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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ernst's “Investments in the future” pt 1: Pharmacy

This is the start of a new series of articles on Ernst’s Economy for You. 

Next to my ‘regular’ articles regarding the Dutch and European economies and politics in the broadest sense of the word, I wanted to increasingly focus on handing out possible investment opportunities for companies and private persons.

I want to answer questions like:
  • What will be the winning industries of the future?
  • What will be the winning business and earnings’ models?
  • Which changes should companies make in order to survive?!
  • How can we earn money from these imminent developments? 

The first issue of this series is about pharmacy.

Why pharmacy?

Pharmacy is an industry in which large and extremely wealthy, Western companies, like Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi, Roche, Merck & Co and a dozen others rule. In the pharmaceutical industry, a few bestseller drugs can pay for the research and development costs of dozens of other, less successful drugs and still reward the shareholders with healthy dividends. 

Due to the circumstance that people need drugs every day, this can be considered a non-cyclical and crisis-resistant industry, in contrary to many other industries. During the last six years, since the crisis started, the stock rates of these companies have all shown steep inclines, turning them into the love interests of many investors.

The sales potential of successful drugs – for instance anti-cholesterol drugs, antacids, anti thrombosis agents or anti-diabetes drugs – is simply overwhelming. 

In many western countries and in countries like Russia, Japan and China, there are four important factors which spur the usage of the aforementioned – and other – drug types:
  • An aging population, as a consequence of both a longer life expectancy and a diminishing birth rate;
  • Improved medicine and surgery, which turned formerly terminal diseases and illnesses into chronical, but yet survivable affections;
  • Computer-aided, desk-bound labour, which forces many people to spend hours and hours on working behind their desks, in a static position. This has undoubtedly a bad influence on people's health
  • A growing global population, which becomes more and more chronically unhealthy (without really being ill), as a  consequence of adopting the western lifestyle, with its overdose of salt, sugar, carbon hydrates and fat in pre-cooked food products.

These factors, as well as the globalization of the pharmacy production, made that a diminishing number of multinational pharma giants services and ‘controls’ a soaring number of potential patients / customers.  

In other words: an ever growing pie needs to be divided among an ever smaller number of eaters: this makes the pharma industry an extremely lucrative one, in theory.

There are, however, a few dark clouds at the horizon:
  • The pharma giants are increasingly trying to grow through mergers and acquisitions, instead of aiming at autonomous growth via the development of own new and innovative drugs;
  • The tunnel-vision of the pharma giants regarding medicine for lifestyle diseases, at the expense of vaccines, drugs against mass-killers and antibiotics is worrisome. 

Paradigm shift: from lifestyle drugs to vaccines and drugs against mass killer diseases?

Most large pharmaceutical companies have shareholders and they are quoted at the international stock exchanges. 

This fact puts pressure on the margins and general profitability of these companies, as well as on their long-term vision and planning: every quarter brings a new confrontation with the ADHD-laden shareholders and the various analysts. 

It is simple: too little profit and too many bleeders and you are out, as a CEO, under pressure of vigilant shareholders and/or private equity companies.

And unfortunately, it is less lucrative to cure somebody from aids, hemorrhagic fever and malaria or from an aggressive inflamation, than to help somebody with chronical diseases, like cardiac diseases, gastric acid problems, diabetes or elevated cholesterol levels.

Why would you create a drug that helps one person to cure within a few days or weeks, while you can also ‘help’ somebody else with expensive prescription drugs, which he must use during the full remainder of his life?! 

This behaviour of the pharma giants was reinforced by the circumstance that deadly diseases (i.e. mass killers), like malaria, aids, aggressive inflamations, dangerous influenzas and hemorrhagic fevers were mainly Third World diseases. 

The Third World was traditionally the place, where people lived with less purchase power, fewer lifestyle diseases and generally a shorter life expectancy than their western counterparts. The general idea was:

[The generally short prescription periods of medicine for one-off usage + lower occurrence of chronical lifestyle diseases +  unwealthy people in the Third World = poor profits for drugs]

I think, however, that this paradigm might shift in the coming years.

