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Posts Tagged ‘Activist investment’

There are good reasons for tracking activists. For one, research supports the view that stocks the subject of activist campaigns can generate significant above market returns, on the filing and, importantly, in the subsequent year. Recent industry research by Ken Squire, manager of the 13D Activist mutual fund (DDDAX), finds an average outperformance of 16% over the subsequent 15 months for companies larger than $1 billion in market cap:

Ken Squire is founder and principal of 13D Monitor, a research service that tracks activist investing and has data on Icahn-led activist situations since 1994, when the investor targeted Samsonite Corp. The average return of the 85 positions since then was 18.7% (measured until he closed the position, if at all), compared to 12.7% for the Standard & Poor’s 500 over comparable time frames.

Yet this impressive-seeming average outperformance should be viewed in the context of a general tendency of stocks to outperform once they have attracted the intense interest of known activist investors. In other words, this doesn’t apply to Icahn alone.

Squire calculates that, following a 13D filing, the shares of companies larger than $1 billion in market value have historically outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 16 percentage points over the subsequent 15 months. A separate study of nearly 300 activist actions by hedge funds between April 2006 and September 2012 found a similarly strong record of success. Squire runs the relatively new (and so-far small) 13D Activist mutual fund (DDDAX), which chooses stocks from among ongoing activist situations and beat the S&P 500 by 5.27% in 2012, after fees.

Squire takes into account the past record of specific activist investors when considering fund holdings. Hedge fund JANA Partners, for example, has a strong success rate in its arm-twisting maneuvers on corporate executives it deems lacking. One of its prominent targets currently is Canadian fertilizer giant Agrium Inc. (AGU).

Squire’s research accords with earlier studies on this site, most notably these two:

  1. In Entrepreneurial Shareholder Activism: Hedge Funds and Other Private Investors, April Klein and Emanuel Zur examined recent “confrontational activism campaigns” by “entrepreneurial shareholder activists” and concluded that such strategies generate “significantly positive market reaction for the target firm around the initial Schedule 13D filing date” and “significantly positive returns over the subsequent year.” The authors find that the filing of a 13D notice by an activist hedge fund is a catalytic event for a firm that heralds substantial positive returns in the stock. Klien and Zur found that “hedge fund targets earn 10.2% average abnormal stock returns during the period surrounding the initial Schedule 13D. Other activist targets experience a significantly positive average abnormal return of 5.1% around the SEC filing window. These findings suggest that, on average, the market believes activism creates shareholder value. … Furthermore, our target abnormal returns do not dissipate in the 1-year period following the initial Schedule 13D. Instead, hedge fund targets earn an additional 11.4% abnormal return during the subsequent year, and other activist targets realize a 17.8% abnormal return over the year following the activists’ interventions.”
  2. In Hedge Fund Activism, Corporate Governance, and Firm Performance, authors Brav, Jiang, Thomas and Partnoy found that the “market reacts favorably to hedge fund activism, as the abnormal return upon announcement of potential activism is in the range of [7%] seven percent, with no return reversal during the subsequent year.” Further, the paper “provides important new evidence on the mechanisms and effects of informed shareholder monitoring.”

h/t @reformedbroker

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Update: See Ryan’s interview on Bloomberg.

Great article from Businessweek about Ryan Morris, the 28-year-old Canadian managing partner of Meson Capital Partners, LLC who “resembles a sandy-haired Mitt Romney,” and seems to be all out of bubblegum:

Ryan Morris spent a week steeling himself for the showdown. Then 27 years old, he was in his first campaign as an activist investor, trying to wrest control of a small company named InfuSystem (INFU), which provides and services pumps used in chemotherapy. In the meeting, Morris would confront InfuSystem’s chairman and vice chairman, two men in their 40s, and tell them that as a shareholder, he thought the company was heading in the wrong direction.

Morris is competitive—his high school rowing teammates nicknamed him “Cyborg,” and he took a semester off college to race as a semi-pro cyclist—but face-to-face confrontation wasn’t something he relished. “I like the thrill of the hunt, but not the kill,” he says. To prepare, Morris outlined questions, guessed potential responses, and tried to anticipate what tense “pregnant moments” could arrive. He built his clout by lining up support from InfuSystem’s largest shareholder as well as a veteran activist investor. Morris knew his own looks—he resembles a sandy-haired Mitt Romney—could help mask his youth, and decided he’d wear a tie, much as he hates to.

