Tag Archives: Interserve

Shrine of the Tooth Fairy

It has been almost three months since I wrote ‘One to the hospital, one to the morgue‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2018/12/17/one-to-the-hospital-one-to-the-morgue/), it was all about Interserve and new we see that not only did I see matters correctly. One of my finest diplomatic moments was seen with: “we see the mention of “limiting the cost issue by 1.8%, whilst adding debt reduction by 5% in two years’ time is exactly the message in a stage how we should read it, A Joke!”, oh and that is all whilst in those 7 months £300 million was added to the debt, is anyone waking up yet?“. The Guardian gives us less than 5 hours ago (at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/14/interserve-shareholders-vote-restructuring-plan-emergency-meeting) ‘Interserve could enter administration as it fights for restructuring‘, we see that options are considered at the shareholders meeting on Friday, that whilst the actions see now could have been done three months ago. Inaction comes at a price but not for the decision makers who got paid for every day of inaction, and a lot more than the sum of most incomes of those about to lose a job (OK that was an exaggeration). And when we see: “their verdict at an emergency meeting on Friday on a proposal put forward by banks and hedge funds, which have offered to forego £485m of the company’s £631m debt in return for most of its equity, leaving existing investors with just 5% of the shares” I am actually more worried, not less. In the first what happens to the outstanding £146 million of debt? That remains apart from a loss of 95% on the shares for the ‘investors’. We should acknowledge “The US hedge fund Coltrane, the largest shareholder with a stake of nearly 28%, has been holding out for a better offer and may command enough support to derail the plan.” Yet when I also consider ‘on a proposal put forward by banks and hedge funds‘, we need to consider that Coltrane already put a safety net in place, they have not been sitting still for three months. That safety net is shown at the very end of the article with: “The US hedge fund is understood to have indicated that it would be happy to allow the company to go into administration and would seek to negotiate with EY to cherry-pick parts of the business to buy“, a non-solution for Coltrane will be a stage where they get all the cream of the herd and owning 28% of that non loss driving mess, we cannot really blame them can we?

In the article one other part stood out. When we see: “maintaining military bases in the Falklands” I wonder whether this is part of a much larger military contract, and if not, what were they thinking? I am not against military contracts, far from that, but to add one in the middle of nowhere, where their only lifeline are charters from Santiago Chili, as well as a military flights twice a week from Brize Norton (apart from some cruise boats every now and then). When you consider that the closest land is 800 Km away, and the flight from Santiago is 2200 Km, which equate to a flight from London to Libya, we see that this one project alone requires us to look into the depth of decision making. It connects to the larger whole. If we consider that the military contracts were lucrative, isolating them and making them a foundation would have made perfect sense. the fact that the military contract(s) are up for grab in an age when we see all the noise on Huawei and non-proven dangers, all while Interserve is screwing over military security through their decision cloud of non-clarity gives rise to a lot more questions on a several fronts, don’t you think?

And the fun does not end; when we see another source giving us both ‘Interserve calls for ‘positive thoughts’ ahead of crunch vote‘, as well as ‘Employees urged to use social media to say contractor is a ‘great place to work’‘, we see another path that is ignored. The source was the Financial Times (at https://www.ft.com/content/0be957a6-4663-11e9-a965-23d669740bfb), yet the missing part is that the board of Interserve put themselves too thin on the board whilst there were plenty of indications that they were risking too much. Like players in three card poker, betting too much, too often and not having the money to cover the bets. Unless you are the house with all the capital you cannot win that equation. Winning the lottery has better odds at that point. So when we see: “The power point presentation — seen by the Financial Times — suggests that employees share on Facebook or tweet “what a great place Interserve is to work and why,” or how we “continue to win bids and contracts and deliver an excellent service to our customers”” I see a different version. I see the board all paying at the shrine of the tooth fairy for pain relief 297 seconds before the root canal starts and the surgeon is all out of Triazolam. Optional the dentist has Flunitrazepam (read: Rohypnol), yet the patient could end up getting screwed in the process and live with a gap in their memory on whether it happened or not. It sounds harsh, but that is the setting.

The matter gets clear when we consider the quote in the FT: ““Value is being lost every day in Interserve,” said one person close to the board. “If we go through a pre-pack there is more noise around the business and it could take months for suppliers to understand.”“. A part I already clearly saw three months ago. There was no other path there. the view was clear (to me at least) when you looked into the projects that have been up for media presentation, whilst the bulk of all other matters would have been above 0, that would have been the strength of negotiation for Interserve, but it was not to be. Even as the government was steady and willing to award more projects, there should have been a clear path showing the last 12 projects and the gains made in those projects. It was not done, was it? On December 17th the Financial Times made a similar observation (at https://www.ft.com/content/a15ed306-ffaf-11e8-aebf-99e208d3e521), yet there they employed that awkward concept called diplomacy. They gave us: ““The government refused to bail out the company despite the number of contracts involved,” said Tom Sasse, senior researcher at the Institute of Government. “This exploded the idea that the government would always bail out the sector.” Austerity, initially the sector’s friend, has also been its undoing“, I personally believe that part of the board of Interserve were still in the delusional stage that ‘too big to fail‘ could optionally apply to them. The finicky part where the UK government is close to two trillion in debt (£1,900,000,000,000) seems to have been forgotten by everyone. It limits actions for all involved, and next to that the business model of Interserve was less supportive than a soaked tea towel, so go figure!

Next to that we also see: “Some contractors — such as Interserve — had been drawn into services through private finance initiative projects, which packaged up the construction with the service delivery” and that is where the Falklands come back into the limelight, the model of services without construction is a very different part in all that and only if there are long term settings in place, the Falklands does not fit that bill. Now, I can understand perfectly that Defence stated: ‘You can do that, if you also do this!‘ It makes perfect sense, yet that is not really shown in the larger picture and if the other projects are below zero whilst the service elements are still part of the costing, we see a shifted picture, implying that they are hiding behind the ‘recycling’ part, yet the overall image was not as rosy, it was flawed on a much larger scale. This is how I personally see it, and so far my view has been shown to be correct. So if the nightmare continues Coltrane gets all the cream (or the bulk of it) and they can continue, the rest is screwed in a massive way and there will be no Rohypnol available when the tooth fairy comes by stating: ‘Wide open please!

The news does not end there

Just hours ago, the Financial Times gives us (at https://www.ft.com/content/79f20d9a-463d-11e9-a965-23d669740bfb) ‘UK outsourcer Capita posts big fall in profits‘. It is not nearly a sign of the times, it is crunch time, and the service required from certain parties can no longer be afforded. So when we see: “outsourcer faced a decline in work from local authorities, underscoring the challenge of overhauling the business“, that was never ever a secret, the cash is close to gone. Other solutions need to be sought out and that was a given before Brexit started. Brexit will allow the UK to get back up stronger, but it will be after a nasty negative wave, there was never any doubt on that. I informed my readers of that clear danger for years. So this is not news, I never gave consideration to the impact on outsourcers (not my call of duty), but those who work in that field should clearly have been equally aware, that part can be proven without the shadow of a doubt. In all this, from my personal point of view, when we see a 5% drop in revenue, whilst we also get “pre-tax profits fell 26 per cent to £282.1m last year“, we see a more dangerous path in that. It means that the setting of service versus construction (or better the stage of basic profit) has not been correctly set by these players and it merely shows the dangerous path that Interserve has been on for the longest of times. This could have been clearly predicted on a few data mining pathways.

I am now making a speculative view on a speculative stage based on a data stage that might not even exist. I will pose questions to the data board of Interserve:

  1. Show all projects that yielded above £2 million profit
  2. Link to these all directly linked service projects
  3. Link to that all indirectly linked service projects.
  4. Now show final profits for these data trees.
  5. Add to this the elements staff required and cost of staff
  6. Set a separate tree for the Falklands with items 1 through 3, show that final financial result with staff cost continued over time.
  7. Show the other projects with cost, staff cost and total negative profit.

