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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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Reputational Value Symmetry

C. HUYGENS - Saturday, February 04, 2012
From the time of the pioneering work by Fombrun and others in the 1990's, market observers generally agreed that reputation was a source of equity value. When good, it drove customers to buy more at higher prices, employees to work harder for less, vendor and creditors to offer superior terms, equity investors to bid up multiples, and regulators to cast a more benign eye. Since then, punters have sought methods for linking to concepts into an equity strategy.

The dominant challenge has been the inherent nature of reputation. It is an epiphenomenon of the interplay between culture and operational matters on one hand, oversight and governance practices on the second, and allowing for a third hand -- how the package is presented and delivered to stakeholders. The latter is recognized as being generally in the domain of marketers, and since it represents the "last mile" to the stakeholder, it has received the lion's share of attention.

Reputation value can be teased out of equity value through major adverse reputational events. Many have been documented in this blog over the years. Informal estimates suggest that the cost of an adverse reputational event is around 5% of market cap. Steel City Re, the reputation risk insurance specialist, calculate a value closer to 7% but their model arguably ignores "lesser" reputational events. Since 2005 when the Economist Intelligence Unit published its seminal article on reputation risk, reputation management gained a new internal stakeholder - the enterprise risk manager.

These data affirmed management's need to avoid reputational risk, but they provided little in the way of guidance of how to avoid it. Also, while they suggested how much to invest in the avoidance effort, the lumpy nature of reputational events ensured that any classical actuarial model would leave a firm statistically comfortable with its risk management strategy and yet woefully underprepared.

In November 2011, Steel City Re announced that its data on reputational value indicators had been incorporated into an equity strategy and was available through Dow Jones Indexes. The ten-year history, several years of which have been published weekly on this site, indicated a significant outperformance relative to the benchmark S&P500 index. Critics suggested that the outperformance could be attributed to higher beta securities rather than an inherent value proposition associated with exploiting latent reputation value.

We now report an additional analysis of the RepuStars algorithm in which the stock selection was limited to the S&P500 constituent members only. Details on the 3-year old RepuStars Variety algorithm and the underpinning reputational statistics are provided elsewhere. In this study, stocks were selected by the algorithm at the beginning of each of ten years beginning December 2001. In general, the portfolios comprising stocks selected using the RepuStars Variety algorithm outperformed the universe of S&P500 firms (the Index) each of the ten years. The single exception was 2008 (image below). The ten year average was 6.5%, a value surprisingly similar to the 7% losses realized with adverse reputational events.

From an investment perspective, the portfolio based on the above would have produced an annual 9% cumulative return which is within 10% of the RepuStars Variety price index returns that are reported each Monday (image below).

The upshot is the reputation management is not only good risk management. It is a source of value creation. Firms that do it right can expect, on average, an additional 6.5% in equity value growth, and protection against 7% in equity value loss, all other things being equal. Arguably, there are very few managerial strategies a firm can pursue today short of inventing the next i-device or replacement for facebook that can deliver such value.

Yahoo: Doofuses in the house?

C. HUYGENS - Friday, September 09, 2011
Earlier this week, Yahoo’s (NASDAQ:YHOO) board fired CEO Carol Bartz and appointed CFO Tim Morse as interim CEO. That makes 4 CEOs in 4 years and casts a shadow on the board of directors, among whose duties are the selection and oversight of the CEO.

According to the Associated Press (8 Sept, Liedtke), “Carol Bartz's firing as Yahoo Inc.'s CEO isn't going to be enough to placate a loudening chorus of shareholders who believe Chairman Roy Bostock and his fellow board members also should be ousted after years of questionable choices that raised doubts about their competence."

Turning to the numbers, the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index shows a steady decline in Yahoo’s reputation ranking over the trailing twelve months relative to its 104 peers in the Internet Services and Software sector. On 3 September 2010, Yahoo ranked in the 89th percentile; yesterday they ranked in the 70th percentile. The 19 point decrease has been associated with an increase in Yahoo’s reputational volatility. Over the trailing six months, the exponentially weighted moving average reputational ranking volatility has climbed from around 10% to 49.4%. The trailing twelve week reputational vector and velocities are reading in at -9.4% and -7% respectively. It is therefore not surprising that the company is underperforming the median its peers over the trailing twelve months by 6.64%.
More globally, the entire sector appears to be rising ever so slightly reputationally relative to the broad market. The sector's median ranking has been edging up from the 40th percentile over the trailing 12 months. Within the sector, however, variance is relatively high reading in at 28% on 8 Sept. Last, looking specifically at Yahoo’s intangible asset fraction, it has dropped recently from around 60% to the low to mid 50%; the median fraction among the peer group is in excess of 80%.