The company, with just $47 million in revenue, was spending too much money, and in the wrong places. In the previous year, InfuSystem’s board and CEO earned more than $11 million combined. This was for a company whose stock had lost 40 percent of its value over the previous three years. Morris figured that as a shareholder voice on the board, he could help cut expenses—including the high pay—and, once it was clean enough to sell, reap a return for his own small hedge fund.

On Dec. 13, 2011, he finally sat at a conference table across from the two directors. After 45 minutes of discussion, he still didn’t think his concerns were being acknowledged. So he got to the point: He wanted three board seats.

It’s a great story. Read the rest of the article on Businessweek.

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Embedded below is my Fall 2012 strategy paper, “Hunting Endangered Species: Investing in the Market for Corporate Control.

From the executive summary:

The market for corporate control acts to catalyze the stock prices of underperforming and undervalued corporations. An opportunity exists to front run participants in the market for corporate control—strategic acquirers, private equity firms, and activist hedge funds—and capture the control premium paid for acquired corporations. Eyquem Fund LP systematically targets stocks at the largest discount from their full change‐of‐control value with the highest probability of undergoing a near‐term catalytic change‐of‐control event. This document analyzes in detail the factors driving returns in the market for corporate control and the immense size of the opportunity.


Hunting Endangered Species: Investing in the Market for Corporate Control Fall 2012 Strategy Paper

This is the investment strategy I apply in the Eyquem Fund. It is obviously son-of-Greenbackd (deep value, contrarian and activist follow-on) and, although it deviates in several crucial aspects, it is influenced by the 1999 Piper Jaffray research report series, Wall Street’s Endangered Species.

For more of my research, see my white paper “Simple But Not Easy: The Case For Quantitative Value” and the accompanying presentation to the UC Davis MBA value investing class.

As always, I welcome any comments, criticisms, or questions.

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Which price ratio best identifies undervalued stocks? It’s a fraught question, dependent on various factors including the time period tested, and the market capitalization and industries under consideration, but I believe a consensus is emerging.

The academic favorite remains book value-to-market capitalization (the inverse of price-to-book value). Fama and French maintain that it makes no difference which “price-to-a-fundamental” is employed, but if forced to choose favor book-to-market. In the Fama/French Forum on Dimensional Fund Advisor’s website they give it a tepid thumbs up despite the evidence that it’s not so great:

Data from Ken French’s website shows that sorting stocks on E/P or CF/P data produces a bigger spread than BtM over the last 55 years. Wouldn’t it make sense to use these other factors in addition to BtM to distinguish value from growth stocks? EFF/KRF: A stock’s price is just the present value of its expected future dividends, with the expected dividends discounted with the expected stock return (roughly speaking). A higher expected return implies a lower price. We always emphasize that different price ratios are just different ways to scale a stock’s price with a fundamental, to extract the information in the cross-section of stock prices about expected returns. One fundamental (book value, earnings, or cashflow) is pretty much as good as another for this job, and the average return spreads produced by different ratios are similar to and, in statistical terms, indistinguishable from one another. We like BtM because the book value in the numerator is more stable over time than earnings or cashflow, which is important for keeping turnover down in a value portfolio. Nevertheless, there are problems in all accounting variables and book value is no exception, so supplementing BtM with other ratios can in principal improve the information about expected returns. We periodically test this proposition, so far without much success.

There are a variety of papers on the utility of book value that I’ve beaten to death on Greenbackd. I used to think it was the duck’s knees because that was what all the early research seemed to say (See, for example, Roger Ibbotson’s “Decile Portfolios of the New York Stock Exchange, 1967 – 1984,” Werner F.M. DeBondt and Richard H. Thaler’s “Further Evidence on Investor Overreaction and Stock Market Seasonality”). Josef Lakonishok, Andrei Shleifer, and Robert Vishny’s Contrarian Investment, Extrapolation and Risk, which was updated by The Brandes Institute as Value vs Glamour: A Global Phenomenon reopened the debate, suggesting that price-to-earnings and price-to-cash flow might add something to price-to-book.

