Silver Lining To Management’s Hardest Challenge?

Specialist consultant in capital expenditure management Tony Street maintains that now more than ever, as the recession wanes, a systemised approach to capex appraisal is vital if management is to create true shareholder wealth.


New Zealand’s corporate executives certainly have their work cut out for them in the wake of news that many CEOs received significant pay hikes last year.

Some, like Shareholders Association chairman Bruce Sheppard, have voiced surprise at the rises, which include a reported top up to $5million for Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds. Yet others fear incentive bonuses have been put on hold just when CEOs face their greatest challenge – investing for post-recession growth.

For example, Jarred Moyle of Moyle Consulting says companies should introduce or increase incentive schemes to ensure executives are strongly focussed on results.

I believe there is a way executives can prove they really deserve fatter pay packets and also create economic value to grow shareholder wealth.

In a nutshell, the need is to pay far more attention to detailed, disciplined analysis of capital expenditure projects than has been done in the past.

Failure here can be disastrous, notwithstanding that it is now years since this matter last gained media interest. A 2000 ANZ Bank survey of real wealth growth by 500 leading New Zealand companies based on ERC (Economic Return on Capital) and Economic Value Added (EVA) results revealed that in 1998 alone these companies destroyed $6.5billion in shareholders funds. In 2002, former Comalco CEO Kerry McDonald laid blame on many companies failure to develop robust examination tools, practices and processes. Today this is still the case for many companies when it comes to capex projects.

The post-recession race is now on to invest and expand but few New Zealand companies have a set aside war chest ready to hand. With most having a 20 to 40 per cent gearing, bank borrowing, like raising money on the stock market, will be difficult. So in many cases retained earnings (shareholders funds) will be called on.

A common failure here is to overlook the real cost of committing shareholder funds. Importantly, NOPAT, EBIT and EBITDA don’t account for them and often the “look good” capex business case prepared using such measures has a false bottom line. If, instead, the use of capital resources is accounted for at the true weighted average cost of capital (WACC) rate, then the real cost of capital outlay is seen – and dubious capex proposals are quickly shown up for what they really are.

Management must also avoid the pitfalls of poor analysis. One company pumped $69 million into a new manufacturing plant aiming to achieve a NPV (Net Present Value) of $20 million. It was really sad that the accounting errors were not addressed before commissioning. The NPV should have been just $500K.

How can things go so wrong? Answer: very easily. Just fail to account for capital outlay in the correct period, forget about interest costs during construction and ignore the future cost of capex “must do” improvements and plant replacement. When it comes to capital expenditure, many companies do.

Astute managers know that with a more disciplined and resourceful focus, they can get 15 – 30% better value from their capex programs. They also do a very wise thing : reinvest value gains into additional ‘business case’ capex initiatives – reducing costs and increasing revenues. This has a “double-positive” outcome.

Today, it should be clear that for management to receive its higher pay check with a bouquet and not a brickbat, it must commit to protecting shareholder value.

The big sins, of course, are poorly specified or non-existent return on capital objectives and poor corporate discipline in ensuring that capital is allocated where it can influence required returns.

Capital expenditure decisions are amongst the most important that any company can make. But it is astounding that the process of priority setting and capex appraisal is not often thought of as important enough within corporate NZ to warrant the use of software. With many prospective “must do” capital jobs to rank in order of importance, management needs objective tools to ensure that ‘needs’ are met before ‘wants’.

Spreadsheets are a far cry from providing a capital management infrastructure. They are seldom consistent and are prone to error. Rarely are they audited and often they are unchecked. Seldom are they proactive in guarding against incorrect assumptions and overlooking best outcomes. Shareholders deserve better.

So as the new round of investment for expansion gets underway, let’s hear it for management brave enough to take the risks after having putting effective capex management infrastructures in place. Their most important challenge is to create enduring economic value for shareholders, choosing the winners from among the capex lemons.

For pulling that off, corporate executives deserve all the extra remuneration they get.

Tony Street is a director of Capex Systems Ltd (CSL), a leading capital planning consultancy and software development company. (CSL is not an EVA supplier.)
On the web: www.capex.co.nz

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Wake-up Call For Businesses

Waikato Times, Friday, April 7, 2000
Wake-up call for businesses

Research estimating New Zealand companies destroyed $6.6 billion in shareholder value in 1998 is a “wake-up call” for senior executives, stock exchange chairman Eion Edgar says.

He said that as executive remuneration packages were renegotiated, they were more accurately reflecting the returns generated for shareholders through “at risk” performance bonuses.

ANZ Bank research showed 500 of New Zealand’s largest companies lost an estimated $6.5 billion of shareholder wealth in 1998, based on the economic value added (EVA) measure tax paid profits less the cost of capital.

The sharemarket’s top 40 companies excluding Brierley Investments lost $1.2 billion in shareholder value last year alone, taking their combined losses since 1991 to $14 billion.

In many cases, senior executives received salaries bearing little relationship to the erosion of shareholder wealth.

“You could argue around the edges about whether EVA is the best measure, but the general message is a reality,” Mr Edgar said.

“I hope this information becoming public is a wakeup call for the management of both listed and unlisted companies in New Zealand.”

ANZ corporate finance head Joseph Healy said the results were a huge concern for corporate New Zealand and the broader economy.

One third of’ the companies studied had not even covered their cost of capital in 1998.

Mr Edgar said some outstanding success stories among smaller New Zealand companies had been overshadowed by poor performing larger businesses.

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Aligning CEO incentives to EVA

Waikato Times, Thursday, April 6, 2000
Aligning CEO incentives to EVA

Chief executives of big companies often receive generous salaries bearing little relationship to the sharply lower returns they generate for shareholders, research by ANZ Bank shows.

The bank estimates 500 of New Zealand’s largest companies lost about $6.5 billion of shareholder wealth in 1998.

Last year alone, the sharemarket’s top 40 companies shed $1.2 billion.

The research, which updates an ANZ analysis on shareholder wealth, issued last year, estimates companies on the sharemarket’s NZSE 40 index have shed $14 billion in shareholder value since 1991.

That represents more than a quarter of the sharemarket’s total current value.

Questions are raised about the caliber of corporate management, the executive remuneration structure and New Zealand’s broader economic performance, ANZ’s head of corporate finance, Joseph Healy, said.

“It’s a massive concern for the whole economy and needs to be addressed.”

The loss of shareholder wealth explained both the sharemarket’s recent poor performance and New Zealand’s lackluster economic rankings on several scores internationally.

Poor underlying company performances and the way they were measured were at the heart of the problem.

ANZ’s research also highlighted flaws in the remuneration structures of many chief executives and other senior managers particularly in companies that had surrendered shareholder wealth in recent years.

“The more million dollar plus executives we have in New Zealand the better, so long as compensation is aligned to value creation,” Mr Healy said.

“Right now, there is virtually no link, except for a few businesses such as Telecom.”

Evidence suggested remuneration packages for chief’ executives and other senior executives were “insensitive” to the creation of shareholder wealth.

“Instead, compensation is linked to the size of firms and to comparisons with similar sized overseas firms.

“There is little correlation to shareholder added value.”

This mismatch of’ executive compensation and shareholder wealth, combined with an “explosive growth” in executive salaries in the past decade, had sparked concerns among shareholders in many countries.

“To pay high fixed salaries regardless of how well you have governed shareholder funds is clearly a flaw in any sensible governance structure,” Mr Healy said.

“Equally, a failure to reward in a material way those responsible for creating shareholder wealth is a fundamental mistake.”

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