Two companies central to our coverage of information management are having their own particular – and distinct – issues with shareholders and equity analysts.
Autonomy has been having its run-ins with London’s equity analysts for some time. Not all of them, but a core and increasingly vocal group of them. Generally they regularly question a few things: how the company calculates organic growth of its core IDOL business; cash conversion; and why it hasn’t bought a company after saying it would do and raising £500m of convertible debt to help it do so, back in February 2010. We’re also weighed in on some of these issues.
Autonomy regularly takes on these doubters on its quarterly calls and also does the same during the quarter on its website, which is at least a refreshing change from companies that stay completely mute on such matters. However the answers are often very simplistic. In a post dated March 30, 2011 entitled, “How should we think about Autonomy’s penetration of its end markets, when we attempt to evaluate the opportunity for growth?” that most of the world’s top software companies OEM IDOL and thus are “building their future products with IDOL deeply embedded and paying Autonomy a royalty.” Are they? Autonomy doesn’t distinguish between its two main OEM product when it announces OEM deals, but there’s a big difference between OEMing IDOL and OEMing its document filters. And as we have discussed before we think a lot of the OEM deals are for the latter, rather than for IDOL itself, although we have no way of proving that, except to say that we speak regularly to these leading software vendors and they don’t appear to be using IDOL as their core search and classification engine nearly as widely as Autonomy claims. Ironically given what Autonomy does for a living, a fair bit of the to and fro on the site is semantic-related, e.g. discussion of what “early spring” or “Winter with snowdrops” scenarios mean in terms of the guidance given by the company to analysts. All will no doubt become clearer when it announces its Q1 results, due Thursday April 28.
Over at Iron Mountain, some dissident shareholders have been putting pressure on the company to take on board its slate of directors and eventually turn itself into a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), mainly for its beneficial tax status. We cover what used to be called the digital business – the back up and recovery, e-Discovery, archiving and other software that’s mostly been added via acquisitions over the past few years. But that doesn’t seem to hold any attraction to hedge fund Elliott Management, which owns just less than 5%. It was the company that put forward the slate of directors and advised the company to turn itself into a REIT and in general to focus on its core – non-digital – business. Elliott and even larger shareholder Davis Advisors (it owns a shade less than 20% of the outstanding shares) were annoyed when the company dropped a poison pill on March 23 to guard against a takeover. This week Elliott laid out its grievances in another letter to the board, urging it to reverse the poison pill and generally sit up and take notice of what it has to say.
It’s hard to tel where this will end, but it has already caused disruption to Iron Mountain’s business at a time when it is trying to get some of its digital units – notably e-Discovery – back in track after a very tough 2010. We’ll know if it’s had an effect on its Q1 performance when it announces its results, most likely int he last week of April. The shares, as is common with these sorts of investor challenges have enjoyed a strong run-up, and are currently at or around a 52-week high. The company’s annual shareholders meeting is coming up soon too. Although the date is not yet known, all shareholders on record as of April 12 will be allowed to vote at it. It could get quite lively.