Ten years ago, a friend of mine was getting his knickers in a twist about a hugely successful, $101 billion energy-trading company from Houston, Texas that had just completed a takeover of his firm, a Pacific Northwest public utility.

He told me that these Texans were so friggin’ smart, in fact they were “The Smartest Guys in the Room” – I believe their names were Ken, Andrew, and Jeffrey – and that I needed to buy stock in their company pronto.

So I did some homework. And even more homework. And still some more homework…And I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out how this company made money. And the more I read, the more dazed and confused I became. Why would anyone pay gobs of money to this company to broker energy deals…sounds like a very expensive middle man?

Out of frustration because of my lack of business acumen, I didn’t invest a dime in this company. I think it was called…Enron (NYSE: ENE).

Which brings me to Somali Pirates and the question of whether there should be an IPO (Initial Public Offering) for their business?

somali

A cursory check on the CNBC website indicates that no NYSE-member company has the ticker symbol, PRT, or Pirate, and no NASDAQ-member has the ticker symbol, PIRS, for Pirates.

More importantly Somali Pirates has a “devastatingly effective business model,” according to the most recent edition of The Economist. The UN estimates that the annual cost of piracy lies somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion (top line?). The Economist reported that Somali Pirate “earnings” (bottom line?) reached $238 million. To top it off, the pirates are now accepting ransom payments via electronic funds transfer.

“Great Investor” Peter Lynch has repeatedly stated that the difference between investing and gambling is that investors need to clearly understand a company’s business model and why they are buying shares. CNBC’s Jim “Mad Money” Cramer has repeatedly reminds his viewers that share prices are a leading indicator of the anticipated direction of a stock and that he is not interested in a stock’s past, only its future.

If you take both Lynch and Cramer at face value, and many other Wall Street talking heads, then you have to be excited about investing in Somali Pirates. We can all figure out how they make money (e.g. seize shipping, demand ransom, receive revenues either in cold, hard cash or via EFT). Got it. Wish that Enron was that clear…or maybe not.

Better yet, they are a minority-run-and-operated business. Do you think they would receive preferential treatment from the federal government?

What are the COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) on the financial statement for Somali Pirates? Mostly speed boats, AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and scaling ladders. They have reduced these costs somewhat by using “mother ships,” often captured deep-sea fishing vessels that they use as floating bases for their fast skiffs. Even though there are no hard-and-fast COGS numbers, there is every indication that the gross margin for Somali Pirates is expanding, not contracting (WallStreetease…).

What about personnel costs? Somali Pirates hail from the ultimate low-cost state (or more accurately, no state), Somalia. They don’t need to outsource to India. Let’s see that means that we can enter almost zero next to the line on the financial statement for SG&A (selling, general and administrative), unless you consider demanding ransoms to be “selling.”

How about R&D? The response by naval forces in the region about the size of Western Europe poses a risk to the business model of Somali Pirates, forcing them to operate further and further away from Somalia. Obviously some more work needs to go into supply over such long distances. And apparently they have not been successful catching up to ships making 18 knots or more…Sounds like they need to invest in competitive research focused on speed-boat technology.

Okay, so now we should have an operating income figure. Which brings us to taxes? What taxes? How about GAAP reporting? What’s Generally Accepted Accounting Principles to a bunch of pirates?

And finally, what about the threats to the business model of Somali Pirates? And will they prefer, similar to Facebook, to remain private…at least for the time being? There is a very real possibility that there will never be an IPO for Somali Pirates.

Maybe Goldman Sachs will just set up a hedge fund and invite wealthy investors to take their own stakes in privately held Somali Pirates. Besides who needs the headaches associated with quarterly earnings reports, pre-announcements, chairman’s letters, annual meetings of shareholders, SEC enforcement and the prospect of corporate raiders?

Think of it this way, if Wall Street-types could embrace Enron with irrational exuberance, then what’s to stop them from investing in a bunch of pirates?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron:_The_Smartest_Guys_in_the_Room

http://www.investopedia.com/university/greatest/peterlynch.asp

http://www.cramers-mad-money.com/

http://www.economist.com/node/21015664

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