Activist investors are taking note. So are long time stakeholders. The AP story quotes Darren Chervitz, co-manager of the Jacob Internet Fund, a longtime Yahoo shareholder, this way: "This board has presided over some of the worst decisions made by any company in recent history." Bartz frames it more colorfully in a profanity laced interview with Fortune magazine. "The board was so spooked by being cast as the worst board in the country. Now they're trying to show that they're not the doofuses that they are."

Massey Energy: Ain't no mountain high enough

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, June 01, 2011
In a curious twist on the Ashford/Simpson love duet, Massey Energy (NYSE:MEE) shareholders have signaled that they intend to pursue claims aggressively against the board of directors notwithstanding efforts by the latter to make a wash of the whole thing. The matter is now before the West Virginia State Supreme Court.

The case elements center about liability, reputation, and board oversight. Simply put, plaintiffs allege that the Board of Directors failed in its Duty of Loyalty by not ensuring that safety processes were being implemented. Safety, as we have noted before, is a key business process underpinning reputational value. And the safety-linked disaster at Massey certainly did knock with wind out of the company's reputational value.

We've seen this movie before -- most recently with Johnson and Johnson (see below). Here is how the National Association of Corporate Directors explains the current situation in their 31 May newsletter:

"The fate of a shareholder vote on Massey Energy's proposed $7.1 billion sale to rival coal producer Alpha Natural Resources is up to the state Supreme Court," the Washington Post (May 31) reports. The court is expected on Tuesday to take up the request by a trio institutional investors who are seeking to prevent a June 1 vote by Massey shareholders. The shareholders will also urge the court to seal case records. "The Charleston Gazette and National Public Radio are asking the court to open the files," the Post notes. "They argue the documents may shed light on the April 5, 2010, explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners." The investors state that the explosion and other actions damaged the company's value.

Wall Street Journal (May 31, Maher) adds that the court will decide whether to grant a temporary injunction sought by the investors, "who allege that Massey's board agreed to the sale to escape any personal liability for a coal-mining accident last year that killed 29 miners and drove down the company's stock price." The suit claims the company not only gave Alpha preferential treatment during the bidding process, it also failed to disclose key information about the negotiating process in its filings with the SEC. In addition, the Journal states, "The West Virginia suit alleges that the board failed to comply with a 2008 court order to institute new safety systems at the company." The plaintiffs include the California State Teachers' Retirement System.

Benzinga (May 31, Wilcox) notes, "Alpha Natural and Massey would the be largest U.S. producer of metallurgical coal." Additionally, Massey is facing a separate suit brought by the New Jersey Building Laborers Pension Fund, which also seeks to halt the sale.

Here's the background as summarized recently in Intellectual Asset Management magazine, the official publication partner of the Society. According to Cathy Reese, a partner with law firm Fish & Richardson and chair of the Intangible Asset Finance Society’s Committee on Intangible Asset Governance, the Delaware Supreme Court’s 2006 opinion in Stone v Ritter adopted the concept of oversight liability, which had been discussed some 10 years earlier in the influential 1996 In re Caremark decision by the Delaware Court of Chancery. Importantly, this duty of oversight applies to all corporate assets, including intangible assets.

The court in Stone v Ritter stated that director oversight liability may be predicated on facts showing that either: “(a) the directors utterly failed to implement any reporting or information system or controls; or (b) having implemented such a system or controls, consciously failed to monitor or oversee its operations thus disabling themselves from being informed of risks or problems requiring their attention.”

Now the West Virginia Supreme Court gets to weigh in on the matter.

Avon: Ethical calling

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Several months ago, in the ongoing post-mortem of the BP disaster, John Kay noted in the Financial Times that, “today’s willingness to cut corners is tomorrow’s headline risk.” Were this observation to be appreciated more widely, many reputations might have been saved.

Which brings Huygens to the happy story of Avon Products, Inc. (NYSE:AVP). Under financial pressure, the rumor mills last fall suggested the Company was in the cross hairs of L’Oreal S.A. In early October, the call volume on Avon surged relative to puts giving holders a whopping 18% 3-month return. L’Oreal didn’t take the bait, and Avon moved quickly to cut costs. In mid-October, it announced plans to cut about 400 jobs and to shut down an Ohio manufacturing facility. On early November, it announced that it had agreed to tender its 75% ownership interest in its Avon Japan business to an affiliate of TPG Capital, the global private investment firm. There were a number of intellectual property licenses associated with the deal. The stock priced tumbled.