A number of more recent papers have moved away from book-to-market, and towards the enterprise multiple ((equity value + debt + preferred stock – cash)/ (EBITDA)). As far as I am aware, Tim Loughran and Jay W. Wellman got in first with their 2009 paper “The Enterprise Multiple Factor and the Value Premium,” which was a great unpublished paper, but became in 2010 a slightly less great published paper, “New Evidence on the Relation Between the Enterprise Multiple and Average Stock Returns,” suitable only for academics and masochists (but I repeat myself). The abstract to the 2009 paper (missing from the 2010 paper) cuts right to the chase:

Following the work of Fama and French (1992, 1993), there has been wide-spread usage of book-to-market as a factor to explain stock return patterns. In this paper, we highlight serious flaws with the use of book-to-market and offer a replacement factor for it. The Enterprise Multiple, calculated as (equity value + debt value + preferred stock – cash)/ EBITDA, is better than book-to-market in cross-sectional monthly regressions over 1963-2008. In the top three size quintiles (accounting for about 94% of total market value), EM is a highly significant measure of relative value, whereas book-to-market is insignificant.

The abstract says everything you need to know: Book-to-market is widely used (by academics), but it has serious flaws. The enterprise multiple is more predictive over a long period (1963 to 2008), and it’s much more predictive in big market capitalization stocks where book-to-market is essentially useless.

What serious flaws?

The big problem with book-to-market is that so much of the return is attributable to nano-cap stocks and “the January effect”:

Loughran (1997) examines the data used by Fama and French (1992) and finds that the results are driven by a January seasonal and the returns on microcap growth stocks. For the largest size quintile, accounting for about three-quarters of total market cap, Loughran finds that BE/ME has no significant explanatory power over 1963-1995. Furthermore, for the top three size quintiles, accounting for about 94% of total market cap, size and BE/ME are insignificant once January returns are removed. Fama and French (2006) confirm Loughran’s result over the post- 1963 period. Thus, for nearly the entire market value of largest stock market (the US) over the most important time period (post-1963), the value premium does not exist.

That last sentence bears repeating: For nearly the entire market value of largest stock market (the US) over the most important time period (post-1963), the value premium does not exist, which means that book-to-market is not predictive in stocks other than the smallest 6 percent by market cap. What about book-to-market in the stocks in that smallest 6 percent? It might not work there either:

Keim (1983) shows that the January effect is primarily limited to the first trading days in January. These returns are heavily influenced by December tax-loss selling and bid-ask bounce in low-priced stocks. Since many fund managers are restricted in their ability to buy small stocks due to ownership concentration restrictions and are prohibited from buying low-prices stocks due to their speculative nature, it is unlikely that the value premium can be exploited.

More scalable

The enterprise multiple succeeds where book-to-market fails.

In the top three size quintiles, accounting for about 94% of total market value, EM is a highly significant measure of relative value, whereas BE/ME is insignificant and size is only weakly significant. EM is also highly significant after controlling for the January seasonal and removing low-priced (<$5) stocks. Robustness checks indicate that EM is also better to Tobin’s Q as a determinant of stock returns.

And maybe the best line in the  paper:

Our results are an improvement over the existing literature because, rather than being driven by obscure artifacts of the data, namely the stocks in the bottom 6% of market cap and the January effect, our results apply to virtually the entire universe of US stocks. In other words, our results may actually be relevant to both Wall Street and academics.

Why does the enterprise multiple work?

The enterprise multiple is a popular measure, and for other good reasons besides its performance. First, the enterprise multiple uses enterprise value. A stock’s enterprise value provides more information about its true cost than its market capitalization because it includes information about the stock’s balance sheet, including its debt, cash and preferred stock (and in some variations minorities and net payables-to-receivables). Such things are significant to acquirers of the business in its entirety, which, after all, is the way that value investors should think about each stock. Market capitalization can be misleading. Just because a stock is cheap on a book value basis does not mean that it’s cheap 0nce its debt load is factored into the valuation. Loughran and Wellman, quoting Damodaran (whose recent paper I covered here last week), write:

