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Archive for the ‘Net Net Stocks’ Category

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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This is an oldie, but a goodie (via CNN). The travails of buying net nets, as told by the master’s apprentice:

Warren Buffett says Berkshire Hathaway is the “dumbest” stock he ever bought.

He calls his 1964 decision to buy the textile company a $200 billion dollar blunder, sparked by a spiteful urge to retaliate against the CEO who tried to “chisel” Buffett out of an eighth of a point on a tender deal.

Buffett tells the story in response to a question from CNBC’s Becky Quick for a Squawk Box series on the biggest self-admitted mistakes by some of the world’s most successful investors.

Buffett tells Becky that his holding company (presumably with a different name) would be “worth twice as much as it is now” — another $200 billion — if he had bought a good insurance company instead of dumping so much money into the dying textile business.

Here’s his story:

BUFFETT:  The— the dumbest stock I ever bought— was— drum roll here— Berkshire Hathaway.  And— that may require a bit of explanation.  It was early in— 1962, and I was running a small partnership, about seven million.  They call it a hedge fund now.

And here was this cheap stock, cheap by working capital standards or so.  But it was a stock in a— in a textile company that had been going downhill for years.  So it was a huge company originally, and they kept closing one mill after another.  And every time they would close a mill, they would— take the proceeds and they would buy in their stock.  And I figured they were gonna close, they only had a few mills left, but that they would close another one.  I’d buy the stock.  I’d tender it to them and make a small profit.

So I started buying the stock.  And in 1964, we had quite a bit of stock.  And I went back and visited the management,  Mr. (Seabury) Stanton.  And he looked at me and he said, ‘Mr. Buffett.  We’ve just sold some mills.  We got some excess money.  We’re gonna have a tender offer.  And at what price will you tender your stock?’

And I said, ‘11.50.’  And he said, ‘Do you promise me that you’ll tender it 11.50?’  And I said, ‘Mr. Stanton, you have my word that if you do it here in the near future, that I will sell my stock to— at 11.50.’  I went back to Omaha.  And a few weeks later, I opened the mail—

BECKY:  Oh, you have this?

BUFFETT:   And here it is:  a tender offer from Berkshire Hathaway— that’s from 1964.  And if you look carefully, you’ll see the price is—

BECKY:  11 and—

BUFFETT:   —11 and three-eighths.  He chiseled me for an eighth.  And if that letter had come through with 11 and a half, I would have tendered my stock.  But this made me mad.  So I went out and started buying the stock, and I bought control of the company, and fired Mr. Stanton.  (LAUGHTER)

Now, that sounds like a great little morality table— tale at this point.  But the truth is I had now committed a major amount of money to a terrible business.  And Berkshire Hathaway became the base for everything pretty much that I’ve done since.  So in 1967, when a good insurance company came along, I bought it for Berkshire Hathaway.  I really should— should have bought it for a new entity.

Because Berkshire Hathaway was carrying this anchor, all these textile assets.  So initially, it was all textile assets that weren’t any good.  And then, gradually, we built more things on to it.  But always, we were carrying this anchor.  And for 20 years, I fought the textile business before I gave up.  As instead of putting that money into the textile business originally, we just started out with the insurance company, Berkshire would be worth twice as much as it is now.  So—

BECKY:  Twice as much?

BUFFETT:  Yeah.  This is $200 billion.  You can— you can figure that— comes about.  Because the genius here thought he could run a textile business. (LAUGHTER)

BECKY:  Why $200 billion?

BUFFETT:  Well, because if you look at taking that same money that I put into the textile business and just putting it into the insurance business, and starting from there, we would have had a company that— because all of this money was a drag.  I mean, we had to— a net worth of $20 million.  And Berkshire Hathaway was earning nothing, year after year after year after year.  And— so there you have it, the story of— a $200 billion— incidentally, if you come back in ten years, I may have one that’s even worse.  (LAUGHTER)

Hat tip SD and David Lau.

