Archive for the ‘Capital markets & IR’ Category

‘That’s not a strategy’

August 31, 2016

Henry_R._Kravis_verticalHenry R. Kravis, co-chair of KKR, in the July/August Bloomberg Markets, on interviewing CEOs of potential investments:

I compare their responses to the dot-com period around 2000. Back then I’d ask, ‘What’s your strategy?’ and people would tell me, ‘Go public.’ I’d say, ‘That’s not a strategy-that’s a way to raise money.’ ‘It’s all eyeballs,’ they’d say. ‘OK, eyeballs,’ I’d say. ‘You’re looking at your screen: How are you going to turn those eyeballs into money?’ And of course all of those people went away.

The arrogance during that time was staggering. I can’t tell you how many people told George [Roberts, Kravis’s cousin and partner in KKR] and me, ‘You don’t get it …’

In explaining our companies’ strategies, investor relations officers – and CEOs – should be wary of two traps: (1) hubris and (2) mistaking a near-term payday for a real strategy to build a profitable business.

© 2016 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

 

Altitude sickness, anyone?

July 13, 2016

WSJ 7-13-2016

Headlines like “Dow Presses On to Historic Peak” seem a little scary. Yet there it is, splashed across page 1 of today’s Wall Street Journal.

Being part of anything cyclical can bring its chills as well as thrills – because of that old saw about what goes up must … (well, you know, I don’t want to say it). We don’t know, of course, whether this is THE PEAK or simply a peak. And I can’t forecast worth a darn.

Not all that long ago, in the summer of 1979, Business Week‘s cover declared “The Death of Equities.” If you had taken that as a Buy signal and held on through the 1980s and 1990s, you would have done alright – check it out on the WSJ‘s graph.

But “Historic Peak” does make you think. Many of us work for companies that have shared in the market’s relentless, if bumpy – maybe historic – climb. The trends may look fine. But did we cause this rise in the market – or in our companies’ stocks? And what comes next?

My feeling is that all of us, especially investor relations people, need to stay a bit humble about trends and prospects.

© 2016 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Relationships, not just road shows

September 26, 2015

What makes for a successful IPO? Or sustained capital markets success for established public companies? Discussing the boom (or bubble) in biotech IPOs, an investment banker who specializes in capital formation for that sector, puts his finger on one of the key factors – which applies across industries and company life cycles.

In “A Street-Wise Conversation” in the September Pharmaceutical Executive, Tony Gibney of Leerink Partners, says:

The best management teams focus intently on cultivating relationships with the buy side over years instead of just during the IPO process itself.

handshake_nsfReally, this is true whatever industry you’re in – and whether you’ve been public for 50 years or your IPO is still in the planning stages. Success comes from focusing on relationships, cultivated over time, especially with institutional investors who put money into your sector.

The CEO or CFO whose idea of investor relations is to gear up only when an offering (initial or follow-on) is at hand will walk into buy-side offices on the road show as an unknown – and therefore riskier – story to bet on.

The “known quantity” who has talked to investors for years, provided clarity and insights on his or her company and the industry, developed long-term relationships … That’s the management team long-term investors will want to put their money behind.

© 2015 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Do we focus on the long term?

March 17, 2014

We often hear CEOs complain about the short-termism of Wall Street, but a commentary by value investor Francois Ticart in this week’s Barron’s questions whether most companies really focus on long-term value. Let’s include investor relations in that question. Ticart, founder & chairman of Tocqueville Asset Management, says:

Listed companies, the analysts who follow them, and the executives who run them have become increasingly short-term minded in recent years. Stocks now routinely respond to whether they “beat” or “miss” quarterly consensus estimates of sales and earnings, and much of the stock trading takes place on that basis. Needless to say, quarterly earnings have very little to do with long-term strategies or other fundamental factors. By focusing on them, financial analysis has become nearly useless to long-term, fundamental investors.

So think about IR: We say we want long-term investors, but how much energy do we focus on quarterly results and short-term fluctuations, and how much effort do we devote to communicating strategic drivers of our business over a 3-year to 5-year time horizon like the one Ticart favors? Are our own IR efforts part of the problem?

© 2014 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

How IR adds value for investors

March 6, 2014

NIRI KC 3-6-2014 Hancock & BurnsAt the NIRI Kansas City chapter’s “IR and Governance Bootcamp” today, Debbie Hancock, vice president of investor relations for Hasbro, Inc. did a great job – with an assist from Bruce Burns, director of investor relations for Westar Energy – marching us through “a day in the life” of an IRO, skill sets we need and the role of IR both internally and out in the capital markets.

That’s a lot of ground to cover – really, the whole job of IR. I’ll share one thought of many that struck me, from Hancock’s comments on a slide headlined “How IROs Add Value to Investors.” Note that she focused on adding value to investors. On her list: representing the company honestly, being prepared with answers for questions, informed and responsive, conveying understanding of the numbers.

