Interactive Investor

Stockwatch: investors bag big profits after company lands the big one

This has been a profitable stock tip for analyst Edmond Jackson, and now this firm has achieved his key objective. Here’s what he’d do with the shares now.

12th September 2023 12:13

by Edmond Jackson from interactive investor

Share on

Colourful pound symbol

In April, and with a reminder last month, I drew attention to litigation financier Burford Capital Ltd (LSE:BUR) over a major legal claim on Argentina coming to a head. 

An original “buy” idea at 135p nearly a decade ago, Burford worked out hair-raisingly well. Its stock had soared to over 2,000p by August 2018, then slumped a year later in a short-selling attack. Covid took it back to 360p in March 2020 amid fears of court cases stymieing progress. 

Late last Friday, the whale landed: an international court in New York set damages for the expropriation of shareholders in YPF, a NYSE-listed oil company nationalised by Argentina, at $16 billion (£12.8 million) which is the high end of expectations. It includes interest besides recompense since 2012. 

The stock spiked from near 1,100p to over 1,300p late last Friday, capitalising it near £3 billion. Burford is entitled to 35% of proceeds in the (main) “Petersen” case it has backed, and 73% in the “Eton Park” case (a hedge fund-related claim), implying over £5 billion due if Argentina fully settles.  

News arrives alongside likely strong Q2 results

Yesterday, and despite having had the weekend to mull a better-than-expected win, the stock dropped 50p but closed roughly level around 1,300p. This reflects justified investor wariness over what exactly it will evolve. Burford is very much in the frame this week, however, with interim results due tomorrow.  

These could attract further buying given Friday’s announcement noted the Petersen ruling “a major milestone...and we continue to see momentum in our overall portfolio and continued demand for our capital and services”. 

When I drew attention to Burford in April, the stock had jumped from around 700p to 870p in response to the court declaring a complete win against Argentina, with damages to be determined.  

Other things being equal, the market is so far crediting around 600p a share – or £1.3 billion – to Burford’s share of the Petersen claims. Deciphering the odds, it is unclear what extent Argentina will settle, which implies stock volatility ahead. Yet things may not be equal: tomorrow’s second-quarter and interim results could show further momentum after the first quarter achieved like-for-like operating income up 251% to $327 million with net income at $259 million. 

This is in context of Burford’s long-term financial trend starting to pick up again, post-Covid: 

Burford Capital - financial summary
Year-end 31 Dec

Turnover ($ million)82103163343425366328217319
Net profit ($m)46.665.7109249318301143-28.830.5
Operating margin (%)62.174.972.379.880.974.063.730.760.8
Reported earnings per share (cents)22.231.552.912015113765.2-13.113.8
Normalised earnings per share (cents)22.231.554.812015114267.2-10.917.4
Operational cashflow per share (cents)-45.1-9.9-3.3-49.1-111-12524.5-267-210
Capital expenditure per share (cents)
Free cashflow per share (cents)-45.2-10.1-4.1-49.4-111-12524.5-267-210
Dividend per share (cents)
Return on capital employed (%)9.813.613.518.214.814.
Cash ($m)196217181176343187322180108
Net fixed assets ($m)3263717951,3382,1672,5093,134


Net debt $m)-58.4-86933474084893598541,159
Net assets ($m)3834345967991,3631,5331,7631,6961,743
Net assets per share (cents)187212286383623701805774797

While it seems unlikely that Burford will net over £5 billion equivalent from Argentina – and in a worst-case scenario, nothing – its current market value offers a risked reckoning, against which it is possible to focus on the wider business prospering. 

Scope exists for Burford to create certainty, selling on the claim at some point, for cash it could then deploy for legal cases. 

But mind, there is a long way to go – to exact substantial cash from a nation in dire financial straits. 

Argentina’s finances imply a discounted settlement ahead  

Last Friday’s announcement made clear, and respecting litigation judgments generally settling for considerably less than court judgments: “With an enforceable judgment in hand, plaintiffs will either need to negotiate a resolution of the matter with Argentina, which would certainly result in what would likely be a substantial discount to the judgment amount in exchange for agreed payment, or engage in an enforcement campaign against Argentina which would likely be a substantial discount to the judgment amount in exchange for agreed payment...” 

While Argentine nationalists may point out that this is a New York judgment, it will be difficult for Argentina to ignore this, and further appeals rack up more interest due.  

A more realistic issue is Argentina simply not having cash to pay, being dependent on loans – or gifts – from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “Disbursements” is the IMF’s technical term. 

