Monday, April 16, 2012

The US JOBS Act, short for "Jumpstart Our Business Startups", is one of those nice broad conceptions that falter in the details.  There seems to be fairly universal agreement that small business is the bedrock of North American economic growth, and that the last few years have been tougher than usual on these companies.  And as a small business person working with small businesses, I can pretty much vouch for that.  So the idea of supporting small businesses and helping them grow without entangling them in too much bureaucracy is appealing.  Hence the JOBS Act -- a small sampling of the massive associated media response is headlined at the end of this entry.

The catch is that at least some of those bureaucratic entanglements have to do with governance and investor protection, things that Wall Street has demonstrated -- at the very least -- a reluctance to deal with seriously, permanently, and comprehensively. Wall Street seems to be thrilled with the bill, which is enough to make many small investors worry.  The big investment banks see profit potential in combination with reduced regulation:  the same combination that triggered the freefall in 2008.

It is important to invest in our start-ups, and it would be very positive if more people considered them as part of a diversified portfolio.  However, as consultants we try to encourage ambitious start-ups to treat themselves as public companies from the outset, especially in terms of governance and disclosure.  Here we have a bill that seems to be encouraging companies to do the exact opposite.  Hmmm.  Wonder how attractive that will seem to private equity investors.

Wall St. Examines Fine Print in a Bill for Start-Ups By SUSANNE CRAIG and BEN PROTESS (April 4, 2012)
Now Everyone Can Lose Big Investing in Startups
Obama’s new crowdfunding bill democratizes venture capital, for good and for ill. By Will Oremus|Posted Friday, April 6, 2012, at 12:59 PM ET
U.S. Jobs Act doesn’t mean Wild West for companies
By Olivia Oran
Posted on Monday, April 9, 2012 7:38AM EDT

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Interesting piece on stock option payments for management, by Kyle McLean of Exploration Insights:  The conflicting issues of dilution and alignment of interests, combined with a capital intensive situation (like mining exploration and new technology plays) mean that management mistakes are paid for by shareholders in businesses where very few of the companies could ever receive a cash payment on sale of their real estate or intellectual properties that exceeded their market cap.  He argues for an incentive system based on and fostering accountability, a focus on capital gains, entrepreneurial spirit, and a caretaking mentality.  Not sure how this would be be into practice, though.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

FAIR Canada, the Canadian Foundation for the Advancement of Investor Rights, posted a very interesting article yesterday (you can read it at:

The writer suggests that there are signficant actual and potential conflicts of interest in the way we currently run our stock exchanges, with the needs of the investors, who depend on the exchanges for their regulatory function as well as their trading utility, often taking a distant third place to both listed companies and the profit motive.

From an IR perspective, these conflicts are pretty clear.  Not to mention exchanges buying an IR firm in order to support their listed companies and then promoting the IR to new listings....

Friday, March 9, 2012

PDAC -- the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada -- had its annual conference this week at the Toronto Convention Centre.  More than 31,000 people turned up, which made the show crowded, but exciting.  Despite the fact that some people were saying the show has become unmanageable, we got a charge out of seeing that many energetic and enthusiastic mining and service companies in one place. 

We walked and walked and talked and talked.  We heard scads of great stories -- it amazes me how undervalued some of the smaller players are, priced far below asset value.

Key to getting those valuations up to a more reasonable level is, of course, attracting investors.  Federal Mining Minister Joe Oliver did his best to help, announcing that he foresaw $100 billion in new investment in mining over the next 10 years ($100-bn-mining-investment-in-next-decade-minister). 

Given that 40% of global exploration spending, amounting to $4.2 bn in 2012, comes from Canadian companies, it's clear that mining is a big ticket item for Canada.  In fact, mining employs more people in Canada than any other industry, including the automotive.

So, is the show too big?  I think, not big enough! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The federal election in the US is provoking strong thoughts about truth (rather than 'truthiness' as described by Stephen Colbert so usefully) and ethical behaviour.  The leading Republican candidates seem quite willing to dispense with truth in the fight to win power, but few commentators are calling them on it.  It makes me wonder if we have become so sensitized to the need to call a spade an earth-moving implement that we are hesitant to identify and name lying as such -- that we have become inured to bushwah.

So does this extend to the business as well as politics?  As an investor-relations consultant, I have a responsibility to ensure that my clients' stories are told clearly and honestly.  Otherwise it is impossible to manage investors' perceptions and expectations (it's hard enough when you're dealing with fact let alone adding fiction).  If you are in investor, is it your sense that more businesses are falling prey to a tendency to stretch, paint, mould, embroider, or alter fact to entice you to buy stock?