The Hasbro IRO  listed one value-add that especially stood out to me:

Put the story together for investors. I think this is super-important…. What are the big takeaways from all this information? Put that together for them, put that story together.

Providing perspective, thinking like someone on the investor side and meeting the needs of an asset manager or analyst trying to make an investment decision, is probably the greatest value we can add in IR.

© 2014 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

It’s the CEO

January 31, 2014

When it comes to interacting with the investment community, Numero Uno is still No. 1. According to a global survey of more than 1,200 investor relations officers by IR Magazine, nearly two out of three IROs (64%) say the Chief Executive Officer is more important than the Chief Financial Officer in relationships with investors.

At least in terms of CEOs’ primary role in investor relations, customs aren’t that different around the globe, according to a story in IR Magazine‘s December 2013-January 2014 issue.

Among small-cap companies, even more IROs (76%) say the CEO is preferred over the finance chief by investors seeking access, while 61% of mid-cap and 59% of mega-cap IROs agree.

According to one European small-cap IRO quoted in the survey:

Investors want to believe in the vision, not in the quarterly figures.

I’ve seen it both ways: companies whose CEOs “own” the story and are the best salespeople for it, and others whose investors would rather talk with the CFO while the CEO stays home to run the business. What’s your experience?

© 2014 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Is ‘guidance’ all there is?

November 13, 2013

Providing financial guidance has become so common – NIRI says 76% of public companies offer forward-looking financial guidance – that investor relations professionals don’t stop to think much about it. But an investment banker in the pharmaceutical industry notes increasing frustration with investors and analysts who obsess on guidance.

In a piece called “The Tyranny of ‘Guidance’,” Michael Martorelli of Fairmount Partners tells readers of Contract Pharma that he’s hearing more questions on conference calls seeking clarification or expansion specifically on management’s guidance for near-term financial results – as opposed to penetrating questions seeking insight into fundamentals or trends:

If you thought all analysts developed their own estimates for the revenue and earnings paths of the companies they follow, welcome to the post Sarbanes-Oxley world of Wall Street research.

Before Sarbanes-Oxley, Martorelli notes, sell-side analysts were committed to building in-depth knowledge of  companies and industries. Investors and corporate managements came to respect the best analysts, and the work of analysis was highly valued.

Post-Sarbanes, of course, the mandate to give the same information to everyone at the same time often takes the form of guidance. And market participants, Martorelli says, can put too much value in near-term numbers. They’ll ask, “Why didn’t you raise your guidance this quarter? Why is the range of your guidance so wide? Why did you lower (or raise) only the top (or bottom) end of your guidance?”

When evaluating the future financial results of a company … too many investors rely more on management’s guidance than on their own independent analysis of the company, the industry, and the trends.

The legal structure is what it is, but companies can perhaps affect the tone of the conversation by focusing what we talk about on the fundamentals … what is really changing in our businesses, growth drivers, challenges and the strategies our companies are executing. After all, we really outperform not so much by beating “guidance” as by beating the competition to create real value for shareholders. It’s the big picture, not the pennies for next quarter.

What’s your take on guidance? Has it taken over the conversation?

© 2013 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Are stock buybacks overhyped?

June 19, 2013

Share repurchases aren’t the magic potions some investors and corporate managements think, according to an analysis of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies in the June 2013 Institutional Investor. Stock buybacks can create value, but they can also destroy value – and the actual results suggest some humility in talking up the advantages.

Cash stackSome institutional investors love financial wizardry. Share repurchases automatically increase EPS by reducing shares outstanding – and send a message of confidence in a company’s stock. So financial engineering fans press the idea on a CEO or CFO more than any business strategy, such as investing corporate cash in growth or new product creation.

And some companies love share repurchases. Now Institutional Investor, working with Fortuna Advisors, has begun publishing a quarterly scorecard of how effective stock buybacks actually are, at least in the large cap world. Based on S&P 500 companies that repurchase more than $1 billion in stock or at least 4% of their market cap, the magazine reports rolling two-year ROI for buyback programs.

You can get the overview in “Corporate Share Repurchases Often Disappoint Investors” or dive into raw data in a table detailing ROI for S&P 500 companies with big repurchase programs. (A majority – 268 of the 488 index members that were public for the whole two-year period – bought back at least $1 billion or 4% of their market value.)

The II-Fortuna analysis calculates ROI as an internal rate of return to evaluate investment performance of cash spent on buybacks over two years, including share value increases/decreases and savings on dividends avoided.

