Posts tagged ‘BlackRock’

Dying Unicorns

Unicorn Free Image

Historically, when people speak about unicorns they are referring to those magical white horses with long horns sprouting from their foreheads. Today, in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, “unicorns” refer to those private companies valued at more than $1 billion. The current list of unicorns is extensive, including household names like money-losing Uber ($51.0 billion valuation), Airbnb ($25.5 billion), SnapChat ($15.3 billion), and about 150 other money-losing companies with a combined valuation of approximately a half trillion dollars (see list here). Just like the mythical unicorns we imagine and read about in fairy tales, Silicon Valley unicorns are at risk of dying off and becoming a myth as well.

Square at the Heart of the Problem

Following young technology start-ups with names like, Box, Dropbox, and Square can become quite confusing, but investors are becoming less confused about their desire for profits and fair valuations. The recent –33% discount in the planned pre-IPO offering price of Square shares to $11 – $13 ($4 billion) from the last private funding valuation of $15.46 ($6 billion) is signaling the deteriorating health of money-losing unicorns.

Adding insult to injury, money-losing Square provided recent private investors with a controversial “ratchet” clause, which essentially gives privileged investors additional shares, if the IPO (Initial Public Offering) price does not occur at a minimum set price. The net result is a fraction of advantaged investors receive a disproportionate percentage of the company’s value, while a majority of the other investors see their ownership value diluted. According to Forbes, approximately 30% of unicorns carry some contentious ratchet provisions, which may make IPO exits for these companies that much more difficult.

The recent Square news comes on the heels of other unicorns like Dropbox seeing its pre-IPO value being reduced by -24% from industry giant BlackRock Inc (BLK), an early Dropbox investor. According to the Wall Street Journal¸ bankers close to the company admitted achieving a pre-IPO valuation of $10 billion will be challenging. Subsequently, mutual fund behemoth Fidelity wrote down the value of social media, photo disappearing, mobile application company, Snapchat, by -25%.

Unfortunately, the problems for unicorn companies don’t stop after the IPO. Take for example, Fitbit Inc (FIT), the newly minted $6 billion IPO, which took place in June. Even though the wearable technology company may no longer be a unicorn, the -31% decline in its share price during the first half of November is evidence there are consequences to insiders dumping additional over-priced (or high-priced) shares on investors. Of the planned 17 million secondary share sale, the vast majority of the proceeds (14 million shares) are going to insiders who are taking the money and running, thereby leaving the company itself with a much smaller portion of the offering dollars.

Veteran investors have seen this movie before during the late 1990s tech bubble, and investors know that this type of movie ends very badly. As in any bubble, if you are able to participate early enough during the inflation process, it can be a spectacular ride before the bubble bursts. Unicorn companies can sell a dream for a while, but profitless prosperity cannot last forever. Eventually, profits and cash flows do become important for investors. And for some unicorn companies, the day of reckoning appears to have arrived now. It has been a fun, fairy tale ride for unicorn investors up until now, but with a half trillion dollars in unicorn investments beginning to die off, these early stage companies will need a steadier diet of profits to stay alive.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in Uber, Airbnb, SnapChat, Box, Dropbox, Square, BLK, FIT and  any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

November 15, 2015 at 7:34 pm 3 comments

Fink & Capitalism: Need 4 Kitchens in Your House?

Kitchens

Do you need four kitchens in your house? Apparently financial industry titan Larry Fink does. If Mr. Fink were a designer for millionaire homeowners, he would advise them to use their millions to build more kitchens in their house (reinvest) rather than distribute those monies to family members (dividends) or use that money to pay back an equity loan from mom and dad for the down payment (share buybacks). Essentially that is exactly what is happening in the stock market. Companies that are generating record profits and margins (millionaires) are increasingly choosing to pay out larger percentages of profits to stockholders (family members) in the form of rising dividends and share buybacks. Contrary to Mr. Fink’s belief, corporate America is actually doing plenty with room additions, landscaping, and roof replacements – I will describe more later.

