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Archive for May, 2009

Trilogy, Inc’s $0.35 per share tender offer for Autobytel Inc (NASDAQ:ABTL) expired yesterday without Trilogy purchasing any shares. Trilogy has sent a letter to the board saying that it will “continue to evaluate [ABTL’s] business, its cash position, and its operating performance” and has called on the board to communicate to its shareholders the break-up value of Autobytel, such that shareholders can determine if that is the best course to maximize value.”

We started following ABTL (see our post archive here) because it was trading at a substantial discount to its liquidation and net cash values and Trilogy had filed a 13D notice disclosing a 7.4% holding. Trilogy had also launched a tender offer for ABTL at $0.35 per share, which was at our estimate of ABTL’s $15.4M or $0.34 per share net cash value, but at a substantial discount to our estimate of ABTL’s $24.3M or $0.54 per share liquidation value. When Trilogy launched its offer, we wrote that we believed that $0.35 per share was only the opening salvo and a higher price was possible if the board terminated the rights plan poison pill. The board rejected the offer out of hand and Trilogy did not make a further offer before the initial offer expired.  The stock closed yesterday at $0.46, which is at a substantial premium to Trilogy’s offer price and suggests the market may be anticipating a second offer. The stock is up 6.8% since we started following it in December.

Trilogy’s letter to the board of ABTL on the expiry of the offer is set out below:

May 19, 2009

Autobytel Inc.

18872 MacArthur Boulevard, Suite 200

Irvine, California 92612-1400

Attention: Mr. Jeffrey H. Coats, President and Chief Executive Officer

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We have reviewed Autobytel’s response to our recently expired tender offer. We are disappointed in Autobytel’s categorical refusal to engage us in discussions that may result in improving shareholder value. You have made it clear that you are not willing to negotiate. Given that, we elected not to increase our tender offer price and allowed the tender offer to expire unchanged.

In addition, we find Autobytel’s accusation that we have used confidential information in conjunction with our tender offer to be wholly irresponsible and baseless. It is difficult to comprehend Autobytel’s objective in making such an accusation.

We have noted that the Board believes the break-up value of Autobytel is “substantially in excess of the offers made…during the sale process”. We ask that the Board communicate to its shareholders the break-up value of Autobytel, such that shareholders can determine if that is the best course to maximize value.

We further note that Autobytel’s stock traded approximately 7 million shares during the tender offer. This is significantly in excess of normal trading volumes and provides evidence that shareholders do want liquidity.

We will continue to evaluate your business, its cash position, and its operating performance. We have noted your views regarding your cash position. We do agree that maintaining and growing cash from operations is important.

The automotive business continues to announce bad news daily. Dealerships are consolidating and the viability of key manufacturers is uncertain. We believe that now is the time for Autobytel to preserve as much shareholder value as possible. We cannot negotiate if the Board is unwilling. Accordingly, we elected not to extend our offer.

Regards,

Trilogy Enterprises, Inc.

Sean Fallon

Senior Vice President

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in ABTL. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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Audiovox Corporation (NASDAQ:VOXX) has filed its 10K for the fiscal year ended February 28, 2009.

The stock has risen strongly over recent weeks to close yesterday at $5.93, which gives VOXX a market capitalization of $135.6M. We’ve had an opportunity to review the 10K, and we’ve now slightly reduced our estimate of VOXX’s liquidation value to $117.3M or $5.13 per share. With the stock trading at a premium to our estimate of liquidation value, we’ve decided to exit. We opened the position at $3.73, and the stock closed yesterday at $5.93, which means we’re up 59.0% on an absolute basis. The S&P500 Index closed at 789.17 on the day we opened the position in VOXX and closed yesterday at 909.71, which means we’re up 43.7% on a relative basis.

Post mortem

We started following VOXX (see the post archive here) because it was a profitable, undervalued asset play. When we opened the position, we estimated VOXX’s liquidation value to be around $128.4M or $5.60 per share against a share price of $3.73 and a market capitalization of $85.3M. Howson Tattersal had filed a 13D notice in September last year disclosing a 7.3% holding. We noted that, while VOXX was a perennial inclusion on lists of net-net stocks, we thought it hard to ignore at $3.73. Fast forward to today. The stock is up 59% to $5.93 and the liquidation value is down slightly to $5.13 per share. The updated balance sheet is set out below (the “Book Value” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating Value” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

VOXX Summary 2009 2 28Balance sheet adjustments

  • Cash generation: The company generated $30.0M in operating cash flow in the last year.
  • Off-balance sheet arrangements and contractual obligations: According to its most recent 10K, VOXX does not maintain any off-balance sheet arrangements, transactions, obligations or other relationships with unconsolidated entities that would be expected to have a material current or future effect upon its financial condition or results of operations.VOXX has around $43.4M in contractual cash obligations (including $11M in capital lease obligations and $32M in operating leases), around half of which falls due in the next 5 years and $24.0M falling due after 5 years. VOXX also has another $62M in unconditional purchase obligations falling due in the next 12 months.

