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Aspen Exploration Corporation (OTC:ASPN) has announced that it will pay a cash dividend of $0.73 per share to stockholders of record on November 16, 2009 from the proceeds of the sale of its California oil and gas assets to Venoco, Inc. $0.73 per share represents $5.3M, which is just over the mid-point of the $5.0M to $5.5M range estimated by the company.

We’ve been following ASPN (see our ASPN post archive) because it’s trading at a discount to its $1.17 per share liquidation value and there are several potential catalysts in the stock, including a 13D filing from Tymothi O. Tombar, a plan to distribute substantially all of the net, after-tax proceeds from the completion of the Venoco sale to its stockholders ($5.3M), and the possibility that the company will dissolve. The stock is down 0.2% since we initiated the position to close yesterday at $0.983. This values the remaining stub of ASPN at $0.253 ($0.983 less $0.73) against a liquidating value I estimate at $0.44 ($1.17 less $0.73). I still think there’s obvious value here, and there might be another interesting play in the stub after the dividend. This is worth watching. It’s should also be noted, as reader bellamyj has pointed out, that, regardless of outcome of the upcoming shareholder vote, ASPN may not liquidate. This is not necessarily a bad thing if the controlling shareholder plans on monetizing the shell and its remaining cash. He owns 20% of the stock, so he’s got some incentive to do so, and he’s paying out a big cash dividend, which is a shareholder-friendly act. That said, it’s not clear whether that dividend was as a result of Timothy O. Tombar’s agitation or a spontaneous effort on behalf of the board. I’ve been wrong about managers before, but hope springs eternal.

Here’s the 8K filing:

On November 2, 2009 Aspen Exploration Corporation (“Aspen”) declared a cash dividend of $0.73 per share. The dividend will be paid to stockholders of record on November 16, 2009, with the dividend being paid on or about December 2, 2009. A copy of the news release describing the dividend is attached hereto as Exhibit 99.1. The distribution follows the final settlement of the sale of Aspen’s California oil and gas assets to Venoco, Inc., at which the parties made a number of immaterial adjustments to the purchase price paid at the June 30, 2009 closing, and made certain other payments that were not determined until after the closing. At the final settlement date Aspen received a net payment from Venoco, but was required to make various payments to third parties which ultimately resulted in a cash outflow from Aspen in an amount not considered to be material.

Aspen expects that after the payment of the dividend, and its anticipated operations through the end of the current calendar year, on December 31, 2009 it will have more than $3 million of working capital remaining. Aspen currently intends to utilize its remaining funds to maintain its corporate status as a reporting issuer under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and to explore other business opportunities. Pending developments with respect to any business opportunities Aspen identifies, Aspen may later reevaluate its status and plans and consider alternatives to wind up its affairs. Aspen’s projections and future plans described in this report are “forward-looking statements” (as such term is defined in Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended) which are dependent upon a number of factors. There can be no assurance that Aspen’s projections will prove to be accurate or that Aspen will be able to successfully execute or implement its operations as described herein.

Hat tip Joe G.

[Full Disclosure:  I do not have a holding in ASPN. 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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Soapstone Networks Inc (NASDAQ:SOAP) has announced that the stockholders have approved the liquidation and dissolution of the company.

We started following SOAP (see our post archive here) because it was trading well below its net cash value with an activist investor, Mithras Capital, disclosing an 8.7% holding in October last year. The stock is up 68.4% from $2.50 when we initiated our position to close today at $4.13, giving SOAP a market capitalization of $61.0M. We last estimated the company’s net cash value to be $80.3M or $5.21 per share. The company has now announced that it proposes to liquidate. It estimates that the total distribution, including an extraordinary cash dividend of $3.75 per share, will be between $4.00 and $4.50 per share. The initial dividend was paid yesterday and the stock trade’s ex-dividend today.

The press release from the company is set out below:

BILLERICA, MA–(Marketwire – July 28, 2009) – Soapstone Networks Inc. (NASDAQ: SOAP), today announced that, at the Company’s annual meeting of stockholders held on July 28, 2009, the stockholders of Soapstone Networks voted to approve the liquidation and dissolution of the Company pursuant to a Plan of Liquidation and Dissolution (the “Plan of Liquidation”).