The business model of drugs for (former) Third World countries

Three of the four BRIC-countries – Brazil, India and China – as well as other former Third World countries, like Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and some African countries, have (partially) a tropical climate. 

Such a climate, in combination with the often more traditional lifestyle in these countries, offers a strongly elevated risk for malaria and outbreaks of inflammatory diseases and influenzas.

All these countries also have a soaring economic growth in common, as well as soaring wealth and increasing purchase power among their population. 

And the most important factor: India and China alone count for over one third of the world population, while these countries are rapidly developing a relatively wealthy middle class, consisting of hundreds of millions of potential customers for prescription drugs.

It could very well be that these ‘formerly poor’ Third World countries will soon pay top-dollar for improved prescription drugs, against tropical diseases and the other affections mentioned earlier.

While the life-style drugs might remain important cash cows for the Western pharma giants, there could be an immense shift towards the development of ‘third world medicine’, in order to not leap behind the pharmaceutical companies in India and China itself.

This could mean new growth for the Western pharmaceutical industry, albeit in formerly unexpected territory.

Antibiotics

There is no denying that the excessive global usage of antibiotics – not only for human recovery, but for intensive cattle breeding and fish farmery as well – is an accident waiting to happen. And this accident will happen rather sooner than later.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming that we are in the middle of an uprising of new generations of ‘superbugs’, which are resistant against almost all kinds of antibiotics and even formerly successful combinations of it.

Fortunately, most incidental outbreaks of these superbugs take place in relatively well-contained environments (like hospitals) and mostly among people, who often already suffered from a low level of resilience. 

The improved hygiene, as well as the natural resilience  coming from the immune system  of healthy people has fortunately stopped massive outbreaks of such superbugs. This is the reason that large accidents, concerning multi-resistant bacteria, hardly occured yet.

Nevertheless, there is a more than average chance that a dangerous, multi-resistant bacteria will cause a massive outbreak of disease in the not so distant future. An outbreak, which – in a worst case scenario – might perhaps be compared with the medieval plague in lethality and possible number of casualties.

Yet, the silence surrounding the development of new, vitally important antibiotics is really deafening. 

The reason for this? The same circumstances which caused the poor interest of the pharma giants in the development of anti-malaria agents and new vaccines against tropical killers. 

Development of new antibiotics did not fit in the current paradigm of the Western pharmaceutical giants, as these will probably not supply the elevated influx of money that other prescription drugs can bring. For this reason, the industry chose until now to fully use up its current portfolio of antibiotics, instead of developing new ones.

In my humble opinion, this dangerous shortsightedness of the pharmaceutical industry – in combination with the blatant ostrich policy of the western governments, to leave the development of new antibiotics to the pharma giants themselves – could lead to a frantic race against the clock, in order to remain the superbugs one step ahead.

The final outcome of this race is anybody’s guess, as new medicine is notoriously hard to develop and takes a very long time to be deployed on the international markets.  

Buying the competition to avoid taxes?

The most significant news from the pharmaceutical industry, recently, has been Pfizer’s plan to take over Swedish/British pharma giant AstraZeneca and subsequently move its headoffice to London, obviously for fiscal reasons:

Many people know by heart that such mega-mergers seldomly yield the economies-of-scale, which were promised in advance and often rather bring the total opposite: billions in lost money on company and ICT restructuring and structurally worse results for both companies than before.

No, the reason is simply that Pfizer doesn’t know what else to do with the money stashed away, as ‘bringing it home’ is impossible in their narrow-minded thought process. Pfizer won't use their money to invent new antibiotics that the world so desperately needs nowadays, or to invent a new drug against malaria which could save millions of lives. These drugs will not be cash cows and therefore they are not worth investing in.

I would urge Pfizer, Novartis and their likes to stop this cash-consuming and utterly improductive moving and spending of their stockpiles of cash money for fiscal reasons, as well as their ‘battles to become the biggest’.

