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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Written by Jesse Eisinger who is a top-notch investigative financial journalist working for ProPublica, the charge against the company's Chairman and CEO should stick. No slouch, he and colleague Jake Bernstein were awarded in 2011 the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for a series of stories on questionable Wall Street practices that helped make the financial crisis the worst since the Great Depression. He and Bernstein were also finalists for the 2011 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting for the series.
Here's the funny part. Eisinger documents all the operational successes Goldman Sachs appears to be realizing and the remarkably light touch regulatory opprobrium it navigated -- all empirical proof points that stakeholders are valuing Goldman Sachs' reputation. He concludes that reputation must be irrelevant, quoting Yale legal scholar Jonathan R. Macey. “Reputation is no longer an asset in which it is rational to invest,” writes Macey in his recent book, “The Death of Corporate Reputation” (FT Press).
The problem and source of Eisinger's congnitive dissonance, as followers of the blog picked up from the opening paragraph, is lack of clarity over the meaning of reputation. It is not brand, and it can not be understood the way brand is understood -- through opinions and sentiment surveys.
Andrew Carnegie, one of Pittsburgh's most famous capitalists, explained, "As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say, I just watch what they do." Sentiment and opinion surveys only capture what 'men' say. To appreciate a company's reputation, you need to watch what its stakeholders do. Everything else is just marketing.
Turning to what stakeholders do as evidenced by the Consensiv metrics, Goldman Sachs' Reputation Premium is at the 86th percentile having bounced near the peak these past few months. Its Consensus Trend, the uniformity with which stakeholders agree on its Reputation Premium, is high with a scatter of only 1.2%. Both values stand out as extraordinary when compared to the 80 peers in the Investment Banks/Brokers sector. The Consensus Benchmark is at a generous 10.5% indicating that the normal variance of reputational value and the associated ability of the company to exhibit resilience in the setting of bad news, is at an optimum.
Notwithstanding all the stories over the past few years, none of which present a more sinister image of Goldman Sachs than Matt Taibi's "giant vampire squid," the customers flock to its doors, employees love working for the firm, its costs of capital are reasonable, and the greatest cost of all -- regulatory burden -- somehow seems lighter.
Yes, the overall reputational health, as Eisinger points out in detail, is quite good.
For more background on the Consensiv reputation controls, click here. To view the October 2013 reputational value league table at CFO.com, click here.
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The lot was cast when Pandit asked long-suffering Citigroup investors to support an outsized pay package for mediocre performance. As discussed in the forthcoming book, Reputation, Stock Price and You, Pandit’s nominal salary was generous relative to the respect afforded to him by investors.
As reflected in a regression of Barron’s Most Respected Company scores from the book's Chapter 7, financial sector CEO salaries correlate with reputations. Three companies were outliers. Nominal salaries at Berkshire Hathaway and Visa, both companies with stellar reputations, were below the trend line. At the bottom end of the spectrum, Citigroup ranked just above AIG. While AIG’s CEO’s salary was $3.02 million, Pandit’s nominal salary was significantly above the trend line at $7.02 million.
Citigroup’s performance, however, has been only mediocre. As shown below in the Steel City Re Reputational Value Metrics, among 250 peer companies, Citigroup ranked in the 56th percentile recently on Steel City Re’s CRR, a measure of relative reputational standing; in the 46th percentile on the RVM, a measure of reputational value volatility; and rewarded equity investors with trailing twelve month returns in the 49th percentile. The figures are vastly improved from just earlier this year.
But as is often the case, better may not be good enough. None of these levels are what would be expected for such a huge balance sheet. Goldman Sach’s recent CRR was in the 88th percentile and its RVM volatility was in the 40th percentile. JP Morgan Chase’s CRR was the 77th percentile and riding on a post-whale upwards wave with a greater RVM volatility ranking in the 65th percentile.
AIG’s CEO’s salary was $3.02 million, and his compensation package was approved by 99.19% of the votes cast at the last annual shareholder meeting. In contrast, Pandit’s compensation package was approved by only 45% of the votes cast. The board had to act. Ann Murray, partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, a law firm, warns that boards need to act defensively and anticipate shareholder reaction. “Failed” say-on-pay votes triggered derivative litigation against directors in about 20% of the cases in 2011.
The last data entries on the charts below show the market's response to Pandit's resignation. Stock price jumped relative to peers, RVM volatility decreased and forward-looking reputational ranking (CRR) indicators reported expected upswings.
