Life Partners Holdings (Nasdaq: LPHI ) has had a rough go of it lately. Late last year, The Wall Street Journal took aim at the company and accused it of misleading customers. The company's business is selling life insurance policies on one person to somebody else so that when party one -- pardon the French -- croaks, party two gets the insurance payout. Let's ignore the ick factor of that for now.
When somebody is considering investing in somebody else's life insurance policy, a key consideration is how long that person is expected to live. The longer their ticker keeps on a-tickin', the longer the investor has to wait for the payout and has to continue paying premiums on the policy.
Life Partners provides life expectancies when it brokers these deals for investors and uses those expectancies to boast the expected returns for the policy. But those expectancies haven't exactly panned out. According to The Journal:
In 2002, for instance, Life Partners brokered investments in 297 life policies. Actuaries say if life-expectancy calculations on a group of people are well done, half should die by their projected dates. But in 95% of these policies, the insured was still alive at the end of the life expectancy the company supplied to investors.
Since then, the company has decided to seriously ratchet down the returns expectations that it uses in its sales pitch. The company has also revealed that it's received a "Wells notice" from the SEC, which recommends bringing civil action against two Life Partners' executives. The stock has reacted as you might expect -- after trading above $18 in December of last year, it can now be had for $4.40.
Time to jump on it?
Considering the stock is now trading at a head-scratching 2.9 times trailing earnings, some investors' mouths may be watering. I'm not one of them.
Judging a company's management is one of the tougher tasks that an investor faces. If true, the allegations that Life Partners faces paint a pretty ugly picture about the management team. But if the management team was looking for a way to dig a further hole for itself in the eyes of investors, it may have found a way.
You see, in investing, sometimes it's as much about how a management teams says something as it is about what it says.
Yesterday, Life Partners filed a form NT 10-K. Besides the direct meaning of this filing -- that a company's annual report will be delayed -- the NT 10-K is typically a pretty unremarkable filing. In Life Partners' case, though, they buried their preliminary outlook for the just-finished fiscal year in the filing -- an outlook at includes a 17% drop in revenue and a 22% decline in net income. Considering the first nine months of the year showed a mere 3% decrease in net income, this implies a horrific fourth quarter for the company.
For some reason, though, management didn't seem to think that this information warranted a press release. What does the company think is more worthy of press-release status? On May 4 it announced its quarterly dividend and on March 15 it posted a note from the company's Chairman soapboxing about the evils of short-selling.
Was the company trying to hide the preliminary results from investors? I can't say yea or nay on that, but I can say that they were far from transparent.
Like I said, sometimes, it's all about how a management team says something, and yesterday's "release" from Life Partners says an awful lot.