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Farukh Farooqi, a long-time supporter of Greenbackd and the founder of Marquis Research, a special situations research and advisory firm (for more on Farukh and his methodology, see The Deal in the article “Scavenger Hunter”) provided a guest post on Silicon Storage Technology, Inc (NASDAQ:SSTI) a few weeks back. Farukh wrote:

Activist-Driven Situation Summary: Silicon Storage Tech. (SSTI; $2.78) dated January 6, 2010

SST is a fabless, designer and supplier of NOR flash memory chips which are used in thousands of consumer electronic products. It has two businesses – Products sales of $240 mm with 20% gross margin and licensing revenues of $40 mm with near 100% margin.

As of September 30, 2009, SST had cash and investments of $2.14 per share, net non-cash working capital of $0.41 per share and zero debt. This implies that the market is valuing its business at $0.23 per share or $22 mm. This is a Company which annually spends $50 mm on R&D alone!

Judging from last 10 years of SST’s history, valuation has suffered from (1) dismal bottom line performance and (2) Corporate governance issues.

After bottoming in Q109, Company revenues and margins have rebounded sharply. The Board has decided to take this opportune time to create “value” for shareholders by selling it to a private equity fund for … $2.10 per share. As part of the deal, the current CEO and COO are going to keep their equity interest in the private Company.

In response, an activist shareholder (Riley Invesment Management) resigned from the Board when the Go-Private deal was announced. Last week, he and certain other large shareholders formed SST Full Value Committee and have asked the Board to reconsider the transaction.

Given the governance issues (which could improve as a proxy fight to add independent members is underway), a discount to the peer group is warranted. However, whether you value it on EV/Revenue, EV/EBITDA or Price/Tangible Book Value, the stock has 50% to 200% upside potential.

Farukh has left a comment that I want to draw to your attention:

SSTI being acquired by MCHP for $2.85 per share.

Does this price make sense?

SSTI has $2.55 per share in cash, investments and net working capital. Which means, MCHP is really offering $0.35 per share in value or approximately $35 mm for a semiconductor business which generates $280 mm in sales and almost $50 mm per anum in gross profit and another $40 mm per year in license fees.

The license fees alone can be worth $200 mm using a 20% yield.

SST story reminds me of the Road Runners cartoon with management being the Wile E. Coyote, trying to sabotage shareholders every which way….. Beep Beep.

[Full Disclosure: I do not hold SSTI. 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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We have a guest post today on Solitron Devices Inc (OTC:SODI) from Floris Oliemans. Floris is a recent graduate of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands with a MSc in Finance. He also holds a BSc in Economics. He wrote his masters thesis on the performance of Net Current Asset Value stocks.  He currently works as a financial analyst for a Dutch multinational. He is very interested in applying the value concepts proposed by Graham, Whitman and Buffett, for the portfolio of his family and where ever it may be used professionally. Here his view of Solitron Devices Inc (OTC:SODI):

Solitron Devices is a manufacturer of Semiconductors for military, extraorbital and industrial purposes. It produces analog vs digital semiconductors (I dont quite know the difference, I lack a BA in engineering).

The reason I bought this stock is because it is trading at a 30% discount to NCAV. I believe the assets in place are of high quality. Its current market cap is 4,97 million. After subtracting all liabilities it has (roughly) 3,5 million in net cash. The remainder of the assets is tied up in 1 million of acc. rec (very high acc rev turnover) and 2,71 mio of inventory. The inventory consists mostly of raw materials and of goods already ordered by customers. It does not produce products that the customer has not ordered, therefore inventory can and should be liquidated at near 100% of nominal value. Furthermore it has an inventory reserve of nearly 1,4 mio which might or might not be too conservative.

The company is tiny, but it has been profitable for the last decade. Based on last years earnings the firm is yielding 16%. The reason for this high earnings yield is because it has a large tax loss carryforward worth 8 million. This tax loss carry forward is due to the bankruptcy of the firm in 1993, and lasts until 2023. With net income of 900,000 last year, and a tax rate of 30%, it will not be able to use the tax loss carryforward completely. This is one reason why the tax loss carryforward is only listed in the footnotes and not on the balance sheet. One can be safe to assume that the firm will not be required to pay taxes for the foreseeable future. This is an offbalance sheet asset that can definitely add value to the current shareholder.

