MISSION:INTANGIBLE, the blog of the Intangible Asset Finance Society, offers critical comments on intangible asset, corporate reputation, and finance; supplemented by quantitative reputation metrics. Intangible assets include business processes, patents, trademarks; reputations for ethics and integrity; quality, safety, sustainability, security, and resilience; and comprise 70% of the average company's value.
MISSION:INTANGIBLE is a registered trademark of the Intangible Asset Finance Society.
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Now, plagued by one quality crisis after another, the company appears to be turning to a major PR campaign to save the day. But as Jonathan Salem Baskin, who moderates the Mission Intangible Monthly Briefings, writes for Forbes, "It’s established fact that no company (or individual) can declare truth any longer. We’ve all gotten too suspicious and jaded, and tech tools empower us to fast-forward past promises, and get to checking-up on follow-through. So company values, credos, and mission statements are worthless unless they’re translated into action. The world doesn’t need an ad campaign to show what’s “behind” J&J since it can judge the behaviors it sees. Stakeholders determine truth, not marketers."
The truths determined by stakeholders are captured, in part, by the Steel City Re Reputational Value Metrics. The measures of reputational value for Johnson & Johnson, the bases of which are described in detail in the book, Reputation, Stock Price and You, show a relatively high reputational ranking (CRR) in the 90th percentile relative to the 30 companies in the major pharmaceuticals sector. Surprisingly for a company of its size, both its historic and its current RVM volatility, measures of volatility of its reputational value, are above median and climbing. Overall, the data suggest that it is a company stakeholders would love to respect, but are having trouble understanding its current narrative.
The chatter is nice, but to borrow from another campaign, "where's the beef?"
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On 17 December 2010, a shareholder group filed a lawsuit against the board as well as managers for an unspecified amount alleging failure to uphold their duty of oversight, breaching their duty of loyalty, and allowing adverse events to proceed which inevitably "destroyed the company's hard earned reputation." According to Tony Chapelle who participated in a recent Mission Intangible Monthly Briefing and who reports for the Financial Times' Agenda Week, “Governance experts say that J&J’s board should step in and more closely oversee the company’s business processes in three vital areas: quality, safety and ethics.”
According to Cathy Reese who chairs the Society’s Governance Committee and who also participated in a recent Mission Intangible Monthly Briefing, lawsuits that claim a breach of the director duty of oversight warrant serious attention. That’s because in the 2006 case of Stone v. Ritter, the Delaware Supreme Court created a new directorial duty — the duty of oversight. In turn, the court said, directors who breach that duty have breached the duty of loyalty, for which they can be held personally liable.
The quantitative metrics point to both a loss of reputation and value. The first chart is based on the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index and reports reputation movement over the trailing 30 months. Beginning in mid 2009 (in red), the data disclose the slow decline of Johnson & Johnson’s reputation ranking relative to 78 peers comprising pharmaceutical sector companies valued at greater than $1B as of 6 Jan 2010.
The Company's relative decline is further accentuated by the overall decline of the industry's ranking. Shown in blue is the slow steady decline of the the average ranking of the 78-member pharmaceutical sector relative to approximately 9000 publicly traded companies on the main US and European exchanges.
There may be any number of explanations for the steady decline of the relative reputation of the pharmaceutical industry. One potential factor, according to Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group that is no friend of the industry, is that the drug industry has now become the biggest defrauder of the federal government, as determined by payments it has made for violations of the False Claims Act (FCA). The drug industry has surpassed the defense industry, which had long been the leader. Public Citizen reports that of the 165 pharmaceutical industry settlements comprising $19.8 billion in penalties during the past 20 years, 73 percent of the settlements (121) and 75 percent of the dollar amount ($14.8 billion) have occurred during the past five years.
The economic consequences of the reputational decline appears to be an erosion in enterprise value. The chart below shows (in red) the slow decline of Johnson & Johnson’s relative return on equity compared to the average of 15 peers (in blue) comprising pharmaceutical sector companies valued at greater than $40B as of 6 Jan 2010. Also shown is the period return of the S&P500 Composite Index. During the 30 month window shown below, JNJ’s economic returns progressively decreased relative to its peers from outperforming them prior to mid 2009, to parity until mid 2010, to underperforming since then. The difference between the two sets of 30-month returns as of Jan 2011 is about 7% - coincidentally, the median cost of a headline risk event according to Steel City Re's research. The S&P500 returns over this 30 month period are essentially zero.
The ramifications extend internally. The National Association of Corporate Directors newsletter adds this morning that "Johnson & Johnson won't give eligible employees their full bonuses for 2010," according to the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 19, Rockoff). The Journal's sources explain the reasoning as "hits to the company's reputation and the 'mixed performance' for the year."
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The Company has announced eight recalls involving millions of bottles of nonprescription medicines since last September. They involved products made at factories in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico. Now the Company, which has come under scrutiny for quality problems with its drug units, is starting to experience similar problems with its device divisions. DePuy Orthopaedics, a J&J company, last week announced a recall of some hip-replacement devices that appear to fail excessively. DePuy also received a warning letter citing it for marketing the TruMatch Personalized Solutions System in the U.S. without clearance or approval.
Quality is one of the six key intangible assets that underlie the value of reputation. (The other five are ethics, innovation, safety, sustainability, and security). Increasing, protecting, and restoring the value of these assets, you might say, is a company’s Mission:Intangible.
This is why. The Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index, which tracks the financial consequences of intangible asset management, shows that over the trailing twelve months, Johnson & Johnson’s ranking dropped from the 93rd to the 88th percentile relative to the 28 companies in the Major Pharmaceuticals sector. As is often the case with a deteriorating reputation profile, the Company has underperformed the median of this sector this past year by nearly 13%.
The numbers show three other trends. The Company is large with a long history and used to hold the number one reputation rank in this sector, and according to some surveys, among all companies. That standing has provided resilience, but has not been able to arrest the slow and steady decline evidenced by the low volatility. That loss comes almost exclusively from an impairment of the Company’s intangible assets. Whereas a year ago, the Company’s intangibles comprised 91% of the firms market value – right in line with the median of the sector – today that fraction has dropped to less than 88%. All this comes amidst challenges for the industry as a whole, whose reputational standing relative to all companies has also declined from the 91st to the 88th percentile.
With all this going on, Mr. Shetty, a vice president, will have his hands full. And his work will have little impact on enterprise value (and potential derivative law suits and D&O claims) unless signals start emanating from even higher levels that the Company’s credo – written by General Johnson himself – has been once again found and will be honored to the letter. Attention Board of Directors! Are you listening?
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The Harris organization released their 2009 rankings earlier this week. Based on interviews and other processes in the first weeks of 2010, this is one of the most widely watched reputation metrics.
One surprise is that Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) took the top spot from frequent top scorer Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). Of course, the latter had a reputation run in with both FDA and the US Justice Department earlier this year that appears to have cost them reputationally.
A true bright spot in the study belongs to Ford (NYSE:F), whose RQ score increased by 11.28 points from 2008, the largest single year improvement in the past nine years. Readers of the Mission:Intangible blog saw this coming with our post in April 2009. The major turning point for Ford was 30 October 2009. Below we paste the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index rankings for Ford relative to its 9 automotive peers. Compared with the fortunes of GM, Chrysler and Toyota (NYSE:TM), Ford is flying. Its rankings climbed from the 33rd to the 87th percentile.
But even compared with the reputation metrics of the largest public companies with values $50B and greater shown in the chart below, Ford is clearly rocketing. Among these 85 peers, Ford climbed from the 2nd percentile to the 29th percentile. Not to take a shine off its product, but corporate reputation in this instance clearly benefitted from a period ROE of some 230%. Alas, this is all so 2009.
Which leads us to assert, with restrained hubris, that the Harris Reputation Quotient is a lagging indicator of reputation relative to the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index. Really.
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We make three points. First, this is a physical security breach that does not, on its surface, appear to have any reputation impact. The financial impact will be minimal because the event is one of the perils commonly covered by property and casualty insurance. The second is that this is the type of physical security risk most companies are best prepared to mitigate - physical removal. Most are not in a position to mitigate the reverse security risk of physical introduction--the type of physical security risk that nearly brought Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) to its knees a quarter of a century ago.
Here's a worst case spin from a reputation perspective. Fact: Lilly has lost control of $75 million (wholesale) of product. These drugs are all branded and marked as authentic Lilly ethical pharmaceuticals which stakeholders expect will be safe and effective. Suppose branded product reentered the market after being adulterated. Suddenly, the Johson & Johnson fiasco seems like child's play.
You ask for a motive? How about the mother of all insider trades? Would criminals who execute a Mission:Impossible-style heist have the financial acumen to short Lilly equity or go long on Lilly credit default swaps as they flood the market with adulterated pharmaceuticals? Could they recognize returns in excess of $75 million in fungible liquid assets?
And this brings us to the third point. Superior reputation management includes both crisis management and scenario modeling exercises. Because even rumors suggesting the above could be damaging.
Heads Up - Date ChangeThe Mission: Intangible Monthly Briefing for April 2010 will be held one week later than usual in deference to those who celebrate Good Friday. On 9 April 2010 at 12h00 EDT, the second Friday of the month, we will host a conversation featuring incoming Integrity and Corporate Responsibility Committee Chairman Paul Liebman from Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and IA Value Signaling Committee Chairman Jon Low from Predictiv. The title for the one hour moderated discussion is: Ethics - A valuable intangible asset? Mary Adams from Intellectual Capital Advisors hosts.
As always, registration for this popular series is complimentary and slides will be available for download in advance of the event. To register now, click here.
Join UsIf the above intrigues you or challenges you to learn more, look no further. The Intangible Asset Finance Society wants to be your business resource. Join us and be part of an organization that provides a wealth of educational materials, including a new book, to further your executive career, and exciting monthly conferences such as the upcoming one on ethics mentioned above.