As previously announced by the Company, in connection with the approval of the Plan of Liquidation, the Company’s Board of Directors has approved an extraordinary cash dividend of $3.75 per share of the Company’s common stock. The dividend will be paid on July 29, 2009 and the Company’s stock will trade ex-dividend commencing July 30, 2009.

The Company intends to file a certificate of dissolution on July 31, 2009 with the Delaware Secretary of State in accordance with the Plan of Liquidation. At the close of business on July 31, 2009, the Company expects to close its stock transfer books and cease recording transfers of shares of its common stock. At that time, the Company’s common stock, and stock certificates evidencing the shares of common stock, will no longer be assignable or transferable on the Company’s books. We have notified Nasdaq OMX of the date we intend to file our certificate of dissolution, and we will seek to delist our shares of common stock as soon as practicable thereafter. In addition, we requested that the Nasdaq Global Market suspend the trading of our common stock effective at the close of business on July 31, 2009. After the Company ceases trading on the Nasdaq Global Market as a result of such suspension, shares of the Company’s common stock held in street name with brokers may be traded in the over-the-counter market on an electronic bulletin board established for unlisted securities such as the OTC Bulletin Board or the Pink Sheets. Such trading will reduce the market liquidity of the Company’s common stock. As a result, an investor would find it more difficult to dispose of, or obtain accurate quotations for the price of the Company’s common stock, if they are able to trade the Common Stock at all.

The Board of Directors has fixed July 31, 2009 as the record date for determining stockholders entitled to receive any future distributions of available assets and as the final date for the recording of stock transfers. Only those stockholders of record as of the close of business on July 31, 2009 (the “Record Stockholders”), will be entitled to such future distributions. The Company anticipates that its first distribution after the July 31, 2009 record date is not likely to occur prior to the first quarter of 2010. Prior to winding up its affairs under Delaware law, the Company intends to make at least one additional liquidating distribution to the Record Stockholders. The Company has not yet established the timing or per share amount of any such distributions.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in SOAP. 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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Digirad Corporation (NASDAQ:DRAD) has filed its 10Q for the quarter ended June 30, 2009.

We started following DRAD (see our post archive here) because it was an undervalued asset play with a plan to sell assets and buy back its stock. The stock is up more than 118% since we started following it to close yesterday at $1.92, giving the company a market capitalization of $36.1M. We last estimated the liquidation value to be around $29.5M or $1.56 per share. We’ve now increased our valuation to $32.5M or $1.73 per share following a very good quarter for DRAD, in which it generated over $2.2M in cash. DRAD has also now started to buy back stock under its previously announced $2M stock repurchase plan.

The value proposition updated

DRAD had a very good second quarter, generating $3M in operating cash flow and ending the quarter up more than $2.2M in cash. Our updated 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):

DRAD Summary 2009 6 30

Off-balance sheet arrangements and contractual obligations: The company hasn’t disclosed any off-balance sheet arrangements in its most recent 10Q. The contractual obligations as at December 31 were around $3.0M, around $1.4M of which falls due in the next 12 months to December 31, 2009.

The catalyst

DRAD’s board has announced a stock buyback program:

The Company also announced that its board of directors has authorized a stock buyback program to repurchase up to an aggregate of $2 million of its issued and outstanding common shares. Digirad had approximately 19 million shares outstanding as of December 31, 2008. At current valuations, this repurchase plan would authorize the buyback of approximately 2.1 million shares, or approximately 11 percent of the company’s outstanding shares.

Chairman of the Digirad Board of Directors R. King Nelson said, “The board believes the Company’s direction and goals towards generating positive cash flow and earnings coupled with an undervalued stock price present a unique investment opportunity. We are confident this will provide a solid return to our shareholders.”