I do not expect a massive increase in earnings but there are a couple of factors which could act as a catalyst to the firm:

1. The large tax loss carryforward. By buying this firm, a larger competitor could use this tax loss carryforward to lower incometaxes for the entire firm. This would unlock the value of this hidden asset. A cautionary note: The annual report states that a new majority owner of the firm might not be able to use all of the tax loss carryfowards.

2. A wrapping up of all bankruptcy proceedings. The firm has promised all previous creditors that it will not pay any dividends until all the bankruptcy obligations have been paid. As far as I can deduct, the firm is still obliged to pay 1.1 mio in accrued liabilities. At the current scheduled payment rate the firm will be done paying in 4 years. After this, the built up cash reserve could be used to redistribute to shareholders.

3. An increase in business due to the new ISO certification. The company recently received an ISO certification allowing it to produce semiconducters suitable for space. What the impact on the business will be, I have no clue, but it might be positive.

4. An increase in margins. Recently a large competitor left the market, motorola. A decrease in competition lifts the bargaining power of the firm and could increase margin. It could also increase its market share.

Risks:

1. The backlog has decreased over the last 12 months. This could imply a sharp decrease in demand and lower sales volume/margins. The company has relatively few fixed assets in place, thus the risk of a decrease in NAV is minimal.
2. Fraud. Altough I have no reason to suspect fraud (the firms accounting is pretty simple), the majority shareholders could be misrepresenting the figures.
3. Majority shareholders abusing their voting rights. Majority shareholders could abuse their position to siphon of shareholder value and take Something Off the Top (SOTT). There are some options outstanding but they have not increased significantly.

4. I dont understand the business. I have no idea how a semiconductor is made or what function it has. I could be buying into a dying company and/or industry and not know about it.

Conclusion:

The high quality of assets in place, the consistent earnings and the large tax loss carryforward make this a confident invesment. Something could happen that I have not foreseen in my analysis, but this is always a risk. I am just going to leave this stock for the next 2 years and see what happens. As Pabrai says “Low Risk, High Uncertainty”.

The stock is very thinly traded, so, if you’re inclined to do so, take care getting set.

[Full Disclosure:  I do not have a holding in SODI. 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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Forward Industries Inc (NASDAQ:FORD) has filed its 10K for the period ended September 30, 2009.

We started following FORD (see the post archive here) because it was trading at a discount to its net cash and liquidation values, although there was no obvious catalyst. Management appeared to be considering a “strategic transaction” of some kind, which might have included an “acquisition or some other combination.” I think a better use of the cash on the balance sheet is a share buy-back or a dividend. Trinad Management had an activist position in the stock, but had been selling at the time I opened the position and only one stockholder owned more than 5% of the stock. The stock is up 40.3% since I opened the position to close yesterday at $2.00, giving the company a market capitalization of $15.9M. Following my review of the most recent 10K, I’ve increased my estimate of FORD’s liquidation value to around $20.3M or $2.56 per share.

The value proposition updated

FORD continues to face difficult trading conditions, writing in the most recent 10K:

Trends and Economic Environment

We believe that the poor economy, high unemployment, tight credit markets, and heightened uncertainty in financial markets during the past two years have adversely impacted discretionary consumer spending, including spending on the types of electronic devices that are accessorized by our products. In response to the economic recession certain of our major diabetic case customers have significantly reduced their sales forecasts to us for blood glucose diagnostic kits, with which our products are packaged in box, therefore implying reduced sales revenues from these customers in future periods. We expect this challenging business environment to continue in the near term.

Our response to current conditions has been to cut operating expenses and reduce headcount; and we have attempted to limit increases in operating expenses except where we think increases are critical to potential future growth.

