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MISSION:INTANGIBLE, the blog of the Intangible Asset Finance Society, offers critical comments on intangible asset, corporate reputation, and finance; supplemented by quantitative reputation metrics. Intangible assets include business processes, patents, trademarks; reputations for ethics and integrity; quality, safety, sustainability, security, and resilience; and comprise 70% of the average company's value. MISSION:INTANGIBLE is a registered trademark of the Intangible Asset Finance Society.

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All We Know Are the Facts, Ma'am

C. HUYGENS - Saturday, April 19, 2014
Sgt Joe Friday only knew facts. The rest of us have to ferret them out from all the spin. Fortunately, we are not alone. As further evidence that one of the causes of 21st century reputation risk is that anyone with a keyboard and access to the internet can be an investigative journalist, there are at least 59 organizations that "purport to check facts cited by politicians and news outlets that quote them."

The 16th US President once quipped, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." These 59 groups are determined to use facts to reduce the frequency of the first two scenarios.

Read more.

Speaking of substance and spin, if managing reputation risk is on your mind, read this helpful recent "how-to" article from Risk Management magazine.

Brand v. Reputation: GM edition

C. HUYGENS - Thursday, April 17, 2014
An operational failure in business process controls or supply chain integrity management can help sharpen the difference between the value of a reputation, and the value of a brand. For a company like GM being roiled by evidence of longstanding failures in governance, controls and risk management, the difference implies two very different future courses.

Jonathan Salem Baskin, Managing Director of the reputation controls company, Consensiv, explains:

If corporate reputational value were nothing more than immediate public opinion — like brand awareness — then the company could rely on consumers’ ability, if not overt desire, to forget the past and literally “buy” the company’s latest sales pitch. But reputation is an asset based in operational reality, not the minds of consumers, and GM faces a long list of stakeholder expectations, and resulting valuations, that won’t be easily erased or forgotten. From processes to supply chain relationships, analysis and reporting thresholds, to all of the substance of its relationships with its various communities have been called into question by the ignition crisis, and those stakeholders are and will make future decisions based on it.

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Duke Energy: Directors personally responsible for coal ash disaster

C. HUYGENS - Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Less than 90 days after of the nation's worst coal ash spills, four Duke Energy (DUK) directors are being held personally responsible for the disaster by two large activist pension funds. An operational failure led to failure in one of the six key processes that govern reputational value: sustainabilty. More interesting than merely affirming, yet again, that a corporate reputational crisis is always personal to a corporate director, the concerted action by these two pension funds represents an entirely new strategy. It appears these two funds are trying to preserve enterprise value and mitigate a reputational crisis by naming and removing individual directors promptly.

Reuters reports today that "The California Public Employees' Retirement System and New York City Pension Funds have written to shareholders of Duke Energy Corp, urging them to vote against the re-election of four directors. "The financial, legal, regulatory and reputational risks for Duke Energy are serious and mounting," Calpers corporate governance director Anne Simpson and New York City comptroller Scott Stringer wrote in their open letter. according to the Financial Times. The funds blamed Duke Energy directors Alex Bernhardt, James Hyler, James Rhodes and Carlos Saladrigas for the 39,000 ton coal ash spill in North Carolina's Dan river in February, after a stormwater pipe broke under a 27-acre ash pond at the company's coal plant."

The February 2 spill, according to the activist organization, Southeast Coal Ash, began when "a stormwater pipe burst beneath a coal ash impoundment at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Power Station near Eden, North Carolina." Duke Energy estimates 30,000-39,000 tons and 24 million gallons of wastewater, or about 140,000 tons of toxic waste, entered the Dan River.

The reputational value metrics profile of Duke Energy is instructive. The company is, and has been a top performer in its peer group of 131 electric utilities, coming in this week with a Reputation Premium at the 98th percentile. Befitting a company with a superior reputation (read, high expectations among stakeholders), Duke Energy struck a conciliatory tone, admitting the spill at its Dan River plant shouldn't have happened. "Duke Energy takes full responsibility for this accident. We'll be taking a fresh look at all of our ash basins and how we handle that after we fix this pipe," Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams told WSOC TV.

The Consensus Trend, an indicator of stakeholder uncertainty, started rising after the spill taking Duke Energy up from below the first quartile to the median. By any objective measure of reputational value, this is discomfort, but certainly not a crisis.

In what should be viewed as a possible sea change, activist investors are now getting ahead of the "usual pile on of litigators, regulators and mommy bloggers. " They are going directly after the board -- not to extract monetary compensation -- but to preserve enterprise the company's reputational health and top drawer reputational value by shaking up what the funds believe constitutes a failure in governance, control and risk management. The are demanding individual board members be held culpable -- very personal, indeed.

Brazil: The cost of a bad reputation

C. HUYGENS - Friday, April 04, 2014
The central bank, which does not enjoy formal independence in Brazil, has increased the interest rate by 375 basis points since April 2013. The most recent increase this past Wednesday, ranks Brazil at the top of the league table for the most rate rises globally over the past year, according to Bloomberg data.

