DIPLOMA PLC

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Transcript : Diploma PLC, 2022 Earnings Call, Nov 21, 2022

21/11/2022 | 10:00

Presenter Speech
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Diploma's full year results update. It's our first in-person since the pandemic. So thank you very much for joining us today. In the front row here, we have Chris Davies, our new CFO, who joined us a couple of weeks ago. So we're delighted to have him on board, and I'm sure you'll all meet him in due course.

The agenda for today is the same as usual. I'll give a quick overview, then we'll go through the results and then finish with an update on the strategy. And at the end, of course, we'll do Q&A as usual. So let's get started.

So it's been another excellent year for Diploma. We've delivered a very strong performance across all of our key financial metrics, continuing our impressive long-term track record. We are executing on our strategy of building high-quality, scalable businesses for sustainable organic growth. First, diversifying our specialized businesses is driving organic growth, scale and resilience. Second, we are also progressing our scaling journey effectively developing the business's operating models to execute their customer proposition and margins at scale while building the structure and capability of the group for sustainable delivery.

We've acquired 7 exciting businesses during the year, all supporting our future organic growth. With 2 small disposals, we also ensure portfolio discipline as we scale. Our model is resilient, and our strategy makes us more so with continued revenue diversification, value-added service, supporting pricing power and margins and strong cash flow dynamics through the cycle.

Our environmental and social framework delivering value responsibly is progressing well. We've established measures and targets and activity is now embedded into the commercial strategy and the culture. Our performance last year was very strong. Organic growth of 15% was underpinned by positive demand, pricing and importantly, the contribution from our revenue diversification initiatives.

We're driving these hard into the new year with good momentum. Our margin has also been strong, remaining consistently high at 18.9%, supported by our value-add service distribution model and our activity to manage operational disruption and inflation. Wage inflation continues and so therefore, there's our focus on pricing.

With investments into inventory to support customer fulfillment, I was really pleased to deliver cash conversion in line with our model at 90%. After acquisition spend of GBP 187 million, our balance sheet remains robust with leverage below our expectations at the end of the year, plenty of cash headroom and half of our debt locked in at fixed interest rates.

Return on capital, a key measure of our compounding model remained in the high teens. And finally, EPS growth was excellent at 26%. Our confidence in the group's outlook and prospects leads us to propose a similar increase in the dividend. This year's performance continues the group's impressive compounding track record. Over many years, Diploma has delivered organic revenue growth of 5% on average and compound revenue growth, including acquisitions, of 14%.

We've delivered compound EPS growth of 15%. This chart demonstrates that our refreshed strategy is working. The organic growth diversification and effective scaling activity to drive margin have together accelerated our performance. So looking through the volatility of the pandemic years, we have compounded EPS growth to 19% over the last 3 years.

I'm very pleased with progress on DVR. We've taken the time to ensure that the framework measures and activity are embedded into the strategy and the culture of the group. In doing so, we will ensure a more enduring long-term impact. There are already some good examples of early progress. Our colleague engagement survey shows very good results at 79% for the second year in a row.

I want to thank the management team and all of my Diploma brilliant colleagues for their hard work and for another exceptional year. It's early days, but we've seen 4 percentage points of improvement in senior management team gender diversity in the year. And our own carbon emissions have remained broadly flat despite growing the business significantly.

We continue to focus on selling into positive impacts end markets like renewables, electrification, diagnostics. And we're working with our supply partners on their environmental and social impact, too. There's loads for us to do. But I'm excited that with the framework and culture in place, we can make a meaningful difference, more on our vision and targets a little later.

And now on to the financials for the year. Organic growth of 15% was a great result. The demand environment has been supportive, and there's some pricing in there too, but our organic growth strategy with diversification within the 3 buckets of end segments, geography and product is contributing significantly to the performance.

We expect this to continue. We've seen fantastic performance across Controls and Seals driven by strong demand and our revenue diversification activity. In Life Sciences, lapping pandemic-related revenues and the surgical system staff shortages affected growth this year. As expected, the sector did return to growth in the final quarter.

Reported growth of 29% included an FX tailwind of around 5% and a strong contribution from our acquisitions made in the year, particularly R&G and Accuscience. Our operating profit grew by 29% in the year to GBP 191 million, our margin remaining high and consistent year-on-year at 18.9%. We've successfully managed the impact of operational disruption and inflation with our pricing actions. Pricing was just under half of our growth. Still more to do you on this as labor inflation continues.

More generally, our margin formula is working. The benefits of scale and performance improvement are together incrementally reinvested into scaling activity to ensure our customer proposition and margin are sustainable over the long term. We expect this to continue.

