Building a North American Investor Base
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Building a North American Investor Base

As a relatively new public entity domiciled in Basel, Switzerland, and formed through the de-merger of agriculture businesses from two large pharmaceutical companies, Syngenta was faced with many challenges in approaching the U.S. investment community, which has been operating in one of the worst bear markets in years.

Paul Holmes

As a relatively new public entity domiciled in Basel, Switzerland, and formed through the de-merger of agriculture businesses from two large pharmaceutical companies, Syngenta was faced with many challenges in approaching the U.S. investment community, which has been operating in one of the worst bear markets in years.
Among the challenges: continuing to explain the post-merger story to a U.S. audience, while ensuring that Syngenta’s messages and materials were consistent across all investment audiences; educating the investment community about the agribusiness industry. Since there is only one other publicly traded peer, investors’ ability to develop comparables with which to form the basis of a valuation is limited; effectively coordinating activities with Syngenta’s international team comprised of different cultures; dealing with the negative perception of genetically modified foods for which much of Syngenta’s future growth prospects are based; and taking into account the differing disclosure needs of the four stock exchanges on which Syngenta is listed.
 Before embarking on the U.S. IR effort and annually, Rx Communications sat down with management to brainstorm about goals, discuss market perceptions and evaluate its accomplishments to date. After talking with analysts and fund managers, Rx Communications found that U.S. investors were concerned about the credibility of Syngenta’s information due to the inherent discrepancies between their reporting under IAS (International Accounting Standards) vs. US GAAP.
Rx Communications also learned that agribusiness in general and Syngenta’s story, in particular, was not perceived as a growth opportunity. Finally, investors relayed to Rx Communications their concerns regarding taking a position in Syngenta stock, given the skepticism surrounding ag biotechnology, particularly in Europe.
Since biotechnology is a large part of Syngenta’s growth story, Rx Communications made sure it was fully versed on the issue and able to explain Syngenta’s and the industry’s position on the matter while balancing the Company’s story with news about efforts outside of biotechnology.
With this knowledge in hand, Rx Communications developed the Company’s investment appeals, key message points and created targeted lists of fund managers and analysts to approach. Rx Communications also determined specific IR goals, including:
· Increasing U.S. institutional ownership from 10 percent to 20 percent
· Increasing the volume of ADSs trading
· Ensuring the U.S. investment community had easy access to information on Syngenta
· Securing invitations for management to present at U.S. investor conferences
 In addition to the ongoing outreach to the Street, the executive management team from Switzerland committed to a bi-annual program of one-on-one meetings with investors and quarterly conference calls. Although as a European company Syngenta is required to report earnings only twice a year, Rx Communications recommended that they report quarterly sales figures in order to appeal to U.S. investors who expect to hear from companies four times a year.
To further build the Company’s profile, Rx Communications supplemented bi-annual visits by Syngenta’s European team by arranging investor meetings throughout the year with the Company’s U.S. Corporate Chairman based in Delaware—who also acted as the Company’s U.S. investor spokesperson. 
Since Syngenta was not a growth story, Rx Communications positioned the stock as a value play and reached out to value as well as international funds on Syngenta’s behalf. The initiation of a dividend in April 2002 allowed Rx Communications to also target income-oriented investors. On the sell-side, Rx Communications developed a target list of chemicals and ag analysts.  To improve investors’ understanding of Syngenta’s product pipeline and emerging technologies – and in order to showcase the Company’s internationally based management team – Rx Communications planned and arranged an R&D day for Syngenta in New York City in May 2002.
Rx Communications kicked off Syngenta’s 2002 North American IR program by refining the target lists and ensuring a smooth flow of information and updates to the Street. Rx Communications also arranged a series of one-on-one meetings and bi-annual U.S. road shows.
Throughout 2002, Syngenta was introduced to more than 80 fund managers and analysts in six cities. Follow-up was provided after each meeting and conference call in order to continually assess investor perceptions and to give us an outlet for making strategic program recommendations and refinements. By forging relationships with U.S. analysts, Rx Communications secured Syngenta invitations to speak at the UBS Annual Ag Field Trip conference and the Credit Suisse First Boston Chemicals conferences, both in September 2002. Rx Communications also arranged an invitation to the Goldman Sachs Chemicals conference for next year.
The R&D day in May was a big success, with more than 25 key buy- and sell-side investors in attendance. Investors told Rx Communications that they appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from Syngenta’s scientific team as well as meet them face-to-face. This event went a long way toward improving the Company’s reputation in the States and creating a sense of excitement for the story. Throughout the year, Rx Communications continued to coordinate with management and refine our objectives via monthly conference calls, daily emails and twice-yearly visits to Company headquarters in Basel.
 The most tangible evidence of success is the 166-fold increase in U.S. institutional holdings of Syngenta’s ADS’/ordinary shares over the past two years. Specifically, through introductions and continual marketing of the story, U.S. investors increased their Syngenta shareholdings from 10 percent at the time of listing to 26.6 percent by July 31, 2002. By 6/30/02 the top 10 institutional holders of Syngenta held 15 percent of the outstanding shares. Consistent with the strategy, the majority (43 percent) of shares were held by value funds. 
It bears noting that in a very difficult market environment that did not favor agribusiness stocks, the IR efforts also led to a 5 percent increase in average daily trading volume of the Company’s ADS in the 52-week period ended June 2002 -- from 106,962 shares traded per day to 111,730 shares per day. In the same 12-month period, the price of Syngenta’s shares rose 17 percent. More recently, in the 52-week period ended November 30, 2002, the price of Syngenta’s ADS’ appreciated a solid 10 percent. The only other publicly traded peer saw its stock price decrease 48 percent in the same time frame.
Having worked with Syngenta for two years now, the U.S. market has come to recognize and trust Rx Communications as the Company’s IR contact in the States. Further, management’s willingness to embrace IR best practices and their sensitivity to the needs of the US shareholder constituency, has resulted in greater transparency of Company information (and thus an ability to mitigate some investors’ concerns about their financial reporting as a foreign company) and a reputation for openness and commitment to shareholders. Working together, the result has been the attainment of our original goals.
Finally, the success continues to be illustrated by the strong relationship Rx Communications has forged with the Syngenta management team and by its dependence on Rx Communications for investor relations and communications counsel. Rx Communications has become very much part of Syngenta’s inner circle and now accompanies management to all U.S. meetings and conferences. 
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