As a consequence of corporate America’s increasingly shareholder friendly practices of returning cash, Fink believes this trend will stifle innovation and long-term growth in American companies. Here’s a snapshot of the supposed dividend/buyback problem Mr. Fink describes:

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

Fink Mails Letter from Soapbox

For those of you who do not know who Larry Fink is, he is the successful Chairman and CEO of BlackRock Inc. (BLK), an investment manager which oversees about $4.65 trillion in investment assets. Mr. Fink ignited this recent financial controversy when he jumped on his soapbox by mailing letters to 500 CEOs lecturing them on the importance of long-term investing. What is Mr. Fink’s beef? Fink’s issues revolve around his belief that CEOs and corporations are too short-term oriented.

In his letter, Mr. Fink had this to say:

“This pressure [to meet short-term financial goals] originates from a number of sources—the proliferation of activist shareholders seeking immediate returns, the ever-increasing velocity of capital, a media landscape defined by the 24/7 news cycle and a shrinking attention span, and public policy that fails to encourage truly long-term investment.”

 

He goes on to bolster his argument with the following:

“More and more corporate leaders have responded with actions that can deliver immediate returns to shareholders, such as buybacks or dividend increases, while underinvesting in innovation, skilled workforces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.”

 

What Mr. Fink does not say in his letter is that large, multinational S&P 500 corporations driving this six-year bull run are sitting on a record hoard of cash, exceeding $1.4 trillion (see chart below). In this light, it should come as no surprise that CEOs are forking over more cash to investors in the forms of dividends and share repurchases.

Cash S&P500

What’s more, despite Fink’s assertion that share buybacks and dividends are killing innovation, he also fails to mention in his letter that 2014 capital expenditures of $730 billion are also at a record level. That’s right, CAPEX has not been cut to the bone as he implies, but rather risen to all-time highs.

It’s true that generationally low (and declining) interest rates have accelerated the pace of dividends/repurchases, however dividend payout ratios (the percentage of profits distributed to shareholders) of about 32% remain firmly below the long-term payout ratio of approximately 54% (see chart below) – see also Dividend Floodgates Widen. I find it difficult to fault many companies doing something with the gargantuan piles of inflation-losing cash anchoring their balance sheets. Don’t cash-rich companies have a fiduciary duty to borrow reasonable amounts of near-0% debt today (see Bunny Rabbit Market) in exchange for share buybacks currently providing returns of about 5.5% (inverse of 18x P/E ratio) and likely yielding 7%+ returns five years from now?

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

The “Short-Term” Poster Child – Apple

There is no arguing that excessive debt eventually can catch up to a company. Our multi-year expanding economy is eventually due for another recession in the coming years, and there will be hell to pay for irresponsible, overleveraged companies. With that said, let’s take a look at the poster child of “short-termism” according to Mr. Fink …Apple Inc. (AAPL).

Of the roughly $500 billion in buybacks spent by S&P 500 companies in 2014, Apple accounted for approximately $45 billion of that figure. On top of that, CEO Tim Cook and his board generously decided to return another $11 billion to shareholders in the form of dividends. Has this “short-term” return of capital stifled innovation from the company that has launched iPhone version 6, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple Pay, and is investing into exciting areas like Apple Television, Apple Car, and who knows what else?

To put these Apple numbers into perspective, consider that last year Apple spent over $6 billion on research and development (R&D); $10 billion on capital expenditures; and hired over 12,000 new full-time employees. This doesn’t exactly sound like the death of innovation to me. Even after doling out roughly -$28 billion in expenditures and -$56 billion in dividends/share repurchases, Apple was amazingly able to keep their net cash position flat at an eye-popping +$141 billion!

Mr. Fink abhors “activist shareholders seeking immediate returns” but rather than deriding them perhaps he should send the greedy, capitalist Carl Icahn a personal thank you letter. Since Icahn’s vocal plea for a large Apple share buyback, the shares have skyrocketed about +85%, catapulting BlackRock’s ownership value in Apple to over $19 billion.

