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Archive for the ‘Spencer Capital Management’ Category

Axcelis Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:ACLS) has had an amazing run over the last few weeks, up more than 50% since the end of September to hit a 52-week high yesterday. We’ve decided to close our position because it’s trading at a substantial premium to our estimate of its liquidation value and we don’t think the underlying business is all that great (not that we have any particular insight into these things). At its $1.63 close yesterday, our position in ACLS is up 171.7% on an absolute basis. The S&P500 closed at 906.65 on the day we opened the position, and closed yesterday at 1,073.18, an 18.4% gain, which means we’ve outperformed the S&P500 over the same period by 153.3%.

Post mortem

We started following ACLS on January 8 this year (see our post archive here) because it was trading at a discount to our estimate of its liquidation value with an activist investor, Sterling Capital Management, holding 10.7% of its outstanding stock. The picture for ACLS looked fairly grim at that stage. We noted that it had been “making substantial operating losses that have widened over the last five quarters” that had prompted “Sterling Capital Management to detail to ACLS management an aggressive restructuring strategy to salvage for stockholders what value remains.” Shortly after we opened the position ACLS failed to make a payment required under its 4.25% Convertible Senior Subordinated Notes, which meant that the company was required to repay the outstanding principal amount of the notes plus a maturity premium and accrued interest (a total payment of approximately $85 million) on January 15. On February 26, in a remarkable deal given the extremely difficult conditions, ACLS managed to sell to Sumitomo Heavy Industries, Ltd. (SHI) of its 50% interest in SEN Corporation, its joint venture with SHI, for proceeds of $122.3 million. ACLS received around $35.9M in cash after applying $86.4M of the proceeds to meet its obligations to the Convertible Senior Subordinated Noteholders. The company hit its low of $0.17 on Feburary 25, at which point our position was down over 70%. From its February 25 nadir, ACLS is up approximately 860% to close yesterday at $1.63, which gives the company a market capitalization of $170M.

We last estimated ACLS’s liquidation value at around  $113.6M or $1.10. Its net current asset value at the last reporting date was a little higher at around $180M or $1.77 per share. We still think that cash burn is a significant issue for ACLS, and we suspect that both the liquidation and net current asset values will be lower at the upcoming reporting date. At the rate of cash burn prevailing at the last reporting date, we estimated the company had around six months before its liquidation value was around $0.60, and around a year before it was worthless. We think that’s an improbable – but not impossible – outcome.

ACLS’s recent run-up may be attributable to attention it has now started receiving from the mainstream media and larger investment banks. Citi thinks ACLS could be worth $3, noting that “while we are far from bullish on business prospects and we acknowledge that there’s risk to ACLS’ ability to raise much-needed cash in the next several months, we think the company will be able to raise sufficient capital w/o going to the public markets.” The Wall Street Journal also ran an article yesterday in which it quoted an analyst as saying “the stock is undervalued, since there were concerns about whether the company would survive. It was one of the hardest hit in the downturn … partly because it had market-share losses amid a cyclical semiconductor decline before the financial crisis even hit. … Now it looks like the company will probably make it, so there’s a correction in valuation.” That may be so, but we’ve got no particular insight into the business or the industry, and so we’re closing the position.

[Disclosure:  We don’t 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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The always superb Manual Of Ideas has nine new additions to its list of activist targets. Companies on the list must have a “strong balance sheet that could be recapitalized or liquidated to achieve activist value creation; and insiders must own less than 20% of the shares, implying an inability to exercise voting control over the company:”