Results suggest investor relations people – and CEOs – may want to be more modest in discussing share repurchase plans. The accounting effects of buybacks are assured, but benefits to shareholder value aren’t:

Returning cash to shareholders is supposed to benefit everybody – at least, that’s how the theory goes. Investors who want cash get plenty; shareholders who prefer to stay the course see higher earnings and cash flow per share …

The fanfare that typically accompanies buyback announcements never hints that poor execution can torpedo more value than accounting-based bumps in earnings or cash flow can produce on their own.

Apple is the magazine’s poster child for the disparity between  theory and reality. The magazine dings Apple CEO Tim Cook for his $60 billion repurchase program, the biggest authorization in history, which he enthusiastically called “an attractive use of our capital”:

Buyback ROI reveals a less ebullient story at Apple than Cook described. The company’s -56.7 percent return on buybacks trails those of all S&P 500 companies that compete in the rankings. Every dollar spent by Apple on share buybacks during the two-year period was worth less than 44 cents. …

Trouble is, companies often buy back shares when the price is high – and as we know, stocks go up and down. Timing is everything, at least for returns over a typical investment horizon of two years. Often the timing is wrong:

“During the downturn in 2008 and 2009, even companies with good cash balances didn’t buy back stock, and now they are buying back shares,” says Adam Parker, Morgan Stanley’s top U.S. equity strategist. “A lot of companies have not done a particularly good job of buying low.”

If you’re interested in more analysis, Fortuna Advisors CEO Gregory Milano offers companies some direct advice on how to approach share repurchases in “What’s Your Return on Buybacks?”

I’d love to hear your feedback on buybacks.

© 2013 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Guiding expectations: Of course we do

May 9, 2013

It’s as close as possible to unanimous: 97% of investor relations professionals say their companies attempt to manage expectations of shareholders, according to a survey of corporate members of the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI).

No surprise, really. The results published today by NIRI just affirm the definition of IR as cultivating accurate understanding among investors of a company’s business, performance and prospects – communicating all that goes into valuing a stock.

IROs said the biggest focus (61%) is on guiding expectations for the current year, with smaller numbers of companies focusing on longer-term expectations.

What approach do companies use to manage expectations? Some 70% release financial metrics such as goals for revenue, margin or earnings; 27% offer “micro” industry-level metrics; and 22% give “macro” business-environment expectations.

Most CEOs and CFOs know instinctively that their job includes painting the clearest possible picture of the direction and prospects of the business. Exactly how to manage  expectations varies greatly from company to company – and executive to executive. You’ll find details and examples in the NIRI survey – and other sources.

As to the imperative of communicating with the market, it’s unanimous: We all do.

© 2013 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

3 common mistakes in small-cap IR

December 29, 2012

Small-cap company boards should help CEOs and CFOs face the difficulties of connecting with investors and analysts, governance adviser Adam Epstein argues in a roundtable on investor relations (“Communicating with the Street: Addressing Small-Cap Challenges”) in the Nov-Dec 2012 issue of Directorship magazine.

Here, for example, are three prevalent mistakes that small caps make in IR:

  • “A failure to communicate clearly with an appreciation for the audience [emphasis mine]. … A mix of small, growth-oriented institutional investors and retail investors typically owns shares of smaller public companies, and many lack technical educations and backgrounds. Accordingly, communications with the Street will resonate with only a small portion of investors unless that technology-speak is simplified and more emphasis is given to what most small-cap investors care about—growth and financial performance.” (David Enzer, Roth Capital Partners, small-cap banker)
  • Small-cap habits that “destroy management’s credibility [emphasis mine] and make investors run for the hills and on to the next opportunity: One, a failure to communicate on a consistent, scheduled and timely basis, regardless of whether the news is good or bad. Two, a failure to translate non-GAAP metrics into GAAP metrics, e.g., no one except management knows what ‘orders’ or ‘bookings’ means in terms of revenue. And three, chronically overpromising and underdelivering.” (Timothy Keating, Keating Capital, small-cap investor)
  • “A systemic failure to treat investor relations as a strategic imperative [emphasis mine] … Electing not to put the proper investor relations policies and procedures in place to offer management the opportunity to present a cogent business plan, with proper forward guidance to targeted investors and analysts, will all but guarantee life in the ‘boundary waters’ of Wall Street for small-cap companies.” (John Heilshorn, Lippert/Heilshorn & Associates, IR consultant)

IR is about the basics, in other words. CEOs and CFOs of smaller companies, especially, tend to be so focused on daily demands of running the business that they don’t devote the time or resources needed to communicate well. Where boards can help is by identifying a lack of engagement in IR – and encouraging more. It takes commitment to identify your audience, speak their language and explain who you are. And more commitment to maintain a consistent, proactive outreach.

Although the Directorship piece focused on small caps, commitment to excellence in IR really is the issue with many companies – from micro-cap wannabes to global mega-cap giants.

© 2012 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.