Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A quick look at how a couple of Crowdcube bond issuers are doing - The Eden Project and River Cottage



Both the Eden Project and River Cottage raised money on Crowdcube via its mini bond offer. The former's bond is due for repayment in 12 months and River Cottage's in 2019. Neither has managed to get near to its projected success.


Reading through the Crowdcube prospectus for these two it is hard to believe that they are the same companies that now bear these names.

Eden borrowed £1.5m to purchase and develop two Grade II listed steadings. They showed considerable increases in revenues that have failed to materialise and the steadings remain undeveloped - 3 years later. No planning applications are currently listed as being live at the Council planning office, except for an advisory one. No permissions are outstanding.

An article in the Plymouth Herald from January 2017 questioned what was happening with the buildings as they had fallen in further disrepair since the purchase. Officially the reply was, the renovation was ongoing. We asked them how this could be so if no planning applications were currently live. They declined to reply. 

The same reply told us  - 

The Eden Project made a cash surplus from trading of more than £1.6 million in the last financial year, the fourth successive year of significant profit.
 
We asked what this meant, as they had posted a loss in the accounts for 2017 and 2016 and 2015...... Again they chose not to clarify but from looking over the accounts, this looks like a case of using EBITDA as a free cash flow declaration - something allowed by the UKs accounting system but since the dotcom crash, a fudge that is not generally thought to be best practice. Its debatable at least and as Warren Buffet said of it -

"Does management think the tooth fairy pays for capital expenditures?"  

After ITDA, Eden reported a small lose for 2017 - well around half a million. As the Eden project is intensely capital orientated, it seems sensible to include DA and the ensuing I from borrowings, in the real cash generated figure, especially if this results in a NP that is negative. One thing is for sure, the final declaration given here that they had four years of significant profits is not backed up by the filed accounts - EBITDA or no EBITDA. 

At any rate, revenues are way short of the anticipated numbers used to sell the bond. Sure the bond will get repaid but will it come from free cash flow? They seemed very defensive when we approached them and repeatedly told us that any statements inferring this or that, would be considered 'wrong and damaging'. Sad really. We only want to get at the truth.

River Cottage borrowed £1m to roll out more of their canteens. They now have fewer canteens than they did during the pitch, having closed their largest one in Plymouth this year. How much did that cost - reports show that they did a midnight raid on the day they closed to remove the F&F! 

According to a statement from the management it had always been a poor performer - although it was described as a roaring success in the bond pitch. Again the numbers are a long way off those suggested in the pitch documents. 

Where does this leave us?

Well both companies will surely repay their loans, even if it means raising their borrowings - the PR fallout would be too damaging and they are both nationally known and loved brands. But it yet again illustrates the futile job Crowdcube do in checking these numbers before using their FCA regulated platform to promote them.   

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