  • Semiconductor equipment provider Axcelis Technologies (ACLS) joins the list in first place, based on a ratio of “net net” current assets to market value of 1.3x, making ACLS a Ben Graham-style bargain stock. We calculate “net net” current assets as current assets minus total liabilities. A ratio of 1.3x suggests that the liquidation value of ACLS may exceed the company’s market value, potentially attracting the interest of activist investment funds.
  • Biotech drug developer Myriad Pharmaceuticals (MYRX) joins the list in second place, as the company has net cash of $169 million versus market value of $135 million. Insiders own virtually no shares of the company, making Myriad vulnerable to activist shareholder action.
  • Communications equipment provider Radvision (RVSN) joins the list in 12th place. Radvision shares recently tumbled to a market value of $115 million, only $8 million above the company net cash balance. The stock price decline came on the heels of Cisco’s announcement that it would aquire video conferencing company Tandberg. Radvision provides such technology to Cisco, with the latter Radvision’s largest customer.
  • Specialty steel product maker Universal Stainless & Alloy (USAP) joins the list in 30th place. The shares trade at 0.8x price to tangible book value, and the company has 19% of its market value in net cash. “Net net” current assets account for two-thirds of USAP’s market value, making the company a potentially interesting recapitalization candidate.
  • Biopharma company Progenics Pharmaceuticals (PGNX) joins the list in 34th place. The shares trade within 10% of their 52-week low, reflecting the stock’s lack of participation in the recent stock market rally. With a market value of $155 million and more than $100 million of net cash, the shares could attract the attention of activist investors familiar with the biopharma industry.
  • Cancer drug discovery firm Infinity Pharma (INFI) joins the list in 36th place. While the company is losing money as it advances its drug development pipeline, management has stated that the company has sufficient liquidity through 2013. INFI has a market value of $152 million versus a net cash position of $150 million.
  • Zoran Corp. (ZRAN), a provider of digital solutions for application in the digital entertainment and imaging markets, joins the list in 42nd place. The company recently posted strong sequential revenue growth in key business segments and returned to positive cash flow generation. With 63% of the market value in net cash, the company may be in a position to aggressively repurchase shares, thereby boosting shareholder value on a per-share basis.
  • Semiconductor equipment company Rudolph Technologies (RTEC) joins the list in 43rd place. The company’s Q2 revenue growth exceeded guidance, but investors continue to shun the stock. RTEC has one-third of its market value in net cash and nearly two-thirds in “net net” current assets.
  • Finally, fabless semiconductor company Sigma Designs (SIGM) joins the list in 44th place. With one-half of market value in net cash and an enterprise value-to-revenue multiple of 0.9x, the shares appear quite cheap. The company may be in a position to boost shareholder value by using excess liquidity to repurchase shares or pay a one-time cash dividend.

We’ve been following Axcelis Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:ACLS) since 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. Our position in ACLS is up 120% to $1.32, which gives the company a market capitalization of  $137M. We’re not quite as bullish on ACLS as the Manual of Ideas. We last estimated ACLS’s liquidation value at around  $113.6M or $1.10, because we think that cash burn is a significant issue for ACLS. At the current rate of cash burn, we estimate the company has around six months before its liquidation value is around $0.60, and around a year before it’s worthless. That said, Citi thinks ACLS could be worth $3 (for what that’s worth):

Citi upgrades Axcelis Technologies Inc (Nasdaq: ACLS) from Hold to Buy. Price target lowered from $5.50 to $3.

Citi analyst says, “Following the collapse of its merger talks with Sumitomo Heavy Industries (SHI) and subsequent ~70% decline in stock price, we think the stock is now trading below liquidation value. So, while we are far from bullish on business prospects and we acknowledge that there’s risk to ACLS’ ability to raise much-needed cash in the next several months, we think the company will be able to raise sufficient capital w/o going to the public markets.”

Axcelis Technologies, Inc. (Axcelis) designs, manufactures and services ion implantation, dry strip and other processing equipment used in the fabrication of semiconductor chips.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not 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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A group of investors in VaxGen Inc (OTC:VXGN) have formed the “VaxGen Full Value Committee” to conduct a proxy contest to replace the current board of VXGN at the next annual shareholders meeting. The group, comprising BA Value Investors’ Steven N. Bronson and ROI Capital Management’s Mark T. Boyer and Mitchell J. Soboleski, intends to replace the current board with directors who will focus on the following objectives:

1. Returning capital to [VXGN]’s shareholders, including an immediate distribution of $10,000,000 in cash;

2. Terminating [VXGN]’s lease with its landlord, Oyster Point Tech Center, LLC, and settling with the landlord the obligations of [VXGN] on the remaining lease payments;

3. Exploring ways to monetize [VXGN] as a “public shell,” including the utilization of [VXGN]’s Substantial Net Operating Losses; and

4. Protecting for the benefit of shareholders royalty payments receivable from the sale of [VXGN]’s intellectual property.

We’ve been following VXGN (see our post archive here) because it is trading at a substantial discount to its net cash position, has ended its cash-burning product development activities and is “seeking to maximize the value of its remaining assets through a strategic transaction or series of strategic transactions.” Management has said that, if the company is unable to identify and complete an alternate strategic transaction, it proposes to liquidate. One concern of ours has been a lawsuit against VXGN by its landlords, in which they sought $22.4M. That lawsuit was dismissed in May, so the path for VXGN to liquidate has now hopefully cleared. The board has, however, been dragging its feet on the liquidation. Given their relatively high compensation and almost non-existent shareholding, it’s not hard to see why.

