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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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Popularity, reputation, and financial metrics

Nir Kossovsky - Friday, May 08, 2009
On 29 April 2009, the Reputation Institute released its annual survey on the nation’s most respected companies. Based on its surveys of the general public, the Institute ranked 153 companies on how esteemed, admired, trusted and liked each was. The top and bottom ranks were held by Johnson and Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), respectively.

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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