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商业 - 消费品

银行界与卡夫的爱情买卖

Duff McDonald 2011年08月08日

华尔街说“跳”,卡夫食品公司便附和道“多高”?

    显然,卡夫食品(Kraft Foods)认为目前最明智的做法莫过于将公司一分为二。然而,就在8月3日之前,公司还认为规模翻番更为明智。

    有一些规律是永恒不变的。最常见的莫过于昼夜交替,还有生老病死。经济的运行也有自己的一整套规律,尽管每个新的轮回表现各有差异。对于金融来说,有并购也有剥离——这是银行家们赖以生存的摇钱树。

    并购和剥离,无论哪一种方式,都是从事并购银行家们的养料——先建后拆,周而复始。今天,他们会强调规模效应很重要,明天他们又改口说要专注于“核心竞争力”。

    上周,卡夫食品(KFT)在华尔街最热衷的游戏当中扮演了主角。在经过多年的扩张后,公司今天的宣布无异于180度转弯。昨日的举足轻重变成了今日的无足轻重。

    卡夫食品声称,公司正计划拆分成两部分——1/3为北美杂货业务,2/3为全球零食业务。为了给自己寻找依据,他们不惜重拾部分总加法分析这一陈词滥调。然而这与公司一年前所公布的计划大相径庭。典型的虚伪。

    卡夫食品的首席执行官罗森菲尔德2010年是这么说的:“我比较喜欢将能带来现金的业务和增长态势良好的业务整合在一起…”

    现在,仅仅一年之后——虽然经济形势仍与一年前如出一辙——罗森菲尔德的看法已是大有不同。她现在认为应该将增长缓慢、生钱有道的杂货业务与增长迅猛、囊中羞涩的零食业务分而治之。公司将债务摊给了杂货公司,而零食公司则摇身一变成为了人见人爱的增长型企业。

    市场对此消息反响十分热烈,卡夫公司的股票在上周四逆势上扬。根据《华尔街日报》(Wall Street)的报道,卡夫公司的以为发言人声称:“几年前我们就已经开始策划类似的交易了,而且分析人士和投资者们都建议我们这么做”等一等,什么?难道他们一边在策划类似的交易一边还在继续并购其他的公司,比如2010年并购糖果公司吉百利(Cadbury)?难道这些人连自己想干什么都弄不清楚吗,到底是要壮大还是要瘦身?

    该报同时还列举了剥离游戏中的其他一些玩家。石油巨头康菲公司(ConocoPhillips)(COP)最近否定了其垂直整合的决策,转而决定拆分成两家公司——一家采油,一家炼油。根据该报的报道,首席执行官穆礼怀认为拆分后公司的核心业务将更具竞争力也更有价值。换句话说,之前的合并就是一馊主意。

    再回头来说卡夫公司。当然分析人士已经“建议这么做”。其实这是在提醒大家准备好银两。这只是卡夫公司结构调整历史长河中最新的插曲:经过几十年的分分合合,2000年,菲利普•莫里斯集团(Philip Morris)【现更名为奥驰亚集团(Altria)(MO)】将卡夫与纳贝斯克控股公司(Nabisco Holdings)合并,随后卡夫公司于2001年上市。接下来的几年当中,卡夫食品在出售箭牌糖果公司(Wrigley)之后以200亿美元并购了英国糖果生产商吉百利(这与其知名股东沃伦•巴菲特的理念背道而驰)。在这期间,无数的礼包和贱卖足够将一批银行家养得脑满肠肥。【最近中奖,负责卡夫拆分的赢家包括森特尔维尤合伙公司(Centerview Partners),Evercore Partners(EVR)和高盛(Goldman Sachs GS)】

    这次我更倾向于认为,卡夫的管理层正启用大规模重组这一极为古董的做法来保住自己的饭碗,藉此继续为公司效力18个月。管理层盘算的很清楚,在如此关键的时期,董事会是不会炒任何高层鱿鱼的。

    巴克莱银行(Barclays)分析师安德鲁•拉扎写了一篇(篇幅很长)文章详尽地分析了此次拆分的幕后原因。他对于拆分的做法并不十分赞成——他预计拆分后,成长型公司股价将为23美元,生钱型公司股价将为16美元——两者相加也不只过是刚刚超过未拆分前公司35美元的股价。难道这笔交易不是“利”字当头吗?卡夫的“故事”自然无法瞒过“市场”雪亮的眼睛。所以,别天真了。一切本来就与市场无关,甚至于拆分和股东们无关。它不过是一小撮银行家们与公司高层之间的勾当而已。大家都习以为常了。

    Apparently, the best possible strategy for Kraft Foods is to split the company in half. That is, until yesterday, when the best possible strategy was to double its size.

