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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Kraft: Is tax minimization ethically virtuous?

C. HUYGENS - Friday, June 21, 2013
Cadbury, the company will have you know, emphasizes responsibility both environmentally and ethically. Examples include "Purple Goes Green," the branded sustainability initiative at Cadbury to reduce carbon emissions and packaging; joining Singapore's Sustainable Manufacturing Center, cooperating with the United Nations Development Program and governments of Ghana to invest funds in support of sustainable cocoa production; and supporting core labor rights and dignity-at-work initiatives, health and safety initiatives and fair remuneration standards.

With such outstanding core values, it was natural that the UK press was outraged when it was discovered that the 2010 acquisition by Kraft, the American food conglomerate, was being secretly restructured to reduce UK taxes. Legal, sure. But blatantly unethical in that the actions of the American company would deprive the UK, and it citizens, of reasonable revenue. As reported by the Guardian in December 2010, "Kraft is reorganising the Bournville-based manufacturer's UK business to allow much of the profit to be booked in Switzerland. The switch means the Dairy Milk manufacturer will pay a much lower rate of corporation tax and is likely to deprive the exchequer of millions of pounds in tax revenue."

Surprise, surprise. The Financial Times reported yesterday that the company established in 1824 and known for its philanthropic ethos, had been for years prior to the takeover "devising schemes to engineer interest charges that could be deducted from its gross profits and reduce UK tax…Other schemes eschewed complicated debt and accountancy structures and instead relied on old-fashioned tax havens."

A former Cadbury executive familiar with the scheme told the FT it was just one of “a lot of things” the group did “to create an interest deduction out of nothing”, adding that certain executives in the company “found that intellectually quite stimulating”.


Could it be that from an ethical perspective, tax minimization is virtuous?

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.


Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee

Nir Kossovsky - Wednesday, June 10, 2009
On June 30 2008, Margaret (Peggy) M. Foran was appointed to executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Sara Lee Corp (NYSE:SLE).  In addition to overseeing the company’s worldwide legal activities, Peggy led Global Business Practices, risk management, internal audit and insurance activities, as well as environmental, safety and sustainability efforts. In our parlance, she was Sara Lee’s risk and reputation officer. She reported to Brenda C. Barnes, chairman and chief executive officer, Sara Lee Corp. On June 9th, after less than one year on the job, she abruptly stepped down “for personal reasons.”

What’s going on in the background? Dogs -- hot dogs, to be exact. There is the May 2009 lawsuit filed by Sara Lee against Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT) for false advertising – the so called hot dog wars. There is the concurrent recall of 1700 pounds of Sara Lee Ball Park brand hot dogs for mislabeling.  Hardly steamy stuff.

Is there some reputational risk lurking for which an indication or warning might be found 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.

 

The Steel City Re Index shows that the reputation metric has been hovering in the 40th percentile amond the 48 companies in the Packaged foods & meats sector this past year. Although there is a distinct upward movement from the 40th to the 50th percentile co-incident with Ms. Foran's appointment, the trend has otherwise been downward until a recent recapture of lost ground. Although EWMA volatility has been declining, it is still at 4log orders of magnitude. Economically, over the past twelve months, SLE has underperformed its peers by 16.5%. In short, the mystery is why the dog didn't bark.

By our indications and warnings metrics, this type of economic underperformance in the setting of an already low reputation index increases the risk of business process corner-cutting -- actions that can lead to business process failures and expose a company's reputation to a myriad of perils and headline risk.

Ms Foran joined Sara Lee with a stellar reputation of her own. In CEO Barnes' welcome announcement last year, she said "During her three-decade long career, Peggy has earned the respect of corporate leaders, stakeholders, directors, investors and peers. She is recognized worldwide as a true leader with a reputation for the highest levels of personal integrity." She had tours of duty at Pfizer, ITT, and JP Morgan. 

We'll be following this one closely.

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