Peter R. Orszag, writing in Bloomberg View, highlights a study of public SEC-filed Form 10-K annual reports, which found that companies that make changes to the disclosure in their 10-Ks from one year to the next tend to have lower stock returns than average after publication of those changes. The study found that a significant majority of the changes constituted disclosure of negative information, so the resulting decline in performance is not surprising.
A year or two ago, the phrase “share buybacks” was a phrase only known to those in and around the world of corporate finance. It refers to a company’s use of available cash to purchase its own shares in the open market. The effect of this is to reduce the total number of shares outstanding, which makes the remaining shares more valuable. Recently, however, share buybacks have become enmeshed in political debates as shorthand for actions taken by corporate America and encouraged by Wall Street that are not in the best interest of workers and society generally. For example, The New York Times recently reported on how cash freed up by the recent tax cuts are being spent on share buybacks, as opposed to more worthy uses such as hiring new employees.
In the past few years, my private company clients have been flocking to online, cloud-based cap table services, such as Capshare and Carta (formerly eShares), as a platform to manage the company’s back-office functions for their capital structure. Aside from presenting an online cap table for reference by potential new investors and others, these sites provide a number of other services, such as being an online repository for documentation like stock option agreements and facilitating company valuations under Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code.
William D. Cohan, writing in the New York Times’ DealBook, characterizes the third-party valuations of private companies under Section 409A of the Internal Revenue Code as Silicon Valley’s “dirty little secret” and a “shell game.” Especially in the aftermath of the financial crisis, there has been plenty of populist rhetoric about practices in the business world, and much of that criticism has had basis in fact, but this take on 409A valuations seems awfully strained.
As described in Cohan’s article, Section 409A and the related rules require that companies obtain independent valuations in connection with their issuance of equity-based awards to employees, and failure to comply results in tax penalties. Cohan details the fact that various service providers charge significant fees to undertake these valuations, using words like “supposed” experts to make the whole enterprise seem like a racket, but the reality is that the rules do exist, and these valuations have to be done. If it was possible for just anyone to make up a valuation for a bargain-basement fee, heck, I would consider doing it as a side gig from my legal work. But the rules actually go into detail as to the required qualifications for firms providing these services. Cohan notes in the article that the SEC would not comment on these practices, but this is really more of an issue of tax law than securities law. What constrains companies and their hired valuation help from simply making up numbers out of thin air is the fact that their decisions are subject to later IRS scrutiny and sanctions.
The Financial Samurai personal finance blog posted an argument against angel investing, based in part on the writer’s own experience with a seemingly successful investment that really wasn’t so great, upon reflection. Toward the end of the post, the author says that if you do angel investing, you should devote no more than 5-10% of your funds towards it, and don’t expect anything good to come of it. But who is really advocating for devoting half or more of your nest egg to illiquid, speculative investments, even if you have a lot of financial leeway? There are legitimate reasons for wealthy individuals to want to participate in angel investing, like the satisfaction of helping a founder with a promising idea to realize a dream. As long as these investors aren’t blowing their whole fortune on it, what is the harm?