The world needs new and better prescription drugs against mass-killer diseases and especially antibiotics, and it needs those fast, in order to prevent lethal future pandemics from occurring sooner or later!!!

Does real innovation have a chance?

Of course, real innovation has a chance in the future. Without this real innovation in the past, the current pharmaceutical giants would not have existed in the first place.

However, the hyperactive shareholders, as well as the bonus-hungry, short-term focused executive management of these pharma giants, are hardly willing to ‘travel the high road’ at this moment.

This means in practice that, during the next few years, the focus of the Western pharma giants will remain on their bestselling, high yield prescription drugs for western lifestyle diseases. Suffice it to say that this will not lead to mindboggling innovation soon, but only to anti-cholesterol drug no. 22 and anti-diabetes agent no. 15!

Nevertheless, the race for new medicine against mass-killing diseases, like aids and malaria, will be on within a few years: influenced by growing masses of wealthy Chinese and Indian middle class people and by the fast-growing pharmaceutical industries in these countries.

And so will be the hunt for new antibiotics: perhaps at the own initiative of the Western pharma giants or perhaps at gunpoint from anxious governments, which want to avoid cataclysmic outbreaks of infectious diseases in the future. 

Fortunately, I am quite optimistic, as far as mid-term developments are concerned.

How can we earn money on these developments?

As I stated before, the top 5 pharmaceutical companies all showed a steep rise of the stock quotations during the last five years (check out Bloomberg), which means that their stocks are highly (or even over) valued today. This makes these particular companies a less promising investment, when buy-and-hold is your strategy.

My take would therefore be, to only invest in companies that either clearly focus on the development of genuinely new medicine (antibiotics, vaccines or drugs against dangerous influenzas, malaria and aids) or on new innovative techniques for medicine development. 

These focal points will be where the future growth lies, in my humble opinion.

Such companies could be:
  • Small and innovative start-ups in both the West and the Far East, which develop new and innovative techniques for medicine development and / or drugs;
  • Even one or more of the aforementioned top 5 (or 10) Western pharma giants, whenever they show the guts to withstand shareholder pressure and return to genuine innovation, instead of taking over their competitors with tax-money, stashed out of sight of the American Internal Revenue Service.
  • And last, but not least: don’t forget the Chinese and Indian developers of generic prescription drugs, like for instance Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Company or Ranbaxy Laboratories.

At this moment, most of these companies are still focusing on copying generic Western drugs and some of them yet suffer from serious quality issues. This situation, however, will not last forever.

As the American car industry can already fully confirm, the West should not count on having and maintaining the lead forever in the pharmaceutical industry. Investing in those Far Eastern pharma companies could turn out into an educated gamble, which could end being very much worth your while.

From either side, the pharmaceutical industry will remain a growing industry in years and years to come.

Disclaimer: This analysis is solely written with the purpose of information supply.

I don’t have any financial or business strings attached to this industry. As I am not an investor myself, I don’t have any financial purposes with this advice, except for supplying people with free and interesting information. 

People are free to follow up my advices or not. However, I can’t accept any responsibility for the investment decisions that people make, based upon the advices mentioned in this article.

Parcelatoria Gonzalo Chacón versus Procom Desarrollos Urbanos s.a., Pt V: upcoming lawsuits of Jaafar Jalabi against PDU and the Dutch stateowned company Propertize BV

A few months ago, I have written a series of articles (starting with this and this one) regarding  the legal battle of a Spanish entrepreneur in the construction industry, against Spanish and Dutch subsidiaries of SNS Reaal.

Jaafar Jalabi, and his company Parcelatoria Gonzalo Chacón, have been involved in an enduring battle against Procom Desarrollos Urbanos – a full subsidiary of formerly SNS Property Finance (hence: of SNS Reaal) and currently of Propertize BV, the stateowned, legal successor of SNS Property Finance – about the development and exploitation of a shopping mall in Valencia, which included a large snowdome.