Further down the income statement now. Our interest charge has increased to GBP 11 million due in part to higher on the back of our acquisitions over the last few years and to the increasing rate environment. We have around half our gross debt now on fixed interest rates. While our interest charge is likely to increase again in the new year, as rates increase, we are confident that this is manageable.

EPS growth was an excellent 26%, continuing the impressive long-term track record of value creation. Our cash of GBP 120 million grew 11% year-on-year. Despite the increased investment into inventory, conversion was strong at 90% and in line with our model. We expect to carefully manage inventories down over the coming months.

Similar to the margin formula, we expect to pragmatically invest a little CapEx into the business to support our scaling activity and thus ensure sustainable delivery. After investing GBP 178 million in acquisitions, net of 2 disposals, net debt at the end of the year of GBP 329 million represented leverage of 1.4x EBITDA, well below our financial model.

We have significant headroom. The business is highly cash generative, and we intend to maintain a strong balance sheet. The outlook is obviously uncertain, but we are giving some guidance to be helpful. I feel really positive about our prospects. The model is resilient, and the strategy only makes us more so over time for the following key reasons: First, increasing revenue diversification means we are exposed to exciting structurally growing end segments like diagnostics, technology, renewables, infrastructure.

We can also grow addressable markets with product extension and take share with geographical penetration too. So if demand starts to moderate, there will still be plenty of reasons for continued optimism. Second, our products are critical to our customers' needs and generally low component costs and serving to predominantly OpEx budgets. And so together with continuous improvement of our service provision, margins have held up really well through cycles.

And finally, we have a low capital intensity model, which means that our cash conversion performance has been strong in the tougher times too. So after the years of volatility through the pandemic, we therefore expect at this stage, a return to our positive compounding financial model in 2023. This means organic growth in the mid-single-digit range, first half weighted, with acquisitions contributing a further 6% and we expect to maintain margins in the 18% to 19% range.

We can't obviously predict FX or no interest rates. However, as of today, we expect the tailwind from current FX spot rates and expected increases in interest costs to be EPS neutral. We're carrying good momentum into the new year and the early weeks are encouraging. Our strategy is unchanged and working. We're building high-quality, scalable businesses for sustainable organic growth.

We will diversify our businesses within 3 buckets: structurally growing end segments, penetrating further into core geographies and expanding our product capability to grow the addressable market. This strategy drives organic growth, scale and resilience. Our acquisition strategy complements this ensuring we bring in businesses that fits within our portfolio of business lines and that contribute to that future organic growth. We have a strong value-add service distribution model. This drives loyalty and share of wallet, reputation and market share, pricing power and margins.

As our businesses grow, we support their development to ensure they execute their customer proposition and margins at scale. Alongside this, we continue to develop the group's structure, management capability and culture to sustain execution over the long term. Our DVR framework is now at the center of our strategy and our culture.

The first part of the strategy, therefore, is how we grow. All of our businesses have fantastic opportunities. Some examples of this in the 3 buckets. Diversifying our end segments continues to expose our businesses to structural investment trends. We're expanding our presence in exciting segments such as diagnostics, technology, renewables and infrastructure. We're also entering new markets such as electric vehicles and water treatment. This gives us significant end segment growth tailwind.

Second, we remain underpenetrated in the core home geographies and can diversify and scale in those economies, we do not need to chase growth in other risky markets. Some examples, our U.S. presence has grown considerably to 40% of the group in the last few years through accelerated organic growth across Seals and Controls businesses as well as recent entry acquisitions in interconnect and fasteners and controls.

We've developed a very strong presence in Seals in Australia over the last few years with quality, consolidated positions now on both coasts. And we built a European footprint in Life Sciences with recent acquisitions, giving the sector a healthier portfolio mix. Finally, we expand our product capability to grow our addressable market. This happens incrementally within the businesses and at portfolio level too, the acquisition of R&G this year has broadened our fluid power offering in Seals.

We are developing our adhesives business line and controls with another small acquisition in the year. And we continue to bring new products and suppliers through the pipeline in life sciences with particular success this year in GI endoscopes. We keep our businesses plans focused and incisive around these 3 buckets, and we build the capability to continuously improve execution. This strategy of diversification is contributing to our accelerated organic growth is building scale and makes us increasingly revenue resilient.

I'm really excited about our prospects for future organic growth and we intend to give more color in our capital market seminar in this next year. Our acquisition strategy drives future organic growth. We look for 3 core characteristics in the business, strong value-add distribution demonstrated by gross margins, management teams weaken back and critically organic growth potential.

We spent nearly GBP 190 million this year on some excellent businesses with a further 2 bolt-ons in October. This chart shows how these businesses will accelerate our execution in the 3 buckets and therefore, drive future organic growth. Our track record of successful acquisitions is underpinned by financial discipline and strong returns. We continue to do the Diploma-style bolt-ons, which are designed to support our businesses to access the 3 buckets more effectively.

