Porche-Group profit clearly up again
At its meeting today, the supervisory board of Porsche Automobil Holding SE, Stuttgart, Germany, stated that the Group profit before taxes for the past business year 2007/08, which had risen again, amounted to EUR 8.569 billion. The prior-year figure had been EUR 5.857 billion. The above-average jump in profit was again due to special influences in connection with the holdings in Volkswagen AG, Wolfsburg, Germany. Porsche's operative earnings before taxes developed most satisfactorily. Corrected for special effects from hedging operations as well as for the interest result of Porsche SE it amounted to around one billion euros. Increased development costs incurred i.a. for the fourth Panamera series, for the hybrid drive in the Cayenne, for new, reduced consumption engines and for new vehicle models, again proved a burden on the result.
This development was more than set off by the positive effects from cash settled share option transactions by which Porsche participates in changes to the stock exchange price of the VW shares. By way of these transactions the further acquisition of VW ordinary shares is being hedged. The contribution to profit from these transactions amounted to EUR 6.834 billion after the EUR 3.593 billion in the previous year. At the end of the business year, the holding in VW amounted to 22.3 percent of all shares. The profit attributable to Porsche on this basis amounted to EUR 1.007 billion, of which EUR 160.4 million were a cash in-flow in the form of a dividend.
|Profit before taxes||EUR
(+ 46 %)
|EUR 5.857 billion|
|Profit after taxes||EUR
(+ 51 %)
|EUR 4.242 billion|
(+ 1,3 %)
|EUR 7.368 billion|
Porsche and VW share row: how Germany got revenge on the hedge fund 'locusts'
With its jaws gaping, poised to swallow its prey, Damien Hirst's tiger shark in formaldehyde takes pride of place in the $700 million art collection of the hedge fund manager Steven A Cohen.
Until now, it had served as a symbol of the killer instincts which made Mr Cohen and his fund SAC Capital one of the biggest predators in the world's financial markets, earning him a personal fortune estimated at $8 billion.
"I liked the whole fear factor," he said cheerily when explaining what had attracted him to the Hirst shark which he bought for $8 million four years ago.
The fear factor is something Mr Cohen, and around 100 other hedge fund managers, are experiencing, like never before, as SAC Capital and others collectively lost a staggering £24 billion with a doomed gamble on Volkswagen shares, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The biters have been well and truly bitten, and in a week full of ironies it was Porsche, manufacturer of the hedge fund managers' transport of choice, which was to blame.
While "hedgies" bet on VW shares falling because of the global economic downturn, regarded by some as "the safest play in town", Porsche had been secretly building up a 74.1 per cent stake in VW through intermediaries.
When Porsche showed its hand, it sent the VW share price rocketing and exposed the hedge funds to breathtaking losses.
"I have had hedge fund managers literally in tears on the phone," said one London-based analyst yesterday. Others likened the Porsche disclosure to a "nuclear bomb going off in our faces", describing the resulting losses as "a bloodbath".
For many impartial observers, the biggest single loss in the history of hedge funds will be nothing less than just desserts for the "vulture capitalists" who were blamed, perhaps unfairly, for helping bring about the demise of HBOS through their controversial practice of short selling.
Together with Connecticut-based Mr Cohen, who recently shrugged off a $100,000 restoration of the Hirst shark as an "inconsequential" expense, this week's losers include David Einhorn, the poker-playing president of the American fund Greenlight Capital, who helped drive down the value of Lehman Brothers shares before the investment bank collapsed this summer.
In London, Odey Asset Management, managed by Crispin Odey, who paid himself £28 million this year, also took a substantial hit.
Many fund managers believe they are victims of a stitch-up orchestrated by the German government and Porsche.
The German establishment has never tried to hide its contempt for them, with a leading politician referring to hedge fund managers as "locusts". One trader went as far as describing this week's events as "payback".
Certainly, Porsche's secretive empire-building would have been illegal in the UK, which has much stricter rules on disclosure. But do the fund managers have a case?
The root of the hedge funds' demise lies, appropriately perhaps, in the murky practice of short selling, in which traders seek to make huge sums by betting on the share price of a company falling.