In response to increasing customer and sales concentration, we have focused marketing efforts on expanding our customer base. These efforts are meeting with some preliminary success, although the degree of success will not become apparent until we are deeper into Fiscal 2010. We have received small, initial orders from first time customers. The key question in Fiscal 2010 will be whether our overall net sales and net profit will primarily reflect revenue contribution from new customers or the decline in revenues from existing customers that have indicated reduced order flow in Fiscal 2010. See Part I, Item IA. of this Annual Report, “Risk Factors”, including “We have announced our intention to diversify our business by means of acquisition or other business combination.”

The company had another quarter that was better than the preceding one, generating positive cash from operating activities of around $0.35M (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):

Summary balance sheet adjustments

I’ve made the following adjustments to the balance sheet estimates (included in the valuation above):

  • Cash burn: I’ve got no real idea about FORD’s prospects. It seems to have stopped burning cash over the last quarter and actually generated $0.35M. If we assume, as management has, that the company will face a tough operating environment over the next 12 months, I estimate that the company will generate no cash over that period.
  • Off-balance sheet arrangements: According to FORD’s most recent 10Q, it has no off-balance sheet arrangements.
  • Contractual obligations: FORD’s contractual obligations are minimal, totalling $0.8M.

Possible catalysts

FORD’s President and Acting Chairman, Mr. Doug Sabra, said in the letter to FORD shareholders accompanying the notice of annual shareholders’ meeting, that in 2008 “management began to implement operational and strategic initiatives in order to put [FORD]’s business on a stronger, more sustainable footing. …  This past August we retained an outside consultant to assist us in vetting possible partners for a strategic transaction.” It seems that the “strategic transaction” might include a “possible acquisition or other combination that makes sense in the context of [FORD’s] existing business, without jeopardizing the strong financial position that we have worked so hard to build.” My vast preference is for a sale of the company, buyback, special dividend or return of capital over an acquisition. Rather than spend the cash on their balance sheet, they should focus on the work on their desk and pay a big dividend.

Any sale transaction will require the consent of FORD’s board. While it has a free float of around 92%, the company’s so-called “Anti-takeover Provisions” authorize the board to issue up to 4M shares of “blank check” preferred stock. From the 10K:

Our Board of Directors is authorized to issue up to 4,000,000 shares of “blank check” preferred stock. Our Board of Directors has the authority, without shareholder approval, to issue such preferred stock in one or more series and to fix the relative rights and preferences thereof including their redemption, dividend and conversion rights. Our ability to issue the authorized but unissued shares of preferred stock could be used to impede takeovers of our company. Under certain circumstance, the issuance of the preferred stock could make it more difficult for a third party to gain control of Forward, discourage bids for the common stock at a premium, or otherwise adversely affect the market price of our common stock. In addition, our certificate of incorporation requires the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the shares outstanding to approve a business combination such as a merger or sale of all or substantially all assets. Such provision and blank check preferred stock may discourage attempts to acquire Forward. Applicable laws that impose restrictions on, or regulate the manner of, a takeover attempt may also have the effect of deterring any such transaction. We are not aware of any attempt to acquire Forward.

Conclusion

FORD is still trading at a substantial discount to its liquidation and net cash values. The risk to this position is management spraying the cash away on an acquisition. A far better use of the company’s cash is a buyback, special dividend or return of capital. Another concern is Trinad Management exiting its activist position in the stock. Those concerns aside, I’m going to maintain the position because it still looks cheap at a discount to net cash.

[Full Disclosure:  We have a holding in FORD. 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 September 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 167% since we started following it to close yesterday at $2.35, giving the company a market capitalization of $36.1M. We last estimated the liquidation value to be around $32.5M or $1.73 per share. We’ve now increased our valuation to $32.9M or $1.77 per share following another very good quarter for DRAD. Year-to-date, DRAD has generated over $3.4M in cash from operations. DRAD has also started buying back stock under its previously announced $2M stock repurchase plan.

The value proposition updated

DRAD has continued its good year, generating $3.4M in operating cash flow year-to-date. 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 9 30Off-balance sheet arrangements and contractual obligations: The company hasn’t disclosed any off-balance sheet arrangements in its most recent 10Q.