Since the half year, we've done 6 for a combined value of GBP 19 million and at an average multiple of 5. The year 1 return on capital on these deals is over 20%. They have supported the build-out of R&G, Fluid Power and Seals, our Australian position also in Seals and adhesives and Controls. As we build capability, we will do more of this across more of our core businesses.

Occasionally, and only if a target business meets our core characteristics and serves an important strategic objective, we may consider larger businesses. For example, our biggest acquisition to date, Windy City Wire has been hugely successful, growing revenues by over 50% and doubling profit in the 2 years under our ownership. Windy City has the core characteristics of value-add distribution in our wire and cable product line and a great management team.

It also gave us scale in the key U.S. market. Access to the structurally growing technology and segment, a customer proposition that is winning share and a well-invested scalable platform. The returns have been fantastic, 17% after 2 years and expect over 20% by year 3. Over the last few months, market conditions have made us even more financially disciplined than usual.

We don't feel under any pressure to acquire businesses because we have such a fantastic organic growth potential. Having said that, we do have an active pipeline. And I believe that market conditions could be more favorable for us in the year ahead. The second part of our strategy is how we scale the businesses and the group effectively to sustain execution of the customer proposition and margins over the long term. Running a GBP 10 million business is very different from running a GBP 100 million business.

We've created a framework for our businesses to plot their journey to scale, including their target operating model of the future, the core competencies that underpin it and the capability, talent, technology facility that will deliver it. All of our businesses have their own journey within the group framework and that journey is always pragmatic and incremental building and developing over time as they grow.

The group has nearly doubled in the last 3 years. It's really important that we plan ahead to consistently evolve the structures, the management capability and the culture. Some examples of this. Management development programs are ongoing, which focus on leadership at scale, and we've added 20 new colleagues to our senior leadership team this year. I feel great about the management team that we're developing.

We've tightened the portfolio to ensure management focus around the key business lines as recent small disposals demonstrate. And finally, we had a fantastic senior leadership team meeting in Chicago in June. There's a positive and dynamic mood around the organization as we quietly evolve the culture to combine our decentralized, accountable commercial focus with the support, network and best practice of the group.

We will hold a second seminar next year on the value-add model and how we scale it. A few words now on the sectors. I'm really pleased with the performance and the strategic progress we have made in the Controls sector. Organic growth in the year was 24% and reported growth, 44%. Windy City Wire continues to perform excellently with market share gains driving double-digit volume growth. International controls have performed very well, too. We're seeing the return of the civil aerospace market and strong energy markets.

On top of that, we continue to drive organic and inorganic growth in Europe and the U.S. in both the fasteners and interconnect businesses. Scale benefits and performance improvement have increased margins by 40 basis points in a year. We're making good strategic progress in the sector. We have resilient end segment balance and we are broadening our geographical and product addressable markets. Controls is carrying very good momentum, and I'm really positive about the prospects for the future.

The progress in Seals this year has also been excellent. Organic growth was 14% and reported growth 26%. International Seals has been our most resilient business through the pandemic, growing well again at 11%, and with diverse end segment exposure and a broad geographical mix, too. Our North American aftermarket business had a fantastic year. We are seeing the U.S. mobile machinery repair market starting to benefit from the infrastructure bill investments. This is supporting very healthy base growth.

On top of that, we are leveraging last year's transition to Louisville to drive market share gains. Our MRO business had an excellent year, too with new products and positive demand driving very strong organic growth. Margins in the sector improved by 130 basis points. We have lapped the Louisville transition dual running costs and are benefiting from the disposal of a small lower-margin Russian business.

We have made really good strategic progress in Seals in the year. The sector is far more resilient than it has ever been. And segment exposures such as medical, food and beverage, renewable energy support that as does the impetus from greater infrastructure investment through the cycle in the U.S. I'm optimistic about the outlook for the sector. The performance in Life Sciences has been a little more challenging this year given global health care staffing shortages, but the market tailwinds are really exciting, and we've made great strategic progress. Organic growth declined by 4% in the year, mainly as a result of some pandemic-related revenues in 2021.

The adjusted growth rate of 2% reflected slower surgical procedures due to the staff shortages, offset by strong performance across our diagnostic and endoscopy businesses. We were pleased to see a return to growth in quarter 4 as expected. Margins have been strong -- consistently strong, well above 20%. Strategic progress has also been encouraging. The Life Sciences sector provides in itself, great balance and therefore, resilience to our portfolio.

