Cambria Automobile: the art of performance

By | July 25, 2016


Once in a while, when I come across an interesting investing idea that is not actionable for Eden, I’ll happily share it with the readers of this blog. I came across Cambria Auto a few months ago and unfortunately, the trading in the stock is too thin and doest not enable us to build a position there. Before we begin, I would like to remind everybody that this is not an investment advice and each one should do his/her own research. Some parts or even all of my analysis might be wrong so I urge you to either do your own due diligence or just to read this as an educational article. Your comments, of course, are most welcome.

Cambria, or in its full name “Cambria Automobile Plc”, is a small UK car dealership group. The company’s website and annual reports contain a lot of useful information about it and I urge you to do some reading to learn more about the company.

Income and Profit Sources

Cambria is a simple business that has three revenue streams: new cars (45.5% of revenue),  used cars (45% of revenue) and aftersales that include maintenance, accessories and repair services (11.6% of revenue). If you wonder why those numbers add up to more than 100% then you have a sharp eye 🙂 and on a more serious note, it is because there are some internal sales among the segments.  While aftersales makes only 11.6% of the revenue, this stream produces 40% of the company’s gross profit.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.27.09 PM

Cambria sells quite a few brands that range from premium (Jaguar, Aston Martin etc.) to volume (Ford, Mazda etc.). So Cambria gets stock from car manufacturers and from car owners who want to upgrade/sell their car and then sells/resells those cars into the market. The margins in this business are around 9% for used cars and around 6% for new cars.

Now that we know what the company is doing and how it generates revenue, it is a good time to take a step back and look at the market in which it operates.

The Market

The UK has about 4900 franchised dealerships. The top-10 dealers make 23% of the market, dealers that are ranked 11-20 make 7% of the market, 21-30 make 9% of the market and the others make for the other 61%. As you can see, this is a pretty fragmented market. Cambria is at the ~20 position.

The current market volume for new car registrations runs at 2.7m units per year. If we go back to 2002 there were 2.56m registrations and that was the mid-cycle, which usually lasts for three years. Due to the financial crisis, car sales were way below average from 2008 till 2013 and these sales were done to a market that wasn’t oversupplied to begin with, so currently the market sees some pent-up demand that materializes in terms of demand for new cars. You can see some statistics about the market and get a nice historical perspective through the official data on this website.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.31.11 PM

There were a few changes to the car market in recent years. Up until four years ago less than half the people who purchased a new card used financing. Now this number is over 80% and growing. People now pay a small purchase price deposit and buy the car on a 36-month agreement and then they can upgrade their car after 27 months. This creates less cyclically in the new car market.

The aftersales market in the UK is not that volatile and less exposed to the cycle. Obviously, the more cars the company sells, the more cross sell opportunities it gets to sell maintenance, repair and other services.

Another positive change in the market is that car makers are looking to have exclusive distributors in designated areas so once Cambria takes over a certain territory, it will be the exclusive dealer for certain brands in this territory.

So, we have a fragmented market that is the high part of the cycle for the new car market and we know that we should have 2-3 more years with more-than-average demand to make up for the lackluster demand during the years after the financial crisis. With that, we can move on to Cambria’s strategy.


There are quite a few car dealership businesses listed in the UK market, so why did I pick Cambria? First, it is cheap, but we will get to that later. Price is very important but there are a lot of other things to like about the Cambria story. The main reason is that this business has many attributes that usually lead to satisfactory investment results: a compelling strategy, fantastic execution and high quality people who run the show and have skin in the game.

Cambria is a relatively young company, it was started in 2005 by the current CEO, Mark Lavery, a car dealership industry veteran, with private equity backing. It did the first acquisition in 2006 and got listed on the AIM exchange in 2010. Mr. Lavery holds 40% of the company and is an owner-operator, a dynamic that I particularly like.

Cambria runs a roll-up strategy, it buys dealerships at very opportunistic prices, improves them and gets them on the Cambria system, which we will soon explore.