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 approved a stock repurchase program whereby we may, from time to time, purchase up to $2.0 million worth of our common stock in the open market, in privately negotiated transactions or otherwise, at prices that we deem appropriate. The plan has no expiration date. Details of purchases made during the nine months ended September 30, 2009 are as follows (Edited to fit this space.):

DRAD Buy Back Detail 2009 09 30

Conclusion

DRAD is now trading at a reasonable 24% premium to its $32.9M or $1.77 per share in liquidation value. It’s off about 20% from its peak, and looks likely to continue to drop. We’re generally sellers of secondary securities trading at a premium to liquidation value, but DRAD seems to have the started generating cash. 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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Disgruntled VaxGen Inc (OTC:VXGN) shareholders have initiated a class action against the board of VXGN over possible breaches of fiduciary duty in the sale to OXGN. The board certainly deserves the suit because of the appalling deal struck with OXGN. Priced at a discount to VXGN’s net cash and liquidation values, and payment in the watered scrip of a speculative biotech play, it’s a real dud for VXGN shareholders (see our more detailed take on the terms of the VXGN / OXGN deal). A successful outcome in any litigation may be a Pyrrhic victory for participating VXGN shareholders. As we understand it, VXGN’s board is indemnified out of VXGN’s assets and so as any damages award will return to VXGN plaintiffs VXGN’s assets less legal fees and the break fee. Perhaps someone more knowledgable can illuminate the situation for us in the comments. It’s also possible that the merger will not survive the shareholder vote. As reader bellamyj notes, in November 2007 VXGN announced another disastrous merger with Raven Biotechnologies. Over the next few days VXGN stock fell almost 50% and the merger was terminated the day before the special meeting, apparently due to shareholder opposition. Perhaps that will happen again. If it does, OXGN will still tear out ~$2.5M from VXGN, but it may be a better outcome than the deal on the table.

About our VXGN position

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.

There are two competing alternate proxy slates seeking nomination to the board of VXGN, Value Investors for Change and the VaxGen Full Value Committee. Value Investors for Change, led by Spencer Capital, filed preliminary proxy documents in August 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.

The VaxGen Full Value Committee 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.

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.”

VXGN is up 25.0% since we initiated the position. At its $0.60 close yesterday, it has a market capitalization of $22.5M. 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.

Here’s the press release announcing the litigation:

Levi & Korsinsky, LLP Investigates Possible Breach of Fiduciary Duty by the Board of VaxGen, Inc. – VXGN.OB

Levi & Korsinsky is investigating the Board of Directors of VaxGen, Inc. (“VaxGen” or the “Company”) (OTC BB: VXGN) for possible breaches of fiduciary duty and other violations of state law in connection with their attempt to sell the Company to Oxigene Inc. (“Oxigene”) (NasdaqGM: OXGN). Under the terms of the transaction, VaxGen shareholders will receive 0.4719 Oxigene shares for every VaxGen share they own which, based on the $1.42 per share closing price of Oxigene stock on October 14, 2009, the day prior to the announcement, is valued at approximately $0.67. In addition, Oxigene is to place approximately 8.5 million common shares in escrow to be released to VaxGen shareholders contingent upon the occurrence of certain events over the two-year period following the closing.

The investigation concerns whether the VaxGen Board of Directors breached their fiduciary duties to VaxGen shareholders given that (i) the Company has approximately $1.07 per share in cash with no debt; (ii) the Company has a book value of approximately $0.99 a share; (iii) at least one analyst has set a $2.00 price target for VaxGen stock; and (iv) and the Board agreed to a non-solicitation provision and a termination fee up to $1,425,000 that will all but ensure that no superior offers will ever be forthcoming.

If you own common stock in VaxGen and wish to obtain additional information, please contact us at the number listed below or visit http://www.zlk.com/vxgn1.html.

Levi & Korsinsky has expertise in prosecuting investor securities litigation and extensive experience in actions involving financial fraud and represents investors throughout the nation, concentrating its practice in securities and shareholder litigation.

Hat tip JM.

[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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