Performance will improve as the year progresses and the medium term is very exciting with the inevitable unwinding of the surgical backlog as well as increasing diagnostic investment providing great tailwinds upon which we can execute our strategy. DVR now sits at the center of our strategy and our culture. As promised, having defined the framework and measures, we have now set an aspirational vision and milestone targets for 2030. This slide sets those out. To make a meaningful impact, we have to set a bold vision as a service organization, our people are our success. It's critical to me that we have the right environment from our colleagues with dynamic, inclusive and positive energy, high levels of engagement, gender balance and a healthy workplace.

We must be bold in our environmental footprint, too. We have clear medium-term targets on our own emissions, and we are working with our partners to develop plans for full scope net 0 by 2050. With the framework measures, targets and culture in place, I'm really looking forward to making a difference in the years ahead.

In summary, we've had an excellent year. The performance has again been very strong, continuing to build on the group's impressive track record. We're making plenty of strategic progress, too, focusing our businesses to diversify and grow and effectively managing our scaling journey. We've put DVR at the center of our organization. Our model is resilient and becoming more so. I feel positive about our short-term outlook and about continued long-term value creation. Thank you. And now we will go to questions and answers. The microphones will be coming around. So if you could put your hands up and state your name and institution, that would be very helpful. Thank you.

Question and Answer Operator Message
Operator (Operator)

[Operator Instructions]

Question
David Brockton (Analysts)

It's David Brockton from Numis. Can I ask three questions, please. The first 2 relate to the Controls division. The Controls division had a very strong year and second half, given that you've previously indicated that there was no pricing benefit from copper in Q3. The first question relates to Windy City Wire. I just wondering if you can touch on where the growth is coming from? Is it new customers? Is it sort of more spend with those customers? Is it any particular sectors?

The second question, I'll do them all at once, relates to the International Controls division. That's clearly also performed very strongly. I just wondered if you can touch on where you're seeing the growth come through there? And clearly, there are some areas within that division that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Are they still below their pre-COVID-19 levels? And then the final question just relates to incremental investment. I just wondered if you can touch on where you're going to spend incremental OpEx spend and incremental CapEx through the course of this year where you supposed to target that?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Okay. Yes. I mean we're delighted with the way Controls is progressing strategically and performance-wise, it's been a fantastic year as you can see from the numbers. And it's pretty pretty spread across the whole portfolio. Windy City Wire has had a tremendous couple of years, but another tremendous year this year.

As we've talked about before, they have exposure to some really exciting end markets, all the data centers, the warehousing, the building automation, et cetera, is a nice tailwind. On top of that, their platform is allowing them to take market share. I think if you look at over 20 years, when we did the deal, we showed statistics over 20 years, they've grown double-digit volumes over, I think, the last 10, 15. And part of that is the customer proposition and the quality of the customer proposition.

Part of it is the investment that they've put into their operating platform the supply chain, the assembly processes, the depots, the systems, et cetera. And part of it, I think more recent and perhaps more prevalent this year, the supply chain competitive advantage this year has been that much more significant. And I think that's been probably something that we hadn't quite expected. They have local control of their supply chain compared to many of their competitors who are importing from the Far East.

So that's put them in a strong position this year as well. So it's a number of different facets to it, but that 1 is probably the 1 that tipped up a notch for this particular year. If you look at the other Controls businesses, I mean, they've been fantastic this year as well. Now I'd like to talk about things in the 3 buckets, as I've just been saying, from an end segment perspective, we've seen civil aerospace returning quite strongly in the year. You asked about whether it was back to pre-pandemic, not quite yet. But I think in the last 6, 9 months, we've seen a marked change in that end market. We have some business into energy markets as well. And they have clearly been pretty positive.

But also on International Controls, if you look back 3 or 4 years, it was such a concentrated sector, particularly geographically in the U.K. And David -- [ Good ] and his team have done a lot of good work to broaden our geographical presence. We're now much further into Europe and the U.S. So our performance in Germany and Controls this year was really, really good. We did a couple of acquisitions in interconnect and in fasteners in the U.S., and they've done really well since we brought them on board.

So there's not so good work on the geographical side, and then we've added some more product lines, particularly the adhesive textile product line, and that's done really well, too. So really, really pleased across both end market, geography and product within international controls, too. Then you asked a question, more generally, I think, on investment, is that right?

Question
David Brockton (Analysts)

Yes.

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Yes. I mean I think as I was saying, we've got I don't know, formula, it doesn't sound like a very sexy word, but we've got a kind of an investment formula, if you like, which applies both to the way we see margin and the way we see capital invested into the business. So from a margin perspective, it's a bit of scale benefit, but a performance benefit, and we'll put that back in.