During this process, which stretched for more than five years, PDU had filed four legal and one criminal lawsuit against PGC and Jaafar Jalabi personally. PDU deployed blatantly improper information during all these lawsuits and made statements, which could be considered as perjury. The involved Spanish judges shipwrecked all accusations by PDU/SNS PF and did so in about the strongest words possible.

Mr. Jaafar Jalabi of Parcelatoria Gonzalo Chacón
Picture by: Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge
Nevertheless, in spite of the favourable outcome of all legal cases, Jaafar Jalabi had suffered damages north of €7.5 million. Not only had the outstanding bill of €6.46 million not been paid by PDU for a number of years, but – as a consequence of this non-payment – a bank guarantee of PGC had been revoked. This revocation forced Jalabi to sell some of his property at about the most unfavourable time possible, in order to meet his bank covenants, which cost him additional money.

As initially SNS Reaal – as ‘parent company in chief’ – and later Propertize BV – owned by the holding company of all Dutch stateowned financials, NLFI BV – refused to revoke the lawsuits against him and compensate his damages, Jaafar Jalabi has now started a series of lawsuits against PDU and its legal representatives (i.e. Propertize BV, ultimately owned by the Dutch state).

Until yesterday, I had not heard from Jaafar for a few months, due to – in hindsight – the effects of a nasty accident. Fortunately, he responded to me with an email this Monday, of which I print the following snippets:

As for my lawsuits, I will here below describe what is going on.

[First ] I filed a criminal lawsuit against Mr Carlos Monreal, the Spanish ex managing director of PDU, for lying in his witness statement in both civil and criminal courts. He lied in order to benefit the present management of PDU when he testified that he did not know anything about the second agreement between PDU and PGC.

In the criminal case that PDU filed against me, the judge declared that Mr Monreal knew about the existence of the second agreement, as evidenced by the testimonies of several senior ex employees of PDU when the deal happened in March 2007. You might recall that the judgment of the criminal judge was in my favour and against PDU and PDU did not appeal that judgment so it is final. My lawsuit is already in trial.

In this trial Mr Monreal could take one of only 2 positions, the first is to continue lying where he would be in further trouble, or he could say that he lied because he was instructed by the present management of PDU, which is effectively dominated by Propertize B.V. (Previously SNS Property Finance), as part of a deal that they made with him to which we have some evidence.

[Second] I have filed a criminal lawsuit against PDU and against its legal representatives and that includes members of the board of PDU, two of which are representatives of Properties B.V.

The lawsuit specifies that PDU falsely raised a criminal lawsuit against me in order to delay the civil lawsuit, knowing before hand that the PDU criminal lawsuit against me was false. You might recall that the criminal judge dismissed the criminal case against me and gave me recourse to go against them, and PDU never appealed that judgment. I assume that the trial would start soon.

[ Third] Once the above mentioned 2 criminal lawsuits are underway, and I estimate that after the summer break, I will file a civil lawsuit for damages. I am now working with my financial analysts to fine tune the figures and I believe that it would be approximately what we talked about. Of course the party that has to eventually pay for it would be Propertize B.V.

Once I recover, I would visit you in Amsterdam.

I urge all interested readers to read all the previous episodes of this series and especially take a look at the Spanish process records and other evidence, which I enclosed in these earlier episodes. In spite of the involuntary radio silence, maintained by Jaafar Jalabi during the last three months, this case is far from over.

As PDU has been a full subsidiary of SNS Property Finance, as well as of SNS Reaal and its legal successors (Propertize B.V. and ultimately NLFI), during the timeframe in which these (legal) events took place, this is a legal case in which ultimately the Dutch government is involved.

Although the sheer amount of the suffered damages is quite small, for one of the largest financial conglomerates in The Netherlands, this case sheds an unfavourable light on the peculiar ways of doing business, that the subsidiaries of SNS Reaal maintained against their business partners in a.o. Spain. 