Conclusion

We are again reasonably happy with the outcome in VOXX. While Howson Tattersall’s campaign has not been run to its conclusion, we feel that with the stock trading at a premium to VOXX’s liquidation value, and with VOXX’s liquidation value reducing over the last quarter, it is an opportune time to exit.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in VOXX. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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CuraGen Corporation (NASDAQ:CRGN) has filed its 10Q for the period ended March 31, 2009. CRGN’s stock has risen strongly over the last few months, and is now trading at $1.02, giving it a market capitalization slightly higher than our estimate of its liquidation value. Accordingly, we’re going to take this opportunity to exit. The stock was at $0.67 when we started following it and closed Friday at $1.02, which means we’re up 52.2% on an absolute basis. The S&P500 Index closed on the day we opened the position at 850.12 and closed Friday at 882.88, which means we’re up 48.4% on a relative basis.

Post mortem

We started following CRGN on January 20, 2009 (see our post archive here) because it was a net cash stock with an investor, DellaCamera Capital Management, pushing the company to seek “alternative deployment of [its] capital.” DellaCamera Capital Management increased its stake from 5.6% to 6.5% and nominated two candidates to the board. We last estimated CRGN’s net cash value to be around $59.9M or $1.05 per share. After reviewing the 10Q, we slightly reduced our valuation to $56.9M or $1.00 per share. We exited because the stock is trading at a premium to that estimated value.

The company is not generating any operating cash flow, so was a pure undervalued asset play. The major change to the balance sheet since we opened the position was CRGN’s February repurchase of $4.8M of its 4% convertible subordinated debentures due February 2011, for an aggregate purchase price of $3.8M, which reflected an aggregate discount from the face value of such 2011 notes of approximately 21%. We’ve updated the summary balance sheet below (the “Book Value” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating Value” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

CRGN Summary 2009 3 31CRGN’s $79.8M in cash and short term investments consists of $45.6M in cash and equivalents, $18.0M in short-term investments and $16.1M in marketable securities.

Balance sheet adjustments

In reaching our estimate, we made the following adjustments to the balance sheet estimates above:

  • Cash burn: The company used $4.0M in cash in operations in the first quarter. We have included cash burn of $3M in our estimate for the remainder of the quarter.
  • Off-balance sheet arrangements and contractual obligations: According to CRGN’s 10Q, it has no off-balance sheet arrangements. Its contractual obligations (excluding the convertible notes, which we’ve included in the summary balance sheet above) are $3.7M in total.

Deducting the $6.7M from the $63.6M in net assets leaves around $56.9M in liquidation value or $1.00 per share.

Conclusion

We are reasonably happy with the outcome in CRGN. While DellaCamera Capital Management’s campaign has not been run to its conclusion, we feel that with the stock trading at around CRGN’s liquidation value, it is an opportune time to exit. CRGN has announced a plan to undertake a review of strategic alternatives that it says could enhance shareholder value, which might range from selling or licensing CR011, to acquiring additional assets or business lines, to selling the company. While these alternatives might offer more value from here, there is no assurance that the process will result in any specific action or transaction, and CRGN will continue to burn cash as it funds its operations and develops CR011-vcMMAE. For these reasons, we’ve taken our chips off the table.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in CRGN. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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Amtech Systems Inc (NASDAQ:ASYS) has filed its 10Q for the period ended March 31, 2009.

We started following ASYS (see our post archive here) because it was an undervalued asset play with a private investor disclosing a substantial holding. The private investor, Mr. Richard L. Scott, disclosed a 7.0% holding in July last year and Mr Scott has continued to purchase stock. As of February 17 this year, Mr. Scott holds 9.1% of ASYS’s outstanding stock. The stock is up 47.5% since we opened the position to close yesterday at $4.10, giving the company a market capitalization of $36.7M. We initially estimated the liquidation value to be around $40M or $4.40 per share. After reviewing the 10Q, we’ve maintained our estimate of the liquidation value at $40M, and slightly increased our estimate of the the per share liquidation value to $4.47 because the company repurchased around 144,ooo shares in the last quarter.

The value proposition updated

ASYS is generated positive operating earnings of $1.5M in the six months to March 31, which is encouraging. The summary of our estimate for the company’s liquidation value is set out below (the “Book Value” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating Value” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

ASYS Summary 2009 3 31

Conclusion

At its $4.10 close yesterday, ASYS is trading at a little under 10% discount of our estimate of its value in liquidation. Given that it has continued to generate positive operating cash flow and earnings in a difficult operating environment, we think ASYS represents very good value at a discount to its liquidation value. The stock traded over $5.00 last week, but we elected to hold on because we believe that ASYS should be worth more. Management seem to have recognized that the stock is too cheap, and have taken the right steps by authorizing a $4M stock buy-back, and repurchasing 144,000 shares in the last quarter. Our only criticism is that the buy-back could be bigger and more stock should be bought back. This is a very small criticism, and ASYS has the option to increase the buy-back in subsequent quarters if the stock price continues to trade at a discount to liquidation value. We don’t know anything about Mr. Scott, but we like to see large stockholders increasing their stakes when the stock price drops. We think ASYS is very good value, and that’s why we’re maintaining our position.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in ASYS. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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Bloomberg reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will consider a proposal to allow shareholders to nominate directors on proxy statements. At present, shareholders must distribute a separate ballot listing dissident nominees, which makes the process too expensive for most investors and means only large activist investors like Carl Icahn or Bill Ackman have the capital to wage proxy fights to get their nominees elected. Says SEC spokesman John Nester, “We are committed to considering new rules that would remove barriers so that shareholders are able to exercise their right to nominate directors.”

