Today, in Part 3, we revisit our support for the PICO Holdings‘ Board.
RPN Explains Support For PICO Board – Part 3
Shareholders have voiced three complaints in relation to PICO employment. First, there is no need for a highly-paid CEO and CFO; PICO is in liquidation and any administrative overseer, earning far less, will do. Second, at almost $1 million collectively per year, executive compensation is too high. Third, the burn rate of $9.1 million going forward is exorbitant and amounts to corporate waste due to overstaffing.
We’ll tackle the first two complaints today and leave the third for our next post.
PICO’s CEO & CFO:
According to their Employment Agreements, Max Webb, PICO’s CEO, earns $496,000 in base salary and John “JP” Perri, CFO, earns $440,000. We agree that $936,000 is a lot to pay two executives of a microcap firm in liquidation.
If their Employment Agreements had been negotiated in an arm’s length, independent fashion, it is unlikely either man would have commanded such compensation. But these Employment Agreements were not produced in a vacuum and the PICO Board did the best it could, given the circumstances and constraints. A little history is in order. This history answers both the question about why the need for a CEO and CFO and the compensation that many PICO shareowners claim is excessive.
The PICO situation started to get messy about 2.5 years ago. The corrupt and incompetent John “The Juicer” Hart was PICO’s dapper don, committing various crimes against shareholders. His underling perpetrators Kristina “Maleficent” Leslie and Carlos “NACD-Decorated Horse Thief” Campbell did his corrupt bidding. In March 2016, the corrupt PICO Compensation Committee, of which the above-mentioned Directors were members, plus Michael “Desperado” Machado and Robert Deuster, promulgated new Employment Agreements for Juicer, plus Messrs. Webb and Perri.
Mr. Webb’s 2016 Employment Agreement, which was 5 years in duration, provided assurance of a large bag of goodies in the event of an “involuntary termination,” in other words, termination without cause. In such an event, Mr. Webb stood to receive 2 years base salary ($992,000), unused vacation time, any unpaid bonus, accelerated vesting of equity awards and one year of healthcare including all dependents.
Mr. Perri’s 2016 Employment Agreement, was similar. If terminated without cause, Mr. Perri would have received 2 years base salary ($880,000), unused vacation time, any unpaid bonus, accelerated vesting of equity awards and one year of healthcare including all dependents.
Now fast forward to late 2016: the Board is comprised of Directors Daniel Silvers, Andrew Cates, Eric Speron, Mr. Hart, Mr. Machado, Howard Brownstein and Raymond Marino (Chairman).
The only decisive action during Delaymond’s tenure occurred when the PICO Board fired Juicer on October 12, 2016. This decision was part pleasure/part pain because while the sinner was excommunicated from the PICO sacred land, it cost about $11 million.
When the Board 86-ed Juicer, it had to find a replacement for CEO. Someone had to handle the liquidation, the financial, the daily decisions and the administrative. Who would it be?
It couldn’t be any of the Directors. None of them are water rights experts, none are homebuilder executives, none are professional liquidators. And none of them probably wanted the job.
The Board could hire someone from the outside, as some RPN readers have suggested, an administrator to oversee the liquidation and handle daily executive affairs. But that would require considerable time, effort and money. The Board would have to retain a search firm, interview candidates, choose one, negotiate compensation and employment terms, pay a signing bonus, get this person up to speed on the Vidler portfolio and UCP, and monitor them closely for at least a year. The whole process could take months and cost many thousands of dollars and dozens of man hours.
Or the Board could simply promote Messrs. Webb and Perri, whose employment terms were already somewhat quantifiable, who already knew the portfolio backwards and forwards, who knew all the people at Vidler and UCP, who accepted the liquidation mandate, who were already involved in any pending transactions, and who were known quantities to the PICO Directors.
Yeah, Messrs. Webb and Perri command higher compensation than an independent administrator would. But when you add up all the costs of finding this theoretical administrator, the time, the uncertainty, the slowdown to the asset sale process, would PICO shareholders have saved anything?
We don’t think so.
In addition, Messrs. Webb and Perri weren’t part of the problem. Yes, we all harbor suspicions as both men for decades turned a blind eye to Juicer’s incompetence and corruption. But to the best of our knowledge, they were not active participants in his corruption and they were not sodomizing corporate governance or inhibiting asset monetizations the way Juicer was.
So that is why PICO retains a well-compensated CEO and CFO to this day, despite the fact that perhaps a lesser-abled individual would do the same job for less base salary. When the PICO Board fired Juicer, it had to weigh the costs and benefits of seeking an outside candidate that would have been cheaper from a base salary perspective, or pay a little more in base and save thousands of dollars in professional fees, dozens of hours of time and the risk of onboarding a new executive and upsetting the monetization process. We believe the choice was easy and the Board selected well.
High Executive Compensation:
The high compensation of Messrs. Webb and Perri can be traced back to the same process. Recall that in early December 2016, Delaymond and Hapless Howie were appropriately thrown from the PICO Board. How did that happen? We have an idea.