With respect to these increasing outlays, Mr. Fink also notes:

“Returning excessive amounts of capital to investors—who will enjoy comparatively meager benefits from it in this environment—sends a discouraging message.”

 

This would be true if investors took the dividends and stuffed them under their mattress, but an important message Mr. Fink neglects to address as it relates to dividends and share buybacks is demographics. There are 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 – 1964 and a Boomer is turning age 65 every 8 seconds. With many bonds trading at near 0% yields (even negative yields) it is no wonder many income starving retirees are demanding many of these cash-rich corporations to share more of the growing spoils via rising dividends.

Capitalism Works

After looking at a few centuries of our country’s history, one of the main lessons we can learn is that capitalism works – especially over the long-run. With about 200 countries across the globe, there is a reason the U.S. is #1…we’re good at capitalism. As our economy has matured over the decades, it is true our priorities and challenges have changed. It is also true that other countries may be narrowing the gap with the U.S., due to certain advantages (e.g., demographics, lower entitlements, easier regulations, etc), but the U.S. will continue to evolve.

In many respects, capitalism is very much like Darwinism – corporations either adapt with the competition…or they die. I repeatedly hear from pessimists that the U.S. is in a secular state of decline, but if that’s the case, how come the U.S. continues to dominate and innovate in major industries like biotechnology, mobile technology, networking, internet, aviation, energy, media, and transportation? Quite simply, we are the best and most experienced practitioners of capitalism.

Certainly, capitalism will continue to cultivate cyclical periods of excess investment/leverage and insufficient regulation. But guess what? Investors, including the public, eventually lose their shirts and behaviors/regulations adjust. At least for a little while, until the next period of excess takes hold. If Apple, and other balance sheet healthy companies allocate capital irresponsibly, capital will flow towards more aggressive and innovative companies. BlackBerry Limited (BBRY) knows a little bit about the consequences of cutthroat competition and suboptimal capital allocation.

While I emphatically share Mr. Fink’s focus on long-term investing values (including his self-serving tax reform ideas), I vigorously disagree with his attacks on shareholder friendly actions and his characterization of rising dividends/buybacks as short-term in nature. In fact, increasing dividends and share buybacks can very much coexist as a long-term investment and capital allocation strategy.

The question of proper capital allocation should have more to do with the age of a company. It only makes sense that younger companies on average should reinvest more of their profits into growth and innovation. On the other hand, more mature S&P 500-like companies will be in a better position to distribute higher percentages of profits to shareholders – especially as cash levels continue to rise to record levels and leverage remains in check.

BlackRock’s Larry Fink may continue to urge CEOs to reinvest their growing cash hoards into superfluous corporate kitchens, but Sidoxia and other prudent capitalist investors will continue to exhort CEOs to opportunistically take advantage of near-free borrowing rates and responsibly share the accretive gains with shareholders. That’s a message Mr. Fink should include in a letter to CEOs – he can use BlackRock’s lofty, above-average dividend to cover the cost of postage.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including AAPL and iShares ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in BLK, BBRY or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

April 18, 2015 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

Curing Our Ills with Innovation

Fareed Zakaria thoughts have blanketed both traditional and internet media outlets, spanning everything from Newsweek to Time, and the New York Times to CNN. With an undergraduate diploma from Yale and his PhD from Harvard, Dr. Zakaria has built up quite a following, especially when it comes to foreign affairs.

In his latest Time magazine article, Can America Keep Pace?, Zakaria addresses the role of innovation in the U.S., “Innovation is as American as apple pie.” The innovation lead the U.S. maintains over the rest of the world will not evaporate over night because this cultural instinct is bred into our DNA – innovation is not something you one can learn directly from a textbook, Wikipedia, or Google (GOOG). With that said, the innovation gap is narrowing between developed and developing countries. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman captured this sentiment when he stated the following:

“French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day.”