Reputation is a reflection of governance, controls and risk management. Weak governance comes at a cost. The Financial Times reports that "Brazil has been under pressure to regain the trust of the market. In March, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating to BBB-, one notch above junk status, blaming several factors including the economic team’s lack of credibility."

Brand v. Reputation: Auto repair edition

C. HUYGENS - Thursday, April 03, 2014
Tuffy, a brand of auto-repair franchises, acquired a terrible reputation affirmed when its local franchise owner was arrested on felony charges for stealing from customers. A new owner bought the brand. Then he had to rebuild its reputation.

Read more.

Planning to attend RIMS 2014 Denver 29 April? Come learn more on enterprise reputation risk.

Brand v. Reputation: CSI edition

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, April 02, 2014
A buyer of illicit drugs with a reputation for toughness meets stakeholder expectations by stabbing repeatedly a dealer who failed to honor his commitment to sell. Not to do so would create reputation risk and in certain markets, reputation risk can be costly, indeed.

Read more.

Planning to attend RIMS 2014 Denver 29 April? Come learn more on enterprise reputation risk.

Brand v. Reputation: Nissan edition

C. HUYGENS - Tuesday, April 01, 2014
British car buyers would rather buy Japanese-made Japanese branded cars than British-made Japanese branded cars. As the Consensiv blog explains, it was the reputation of Japanese workmanship and quality that sold the cars, not the brand.

Read more.

Planning to attend RIMS 2014 Denver 29 April? Come learn more on enterprise reputation risk.

JPMorgan Chase: You're doing it wrong

C. HUYGENS - Monday, March 31, 2014
"Doing it," a double entendre used extensively in the arts, rarely raises an eyebrow nowdays. But when used in banking?

Last week, start-up condom company Lovability learned that Chase Paymentech, an operating company of JP Morgan Chase, would not handle its credit card transactions. Lovability’s founder, Tiffany Gaines, who started the company as a way to discreetly sell condoms to women, told the Huffington Post that a representative told her on the phone that they would not work with her because doing so posed a “reputation risk” to the company.

The financial sector is under orders from the Office of Comptroller of Currency (OCC) to manage financial risk where "reputation risk" is a named component. But reputation risk, in this context, is a risk of negative future expectations -- which in the financial sector, means liquidity risk. Confounding reputation risk with social concepts such as likability and cultural acceptability, as Jonathan Salem Baskin wrote in Forbes,  is simply "doing it" wrong.

Planning to attend RIMS 2014 Denver 29 April? Come learn more on enterprise reputation risk.

Carnival Corp: Hidden value or fool's gold?

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Huygens has reflected in the past on the travails of Carnival Corp (CCL), the vacation experience company that at times has provided passengers with more than they bargained for. This week, the Consensiv blog picks up a discussion at Motley Fool in which is is observed that the stock price for CCL, while apparently a bargain, may also reflect outsized operating expenses, future liabilities, and ongoing adverse publicity.

Carnival does offer a dividend yield of 2.50%, which is more generous than Royal Caribbean at 1.90%, but considering the other factors — PR challenges and lack of efficiency — that shouldn’t be enough to lead investors in Carnival’s direction.

The key message from Motley Fool's discussion, notes Jonathan Salem Baskin, a reputation controls expert, is that different stakeholders will potentially view the reputational value of CCL differently. Equity investors speak through stock price, which is the most transparent to all outsiders; other stakeholders speak through more opaque channels that create or reduce revenue, increase or reduce expenses and operational efficiencies, etc.

The myriad "valuations" diverge most during and after shocks; over time, they converge. In between the two, there are arbitrage opportunities. Such opportunities are exploited in the RepuStars Variety and RepuStars SPX equity strategies whose weekly returns are posted on this blog.

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Reputation Value: Sovereign state edition

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, March 19, 2014
"In a market based on trust, reputation has value," noted Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, as Wall Street imploded.

Certainly reputation has value in the financial sector. In fact, the US Office of Comptroller of the Currency now recognizes reputation risk as one of eight sources of financial risk that institutions need to manage.

And reputation has value in public companies in general. Around two thirds of public company directors, and an equal number of public companies, disclose the materiality of reputation risk in their SEC filings (10K item 1A).

But what about the public sector? Does reputation impact budget line items in the public sector the same way it impacts line items in a public company’s P&L. Apparently, yes.

As far as state budgets go, Illinois has one of the worst, suffering from underfunded employee pension obligations and an economy that isn’t adding enough top-line cash. Its credit rating is the nation’s lowest, which means it’s considered the worst borrowing risk out of a list of 50 (and therefore pays the most for it).

But beyond this low credit rating, Illinois pays interest rates on its debt that are higher than the actual default risk that these ratings are designed to reflect. Illinois pays a reputation risk premium.

In a recent paper published by the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of South Carolina professors Tima Moldogaziev and Martin Luby studied this reputation risk premium and found that it costs the state plenty. For bond sales between 2005 and 2010, they estimate that this reputation risk premium cost the state more than $80 million. That's $80 million over and above what the state should have been paying based on its worst-in-the-nation credit rating.

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