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Here's how the Financial Times (10 October, Braithwaite T, Alloway T) reported it Wednesday night: Goldman Sachs has told its board of directors that an internal investigation found little substance to allegations made by Greg Smith, the disaffected employee who claimed the bank has a “toxic environment” where bankers refer to clients as “muppets.”...Goldman responded by launching an investigation into what was nicknamed internally “the muppet hunt”. The investigators interviewed dozens of staff and sifted through millions of emails, finding about 4,000 “muppet” references. But they said 99 per cent of those referred to last year’s movie of the same name.
As we've reported consistently here and describe in greater detail in the forthcoming book, Reputation, Stock Price and You (October 2012, Published by Apress), Goldman is harvesting the benefits of a superior reputation within its key market. The Steel City Re Reputational Value Metrics, beginning with the Vital Signs (Column 2 Row 2) show that the volatility of the RVM, a measure of reputational value, is decreasing; the CRR, a measure of relative ranking, is at the 88th percentile, the return on equity is par for the group, and the forecast stability is above average at the 80th percentile relative to the 256 companies in the Bank, Holding Company, and Security Brokerage super industry group. All forecasting measures (Column 1 Row 3,4 and Column 2 Row 4) report upward movement in RVM and CRR.
The reputational value metrics from Steel City re say quantitatively what Barron's wrote for their October cover story on Goldman Sachs titled, Built to Win. Without diminishing the benefits of a negative Muppet scan, Barron's subtitle probably brings the board more comfort: "Goldman Sachs shares could rally 25% in the next year as capital markets improve. How Wall Street's leader has stayed on top."
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Consider the conflicting interests of regulators, shareholders, management, corporate directors and employees on the matter of incentive pay clawbacks. According to Bloomberg (15 May, Marcinek, Griffin, and Kopecki), the company “can cancel stock awards or demand they be repaid if an employee ‘engages in conduct that causes material financial or reputational harm,’ JPMorgan said in its annual proxy statement. The company will claw back pay if it’s appropriate...”
‘Appropriate’ is a squishy word. Stakeholders want to know what formula will be used to convert the magnitude of the alleged damage into the magnitude of clawbacks, and at what time after the alleged damage was precipitated will the magnitude of the damage be assessed. Remember that $millions of compensation and bonus pay are at risk. Bloomberg reported that “New York City Comptroller John Liu said that JPMorgan should tell shareholders it will ‘aggressively claw back every single dollar possible from the executives responsible for the $2 billion loss.’” Employees subject to the clawback will probably have other opinions.
JP Morgan Chase’s corporate directors, caught between regulators on one hand and litigators – employees and investors tend to speak through litigators -- on the other, will find little comfort in subjective measures of reputation. Which means that the company’s D&O insurance carriers are no doubt wishing that the Directors would turn to objective measures and establish standards before they effect a clawback. More generally, every corporate board of directors that has identified reputation to be material to their business –there were 3414 public companies as of December 2011 that disclosed this in their proxy statements – should be seeking a solution to their need for objective reputation metrics if only to preempt future issues.
Fund managers and financial advisers would probably like objective measures, too, given the prevalence of concern about reputation risk. Auditors would no doubt appreciate objective measures, not only in the context of controls, but because reputation has also now been identified as a driver of liquidity. Last, communications professionals would likely find better ways to shape the stories surrounding JP Morgan Chase – and every other publicly traded client company -- if they had objective measures of reputation.
There are two different families of instruments stakeholders could turn to today to address their needs for objective measures of reputation. The best known family are survey-based instruments such as the Reputation Institute’s RepuTrak. The Reptrak 150 for 2011, the most recent publicly disclosed survey, reports that JP Morgan Chase’s ranking was 127 out of 150, and that its score was 59.89 up from 55.78 in 2010. The annual rankings had Morgan Stanley at 123 with a score of 60.51 up from 52.48 in 2010, and Goldman Sachs ranked at 147 with a score of 37.14 down from 46.75 in 2010.
There are arguably limitations to the value of these annual rankings. Survey-based measures provide a degree of reputational resolution that is both too late and blurry for time-sensitive issues such as compensation, equity, and tax. In addition to being mostly backward looking, the Economist newspaper noted that there are issues with the mix of underlying factors underpinning these survey-based metrics.
An alternative family to surveys comprises observational instruments, Steel City Re's system, for example, infers reputation in quantitative terms from the economically relevant activity of stakeholders. The formulation of these metrics is algorithmic and follows the philosophical dictum of Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie who dismissed surveys in favor of observation. “I used to listen to what people say, now that I am older I just watch what they do.”
