear: if we pursue it all and we win at our historical run rate of 40 plus per cent it is a fantastic return on investment. So, over the next 2 quarters we’ll be looking in great detail around the volume of RFQs, the requirements in each of them…the cost of doing them and the return on investment. That is the big decision for us to make. We don’t have to make it now but we’ll be working on it over the next 2 quarters.”

I personally think the opportunity is so huge that even if Seeing Machines wanted to pursue the opportunity offered by automotive alone, it won’t be allowed to do so. However, I think they’ve already decided to sell if the price is right.

By the way, I think that price will be over £1. Looks silly when the price is 10p but huge contract wins haven’t yet been announced. When they are the price will rise and £1 will eventually look cheap.

Qualcomm grabbed Veoneer from the hands of Magna because it sees the strategic importance of active safety in automotive to its future business.

Seeing Machines is of even more importance as its technology is the jewel in the crown of active safety (an area that has grown in importance as the automotive industry comes to realise that mass adoption of fully autonomous vehicles is decades away). While car computer systems will increasingly carry out more tasks for drivers they’ll still need to ensure drivers are paying sufficient attention to take over when required.

Moreover, Seeing Machines technology, which at its height goes far beyond mere eye-tracking and helps computers to assess the cognitive load of a human (including whether they are incapacitated or not), has many uses that go far beyond passenger automotive. This includes trucking and uses in aviation (training simulators, ground control tracking and planes). Shipping and flying cars will surely follow and spacecraft would logically use it eventually.

Yet, its tech has uses far beyond transport: in XR headsets, mobiles, medical devices and robots. In all these markets Seeing Machines technology has the potential to deliver multi-billion dollar revenues to its owner.

That’s why, although I expect it to be valued partly on a forward order book in automotive, its dominance in the trucking and nascent aviation markets will also increase its intrinsic worth.

Crucially, it should also obtain a healthy premium for its strategic importance in developing future markets.

That’s why, although Qualcomm must be red hot favourites to take it over, there is the likelihood that another chip company (eager to spoil the party) or even a private equity firm (awash with dry powder and seeking to acquire valuable assets) will make a bid.

I also think a bid from Apple or even Alphabet is a strong possibility. Each will know its strategic importance to their future plans and be prepared to outbid Qualcomm for it. For example, after the money spent on Waymo for little real return it might make sense for Alphabet to hedge its bets and spend a few billion dollars to acquire a guaranteed golden goose like Seeing Machines. Equally, why should the forthcoming Apple Car not use its own DMS (from Seeing Machines) and use that technology in its own computer chips to power its headsets, mobiles and computers?

Of course, I could be completely wrong. After all, I once thought driver monitoring would be one of the hottest areas in automotive and look how that worked out.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Expect massive re-rate of Seeing Machines by year end

Seeing Machines put out a positive year-end trading update today, without actually providing news of auto contract wins.

Fortunately, they are set to pile up over the next 6 months, with the company admitting it is bidding for a A$900m pipeline from numerous car manufacturers with 16 Tier 1s.

My view is that Seeing Machines, which has been working with the likes of Toyota and VW for years is set to take at least 75% of that pipeline. Indeed, one source (from outside the company) has already told me that A$750m is the figure I should have in mind, which would equate to over 80%. Another source (again outside the company) has recently validated my long-term bullish view on the company’s prospects in auto.

Of course, that pipeline will also grow as OEMs scale up initial contracts further. Indeed, the fact that Seeing Machines tech is now so much in demand must be the reason so many Tier 1s are now scrambling to work with it. They, unlike most investors, have seen the writing on the wall and its reads: ‘Seeing Machines DMS rules ok!’

That of course brings in the whole question of who is going to bid for the company and when?

With a A$1bn+ order book in auto set to become a reality in the present financial year, I’m sure informal approaches are becoming more regular. 

But Seeing Machines is traditional and I have a feeling any match will be an arranged one. One that will need the approval of the whole family of shareholders.

However, Seeing Machines needn’t be in any rush as its value should be considered in pounds not pence. I’ve earmarked the end of calendar year 2022 as the most likely date by which we’ll have some M&A action. By then it will be clear that:

  1. I’m not making this stuff up.
  2. Aviation is another cash cow
  3. VR headsets/mobile phones is a likely growth area for its tech. For instance, its technology seems perfect for the next iteration of the Microsoft Hololens, which only has rudimentary eye-tracking.

The exact timing of any offer depends, of course, on contract announcements and broker upgrades as companies generally prefer de-risked investments. Still, by the end of this year I expect Seeing Machines’ auto division to be almost totally de-risked.

At this point, I want to put in a plea for Seeing Machines to engage Morgan Stanley as a broker and to ensure Adam Jonas is the analyst covering it. It is a plea I’ve made directly to the company in the past and now is certainly the time to consider it seriously. 

SEE is a global leader in one of the hottest areas in tech. Waymo brags about full autonomy but in scale that is decades away. Long before then Seeing Machines tech is going to be in hundreds of millions of cars.

It therefore needs huge coverage in the US, where they naturally think big and fully value a successful global tech company. Who better than Adam Jonas to serve SEE up to the investment world?

Price

Speculating on price is a mug’s game. But then I’ve been labelled a mug multiple times for holding SEE for so many years. So here goes:

Personally, I think £1 is achievable in the next 12 months, provided:

  • VW/Toyota contracts are announced before the end of 2021
  • Someone admits we’re in Honda, courtesy of GM
  • Qualcomm reveal more about our wins together in auto
  • Volvo win is announced (Okay, I just put that in because I crave validation)
  • We get at least one firm aviation licence deal
  • We get Morgan Stanley (more importantly, Adam Jonas) on board

It could be a lot more by this time next year, if:

We get confirmation that our tech is being factory fitted to trucks

We get confirmation that Microsoft is putting our tech into the HoloLens headset

We get confirmation that Apple/Tesla is using us

An aviation license deal provides significant up front payments

If a bidding war were then to kick off, well it could even stretch to an Ayrton Senna. However, I’m sure a certain chip manufacturer or some Private Equity firm laden with dry powder won’t want a bidding war.

Soon, the institutional holders will have to decide: do they want a pound in the hand or a tenner in the bush?

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.