Stakeholder Value & The Dynamic Pie

A recent article by Forbes contributor Steve Denning reviewed Roger Martin’s new book, Fixing the Game. It was a good review and I plan on reading the book.

The gist of the article is that managers of public companies focus too much on the expectations behind their stock price, and in turn “maximizing shareholder value.” [1] According to Martin, the causes stem from misaligned incentives and the business culture that has developed over the past 30 years. This focus on shareholders usually comes at the expense of customers and employees. “If you try to take care of shareholders, customers don’t benefit and, ironically, shareholders don’t get very far either.” When managers are working in the expectations market, they’re much more likely to make short term decisions that benefit only themselves and a (vocal) subset of shareholders—traders. This includes seemingly harmless activities like giving quarterly or annual earnings guidance, or for retailers reporting monthly same-store sales figures.

Martin proposes a few remedies to the problem, like improving board governance and eliminating both safe harbor provisions and stock-based compensation. These would go a long way to nudge corporate behavior in the right direction. But for managers who want to take it upon themselves, here’s my proposal: think of your company as a Dynamic Pie.

Continue reading “Stakeholder Value & The Dynamic Pie”

5 Interesting 13F Buys (Q4-07)

Keeping up tradition from the last quarter, below is a list of 5 stocks that were added to the portfolio’s that I watch. These are either potentially interesting investments or just companies to keep an eye on.

1. Sears Holdings (::yahoo(“SHLD”)::) — Fairholme Fund, Pabrai Investments, Pershing Square — More super-investors realizing that Sears isn’t your traditional retail investment. Real estate and brand liquidation values provide downside protection (as opposed to being Lampert’s “strategy” as some claim). There are many possibilities for upside, but here are a few: (1) The sale or monetization of coveted assets; (2) A successful turnaround of the retail stores; (3) The allocation of capital from poor-performing cash generators (Kmart) to higher return divisions (Lands End) or new investments.

2. Acxiom Corp. (::yahoo(“ACXM”)::) — ESL Investments (Eddie Lampert) — An information services provider, trading at just over 4x cash flow. For the year ending March, 2007, Acxiom had before-tax free cash flow of $374 million. Currently, the entire company sells for $1.6 billion (including debt), only 4.3x that number. You can see from an amended 13F filing that Eddie Lampert’s purchase price was probably somewhere around $25 per share. So if it was cheap then, he must think it’s extremely cheap now.

3. Office Depot (ODP) — Gotham Asset Management — Joel Greenblatt, author of The Little Book That Beats the Market, took a small position in Office Depot, the second largest office products retailer. If ODP can maintain its competitive position and earnings power, it looks like a good buy. It’s run by Steve Odland, former CEO of AutoZone (another past Greenblatt holding), who’s working on improving margins. In the December 2007 issue of Value Investor Insight, Randall Abramson said he believes ODP could have earnings power of $3 per share in a few years. That would put the current price at just under 5x earnings.

4. Kraft Foods (KFT) — Berkshire Hathaway — Buffett’s widely reported 8.6% stake in Kraft makes him the single largest shareholder. Kraft was fully spun-off of Altria Group earlier last year, when shares traded over $32 per share. This is another one of Buffett’s large-cap bets that will probably outperform the market over time. A great company that trades for 13.5x last year’s operating income. This may be a good selection for the “defensive” investor. But for the “enterprising” investor, there are probably more advantageous purchases that could be made in smaller, cheaper stocks.

5. Walgreen Co. (WAG) — Longleaf Partners, Greenlight Capital — I haven’t looked at Walgreen’s, but it could be interesting. It’s a great company, but is it selling for a cheap price? Here is the link to a recent write-up at Value Investors Club.

Related post: 5 Interesting 13F Buys (Q3-07)
Related link: Search for filings on the SEC website
Related link: More super-investor portfolio’s at GuruFocus

Disclosure: We own shares in SHLD. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security.

Faulty Sears Holdings Analysis

Fachidiot (German): An excessively narrow-minded technical expert. A man with a hammer.

Sears Holdings (SHLD) has recently been the subject of much discussion among the media and investor community. Below are a few quotes from an article in the Chicago Sun-Times discussing the thoughts of Gary Balter, a retail analyst at Credit Suisse.

…Sears could be a $188 stock if Lampert would sell valuable assets such as Sears Canada, Lands’ End, distribution centers, Sears’ headquarters in Hoffman Estates, and brands such as Craftsman and Kenmore.

Yes. And Berkshire Hathaway could be a $250,000 stock if Buffett would sell everything they own except the Acme Brick Company and Buffalo News. The brands mentioned above are very valuable, but they are critical to the success of Sears Holdings as a retailer. That’s right, Sears Holdings is a retailer. It seems as though this revelation has disappointed some investors over the past few weeks. Continue reading “Faulty Sears Holdings Analysis”