Taking a long view of JP Morgan Chase, it can be seen that the company's Steel City Re reputational value metric, a non-financial measure of value, has been volatile for the past three years. The reputational value metric of 0.55 GU on May 17, after a fall from a high of 59.7 GU, was nevertheless higher than the lowest value over the trailing twelve months – 0.54 GU on November 4th.
One benefit of metrics of this type is that they foster process controls, and they help to flag extraordinary deviations -- events that could be identified with bona fide reputational damage. In this context, one should note that JP Morgan Chase’s reputational volatility has been so great that the lower boundary of the two-year 2.25 standard deviation of the mean reputational value metric, 0.438 GU (Loss Gate 1), has not yet been breached by the current activity. On the basis of JP Morgan Chase's historical reputational value metrics, and in the context of the three-year long view, this current event could be viewed as just one more bump in a long and volatile history of bumps.
On the other hand, on the basis of its Steel City Re corporate reputational ranking, a relative measure of reputational standing, and in comparison with a peer group comprising all 7400 publicly traded companies tracked by Steel City Re, JP Morgan Chase's current drop from the 79th percentile on May 10 to the 51st percentile May 17 would appear to be material. Is this not incontrovertible evidence of a reputational crisis? Sadly, no. Even this striking piece of evidence is confounded by the fact that the reputation of the banking sector as a whole has been damaged by risks emanating from Athens.
Looking at metrics more familiar to followers of this blog, the bar graph below top right confirms the potential for confounding data. The chart shows that because of the Euro-area crisis, the entire banking sector as of 17 May comprising 216 companies -- one of many possible custom peer groups -- has had awful trailing twelve month (TTM) equity returns. The group's median return was -17.3%. JP Morgan Chase's return, after the mid-May fall, was -23.4% placing it in the 42nd percentile among its banking sector peer group. Over this same time period, the S&P500 lost only 1.6%.
Yet the JP Morgan Chase economic return is superior to two potential bell weather peers first mentioned in the RepTrak data. Morgan Stanley, which was friended by Facebook to be the lead May 18 IPO underwriter from a field of 33, reported a TTM return on equity in the 40th percentile while Goldman Sachs, an icon in its field, reported embarrassing returns earning it a ranking at the 33rd percentile.
Not surprisingly, then, JP Morgan Chase's reputation as of 17 May is still higher than Morgan Stanley. It's corporate reputation ranking relative to the banking sector peer group is at the 44th percentile while Morgan Stanley is ranking at the 30th percentile. More suprising, perhaps, is that Goldman Sachs, notwithstanding poorer economic returns, is still dominating the other two with a ranking at the 83rd percentile. Among the explanations for the patterns seen are the volatility profiles of the reputation rankings. JP Morgan Chase jumped from the 16th percentile for the past year to the 62nd percentile for the past quarter, Morgan Stanley has been in the low 70's consistently, and Goldman Sachs has dropped from a one year volatility ranking in the 77th percentile to a past quarter ranking in 38th percentile.
There are still a few more ways to extract information from the quantitative Steel City Re reputational metrics and gain further insight into the current crisis. The top left chart below illustrates the magnitude of the JP Morgan Chase reputational ranking movement and economic returns between 10 May and 17 May relative to the peer group of 216 companies in the banking sector. It is striking. The charts at right illustrate the relative positions of Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs on 17 May. Last, the time series chart at bottom left illustrates the trailing twelve months and emphasizes the point that reputation is a dynamic variable impacted by the impressions of many different stakeholders: customers, vendors, employees, investors, creditors, and regulators. That means than any objective measures established by a board of directors to clawback rewards, or to grant awards as UBS and BP reported recently, need to be defined both by magnitude and time.
Reputational metrics today are essential managerial and oversight tools. They objectify what would otherwise be subjective decisions at risk for being second guessed. Moreover, they inform various stakeholders of the status of an asset increasingly felt to be a vital part of a company's value.
Of course, Corporate Directors would not be the first to use reputational metrics to inform their actions. The RepTrak metrics, for example, have informed marketing executives seeking to improve their communication strategies. The Steel City Re metrics have informed equity investors seeking value opportunities. One visible example is the RepuStars Variety Composite Equity Index calculated by Dow Jones Indexes which is reported on this blog each Monday. Hedge funds have also found the Steel City Re metrics useful in screening equity opportunities and insurers have found the volatility measures of the Steel City Re metrics helpful in screening for increased D&O litigation risk.
Many different stakeholders today need quantitative reputational metrics for a wide range of core business activities. Since companies have already disclosed the materiality of reputational risks, they have opened the door to reputational management. In our culture, we tend to manage that which we can measure. As the JP Morgan Chase clawback issue shows, the need to adopt quantitative measures of reputation is a time-sensitive matter for many stakeholders.
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Two quick charts on reputational value and reputational rankings based on Steel City Re data reinforce his observations: the reputational rank and reputational stability of Goldman Sachs are both in the top quartile of all 267 firms in the banking and financial services sector.
By five of the key "vital sign" reputational metrics shown at left, Goldman Sachs is looking good. Yet its return on equity -- reward to its long suffering investors -- is the the 17th percentile within this peer group. Contrast Goldman Sach's reputational standing with another full-service investment bank, UBS. UBS with a market cap of $50B compared to Goldman's $57B, has a corporate reputational ranking in the mid 40th percentile even though its return on equity is slightly less negative. Goldman's PE is excess of 26 while UBS's is around 11.
We call this reputational resilience, and having tracked and measured Goldman Sach's reputation for the past three years, we are not surprised. Notes Philips, "There’s a reason why firms keep doing business with Goldman, and it’s not because of its sterling ethical reputation."
Indeed, it is not. The six key business processes that underpin reputational value are ethics, innovation, quality, safety, sustainability, and security. In the investment banking sector, it is hard to argue that one firm is more or less ethical than the other. That makes other drivers of reputation more valuable, and the evidence suggests the most important of them is innovation.
Opines William Cohan who studied Goldman Sachs and their culture and was interviewed by Philips: “This gets back to the advantages that Goldman has had for years over its competition. They attract the best and brightest people. They consistently have the best risk-taking culture on Wall Street. No one understands the markets as well as Goldman.”
Concludes Philips, "In short, if you want the smartest bankers, there’s a price to pay." The reputational value metrics and corporate reputation ranking data concur.
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According to the daily newsletter of the National Association of Corporate Directors (15 April 2011), TheStreet.com (April 15, Woelfel) confirms that the SEC "is in talks with several major Wall Street banks to settle fraud allegations related to mortgage-bond deals that helped begin the financial crisis," with some of these settlements to be reached as early as next week. Others, meanwhile, could take months. The banks in the negotiations range from JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup to Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. According to the website, "The SEC is aiming to reach a series of settlements with individual firms over the sales of the investments, rather than a big industry-wide deal." The settlements will likely vary significantly among banks. Few, if any though, are expected to be more than the $550 million penalty Goldman Sachs paid out in 2010 to settle SEC charges.
The newsletter adds an observation from the Wall Street Journal (April 15, Eaglesham), that "The cases highlight the aggressive tactics banks used to sell these securities to investors who suffered big losses. They also show how the banks' desire to keep the $1 trillion mortgage securities business going helped fuel the housing bubble." According to the newspaper, the settlements come amidst "mounting political pressure on the law-enforcement agencies to take more aggressive action against Wall Street over the financial crisis." Considering the damage done to Goldman's share price when the securities firm was sued by the SEC last year, the various banks will likely be keen to reach deals rather than get involved in an extended public fight with the agency.
Reuters (April 15, Prasad) concludes, adds the newsletter, "The regulator's decision to go for individual settlements reflects substantial differences in the nature of the civil fraud allegations faced by each bank." All of the banks named in the report have so far declined to comment.
But the stakeholders are commenting, and the metric that captures those comments is 'Reputation.' The Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index Rankings show that over the trailing twelve months, Goldman Sach's reputation ranking dropped just a hair from the 94th percentile to the 93rd percentile relative to the 231 peers comprising the integrated Multi-bank Holding and Security Brokerages sector. Of course, still visible is the short-term catastrophic drop in reputation to below the 50th percentile nearly one year ago. But such resilience. Note that the exponentially weighted moving average volatility of Goldman Sachs' reputation is less than 1%.
Goldman's been in the cross hairs for a year, and stakeholders are no longer worried about surprises. JP Morgan, one member of the list of "others," is relatively new to this particular game (though no babe in woods by Wall Street standards). Over the trailing twelve months, its reputation index ranking has dropped from the 90th percentile to the 76th percentile relative to this same group of peers, and its exponentially weighted moving average of index volatility is only now calming down to around 3%, although over this past week, its reputation vector went negative hinting at more volatility.
Reputation is linked to economic performance, of course, but it is not synonymous with either net cash flow nor balance sheet size (or intangible asset fraction) -- rather, reputation provides measurable additional juice, all other things being equal.
Over the trailing twelve months, Goldman's superior reputation did not prevent the company from underperforming its peers by 10% -- a number attributable in part to the $0.5B fine the company paid for the alleged aggressive behavior noted above. JP Morgan, on the other hand, outperformed it peers by less than 1%.
With respect to the intangible asset fraction of enterprise value, Goldman Sachs' valuation is supported by a few more book assets (read, lower intangible asset fraction) relative to the median of the peer group as of late, while JP Morgan is on the other side of the mean with a greater intangible asset fraction value.
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On a global basis, Goldman advised on 225 deals, with a total value of $401.6 billion, Dealogic figures show, giving them a market share of just over 20%. Goldman generated $961 million in revenue from its global M&A advisory. It also topped the rankings according both to deal value and advisory revenue in the U.S. In Europe, although it took the top position measured by deal value, it fell to fifth position according to advisory fee revenue, beaten by Morgan Stanley (MS), Rothschild, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank AG (DB). In Asia Pacific excluding Japan, however, Bank of America Merrill Lynch topped the M&A ranking, according to value of deals, with a nearly 20% market share. UBS A.G. (UBS) topped the Asia Pacific ranking measured according to the M&A fees ranking, Dealogic says. For Japan, Nomura (9716.TO) dominated the rankings over the same period for both criteria.
The reputation metrics indicate that Goldman Sachs has retained its position at a cost. The Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index™ ranking for the Company has dropped a net 9 percentile points over the trailing twelve months from the 98th percentile to the 89th percentile as shown in the top chart. Concurrently, the reputation rankings for the entire industry improved, as shown in the 4th chart, with little change in the inter-sector variance. Goldman Sachs' return on equity, in the top chart, and its fractional intangible asset value, shown in the last chart, reveal under performance by 19% and a persistent material loss of intangible asset fractional value.
When we last looked at the Company's metrics, we speculated that the equity markets were not appreciating the Company's value. With the benefit of hindsight, we see that the markets were underpricing the Company relative to its reputation ranking, but were nevertheless sensing real expected loss. A loss of pricing power. We interpret these metrics, in the aggregate, to suggest that Goldman Sachs has had to yield a bit on price. We believe customers want Goldman Sachs for their intellectual prowesss, but sense that they can squeeze Goldman on price. A bit, anyway. For now. And so it goes.
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The reputation metrics confirm the apparent market confusion. First, the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index™ shows evidence of significant resilience. Goldman Sachs entered this period with a reputation rank of .97 and is currently at .94. A drop, for sure, but relative to the precipitous fall earlier this year, a remarkable return when compared to the 38 firms in the capital markets sector.
The equity markets are more sanguine and have the firm underperforming the median of its peers by 22%.
In fact, overall the firm has lost a significant amount of enterprise value. Remember that this value, according to Goldman Sachs, comprises its people, capital and reputation. Which leads us to conclude that the equity market is not appreciating the reputational value that other stakeholders see. Are the reputation data suggesting that the company is underpriced?
Perhaps. Stay tuned when next week on Monday we roll out RepuStars II, a new composite index whose constituents, numbering up to 57 companies, are selected on the basis of both reputational and fundamental metrics.
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Let’s look at the reputation metrics. The Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index shows that over the past year, BP’s ranking among the 51 companies in the Oil Refiners & Distribution Sector has dropped from the 92nd percentile to the 26th percentile and is still trending downward. As of 3 June, it was under performing the median of its peer group by 28%. Its exponentially weighted moving average reputation index volatility is rapidly approaching five orders of magnitude.
Further, the median reputation ranking of the entire sector has dropped on a percentile basis from the high 70’s to the low 50’s relative to the standing of all firms traded on the major western markets.
Turning to Goldman Sachs, the Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index shows that over the past year, Goldman’s ranking among the 38 companies in the Securities Brokerage Sector has dropped from the 97th percentile to the 75th percentile having bottomed out at below the 50th percentile. It is now trending upward. As of 3 June, it was under performing the median of its peer group by 20%. Its exponentially weighted moving average reputation index volatility appears to have peaked at 5 orders of magnitude.
Further, the median reputation ranking of the entire sector has hovered around the 40th percentile, although the variance within the sector has grown from .15 to .25.
Compared and contrasted, these data lead to two very different conclusions regarding the futures of BP and Goldman. Goldman is coming back. Goldman Sachs is exhibiting reputation resilience—a highly desired state following a headline risk event whereby it is able to hold on to some of its pricing power, continue to operate with lower costs, benefit from greater investor expectations, and appears to have resolved many of the uncertainties surrounding its enterprise value. In contrast, BP is still sliding reputationally, has surrendered pricing power, is facing unimaginable costs, and is the subject of takeover speculation.
BP is unquestionably the biggest loser at this point, and the indicators suggest that it will handily ‘win’ this competition in the long run, too.
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