Damodaran shows in an unpublished study of 550 equity research reports that EM, along with Price/Earnings and Price/Sales, were the most common relative valuation multiples used. He states, “In the past two decades, this multiple (EM) has acquired a number of adherents among analysts for a number of reasons.” The reasons Damodaran cites for EM’s increasing popularity also point to the potential superiority of EM over book-to-market. One reason is that EM can be compared more easily across firms with differing leverage. We can see this when comparing the corresponding inputs of EM and BE/ME. The numerator of EM, Enterprise Value, can be compared to the market value of equity. EV can be viewed as a theoretical takeover price of a firm. After a takeover, the acquirer assumes the debt of the firm, but gains use of the firm’s cash and cash equivalents. Including debt is important here. To take an example, in 2005, General Motors had a market cap of $17 billion, but debt of $287 billion. Using market value of equity as a measure of size, General Motors is a mid-sized firm. Yet on the basis of Enterprise Value, GM is a huge company. Market value of equity by itself is unlikely to fully capture the effect GM’s debt has on its returns. More generally, it is reasonable to think that changing firm debt levels may affect returns in a way not fully captured by market value of equity. Bhojraj and Lee (2002) confirm this, finding that EV is superior to market value of common equity, particularly when firms are differentially levered.

The enterprise multiple’s ardor for cash and abhorrence for debt matches my own, hence why I like it so much. In practice, that tendency can be a double-edged sword. It digs up lots of little cash boxes with a legacy business attached like an appendix (think Daily Journal Corporation (NASDAQ:DJCO) or Rimage Corporation (NASDAQ:RIMG)). Such stocks tend to have limited upside. On the flip side, they also have happily virtually no downside. In this way they are vastly superior to the highly leveraged pigs favored by book-to-market, which tends to serve up heavily leveraged slivers of somewhat discounted equity, and leaves you to figure out whether it can bear the debt load. Get it wrong and you’ll be learning the intricacies of the bankruptcy process with nothing to show for it at the end. When it comes time to pull the trigger, I generally find it easier to do it with a cheap enterprise multiple than a cheap price-to-book value ratio.

The earnings variable: EBITDA

There’s a second good reason to like the enterprise multiple: the earnings variable. EBITDA contains more information than straight earnings, and so should give a more full view of where the accounting profits flow:

The denominator of EM is operating income before depreciation while net income (less dividends) flows into BE. The use of EBITDA provides several advantages that BE lacks. Damodaran notes that differences in depreciation methods across companies will affect net income and hence BE, but not EBITDA. Also, the McKinsey valuation text notes that operating income is not affected by nonoperating gains or losses. As a result, operating income before depreciation can be viewed as a more accurate and less manipulable measure of profitability, allowing it to be used to compare firms within as well as across industries. Critics of EBITDA point out that it is not a substitute for cash flow; however, EV in the numerator does account for cash.

The enterprise multiple includes debt as well as equity, contains a clearer measure of operating profit and captures changes in cash from period to period. The enterprise multiple is a more complete measure of relative value than book-to-market. It also performs better:

Performance of the enterprise multiple versus book-to-market

From CXOAdvisory:

  • EM generates an annual value premium of 5.8% per year over the entire sample period (compared to 4.8% for B/M during 1926-2004).
  • EM captures more premium than B/M for all five quintiles of firm size and is much less dependent on small stocks for its overall premium (see chart below).
  • In the top three quintiles of firm size (accounting for about 94% of total market capitalization), EM is a highly significant measure of relative value, while B/M is not.
  • EM remains highly significant after controlling for the January effect and after removing low-priced (<$5) stocks.
  • EM outperforms Tobin’s q as a predictor of stock returns.
  • Evidence from the UK and Japan confirms that EM is a highly significant measure of relative value.

The “value premium” is the difference in returns to a portfolio of glamour stocks (i.e., the most expensive decile) when compared to a portfolio of value stocks (i.e., the cheapest decile) ranked on a given price ratio (in this case, the enterprise multiple and book-to-market). The bigger the value premium, the better a given price ratio sorts stocks into winners and losers. It’s a more robust test than simply measuring the performance of the cheapest stocks. Not only do we want to limit our sins of commission (i.e., buying losers), we want to limit our sins of omission (i.e., not buying winners). 

Here are the value premia by market capitalization (from CXOAdvisory again): Ring the bell. The enterprise multiple kicks book-to-market’s ass up and down in every weight class, but most convincingly in the biggest stocks.

