Four Interesting Minority Investments

By Will Ashworth | November 16, 2009 AAA

When I was young, I loved Easter egg hunts. The thrill of finding the candy was much more exciting then actually eating it. The same holds true for minority interests, those insignificant non-controlling positions in other companies that make up a small portion of a firm's annual revenue. Finding them is the difficult part. However, when you do, often what you find are niche investments within bigger entities that play an important part in that business' success or failure. To illustrate, here are four companies and the minority interests held within. You be the judge if any merit your closer consideration.

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Head West

Engineering services firm Shaw Group's (Nasdaq:SHAW) most interesting, although not necessarily its best investment to date, is its 20% ownership stake in Westinghouse Electric, acquired in October 2006 with majority partner, Toshiba. The group paid $5.4 billion for the provider of nuclear plant designs and engineering services. Westinghouse products and services are used by 60% of the nuclear plants operating in the United States.

Shaw Group's portion of the deal was $1.1 billion and financed through bonds denominated in Japanese yen. Unfortunately, this has hurt its profitability. In 2008, it added $205 million in debt because of foreign currency translation adjustments lowering its income before taxes by $198 million.

On a positive note, it has received $32.4 million in dividends since 2006 and overall revenues from the partnership grew 25.9% in fiscal 2008 to $3.4 billion. Long term, this bet on nuclear power is going to be a winner. Perhaps that's why its CEO bought $6.4 million of its shares November 5. That's always a bullish sign. (Insider tracking can inform your investment strategy, but it requires research and a level head. Find out what to look for in When Insiders Buy, Should Investors Join Them?)

Equity South Of The Border
Global recruiting firm Korn Ferry International (NYSE:KFY) didn't have a good fiscal 2009, losing $10.1 million on $638.2 million in revenue. In comparison, in the previous fiscal year the company made $66.2 million on $790.6 million in sales. These reports are on opposite ends of the scale. However, one tidbit in its latest 10-K was the $2.4 million in equity listed at the end of the income statement recognizing earnings in an unconsolidated subsidiary. Normally, the 50% investment in its Mexican subsidiary barely stands out but in 2009, it lowered losses by 20%. Viva Mexico!

Media Frenzy
Currently owned 16.8% by General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC Universal Division, ValueVision Media (Nasdaq:VVTV), an operator of online shopping channels, runs the ShopNBC.com website. It might be a good investment for NBC which is constantly building its brand, but regular investors may not feel the same. The company has lost $121.1 million in the last three fiscal years, yet its stock has only dropped 72.6%, which is much better than you'd think given the level of red ink.

Perhaps the investment that saved the day was its 12.5% investment in Ralph Lauren Media (RLM) that it sold back to Ralph Lauren (NYSE:RL) in March 2007 for $43.75 million, a pre-tax gain of $40.24 million. The iconic retailer has been pulling everything in-house in the past couple of years and it's unlikely ValueVision had much choice but to sell, albeit at a great price.

In 2006, Ralph Lauren Media generated $24.1 million in net income on revenues of $111.0 million, providing ValueVision shareholders with a little over $3 million in profits.

The Hidden Auto Gem
Ford
(NYSE:F) lost $14.67 billion in 2008. Its 41% minority interest in Turkish division Ford Otosan, which is the sole producer of the Ford Transit series of trucks for sale in Europe, made $214 million for its much larger partner. The investors who own the 18% of the stock that trades freely on the Istanbul Stock Exchange must be very happy with the performance. Ford Otosan is a car producer actually making money in 2008, and while it does little to dent Ford's huge deficit, it surely gives hope to Ford management that it's possible to be profitable.

It's unclear why Ford doesn't make more of these minority investments. Let someone on the ground that knows the country take on some of the risk. In this instance, that someone is the Koc Group of Turkey. (Cash in the bank is what every company strives to achieve. Find out how to determine how much a company is generating and keeping Free Cash Flow Yield: The Best Fundamental Indicator.)

The Bottom Line
I'm a big believer in partnerships. Companies should consider taking on more minority interests, not less. Why own 100% of something when you can achieve the same thing for 41%? Then, the company can put the savings into research and development and other areas that suffer from a lack of funding. It's all about the allocation of capital.

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