There's no step change that we see in that operating investment because, as I said, it's all about the businesses individual journey's pragmatically, incrementally over the long term that we'll build on. And as they go, of course, they'll see scale and performance benefits. So we see that as being broadly margin-neutral.

And similar on CapEx, I think over many, many years, CapEx number has been pretty small. It's been under 2% of revenues, I would expect that to continue. As we look into the new year, there's a few new facilities, there's 1 or 2 systems going into a few businesses. So we'll just again keep it incrementally ticking over. But there's nothing a step change. I think it's all contained within the financial model.

Question
James Rosenthal (Analysts)

It's James Rose from Barclays. Two for me, please. Yes. First, could you talk about your outlook for cost inflation across the businesses? Anything to call out on wage inflation, labor shortages? And do you still anticipate having to put prices up for next year? And then secondly, the strategy is laid out very clearly. But could you pull out a few businesses in the portfolio that you think best demonstrates that group strategy at work this year?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Wow, okay. Inflation. Yes, I mean, as I said, there's still inflation in the system. But speaking from what we see in our business, product inflation, we've kind of -- I mean that for me, 9, 12, 18 months ago, we haven't seen that much of it in the year we've just passed to be honest with you. We're in a bit of inflation lull in our business now. But over the next few months, we expect we'll see wage inflation kicking in.

So if you look at our numbers, June -- as the year progressed, pricing became a smaller and smaller component part, but I expect that will just tick up a fraction. Employment cost is a lower -- much, much lower component proportion of our P&L. So you won't see so much of it in the revenue line, but we'll be working quite hard over the next 3 to 6 months to make sure that there's a bit of price pushed into -- to cover wage inflation.

I mean, I think more generally from my perspective, supply chains and product were very hard a year -- 18 months ago. Access to labor was very, very hard about 6 months ago, particularly U.S. But in the last month or 2, and this is just speaking from what I see, so I'm not making any broader economic comment. But from what I see, access to labor has been much easier in the last couple of months, more people coming back to work that kind of pool of people who didn't come back post pandemic coming back to work, perhaps driven by cost of living, et cetera, et cetera.

So we found access to labor that little easier in the last couple of months than we did 6 months ago. Nevertheless, there's obviously cost of living inflation, and we'll pass it through. You asked about the strategy and where I see it playing out? I mean I don't have any favorite children here. I mean our -- I think you can tell from what I've been talking about in the last half hour that we've got really exciting prospects across our 3 sectors and the businesses underlying them.

And so I'm not going to answer your question with any one particular favorite. But if you look at the 3, Life Sciences has been a bit patchy in the last 12 months for the reasons I explained. But our businesses are in surgical and diagnostic spaces that surgical backlog is going to take, I don't know, anywhere between 3 and 5 years, depending on who you listen to, to unwind, and that's a nice tailwind for half of our Life Sciences businesses.

On top of that, the diagnostic investment globally has stepped up markedly and we'll continue to do so. And that's the other half of our Life Sciences businesses with some great tailwind there. Here, we've built a European platform which we're really excited about. It was Australia and Canada before now we've got Europe. So it's a much more holistic portfolio, which has all sorts of benefits.

And we continue to work hard to bring new product, a new supplier through the strategy, too. So despite last year's results, we feel very, very good about Life Sciences. Controls, our kind of answer to Dave's question. So I probably won't say anything about that one again. But Seals, we're excited about it, too. I mean end market-wise, we're doing a lot more in the wind space, renewables. We're starting to do a bit more in water treatment, which is a really exciting global market, I think, for the long term.

We're doing a lot more than we've ever done in food and beverage and medical. And really excitingly, I think, particularly the U.S., but others, too, will be investing in infrastructure through the cycle, I feel, certainly in the U.S. was their infrastructure bill. And that puts us in a great place in our Seals businesses, particularly with the repair market for our mobile machinery.

So get lots of tailwinds there. Geographically, we've spun out of our Russian business, thank the Lord and we're getting better positions geographically across the globe. I mentioned Australia. We're working hard at Germany and France, too. So geographically, and we feel much better about the U.S. given our Louisville presence. And then product-wise, we're really excited about R&G coming on board because it's a great business in itself. It gives us great scale in the U.K., but it gives us access to a broader product suite of in Fluid power, which we can hopefully in time take to other countries, too.

So it's going to be an unsatisfactory answer to your question, but I feel really excited about all of that. The key for us, as always, with a list like that of opportunities. The key is focus and execution and prioritization, and that's part number one of what's most important to my job. Number two is making sure that we've got the capability and the structures to sustain it over time, too. And that's what I spend a lot of my time on.