Strategies using the enterprise multiple

The enterprise multiple forms the basis for several strategies. It is the price ratio limb of Joel Greenblatt’s Magic Formula (the other limb is of course return on invested capital, which I like about as much as Hunter S. Thompson liked Richard Nixon, about whom he said in his obituary:

[The] record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

But I digress.) It also forms the basis for the Darwin’s Darlings strategy that I love (see Hunting Endangered Species). The Darwin’s Darlings strategy sought to front-run the LBO firms in the early 2000s, hence the enterprise multiple was the logical tool, and highly effective.

Conclusion

This post was motivated by the series last week on Aswath Damodaran’s paper ”Value Investing: Investing for Grown Ups?” in which he asks, “If value investing works, why do value investors underperform?Loughran and Wellman also asked why, if Fama and French (2006) find a value premium (measured by book-to-market) of 4.8% per year over 1926-2004, mutual fund managers couldn’t capture it:

Fund managers perennially underperform growth indices like the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index and value fund managers do not outperform growth fund managers. Either the value premium does not actually exist, or it does not exist in a way that can be exploited by fund managers and other investors.

Loughran and Wellman find that for nearly the entire market value of largest stock market (the US) over the most important time period (post-1963), the value premium does not exist, which means that book-to-market is not predictive in stocks other than the smallest 6 percent by market cap (and even there the returns are suspect). The enterprise multiple succeeds where book-to-market fails. In the top three size quintiles, accounting for about 94% of total market value, the enterprise multiple is a highly predictive measure, while book-to-market is insignificant. The enterprise multiple also works after controlling for the January seasonal effect and after removing low priced (<$5) stocks. The enterprise multiple is king. Long live the enterprise multiple.

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Kinnaras Capital Management demonstrates characteristic tenacity in a new letter to Media General Inc (NYSE:MEG) sent after Kinnaras’s exclusion from the most recent earnings call:

I intended to voice those concerns on the Q1 2012 conference call but despite following directions to join the queue, it appears that I was not allowed to participate in this call. This is a poor response to an engaged shareholder. I have likely purchased more shares of MEG than you ever have, yet as an owner of the Company I was not allowed to ask pertinent questions regarding MEG’s operational and financing strategies simply because I have accurately pointed out the various failures you have helmed while at Media General.

In its two earlier lettera Kinnaras expressed frustration with the performance of MEG, and urged the Board to “take advantage of the robust M&A market for both newspaper and broadcast television and to sell all operating units of MEG in order to retire existing corporate and pension debt and achieve a share price shareholders have rarely seen in recent years.”

MEG is a provider of local news in small and mid-size communities throughout the Southeastern United States. It owns three metropolitan and 20 community newspapers and 18 network-affiliated broadcast television stations Virginia/Tennessee, Florida, Mid-South, North Carolina, and Ohio/Rhode Island.

The initial letter included Kinnaras’s sum-of-the-parts valuation, which Kinnaras Managing Member Amit Chokshi sees at $9.75 per share against a prevailing price of around $4.60.

Here’s the new letter:

Kinnaras also has on its website its recommendations to MEG shareholders ahead of the proxy vote.

No position.

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Kinnaras Capital Management has sent a follow up letter to Media General Inc (NYSE:MEG) requesting the board “selloff MEG in its entirety and divorce this company from the inept management team currently at the helm.”

In its earlier letter Kinnaras expressed frustration with the performance of MEG, and urged the Board to “take advantage of the robust M&A market for both newspaper and broadcast television and to sell all operating units of MEG in order to retire existing corporate and pension debt and achieve a share price shareholders have rarely seen in recent years.”

MEG is a provider of local news in small and mid-size communities throughout the Southeastern United States. It owns three metropolitan and 20 community newspapers and 18 network-affiliated broadcast television stations Virginia/Tennessee, Florida, Mid-South, North Carolina, and Ohio/Rhode Island.

The initial letter included Kinnaras’s sum-of-the-parts valuation, which Kinnaras Managing Member Amit Chokshi sees at $9.75 per share against a prevailing price of around $4.60.

Here’s the follow up letter:

Kinnaras also has on its website its recommendations to MEG shareholders ahead of the proxy vote.

No position.

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Amit Chokshi of Kinnaras Capital, an independent registered investment advisor focused on deep-value, small capitalization and micro capitalization equity investing, has contributed a guest post on Imation Corp (NYSE:IMN).

About Kinnaras:

Kinnaras aims to deliver above average long-term results through application of a deep value investment strategy.  As a result, the Firm focuses on the “throwaways” of the equity market, or stocks that are generally viewed as broken from a fundamental standpoint.  The Firm utilizes a fundamental, bottom-up, research-intensive approach to security selection, focusing mainly on prospects trading below book and/or tangible book value or cheap price to free cash flow. Kinnaras is a strong advocate of mean reversion and has found that pessimistic valuations, and thus attractive investment opportunities, often manifest when the broader investment community disregards mean reversion and impounds overly pessimistic expectations into security prices.  When valuation incorporates these pessimistic assumptions, the risk/reward scenario favors the investor.

Imation Worth More Sold Than Alone

As a deep value investor, one is always confronted with companies that have potentially great assets but can be overshadowed by poor management.  As a deep value investor, often times a great stock is not necessarily a great company but the overall value available from an investment standpoint is too attractive to pass up.  Based on its current valuation, IMN appears to fall into this category.

IMN is a global developer and marketer of branded storage/recording products focused on optical media, magnetic tape media, flash and hard drive products and consumer electronic products.  The company has significant global scale and its brand portfolio includes the Imation, Memorex, and XtremeMac brands.  The company is also the exclusive licensee of the TDK Life on Record brand.

IMN has high brand recognition and is a leader in its key categories of optical and magnetic tape media.  While the company faces long term secular challenges with regards to how data is stored, the current valuation appears to be highly muted due to a number of strategic and capital allocation blunders over the company’s past 5+ years.  Management would be doing shareholders a greater service by simply putting the company up for sale given the time allotted for a number of strategic moves to play out unsuccessfully in recent years.  Moreover, IMN has been on an acquisition spree in 2011 and existing shareholders may see further value destruction given the track record of management.  The following highlights some key grievances shareholders should have with IMN’s current strategy

Horrific Capital Allocation by Management: IMN’s cash balance serves as somewhat of a fundamental backstop against permanent capital loss.  The problem, however, is that the company’s net cash balance has been used to fund a number of bad decisions, particularly M&A.  Management has acquired a number of businesses in recent years, none of which have benefited shareholders.  These acquisitions of businesses and intellectual property (“IP”) have led to clear value destruction as evidenced by IMN’s sales and operating income performance since those acquisitions along with on going write-offs of goodwill tied to a number of those purchases and constant restructuring charges eating into book equity.

One example of how poor management’s acquisition strategy was its purchase of BeCompliant Corporation (Encryptx) on February 28, 2011 which resulted in $1.6MM in goodwill.  In less than five weeks, IMN had determined the goodwill tied to this acquisition to be fully impaired!  While $1.6MM is a tiny amount, Table I highlights the total value of goodwill written off by IMN in recent years along with the ongoing restructuring charges in the context of the company’s historical acquisition capex.

TABLE I: IMN ACQUISITION CAPEX & IMPAIRMENT, RESTRUCTURING CHARGES ($MM) [Click to expand]

Since 2006, IMN management has deployed $442MM in cash to acquire a variety of businesses.  Since that time, investors have had to experience $152MM in goodwill write-offs and another $169MM in restructuring charges as IMN fumbles in regards to integrating newly acquired and existing business segments for a grand total of $320MM in charges since 2006.  IMN management is clearly a poor steward of capital.   What’s worse is that shareholders experienced value destruction at the expense of exercises which would have returned cash to shareholders.

For example, after 2007 IMN ceased paying a dividend.  The annual dividend returned over $20MM to investors annually.  Rather than provide investors with a certain return in the form of a dividend, IMN management has used that capital to obviously overpay for businesses such as Encryptx.  Another demonstration of poor capital allocation by management is its stock buyback history.  From 2005-2008, IMN spent nearly $190MM to buyback shares when its stock was valued at levels ranging from 0.4-1.1x P/S and 0.8-1.6x P/B or $14-$48 per share.  The average acquired share price of IMN’s treasury stock was $23.39.

Since 2008, IMN’s share price has ranged from its recent multi year low of $5.40 to about $14 (for a brief period in early 2009).  More importantly, IMN’s valuation has ranged from 0.15-0.25 P/S and 0.28-0.36 P/B.  So while IMN has had more than enough cash to purchase shares since that time, from 2009 on, IMN management decided to repurchase just under $10MM of stock.  This exemplifies management’s history of overpaying for assets – whether it’s businesses, IP, or the company’s own shares.