    Certain cycles are immutable. There's night-and-day, for starters. There's also birth-to-death. Then there's the whole notion of the economic cycle, even though that does vary in each new incarnation. And when it comes to finance, there is acquisition and divestiture -- otherwise known as the feeding trough for bankers.

    Action (in either direction) is the sustenance of the M&A banker -- and it comes with a rotating rationale for building companies and then breaking them apart. Today, conglomeration is crucial. Tomorrow, a focus on "core competency."

    This week's candidate in one of Wall Street's favorite games: Kraft Foods (KFT). After years of building up the joint, today the company announced a 180-degree turn. What was crucial yesterday is evidently no longer important.

    Kraft says it plans to split the company into two parts -- one-third North American Grocery and two-thirds Global Snacks. They're using that old chestnut, the sum-of-the-parts analysis, to justify the move. Which is, of course, totally contradictory to their stated plan as of a year ago. It's just basic hypocrisy, people.

    Here's what Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld said in 2010: "I kind of like the combination of some very strong cash generating businesses [and] some very nice growth businesses..."

    Now, just a year later -- a time of the exact same economic uncertainty -- Rosenfeld clearly feels much differently. Rosenfeld now thinks that they should separate the slow-growing cash-flow-generating grocery businesses from the fast-growing, money-hungry snack businesses. Push the debt onto the grocery folks, and you've suddenly got a hot snack seller growth story!

    The market has cheered the news, sending Kraft shares up Thursday in defiance of an overall swoon. According to the Wall Street Journal, a Kraft spokesman had this to say: "We have been evaluating this type of transaction over the past several years, and analysts and investors have also suggested this." Wait, what? They had been evaluating this "type" of transaction while they continued to buy other companies, including the early 2010 purchase of Cadbury? Can't these people figure out whether they want to bulk up or slim down?

    The Journal also pointed to other recent players in the divestiture game. Oil giant ConocoPhillips (COP) recently decided that vertical integration makes no sense. It should actually be split into two companies -- one that produces oil, and one that refines it. According to the Journal, chief executive Jim Mulva thinks the company's core businesses would be more competitive and highly valued as separate companies. So building it up was a bad idea, in other words.

    Back to Kraft. Of course analysts had "suggested this." That's called setting up banking dollars, people. And this is only the latest in a long history of structural rearrangement for Kraft: After decades of acquisitions and divestitures, the company was merged with Nabisco Holdings by Philip Morris (now Altria (MO)) in 2000, before being spun out in an IPO in 2001. In the years that followed, it sold its sugar confectionary business Wrigley before buying British confectionary Cadbury for nearly $20 billion last year (against the wishes of its most notable shareholder, Warren Buffett). In between there were countless other shopping sprees and fire sales -- enough to fund an army of well-paid bankers. (The lucky winners of the latest jackpot are Centerview Partners, Evercore Partners (EVR), and Goldman Sachs (GS).)

    This time around, though, I'm more inclined to think that the Kraft executive team has decided on the age-old way to keep their jobs for another 18 months—by initiating a large-scale restructuring. What board in their right mind would fire an executive in the midst of something so crucial?

    Barclays analyst Andrew Lazar put out a quite thoughtful (and lengthy) piece on the rationale behind the move. He's not entirely sure it's the right thing to do—his prediction for stock prices of the two companies is $23 for the growth half and $16 for the cash cow half—hardly more than the $35 target he had for the combined company. So, wait. This transaction doesn't need to happen from an obvious money standpoint? It's not like the "market" doesn't "understand" the Kraft "story." Oh, don't be naïve. This isn't about the market, the story, or even shareholders. It's just a bunch of bankers and executives doing their thing. No surprise there.

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