Question
Oscar Val Mas (Analysts)

It's Oscar Val Mas from JPMorgan. So I have 3 questions. The first one on Windy City. So can you talk about the benefit from copper pricing? I know it's fully passed through, but how do you see that into next year? And how has it behaved in the past quarter? And then the second one on Windy City. You've talked about a lot of growth from warehouses, data centers and building automation. Can you talk about the order book you have in Windy City and whether that should continue to grow at double digit?

And then the final one is, if we think about the environment getting more tough, which you alluded to, which of the businesses have a bigger order book and which of the businesses should be a bit more early cycle? And are you starting to see any regions which are slowing down? Or all the regions still doing well, kind of the exit rate?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Okay. On Windy City, I mean I think it's important to understand the Windy City Wire business. Copper is a straight pass-through. So people can get quite held up about it, but actually from a profit perspective, it doesn't matter. It might affect the revenue line, but it's not going to necessarily affect the profit. So you shouldn't get too held up about it. Having said that, your copper prices have moderated in the second half of the year, as we know. But Windy City's performance has continued quite strong for the reasons I said in the question that David asked before about their volume performance.

So over the future, I don't know what's going to happen to copper prices. But whatever happens to copper prices doesn't always necessarily mean it's a direct correlation to what we decided to do on our pricing, a; and b, the impact that has on profit. So I wouldn't get too what you talk up about if I'm honest, you asked about order books. Windy City doesn't have an order book. It's a run rate business.

And it sits at the kind of more -- I guess, we have businesses that go from order book, longer-term contracts all the way through to more aftermarket run rate, transactional type of value-add propositions. And that sits along with our North American Seals aftermarket business on that more transactional side.

So we look at daily run rates across those kinds of businesses to see any particular changes. I mean the volume growth in Windy City today isn't as much as it was, say, 6 months ago, but that's to be expected. But the business is still performing incredibly well through October with very, very good profit growth. So it's doing very well. Your last question, sorry Oscar, I've forgotten.

Question
Oscar Val Mas (Analysts)

Any slowdown in any regions?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Yes, yes, yes. there's nothing meaningful that we're seeing at the moment. I mean we're not obviously stupid or immune or nor do we ignore it. But at the moment, there's nothing meaningful that I can point to as a trend. I guess over time, if you read the tea leaves and you believe everything that's been written, and I suppose over time, we might expect some demand moderation, maybe a little bit -- a bit of inventory run down perhaps in some of the more industrial-facing businesses.

But don't forget everything I've been talking about because while that may be the case, across all of our business, we have all these structurally growing end segments that we're now exposed to. And I mentioned [indiscernible] and diagnostics infrastructure in the U.S. renewables, electrification. I mean I mentioned a whole list of them during the course of the last half hour, which give us real reason for optimism across our overall portfolio.

And I think that's one of the reasons why we're setting out what I think is some pretty positive guidance out there. If we can get back to delivering our positive long-term compounding financial model in this year ahead, well, wouldn't that be a great outcome.

Question and Answer Operator Message
Operator (Operator)

More questions in the room.

Question
Ben Wild (Analysts)

It's Ben Wild from Deutsche Bank. Just firstly, you mentioned that you're being even more careful than usually on your M&A benchmarking. Can you help us understand or how should we interpret those comments in terms of the type of M&A that you're going to do in the next 12 months and the volume of M&A you might do in the next 12 months?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Okay. As you know, as I said and as we all know, M&A is part of our strategy, but as I'm really trying to emphasize is really the part that the reason to invest in businesses is to drive future organic growth, first and foremost. And for those of you who have followed Diploma for a long, long time, you'll know that financial discipline and return on capital has been a hugely important part of the compounding story and that we absolutely seek to continue.

When I talk about being more cautious, I mean, I guess, in the last 6 months, we've just seen inflated valuations, probably later than I would have expected it carried on for a lot longer than I probably anticipated. Perhaps a lot of people trying to get rid of stuff at the last minute type of thing. So we saw a lot of very high inflation -- highly inflated assets through the summer and therefore, very, very cautious. Sterling devalued a little bit as well, which, of course, just added to that financial discipline fraction. And quite frankly, we've done a lot. And we continue to do the small stuff at great returns, as I was saying earlier. So we don't need to worry because this is about organic growth.

There will be periods where we do a bit more and that's okay. And there'll be periods when we do a little bit less, and that's okay, too. I don't -- I certainly don't think that we are under any pressure to do too much. From my perspective, it's actually been pretty good having a bit of a -- I wouldn't say low, it's not quite what's happened, but having just a slightly slower pace because the organization needs to absorb.

We need to deliver on deals as well. We need to build for our scale and build as I'm talking about capability and culture, et cetera. So the organization benefits from just a little bit of a breather every now and again. So actually, for us, it's been absolutely fine. As we look ahead, we've got a balance sheet. So we've got support to shareholders. So we've got options.

