IJM Plantations Bhd (IJMP) is one of the favourites among analysts and, what's more, they think the stock could climb higher. Seven out of 10 research houses have a "buy" call on IJMP and on average, they reckon the price can rise further to RM3.57.
IJMP shares rose 20.2 per cent to close at RM2.98 for the whole of 2010. This is better than the broader market's 19.3 per cent gain in the same period. IJMP's stock price has been rising over the last six months, in tandem with palm oil futures prices on the Malaysian Derivatives Exchange.
ECM Libra, the most optimistic research outfit, estimates that the price can climb as high as RM3.99. Analyst Bernard Ching said IJMP's current share price is trading at only 17.6 times of the current year's forecast earnings.
In his note to investors, Ching said IJMP has bucked the industry trend because it reported 26.5 per cent improvement in fresh fruit bunch production in the second quarter results ended September 2010, from a year ago. This is why he sees current strong palm oil prices fuelling good earnings in the next quarter or so.
He is confident of harvesting more than 600,000 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches by March 2011.
Currently, IJMP's tree profile is such that it is able to reap 5.5 tonnes of oil per hectare in a year. "We expect the oil extraction rate to stay at 21 per cent," he said.
Over its 25-year history, IJMP has planted more than half of its 80,000ha plantation landbank in Malaysia and Indonesia.
It is interesting to note that while IJMP is just a mid-sized player, it invests substantially in oil palm seed gardens. To date, the gardens are able to produce more than two million germinated seeds a year. "We're willing to invest in the long term because we want to be self sufficient and control the quality of our planting materials," said Tek, who is trained in botany and tree breeding.
He also takes a keen interest in ensuring ecological balance at the estates. From the early days of development, Tek was able to convince shareholders of the need to retain some 800 acres as natural forest. To date, there is also a herb garden, fruit orchards and vegetable plots for community sustenance.
The group's research and development department carries out pest census regularly. Pests like bagworms and nettle caterpillars are capable of "eating up" large areas of oil palms, if they are not detected or treated early.
As a precautionary measure, a variety of creepers are planted to provide predatory bugs shelter and nectar as a biological control over pests. When there is an imbalance between pest and predator population, pesticides are used judiciously. "Basically, integrated pest management is about maintaining the right balance," Tek said.
Asked if there are plans for mergers and acquisitions, Tek said his immediate concern is to raise yield and efficiency at existing oil palm estates. But then again, he said the group is open to opportune offers. "Indonesia is a good place to expand if the price is right," he said.