Fortunately, the company started trading in the very shortly before the financial crisis hit in full force. Why fortunately you may ask. Because it gave us an opportunity to see how Mr. Lavery performed under an extremely tough market conditions. As you can imagine, he rose up to the occasion and scooped up many dealerships practically for free, look at the relevant part of the summary that I did for the company’s acquisition history:

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.32.23 PM

As you can see, apart from the big Summit acquisition in December 2007, all other businesses came almost for free. Isn’t it amazing?

Since then, all those businesses were turned around and became profitable as a part of the Cambria system. In the following years the company did more acquisitions in both the volume and luxury segments. On a chat that we had with the CEO we asked him how does he expect the current Cambria to behave in a downturn and he gave us a frank answer that both used and new cars sales suffer a lot during a downturn. However, in a downturn there are many attractive M&A opportunities and also, the luxury segment (mainly Jaguar and Land Rover for Cambria) usually recovers much faster than the general market. So a negative cycle won’t necessarily mean bad news for the company.

Cambria doesn’t buy businesses that are offered on the market and could be the subject of a bidding war. What usually happens is that the OEM approaches Cambria and asks it to buy underperforming dealerships and thanks to Cambria’s good track record in improving operations, they get a decent amount of offers of that sort. I analyzed M&A deals of competitors and in all cases the multiples that competitors paid were much higher.

An example for Cambria’s excellent deal-making skills can be seen in the latest acquisition. It paid £2.1m for Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships. These dealerships made £44m in revenue in 2015 and earned a pre-tax profit of £0.7m. So Cambria paid 3 times the pre-tax earnings, that’s cheap by any standard, especially considering that once dealerships become a part of Cambria, their performance tends to improve. This is one of many examples of how Cambria creates value through smart acquisitions and fantastic capital allocation decisions by the owner. This year’s sales will come at about £600m and Cambria has a goal for the future to reach to £1bn in sales with 2% pre-tax margin. By the way, the growth that Cambria generated over the years happened while keeping the share count constant at 100m and the latest balance sheet shows no net debt.

So we have an owner-operator, very good execution and capital allocation, industry-leading ROE of 20% and what seems like a very compelling story. It begs the question of how does the company do that?


Cambria runs a Velocity Trading system for used cars and it does so very well. I can write many words about it but the following slide says it best:

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 9.55.56 PM

The slide shows how Cambria, by turning its stock faster than the industry’s average, generates high ROI, which later translates into an industry leading ROE. Cambria has a sophisticated system that it uses to track each car on the stock and check how long has it been in stock, pulls data about resale prices from databases and optimizes the offering to the market. We were surprised to find out that only 7% of the second-hand dealerships use a digital source for second-hand car pricing because there is a behavioral resistance by old-school industry players to go digital. Cambria, however, embraces the trend, increases transparency and works hard to offer the best deal to the customer by managing the business well, keeping costs low and turning the inventory fast. Cambria uses these systems to decide how much to pay for a second-hand car based on the desirability of that car in that particular area, what price will they have to sell it to stay competitive and so on.

By the way, from my experience, these are very common symptoms of businesses that are run by an owner-operator who lives and breathes the business and does everything to get the most out of his assets.

Simply put, Cambria buys underperforming dealerships in a highly fragmented industry and gets those dealerships under its tight management and control, improves their performance, generates more cash and goes out to buy more dealership.


This section is going to be very brief. I expect Cambria to make a net profit of £8.2m this year (Cambria’s year ends in August). On a market cap of £68.7m  (at the time I wrote this piece) that gives us PE ratio of 8.4. In my opinion this is pretty cheap for a growing business, with an excellent management team and long runway for growth in a fragmented industry. The management seems to be on track to reach the goal of £1bn in sales and 2% pre-tax margin and when it does, even if it will take 5 more years, the company will be worth many multiples of what it is worth today. While at the current price you certainly don’t pay for that rosy scenario, there’s no reason why this talented management team can’t achieve it.

The company fell by almost 20% in the days after the Brexit vote and has only partially recovered. I think the post-Brexit price was very compelling.

