Posts Tagged ‘CFOs’

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.

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Disclosure committees and IR

November 24, 2014

With ever-growing regulatory requirements and the complexity of global business, disclosure committees are playing a crucial role in ensuring accurate and useful reporting to investors, according to “Unlocking the Potential of Disclosure Committees,” a new report by the Financial Executives Research Foundation and Ernst & Young LLP.

And investor relations officers – in most companies – play an important role with the disclosure committee.

In more than 100 companies surveyed, some 65% of disclosure committees included the head of investor relations as a member – along with the controller or chief accounting officer, general counsel or equivalent, CFO and assorted other executives (usually not the CEO).

The study says having multiple functions represented in addition to finance and accounting – such as general counsels, heads of communications and IROs – adds value because diversity brings to the table insights on the business from multiple points of view:

“It’s a cross between finance and non-finance,” said one of the executives, a senior director of corporate accounting and reporting. So it’s important, she continued, to “make sure the right representation of the business is there … I think we have pretty good coverage.”

As a non-accountant and occasional participant in disclosure committees, I try to ask big-picture questions and challenge insiders to explain the business more clearly … because what investors need most from disclosure is clarity and perspective.

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.

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.

The public markets’ competitor

May 11, 2012

Q: Do you ever wish you were publicly traded?

A: Oh God, no. I have the greatest job in the world, because I work for a guy who runs the company for the next 20 years, not the next 90 days. It’s tough being a public company, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

 –  Steve Feilmeier, executive VP & CFO
Koch Industries, Inc.

As investor relations people, we rub elbows mostly with publicly traded companies. We think about how to get our message out to the capital markets in competition with other public companies, especially our peers within narrow industry sectors.

But a whole other class of competitors exists in a parallel universe – competitors for capital and, in our businesses, for customers. Maybe we ought to pay attention.

What started me thinking was Steve Feilmeier, CFO of Koch Industries, who spoke this morning to the Kansas City chapter of Association for Corporate Growth. Known to outsiders mostly for media attention in political controversies, on the business side Koch is a $125 billion company with 67,000 employees – the No. 2 privately held business in America. No. 1 in profitability, Feilmeier hastens to add.

Right at the start, Feilmeier says being privately held is a competitive advantage:

We benefit from not having to report earnings every 90 days. All of our decisions are based on, How is this going to work out in the next 10 years?

And it’s working out just fine for Koch (sounds like “coke”). The firm is doubling revenue every five or six years with a dozen operating companies in agriculture, energy and manufacturing. Although Koch doesn’t report publicly, Feilmeier makes it clear those businesses are delivering even better growth in EBITDA (slides here).

An example of Koch’s presence: AngelSoft, its toilet tissue brand, is the No. 1 SKU in Walmart stores. No. 1. Feilmeier says 60 truckloads a day leave Koch’s Georgia-Pacific subsidiary loaded just with AngelSoft four-packs bound for Walmarts.

The ongoing shift in institutional investor preferences among asset classes is the other thing that got me thinking. I keep hearing about pension funds, endowments and real people putting more money into alternative investments – capital that isn’t flowing to publicly held companies represented by IR pros.

Consider these stats: In 2001 U.S. pension funds held 65% of assets in equities, but that dropped to 44% by 2011, according to the Towers Watson Global Pension Assets Study 2012. in those 10 years, the “Other” category in asset allocation – real estate, private equity and hedge funds – quintupled from 5% to 25%. Apply those changes to $16 trillion in U.S. pension assets and you’re talking real money.

Without getting in over my head further on macro views of the capital markets, my point is that public companies ought to think strategically about their investors. Institutions and individuals don’t have to invest in any particular public company. They might even flee the stock market, with some of their funds, for “alternatives.”

And this brings me back to Koch. Feilmeier’s description of why Koch keeps growing at the top line – and especially the bottom line – holds lessons that public companies and IR people might take to heart. A few interesting ideas:

  • Do investors see management-by-quarterly-numbers, or something like Koch’s “patient & disciplined” creation of wealth? How do we discuss performance?
  • Can we demonstrate how our incentive pay turns managers into entrepreneurs, who get paid when they deliver (and not when they don’t)?
  • Do we have real accountability? Koch doesn’t believe in subsidizing any of its businesses, so operating execs are responsible for balance sheets and P&Ls.
  • How do we make decisions? Koch demands rigorous comparison of every capital project with alternatives – will this investment deliver the best return?