The proposal under consideration by the SEC would allow shareholders, or groups of investors, who have held a certain proportion of a company’s shares for one year nominate directors on the proxy. The threshold would be 1% for companies with market capitalizations greater than $700M, 3% for companies below $700M and 5% for companies below $75M.

Hat tip The Official Activist Investing Blog.

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Avigen Inc (NASDAQ:AVGN) has filed its 10Q for the period ended March 31, 2009.

We started following AVGN in December last year (see archived posts here) because it was a net cash stock (i.e. it was trading at less than the value of its cash after deducting all liabilities), albeit a cash burning net cash stock, and specialist biotechnology investor Biotechnology Value Fund (BVF) was pushing it to liquidate and return its cash to shareholders. Despite BVF’s failure to remove the board, we continued to maintain our position in AVGN because BVF won a number of important concessions from the board that made AVGN a much more attractive stock than it was when we started following it. The stock price reflects this: AVGN is up 97% from $0.65 when we initiated the position to close yesterday at $1.28. We’ve reduced our estimate of the net cash slightly to $34M or $1.14 per share. We believe that the there is a good chance that AVGN will yield considerably more than its net cash value. The net cash estimate does not take into account AVGN’s AV411 assets and program or near term payments from Genzyme, which could be worth as much as $6M to $25M or between $0.18 or $0.75 per share more.

The value proposition updated

Set out below is our adjusted balance sheet for AVGN (the “Book Value” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating Value” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

AVGN Summary 2009 3 31Conclusion

While BVF’s slate was not successful at the special meeting, AVGN’s board is now developing its own plan of liquidation, which should put a floor on AVGN’s stock at around its net cash value of $34M or $1.14 per share less wind down costs. There exists a good chance that AVGN will yield considerably more than its net cash value. The net cash estimate does not take into account AVGN’s AV411 assets and program or near term payments from Genzyme, which could be worth as much as $6M to $25M or between $0.18 or $0.75 per share more. With the downside protected, and a good chance at a substantial $0.18 or $0.75 per share upside from here, we think AVGN still represents good value, and we’re going to maintain our position accordingly.

[Full Disclosure: We have a holding in AVGN. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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Axcelis Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:ACLS) has filed its 10Q for the period ended March 31, 2009.

We started following ACLS on January 8 this year (see our post archive here) because it is an undervalued asset play with an activist investor, Sterling Capital Management, holding 10.7% of its outstanding stock. ACLS has completed the sale of its 50% interest in SEN Corporation, its joint venture with Sumitomo Heavy Industries, Ltd. (SHI) to SHI for proceeds of $122.3 million. ACLS received around $35.9M in cash after applying $86.4M of the proceeds to meet obligations to the holders of the company’s 4.25% Convertible Senior Subordinated Notes, upon which ACLS defaulted in January. We last estimated ACLS’s liquidation value at around $147M or $1.43 per share based on our reconstruction of the balance sheet following the sale. We’ve now had an opportunity to review the actual balance sheet and reduced our estimate to $117.8M or $1.14 per share, which is more than 170% higher than its close yesterday of $0.42.

The value proposition updated

During the three months ended March 31, 2009, ACLS continued to burn cash in its operations, which it attributes to the depressed semiconductor equipment market and the resultant decline in revenues. Cash and cash equivalents at March 31, 2009 were $71.2M, compared to $37.7M at December 31, 2008. The $33.5M increase in cash and cash equivalents was primarily attributable to the net cash proceeds from the sale of its investment in SEN, offset by cash used in operations. Set out below is our adjusted balance sheet for ACLS (the “Book Value” column shows the assets as they are carried in the financial statements, and the “Liquidating Value” column shows our estimate of the value of the assets in a liquidation):

ACLS Summary 2009 3 31

Conclusion

ACLS has made substantial operating losses over the last two years, and it is likely to be continue to do so. While its liquidation value of around $117.8M or $1.14 per share is more than 170% higher than its close yesterday of $0.42, it is likely to deteriorate while it continues its operating losses. ACLS has been our problem child, and we don’t think there is any good news on the horizon near-term, but we find it difficult to exit the position while it’s trading at a such a large discount to its (albeit deteriorating) liquidation value. Accordingly, we’re going to hold on for the moment, and see how the position plays out. If we get an opportunity to exit at close to value, however, we’ll take it.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in ACLS. This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only. Do your own research before investing in any security.]

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