This makes it very important that this particular case remains on everybody’s retina.

Friday, 11 July 2014

About bankruptcy filings, silent receivership and lightning-fast second beginnings: in recent Dutch, high-profile bankruptcy cases some things and situations had “a funny smell and flavour”

Since about a year, it has become more common legal practice in The Netherlands to appoint a silent receiver at the time when a bankruptcy seems imminent for a company, but is not yet reality. This happens instead of the old situation, in which a receiver was only appointed when the bankruptcy case had already been filed.

The advantages of silent receivership before the actual bankruptcy seem enormous: 
  • A bankruptcy is traditionally a public relations nightmare for companies in dire straits, as customers, money-lenders and suppliers immediately lose their faith in the company and try to recollect as much from their assets as possible;
  • Candidate customers and common people are shied away by the uncertain ending of a bankruptcy filing, without a clear Plan B;
  • The silent receiver can start the preparations for a second beginning in relative silence, while keeping a low profile: nobody is aware yet of the possible bankruptcy in the first place;
  • Possible takeover candidates can be approached without the public eye watching, which makes the negotiations easier for all involved parties;
  • The second beginning can start very quickly and with the least amount of damage done for all involved parties. Especially suppliers can maintain hope of getting most of their money back, in this situation: possibly without being subordinated to the Dutch Internal Revenue Services and the banks first;
  • Theoretically, the personnel has a better chance to keep their job, when the bankruptcy runs swiftly and follow-up possibilities are ‘just around the corner’. 

To the naked eye, such a silent receivership looks like the proverbial win-win situation: many winners and hardly any losers. During the last few weeks, however, there have been a number of high profile bankruptcy cases and lightning-fast second beginnings, which might shed not such a favourable light at the silent receivership.

The following story comes from Het Financieele Dagblad (www.fd.nl):


The bankruptcy filing of day nursery company Estro, in which a silent receiver has been used who enabled a swift second beginning, seems the result of a cautiously planned operation.

Well over a month before the bankruptcy filing on July 5, the executive management of Estro moved the headoffice from Amersfoort (in the middle of The Netherlands) to Amsterdam: at least on paper. This was disclosed by FD research.

Due to this ‘paper relocation’, the day nursery company circumvented the jurisdiction of ‘hostile’ court Midden-Nederland, to which the organization earlier belonged.

The company moved to Amsterdam, where the court had showed a positive stance against the appointment of a silent receiver in recent years. The organization preferred a ‘controlled’ bankruptcy, according to two insiders, who speak on basis of anonymity. A silent receiver speaks with all stakeholders about a possible second beginning of a company, before the actual bankruptcy has taken place.

From the data, which have been deposited at the Chamber of Commerce, it becomes clear that – on 3 June 2014 –  the day nursery company changed the regulations of the company at a public notary. The statutory seat became Amsterdam, instead of Amersfoort.

Estro made a swift second beginning eventually, in which the British Smallsteps company maintained 250 of 350 day nurseries. The last owner was the famous American venture capital company KKR. The followed procedure has not been undisputed. At least two major day nursery companies, Partou and SWK Group, had been interested in an integral or partial takeover of Estro. They feel being put offside during the process.

To the naked eye, this looks at least like a second beginning under less-than-optimal circumstances, as seemingly not all possibilities to save / sell (jobs at) the day nursery branches have been tried.

Besides that, the website Das Kapital – where one of my appreciated twitter buddies Joost van Kuppeveld does his magic – came with a story, containing additional information about this bankruptcy:

In the press release we read that HIG Europe is ‘the largest investor in Smallsteps’. And indeed, on July 1st, H.I.G. Capital made a request at the [Dutch]  Authority Financial Markets (AFM) to take over Estro, through its subsidiary European Capital Partners LLP.

