Warning – I strongly recommend against trading in any security mentioned in this post. The volatility is enormous and the situation fluid. The stocks are not being driven by fundamentals… The recommendations in this post are made in a somewhat humorous manner. They might even be reckless...
I am horrified - despite this warning at least one person has thought that the trade should be placed. Please take this warning seriously. I have no position.
The Stutz Motor Car Company
There was once a fine American sports car company called Stutz. It made beautiful – even legendary cars. The cars had a reputation for dependability, reliability and punishing speed. I know they look antique – but these were really quick for their day – and they won big races like
Anyway Stutz was controlled by Alan Aloysius Ryan through family holdings. For reasons mostly to do with improved mass production by competitors the company found itself under pressure. Short sellers could smell blood. And they shorted the stock. And shorted some more.
Through this Alan Aloysius Ryan stood firm, buying stock when he could (possibly through options and hidden holding companies so the shorts could not see what he had done). He did this until he declared one day in 1920 that he owned 105 percent of the company and the shorts could settle with him on his terms.
His terms were a price so high that it would bankrupt broker dealers who had stood as intermediaries between the stock exchange and shorts.
Well to put it bluntly the financial market and regulators defended their own. The story is told here and here and here and here in the New York Times – and the amounts of money involved were monstrous for the time. Eventually the New York Stock Exchange –with the threat of criminal proceedings – arbitrarily determined a price to settle the short positions. The shorts even got an officially sanctioned “protective committee”.
That price was way below the top price that Ryan paid – but far more than intrinsic value. The shorts – well – except those that shorted right at the end – lost money. Ryan wound up paying too much for a motor car company which was slowly declining anyway. As he now owned 100 percent of Stutz his debts got intertwined with the car company and both he and the car company went bust. Some family members got a little out but only by suing other family members. The only winners were ordinary longs of Stutz who sold along the way – or even at the final settlement price.
As you might have guessed this looks horribly familiar. Porsche is now firmly in control of Volkswagen – and they did it with non-standard cash settled options and other things they argue that they did not need to disclose. It looks and smells like market manipulation – and Volkswagen – General Motors for
Now I think Porsche is one of the great businesses of the world. They have convinced middle aged richer Americans that they are more attractive – or at least more fun – if they drive that particular fast car. (Viagra is for poorer guys…)
And unlike Ferrari (which spends all of its profits on Formula One) Porsche – like Stutz before it – managed to make its mark with near-production cars in events like
Porsche (the business) is having a rough time at the moment because if you haven’t noticed the willingness of middle aged American men to drop 100K on a car is somewhat reduced of late. But that might be temporary.
Porsche is a company I want to love – a very fine consumer brands company masquerading as an automobile company. And it is not expensive at the moment – especially if you back out their holding of Volkswagen. Indeed its holding of Volkswagen is worth many times Porsche’s market cap – making Porsche one of the cheapest stocks in the world.
But if history is a guide the Porsche and its controlling family are going to go the way of the Ryans. Their behaviour doesn’t look any more criminal than Alan Aloysius Ryan – and that wound up with him – and his company bankrupt. The system has a knack of defending itself – and the family that controls Porsche and indeed the Porsche company itself is every bit as expendable as Alan A Ryan.
I started this post with a warning – which was that nobody should play any security involved in this story – and I want to stick with this warning. But if you want to play – and it pains me to say this – the only responsible trade is to short Porsche. Porsche – the company – and possibly the car – like Stutz before it – will likely get confined to the dustbin of history.
This is a sad thing – because Porsche – as I have noted – is a nicely run and profitable company. But the appearance of criminal market manipulation will have consequences – and Porsche will pay the piper. My guess – some hapless European investment bank (say Fortis or UBS) is at risk in this – the greatest squeeze since Stutz – and the European court when forced to decide between a mid-ranking German car company and a bank that is integrated with a European government they will chose the bank at Porsche’s expense.
Porsche lovers can however console themselves if they are going to live another 40 years. Someone made some pug-ugly cars under the name of the “New Stutz Company” in the 1960s. Elvis Presley loved his. A small consolation – but the name lives on well after any family legacy is gone.
PS. Having spent some time the other day slamming the New York Times I would thank them for making available – for free no less – the original newspaper articles about the Stutz Corner.