These seven questions will reveal a nightmare tree, the one Bonsai tree that will break your neck when you fall from it. That is the setting we need to have been mindful of. That is optionally the stage that could show the failing of Interserve and other outsources to a much larger degree; the overall mention of so much more revenue, whilst the entire profit part is back benched for too much and for far too long.

The issue of Interserve et al and their stage of what constitutes ‘sound business’ whilst the dangers of what is around the next corner is ignored by way too many shows a multitude of failures and the inaction from too many people gives rise to other levels of dangers that should not have been ignored, although at that time we cannot fault Interserve et al for ignoring those dangers to some degree, yet with the dangers already on their table ignoring them was not a good idea to maintain, or even a great notion to begin with, not with the livelihood of well over 45,000 people at stake.

 

 

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The Outsourcer’s Furlong

The race is on, we heard last year just how poorly the setting of Interserve was. We all head how Interserve served the people the small fact that they were half a billion (in £) in debt. I discussed it last December (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2018/12/17/one-to-the-hospital-one-to-the-morgue/) in the article ‘One to the hospital, one to the morgue‘, and if the previous financial model applies, there is every consideration that so far another £200 million has been added to the debt. The guardian gives us: “the directors danced around the issue. A “fully consensual” financial restructuring would be preferable but Interserve was “also actively preparing alternative plans to ensure the proposed transaction can be implemented in the event that shareholder approval is not forthcoming”“, and as they very correctly state it ‘What alternative arrangements?

In this Coltrane and Farringdon Capital Management have between them one third of the equity and the message of “the proposed £480m debt-for-equity rescue in which the banks would take control and current investors would be diluted to just 2.5% ownership“, you can imagine that these two campers were not happy. They stand to lose it all if things go pear shaped, the awkward impact of a wrong investment made bare. The fact that these two could stagger it all if there is not a full house (which is the most likely event), could stop everything and as the Guardian states (to be more specific Nils Pratley does at https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2019/feb/13/interserve-needs-a-plan-b-given-the-rebellion-over-its-current-plan), a plan B is needed. I personally think that a plan C is equally essential. At present chairman Glyn Barker has his work cut out for him, not only are 45,000 out of the 74,000 employees in the UK and they are waited with baited breath, there are more than two parties that are on the ropes and he needs the bulk to fall in line with his vision. One part is the lucrative Interserve Saudi Arabia. Even as it is profitable now, it is also in demand now, auctioning it off to Salini Impregilo could give them a decent reduction in debt overnight and with matters in Saudi Arabia as they go, Salini Impregilo needs the workforce, they are scoring job after job and at some point the workforce will not hold up to the scrutiny of deadlines. As it includes presence in the UAE, Interserve might want to choose dollars for doughnuts before the stage has changed and all that they can hope for is 10 cents to the dollar, because at the stage where two players having one third push for change, Salini Impregilo merely needs to wait for Interserve parties to become utterly desperate and that given stage is a little more realistic than some players are comfortable with.

If debt reduction is the goal and we see that their Middle Eastern part involves:

  • Hospitality and leisure
  • Oil and gas
  • Retail
  • Transport and infrastructure

I see at least three branches that could be pruned and it is a first step to push Interserve back to their core and optionally into a field where cost becomes increasingly lower than the current balance statements require them to be. A similar view could be held for the US and Asia. I wonder just how profitable these branches are, the total debt implies that it goes way beyond the UK (or the UK part is optionally mismanaged in the most dreadful way). I am not implying or judging, half a billion in debt is doing that for me pretty convincingly.

So as the Times gives us: “The New York hedge fund attempting to derail the £905 million rescue plan at Interserve is nursing losses of nearly 90 per cent on a £25 million bet that the public services contractor could recover without falling into the hands of its lenders“, we also see another side. The fact that we see someone hedging 3% into moving away from the £900 million rescue plan, and losing 90% of their attempt also implies that the tress intensifies. Another view is given by the Financial Times (at https://www.ft.com/content/8cd9d920-2b98-11e9-a5ab-ff8ef2b976c7) with: ‘Hedge fund in Interserve feud profited from Carillion collapse‘, with the addition “Coltrane Asset Management, the biggest investor in Interserve, earned £4m wagering on Carillion’s collapse by selling its shares short“, so why give them any consideration? the fact that they decided to add a 20+% share in Interserve with the assumed and highly likely path to try that trick a second time implies that they have no vested interest in the firm, merely a need for greed. So why cater to that? When we are given: “Carillion collapsed in January 2018 leaving banks, investors and pensioners nursing heavy losses and the government struggling to deliver key services such as hospital cleaning and school meals. Some 3,000 staff lost their jobs, with another 14,000 transferred to other employers, in one of the biggest corporate failures in British history“, we know that this was not the fault of Coltrane Asset Management, yet they had no issue selling it all down the drain as it allowed them to fill their pockets. We get it and we do understand that Coltrane is in it for the money, that is how the cookie crumbles, yet when we see the impact on an optional 74,000 employees, we need to look beyond. It is not like Coltrane is taking over and making it a profitable setting, are they?

We do get that Coltrane is not the actual evil party in this, unless they explored short selling here too, at that point they are on their own. Coltrane is not without teeth, the mere setting of shareholders losing out on their investment will make them gang together and plenty of them are small investors; it is their retirement that is at stake. Scottish pubs tycoon Alan Macintosh is also still an element in all this, the swap would make him massively rich so he is willing to stick with the plan, there are still 6 weeks until the deadline gives us the setting of the battle line that will be drawn, and where that ends is anyone’s guess. yet as the Financial Times points out “People close to Coltrane said it was confident of winning support from the numerous smaller investors — which include Hargreaves Lansdown and Standard Life“, those with their retirement savings in the balance will turn to Coltrane soon enough, some will be scared enough to offer their part to Coltrane at any amount that gives them more than 30 cents to the dollar, giving Coltrane the option to upgrade the size of the bat that they wield in this encounter, leaving the people at Interserve with little to work with, and in light that there is no plan B or a plan C, gives more and more the impression that they never properly prepared for this war, making the outcome of a win for Coltrane against them a rather large likelihood.

So who goes to a war theatre without at least three options ready? Anyone who starts a tactic without two alternative routes handy at any given time is merely on a one way street to defeat. That is not predictive, that is an issue that has been gospel since WW1, I would go further that the Siege of Khartoum of 1884 was another example to that premise. In those days there were thousands of Brits sneering and making fun of Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, in the end he walked into Khartoum leaving mountains of corpses in his wake. From that setting alone, the board of directors at Interserve have made a few too many really poor decisions, when we add that to the pile, we see that Coltrane is not done, not by a long short and when it falls over, Coltrane walks away with an ox-cart of gold and a fair share of the 74,000 employees will not be that lucky.

Those who want a better stage better find themselves a new deal and set themselves as independent contractors finding new alliances. It might be easy for some where the market is vastly on the rise, but that is merely in a few places where the stage can be set to take control of the projects, making the situation of Interserve a lot less manageable soon enough.

I am merely speculating now, yet consider the projects over the last 6 months.

  • Qatar National Theatre
  • Southwark Council
  • Highways England
  • North Lincolnshire Council
  • Durham University

These are merely a few of many projects where ownership of the project could revert to other players if the pressure on that project is high enough. Those customers will need to seek a solution for their invested needs and there is now enough doubt whether Interserve can fulfil its side of those contracts, the mere absence of a plan B would essentially be enough to facilitate for change if the proper cards were played and £150 million is nothing to make fun of.

But that could be merely my wrongful view on the matter, we will know soon enough.

 

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Life without pension

Yes, that is one of the elements that are now in play, life without pension, work until death. Did you consider this danger when you woke up this morning? It does not matter whether you are 55+ and awaiting your first months on a pension, or perhaps you are a decade younger and you are setting the stage for your house, your family and your future to be decently secure. Perhaps you are young and you do not care yet on how you celebrate your golden years. Yet what happens when you are becoming aware that this will never be the life you can embrace?