Finally, the market will most likely make the shares go down should an economic slowdown take place but I think that a soft economy will enable Cambria to scale up much faster and on the cheap so while there might be some price volatility involved, I don’t think that the business will see any negative impact in the long-term.


I wish that this good story came with no risks, but it doesn’t. Here are the main risks that I see:

  • Brexit-led recession in the UK
  • As financing plans are more common, banking liquidity crisis can have very negative impact on financing-driven demand for cars
  • M&A execution and/or paying too much for acquisitions
  • Key person risk, Mark Lavery
  • Takeunder: while Mark Lavery seems like a very shareholder friendly CEO if a bear market takes the company’s shares to very low levels, it might be tempting for him to buy the other 60% of the company on the cheap. I think the risk for that is very low because it is better for an M&A driven company to have access to the capital markets.


Too bad that Cambria is so small and doesn’t have much public float AND on top of all that it is traded at the AIM where trading volumes are usually thin. I really like the core elements of the story here and I find the 8.4 times earnings valuation to be very attractive, especially for such a business that can grow earnings at a 20%-a-year clip for quite some years into the future.

I’m open to hear your thoughts about this investment idea, any comment is welcome, especially if you find any flaws in the analysis.

21 thoughts on “Cambria Automobile: the art of performance

  1. Noam

    Yaniv ,
    Great idea , hard to find those spaciel ceo’s, and u did.
    What do you think about inventory level rise each report, is it because aquisions or it’s a reason to be worry about?

    1. Yaniv Uliel Post author

      Hi Noam, thank you for your comment… it is indeed really hard to find CEOs like that but too bad that in this case it comes with a stock that has very small trading volumes.

      I don’t think that is a concern for a company that is growing the way Cambria does. Also, acquisitions temporary make Cambria’s inventory level and turns a bit slower until the acquired businesses get on the Cambria system and being optimized for the Velocity trading and other things that Cambria does in order to maximize the returns and minimize the inventory risk.

  2. Noam

    Another thing is valuation, you wrote 8.4 times price to earnings, which mean you includeded the disposal of jaguar branch. In my opinion the real eps for trailing 12 months is 7.18 and still below 10 p/e.

  3. Shalev

    Hey Yaniv,
    On a price of 60 I got to EV/Ebitda of 6 and EV/Ebit of 7 (60/10.1 and 60/8.4 accordingly)

    I tried to figure whats the right price range for the company.
    Tried looking on a competitor (VTU) but looks similar to CAMB.

    Finally got to a table of EV/ebit multiples by industry made by Damodran,
    Retail (automotive) is going for 11.5 and 17.3 ev/ebitda and ev/ebit.
    Autoparts or Auto & Trucks goes for lowers ratios like 7.3-10 and 10.7-21.

    Any Advice on how to figure out a target price range ?


  4. Noam

    I checked carmax in the us and inchcape in uk.
    Both got the highest multiples in the industry with 18 and 15 price to earnings. Yet both of the companies dont grow even close to cambria since the ipo. I think that a multiple of 15 is fair/ conservative for such growth with great ceo and a lot of operating leverage on the way.
    I dont understand why to use ev/ebitda where there is no net debt..

  5. Noam

    Great results by cambria.
    8.33 EPS
    Margin improve from 1.5 to 1.7 on the way to 2+
    ROE 22 %
    soft sales in october and the weaker pound take the stock down 10%.
    Looks very interesting..

    1. Yaniv Uliel Post author

      The results for 2016 were great indeed, slightly better than the market expected, but the market looks forward and not backward.

      I think the market is concerned by two things:
      1. The sharp increase in CAPEX
      2. The softness in new-car registrations and the updated forecast for new-car sales over the next two years.

      As for #1, the company had to decide between leasing a facility at a rent yield of 6% and building and owning it at a capital cost of 3% and I think that it is an easy decision. Also, owning it gives the company better control over the property and it is located in a strong territory for the company.

      As for #2, I think that thanks to the low valuation we didn’t pay for an organic/market growth story. Growth will probably still hinge on acquisitions much more than a single-digit increase/decrease in the overall market. If anything, valuations of potential acquisitions should be more favorable.