Some Burford shareholders take heart that Argentina is a natural resource-rich country, with assets potentially to sell. It is a similar argument to those who say that the UK is the fifth-wealthiest nation globally, therefore NHS spending and benefits generally can rise (disregarding public debt). 

The cash context is Argentina’s net foreign exchange reserves excluding liabilities estimated at a $4.5 billion deficit, hence there is no money to pay this compensation – irrespective of its natural reserves. 

Argentina has made payments to some creditors by way of issuing fresh public debt, but is currently locked out of international credit markets and challenged to pay debts to local creditors, plus repayments on a 2018 IMF loan. 

Fitch Ratings’ July view on Argentina was “probable default” on its debt in the coming years irrespective of the 2023 election result, with a peso default also a real possibility. The Argentine authorities are making attempts to muddle through “but entail greater imbalances and liabilities that will compound future foreign exchange challenges”. 

Asset sales in extended settlement could work 

It would appear that once investors respect Argentina’s cash context, Burford equity is bound to drop again. But it did in early dealings yesterday, then recovered. Perhaps buyers are reckoning that negotiating a multi-year settlement horizon could include Argentina selling various YPF assets – for example with enhanced exploration rights – which say on a five-year view could offer a realistic way forward. Doubtless Burford will want to make intelligent proposals in a negotiation. 

This would take the pressure off future IMF disbursements being seen as paying off litigation financiers, even though Burford couches its action and win in terms of helping Argentina return to the civil international community. 

The financial aid context is the IMF last month disbursing around $7.5 billion to Argentina – bringing the total to around $36 billion. Interest payments to international governments alone are already over $14 billion a year. 

A settlement would still need approval by a new Argentine administration after the 22 October general and presidential elections, hence an additional element of uncertainty. Yet initial reactions by the Argentine media seem realistic, for example, noting that further appeals could cost over $1.5 billion in additional legal fees and interest. 

If Argentina was always liable to ignore a legal verdict, then logically it would not have vested so much already in the process. 

It is also quite a thorny branch for politicians to grasp ahead of the elections; a ticket of defiance more likely having to give way to acceptance.

Javier Milei, a Donald Trump-admiring nationalist, continues to lead polls – on a libertarian right-wing platform, offering a break with the left-wing Peronist culture affecting other parties. He espouses property rights, the rule of law and getting inflation under control by “dollarizing” the economy, which imply bringing Argentina in line with an international court verdict.  

A 2% rise this morning to 1,325p 

Scope for various outcomes of the YPF claims make it impossible to assert an intrinsic value for Burford. Yet the legal ratchet has clicked further towards a negotiated settlement, with asset sales potentially providing a way forward. I expect Burford then might sell the rights on, even at a further discount, so as to provide shareholders with certainty and re-invest. 

I therefore regard the stock as a firm “hold” even speculative “buy” ahead of the second-quarter results – or on consideration thereof, early tomorrow. With higher interest rates liable to bear down on consumer and industrial companies reporting in months ahead, Burford offers relative resilience, and recessions usually bring a rise in litigation. Hold.

Edmond Jackson is a freelance contributor and not a direct employee of interactive investor.

These articles are provided for information purposes only.  Occasionally, an opinion about whether to buy or sell a specific investment may be provided by third parties.  The content is not intended to be a personal recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument or product, or to adopt any investment strategy as it is not provided based on an assessment of your investing knowledge and experience, your financial situation or your investment objectives. The value of your investments, and the income derived from them, may go down as well as up. You may not get back all the money that you invest. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser.

Full performance can be found on the company or index summary page on the interactive investor website. Simply click on the company's or index name highlighted in the article.


We use a combination of fundamental and technical analysis in forming our view as to the valuation and prospects of an investment. Where relevant we have set out those particular matters we think are important in the above article, but further detail can be found here.

Please note that our article on this investment should not be considered to be a regular publication.

Details of all recommendations issued by ii during the previous 12-month period can be found here.

ii adheres to a strict code of conduct.  Contributors may hold shares or have other interests in companies included in these portfolios, which could create a conflict of interests. Contributors intending to write about any financial instruments in which they have an interest are required to disclose such interest to ii and in the article itself. ii will at all times consider whether such interest impairs the objectivity of the recommendation.

In addition, individuals involved in the production of investment articles are subject to a personal account dealing restriction, which prevents them from placing a transaction in the specified instrument(s) for a period before and for five working days after such publication. This is to avoid personal interests conflicting with the interests of the recipients of those investment articles.

Get more news and expert articles direct to your inbox