For me it is not really a concern, I have always been a workaholic.

Yet the picture I am painting is slowly becoming a reality. I made mention somewhere in 2018 that there would be noise on renewing, or not cancelling the entire stimulus program. I was initially pleasantly surprised that this was exactly what happened. It did not take long, a mere 8 weeks later we see: ‘Dutch central banker calls on ECB to pause plan to ditch stimulus‘ (at https://www.ft.com/content/d42d5c12-2def-11e9-8744-e7016697f225). Here we see: “The European Central Bank should pause plans to ditch its crisis-era stimulus, the governor of the Dutch central bank has said, in a sign that concerns over disappointing economic growth have spread to the eurozone’s most hawkish circles“, In addition we see: “the central bank needed to gauge how badly the economy was faring before pressing ahead with plans to normalise monetary policy“. This is merely one part where we see that the economy is a jester and we are all playing the same card whilst the protected few get the entire deck, an economy that requires $3 trillion and counting to run through invested support is not running, plain and simple and that debt is with us, the tax payers. The idea to runt that bill up higher should outrage us all, no matter what excuses we get to hear. So when we see “he has moved into line with Mr Draghi and the majority on the ECB governing council. It shows the steep deterioration in eurozone sentiment“, I merely see that not only was Brexit the better idea, we need to get out as quick as we can, with exit deal or not.

What do you think will happen when this blows up in their faces? It will; I personally believe that there is close to zero doubt on this. The Wall Street Journal gave us two days ago: “the ECB could raise interest rates this year. If it doesn’t, the bank might turn to new stimulus measures. It has few tools left“, I will go one step further, it has no moves left other than to tap unused resources for short term gains and that is when someone will give the audience assurances with some small ‘extremely unlikely‘ or some ‘failure is too small a factor to see it as any threat‘ mention and soon thereafter that one thing happens and the pensions will be gone. The Dutch Telegraaf reported on that less than 10 hours ago where the reader gets: “De EU-landen willen volgende maand de knoop doorhakken. De PEPP moet het makkelijker maken geld opzij te zetten voor de oude dag door een einde te maken aan de lappendeken van regels in de Unie“, which translates to: “The EU countries want to make a decision next month. The PEPP should make it easier to set aside money for the old age by putting an end to the patchwork of rules in the Union“. Critical viewers see the danger as the mandatory part comes into question. So not only do we see places like Carillion (UK) with their “pension fund deficit of £800 million” a mere week ago. So what happens when this ends up being the impact on a European scale? What happens when the Dutch and Swedish systems (which are among the safest and most secure pensions) collapse? That is not fictive, that is not academic, that is a realistic danger of the PEPP, when those schemes start banking on the wrong bonds and investments there will be no pension left. Good luck getting by with that March Hare menu. The fact that this is getting pushed by more and more marketing, complete with ‘How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1 trn pension fund‘. It makes me extremely cautious. In the age where we see new stimulus replace another, whist there is no economic good to be found, we see more and more debt, the moment the ECB gets there fingers on that PEPP option the fences move and the entire herd of economic protection levels gets squashed, like grapes in a wine barrel, to be diminished to the status of vinegar. So there goes your pension that was initially a decent chardonnay at $15 per 700ml, and is now no more than $2 per gallon, so how does that go over with your planned pension outlook?

The rapid growth of all these international advisors all claiming that the Pan European Personal Pension products (Pepp) are a good idea is making me even less trusting. Having seen the eager needs of hedge funds managers over the decades and their renowned need for greed is making me worried that this will blow up and whilst they walk away with multimillion bonuses, we all end up without a pension. It does not get any better soon. That part is seen through the paper by Paul Cox, Lecturer at the Birmingham Business School (at https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-social-sciences/social-policy/CHASM/briefing-papers/2018/BP1-2018-Pan-European-Personal-Pension-Paul-Cox.pdf), and the first thing that should worry you is: “Currently there is no specific EU legal framework on the design, provision and distribution of PPs“, so not only is this an international product limited by national law, there is every indication that once outside of the borders a lot of national legislation loses its impact and power, giving rise to all kinds of dangers. Even as we are given: “The PEPP takes the form of a Regulation. A Regulation is directly applicable in each Member State and does not need to be passed in Parliament as a Directive does.” This comes with the added danger that these regulations can be altered at any time, giving the rise to ambiguity as well as adaption to fit the need of the ECB, that same entity that callously handed over $3 trillion in stimulus with nothing to show for it. How does that fit your retirement scheme?

Even as we see: “Transfers into a PEPP from any national Member State PP is allowed but a transfer from a PEPP to a national Member State PP is not allowed” and are given the reasoning of “The aim is to prevent possible tax relief arbitrage where the PEPP tax relief is not as generous as national Member State tax relief.“, the indirect danger will be that the PEPP could face additional taxation (on top of the normal national one).

Yet the bigger danger is in the unspoken part of: “An obligation to provide a financial guarantee might lead to investment in low risk and low returning assets, such as government bonds and money markets, which would go against the CMU’s aim of fostering investment in equity and increasing private sector economic growth. A financial guarantee may also create a significant barrier to entry as only some providers would be able to offer such guarantees“, so not only the loss of optional guarantee, yet the bigger part is the danger of much higher risk investments, apart from the partially visible danger of investing in ECB bonds fuelling more non profitable stimulus, the danger of big risk as people experienced in 2004 and 2008, at that point your pension is gone.

That is a direct danger at present and there is almost zero chance that these dangers will not hit you at some point. The problem is that the closer you are to retirement, the larger the impact will be. Some of my friends were hit with their low risk investments in 2008, resulting in an added 10 year shift to their retirement, so retiring at 75, do you think you will be that lucky?

From my personal point of view, it is not the large players that are the danger, there will always be another Carillion, the danger are the dozen small players where we see people diving into a pool they do not comprehend and set aside the essential protections required, all with the view to strike rich fast. In that view, consider the “the fallout of a $235 billion dirty-money scandal that has engulfed the local branch of Copenhagen-based Danske Bank A/S“, then take “the ABLV, Latvia’s third-largest bank, accused of laundering Russian money and starved it of American dollars, forcing it to close“, add “the closure of Malta’s Pilatus Bank and a 775 million euro fine imposed on Dutch lender ING” and the clear message, given via Reuters by committee chairman Petr Jezek: “The Financial Intelligence Units of many EU member states are ‘clearly not up to the task’“, that is the PEPP picture you could face, all getting in and out quick and ransack EU pensions overnight (and all falling over at the same time). There is too much danger and as we might have some faith in the uber wealthy Larry Fink and his need to grow his $6 trillion empire, the danger of small bank barracuda’s pretending to be great white’s or their version of an all devouring Megaladon (thanks Jason Statham) is too great, there is a lack of protection in place and with pensions that is just too great a risk to face. To translate that in other terms. It is not the one player losing $1oo billion that is the danger, it is the setting that 100 players all lose $1 billion at the same time, the systems are often not ready to deal with such a situation.

I fear that the fraud and pocket filling impact by greed driven persons the next time around will be a lot higher, a lot more devastating. I always figured that I will be working should I pass the 77 mark and still be alive, that is the one benefit of a workaholic, is that the view you are having for your retirement at 40+?

BP1-2018-Pan-European-Personal-Pension-Paul-Cox

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Finger in a dike solution

There is plenty going on, the first is Jim Yong Kim is resigning as president of the world bank (I will send them my resume for their consideration today), there are hoards of articles on the 5G deception by AT&T (a week after I highlighted it) and there is even more going on regarding Hezbollah, and I will look at that soon enough, that is, as soon as I receive a few messages (with something representing evidence) from both Cairo and Gaza, which now involves Hamas as well. Yet that is for soon, for now there is something that actually impacts on the British people, especially those in social houses.

The Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/07/dutch-eco-homes-idea-arrives-in-uk-and-cuts-energy-bills-in-half-nottingham-energiesprong) gives us that a Dutch project called ‘the energy leap initiative‘; Nottingham was the first to sign on and the Dutch approach included: “new wall cladding, windows and solar panels, even as the initial bill is set to £5 million, we see that the energy bills in these places are down by 50%. This makes it interesting to do the abacus test where we learn that (as I am presently aware), we get a £33,350 bill per house, and it is not merely the refurbishment that matters, the people in these houses will see a £750 a year decrease in energy expenses, which means a lot if you need to rely on social houses. Yet my calculation was wrong, the quote “Costs are relatively high, at £85,000 per property initially but are expected to fall to £62,000 by the end of the programme. Braham said scale would help costs fall as the supply chain adapted gives us that, yet we also see: “It’s warmer, all the draughts have gone. Before it [the home] looked like a rabbit hutch – it looks like a proper home now“, in addition, the looks of the houses have been improved by a decent amount. I think it is more than just the cost, even as we consider the long term of the initial amount of £85,000. We need to consider the long term impact on energy requirements and the long term benefit of upgraded housing. Whether this could be a push for municipalities to move towards some version of a rent to own project is too soon to tell, but the consideration that thousands of upgraded houses will also constitute an increased quality of life is not to be underestimated. The direct impact of families having £60 a month available for better (read: more) food and optionally a few extras in the month gives a much better prospect to the mental balance of any person. Yet, we are not there yet, as the article ends with: “Braham said a no-deal Brexit could jeopardise Enegiesprong’s prospects in the UK: “If we left without a deal, it would be a risk.”” Is that true? You see, when there is a building shortfall, when there are all kinds of optional paths, you want to hide behind some ‘Brexit’ play? Feel free to hand over the IP (if any applies) and hand it over to Interserve, they are dying to get additional jobs at present.

You see, the Dutch approach is brilliant in a few ways, yet it can also be used in other parts. We are all looking at how Interserve is restructuring its debt, yet it is not impossible to unite the two to some degree, instead of mere debt staging, another path is the additional option for refurbishment at cost price (to some degree). Even as Interserve does not gain profits, they do get additional jobs to refurbish jobs all over the UK, as well as a decent workflow; it optionally becomes a stage where we see the £85,000 per house refurbishment go down by a lot more (perhaps even down to £57,000), whilst the people get a direct benefit and optionally all of them gain an increased quality of life at the very same time, we see that the overall value of these municipality houses go up, an additional push towards rent to own (which is also good for the British state of mind overall), freeing up a lot more for additional social housing which would serve the portfolio of Interserve as well (not completely at cost though, lets remain fair here).

We avoid a second Carillion to a much larger extent; we upgrade housing as the same time as we see a financial and structural opportunity increase on more than one level. It is a Win-Win-Win in all this.

When we consider this against ‘NWCH confirms winners on £1.5bn framework‘, we need to see the stage where we see another optional problem in the long run. That is not me speaking ill or negatively mind you, when we consider the initial article: (at https://www.placenorthwest.co.uk/news/nwch-confirms-winners-on-1-5bn-framework/), some might have overlooked a few items in all this.

Consider the winners:

Lot 1, £8-15m Lot 2, £15-35m Lot 3, £35m+
Bowmer & Kirkland Balfour Beatty Bam
Conlon Bouygues Balfour Beatty
Eric Wright Bowmer & Kirkland Bouygues
ISG Eric Wright Graham
Graham ISG Kier
Kier Graham Vinci
Laing O’Rourke Kier Wates
Seddon Seddon
Wates Vinci

When we look at all these ‘winners’ how many are implementing the foundations that ‘the energy leap initiative‘ is implementing in refurbishments? Why is the foundation of ‘the energy leap initiative‘ optionally not immediately part of ANY new implementation? I am not saying that this is not done, I want to make sure that this is part of any new consideration, when the savings on the energy bill approaches 50%, it should be part of any consideration and if councils do not do that, they better have a really good explanations to back that up more than merely ‘budget’, I think there are plenty of people in the Grenfell tower who would agree with the downside of budgeting, oh no, they can’t they are all dead! And those related to the victims will not hear anything until way past 2020, so that is a disaster with a few disasters piled on top of that, and as such I believe that it becomes more and more important to scrutinise any building project, especially as some are setting it to a stage that is well over a billion pounds (£1.5 billion in this case).

Personally I wonder if we can hold the quote by ISG framework director Neil Walker to long term scrutiny. When we see: “The significance of the North West Construction Hub in delivering the vital infrastructure that supports our communities cannot be underestimated. As a forum for sharing best practice and innovation, fostering strong collaboration and focusing on driving efficiencies throughout the build process, this framework is a stand-out performer and an exemplar of how public/private partnerships generate real value and deliver much-needed facilities in the shortest possible timeframe.” The critic in me, personally translates what I see: ‘in the shortest possible timeframe‘ and I believe that this translates to: ‘cheap as shit through cutting corners and creating optional hazards‘, as well as ‘driving efficiencies throughout the build process‘, which I read as ‘driving deadlines in every direction creating optional construction and infrastruction issues across the board‘, I do hope that I am 100% wrong, yet at present as we see the issues (far beyond the Grenfell tower) that have reared their ugly heads in the last 13 years alone, the statistics are on my side and not on the side of Neil Walker. In the end, I should make people ask these questions, it is not because of the 72 people killed in the Grenfell tower; it is the additional pressure of housing shortage as well as the millions of pounds that this inquiry costs. When you see this in opposition of the budget cut to save £1.3m, are you even surprised that we should bring these issues to the table as loudly as possible? When we see this £1.5 billion event, and we remember the Grenfell tower event as the people were informed of a £200,000 more when staged against combustible versus non-combustible materials, how can we not see that there is a larger failing in the entire process before the construction starts and when I see terms like ‘driving efficiencies throughout the build process‘ I personally tend to get really nervous, especially when the driving parties tend to be elected officials (municipality councils) with a lack of civil engineering degrees (a personal assumption of mine at present).

Yet when we consider the long term energy gains that we get from implementing ‘the energy leap initiative‘ and other solutions in gaining energy efficient locations, I believe that it is imperative that their input is gained on anything over £5 million, the gains are just too good, especially in a day and age where energy is a global problem. There is also a second benefit. Whether the UK faces a Brexit with or without a deal, projects like this one will still need to happen, having a good relationship with any neighbouring country is a good idea no matter what, that approach was good policy before there was any EU and it will remain good policy after the EU collapses, because that is still a danger that the 27 EU nations face. You see the dangers in Europe are far from over. You might be in denial (for whatever reason), yet when we see: ‘End of QE leaves Italy, Spain and France seeking for new bond buyers‘  with in addition the quote: “Although the ECB announced the end of the Quantitative Easing (QE) last month, it said it would continue reinvesting the proceeds of bonds bought under the stimulus programme, but which were now maturing“, so not only are the European people deceived, the proceeds against the multi trillion Euro cost is still being used. So not only will the debt remain, any bond hike will change into dramatic loss for Europe when (read: when, not if) that hits, this links directly back to construction and building projects of all shapes and sizes, from that point of view we need to start becoming increasingly cautious on what steps to take next and setting a much better stage of construction and social housing is an essential first.

I personally believe that this Dutch project is a large step forward in better housing, we might argue that this should become the norm in new housing, yet when we see the petition (at https://www.mygridgb.co.uk/solar-petition/) and the fact that there has been a petition giving us: “Since May 2018, I have been running a petition on the UK Parliament website asking for a Parliamentary Debate that every new home in the UK should be installed with solar panels“, and when we see that the petition is now closed, not making the required 10,000 votes with added statistics that less than 3% has solar paneling gives rise to a larger failing in current construction projects, so as some walk away with millions, others merely end up getting roasted in the process. It is for that reason that we need to take a lot more critique to the construction table, especially when it includes a nice £1.5 billion build incentive. By the way, when we consider the weather in the UK, apart from the entire Solar panel issue, how many commercial buildings are equipped with a wind turbine? In this day and age, when we consider the options (at http://www.renewablesfirst.co.uk/windpower/windpower-learning-centre/how-much-does-a-farm-wind-turbine-small-wind-farm-turbine-cost/); the problem is not that easy and we accept that. The question becomes how much power do you need to truly substantially lower energy needs in an area? Apart from the fact that there will be an added benefit adding power to any grid, we have to consider that any opposition ‘to keep a nice view’ can no longer be seen as a valid response. As energy needs increase we need to see the light on accepting other means to supplement energy needs. That too is part of any energy leap. Merely stating that it is not viable when you are about to throw a billion plus into a stage of construction contracts, when we see cost cutting of £200K here and there, we should accept that proper costing was never done, the bare minimum no longer holds proper water, now when some investors take hundreds of millions out of the country, In all this did the demanded stage of a £2 million wind turbine really put them out of pocket? Any council that agrees that this was a ‘Yes’ better be ready to answer question in public and see their jobs fall away when the answers were regarded as ‘not satisfactory’.

To see this in a proper light we need to look at 2017, the Independent (at https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/hackney-council-housing-government-austerity-cuts-controversial-strategy-gentrification-a7886331.html) gave us: “28 new council homes for social renting, 39 for shared ownership and eight for private sale to help pay for them all in the absence of Government funding.” Sit down and consider that stage for a moment, whilst in opposition we see the Battersea Power Station where we see: “The £9bn revamp of Battersea Power Station in central London has slashed the number of affordable flats to just 386, a 40% reduction from original plans, the proportion of affordable housing will fall to 9%”, when compared, Labour sided Mayor of Hackney should be getting a freaking OBE for what he achieved. 28 out of eighty five homes imply that there is a stage of 32%, which is amazing. I understand that there is a much larger issue at stake, yet when we see the Apple HQ stage, whilst these people hardly ever pay any taxation in the UK on their billions, we should take a long hard look on who should be vacating their Wandsworth council position (in my humble opinion) no later than yesterday. It is not as black and white as I see it, I get that, yet between 9% and 32% we see a gap that is way too large, and many media outlets are not giving it the daily attention that this should get, not in light of the larger failings in the housing market that is currently going on. We all need to do more and we all need to do better, even if it is asking the questions that are seemingly ignored by too many. In all this, with the massive growth needed, the energy leap initiative will become increasingly important. The UK has been confronted with energy and gas shortages for three years now, is it not time that there is a more powerful push to address this?

Some stop the flooding by shoving their finger in a dike (a Dutch Hans Brinker reference), others decide to merely construct a better dike from the get go. I’ll leave it up to you to consider which solution fits your time-frame a little better. Just remember, you can get something cheap, good, or fast, and you are allowed merely two of the three options here.

Which two would you choose?

 

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One to the hospital, one to the morgue

It is not a setting, not a statement; it is merely the observation of what we see happen. Yet the question becomes who is who? It is a setting of placing Interserve next to the Cardigan Integrated Care Centre that is where we see a situation evolving. And it would not be a London project that is in danger, would it?

Why the situation? It is the timing, even as everyone is still ‘working with’ and ‘LOCAL health board officials are confident that Cardigan’s new £24m health care centre will not be affected by the financial problems of outsourcing company Interserve‘, I am less certain that this will not have an almost deadly impact on the project. The article (at https://www.tivysideadvertiser.co.uk/news/17301424.interserves-problems-should-not-affect-cardigan-integrated-health-centre-project/) gives the people none of that and as far as I read the article, there is nothing there indicating the views I have, yet the setting is already staged to become worse, much more worse I might add. That is an easily given fact as the project is not due until the end of 2019.

You see, the article also gives us: “Interserve is responsible for delivering the project but there are fears over its future after it confirmed it was in rescue talks that would see retail shareholders virtually wiped out and creditors take control. Yet that is not the directive part in all of this, and the article (through no fault of it, or its writer) gives that part to the reader. You see, that part we get when we contemplate ‘Struggling Interserve may hand construction unit to lenders‘ (at https://news.sky.com/story/struggling-interserve-may-hand-construction-unit-to-lenders-11581667). the first question that rises, if there is such a debt, why would we see: “drawing up plans to hand its £250m building materials unit to its lenders as part of an ambitious plan to secure the company’s future“, which is a choice, yet when we see another article also giving us: “Outsourcing giant Interserve is preparing to spin off its lucrative building materials division in a bid to reduce its debts“, so why would a ‘lucrative’ part get sold off? Lucrative clearly implies the part that allows for a much quicker turnaround and in absence, that lucrative part used to keep the lowest bidding in place will also (optionally) drastically increase the cost of projects when it falls away and that is where the Cardigan health centre find itself optionally soon enough. We might think that ‘RMD Kwikform makes equipment used to build concrete structures‘ is no indication, yet this equipment is often merely leased per project and a new owner implies new (or additional) fees or another destination for that equipment, changing the entire setting of the project and experience, as well as history taught us that a board in trouble does not tend to care too much about their running projects.

Am I correct?

That remains to be seen, because there are several factors in this that are unknown, yet the setting that the project is a year away implies that there are plenty of stages uncompleted and they are therefor at risk. The fact that this news is 2 hours old means that there is no given setting, yet the large impacts will be seen in the next quarter and that is when the pennies drop for several projects, the question is on how the stage will be maintained.

The fact that Interserve stock has been reduced by 45% and when we consider that the Interserve board is close to a month away from revealing its plan, as well as the fact that this thunderstorm has been looming for over a month does not help matters.

From another source

The Financial times is giving us another setting here. With ‘UK government to continue awarding contracts to Interserve‘ (at https://www.ft.com/content/03f63e62-fd41-11e8-ac00-57a2a826423e), we saw that the government last week was setting the stage for Interserve to get some deals going as these projects mean money and money coming in is always a good stage to continue the work. So when I see “Government sources told the Financial Times that it does not view the company as another Carillion— the contractor that failed in January — and that it would consider Interserve for further tenders“, we should consider it as a partial truth, when you are down in a debt that soon will be pushed towards an approaching £1,000,000,000 (as I decided to round it towards the worst case scenario), we need to realise that something has gone terribly wrong, That amount approaches to the annual income of 32,000 construction workers, and their pensions, so there is another side to investigate soon enough (although we do acknowledge that the Interserve pension is high in the green).

Are we overreacting?

That remains to be seen. The fact that this large a debt is an issue on something this big needs to be scrutinised in several ways, not merely what is to come, but how come the debt is there in the first place. Improper pricing, inefficient project management, wrongful costs are all stages here that pushes additional costs through the roof and that is where it all hurts, and without proper vetting the pain remains and we will see additional projects operating at a loss. that part was given by Construction News in April this year when we got ‘Interserve suffers £244m loss for 2017‘, the quote “an “inefficient operating model” with high overheads had left the firm “exposed to weaknesses” in the support services and construction industries” by chairman Glyn Baker is clear enough, the wrongful setting and we see an amazing growth of losses and debt. the fact that we were given the implied “Interserve said the business will need a “significant de-leveraging event” to stay viable, which would likely be an asset sale, or raising further equity before December 2020“, which against ‘cut costs by £15m in 2018, and is on course to add £40m to £50m to operating profit by 2020‘ sounds almost like a joke, to with a debt over 800 million (conveniently rounded to a billion by me), we see the mention of “limiting the cost issue by 1.8%, whilst adding debt reduction by 5% in two years’ time is exactly the message in a stage how we should read it, A Joke!“, oh and that is all whilst in those 7 months £300 million was added to the debt, is anyone waking up yet?

In all this, Interserve has gone from bad to worse from 2015 onwards, all whilst some might expect that with Carillion out of play, options for Interserve should have opened up, no matter how bad the market was, one larger player was removed.

Round 2 is worse

The audience has been avoided getting exposed to certain parts of the business, we might not have realised it, yet that part is actually given the limelight by the Investors Chronicle (at https://www.investorschronicle.co.uk/alpha/2018/12/13/interserve-the-warning-signs-were-ignored/). You see, I saw certain parts a month ago, but for me, it was partial news as I never looked at Interserve before. So when we are given certain points, and I am merely leaving the ones that matter:

  • Low profit margins.
  • A reliance on acquisitions and cost cutting.
  • High debts both on and off its balance sheet.
  • A big pension fund deficit that needed large amounts of cash flow to reduce it.
  • A difficulty in converting operating profits into operating cash flow – a classic sign of poor profit quality.
  • The need to sell assets in order to maintain and grow dividend payments.

At what point did we not consider the massive danger Interserve was in? The events that I have been able to track go back to early 2016, The Financial Times in May 2016 and the Independent in August 2016 give us some of the goods, in addition there was Forbes in 2017: “Overruns lead to £70m charge for construction and services group“, as well as “The Reading company advised that a tight control of working capital across the rest of its business last year substantially offset the adverse cash impact over at EfW. Consequently net debt clocked in at between £270m and £280m as of the end of 2016“. It is the fact that we see a clear level of inaction (or bad management) that gives rise to the situation, the fact that these issues were clearly in place almost 2 years ago, gives rise that the government had a clear duty to intervene to some degree, that level might be up for debate, yet the ‘let’s leave it for now’ and the presentation (at https://www.interserve.com/docs/default-source/investors/financial-reports/presentation-results/2018/h12018-results-presentation.pdf) now give the consideration that there is every chance that shareholders might be seeking legal counsel. You see Interserve ‘presented’ the so called facts: ‘Fit for Growth initiatives delivering savings and creating a simpler, more effective Interserve‘, as well as “Overhead reduction and efficiency measures to deliver £15m savings in 2018“, gives serious contemplation that the shareholders were not properly informed of the dangerous place that they were in at that meeting in August 2018. In addition, slide 20 gives rise to another contemplation; the fact that two posts (Manufacturing and Regulated industries) are set to a marker size of £22 billion, 2 out of 7 mind you, and we see the losses incurred, we see additional worries on management and pricing. Even at a 1% margin, we should see £220 million in the plus for these two alone, the fact that the overall is set to minus £800 million, and a mere positive move of up to £50 million is a much larger debate and as such, one might argue that there is a lot more going on in the negative of Interserve that we might think.

Baskets of fruit

In opposition to my own view, I am in several ways comparing apples, pears and oranges and merely labelling the items as fruit, which in itself is not correct either. However, from my point of view, I see a tradesman dealing in 22 billion pieces of fruit and when left with a certain minus to this degree gives clear indication that the entire business model is wrong on a few levels giving additional worries on the earlier reported premise of ‘The need to sell assets in order to maintain and grow dividend payments‘, the conceded view that selling of your land year after year just to look good implies that the farm devaluates with every year and when we see that this has happened from 2016 onwards, the signs given should have been louder by many players and that (to the best of my knowledge) has not happened.

The Coroner is in the house

When we consider the elements, we can also give rise to what needs to happen. If Interserve continues on this path, there is every indication that we see sell off after sell of, with an optional class action against Interserve, implying that the damage increases, so those projects set for delivery in late 2019 and 2020 (A Wales health centre for example) will find themselves on the coroners slab whilst the media looks at the intestines coming to the conclusion that at present there was no way to save the patient, and when we see that, how will that affect the £25 million Merthyr’s Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil? These two are close to £ 50 million, something will have to give and where will the government spring in when they have to? Will they do that? This does not mean that this situation explodes to that degree, but the signs of patient Interserve are not that great at present. And should there be an interception to protect these two projects, does that imply that Interserve is ready to be shipped to the morgue?

That is the foundation of it, because the stage we see now implies that you can save one, but not both. The stage to the degree as I am seeing it should not allow for it in the first place; it does open up new options that as Interserve breaks down we will see new players come to life, perhaps one per construction project, yet that too has the danger of costs going overboard in a large way really fast, that is the nature of the beast, merely because the largest players implying to have the costing down to a margin is a mere 1%, smaller players can never do good on that promise, showing us that costs will overrun on all projects by a fair bit. To see that in a much more local London setting we see places like the Aecom tower and the stage where ‘overly enthusiastic‘ contemplation was set until we got: “profit was “lower than expected due to the losses taken on an underperforming project in one of the company’s core market segments”“. This matters, there is a speculative approach to construction projects and the stage is not merely on how things are pushed, it is on how pricing models are staged and presented by all and that requires a much larger oversight, or better stated, it needs additional scrutiny on a few levels. There is a stage that clearly is part of the Interserve failure. Even if the ‘new’ model implies that we might optionally see: “the tower will now house 861 apartments of which 765 were for private sale, the adjustment now allows for a private sale of 813 apartments“, screwing over even more social housing points. If that is allowed, certain councils should be overhauled and those parts of the stage allowing for that should be required to be facing the dock and optionally dismissal of the project as well as the investment amounts to be considered a total loss. There is a lot wrong in this entire stage and it all started with optional pricing models that were seemingly not realistic in the first place. Carillion clearly showed that element as I personally see it and whilst the board of Interserve is contemplating what to do over the next few months, they to require a level of scrutiny that is a lot larger than anything we considered before. The Greenland Group and Aecom, merely illustrate that what we are seeing in the Battersea Power Station debacle as well as a much larger stage of construction jobs out there (Interserve pricing anyone?).

So when the Financial Times gave us merely a day ago: “A refinancing arrangement between its Malaysian owners has been delayed for the third time; the cost of labour and materials is increasing; the developers have more than halved their expected returns and there are disputes with Transport for London over the cost of the Northern Line Underground extension to the area“, we see that the pricing stage for construction companies (as we clearly see with Interserve) is a much larger concern, we could argue that someone is dampening the cost and margin part merely to get things started and in that trend, we might need to consider other avenues. Perhaps consider nationalising projects in this stage and those shareholders and investors will have to live with their 100% losses. Why leave this level of unacceptable pressure on taxpayers and governments?

And the fake messages of keeping Britain good for investors also required those pricing goons to consider that it comes at a cost. If the players cannot do their job, then those hurt must seek legal consideration against those firms using flaccid pricing models, making matters worse for Interserve, but should we actually care at that stage?

There is every consideration that Interserve goes to the Hospital whilst the projects in wales go to the morgue, but personally I do hope that it is the other way round, as the Battersea Power Station project implies (and a few more beside that); the entire problem on construction has been around for close to 5 years, implying in my personal opinion that these problems started long before Interserve was in the deep financial problems it currently is in, giving rise to several issues that require discussion in the House of Lords at the very least, and perhaps starting the discussion of that agenda no later than week 2 of January 2019 would not be the worst idea as I personally see it.

Do you want to see an avoided discussion on how a health centre went to the morgue no matter where it was supposed to be built?

 

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The promised example

In light of all the outsourcing we saw yesterday, it is time to show you just how lucrative it can be to set the outsourcing stage. In this example I will go with a software example, as I have seen this myself. You see, sometimes a place is profitable for the mother company no matter how you slice it and with this example we see this in action.

Let’s take a software vendor, selling some software solution. Normally that entire path will set you back $7,000. The software, training, installation and personalising the solution. At this point you might think, well, it is all tax deductible for the company, so what gives?

Well, some of these players still have budgets to adhere to (unless you are in Italy), and when we look at that the procurement department will state that it is too expensive. So, the sales team has an idea. They say: ‘You know what! We can (if you take all three) the entire as a package for $5250, and that is a nice discount‘. So the company takes all this and accepts the deal. So the software is bought, there was a trainer on the spot educating the staff for 2 days and they set up whatever needed to be set up and the entire delivery is complete.

It all seems straight forward. Yet, it is not to be. You see that outsourcers often have a main office outside of that country and they want their franchise fee, which could be 70% of the software, yet they will always get FULL PRICE. So they will get 70% of $3,000, no matter what the discounted invoice was. Now that company has to make due with $3,150 for training, training materials, travel expenses, training hardware and staff. And for every deal they make the cost remain high, yet the revenue has been siphoned off and the cream went somewhere else. Now we get the stage where there was still a profit, yet the staff members are still costing thousands of dollars, as is the office and all other goods. There is not taxation as the revenue was too low and this is where we see the problems for a lot of these companies. They are now in debt, governments having to make deals and I cannot vouch for Interserve, Carillion, Serco Group Plc and Capita Plc, because where I know it was happening was not one of these. Yet I feel certain that others have been playing similar games and it has been going on for over 20 years that I am aware of that tactic.

So does the entire Interserve part now make sense? A debt of well over half a billion and its board members are still up for millions in bonus? I cannot tell what the reason is for the entire Interserve issue, yet what I have seen in the past, we should take a long hard look at what some consider to be debt and what some consider to be an optional approach to deferred invoicing.

We might see partial support when we see the article in the Morningstar (at http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/news/AN_1542962437936788100/interserve-expects-higher-operating-profit-despite-construction-loss.aspx). Here we see: “Interserve posted a pre-tax loss of GBP244.4 million on revenue of GBP3.25 billion in 2017. It then recorded a pre-tax loss of GBP6.0 million on GBP1.67 billion in revenue in the first half of 2018“, others sources had a similar setting, yet here we also see the headline ‘News Interserve Expects Higher Operating Profit Despite Construction Loss‘, now we see operating profits versus construction loss? Does it now seem more and more that we are given a half a billion birdie, whilst some are showing to be receiving massive bonus payments? How is this not tackled? How come that for 20 years we have seen the impact of creative bookkeeping, whilst the European governments have been unable to fix anything?

When we see the Financial Times (at https://www.ft.com/content/b2c9fdd2-eeed-11e8-8180-9cf212677a57) giving us: “Interserve employs 80,000 people worldwide — 25,000 in the UK — in jobs that range from cleaning the London Underground to maintaining army bases and building a shopping centre in Dubai.” Giving me the speculative thought ‘How long until we see the Dubai part sold off (including equipment) at roughly 5 pennies to the pound? How would that screw over the 25,000 staff in the UK when Interserve folds? We will not know until the Interserve lawyers and accountants finalise they optimised plan in 2019, but I fear that the impact of outsourcing is going to be felt on a very large area. You see, outsourcing growth is through the roof and it is growing in a sphere of influence that has not been seen before. Fintech, Meditech, Pharmaceutics. It seems like the golden calf, yet it is a treacherous field. It might be a temporary field at best. I think that the construction companies have good weather now, yet the crash of the 80’s is still with them, Communications is all about outsourcing, yet when those outsourcers do not finance the training of staff, their usefulness will decline in 3-4 years as the companies are focussing on 5G. In that same light, we see a pharmaceutical growth, yet the setting is that many patents will fall over in the next 5 years. At that point these companies outsourcing can discontinue the renewal of contracts and the staff issue will not be their problem, it will be the problem of the outsourced company and that is starting to push a wave to a much larger degree than we have seen before.

So as we return to the Financial Times article we get “Interserve said profit growth for the year so far had been as expected, and it anticipated “a significant operating profit improvement” for the full year. The group, which swung to a loss in the half-year, did not provide figures“, we knew that, many sources had it. Yet we also get “It has revenues of £3.25bn but is valued by the stock market at just £75m and is already under close watch by the British government in case of collapse“, when a 3 billion revenue company is merely valued at merely 2% of that, there is a lot more going on than mere sneaky keeping of books and that needs to be seen as well. So when we consider: “Interserve’s update attempted to “sugar coat” the increase in net debt and “to deflect from the news” that the Cabinet Office is making sure it has alternative suppliers to take the place of Interserve should it fail. “The operational developments are not good reading either,” he added“, a part given to us by the independent analyst Stephen Rawlinson, we need to look deeper. You see, if the UK does get confronted with: “alternative suppliers“, we need to accept that for a chunk of those 25,000 British workers it will not spell good news, even more so, there is every chance that it gives a larger level of turmoil to those people whilst some board members end up going home with a payout that is between £380K and £2.25M, making sure that they can live in a sea of porn and Netflix for the longest of times, possibly even until the day they die.

Is it that bad?

Well, that is not certain, yet the issue that the UK accounting watchdog had to quit over criticism regarding Carillion (source: the Guardian), they give us the quote: “Stephen Haddrill will depart after nine years in charge of the Financial Reporting Council, which is subject to multiple inquiries into its effectiveness and independence” we get one thought, yet in light of “a committee of MPs described the FRC as “chronically passive” in an excoriating report into the construction group’s failure, condemning the regulator as “too timid to make effective use of the powers they have”” we should consider that there is every chance that Interserve might have been on that same side of the page making the issue larger and more critical. Is it not interesting that too often we see terms like ‘too timid‘ when it comes to dealing with the rich? The entire Sir Philip Green’s £1 sale of BHS is a nice example to keep in mind. The setting where the people behind BHS are apparently not in prison in a stage where “the settlement will not fully restore the retirement income they had been promised by BHS” (source: Financial Times). One of many failings where we see the creativity of applied accountancy and the improper use of non-committal prison sentences to those employing these fast and loose solutions. At present there is a speculative chance that Interserve might be on a similar track, but that is pure speculation, we will not know until the solution is offered, which according to the papers will not happen until somewhere in 2019, until that point arrives thousands of employees at Interserve will likely be in a state of stress. It is one hell of a way to approach Christmas.

Humbug!

 

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The economic insanity

We all have our limits, we all have parts we look at it and it just does not make sense. I am no different in that regard. I cannot fathom how a business survives at times. We all get that. I grew up having to walk to the grocer, the butcher and the general goods store when I was young. I got beef from one, I got cabbage from the other, we even had a potato vendor on a street called Vierambachtstraat (Rotterdam); this potato man had half a dozen of different kind of potatoes, sweet, non-sweet, large and small. We would pick up a bag 3-4 KG and it would be more than enough for a week (household of 5). At some point he left us, he stopped, the grocer remained for a while, yet I was still around when he left and it was replaced for a record store. The general goods store had already left. You see, a Supermarket called Albert Heijn had taken over and the other stores could no longer remain there. The butcher remained, yet over time he too would fall away it is now a furniture store I believe. My house is still there, yet none of the shops remained, over time they were replaced by other shops, a mere sign of the times.

So when I was confronted with ‘Interserve shares fall as growing debt sparks fears over its finances‘, I initially merely glanced. An outsourcer called Interserve; it seems to be something trivial. That is, until you realise the part “The Company, which carries out building work and provides services such as cleaning, said debts would be between £625m and £650m by the end of the year, having earlier said debts would be £575m to £600m“. So even if we would trivialise all this, in which universe would a company have any chance to survive with an initial debts of ‘£575m to £600m‘? The fact that it will be fifty million pounds more should be the fuel to the fire. A company will be in debt for well over half a billion pounds and people are worried? Why on earth were the members of that board of directors and their children (and grandchildren) not sold into white slavery on a market in Marrakech? You see, I get it, any company will have downturns and we should allow for repairs on that, yet when a company is the pressure on the existence of small companies, whilst it act as a behemoth with a workforce of an estimated 75,000 people worldwide, we need to up the ante. These people are pushing the envelope hoping that they would be like any bank ‘too big to fail‘ leaving it up to politics and wheeling and dealing to get them out of the hot waters, to save and saviour their hot potatoes some might say.