I would hope that earnings will become a bit more sensible. Certainly, with the debt markets the way they are, perhaps multiples will also become a little more sensible than maybe there's an option for us. But I'm not going to sit and promise a deal flow because it will depend on circumstances, and we won't feel under any pressure.

But I'd like to think there would be a good market for us over the next 12 months.

Question
Ben Wild (Analysts)

And then second question, you've already mentioned that you hope to do some more on pricing in the next 12 months. Within the mid-single-digit organic guidance that you've given today, how do you see the split between pricing and volume? And how much confidence do you have in that volume number, given some of the macro uncertainties?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

So I mean -- you're trying to analyze something which doesn't need to be analyzed. It's just a helpful piece of guidance. It's not built up on anything micro that Chris and I have said, is it's actually a helpful piece of guidance that just said, look, we started pretty well. We don't have the same as you don't have a crystal ball on what the second half of '23 looks like.

But we've got a resilient business. We started well. At this stage, we feel pretty good about delivering our financial model this year, but it's early days. Let's see what happens. And I certainly wouldn't get too technical about what underpins that mid-single digit. It's just a bit of helpful guidance.

And as the year goes on, of course, we'll hopefully update it.

Question
Ben Wild (Analysts)

And then just a final question from me. You've also highlighted some investment inventory last year. And I think you mentioned that we should expect that to unwind in the coming months. Can you help us understand what the kind of some of the drivers of that are or?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Yes. I mean it's quite tricky because we're still growing. I don't know where our exit rate was 13-odd percent in quarter 4. So I can't just sit at the center and say stop because part of our customer proposition, of course, is inventory fulfillment. So it's always really, really important that we don't damage that, which is why I've been comfortable to carefully inflate inventory levels across the group.

But we also have to be sensible and look forward and say, well, might demand get a bit softer in some areas, maybe and so therefore, it's time for us just to bring that in again. But it's very carefully done business by business and even customer by customer in many senses because it will depend on the different circumstances.

As you know, we're pretty diverse and therefore, I can't just sit at the center and press one button. But I feel, overall, that over the next 6, 12 months, then, of course, it will be sensible to carry a little a fraction less inventory than we have been. So that will give you.

Question
Henry Carver (Analysts)

It's Henry Carver from Peel Hunt. Just one for me. Could you give us a bit of a refresher just on the OpEx and CapEx exposures? I mean, clearly predominantly OpEx and that's provided a lot of resilience more recently. But just looking ahead to maybe when the CapEx cycle improves, give us an idea of sort of how well plugged into that will be?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Yes. I mean the business has historically been predominantly OpEx. There's a little bit of CapEx in the health care business, it tends to be a bit of capital for equipment that then drives a consumable annuity. So there's a little bit of capital there. There's probably a little bit more capital in Windy City, so all capital, but there's probably a bit more capital in Windy City as well.

So I don't know what the percentage is because it's not necessarily something I look at all the time, but it's maybe 80-20 type of thing. So are predominantly operating. Your question is -- what happens if CapEx budgets come back?

Question
Henry Carver (Analysts)

Just in terms of the cycle, it's more of a sort of cyclical part of the business, but it's something that we want to look out for as and when CapEx budgets improve the CapEx activity.

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

I don't really see that it's going to make a big difference to us, to be honest with you, just given the nature of the business. For example, if most of our CapEx is into medical applications and equipment. The cycle isn't really going to affect that. The buying decisions are different parallel, do you know what I mean? And those buying decisions actually are continuing pretty strong at the moment in the diagnostics space for all the reasons we know about research, testing and development.

So I don't think any major change in capital budgets is going to affect us. The one interesting space that is civil aerospace. And as I said a bit earlier, that's come back pretty strong. A lot of it is still OpEx refurbishment. But in general, that's coming back pretty strong. How will that fare during the course of the next 12 or 18 months, will it continue its recovery trend? I hope so. The early signs would suggest it will.

But again, then you take a step back and just understand that while most of our business is OpEx also we're so diverse by end market, even civil aerospace is still only 2% or 3% of the group. So all of these little movements are -- and that's the power of the resilience of the model. Isn't it? That it's quite diversified like that. So I don't see that there's going to be any material changes to the group's performance based on capital budgets.

Question and Answer Operator Message
Operator (Operator)

I'll take one from the webcast. So Dan Cowan at HSBC on Seals North American aftermarket. You've talked about market share gains driven by Louisville. Can you give any more color, for example, how much are share gains contributing versus what the market is doing, i.e., what's our market outperformance?

