Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has been rescued both in the USA and UK. In the UK HSBC has taken over the business for £1 and put in some more cash. But bank share prices are still being negatively impacted as doubts about their stability remain.
The problem at SVB was in essence a failure to manage interest rate risks on bonds they held as security which they could not sell to meet depositor redemption requests without recognising big losses. It demonstrates the knife edge that most bank balance sheets sit on, which is why I don’t invest in banks. Lending long and borrowing short as all banks do is a recipe for disaster unless very carefully managed.
Last night there was a panel discussion of the problems at Wandisco (WAND) at the Mello event. I gave my view of the likely problem at the company which is likely to have wiped out investors in a company that was worth £905 million before the shares were suspended.
This company has been reporting numerous very large “orders” in recent months but if you read the last annual report it says this: “Commit-to-Consume contract structure to be widely utilised across all future clients, where a customer is contracted to move a minimum amount of data over a given time” and reports several new deals using that structure. What exactly were the implied commitments in terms of cash by these “orders” is the key question which is not apparent. The company revenue forecasts were probably based on more than the minimums committed and probably inherently too optimistic. We will no doubt learn more in due course.
Who was to blame for this fiasco? The sales person or persons involved as the company suggests or the CEO and CFO for not being more sceptical about the likely future cash flows? The latter I suggest. The announcements made by the company were in my view misleading and hence effectively a fraud on investors.
Can the company recover? As I said in the meeting, the company does appear to have some good technology but avoiding administration is not going to be easy. The company may need more funding urgently to meet its customer commitments but who would invest in the business as confidence in the management will have been lost and investigating the problem will take time? It may take weeks if not months to resolve and the longer the company shares are suspended the more difficult it becomes.
There was a general discussion at the Mello event on how to avoid frauds which lose investors their money. Can you spot likely frauds was one question discussed. I think you can in many cases. There were warning signs at Wandisco such as never reporting a profit since they listed which is why I never invested in it. But sometimes it’s very difficult as at Patisserie Valerie where the audited accounts were fictitious.
One of the speakers mentioned a good book on the subject entitled “Lying for Money” by Dan Davies. I have ordered a copy. I would also recommend “The Signs Were There” by Tim Steer and I cover some of the things to look at when researching companies in my own book entitled “Business Perspective Investing”.
What should be done to avoid investors losing money from frauds?
Tighter regulation of announcements was one suggestion and tougher penalties for convictions was another. In general the UK legal regime is much too weak and the FCA has historically been very lax although they have been improving.
David Stredder suggested that companies that list should contribute to an “insurance” fund in case the company suffers fraud that would compensate investors (it’s rarely possible to recover funds from the fraudsters). This is an interesting idea but it would need to be a large fund to cover the likely cases.
Note that relying on non-executive directors or Nomads to pick up and stop problems does not work. Investors need to do their own due diligence.
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )
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