Even as we see: “It comes a week after Interserve was forced to comment on the state of its finances, after shares tumbled to a 30-year low over fears it was heading the same way as Carillion, the rival outsourcing firm that collapsed in January“, was that not a wakeup call to set the stage to push for oversight much faster?

We are also introduced by Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell to: “Chief executive Debbie White and her team are clearly doing their best to steady the ship at Interserve but the admission that net debt will end the year higher than expected, not helped by how the cash inflow from the troubled energy-from-waste business will be lower than hoped, means the company has yet to reassure shareholders and potential investors about the key issues that face it.” I am not sure how we should see this, in view of: ‘how the cash inflow from the troubled energy-from-waste business will be lower than hoped‘. When should we accept ‘lower than hoped‘? That implies speculative investment with funds that they never had and playing the gamble card in corporate expectations. So when these debts hit full on, who gets to pay for that, the taxpayer? It is my personal believe that until the debt is gone, none of the board of directors should be allowed any income above £100,000 with in addition all bonuses scrapped until the company goes out of the red. In addition, there should be no weight to the claim: “Interserve, which provides a range of services for schools, hospitals and government departments across the UK, agreed a £300m rescue plan in March, at a time of heightened pressure on the outsourcing sector and in the wake of Carillion’s collapse under a mountain of debt.” From my personal point of view, they took jobs and under-priced them forcing the small fish out of the water of revenue, and then they use that shortfall to push taxation to zero whilst walking that path too often in too many divisions. That is how I personally see this and I might be wrong. Yet in all this, that is seemingly the path too many large players play it, undermining services for the longer time whilst the others have no option to get into the business. The government might like the short sold services as it looks good on their costing spreadsheet, yet when group of 75,000 people end up to the larger extent being unemployed, the damage will merely increase for all the parties involved. Russ Mould also gives us: “some investors would wonder why Interserve was waiting until 2019 to unveil a new plan designed to reduce debt, whilst the share price slide suggests the company’s situation remains acute“. In light of that we see the urgent need for players like that to suffer a lot more oversight, the withdrawal of all bonuses and capping of income. In a state where we see an escalating stage of danger to staff members on almost every level (I did say almost), we see (at https://www.interserve.com/docs/default-source/investors/financial-reports/integrated-reporting/2017/2017-full-year-pdf’s/governance-report.pdf) the mention of something I will address shortly, whilst we see (at https://www.constructionnews.co.uk/companies/contractors/interserve/interserve-ceo-set-for-125-bonus-for-2017/10030955.article). Can anyone explain to me how well over half a billion shortfall gives rise to: ‘Interserve CEO set for 125% bonus for 2017‘, you might think that this was merely last year, yet consider that one company has a shortfall of well over half a billion in one year. That does not happen, this has been going on for a much longer time and whilst we accept that any company gets to have a hard time, it seems utterly unacceptable that its board of failures in managing that get to go home with £525,897 (the bonus of Chief executive Debbie White) for 4 months of work and if things go really south, to sit at home on the sofa optionally watching Netflix and porn for 5 years whilst the market ‘restores’ itself. It gets to be even less tasteful when we also see: “This includes an annual variable pay (AVP) bonus of £270,089, which is 125 per cent of her pro-rata base salary of £216,667 since she joined in September 2017 – the maximum available under the AVP scheme” are you feeling betrayed yet? She should be regarded as HMRC positive and kept in isolation, removed from income until the company is again in the non-red numbers zone.

Was that over the top?

When we consider the first report which is 62 pages, we see that plenty of space was used to give rise to bonuses where three people get to go home (in a best case scenario) with £2.555, £1.593 and £1.168 million. In a setting where we see that a company minus zero setting, towards the one billion mark in the red, how is there even a case for a best case scenario? How is it that we see all kinds of share and cash deals whilst there is a real issue with this type of company? Should we not see a whole range of other questions holding the HMRC responsible for allowing this situation in the first place? Whilst the cheapest of the three (other executive director), optionally being a figure of speech for a lot more than one person the issue merely intensifies. Their minimum pay is £380K, which is close to 1,800% of the average annual UK income; giving rise that one year would enable a person to afford a person to go on a holiday for close to 10 years. I never had that option, not in two decades of loyal service, interesting how some people are just not held accountable for bad turns is it?

So whilst these high and mighty desk jockeys get to relax over Christmas, considering on how to tackle it all in 2019, as per ‘Interserve to roll-out £650m debt reduction plan‘, they will leave staff in pressure and under threat of being laid off. It gets to be even worse when they ‘hide’ behind “This deepened due to additional cash outflows on Energy from Waste as well slow payments in certain Middle Eastern markets“. If they have been there they know what the cycles of payments are. They know on what is to be expected. So if there is plenty coming in, there should not be an issue. When jobs fall through, it is known as well, so even as there is a slack from the energy from waste, it seems that merely lose statements are given and they might not hold water under accountancy scrutiny here.

As for the books

There we see that PwC are to be the financial advisors, some sources give rise to other parts. The independent report (at https://www.interserve.com/docs/default-source/investors/financial-reports/integrated-reporting/2017/2017-full-year-pdf’s/financial-reports.pdf) talks about ‘we’, but who is ‘we’? The report is 100 pages and it was set for the December 2017 point, yet there too we see a few things. If we are to accept certain previous statements, we see “We performed targeted procedures over component entities in Guernsey, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and the United States of America. We performed analytical procedures over component entities in all other geographical locations“, so when we see the larger picture, how does the ‘Middle East’ reference hold water? This would imply they’re UAE, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia customers. There are still plenty of other locations, even if it is largely weighted to those 4, the mention “as well slow payments in certain Middle Eastern markets” seems less valid. The shortfall of well over half a billion does not hold up, because if it was all due to investment, there would not be a shortfall to report, those debts are different. That is where the report on page 114 seems to give a little light. We see: “A further update was given to the market on 21 March 2018, indicating that short-term facilities had been extended for a further month to 30 April 2018. The Group announced that it had concluded refinancing negotiations and had arranged access to committed borrowing facilities of £834 million on 27 April 2018.“, on the other side of that page, we see: “assessing the appropriateness of sensitivities applied to the Adjusted Cash Flow Forecast to evaluate whether liquidity headroom and covenant compliance had been subjected to appropriate stress tests;” when they come up short by another £50 million, one might argue that either the stress test was wrong, or elements were unknown or merely ignored. I cannot tell what, why, who or which, yet it does not seem to add up.

So as that page ends with: “As a result of our work, we concluded that there were no matters in relation to going concern to which the ISAs (UK) require us to report to you“, I will offer that the news is giving us a £50 million reason proving that statement to be wrong (or at least partially). There is also increasing consideration that the auditing firms needs additional scrutiny, as jobs are handed over from one firm to another, there is the option that it speculatively gives rise to nepotism, as well as the danger that they all play the same game in what should not be required to be reported. The last is also highly speculative, yet the shortfall over 50 million as well as the debt surpassing half a billion proves me at least partially correct.

The question is how to move forward. There is a point of view that gives rise to a lot more than merely changing the laws towards outsourcing. There should be a long term accountability system in place, as it might all seem to be nice and correct on the balance sheet, the mere worry is that there is a long term impact. Should we see additional pressures where Interserve goes the way of Carillion, there might be a pressing point to start considering making that change. In an age of global accountancy where the costs are stored local, whilst indirectly the booked profits are staged to go to the land of the shareholder (wherever that is) we see an imbalance of accountancy that is seemingly all fine, yet makes no logical sense altogether. That might be one of the biggest settings that governments are facing in Europe and on a global stage.

Perhaps I will take tomorrow to give you a clear picture on what I mentioned here in examples. At that point I will be bringing graphics to the table as well.

 

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