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There were early hints with FDA letters in August and September 2009. But the big stories broke last Friday when the U.S. Justice Department announced that it is suing the drug giant for allegedly paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to geriatric pharmacy company Omnicare Inc. (OCR) to induce the company to buy and recommend Johnson & Johnson drugs. That same day, the Company widened its voluntary recall several of the company’s top selling over-the-counter brands across the country. There is a concern that a chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole is causing an unusual odor in select brands. The smell is due to the breakdown of the chemical that is used to build wood pallets that transport and store product packaging materials. The expanded recall was announced after the FDA reprimanded the Company for waiting close to a year to remedy the well-documented problem.
In short, two reputational issues: ethics and quality. We expect repercussions. Turning to the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index, we focus on Aug and Sept when JNJ received FDA warning letters. Here we see a slight dip in the reputation index and correspondingly, a lack in equity growth while both the pharmaceutical sector and the S&P were rebounding. See arrows marking Aug/Sept window on both the reputation index (red) and the equity returns (blue diamond/red outline). The full reputational and financial effects are yet to be recognized.
To be fair, JNJ’s overall ROE underperformance of 23% relative to the Pharmaceutical sector can be explained, in part, by JNJ’s resilience during the 2008 crisis. A two-year ROE in the chart below from Bigcharts.com shows that at the low point of the market in December 2008, JNJ had lost only 20%. The sector had lost 30%, while the S&P lost 40%. In march of 2009, JNJ 'caught up' with the industry and has followed the sector mean since. The ‘cost’ of that historic resilience is poorer apparent performance in the short term this past year. The gain is lower volatility and therefore lower cost of credit. Provided that the effects of the latest disclosures do not materially shave reputation value. The year is still young.
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One one hand, McKinsey has strict standards barring its consultants from trading stocks or funds that relate to the companies they are advising, a source close to the company said. The company's partners sign off each year on the policies. On the other hand, according to the Reuter’s story, McKinsey was aggressively recruiting college graduates by offering them new investment options, including getting a stake in a pool of McKinsey clients that gave the firm equity instead of cash for their consulting services. “A slippery slope,” says Lawrence White, a professor at the New York University's Stern School of Business.
McKinsey is looking at headline risk. The Financial Times' Newssift sentiment index reports that for the past week, the 9 article in the business press on McKinsey that included the word reputation were evenly divided at 33% each positive, negative, and neutral giving a positive/negative ratio of 1.0. For the month before the scandal broke, of the 11 articles, four were positive and two were negative for a p/n ratio of 2.0. (For comparison, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), the reputation leader for early 2009, had a one-year p/n ratio of 8.3)
Ironically, earlier this year, consultants from McKinsey authored an article on the importance of reputation management. The article called for substantive business process controls, and highlighted the limitations of public relations. Perhaps this is why McKinsey, so far, has been tight lipped?
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The Intangible Asset Finance Society is interested in the relationship between the intangibles (the business processes that underlie reputation) and finance. So we turned to the Steel City Re Index for an independent quantitative view (and second opinion) of stakeholders’ collective assessments of the corporate reputations of these two iconic firms.
Unlike the Institute survey, the Steel City Re index is designed to capture forward looking indications of expected stakeholder behaviors that impact cash flow, enterprise value, and cost of credit. These indicators are good predictors of stock price, which remains the single most useful metric of value.
Data through 1 May 2009 show that Johnson & Johnson is in the top tier of the Pharmaceutical sector (see Ethical Pharmaceuticals) with an index ranking this past year that started in the 98th percentile and ended in the #1 position (100th percentile). Index EWMA volatility was low averaging only two orders of magnitude. It is therefore not surprising that its return on equity outperformed the median of 84 of its peers by 13%.
Halliburton, on the other hand, bounces between the upper quartile and second quartile of the Energy equipment and services sector having started the year in the 91st percentile and ended the year in the 86th percentile. Index EWMA volatility was much higher averaging four orders of magnitude. A falling index and high volatility, notwithstanding an above average percentile ranking, is rarely associated with superior economic returns. And indeed, over the past year, Halliburton outperformed the median of 69 of its peers by only .75%.
In fairness, there are significant sector effects behind these numbers. The median pharmaceutical index value among the 5000 companies tracked by Steel City Re ranged between the 20th and 30th percentile and the sector showed an index variance of between .35 and .4. In contrast, the Energy equipment and services sector began the year with a median index ranking in the 70th percentile which then fell precipitously in the fall of 2008 to a median in the 50th percentile. Overall variance, however, is much narrower indicating that the perceived differences among firms in this sector are much smaller than the perceived differences among pharmaceutical firms.
In summary, these data show that a top performer in a sector that is in the reputation doldrums will effectively surprise the markets and significantly outperform its peers; and that a good performer in a sector that has disappointed the markets may still marginally outperform its peers. But with the median pharmaceutical ROE closely matching the S&P500 returns, and the median energy equipment and services ROE underperforming the S&P500 by 20%, Halliburton’s low “popularity” is not surprising.
Bonus: Top and bottom ranked firms on the Steel City Re corporate reputation index for the Pharmaceutical and Energy services sectors as of 1 May are, for Pharma: Johnson & Johnson and Discovery Laboratories, Inc. (NASDAQ:DSCO); and for Energy equipment and services: Seacor Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:CKH) and ION Geophysical Corporation (NYSE:IO).
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