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Corporate Governance and Financial Health

16414033-abstract-word-cloud-for-corporate-governance-with-related-tags-and-termsThree years ago I did some work for an independent credit rating agency utilizing a quantitative methodology to determine financial health of corporations.  Dr. Patrick Caragata founder of the firm conducted a study of 200 TSX listed firms with high CGI ratings (Governance Metrics International).   Dr. Caragata was seeking to determine the correlation of Corporate Governance (CG) and financial health.  His findings revealed that “CG ratings failed to indicate when a company was in poor health 75% of the time.  In fact, they wrongly identified 32% of weak companies as being highly rated on GMI.”

Dr. Caragata also extended his model to use financial health score as an early warning signal for a listed company’s share price.  KMV, established ratings agencies, Altman’s Z Score were also determined as lagging predictors of share price.  Dr. Caragata’s research on bond pricing and CDS where better predictors of financial health momentum and ultimate predictors of share price but still failed to correlate financial health score as an early warning signal for share prices.  The problem that the model continually encountered was that valuation always exhibited a bias towards share price (market momentum)  not financial health score.  The determination of a “fair value” based on historical spreads of financial health score and share price was overly and overtly price sensitive. Perhaps a signal of an inefficient market?  This was particularly true for bubble stock anomalies and commodity sensitive equities.

Purveyors of Business Process Management (BPM) suggest that listed practitioner’s of BPM trade at a 15% premium to non-practitioners.  I wonder if its marketing boast.  Though BPM is not CG;  it does speak to having CG excellence in the corporate DNA.   A cultural commitment   to sound practices create valuation premiums and sustainable business models.  That’s the message well managed companies consistently deliver as a central theme of their value proposition.  Integrating sound practices and CG excellence into the corporate culture does create valuation premiums because it suggests an intentionality of business process deeply wedded to the enterprise mission.

I believe the radical reconfiguration of Wall Street offers a telling example of incongruity of good CG practitioners and financial health.  It was always a self evident truth that Wall Street firms that folded or transformed into commercial banks were probably some of the best rated CG enterprises.  CG excellence can do nothing to save an enterprise with a structurally flawed business model.  Though CG excellence does presuppose a board of directors in tune with the vicissitudes of the market; who would have thought that we would be looking at the extinction of the global investment banking business?  Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and the mighty Goldman Sachs were walking dinosaurs with flawed unsustainable business models?  All either folded, were acquired or became FDIC insured commercial banks.  I still can’t believe it but it’s true.  The world is being turned upside down.

Sum2 is a firm believer in coupling quantitative and qualitative risk measures to maintain operational excellence to build a healthy sustainable enterprise.  Effective CG alone cannot assure financial health.  It  must be a critical pillar of the governance, risk and compliance (GRC) triad.

When we speak about the principles of good governance, how about the original dissertation on the ideal of governance excellence.  Seemingly an insistence on an honest evaluation of reality to determine what is good is all it takes.  Its really that simple.

Visit the blog Risk Rap and the Allegory of the Cave post on FAS 157:

Sum2 welcomes the opportunity to speak with partners who share our passion for GRC excellence.

originally published 6/12/13

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June 12, 2013 Posted by | Bear Stearns, business continuity, credit crisis, Credit Redi, culture, FASB, operations, risk management, sound practices, sustainability | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SRZ’s Maginot Line

maginot_line_19441Schulte Roth Zabel’s (SRZ) Annual Private Investment Funds Seminar is the kick off event of the year for the AIM industry. In years past it was an event that was full of bravado from an industry flush with great expectations and giddiness over compensation levels that rivaled a small country’s GDP. This years event had more circumspection then bluster and more reflection on how to fashion a considered response to industry challenges squarely in the vortex of the market meltdown.

The shocking transformation and radical reconfiguration of the capital markets industry is underway. In the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, Bear Stearns merger, market crashes, credit crisis, bank insolvency, recession and lastly the coup de grace of the Madoff scandal put these intrepid wealth managers through a trying year.

Myriad challenges and crises tested many firms management acumen and forced managers to work extra hard to earn that 2 and 20.  With hedge fund closure rates expected to approximate 25%-45% this year, the industry is confronted with enormous challenges. The excess capacity in the industry, heightened regulatory oversight, liquidity constraints and elevated client risk aversion will foster market compression and a dramatic alteration in market dynamics. The well managed, well positioned, well focused and well capitalized funds will thrive on the volatility. Uncertainty is always the mother of invention and the best and brightest of the breed will no doubt find numerous opportunities amidst the massive market dislocations currently underway.

SRZ a leading legal firm servicing the industry effectively laid out an industry battle plan to address many of these acute challenges. In the Crisis Management breakout session the panel offered an interesting metaphor of a hedge fund as an intricate and complex ecosystem. The topology of a fund complex is comprised of many parts that at times may have contradictory and competing interests.

The Crisis Management session conducted a quarterly review of market events that occurred in 2008 as the capital markets deteriorated and the credit crisis deepened. The panels review was an instructive exercise on how managers need to constructively engage problems with an intentional risk management program and how it affects each stakeholder in the hedge fund ecosystem. The principle objective was determining the best course of action to either save the fund or effect an orderly liquidation of the investment partnership. In all instances the strategy needed to consider how to serve the greatest good for all fund stakeholders. SRZ offered attendees a brilliant crisis management game plan for fund managers. It was one of the better presentations on risk management that I have ever attended.

The general session was also very interesting and engaging. The central theme was that hedge funds are under extreme liquidity pressure. The drivers are distressed portfolio valuations, counter-party deleveraging, risk aversion in the markets, market liquidity and increased redemption pressures from investors. SRZ has developed a series of innovative redemption strategies it calls gates. The gates are designed to protect the level of assets under management by controlling an orderly outflow of capital so as not to endanger the overall liquidity and asset level of the fund. SRZ again shows why it is the leading player in the space by offering innovative solutions to industry needs. A great example of a market leader demonstrating leadership by offering innovative product development solutions.

The overall tenor of the conference reminded me of the construction of the Maginot Line. In years past investors were eagerly throwing money at hedge fund mangers to get a slice of the alpha pie. Today hedge fund managers need to build sophisticated battlements to keep the assets of the investment partnership under their control. In a sense the industry as moved from an offensive posture to a defensive one. SRZ is assisting its hedge fund clients to create a defensible business structure that will protect the long term sustainability of the fund and ultimately serve the greatest good of the funds partners and stakeholders.

During these times of extreme market duress tactics and strategies must be employed to protect the fund from excessive redemption runs that would ultimately serve to create a self fulfilling prophesy of liquidation.

Clients who have access to a war council of professionals like SRZ should be well suited to engage the battles they will encounter in the coming year and survive to enjoy the peace and spoils won during the next business cycle.

You Tube Video: Edith Piaf, Mon Legionnaire

Risk: market, credit, legal, reputation

January 15, 2009 Posted by | hedge funds, legal, risk management | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments