Wednesday, September 21, 2011

L.S. Starrett: Cheap, And Owned And Operated By Employees

For long-term investors, the ideal corporate manager is one whose financial interests are aligned with those of shareholders. This occurs when managers have a substantial portion of their net worth tied up in the company's common stock. But there are cases where it's not just the executives that own shares, but the employees as well.

Consider L.S. Starrett, a company that has been previously discussed on this site as a potential value investment. While the company's directors and officers own less than 1.4% of the company's total shares, more than 10% of the company's shares are owned by employees as part of the company's Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Of course, this can also represent a risk to shareholders. If Starrett hits hard times, it may need to let people go. Depending on the ESOP's rules, this could result in large stock sales that badly hurt the stock price.

I also wouldn't go so far as to say there is perfect alignment between managers and shareholders. In fact, this company has a very problematic dual-class share structure, whereby the company is controlled via Class B shares, which carry ten times as many votes as the trading Class A's.

But where you would have a tough time arguing against this company is on price. This is a profitable company trading at a discount to its net current assets. The fact that employees are owners contributes to its attractiveness as a potential investment.

Disclosure: Author has a long position in shares of SCX

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