25 November 2012

That was week ending 23rd November 2012

What goes down must come up

I have emphasised before that I am not any kind of expert on the stock market. If I was, I would not be writing these articles every week. However I have learnt that in general good news from a company tends to lead to a rise in the share value and bad news to a fall.
So what do think might happen to a company that has issued 5 profit warnings since May, whose loss will now be 6 times higher than it forecast in July and is under investigation by the FSA for how it handled inside information? Following the fifth profit warning its shares increased last week by 17pc!
The company is Lamprell an oil rig maker and wind turbine installer. This story seems to demonstrate that you can't have too much of a bad thing. However incoming Chairman John Kennedy has moved fast and cleared out the former CEO, CFO and COO. He also brought in PwC to give the big projects a good going over and although this produced a lot more bad news the markets seem to prefer to know the worst. The better news is that there is still a pretty good and now verified order book and the company’s bankers are supportive.
Now this may not last and I for one will not be piling in to the shares any time soon. However maybe the lesson is that if you have the courage to front up on all the bad news and to take decisive action then this just might be the beginning of some good news.

Did, didn’t, did, didn’t

By far the biggest business story last week has been the Hewlett Packard (HP) Autonomy pantomime. HP paid $10.4.bn for Autonomy in 2011, an 80% premium and 34 times projected revenues! Then in May, just seven months later, HP announced a disappointing quarter for Autonomy and 25,000 job losses, including Autonomy founder and CEO Mike Lynch. Last week they went further and alleged that Autonomy had misrepresented its financial results resulting in HP paying more than the company was worth. Not surprisingly Lynch disagrees, claiming that HP has mismanaged the business.
HP have taken an $8.4bn ($5.4bn for Autonomy) write down and their shares fell 10% to their lowest for a decade. Naturally investors are hopping mad and are asking about what happened with the due diligence. The list of advisers (and £40m of fees) appears to back Meg Whitman’s (HP’s CEO) claim that “we did a whole host of due diligence”, there were certainly enough of them. However she went on to say “it is a little challenging to go in and say gee we need to double check Deloitte (Autonomy’s auditors)”. This must qualify as the “I wish I hadn’t said that” CEO quote of the year.
HP has been thrashing around for years trying to find its way to a future away from the dwindling PC and IT peripherals market. The future is software they decided hence the purchase of Autonomy, which they appeared determined to do at almost any price. This is just the latest in a series of expensive accidents for HP. It demonstrates they simply don’t have the capability to make the changes needed in their own business, much less be capable of taking on other businesses they knows nothing about.
Whether HP’s allegations or Mike Lynch’s claims of mismanagement are eventually proved to be right is frankly irrelevant, this result was always going to be the same. Ms Whitman insists that Autonomy will remain a key part of HP’s future. However with Autonomy personnel leaving in droves as I say, the result is always going to be the same.

Euro Crash?

I was at the CBI conference on Monday to hear speeches from David Cameron and Ed Milliband and to witness a “performance” from Boris Johnson. (If you want to see Boris’ speech there is a link to CBI website below)
Both Cameron and Milliband had much to say about Europe. Cameron talked tough playing shamelessly to the euro sceptics even though he has no intention of taking Britain out of Europe. Milliband talked about how he would not let the country “sleepwalk towards the exit” and the need for Britain to be “in the room and at the table”. Quite how much of this is Milliband’s sincere belief and how much is political opportunism to prise open the cracks in the coalition and the Tory party on Europe is hard to tell. His answer to the short comings of Europe and the Eurozone is that he would seek to bring about reform. He did not explain what reforms or how they might be achieved. The fact that the European commission is building itself palatial new premises in Brussels and the wine served to Europe’s leaders this week cost £120 a bottle might give him some idea of the challenge involved.
The sentiment amongst the business people at the conference was to support what Milliband had to say. Most, though not all UK business leaders do not want us to end up outside of Europe.
However what nobody appears prepared to talk about is the very real possibility of the Eurozone imploding. Greece is supposed to have run out of money this month, yet still the tranche of bailout funds they need to avert this has not been cleared, even though the Greek government managed to get its latest austerity measures through its parliament. Several other countries are just spiralling down with no bottom to their economic well in sight. France lost its AAA credit rating last week, mainly because there is no sign the French government has even recognised, much less is prepared to deal with its fundamental uncompetitiveness.
If the roof does fall in then I would rather be near the exit or even through it. Could it happen? Maybe, maybe not. However remember when Russia defaulted everyone said it would never happen and it did, in just one day!

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No it’s a black swan

Talking of the unexpected and unthinkable last week Nassim Nicholas Taleb published a new book – “Antifragile”.  This is the latest of his extended argument about the requirements for business success in our modern world.  Starting with “The Black Swan”, he has now produced a number of densely written and intensely demanding publications. A reviewer pronounced “Antifragile” as probably a good idea but almost unreadable.
For me, this is maddening and frustrating – because Taleb is right but has failed to communicate an immensely important idea that I and my business partners identified in 2004 and have been promoting from our tiny corner ever since! So I am able to explain a concept that could really matter for your survival and prosperity in this uncertain world and save you reading a series of books and still being none the wiser for it.  Here goes –

Idea 1 -– Unexpected things are inevitable and can have totally unpredictable consequences.  Taleb calls these Black Swans.  We say S*** Happens!
Idea 2 – A few Organisations can withstand unexpected events substantially better than most others.  We call this Competitive Strength, (Taleb’s “Antifragile”)
Idea 3 – Outfits with outstanding Competitive Strength have extraordinarily agile, adaptive and flexible mindsets, combined with superb operational competence (i.e. not HP!) and so deal rapidly and effectively with whatever happens – either bad news (Black Swans) or good news (Market Opportunities).  We call this Changeability, (Taleb conflates this into “Antifragile”, wrongly)

And there you have it, 3 challenging ideas you should pay attention to and no need to read 4 or 5 challenging books on the subject. The future is massively uncertain, S*** Will happen. Only outstanding Competitive Strength can deliver the Changeability to secure the future for you and your business in an uncertain world.

So that was some of the week before this week. We hope you found some of the above thought provoking and useful for you and your business. We trust you had a good weekend and hope you have a great week this week.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, would you believe I was just listening to Radio 3 this evening & they interviewed Taleb on his his 2 books. I prefer your simpler way articulating the same subject in the manner you have in this blog. Thanks Mukesh