Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Downside of Net/Net Investing- Lazare Kaplan (LKI)

We've tried to make it clear over the years that there are substantial risks investing in individual net/nets. While some pay off quite handsomely, others can implode, hence the idea of indexing net/nets, as we explored with our Cheap Stocks 21 Net Net Index.

This brings us to Lazare Kaplan International, a company that we have both covered and owned over the years. We closed our position in this perennial net/net in February of 2008 in the $10 range. In July of 2009,we initiated a new position in the $1.15 range. The shares subsequently ran up to $2.50, but in September, trading was halted,and not a share has traded since.

The company has repeatedly delayed filing it's financial reports with the SEC, due to:
a material uncertainty concerning (a) the collectability and recovery of certain assets, and (b) the Company's potential obligations under certain lines of credit and a guaranty (all of which, the "Material Uncertainties").

The NYSE AMEX granted the company several extensions to regain compliance; the latest on April 26th, which gave the company until May 31st to regain compliance with listing standards.

Here's where the story gets either very interesting, or ridiculous. On May 20th, the company filed a lawsuit suing various insurance companies for $640 million regarding "the disappearance of diamonds that were insured by the defendants". And now, finally, we learn what all of this is about: missing diamonds. The company had reportedly received a $28 million payment in January but the insurers are refusing to pay any more. This is not what a shareholder wants to hear, especially when you are stuck with the shares, and information about what is really happening at the company has been next to impossible to get. As of 3/31/2010, some institutional holders were in the same boat; including Dimensional Fund Advisors, which owned 7.54%,royce & Associates (1.16%), Royal Bank of Canada (1.15%), and CALPERS (.55%). A call to Lazare Kaplan CFO William Moryto placed late last week has not been returned.

This story will probably not have a happy ending for shareholders, and it raises many unanswered questions. What happened to the diamonds? Why isn't the company willing to speak with it's shareholders on the issue? Why are the insurers unwilling to pay? And again, what happened to the diamonds?

*The author has a position in Lazare Kaplan (LKI). This is neither a recommendation to buy or sell any securities. All information provided believed to be reliable and presented for information purposes only.

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