Koch, of course, is a giant company. There are well-managed and poorly managed firms of every size in both the public and private arenas. But the principles Feilmeier discussed are common private-equity approaches to driving performance.

Private vs. public is a common debate among CEOs and finance folks. Some private companies long for public status – and a fortunate few make it through the IPO process to get listed. On the other hand some micro-cap and even mid-cap public companies wish they were private, to escape the hassles of quarterly reporting.

Whether public or private, maybe we need to get back to basics of running companies by rigorous disciplines of wealth creation. And public companies need to communicate how those disciplines create real shareholder value.

What do you think?

© 2012 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Investors, this is your day!

September 13, 2011

If you’re not already doing an “analyst day” every year or two, maybe you should be. That’s my takeaway from “NIRI Survey Reveals Current Analyst/Investor Day Practices” – a benchmarking study released Monday by NIRI.

Key finding: 71% of the 431 investor relations professionals responding to NIRI’s survey hold a periodic analyst/investor day. It’s a chance to show off management and tell the company’s story in-depth. After all, you’re locking investors in a room for a half day or full day, so this is “quality time.”

Of course, the larger a company is, the more likely it is to host a regular analyst day. But even among small caps ($250 million-$2 billion), 63% offer a “day.”

Some 70% hold their analyst days in New York or another major investment center, while 40% invite investors in to meetings at a corporate facility, NIRI found.

A few thoughts based on analyst days I’ve been involved with:

  • The CEO and CFO play host and give the strategic overview, but having a half day or more is a great opportunity to demonstrate management’s bench strength by bringing division heads, R&D leaders or operating executives forward for investors to meet them in a fairly controlled environment.
  • It’s also a chance to put on display the chemistry of the management team – showing investors how the top execs relate to each other. Not a bad idea to do this some months after a big merger, to present a unified, compatible team.
  • How often you hold an analyst day is up to you. How fast is the story evolving? If there’s progress every year, annual is great. If this year looks a lot like last, maybe not. (NIRI found 49% of companies who hold “days” do so annually, 35% less often, 12% on an ad hoc basis, 3% more than once a year.)
  • The name “analyst day” doesn’t quite capture the fact that institutional investors are the primary audience. Sure, the sell side attends – but real shareholders and potential investors are the main point of the effort.
  • I personally like the on-site analyst day, giving investors a feeling of seeing the business and kicking the tires, even though they’re carefully shepherded on any tours of the plant or laboratories. But a lot depends on your location. Call up a few analysts or investors and get their input before scheduling your day.
  • Schedule enough breaks to let investors check email, used the phone and visit the restroom. It’s hard to limit your speakers – but, hey, give people a break.

What’s your experience with analyst days? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Any tips?

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Adding wiggle room to guidance

August 5, 2011

Are we in recession again? Weak recovery? Heading for Financial Crisis 2.0? No wonder more than a few CFOs and IROs have been wringing their hands over what guidance to provide investors as part of the second-quarter reporting season.

If you’re looking for an example of softening guidance by widening the range, Procter & Gamble provided just that today with its fiscal fourth-quarter results. For the new fiscal year, P&G forecast core EPS “in a range of $4.17 to $4.33, up six to 10 percent.” Fair enough. That’s not exactly fuzzy, but the range is a bit broader than P&G gave last year at this time (a 10-cent span in EPS, vs. 16 cents this year).

Market watchers commented on the change, as in The Wall Street Journal story headlined “P&G Outlook Reflects Jitters”:

P&G adopted a wider-than-normal range for its fiscal 2012 outlook, which encircled Wall Street estimates, calling for per-share earnings growth of 6% to 10%. The low-end is slightly below the consumer-product giant’s long-term goals for annual growth of high-single digits to low double-digit growth, largely on questions percolating through the global economy.

