Saturday, November 07, 2009
Food for thoughts on investing in undervalued companies
Again, I had a rather long break. And I'm back. One of the cornerstone to successful investing is to buy undervalued businesses. But is it enough? I'd argue it ain't. One other aspect is to have good management that really thinks and acts in the right manner on the behalf of the shareholders, whom the management ultimately have a fiduciary responsibility to.
Sometime in July 09, IMS Health was selling at $12 - click here for more details in a previous post. At $12, the whole company was selling for $2.2 billion. A value that substantially undervalues the company in relation to its future earnings potential. This week, a consortium led by TPG offered $4 billion (or $22 a share) to buy out IMS. The offer was accepted by IMS management. David Carlucci, IMS Chairman and CEO, said: "This transaction enables our shareholders to realize substantial value from their investment in IMS with an immediate cash premium." But is it really so?
Yes, it is but with a caveat. It only offer substantial immediate value for those shareholders who had bought at $12 or so during the period in July but not for the other shareholders. In effect, the management had sold out on the majority of its shareholders. During the period between Oct 08 to before the offer, its share was traded in the range of about $10 to $18 (mostly at $12). Only shareholders who had invested during this period had benefitted but not fully - substantial value is left on the table.
Prior to Oct 08, its share traded at above $22. At that price, it too was undervalued in relation to what a full price would be. At $22, the whole company sells for $4B, with a free cash flow of over $350 million. The company is holding up well through the crisis and business prospects appear sound, though revenue had declined. Expanding global pharmaceuticals market, as expected by IMS, to grow at a compound rate of 4 to 7% to about $1 trillion in 2013. So what value, if any, does TPG and its partner bring to the table. Indeed, much value is left behind.
In my view, the management had failed in its fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. Even for investor who bought at $12, they may have less cause for celebration because the management failed to do their best to get a full value of what the company is really worth. One reason the management is eager to sell could be because of the generous slice of equity in the deal they can get.
So in essence, even if an investor manage to find an undervalued company (imagine you had bought IMS at $22 which is an undervalued price), they may not get rewarded because of a mediocre management.
On the other hand, it is always better to invest in a company that is not only undervalued, but comes with a decent management (think of Berkshire, YUM Brands, Amex, Wells Fargo) who takes care and thinks for their shareholders whom they represent. However, if an opportunity comes where a company is undervalued but its management is mediocre, it's best to buy only at a substantially undervalued price, for IMS case, it did be at $12 or so, not $22 - though both prices are undervalued. Any value investor who had bought before Oct 08 at $22 would perhaps rethink about the whole concept of buying into a company that is run by people who do not think for the people they represent.