      I think that the market still doesn’t get the story here right and prices it as if it were a macro play on new-car sales in the UK instead of as platform for M&A that is managed by a brilliant owner CEO and has very attractive economics.

      1. L.H

        Hi Yaniv,

        Thanks for a great blog post – I’ve never seen your blog before, but I was doing research on Cambria an stumbled upon it. Nice find.

        What’s your source(s) for the leasing yield etc.? Do they disclose this? Just curious.

        I was also wondering if you have any thoughts on the £30m capex going forward; the company seem to shift strategy partly to luxury brands that are more cyclical, and I’m worried they’re doing this before a market downturn. In that case, the cash would better be saved for acquisitions such as those mentioned above. I’m also wondering on your sources for the acquisitions in 2006-2009? I haven’t found any annual reports for those years.

        Thanks again,
        L.H, Sweden

        1. Yaniv Uliel Post author

          L.H, thank you for your comment and I’m glad that you found the post useful!

          As for the rent yield, I have it in my notes and I can’t recall the source. The best answer I can come up with is that this number makes sense based on returns on such properties.

          The source for the past acquisitions is the admission document and the company’s website:

          As for the question about the capex and the shift towards luxury brands: the luxury segment recovered very fast in the last downturn in the market. It is more robust the volume-based cars. Some of the investment into this field comes from the fact that some brands changed the way they manage the territories and decided to give exclusivity in certain geographic cells and as such, Cambria had to either sell out of an area or build/buy/improve in a certain area in order to maintain the franchise. The jury is still out on these investments and I guess that we will have a pretty good sense before the year ends. Given the fact that the CEO owns 40% of the business and that he “grew up” in this field I feel comfortable to assume that he knows what is doing.

          I would suggest you to contact the company’s IR and have a call with them, you may find it useful.

          Just curious, how did you hear about the company and what made you look at it?

          1. L.H

            Thanks yourself for answering. I agree, the CEO’s ownership and the track record etc. all speaks in favor, but it still makes me a bit nervous.

            I found the company through a Danish value investor that I’m in contact with (I’m Swedish).

  6. Noam

    Another great result by Cambria.
    19.5% EPS increase while like to like new cars sales segment was down 12%.
    Net cash 3m.
    By the end of 2018 they will finish all of their investments.

    They are still cheap IMO. 8 ~ times earnings for 2017.

    Thank you Yaniv for this rare gem.
    Hope you will write more 🙂

    1. Yaniv Uliel

      Hi Noam, thank you for the comment. This report was indeed positive and the company achieved this while heavy works are on-going at one of its sites and a fire did damage to another. However, I feel some softness in the numbers that I hope is temporary. Items like the one you mentioned about the LfL decline and the margin pressure in the aftersales segment aren’t good indicators. Yet, the company is cheap and it has a great management team that should be able to navigate it successfully through hard times, should these occur.

      Sorry for not writing more, I saw that I didn’t write in almost a year… it is hard to keep up…

  7. Noam

    annual report for 2016/17
    Underlying earnings per share 9.19p 10.3% increase
    · Strong balance sheet – net assets £50.4m (2015/16: £42.1m)
    · Strong operational cash flows, cash position of £23.0m (2015/16: £19.8m)
    · Net cash of £6.1m (2015/16: net cash £0.4m) after significant investment in property during year
    · Underlying Return on Equity at 19.87% (2015/16: 21.98%)
    some of the financial highlights, it was soft second half of the year, new and used car ware bad as volume but improved on per unit profitability. They made a lot of investments and we going to see the fruits in the coming years+ the fire and reopen of one of their sites going 100%.
    I believe the company is in great position to take advantage of any downturn on economy with 23 million cash on hand, 6 million net cash and 40 million credit line.
    when you first wrote about the company 16 months ago it was over 8 times earnings, now if look at EV to earnings so 62-6=56 56/9.2=6.1 extremely cheap in my opinion.
    when the company started to trade at 2010 at 60p it has 16 million of net equity. today net equity is over 50 million or 18% ~ CAGR yet the price almost the same!!! crazy.