Management has no meaningful investment in IMN:  There has been considerable insider purchases since July 2011 across a number of companies.  IMN has had no major inside purchases despite the current low share price.  IMN CEO made an immaterial purchase in the open market very recently but overall, while  IMN stock has floundered, management has experienced none of the setbacks of shareholders for its inept strategy.  As mentioned above, management had the company execute on a number of buybacks from 2005-2008.  However, the overall effect of those buybacks were considerably offset by significant issuance of stock compensation.  As a result, IMN’s overall share count continued to grow despite these share buybacks.  In summary, management has demonstrated little appetite for the company’s shares, irrespective of valuation, while expecting shareholders to sit idly by while it awards itself dilutive stock compensation off the backs of investors.

There is no question that IMN has its share of challenges but is there value to be unlocked?  At current valuations, it appears that significant upside is potentially available if IMN investors can take an activist stance.  Management has had its chances for many years and it is clearly time to explore other options.  Despite the secular challenges IMN faces, the company is still worth more than current prices.  The following highlights the good aspects of IMN.

Valuation:  IMN is cheap based on a number of valuation metrics.  First, at $5.81 per share as of Monday’s (11/28/11) market close, IMN has a negative enterprise value.  IMN has $6.21 in net cash per share and the current share price means that the market is ascribing a negative value to IMN’s core operating business.  Given the number of patents and intellectual property along with a business that can generally crank out solid cash flow, IMN’s main businesses should not have a negative value despite the longer term secular challenges it faces.  On a capital return basis, IMN management should have the company repurchase shares at this level but that may be expecting far too much from management given its track record.

IMN is also trading at valuation levels below those reached even in 2008-09.  As Table II shows, IMN has not traded at levels this low at least since 2003.  Long-term challenges in its core business segments along with value destroying management are two reasons for these metrics grinding lower but at a certain point, valuation can become rather compelling.  I think current prices and valuation may reflect “highly compelling” from an investment standpoint.

TABLE II: IMN HISTORICAL VALUATION [Click to expand]

IMN’s current valuation could be ascribed to a company with major near-term problems, typical of those that burn considerable cash and have poor balance sheets characterized by high levels of debt and/or near-term refinancings.  IMN does not fit into this description.  As bad as IMN is performing, it is still on track for a positive free cash flow in 2011.  IMN has modest capital expenditure needs and IMN’s gross margins have been increasing in 2011, approaching gross margins realized in 2007.  Table III presents my estimate for FY 2011 excluding IMN’s non-cash restructuring charges and write-offs.  To be clear, a potential acquirer would also use pro forma statements in determining IMN’s value.

TABLE III: IMN 2011 SUMMARY OPERATING DATA

Using a highly conservative multiple of just 3.0x 2011 pro forma EBITDA of $49MM leads to a share price of $10.  What is clear from Table III is that if management could avoid squandering capital on acquisitions, IMN can still generate attractive free cash flow.  In addition, with a net cash balance of $233MM or $6.21/share, IMN should not generally be paying any net interest expense if that capital was better managed/allocated for cash management purposes.  A history of poor capital allocation and strategic blunders has led to IMN carrying a heavily discounted valuation.  At about $5.80, a case could be made that IMN is trading at or below liquidation value as presented in Table IV.

TABLE IV: IMN LIQUIDATION VALUE PER SHARE

Table IV shows that the major wildcard is really the value of IMN’s intangible assets.  While IMN is facing secular challenges, the IP it carries could very well have value to a potential acquirer, especially at an attractive valuation.  IMN maintains a long-term exclusive license with TDK which expires in 2032.  TDK, which owns nearly 20% of IMN, could bless a sale that allows those licenses to pass on to an acquiring company.  Aside from the TDK license, IMN holds over 275 patents.  IMN has recently entered into security focused technology for the purposes of flash and hard drive storage.  This technology uses various advanced password/encryption technology along with biometric authentication and could very well be worth much more to a larger technology company that could more broadly exploit this IP across its technology.  This is just one example of various IP IMN possesses.  In addition, IMN has leading market share and brand recognition/value in a number of areas such as optical media along with magnetic tape media.  A competitor like Sony Corp (“SNE”) or a client like IBM or Oracle (“ORCL”), both of which use IMN’s magnetic tape media in their own products for disaster storage/recovery and archiving, could find IMN’s IP of value.