BA Value Investors had previously disclosed an activist holding and, in a June 12 letter to the board, called on VXGN to “act promptly to reduce the size of the board to three directors; reduce director compensation; change to a smaller audit firm; terminate the lease of its facilities; otherwise cut costs; make an immediate $10 million distribution to shareholders; make a subsequent distribution of substantially all the remaining cash after settling the lease termination; distribute any royalty income to shareholders; and explore ways to monetize the public company value of the Issuer and use of its net operating losses.”

Another group led by Spencer Capital and styling itself “Value Investors for Change” has also filed preliminary proxy documents to remove the board. In the proxy documents, Value Investors for Change call out VXGN’s board on its “track record of failure and exorbitant cash compensation”:

VaxGen does not have any operations, other than preparing public reports. The Company has three employees, including the part-time principal executive officer and director, and four non-employee directors. Since the Company’s failed merger with Raven Biotechnologies, Inc. in March 2008, the Board has publicly disclosed that it would either pursue a strategic transaction or a series of strategic transactions or dissolve the Company. The Company has done neither. In the meantime, members of the Board have treated themselves to exorbitant cash compensation. Until July 2009, two non-employee members of the Board were paid over $300,000 per year in compensation. The principal executive officer will likely receive over $400,000 in cash compensation this year.

VXGN is up 31.3% since we initiated the position. At its $0.63 close yesterday, it has a market capitalization of $20.9M. We last estimated the company’s liquidation value to be around $25.4M or $0.77 per share. VXGN has other potentially valuable assets, including a “state-of-the-art biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility with a 1,000-liter bioreactor that can be used to make cell culture or microbial biologic products” and rights to specified percentages of future net sales relating to its anthrax vaccine product candidate and related technology. The authors of a letter sent to the board on July 14 of this year adjudge VXGN’s liquidation value to be significantly higher at $2.12 per share:

Excluding the lease obligations, the net financial assets alone of $37.2 million equate to $1.12 per share. The EBS royalties (assuming a 6% royalty rate and a $500 million contract as contemplated by NIH/HHS and EBS) of $30 million and milestones of $6 million total $36 million of potential additional future value (based clearly on assumptions, none of which are assured), or $1.09 per share. Adding $1.12 and $1.09 equals $2.21 per share.

The entry of the VaxGen Full Value Committee into the proxy contest will certainly make the next meeting an interesting spectacle, and, with any luck, we will see a liquidation of VXGN soon, either at the hands of the present board, by Value Investors for Change or the VaxGen Full Value Committee.

The Purpose of Transaction portion of the amended 13D filing is set out below:

The Reporting Persons acquired the shares of Common Stock to which this statement relates for investment purposes.

On June 12, 2009, Mr. Bronson, on behalf of BA Value Investors, LLC, sent a letter to the Board of Directors of the Issuer. In the letter, Mr. Bronson stated that the Company must act promptly to reduce the size of the board to three directors; reduce director compensation; change to a smaller audit firm; terminate the lease of its facilities; otherwise cut costs; make an immediate $10 million distribution to shareholders; make a subsequent distribution of substantially all the remaining cash after settling the lease termination; distribute any royalty income to shareholders; and explore ways to monetize the public company value of the Issuer and use of its net operating losses. A copy of the letter to the Issuer has been filed as Exhibit 1 to the Statement.

On August 21, 2009, the Reporting Persons formed a committee called the “VaxGen Full Value Committee.” The VaxGen Full Value Committee intends to conduct a proxy contest to replace the current Board of Directors at the next annual shareholders meeting with directors who will focus on the following objectives:

1. Returning capital to the Issuer’s shareholders, including an immediate distribution of $10,000,000 in cash;

2. Terminating the Issuer’s lease with its landlord, Oyster Point Tech Center, LLC, and settling with the landlord the obligations of the Issuer on the remaining lease payments;

3. Exploring ways to monetize the Issuer as a “public shell,” including the utilization of the Issuer’s Substantial Net Operating Losses; and

4. Protecting for the benefit of shareholders royalty payments receivable from the sale of the Issuer’s intellectual property.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in VXGN. 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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Spencer Capital has filed preliminary proxy documents to remove the board of VaxGen Inc (OTC:VXGN). In the documents, Spencer Capital, which leads a group of investors calling themselves “Value Investors for Change,” call out VXGN’s board on its “track record of failure and exorbitant cash compensation”:

VaxGen does not have any operations, other than preparing public reports. The Company has three employees, including the part-time principal executive officer and director, and four non-employee directors. Since the Company’s failed merger with Raven Biotechnologies, Inc. in March 2008, the Board has publicly disclosed that it would either pursue a strategic transaction or a series of strategic transactions or dissolve the Company. The Company has done neither. In the meantime, members of the Board have treated themselves to exorbitant cash compensation. Until July 2009, two non-employee members of the Board were paid over $300,000 per year in compensation. The principal executive officer will likely receive over $400,000 in cash compensation this year.

