For a while now, I've been enamored of Japanese electronics titan Matsushita Electric
I've mentioned Panasonic's leading position in the market for plasma televisions. Most recently, I wrote about the company's new disposable battery, which, lasting 50% longer than an ordinary alkaline, threatens the current world battery market duopoly of Energizer
Now, I'll admit, I'm usually inclined to leave the clever ideas for upsetting the established order of things to my colleagues at Motley Fool Rule Breakers. In Panasonic's case, though, it was not really the clever ideas that got my attention -- it was the cheap price.
"How cheap is Panasonic?" you ask. Cheap enough that it's selling for less than its book value. Buy Panasonic today for $14.70, and you not only get $14.93 worth of assets for your money -- you get the business that works those assets for free.
Except that it's about to get a whole lot harder to buy Panasonic -- at least, in quantity. Yesterday, several news outlets reported that now that Panasonic is starting to get its act together, management wants to prevent anybody else from buying all this newfound potential out from under it. Panasonic is considering several possible "poison pill" strategies to ward off would-be acquirers of its business at its current, depressed price. The company has emphasized that it hasn't made any final decisions yet, and argues that if and when it eats a poison pill, the reason will be to, ahem, "enhance shareholder value."
To which this Fool would respectfully reply: "Baka." (Horse hockey.)
Poison pills don't protect shareholders. At least not the little guys like you and me. Their entire purpose is to frustrate a buyer who wants to buy a company's shares -- usually at a premium that shareholders would welcome -- without the board's signing off on the deal beforehand. After all, even without a poison pill, investors can refuse to sell their shares at the buyer's tender price, and vote against the company's sale. So all the pill really does is force an acquirer to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power with its target's board of directors. Too often, that results in golden parachutes for management, but no real benefit for shareholders.
If Panasonic truly wishes to serve its shareholders' interests, it will drop this pill idea like it's, well, poisonous, and proceed with just the second half of its reported plans: boosting the dividend from its miserly 1% level.
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article.