[…]

And there is something more: Estro was for 75% owned by the private equity funds Bayside Capital and KKR. Remarkable is that Bayside Capital and HIG Capital Europe belong to the same parent company: HIG Capital, a private equity company with $15 billion 'capital under management'. When we combine this with the statements of Partou and SWK that both companies ‘were willing to pay more for the takeover of Estro’, we get a feeling that this operation was only a means to get rid of personnel and poorly operating branches, but maintain the company within HIG Capital.

This does not sound good indeed…

While this was a relative bread-and-butter case of a bankruptcy, in which the majority of personnel members fortunately kept their job [which absolutely does not mean that I try to downplay the situation for everybody who lost his / her job at Estro – EL], there has been a seemingly even ‘nastier’ bankruptcy a few weeks ago.

The Dutch/Belgian online shop Neckermann.com [not acquainted to the equally named traveling organization, part of Thomas Cook International - EL] made a ‘flash crash’ on June 24th 2014, only to restart one-and-a-half hour later.

When the smoke lifted, 237 people in Belgium and The Netherlands had lost their job, while the whole executive management – most of them being also key personnel members of private equity company ‘Axivate’, which took over the Dutch/Belgian ‘Neckermann.com’ online store in 2012  kept theirs.

Their story was that Axivate couldn’t keep ‘Neckermann.com’ afloat, in spite of the ‘millions and millions of Euros’ that it allegedly invested in the online shop. 

This was the reason that they had to fire the vast majority of the fixed personnel of Neckermann.com and subsequently restart the company with 15 hands personnel only and services, that would be rendered by external suppliers from the online business.

A Belgian labour union representative, Bart Leybaert of labour union ‘BBTK’, did not buy this story of Neckermann.com at all and approached the Dutch media. The following news item came from BNR News Radio, a few weeks ago:


The executive management of Neckermann.com intentionally bankrupted the company and prepared this bankruptcy maticulously. This is stated by the Belgian labour union BBTK.

According to Bart Leybaert of the Belgian BBTK labour union, there is circumstantial evidence for this statement. “Very visible to the objective eye and – as a matter of fact – a smack in the face for the dismissed personnel: hardly one day after the bankruptcy filing at the Court of Justice in Breda, the new website has been put online. We all know that the creation of a professional website takes more than one day”.

Other reasons for distrust, according to Leybaert, were the separation (in advance) of good and poor credit, the handover of trustworthy customers to a subsidiary of Neckermann and the fact that the whole executive management has remained in position after the bankruptcy.

Leybaert is handling the interests of the Belgian employees, who have been fired. The onlineshop Neckermann.com has been declared bankrupt on Tuesday. Only a few hours after the bankruptcy, an agreement was reached about a second beginning for the company, in a drastically reduced format. The labour union wants the curator of the bankruptcy to start an investigation into possible fraud.

Andreas Ezinga, the managing director of Neckermann.com and one of the partners in private equity company Axivate, which owned (and still owns) Neckermann.com at the time of the bankruptcy, frantically denied the accusations of Bart Leybaert:

‘This is of course a scandalous remark and not based on any fact whatsoever. Of course it is very sad for all the people involved. A large share of the employment disappears, so I can actually imagine that there is sadness, anger and annoyance.

And with respect to the quick deployment of the new website: we had a so-called pre-pack, which means that one has a few days to look with the silent receiver at the possibilities [ for a second beginning – EL]. This means that the website has not been built within 24 hours. And we are very experienced with internet companies, which means that we have the expertise to deploy such a website very quickly’.

That same day I have made personal contact with Bart Leybaert of Belgian labour union BBTK, out of curiosity. Although Bart did not present a real ‘smoking gun’ of bankruptcy fraud yet, he gave me some additional information about the Neckermann.com case. He collected this information at his Belgian union members among the 237 personnel members of Neckermann.com.