When our shareholder oriented Directors, Messrs. Silvers, Cates and Speron, contemplated the Palace Coup, they were short one vote: there were 7 Directors on the PICO Board, but they were only three. To complete the Palace Coup, they needed 4 votes. What were these admirable boardroom rebels to do? (Recall that when Juicer was fired, Mr. Webb took his place on the PICO Board).
We don’t know this for a fact, but our bet is that Messrs. Silvers, Cates and Speron went to Mr. Webb and said, “This is our plan. We depose Marino now, and get rid of Marino, Brownstein and Machado pre-2017 Annual Meeting. After that, we cut the Board to 5. We need your vote to make the majority of 4. Are you in?” Mr. Webb predictably asked, “What’s in it for me?”
Ready to trade some horses, they likely responded: “You get to be Chairman until the Annual Meeting. At the Annual Meeting, we take an advisory vote to improve the optics; its yours for good if shareholders pass it. You get to run the earnings calls, the Annual Meeting, set the agenda for the Board Meetings.
We put on the kid gloves for your Employment Agreement. Your base will stay the same. Your bonus will be achievable and lucrative, but with some lipstick so shareholders can live with it. We wrap up the negotiations quick, so you can get back to running PICO and sleep at night.
All we need is your vote to throw Marino and Brownstein.”
It was an offer Mr. Webb could not refuse.
This was good strategy by Messrs. Silvers, Cates and Speron. When it came to terms of employment, Messrs. Webb and Perri had PICO by the juevos already. Recall that, thanks to the corrupt Comp Committee of 2016, both men had iron-clad Employment Agreements. They were slated to receive half a million dollars per year each already.
In other words, Messrs. Webb’s and Perri’s compensation was legally obligated to be high already. Messrs. Silvers, Cates and Speron simply affirmed that fact, made the revision to compensation more friendly, traded Messrs. Webb and Perri a few horses, and in the process, took control of the Board – the latter of which has been to the enormous, humungous, overwhelming benefit to shareowners.
Given the history and the circumstances, the PICO Board has done right by shareholders in its retention of Messrs. Webb and Perri at their current compensation levels. The alternatives would have left us economically worse off and would have slowed down the monetization process.
So far, the tenures of Messrs. Webb and Perri have been productive for shareowners. Four assets have been sold, the capital return process has begun, corporate governance has been improved, the share price is way up. As we have been saying for months, we continue to be optimistic.
PICO Relocates To Delaware
On May 31, 2017, PICO Holdings formally changed its state of incorporation from California to Delaware. An 8-K filing with the SEC indicates that not much changes as a result of this event. For a summary of the details, refer to PICO’s 2017 Proxy Statement.
In the days following the announcement, PICO stock has risen 8%, from $16.40 to $17.50 – although we don’t see any justification for correlation.
The last time PICO stock traded at $18 per share was over 2 years ago, in May 2015. And since RPN is on the theme of cheeleading the PICO Board, we note that since the Palace Coup in early December 2016, PICO stock has risen 17%, from roughly $15 to $17.50. During this time, the S&P 500 has risen 10%.
UCP Shareowner Files Class Action Against UCP Directors
UCP Shareowner Joseph Tola has filed a Class Action Complaint against the UCP Board of Directors, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Represented by Rosemary M. Rivas, Esq., of Levi & Korsinsky, LLP, plaintiff Mr. Tola seeks to stop the acquisition of UCP by Century Communities.
According to Mrs. Rivas, “To the detriment of the Company’s stockholders, the terms of the Merger Agreement substantially favor Century and are calculated to unreasonably dissuade potential suitors from making competing offers.”
Mrs. Rivas cites several justifications for her client’s opposition. First, the deal’s “no solicitation” provision prevents UCP from outreach to other parties potentially interested in a deal. Second, both the UCP and PICO Boards are restricted in their ability to recommend against the acquisition. Third, Century is granted a “matching right” to offer equal gold galleons in the event of a higher offer. Fourth, the termination fee disabuses a fair auction. Fifth, PICO has already irrevocably blessed the marriage with its vote lockup agreement.
Along the lines of what RPN likes to hear, Mrs. Rivas asserts that the dowry of $11.37 is too low. She reminds readers that Citigroup Global Markets‘ own deal analysis indicates UCP is worth as much as $14.40 per share.
As if she billed by the hour, Mrs. Rivas argues that the Registration Statement omitted several salient financial metrics that if included, would reveal UCP’s more than skin deep inner beauty.
Finally, Mrs. Rivas notes that, “Additionally, while the Registration Statement provides that, on April 7, 2017, ‘Party F’ submitted a proposal to acquire UCP in an all-cash transaction for $14.29 to $16.67 per share of UCP Class A common stock—materially higher than the merger consideration—the Registration Statement fails to disclose the nature and timing of Citi’s subsequent discussion with Party F regarding the proposal and whether there were any subsequent communications between Party F and UCP or its representatives. The omission of this material information renders the Registration Statement false and misleading…”
In case you were wondering, Mr. Tola is the proud owner of 100 UCP shares, purchased on November 11, 2013, for $13.75 per share.
See a copy of the Complaint here..