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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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Aeros and omissions

Nir Kossovsky - Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) reported today that it would again delay the first flight of its new jet, the 787, the latest setback in a program that is considered crucial to the plane maker’s future. The New York Times reports that Howard Rubel, an analyst at Jefferies & Company, said the problem “doesn’t help the company’s credibility.”

Not so fast, Mr. Rubel. Credibility has many facets. The most important driver of reputation in the commercial aerospace sector is safety, and with the recent string of air disasters involving aircraft made by Boeing’s rival EADS NV (EPA:EAD), safety is very much on every stakeholder's mind.

The operational setbacks both Boeing and EADS have suffered highlight the difficulty of pulling off increasingly complex engineering feats involving new materials and global supply chains. And at least one financial lesson from the effort to create a global supply chain is that the savings from direct and tangible costs are being offset by intangible costs arising in the risks of a greater business network entailing less visibility and control.

Managing a complex supply chain is a business process, and failure to do it well – when stakeholders have been led to expect benefits – can be costly in terms of reputation. So returning to Howard Rubel’s comments, what is the net reputation impact?

We turn to the data from 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 index shows that over this past year, Boeing’s reputation ranking has sunk from the 69th percentile to the 48th percentile among the 47 companies in the Aerospace and defense sector. Worst, volatility has been climbing and the Exponentially Weighted Moving Average volatility is now four log orders of magnitude. Not surprisingly, return on equity is 14% below the median of the peer group.

Looking at industry more broadly, we see that the overall reputation ranking of the Aerospace and defense sector relative to other industry sectors has been generally rising while variance within the group has been declining and assuming greater homogeneity.

Within this environment, the outstanding reputation holders comprising the top decile as measured by the Steel City Re Reputation Index are: American Science & Engineering (NASDAQ:ASEI); Precision Castparts Corp. (NYSE:PCP); TransDigm Group (NYSE:TDG); and United Technologies Corp (NYSE:UTX).

United Technologies interests us because our colleague, Nancy Lintner, former Chief Marketing Officer and a speaker at one of our annual meetings, developed an award winning communications campaign that highlighted a number of corporate intangibles. Over the past year, the Reputation Index ranking for United Technologies has climbed slightly from an already high 89th percentile to the 92nd percentile, and its EWMA volatility has declined. The company has rewarded investors with an ROE that is 6% above the median return of the Aerospace and defense peer group.

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