Yet when faced with a major ethical issue whose resolution could have further impaired cash flows, the Company avoided the temptation to cut corners. In mid April 2011, Avon suspended the president, chief financial officer and top government affairs executive at its China unit and a senior executive in New York who was the company's head of internal audit until the middle of last year. According to Business Ethics (13 April, Connor), in its most recent SEC 10-K filing, Avon said it had voluntarily disclosed to the SEC and the Department of Justice internal investigations and compliance reviews which had “started in China” and focused on “certain expenses and books and records processes, including, but not limited to, travel, entertainment, gifts, and payments to third-party agents and others, in connection with our business dealings, directly or indirectly, with foreign governments and their employees” Avon said in its 10-K filing that the investigation had grown to include “additional countries.”
The Wall Street Journal cited a source as saying those countries were in Latin America, a major source of revenue and earnings for Avon.

With the benefit of a month’s hindsight, we can see how the financial and reputation markets have reacted. Over the trailing twelve months, the Company has underperformed the median of its 41 peers in the Household/Personal Care sector by 19.44%. The big fall off from parity traces back to the actions in the fall of 2010.

The reputational metrics, however, suggest that the Company is on a value-creating path. According to Steel City Re, the Company’s reputation index metrics are unchanged over the trailing twelve months with a most recent ranking at the 70th percentile. The Index’s exponentially weighted moving average volatility has been drifting downward consistently since the fourth quarter and is now at 66% -- a high value for sure, but a trend that is value-creating. The twelve-week reputation index velocity and vector values show recent upward movement s of 19% and 5% respectively suggesting a positive response to the corporate actions and disclosures.

Looking last at enterprise value, the intangible asset fraction of the company is now greater than it was a year ago, affirming that all other things being equal – as Alan Greenspan noted several years ago – “in a market based on trust, reputation has value.”

BP vs. TM: A tale of two reputations

Nir Kossovsky - Tuesday, June 01, 2010
When it comes to headline risk, loss of value surprises no one. But this Society has long advocated that among the benefits arising from superior intangible asset financial management is reputation resilience. In fact, it is one of the central themes in the Society’s recent book, Mission:Intangible. Managing risk and reputation to create enterprise value.

Reputation resilience is the benefit arising from having a company pre-position stores of goodwill on which it can draw when the headline crisis strikes. It means stakeholders will tend to feel a company’s pain and empathize rather than holding a company culpable.

Consider the remarkable reputational comeback of Toyota Motors (NYSE:TM). As shown in the first of two charts of the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index, Toyota’s ranking has zoomed back to the top of the automotive (motor vehicles) sector globally among its 35 peers from a start one year ago of 0.62. While it is currently underperforming the median of its 18peers in the automotive sector by 23% due to costs associated with its recent issues (and the subsequent pile on of litigators, regulators and mommy bloggers), its future prospects are good. Stakeholders are giving the company the benefit of the doubt in terms of pricing power, labor costs, credit costs and earnings multiples. Toyota built the capacity for reputational resilience over years of generally doing the right thing on six key fronts: ethics, innovation, quality, safety, sustainability, and security.

Now contrast Toyota with what we expect will be a long a steady reputation loss at BP (NYSE:BP). BP’s ranking has been sliding for the past year having started at the 87th percentile and finishing most recently at the 56th. BP, a firm that is no stranger to reputation issues, is currently underperforming its 51 peers in the integrated oil sector by 14% and, notwithstanding the bright colors of the chart, the future is not rosy.

Heads Up

1. Risk, governance, and compliance are the topics for this Friday’s Mission Intangible Monthly Briefing at 12h00 EDT. The program, titled Driving risk and reputation into the C-suite, is complimentary, and a sample download of a recent program is available to further pique your interest. For more information and registration, click here.

2. The book, Mission: Intangible is available from the Society and from other major online book retailers. The book is available in hardcover, softback and e-book versions. Society members benefit from a material discount if purchasing the book from the Society.

3. The Society will release next week regular data on the first-ever reputation composite index. Provided by Steel City Re, the data reportedly show that firms actively engaged in the process of reputation enhancement tend to outperform their peers. Spoiler alert: Since January 2005, the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Composite Index of reputation rising stars has returned 18% while the S&P500 has lost 3%.

And of course, we extend to you an open invitation to join the Society as a full member; and to Link-In to the Society's regular chatter availabe conveniently through the Linked-In website and IAFS group membership. Join us.

Lehman: Headline risk and Repo 105

Nir Kossovsky - Friday, March 19, 2010
It is water under the bridge, of course, but it is worth noting that insiders at Lehman (NYSE:LEH) thought that Repo 105 reeked of “headline risk.” And headline risk, as we have observed before, can snowball.