According to the most recent 10Q, the company has now started to buy its own stock, albeit a relatively small amount:

On February 4, 2009, our board of directors authorized a stock buyback program to repurchase up to an aggregate of $2.0 million of our issued and outstanding common shares. The timing of stock repurchases and the number of shares of common stock to be repurchased are in compliance with Rule 10b-18 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The timing and extent of the repurchase depends upon market conditions, applicable legal requirements, and other factors. During the three and six months ended June 30, 2009, we repurchased 198,000 and 209,000 shares, respectively, of our common stock at a cost totaling $0.3 million at a weighted average price of $1.28 per share.

Conclusion

At its $1.92 close yesterday, DRAD is trading at a small premium to its $32.5M or $1.73 per share in liquidation value. We’re generally sellers of secondary securities trading at a premium to liquidation value, but DRAD seems to have the potential to transition to a cash generator. We’d like to see where it can go. We can see no other reason to cease holding DRAD in the Greenbackd Portfolio and so we’re going to maintain the position for now.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in DRAD. 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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Avigen Inc (NASDAQ:AVGN) is back in negotiations with MediciNova, Inc. regarding a proposed acquisition of AVGN by MediciNova. The consideration for the deal is AVGN’s “net cash liquidation value plus $3 million” and “a contingent payment right for a specific product program milestone payment associated with Avigen’s Assignment Agreement with Genzyme Corporation, potentially subject to certain adjustments.”

We started following AVGN in December last year (see archived posts here) because it was a 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 closed yesterday at $1.32, up 103.8% from our $0.65 purchase price. We last estimated the net cash liquidation value at around $34M or $1.14 per share. Including the $3M from MediciNova would increase that value to around $37M or $1.24 per share. We believe that there is a reasonable chance that AVGN will yield more than its current $1.32 share price when the “contingent payment right” capturing the near term payments from Genzyme is taken into account. AVGN shareholders also have an option-like exposure to any value in AVGN’s AV411 assets and program, although we cannot estimate the value of this with any certainty.

The press release from AVGN regarding the business combination with MediciNova is set out below:

MediciNova and Avigen Confirm Understanding for Key Terms for a Business Combination

SAN DIEGO and ALAMEDA, Calif., June 25, 2009 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — MediciNova, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company that is publicly traded on the Nasdaq Global Market (Nasdaq:MNOV – News) and the Hercules Market of the Osaka Securities Exchange (Code Number:4875), and Avigen, Inc. (Nasdaq:AVGN – News), a biopharmaceutical company, today announced that they have confirmed their understanding of certain key terms for a proposed acquisition of Avigen by MediciNova that would combine the companies’ broad neurological clinical development programs based on ibudilast (Avigen’s AV-411 and MediciNova’s MN-166).

MediciNova and Avigen currently contemplate that the terms of the merger would provide that Avigen shareholders receive consideration approximating Avigen’s net cash liquidation value plus $3 million. Avigen shareholders would be able to elect to receive this consideration in cash at closing or to receive a convertible security by which that cash consideration may be converted into MediciNova stock at a conversion price equal to the greater of $4.00 or a mutually agreeable volume-weighted average price of MediciNova common stock. At the end of 18 months, any unexercised convertible securities would be paid out at their cash value. This would allow shareholders of both companies the opportunity to participate in the future value created by combining the companies’ product portfolios. In addition to the consideration above, all Avigen shareholders would receive a contingent payment right for a specific product program milestone payment associated with Avigen’s Assignment Agreement with Genzyme Corporation, potentially subject to certain adjustments.

Yuichi Iwaki, M.D., Ph.D., MediciNova’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “We are excited to announce this important step towards a potential acquisition of Avigen and believe that the proposed merger presents clear advantages for the shareholders of both companies, most notably, the ability to more fully take advantage of the opportunities that the ibudilast compound and analogs provide in a variety of indications and markets. We look forward to finalizing definitive documentation as expeditiously as possible and to presenting this transaction for shareholder approval in due course.”

“Avigen believes the proposed merger on the terms currently contemplated would be in the best interests of our shareholders and we intend to continue to negotiate with the goal of reaching agreement on all of the terms and presenting it to our shareholders for approval in the third quarter of 2009,” commented Andrew Sauter, Avigen’s Chief Executive Officer, President and Chief Financial Officer. “We believe that combining our ibudilast programs, AV411 and MN-166, would enhance the global development potential for the compound in a range of neurological indications, including Multiple Sclerosis, neuropathic pain and drug addiction.”