We’ve been following VXGN (see our post archive here) because it is trading at a substantial discount to its net cash position, has ended its cash-burning product development activities and is “seeking to maximize the value of its remaining assets through a strategic transaction or series of strategic transactions.” Management has said that, if the company is unable to identify and complete an alternate strategic transaction, it proposes to liquidate. One concern of ours has been a lawsuit against VXGN by its landlords, in which they sought $22.4M. That lawsuit was dismissed in May, so the path for VXGN to liquidate has now hopefully cleared. The board has, however, been dragging its feet on the liquidation. Given their relatively high compensation and almost non-existent shareholding, it’s not hard to see why.

VXGN has now also attracted the attention of BA Value Investors, which has disclosed an activist holding and called on VXGN to “act promptly to reduce the size of the board to three directors; reduce director compensation; change to a smaller audit firm; terminate the lease of its facilities; otherwise cut costs; make an immediate $10 million distribution to shareholders; make a subsequent distribution of substantially all the remaining cash after settling the lease termination; distribute any royalty income to shareholders; and explore ways to monetize the public company value of the Issuer and use of its net operating losses.”

VXGN is up 25.0% since we initiated the position. At its $0.60 close yesterday, it has a market capitalization of $19.9M. We last estimated the company’s liquidation value to be around $25.4M or $0.77 per share. VXGN has other potentially valuable assets, including a “state-of-the-art biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility with a 1,000-liter bioreactor that can be used to make cell culture or microbial biologic products” and rights to specified percentages of future net sales relating to its anthrax vaccine product candidate and related technology. The authors of a letter sent to the board on July 14 of this year ajudge VXGN’s liquidation value to be significantly higher at $2.12 per share:

Excluding the lease obligations, the net financial assets alone of $37.2 million equate to $1.12 per share. The EBS royalties (assuming a 6% royalty rate and a $500 million contract as contemplated by NIH/HHS and EBS) of $30 million and milestones of $6 million total $36 million of potential additional future value (based clearly on assumptions, none of which are assured), or $1.09 per share. Adding $1.12 and $1.09 equals $2.21 per share.

Spencer Capital’s proxy solicitation is a welcome relief, and, with any luck, we will see a liquidation of VXGN soon, either at the hands of the present board, or by Value Investors for Change.

The preliminary proxy statement sets out the Value Investors for Change group’s “Reasons for the solicition” thus:

Even though VaxGen does not have substantial operations, Value Investors for Change believes that the Company has valuable assets, consisting of cash and net operating loss carryforwards (“NOLs”). We believe these assets should be unlocked for the benefit of shareholders, rather than consumed over time by the current Board.

We do not believe the members of the current Board are acting in the best interests of stockholders. Since the Company’s failed merger with Raven Biotechnologies, Inc. in March 2008, the Board has publicly disclosed that it would either pursue a strategic transaction or a series of strategic transactions or dissolve the Company. The Company has done neither. Instead, the Board has overseen the consumption of a large portion of the Company’s assets while paying itself exorbitant compensation. In addition, the Board’s interests are not aligned with the stockholders, as displayed by their miniscule equity stake in the Company.

Consumption of Assets

Since discontinuing its operations, the Company has consumed a significant amount of assets. According to its most recent quarterly report on Form 10-Q, since June 30, 2008, the Company’s assets have decreased by $31.7 million, or 45%. Since December 31, 2008, the Company’s assets have decreased by over $3.5 million, or 8.4%.

In addition, the Company recorded $3.6 million in general and administrative expenses during the six month period ended June 30, 2009. Much of this expense consisted of cash compensation to the Board.

Exorbitant Board Compensation

Despite the relatively simple task of overseeing a shell company and conducting an ordinary sale process, the Board has paid itself inordinately high compensation. The table below describes the principal executive officer’s 2009 cash compensation and the director cash compensation scheme for the VaxGen Board, as described in the Company’s 2008 annual report on Form 10-K:

VXGN Board Compensation 1

(This table has been modified from the original to fit this space)

* Consists of $195,000 annual base salary for 25 hours per week employment and a $193,050 lump sum payment. The lump sum payment was approved by the Board in consideration for Mr. Panek’s agreement not to resign for “good reason” under his employment agreement.