TABLE V: IMN LIQUIDATION VALUE BASED ON INTANGIBLE ASSET DISCOUNT

If IMN’s IP and thus its intangible assets are absolutely worthless, IMN would be worth under $2 in a fire sale liquidation.  However, at even a 50% haircut of IP, IMN gets to where its stock is currently trading.  The less severe the discount, the more IMN is worth in a liquidation.  That’s hardly a groundbreaking statement but what if IMN’s IP is actually worth more than its carrying value?

TABLE VI: IMN LIQUIDATION VALUE BASED ON INTANGIBLE ASSET PREMIUM

What is clear is that IP has considerable value and in many cases eclipses the actual on-going business value of a number of companies.  The recent lawsuit between Micron Technology (“MU”) and Rambus Inc (“RMBS”) was for IP claims that could have yielded nearly $4B in royalties (before potentially tripling under California law) for RMBS. RMBS commanded a market valuation of roughly$2B before MU won the lawsuit.

Motorola Mobility Holdings (“MMI”) faced very challenging headwinds in the mobile device space against tough competitors such as Apple (“AAPL”), Samsung, HTC, and others.  This was reflected in the stock losing significant value once being spun off from Motorola (about 25% from its initial spin-off price).  Nonetheless, Google (“GOOG”) saw value in MMI’s IP, enough to offer a share price that was essentially 100% above its at-the-time lows.

Eastman Kodak (“EK”) has a number of operating challenges and a far less attractive balance sheet relative to RMBS, MMI, and IMN.  The company is wracking up losses and has a $1.2B pension shortfall.  Nonetheless, IP specialists MDB Capital believe that EK’s IP could be worth $3B in a sale.  EK currently has a market capitalization of just $295MM.

What is clear is that there is a wide range of valuation outcomes dependent on the value of the IP to a potential buyer.  IMN could be an easy and accretive acquisition to a number of large technology firms.  Firms like SNE, Maxell, and Verbatim could find IMN attractive for its leading position in optical media.  SNE could also find IMN’s magnetic storage division of value, as could IBM and ORCL.  IMN’s emerging storage division encompasses USB, hard disk drives, and flash drives (admittedly not really “emerging”) but has a particular focus on security focused applications in this storage format.  The IP related to biometric authentication and advanced encryption could be of value to a number of storage/storage tech companies such as Western Digital Corp (“WDC”), Seagate Technology (“STX”), SanDisk Corp. (“SNDK”), Micron Technology (“MU”). Even larger enterprise storage and software companies such EMC Corp (“EMC”), IBM, and ORCL could find this segment of value.  The small consumer electronics segment could be of interest to a company like Audiovox (“VOXX”).  However, in any case, all of IMN could be acquired at a very attractive price to nearly any large technology firm/buyer.

At a takeout price of just $10 per share, for example, an acquirer would be buying IMN’s core business for just $142MM with $6.21 of the $10 offer represented by IMN’s net cash.  This small deal size could very well lead to a quick payback period for a number of larger firms that could exploit IMN’s IP across multiple channels.  IMN could also be sold off in piecemeal fashion but given its small size and number of large technology companies that can utilize IMN’s IP, folding the entire company at an attractive price could be the easiest road.

Management and the board have had more than enough time in recent years to transform IMN or move it forward.  The operating results clearly show that this strategy is costing shareholders greatly and management appears to have little competence with regards to understanding how best to deploy capital.  Nearly $200MM was spent to repurchase far more expensive IMN shares prior to 2008 while a pittance of IMN capital has been deployed to buyback shares when the stock is trading for less than its net cash value.  In addition, upon ceasing its payment of annual dividend, IMN management has utilized that cash to pursue questionable acquisitions.  These acquisitions have led to destruction of shareholder equity given the subsequent writedowns and constant restructuring charges experienced by IMN.  The bottom line is IMN investors should pursue an activist stance and encourage management and the board to seek a sale for the sake of preserving what value is left in the company.

DISCLOSURE: AUTHOR MANAGES A HEDGE FUND AND MANAGED ACCOUNTS LONG IMN AND MU.

Greenbackd Disclosure: No Position.

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