According to Jennifer Hughes writing in today’s Financial Times, Martin Kelly, global financial controller, warned his bosses about the “headline risk” to Lehman’s reputation if the deals were to become public. And now that the issue is public, it is snowballing.

Ms. Hughes further writes, “Lehman’s Repo 105s have attracted attention because attempts to hide assets by shifting them off the balance sheet are associated with dodgy accounting and best known for the interminable tangle of vehicles created by Enron, the failed US energy group, to hide its debts. But the reason this issue keeps rearing its head in so many guises is that the question lies at the very heart of accounting, which was originally intended to give a company’s owners a fair report of its business activities. Therefore, what goes on, and what stays off, the books is a permanent area of debate.”

Perhaps. But there is also a reputation angle to this story. In our opinion, the reason this issue is rearing its head and snowballing with the inevitable pile on of ‘litigators, regulators and Mommy bloggers’ is that it speaks to a central driver of market liquidity—trust. As former Fed Chairman Greenspan noted in October 2008, in a market system based upon trust, reputation has significant value. Linking ‘trust’ to ‘reputation’ is the ephemeral intangible asset of ‘ethics,’ for which accountants have yet to find a home.

Which is not to say that ‘ethics’ does not impact financial statements. As reported in the Intangible Asset Finance Society’s latest book, Mission: Intangible, companies with superior reputations deliver superior long-term shareholder returns by enabling (i) stronger pricing power, (ii) lower operating costs, (iii) greater earnings multiples, (iv) lower beta and (v) lower credit costs. And as for companies that do not foster conformance with ethical best practices, there are always alternatives to being a going concern. Just ask Lehman.

IAFS Membership Drive

Nir Kossovsky - Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The IAFS launched its 2010 membership drive this past week. This is why. On February 28, new US SEC regulations will drive into the boardrooms risk, reputation and intangible asset management. 

You have a decision. Will you be at the table or on the menu?

These regs mean that every board member, in fact every top executive, can expect major new challenges. Members of the Intangible Asset Finance Society (IAFS) will be prepared. Here’s how:

1. Thought Leadership. The IAFS is the only interdisciplinary Society of professionals committed to the financial exploitation of intangible assets. That translates into enhanced pricing power; lower operating and credit costs; and higher net incomes and earnings multiples.

2. Risk Management. A lost reputation can destroy a firm overnight. IAFS can keep you up to date with risk management strategies for ethics, innovation, quality, safety, environmental sustainability, and security.

3. Preferential Pricing. Society members receive preferential rates for IAFS products at our new store and discounted registration to various professional meetings. Discounted registrations for the March ICAP Ocean Tomo meeting in San Francisco and the June IP Business Congress in Munich, for example, are now offered.

4. Incentive Premium. Sign on for your academic or corporate membership including payment by March 15 and receive a complementary copy of the IAFS’s latest book, Mission: Intangible. Managing risk and reputation to create enterprise value (a $29.95 value).

Click here to learn how our strengths in Thought Leaders and Risk Management, financial benefits such preferential pricing, and premiums such as the book shown at right make joining the Society today an offer you can't refuse.

Accenture: Tigers, elephants, and frogs; oh my!

Nir Kossovsky - Wednesday, February 10, 2010
“…it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

True or false: Finding himself unable to keep his fly in the full, upright, and locked position, Tiger Woods’ ethical downfall precipitated reputation-associated losses on the order of $12 billion by his sponsors?

FALSE. The Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index shows no evidence of headline risk effects.

On 28 December 2009, Christopher R. Knittel and Victor Stango posted on the web their study, Shareholder Value Destruction following the Tiger Woods Scandal. These economists, associated with both the University of California, Davis, and NBER, reviewed the market behavior of six public sponsors of Mr. Woods—Accenture (NYSE:ACN), AT&T (NYSE:T), Nike (NYSE:NKE), Gillette (NYSE:PG), Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) and Gatorade (NYSE:PEP). Using an ‘event study’ method, they concluded that shareholders of companies that Mr. Woods endorsed lost $5-12 billion in wealth between 27 November and 11 December. The authors imply headline risk as the proximate cause.

We disagree. While there were some market cap losses and fewer gains, we see no evidence of consistent decreased reputation metrics among the sponsors. Using tools described briefly at Steel City Re, and in more detail in the forthcoming book, Mission: Intangible. Risk and reputation management to create enterprise value, we see no change in reputation rank trends over the relevant two week window. We share exemplary Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index metrics for four (4) of the companies alleged to have suffered the consequences of headline risk.

