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Voss Capital: Activist Investor In The Making

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Voss Capital, the Texas-based hedge fund that focuses on catalysts, has detailed three buyout targets in the small-cap space – all of which have been activist targets at one time or another.

The Voss Value Fund was up 6.6% net of fees in the first quarter – versus an S&P 500 that was up 1.4%. Last year was an “off” year for the fund, despite still handily beating the market. The fund returned 5.7% in 2015, although still a solid showing, was the first time in four years it didn’t break double digit return. The Voss Value Fund managed to return 20.9% in 2012, 36.2% in 2013 and 11.3% in 2014.

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The first name on Voss’ buyout watchlist is the Red Mountain Capital target Marlin Business Services. It’s a specialty finance company that’s down 13% in the last six months. The name, which is a specialty finance company, is getting held back thanks to the issues that specialty lenders like LendingClub and OnDeck Capital are having.

The likely buyer for Marlin is a larger bank, which would be able to leverage Marlin’s excess capital embedded in its balance sheet. Typical transactions for companies in Marlin’s similar niche have sold for 1.6x book value. At that valuation, Marlin would be higher by 33%.

Building a buyout bear. Build-A-Bear Workshop is the next name on the list and a Cannell Capital target. The key buyers here would be private equity firms, thanks to Build-A-Bear’s unique concept and large cash position. There also lie growth opportunities in international franchising and licensing. Specialty retailers tend to go for 8x EBITDA, which would put Build-A-Bear 35% higher.

Bravo Brio is no Olive Garden. This is a former Red Mountain target, as well as a former Discovery Group target. It’s one of the cheapest publicly traded restaurants stocks. However, it’s been underperforming as traffic to its restaurants continues to decline.

Also see a great list of hedge fund letters -> here 

Voss says the Bravo turnaround initiatives aren’t urgent enough and that it should hire a bank to explore a sale. The idea is that with just a 5.5x EBITDA multiple, which is still well below where the likes of PF Chang’s and Morton’s was bought out, there’s nearly 50% upside. Now Voss is not an activist, it’s just looking to ride the coattails of three activist targets. Get even more deep dives into what underrated hedge funds are buying and why with the premium side of Underrated Small-Caps – sign up here.

Hedge has an edge: Hedge fund employees are consistently paid more than portfolio managers working for a traditional asset management firm with dramatic increases in pay from VP to director levels. Directors at hedge funds see their earnings more than double after their promotion while their peers in asset management see their pay grow by 60%. Lush Bonuses: In junior positions, bonuses make up a comparable percentage of annual income for both types of institutions (~ 20-25%). However, for directors and MDs, bonuses grow to 35% of the total compensation package in asset management and almost 50% for hedge funds.

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