In bullets, his findings were:
  • The same people that formed the management before the bankruptcy, form the new management after the event;
  • Good credits have been transferred to Vesting Finance, in the weeks before the bankruptcy (a Dutch factoring company);
  • Bad credits remained at Neofin, a Dutch/Belgian subsidiary operating under Belgian law;
  • The customer database, which generally yields most money for an online shop, has been transferred to private equity company Axivate. This was disclosed by the privacy disclaimer of the old website (which is not visible anymore);
  • Hardly one day after the official bankruptcy, the new website was ready;
  • The stock of Neckermann has been sold – presumably to Axivate – at a ‘token’ price;
  • The acquiring party of Neckermann.com has been founded on 19 May 2014, which means that this Nemo webshop itself does not have any provable experience in online sales;
  • Axivate is planning to maintain the Neckermann.com website with only 15 people and a few commercial service suppliers, where earlier 237 people had been involved.

I checked the statements of Bart Leybaert as thoroughly as I could and I found that Neckermann.com is held by a host of private limited companies: all at the same address of a small company building in Amsterdam (where also Axivate itself is established) and all part of either Axivate itself or the holdings behind Axivate.

Some of these private limiteds – especially the online store ‘Nemo Webshop’, which ‘took over’ Neckermann.com – have indeed been founded only weeks before the bankruptcy of Neckermann.com took place: in case of Nemo webshop, this was the earlier mentioned 19 May 2014. I cannot say that this is unusual or even suspicious, but it is at least remarkable.

What is also remarkable – in my humble opinion – is trying to run a large online store with only 15 personel members, where earlier almost 240 personnel members had been involved. One of my past jobs was at an logistical company, in which I cooperated with people from the departments Purchases, Sales, Warehouse and Bookkeeping. 

This job learned me that it is impossible to host a large online shop with 15 man, unless you outsource everything to third parties and just maintain the ‘façade’ of the shop, as an empty shell. This is more or less confirmed in the story by Sprout (see the aforementioned hyperlink).

And there is more: as some of my readers might know, I am a professional software tester with more than 16 years of working experience. So what I can say something about with even more authority, is the corporate website of Neckermann.com, which was deployed one day after the bankruptcy.

I checked out this website on the 26th of June and I agreed with Bart Leybaert that it is nearly impossible to develop such a website in a day (see first red and bold text). Even in a week – assuming that the management of Axivate/Neckermann had a little more leeway, due to the silent receiver working within the company –  it would be quite a challenge to develop it (see second red and bold text).

However, what is even bothering me more is that the fact that now – more than two weeks after the bankruptcy declaration on 24 June 2014 and my initial check of the website on June 26th – the website of neckermann.com still looks clumsy and unattractive: not the website of a commercial juggernaut, but rather of a ‘mom-and-pop store’ going online for the first time.

More items are now on display at the website, but for instance the ‘shipping information’ is still under construction, as-of today.  

To me this:
  • a. proves that it is indeed impossible to build / finish such a website within one week as Bart Leybaert already stated in his interview with BNR and – especially bothering to me –
  • b. I have a sneaky suspicision that Neckermann.com is treated as ‘an old soldier’, who does not die, but silently fades away.

The Dutch expression for this situation  is ‘sterfhuisconstructie’: the healthy parts of a company are sold or traded and the unhealthy parts are left ‘in the company’ to die in silence. Of course, I can be mistaken, but it surely looks like that.

This brings me to the conclusion of this article: a silent receivership can be a blessing indeed for companies, which are intrinsically healthy, but went through a considerable amount of tough breaks. 

Due to the relative silence in the weeks before the bankruptcy, the company can make a quick and swift restart and find the path to success again, without having to be split up, sold or terminated.

However, the silent receivership – and bankruptcy in general – may not be used as a cheap means for:
  • ditching personnel without: 
    • a social plan; 
    • receiving any damage fees; 
    • having any rights and prospects;
  • sending the suppliers and money-lenders on the road-to-nowhere with their bills, claims and possessions.

Therefore the Dutch government and the Public Prosecution should be much more focused on abuse of the loose Dutch bankruptcy laws ( as in ‘often loose for the limited companies filing for bankruptcy’) and especially the silent receivership, which can make it even easier to sweep abuse of bankruptcy laws under the carpet. 

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