MISSION INTANGIBLE

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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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Table or menu

Nir Kossovsky - Thursday, September 10, 2009
Financial players are salivating over opportunities in the Food Products sector following Kraft Foods’ (NYSE:KFT) unsolicited $16 billion for Cadbury PLC (NYSE:CBY). According to Kraft’s CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, "We are eager to build upon Cadbury's iconic brands and strong British heritage through increased investment and innovation." Sounds to us like a reputation (brand) and intangible asset (innovation) opportunity.

So now that the sector is in play, we thought we’d look back over the past year and see how our predictions for value creation panned out. After all, when mergers and acquisitions are all the rage, if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.

Our last look at the Food Products sector was April 14 and was motivated by the sudden decline in the reputation standing of the HJ Heinz Company (NYSE:HNZ) as measured by the Steel City Re IA (Corporate Reputation) Index. The Index, which correlates with reputation surveys such as those published by Forbes, Fortune, and Harris Interactive, captures the financial implications of stakeholder behaviors and expectations of stakeholder behaviors as determined by corporate reputation. The Index is a good leading indicator of financial performance and returns on equity.

Six months ago, the top dozen ranked companies in the Food Products sector, according to the Index, included Heinz and Cadbury. Kraft was number 17. Here is our recap of the baker’s dozen with market value as of the close of the markets Friday 4 September before Kraft's announcement.



Heinz, a company that was highly ranked in March 2009 but caught our attention because of a sudden drop in its reputation standing, underperformed the balance of the baker's dozen over the full year with a disappointing -24.5% ROE. Kraft, which lost only 11% over the year, outperformed Cadbury which lost 16.5%.  Firms that had a higher reputation ranking in March 09 slightly outperformed their peers. The correlation between rank and six month return was 16%. The top 12 firms, in a demonstration of reputation resilience, outperformed both the S&P Index and the Food Sector index with a loss, as a group, of less than 1%.

One other reputation note. Kellogg and Cadbury, both firms with strong reputation rankings and exceedingly strong brands, reported quality issues related to melamine and salmonella. We know that the impairment of reputation-linked assets such as quality have brought down companies from all sectors. We wonder, for the record, if business process challenges were responsible for making Cadbury an appealing target?

Note added after original posting:

Comments received after posting from readers of MISSION:INTANGIBLE focused on the relatively short window in which we reported economic results. The readers rightly pointed out that the Food Products sector is a long-term business. Tastes may evolve over time, but the business processes associated with delivering tens of millions of safe, quality meals reliably and repeatedly demand eternal vigilance. Consistency is the watchword, and therefore long-term financial results should be included in any discussion of reputation.

We agree. Below, the ten-year returns of the Baker’s Dozen listed above less Campbell’s soup (CPB) due to space limitations. Highest returns: JJSF; lowest returns shown KFT. The only major Food Products sector firm from our top 12 (sector rankings for reputation as of April, ’09) to underperform the S&P500 (10 yr equity return -20%) was CPB (not shown). Prices not adjusted for dividends.


Andersen's ashes

Nir Kossovsky - Monday, August 03, 2009

We return from our summer holidays to see the stock price of Huron Consulting plummet in early morning trading.

We excerpt from the Reuter's story.

Huron Consulting Group (NASDAQ:HURN), a member of the Diversified Commercial & Professional Services sector, which rose in 2002 from the ashes of collapsed accounting giant Arthur Anderson, said late on Friday that its entire top management team would leave the company and that it would restate more than three years of results.

Oppenheimer analyst Scott Schneeberger said: "The damage to Huron's reputation will likely be significant."

Two law firms are investigating potential shareholder claims against Huron over possible securities violations, while an analyst raised questions about the company's ability to survive.

Huron, which was on Fortune magazine's 2008 list of the 100 fastest-growing U.S. companies, said it is also conducting a separate investigation into its allocation of chargeable hours in response to an inquiry from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Chicago-based Huron was founded in 2002 by 25 partners from Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that collapsed in connection with the Enron Corp accounting scandal in 2002.

Were there any warning signs? We look for indications in the Steel City Re IA (Corporate Reputation) Index.  The Index, which correlates with reputation surveys such as those published by Forbes, Fortune, and Harris Interactive, captures the financial implications of stakeholder behaviors and expectations of stakeholder behaviors as determined by corporate reputation. The Index is a good leading indicator of financial performance and returns on equity.

And indeed, there are indications and warnings of a reputation challenge. The Steel City Re Index shows that over a one year period, Huron rose meteorically from a low of 0.35 to a high of 1.0 and then back down to 0.83. That's a significant fluctuation in reputation in advance of any public disclosure.

At the end of trading today, Huron is down 69%.

Eclipse of the sun

Nir Kossovsky - Monday, April 13, 2009
Last Monday, 6 April, the world learned that IBM (NYSE:IBM) was no longer interested in acquiring Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ:JAVA). Speculation as to the reasons for the collapsed deal include price, intellectual property and hubris. Let's look at the intangibles of this deal from the perspective of the Steel City Re  Intangible Asset Finance (corporate reputation) (IA) index.

The charts below shows IBM. As seen in the upper chart, among the 48 companies comprising the Computers and Peripherals sector, IBM has ranked in the top 99th or 100th percentile this past year. In terms of return on equity, it outperforms the median of its peers by 33%. As seen in the lower chart, the volatility of its index score is only two orders of magnitude and is decreasing. This is a company with an exceedingly strong reputation that stakeholders believe they understand, and clearly like.



The charts below shows Sun Microsystems. As seen in the upper chart, among the same 48 companies comprising the Computers and Peripherals Group, Sun (JAVA) has ranked no higher than the 50th percentile a year ago and is now ranking below the 20th percentile. In terms of return on equity, notwithstanding the surge in anticipation of a potential deal, it has underperformed its peers by nearly 20%. As seen in the lower chart, the volatility of its index score is three orders of magnitude and is now increasing. This is a company with a rapidly deteriorating reputation that stakeholders are liking less, and are concerned they no longer know.



The data indicate that since Sun Microsystem's reputation is not going to help IBM, the latter can afford to wait until hubris is humbled and the price stabilizes.



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