    1. Yaniv Uliel Post author

      Thank you for the follow-up Noam. It will be interesting to see how the weakening cycles vs. improvement in operations will play out. I totally agree that the company is well equipped for more value-creating deals. The share price hasn’t done much but the value increased. Sooner or later the price will follow.

      1. Juan

        I just discovered Cambria cause i was looking vertu motors And i came across with Cambria , i though operating margins were higher in lookers or pendragon cause if econimies of scale but Cambria has higher margins than vertu with lower sales , do you know why?
        I Also think vertu is a great investment , both management teams are great

        1. Yaniv Uliel Post author

          Juan, I agree that Vertu is a well-run operation and last time I looked its valuation was not too far apart from Cambria. As for Lookers and Pendragon, their businesses are somewhat different. As for the margin, I don’t have an answer at the tip of my fingers but I would look if you want to look deeper into it I would look into the revenue mix (new/used/aftersales) as the revenue profile of each revenue stream is different.

  8. Alon

    Thanks for the post. I have one question (sorry if its a dumb question, I’m just starting to learn on value investing):
    Maybe I’m missing something but it looks like the market is pricing car dealerships close the book value, or more accurate, not far above (cambria is almost 1.2 now, which is high for the sector). Now, if we assume no leverage we get ROE ~ E/P (roughly equals).
    Lets assume the market keep pricing dealership close the book value and cambria will be able to return 15% on new investment\acquisitions and on the equity.
    Under this assumptions one would expect at most 15% a year growth for the stock\book value (of course it’s not bad).
    For higher returns you need the market to price dealerships with higher p/b.
    Do you think its likely to happen?

    1. Yaniv Uliel Post author

      Hi Alon, thank you for your comment.

      When you look at valuation measures you have to remember that P/B, as you wrote, depends on the ROE and ROE depends on the earnings.

      If you take a 5-year look at Cambria, you can see that the company have grown its book value from 21m to 50m, that is a compound rate of 18.5%/year (while paying a modest dividend).

      The book value is ~50m, adjusted net earnings are ~8.7m and that yields an ROE of 17.2%. Now, that ROE is achieved without any leverage (cash of 23m and debt of 17m).

      You have to remember that:

      – The excess cash of 6m lowers the ROE but it could be distributed tomorrow to shareholders. Were this done, book value would suddenly be 44m without net debt and ROE would be close to 20%.

      – But thats not it. Part of that book value is construction in progress and dealerships that are currently closed for various reasons (expansion, fire damage repair etc.). I don’t know how to quantify that, but some of these 44m are assets that are currently idle but won’t stay idle for much longer. If these assets make for another 5m (its probably more) then the “real” ROE that the business produces is ~22%, without leverage.

      Then ask yourself, what PE is “fair” for a company with an ROE of 22% that grows book value by 18% over time and uses no leverage? The market’s answer to this question is “seven.” I disagree. I think it could easily be anywhere from 12 to 15.

      Now, you could argue that the PE is low because the market sees lower earnings going forward and hence the P/B is also low. That could well be, the new-car cycle in the UK has clearly peaked. If the industry is going to suffer and Cambria enters that phase with excess cash and strong used-car and aftersales earning streams what would probably happen be a reply of post-2008 when Cambria paid almost nothing to acquire struggling dealerships. If the situation won’t be so bad and car sales will stay around the current level for some years to come then the business will generate a lot of cash and that will force the valuation upward. I think, and I might be wrong, that those who are patient will be rewarded here.

      1. Javier

        Definetely agree with you , my biggest concern with cambria isnt the peak uk sales , my biggest concern is the car as a service new business (uber , car2 go , etc) in the city where i live there are a lot of car2go , so instead of bringing your own car you just pick a car 2 go for 20 minutes an hour or the time you need , do you think this is a risk?
        Also i must add that the new Focus in the luxury segment looks like a move in order to avoid a decline in the aftersales segment , with ev Cars which require less aftersales repairments , i think the aftersale segment is quite big in brands like a Ferrari .

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