The understanding reached by the parties is nonbinding and subject to definitive documentation and due diligence. The closing of any proposed merger would also be subject to customary closing conditions, including required shareholder and regulatory approvals and the absence of material adverse changes. MediciNova and Avigen are not legally obligated to continue discussions regarding the proposed transaction on the terms described herein or on any other terms. No definitive agreements have been reached, and there can be no assurances that definitive agreements will be successfully negotiated, that the proposed terms will not be revised or that the proposed merger will be completed.

[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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Lamassu Holdings has blasted the board of Ditech Networks Inc (NASDAQ:DITC). In a letter to the board, Lamassu Holdngs accuses DITC management of “spending as though Ditech Networks has money to burn, adding to the amount of money you have already lost for shareholders during your tenure,” “aggressively [overstepping] the bounds of good corporate governance” and “clearly [violating] your fiduciary responsibility.”

We’ve been following DITC (see our archive here) because it is trading below its net cash value with an investor, Lamassu Holdings LLC, disclosing a 9.4% holding in November last year. Lamassu has previously offered to acquire DITC for $1.25 per share in cash. Lamassu says that it “anticipates its due diligence requirement will take no more than two weeks and there is no financing contingency.” Lamassu has now nominated two candidates for election to the board “who are committed to enhancing shareholder value through a review of the Company’s business and strategic direction.” Lloyd I Miller III has also disclosed a 5.9% holding and has come out in support of Mr. Leehealey and Mr. Sansone – the director candidates nominated by Lamassu Holdings for election to the board of directors at the DITC annual meeting – as “candidates who are independent of management and he seeks to encourage greater attention to corporate governance by all members of the Board of Directors.” The stock is up 44.9% from our initial $0.89 to close yesterday at $1.29, giving the company a market capitalization of $33.9M. We last estimated the net cash value at around $32.2M or $1.23 per share and the liquidation value at around $43.4M or $1.65 per share. While the deterioration in value is a concern, Mr. Miller’s support of Lamassu Holding’s director candidates introduces a new element to the position. We’re inclined to hold on to see how the annual meeting plays out.

The press release setting out the text of the letter from Lamassu Holdings is set out below (via Yahoo Finance):

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Lamassu Holdings, LLC (“Lamassu”) has sent the following letter to the Board of Directors of Ditech Networks, Inc. (NASDAQ:DITC – News) (“Ditech Networks”) Members of the Board:

Over the past month a significant number of shareholders have either publicly, through filings, or privately rejected your leadership by expressing their support for Lamassu’s director nominees. Instead of listening to these shareholders and correcting your course, you push forward spending as though Ditech Networks has money to burn, adding to the amount of money you have already lost for shareholders during your tenure. Your recent decision to tie executive compensation to a level of investment associated with mStage/toktok, an unproven technology that to date has produced no revenues and has no immediate prospects, is outrageous and limits management’s ability to make the hard but intelligent decisions to reduce investment in that technology if its prospects for revenue continue to be elusive. With this measure we believe you have aggressively overstepped the bounds of good corporate governance and have clearly violated your fiduciary responsibility.

Investors in Ditech Networks (NASDAQ: DITC – News) are not venture capitalists and did not sign up for this type of speculative investing with such a large portion of the Company’s assets. Management needs to have the latitude to make the decisions that are appropriate given the revenue prospects of each product and the Board should ensure that no individual investment puts the Company in as much jeopardy of total failure as the mStage/toktok investment does.

In addition, given the level of support for Lamassu’s slate of director nominees, we remain completely perplexed by your apparent desire to engage in a pointless proxy fight and waste Company resources to protect your own interests. It is obvious shareholders will aggressively reject the idea of spending millions of dollars of their money in this manner when the addition of Lamassu’s nominees to the Board will clearly provide a much needed new perspective that is not steeped in the countless mistakes of the past or married to visions and dreams that produce little or nothing in the way of actual revenue.