 

The fungibility of labor has pressured industries by transferring jobs abroad to much lower-cost regions like China and India, and that trend is only expanding further into countries with even lower labor cost advantages. Zakaria agrees:

“America’s future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure.”

 

The good news is the United States maintains a significant lead in certain industries. For instance, we Yankees have a tremendous lead in fields such as biotechnology, entertainment, internet technologies, and consumer electronics.

The poster child for innovation is Apple Inc. (AAPL), which arose from the ashes of death ten years ago with its then ground-breaking new product, the iPod. Since then, Apple has introduced many innovative products and upgrades as a result of its research and development efforts, including the recently launched iPad.

The Education Engine

Where we are falling short is in education, which is the foundation to innovation. In a country with a high school system that Microsoft Corp.’s (MSFT) founder Bill Gates calls “obsolete,” society is left with one-third of the students not graduating and nearly half of the remaining graduates unprepared for college. In this instant gratification society we live in, the long-term critical education issue has been pushed to the backburner. Other emerging countries like China and India are churning out more college graduates by the millions, and also dominating us in the key strategic count of engineering degrees.

Government’s Role

With the massive debt and deficits our country currently faces, an ongoing debate about the size and role of government persists. Zakaria makes the case that government must place a significant role when it comes to innovation. Unfortunately, the U.S. wastes billions on pork-barrel projects and suboptimal subsidies while dilly-dallying in political gridlock over critical investments in education, infrastructure spending, basic research, and energy policies. In the meantime, our fellow competing countries are catching up to us, and in certain cases passing us (e.g., alternative energy investments – see Electric Profits).

Zakaria makes this point on the subject:

“The fastest-growing economies are all busy using government policy to establish commanding leads in one industry after another. Google’s Eric Schmidt points out that ‘the fact of the matter is, other countries are putting a lot more money into nurturing new industries than we are, and we are not going to win unless we do something like what they’re doing.’”

 

As a matter of fact, an ITIF (Information Technology & Innovation Foundation) study measuring innovation improvement from 1999 to 2009, as it related to government funding for basic research, education and corporate-tax policies, ranked the U.S. dead last out of 40 countries.

Not All is Lost – Pie Slice Maintained

Source: Carpe Diem

Although the outlook may sounds bleak, not all is lost. In a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Bob Doll Chief Equity Strategist at the world’s largest money management company (BlackRock has $3.6 trillion in assets under management),  he makes the case that the U.S. remains the leading source of technological innovation and home to the greatest universities and the most creative businesses in the world. He sees this trend persisting in part because of our country’s relative demographic advantages:

“Over the next 20 years, the U.S. work force is going to grow by 11%, Europe’s going to fall by five, and Japan’s going to fall by 17. This alone tells me the U.S. has a huge advantage over Europe and a bigger one over Japan for growth.”

 

So while emerging markets, like those in Asia, continue to gain a larger slice of the global GDP pie, Mark Perry at Carpe Diem shows how the U.S has maintained its proportional slice of a growing global economic pie, over the last four decades.

Growth is driven by innovation, and innovation is driven by education. If America wants to maintain its greatness, the focus needs to be placed on innovation-led growth. The world is moving at warp speed, and our neighbors are moving swiftly, whether we come along for the ride or not. The current, sour conversations regarding deficits, debt ceilings, entitlements, wars, and unemployment are all essential discussions, but more importantly, if these debates can be refocused on accelerating innovation, the country will be well on its way to curing its ills.

See also Our Nation’s Keys to Success

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, GOOG, and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MSFT, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm 2 comments


Receive Investing Caffeine blog posts by email.

Join 1,818 other followers

Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP®

More on Sidoxia Services

Recognition

Top Financial Advisor Blogs And Bloggers – Rankings From Nerd’s Eye View | Kitces.com

Wade on Twitter…

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to Blog RSS

Monthly Archives