Traders agree to sell shares in a company (in this case VW) to a third party at a fixed price and by a certain date, then wait for the price to fall before buying the shares and handing them on to the third party.
The difference between the agreed sale price and the price at which the trader buys the shares is profit. But if the share goes up, traders are exposed to potentially limitless losses.
Shorting in financial shares has been temporarily banned, but it remains legal in other sectors of the market.
Hedge funds believed they were on safe ground by short selling VW shares, which they saw as overvalued when all car manufacturers are feeling the squeeze.
What none of them knew was that Porsche had quietly been adding to its 42.6 per cent stake in VW by taking out options to buy VW shares owned by a number of German banks.
Germany's somewhat eclectic financial regulations did not require Porsche to disclose this, and so none of the hedge fund managers had a clue what Porsche was up to.
That all changed with spectacular consequences when the sports car manufacturer suddenly issued an announcement, in German, just after 3pm on Sunday declaring that it either owned or had the option to own 74.1 per cent of VW.
With the state of Lower Saxony owning another 20.1 per cent, this meant that just 5.8 per cent of VW shares were available to buy.
But hedge fund managers had promised to sell to third parties a total of 12 per cent of VW's shares, and 12 into 5.8 doesn't go.
One London-based fund manager saw the news when he flicked through financial websites on his BlackBerry during a Sunday afternoon walk.
"I ran like a madman back to my house," he said. "I assumed the numbers were wrong. I called my broker and couldn't get through.
"But when I finally did speak to him, and he told me he'd had a dozen panicked calls already, I knew it was true."
Across the capital, and in financial centres across the world, brokers rushed to their offices to work out just how big a hit their clients were about to take.
Throughout Sunday afternoon, their phones rang off the hook as traders called them begging for help, undisguised panic in their voices.
Hours before the markets opened here on Monday morning, hedge fund offices in "hedge fund alley'' in Mayfair were already buzzing with activity as traders went through the numbers over and over again, unable to do anything more meaningful until the German stock exchange opened at 8am.
"We knew there would be a bloodbath as soon as the market opened," said the trader. "We knew the price would rocket, widening the exposure of lots of hedge funds - they would be offering their daughters in return for the stock, just to get out of it."
The scramble for shares meant that shareholders could name their price, and VW stock went from 210 euros to more than 1,000 euros in two days, making VW, at one point on Tuesday, the world's most valuable company at £240 billion.
Meanwhile, the fund managers who hadn't managed to buy enough shares to settle their accounts watched with horror as their losses spiralled out of control. Some of the bigger funds are thought to have lost as much as £4 billion.
And as the price of those precious shares quadrupled, Porsche made a paper profit of more than £100 billion, dwarfing the money it makes from selling cars.
Across the world, traders raged at what they saw as a thinly disguised sting operation by Porsche and the German financial establishment. In almost any other country, Porsche would have been forced to declare its hand, rather than secretly building up share options through third parties. The hedge funds are demanding an investigation.
Christian Strenger, a board member of Germany's biggest fund manager DWS, said the German government needed to address the "untransparent" regulations, while Mike Warburton, an analyst at the City firm Sanford Bernstein, described the situation as "arguably an embarrassment for all European capital markets".
Bafin, Germany's financial regulator, insists no rules have been broken.
So should we lose any sleep over the fact that hedge funds have lost their shirts, or should we all indulge in a spot of schadenfreude? The answer, as we should know after months of financial turmoil, is that we are all, ultimately, likely to be losers.
Hedge funds will have to sell shares in other companies to make up for their losses on VW, which is likely to drive down those shares and contribute to the continuing turmoil on the stock market, further damaging the value of pension funds.
Several banks which are thought to have acted as counterparties to Porsche, in effect placing "covering bets" in case VW's share price went down, will also be losers.
Rumours about such exposure led to a 17.5 per cent drop in Societe Generale shares at one point on Tuesday, while Morgan Stanley was down 11 per cent and Goldman Sachs down by 8 per cent.
After a month in which Gordon Brown and other political leaders have called for an overhaul of global financial regulation, the Porsche affair has rammed home the point that, now as never before, the world needs a new financial policeman to make sure everyone plays by the same rules.