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Caribbean Information and Credit Rating Services Ltd (CariCRIS) has assigned initial issuer/corporate credit ratings of CariBBB- (foreign and local currency rating) on its regional rating scale, and ttBBB- on the T&T national scale to Excellent Stores Ltd (ESL). “These ratings indicate that the level of creditworthiness of this obligor, adjudged in relation to other obligors in the Caribbean and within T&T is adequate,” CariCRIS said in a media release.
CariCRIS said the ratings were supported by Excellent Stores’ strong brand equity and good geographical reach as demonstrated by four branches with further plans to expand both locally and regionally. The company has a solid track record of 55 years in existence and has developed a strong reputation as a leading one-stop shop for quality household, personal, gift and baby items, Christmas trees and decorations, CariCRIS said.
The company operates in a stable economy with low inflation, reasonable prospects for growth and a healthy balance of payments position, the rating agency said. “Further supporting the ratings are good profitability with average gross profit (GP), earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) and profit after tax (PAT) margins of 36.4 per cent, 7.6 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively, in line with industry standards. ESL is well capitalised with a debt position that has been well controlled,” CariCRIS said.
CariCRIS said the ratings are “constrained by poor inventory management practices which have led to slow inventory turnover and a long cash conversion cycle. Further tempering the ratings are the fungibility of cash among ESL and its sister company with no formal arrangements for repayment. There is also a high reliance on the promoters with a succession plan that is only in its initial stages.”
In announcing the rating, CariCRIS CEO Wayne Dass said: “ESL plans to list on the small and medium enterprise (SME) Stock Exchange in the near future, and this decision to seek a credit rating and place it in the public domain is a great first step towards achieving this objective, as the rating report will familiarise potential investors with the operations and performance of the company, including its key strengths, risks, and opportunities for growth.”
Commenting on the rating, ESL’s managing director Franco Siu Chong, who is also chairman of the T&T International Financial Centre (TTIFC), said in the release: “In a strategic move to be listed on the T&T Stock Exchange and become a publicly traded company, ESL has taken the first step of being rated by the independent regional rating agency, CariCRIS. Excellent Stores has been serving T&T for over half a century and believes the time is right for T&T citizens to share in its success through part ownership.”
Excellent Stores Ltd is a family owned business domiciled in Trinidad. Chinese immigrants, Siu Joy Chong and his wife, Hong Ling Chong, established the business in 1958 as Excellent Trading. The company specialised in a one-stop shop for a variety of merchandise. In 1975, Franco Siu Chong, the third of a family of six sons joined the business and ran the day to day operations of Excellent Trading, along with his wife, Richalene Siu Chong.
In 1989, Excellent Trading acquired the Woolworth chain of stores and began trading under the name ESL. Today, ESL is one of five subsidiaries which operates under a holding company, Siu Chong Investments Ltd (SCIL), which is owned by various family members. ESL, along with its four sister companies are wholly owned by SCIL. The sister companies are real estate companies that own buildings, which are rented to ESL as an anchor tenant along with other stores.
“Today, ESL has grown into a four-branch, household name that specialises in the selling of household, personal, gift and baby items,” CariCRIS said. The four branches are located in downtown Port-of-Spain, MovieTowne, Trincity Mall and Price Plaza. In 2015, ESL plans to undergo an initial public offering (IPO) of a portion of its shares and list on the SME exchange of the T&T Stock Exchange (TTSE).