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Yes. That's quite a tricky one to get market data on, if I'm honest, Dan. We have been growing high teens into the 20s in that business for most of the last 12 months. There have been some nice tailwinds from -- it's very difficult for us to know in these end markets just -- and you're getting a sense from speaking to thousands and thousands of small repair shops.

Our sense is that the infrastructure bill is starting to have some impact, although it's clearly very early days by the time it passes through the political to the financing and then into the state and then into the actual hands of the construction. That takes a bit of time. But our sense is that, that started to happen a little bit. There's a bit of a trend towards, I guess, sweating some of the old mobile machinery assets rather than reinvesting in new ones right now.

And clearly, that benefits us as well. But I think there's a sizable chunk of the -- then there's a bit of price in there as well, of course, don't forget, a sizable chunk of it is market share, and we know that because the growth rates that we've seen in the underpenetrated regions like the West Coast, Midwest, Northeast have gone from high single digits to 20s and 30s.

And so whatever way you look at it, and you cut the numbers, we're definitely taking market share. Can I quantify it to you exactly. I don't think we have enough granularity on the end markets to be able to do that.

Question and Answer Operator Message
Operator (Operator)

Others in the room?

Question
Unknown Analyst (Analysts)

Johnny. Just a question on Life Sciences. I was interested to hear your thoughts about product evolution and the push into diagnostics, whether you've got a strong raft of, I suppose, new products that you might be able to introduce to expand the addressable market in the next few years.

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Yes. That's a fantastic question. Sorry, I didn't catch your name.

Question
Unknown Analyst (Analysts)

Dan.

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Sorry, Dan. Okay. Thanks, Dan. That's a great, great question. The most important aspects of -- I mean, for everybody in the room, the most important aspect of Life Sciences, our Life Sciences success is our product pipeline management. That's what sustains this business over the long term because inevitably, all of your products have a certain shelf life due to either medical or technical innovation. So the quality and the size of your pipeline is massive. I felt you 4 years ago, we didn't have a big enough pipeline.

I think Dan Brown and the team has done a fantastic job, and we're in a much, much better position now. And during the course of the last few months when we've been reviewing activity and budgets for the year ahead. We're going to spend a lot of time, particularly in the diagnostics business, understanding it. And there are some really exciting new products coming out because, as I said, investment into the diagnostic space is huge.

We've had all of our team at various association events, which have kicked off again in the last 6 months, which is a great place to meet all of our suppliers. And we have some really exciting new products and technology coming through. You're never quite sure at the early stage, which ones are going to be the kind of medical winners, if you like. So you almost have to back a number of horses. Some of them might just be small. Some of them might turn in to be more material, but you have to get -- and the key for us is that product pipeline management, but also the commercial and technical brainpower.

The success here is the talent that we have commercially, the people who understand the science and can, therefore, convert the science to business. And that's really -- those 2 things, pipeline management and that capability are the key things. But I feel really, really good about what I'm seeing coming through, particularly in the diagnostics space.

Question and Answer Operator Message
Operator (Operator)

And one more from the webcast, wrapping together a couple on acquisitions. Could you remind us of the EBIT multiples you pay for Accuscience and R&G and tell us a little bit about how they're settling into the group.

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Yes. The EBIT multiples now, I think one was 9 and one was 10, I think. I'm looking at Neil now, is that the right numbers? 9 and 10, I think R&G was 10 and Accuscience was 9.5 or something like that. Yes. Okay. How are they settling in? Really, really well. Couldn't be half R&G, been now at nearly 6 months, a bit more than 6 months and settled in really, really well.

The organic growth has been double digits since we acquired it and there's so much opportunity for us to continue to grow that business organically. We've also added 4 new bolt-ons, which is always part of their strategy, GBP 1 million, GBP 2 million, GBP 3 million, GBP 4 million, GBP 5 million revenue business as we've added into that, which broadens their regional network across the U.K.

And part of their success has been -- continues to making sure that we sell all of our available products across all of our geographical region, and that's still a work in progress over the next year or 2. So we're pretty excited about the combination of organic and inorganic growth for R&G. Accuscience has been great, too, and we've done a little bit of work to -- we had to carve it out of Life Sciences Group in Ireland.

So we've done a little bit of work on that, established a management team, great commercial plans that I was reviewing in the last month when I was over there, and they're in great shape. So we feel excited. I mean, that business not only does it give us a bit more of our footprint in Europe, but it's a diagnostics business to the question earlier. We have a great diagnostics business in Canada -- and in Australia and Canada. This gives us a bit more of in diagnostics in Europe. So we're really excited about that.

Question and Answer Operator Message
Operator (Operator)

Okay. Last orders for questions in the room. I think we're all done.

Answer
Jonathan Thomson (Executives)

Thank you very much. Everyone, have a great week.

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