First, AT&T rewarded its shareholders over this period with a positive bump, although it was not as significant of a bump as the median of its 57-member peer group. Its Reputation Index also showed a small positive bump ending the period at the 92nd percentile. The bottom line: better reputation metrics over the critical period.

Second, Accenture and Nike showed no movement in their reputation metrics. In the charts showing the Reputation Index and its exponentially weighted moving average volatility for the past six months, Accenture is flat at the 94th percentile and Nike is flat at the 100th percentile. The bottom line: no change in reputation metrics over the critical period.

Last, in the chart showing both the Reputation Index for Electronic Arts and the both the median and variance of the index measurements for the Software Group sector, three things are apparent. First, Electronic Arts’ Reputation Index ranking continued its downward trend during the critical period. Second, the median reputation ranking for the entire sector slid over the course of the entire year. Third and last, there is much volatility in the variance of the index rankings in this sector. The bottom line: weaker reputation metrics over the critical period reflecting continuation of a year-long trend.

The data suggest that in this instance, the downfall of an iconic spokesperson generated significant press, much speculation, but ultimately nothing untoward with respect to his sponsors. Bottom line: No headline risk seen. Goodbye Tiger. Hello elephant and frog.

Headline risk reprieve

Nir Kossovsky - Thursday, December 03, 2009
Six weeks have passed since the Chairman of the Galleon Group, the hedge fund at the center of a suspected insider trading ring, and several executives, have been charged. Three of the companies caught in this scandal are going concerns. Their executives are accused of divulging confidential non-public information. Those companies are McKinsey & Company, IBM (NYSE:IBM), and Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC).

Of the three, McKinsey & Company has a widely held reputation for discretion – an intangible asset that is essential to their operational effectiveness. Last month, we hypothesized that this reputation would help mitigate McKinsey’s headline risk. Evidence of this mitigation would be fewer articles in the business and legal press relative to the other two firms.

Once again, Society member Jim Singer of the Pepper Hamilton law firm and author of the blog IP Spotlight, helped us with the analysis. Lexis Nexis searches were conducted combining 2 comprehensive databases - Business News Publications and Legal News Publications for the dates 9/3/2009-11/22/2009. The first search was for the pairing of “Galleon OR Rajaratnam.” Jim then searched the resulting articles for the additional terms of McKinsey, IBM, or Intel. 

There were no citations meeting the search criteria prior to the government announcement of allegations. Following the announcement, the data show that McKinsey’s name is less frequently associated than the other two firms with the disgraced hedge fund. This observation is statistically significant for the first three weeks of the alleged scandal.

While the findings are not conclusive—McKinsey is privately-held whereas the other two are public—these data are consistent with our general observation that companies with strong reputations based on rigorous business processes make for sympathetic actors that are treated as victims rather than culpable agents when adverse events occur. In short, reputations arising from superior intangible asset stewardship help mitigate headline risk.

NB: Statistical analysis using the Chi Square test for the five weeks of data yields a p<.03, p<.001, p<.01, for the first three weeks, respectively, and then not statistically significant differences thereafter.

Galleon's wake

Nir Kossovsky - Friday, October 30, 2009
Thirteen days have now passed since the Chairman of the Galleon Group, the hedge fund at the center of a suspected insider trading ring, and several executives, have been charged. The fund has liquidated about 90 percent of its nearly $3.7 billion portfolio of technology stocks and other securities and will be consigned to history, shortly. 

Three of the companies caught in this scandal are going concerns. Their executives are accused of divulging confidential non-public information. Those companies are McKinsey & Company, IBM (NYSE:IBM), and Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC). Of the three, McKinsey & Company has a widely held reputation for discretion – an intangible asset that is essential to their operational effectiveness.

We hypothesized that this reputation would help mitigate McKinsey’s headline risk. Evidence of this mitigation would be fewer articles in the business and legal press relative to the other two firms.

Society member Jim Singer of the Pepper Hamilton law firm, and author of the blog IP Spotlight, helped us with the analysis. Lexis Nexis searches were conducted combining 2 comprehensive databases - Business News Publications and Legal News Publications for the dates 10/1/2009-10/29/2009. The first search was for the pairing of “Galleon and Rajaratnam.” Jim then searched the resulting 112 articles for the additional terms of McKinsey, IBM, or Intel.

The data show that McKinsey’s name is less frequently associated than the other two firms with the disgraced hedge fund. This observation is statistically significant. It is consistent with our general contention that companies with strong reputations based on rigorous business processes make for sympathetic actors that are treated as victims rather than culpable agents when adverse events occur. In short, reputations arising from superior intangible asset stewardship help mitigate headline risk.

NB: Statistical analysis using the Chi Square test yields a p<.03 (statistically significant).

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