** VaxGen announced in its quarterly report for the period ended June 30, 2009 that, effective September 1, 2009, it had disbanded the Strategic Transactions Committee and that, following its disbandment, Board members would no longer receive additional compensation for service thereon.

While it is difficult to envision the rationale for the high cash compensation awarded to the Chairman Kevin Reilly and Franklin Berger, the most excessive portion of the director compensation consisted of the payments to the non-employee members of the Strategic Transactions Committee. Beginning in May 2008, Board members Lori F. Rafield and Paul DeStefano received $20,000 per month and $15,000 per month, respectively, for service on the Strategic Transactions Committee, which was formed to identify, review and evaluate potential strategic transactions and alternatives. Within a few months, these directors increased their compensation to $32,000 and $27,000 per month, respectively. This compensation is extraordinarily excessive.

Insignificant Board Equity Ownership

The members of the Board hold very few shares of the Company’s common stock. Most of the Board’s beneficial ownership holdings consist of underwater stock options. The following table describes the stockholdings of the Board, as set forth in the 2008 annual report, excluding options.

VXGN Board Compensation 2This Board has failed to take the steps we believe are necessary to preserve and enhance stockholder value. We believe the actions taken by the Board indicate that they are more interested in acting in their own self-interest rather than in the best interests of stockholders.

Value Investors for Change urges you to vote FOR the Fund’s proposal to elect the Nominees on the enclosed WHITE proxy card, thereby ending this disregard for stockholder interests. Vote to elect a new slate of directors who are willing to stand up for the interests of all stockholders and work to maximize stockholder value.

The members of the Board hold very few shares of the Company’s common stock. Most of the Board’s beneficial ownership holdings consist of underwater stock options. The following table describes the stockholdings of the Board, as set forth in the 2008 annual report, excluding options.

Hat tip bellamyj and matt.jensen08.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in VXGN. 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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Spencer Capital Management LLC has announced that it intends to nominate an alternate slate of candidates for the board of Trident Microsystems Inc (NASDAQ:TRID). We’ve been following TRID since January 21 this year, arguing that it’s a good candidate for an activist campaign for the following reasons:

  1. It’s large for a net cash stock: As its $1.30 close yesterday, the company has a market capitalization of $83M. That puts it into the strike zone for funds with around $100M under management.
  2. It’s deeply undervalued: We estimate its liquidation value is around $167M or $2.66 per share, which is more than 100% higher than its close yesterday.
  3. Its value is predominantly cash: TRID is trading at half net cash value of approximately $155M or $2.48 per share.
  4. Its stock is liquid enough: According to TRID’s Google Finance page, the average volume for the stock is more than 530,000 shares per day. It traded more than 655,000 yesterday. With 63M shares on issue, an investor seeking ~5% of TRID needs a few more than 3M shares, which should be readily achievable in a reasonably short period of time.
  5. Management holds a vanishingly small number of shares and are net sellers.

Spencer Capital Management is a “New York-based fund advisor that specializes in deep value investing” headed by Kenneth H. Shubin Stein, MD, CFA. We’re not sure how much stock Spencer Capital Management holds. TRID doesn’t seem to feature in its most recent Form 13F and no 13D has been filed since December 31, 2008, the end of the period covered by the Form 13F. The investor’s press release reads as follows:

SPENCER CAPITAL MANAGEMENT, LLC SEEKS TO RESTRUCTURE THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF TRIDENT MICROSYSTEMS

Effort Aimed At Strengthening Corporate Governance And Repositioning Struggling Technology Company

Spencer Capital Management LLC, a New York-based investment partnership, announced today its intention to put forth a slate of candidates for election to the board of Trident Microsystems, Inc. (TRID). Trident Microsystems, based in Santa Clara, California, is a designer of integrated circuits for the digital television market.

Kenneth H. Shubin Stein, MD, CFA, and founder of Spencer Capital Management is leading the effort to restructure the board with an aim towards improving corporate governance and repositioning the company.

“This is a company whose revenue has deteriorated significantly, product line has lost ground and business model is under enormous pressure,” said Dr. Shubin Stein. “We intend to run a slate of candidates whose interests will be aligned with shareholders and who have the investing and technological expertise to effectively analyze the assets of the company and maximize their value. We encourage all shareholders to reach out to us to further discuss this proposal.”

Hat tip to JM.

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