On P&G’s conference call, Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller blamed a cloudy macro environment:

Our guidance ranges will be a little bit wider than normal this year, reflecting a broad policy uncertainty, ongoing high levels of volatility and market growth rates, input costs and foreign exchange, as well as uncertainty both upside and downside related to pricing across the portfolio.

So there you have it – big, sensible P&G is a pretty safe role model. Go ahead and add wiggle room to your guidance. We may all need it.

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Raising your profile as an IRO

June 10, 2011

Gaining access to the C-suite is critical for investor relations professionals, both to know what we need to know about the company for effective communication with investors – and to build personal success in our own careers – according to NIRI‘s June/July 2011 issue of IR Update.

The tips and ideas on raising your professional profile apply equally to IROs working in-house and consultants helping from the outside. Pick up your copy from NIRI and read “How Suite It is” (so far, the piece hasn’t appeared online).

Three qualities stand out to me among the several offered as keys to the C-suite:

Contribution. Several IROs and other execs say the key to gaining access to the corner office is to contribute to the business – in more than one way. Beyond doing your IR job well (which is fundamental), get involved with people and projects across various functions that are building value for the company.

Ruth Cotter, VP of IR for Advanced Micro Devices, urges IROs to be proactive:

At that level within the corporate world, they’re not looking for people waiting to be asked to do something. … Look beyond investor relations to garner the attention of your CEO and CFO.

Taking on a formal role in corporate strategy, business development or finance may be a remote aspiration for IROs in large, hierarchical companies. But look around. Often an IR person can informally volunteer to help people in other functions or serve on project teams that reach further into the business. Word gets around, and management recognizes contributions.

Courage. Jeff Henderson, CFO of Cardinal Health, says IR people can earn respect from their CFOs and CEOs by displaying the courage of their convictions:

Perhaps more than most positions in the organization, the IRO must have a certain level of courage – the courage to disagree with senior leaders and challenge their thinking and to say no to constituents at the appropriate time.

IR people can be confident in bringing investors’ feedback to management -after all, saying what will or won’t fly with the owners ought to carry some weight. In addition, the IR professional often brings counsel based on experience and training in communication skills more specific to IR than to the CEO or CFO’s backgrounds.

Credibility. This one, admittedly, is circular. IROs need access to the corner office to build credibility with investors. And IROs need to earn respect among investors to be credible with CEOs and CFOs – because word gets back on how IR is doing.

Charles Strauzer, an independent small cap analyst, suggests IROs have a heart-to-heart talk with their CEOs if they’re not getting ample access. If an IR person has to say “I don’t know” too often, he says, the IRO loses credibility:

Credibility comes from IROs’ access and their willingness to communicate. If they can’t get the access and information, they can’t communicate, and they won’t get the credibility.

A little self-evaluation is a good thing for the IR professional. Do I contribute to the business? Do I have the courage to speak my convictions? Have I built credibility with my main stakeholders, internally and externally? How can I get there?

Recently I heard an institutional investor ask a CEO on a conference call for a self-evaluation of his performance after one year on the job. Then the investor asked the Chairman for his assessment of the CEO and his team. An interesting – and positive – discussion ensued.

Comparing where we are today with where we need to be is how we grow.

© 2011 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

Substance over style

November 13, 2009

The CFO of a local company made a good point today during a panel discussion on the state of the capital markets: It’s the substance of a company’s story that matters to investors, more than style or charisma – especially in tough times.

Ryan VanWinkle, senior VP and CFO of NYSE-listed Ferrellgas Partners LP, was asked at the Kansas City chapter of Association for Corporate Growth to explain the company’s success in raising funds in both debt and equity markets in 2009.

“In the end it’s not any one person. If you have a good story to tell, it doesn’t matter who tells it,” VanWinkle said. For a good company with a track record and a good transaction, he said, “the capital markets are wide open.”

This is a change from late 2008, when even good companies couldn’t raise money, he said. And the day may come again when the doors all slam shut, so VanWinkle suggests that companies add some liquidity to protect against that contingency.

Just thought this was a worthwhile insight on investor relations: The reality of the story makes the difference, more than the marketing flair we show in telling it.