For the sake of all investors we encourage you to radically alter your behavior and begin listening to shareholders as opposed to pursuing your own interests and extremely risky agendas. While you personally will not be significantly harmed if mStage/toktok is unsuccessful and Ditech Networks ultimately fails, many investors are not in a position to so casually lose their money.

Sincerely Lamassu Holdings, LLC

Hat tip to Toby.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in DITC. 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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Lloyd I Miller III has disclosed a 5.9% holding in Ditech Networks Inc (NASDAQ:DITC). According to the 13D filing, Mr. Miller supports Mr. Leehealey and Mr. Sansone – the director candidates nominated by Lamassu Holdings for election to the board of directors at the DITC annual meeting – as “candidates who are independent of management and he seeks to encourage greater attention to corporate governance by all members of the Board of Directors.”

We’ve been following DITC (see our archive here) because it is trading below its net cash value with an investor, Lamassu Holdings LLC, disclosing a 9.4% holding in November last year. Lamassu has previously offered to acquire DITC for $1.25 per share in cash. Lamassu says that it “anticipates its due diligence requirement will take no more than two weeks and there is no financing contingency.” Lamassu has now nominated two candidates for election to the board “who are committed to enhancing shareholder value through a review of the Company’s business and strategic direction.” The stock is up 49.4% from $0.89 to close yesterday at $1.33, giving the company a market capitalization of $35M. We last estimated the net cash value at around $32.2M or $1.23 per share and the liquidation value at around $43.4M or $1.65 per share. While the deterioration in value is a concern, Mr. Miller’s support of Lamassu Holding’s director candidates introduces a new element to the position. We’re inclined to hold on to see how the annual meeting plays out.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in DITC. 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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Ditech Networks Inc (NASDAQ:DITC) has filed its 10Q for the period ended April 30, 2009.

We’ve been following DITC (see our archive here) because it is trading below its net cash value with an investor, Lamassu Holdings LLC, disclosing a 9.4% holding in November last year. Lamassu has previously offered to acquire DITC for $1.25 per share in cash. Lamassu says that it “anticipates its due diligence requirement will take no more than two weeks and there is no financing contingency.” Lamassu has now nominated two candidates for election to the board “who are committed to enhancing shareholder value through a review of the Company’s business and strategic direction.” The stock is up 49.4% from $0.89 to close yesterday at $1.33, giving the company a market capitalization of $35M. We last estimated the net cash value to be $34.3M or $1.31 per share and the liquidation value to be around $47.5M or $1.81 per share. We’ve now reduced our estimate of the net cash value to around $32.2M or $1.23 per share and the liquidation value to around $43.4M or $1.65 per share.

The value proposition updated

DITC has continued to consume cash in its operations through the last quarter, bringing the cash burn over the last year to $22.6M. At April 30, 2009, all of DITC’s short-term and long-term investments were held in corporate notes and asset backed auction rate securities. According to the 10Q, the long-term investments are tied to auction rate securities that failed to settle at auction beginning in fiscal 2008, and for which there appears to be no near-term market. Although these securities would normally be classified as short-term, as they typically settle every 28 days, DITC has reclassified them long-term pending them settling at auction. At June 30, 2009, DITC continued to hold auction rate securities with a par value of $13.7 million. Our updated valuation follows (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):

DITC Summary 2009 4 30In the last 10Q, DITC wrote that it believed its “legacy business to be at or near cash flow break even” which would “begin to be more evident in our financial results in the coming quarters.” That rosy prognosis has not manifest itself this quarter. Maybe DITC management meant the next quarter.

Off-balance sheet arrangements and Contractual obligations

According to the 10Q, DITC has around $4.0M in contractual commitments (including $247M in operating leases and $2.7M in purchase commitments), around $2.6 of which falls due this year and the remainder falling due within the next 3 years. DITC has no other material commitments or off-balance sheet liabilities.

Conclusion

The deterioration in DITC’s value is a concern, but, for reasons we’ll discuss in the next post, we propose to continue to hold DITC in the Greenbackd Portfolio for the time being.

[Full Disclosure:  We do not have a holding in DITC. 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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