One of the things I love most is uncovering unusual investment companies. Whether you can actually invest in them is immaterial — the mere act of studying them will make you a better investor.
About a year ago, I came across the Tribal Councils Investment Group of Manitoba, a holding company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that owns several private businesses as well as non-controlling investments in a few public companies. With revenues around $100 million, the company is meant to generate future profits for the seven tribal councils in Manitoba.
It’s a great concept. Unfortunately, the former CEO and five other senior executives began using the holding company as their personal fiefdoms, and in May the tribal councils were forced to remove the six from their jobs. A CEO search is currently underway.
The events unfolding in Manitoba — although related to the province’s First Nations community — are really about good corporate governance. This kind of thing happens everywhere. It shouldn’t detract from the fact TCIG has built an attractive group of investments. With the proper management, I’m sure it will thrive once more.
Curious about what exists in the U.S., I’ve pulled together several investment companies that are doing well operationally and at the same time benefiting indigenous people across the country. When done properly, it’s a win/win:
Seneca Holdings, LLC
This first thing I notice about the investment arm of the Seneca Nation of Indians is its CEO, David Kimelberg. As with investments in any company, you want to know that management is competent and qualified. Kimelberg is a citizen of the Seneca Nation, a lawyer and an experienced venture capitalist, having spent six years with SoftBank Capital prior to becoming Seneca Holdings’ founding CEO in 2009.
U.S. native nations posses economic and political advantages that make private equity a good business model for its citizens. With casino gaming vulnerable to regulatory and competitive threats, Seneca Nation sought to diversify its revenue stream and formed the holding company with an initial investment of $28 million. The capital should all be allocated by the end of 2014. Its current investments are in the telecom, construction, security, software, and radio broadcast industries. While $28 million might not seem like a lot of money, consider that Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) wasn’t much different in the mid-1960s.
Southern Ute Growth Fund
Established in 2000, the fund was meant to diversify the Colorado tribe’s revenue streams beyond natural gas. Two funds were actually created–the Growth Fund and the Permanent Fund. The latter took 75% of its energy royalties and profits from the Sky Ute Casino and invested them in equities, bonds, etc. The remaining royalties as well as profits from its existing energy and real estate holdings would be reinvested in other businesses beyond its reservation lands.
While the transition to a more business-like approach has sometimes been rocky, the Growth Fund stands today as a great example of the financial leverage native tribes can bring to the table. According to Fitch Ratings, the Southern Ute’s had $1.88 billion in cash at the end of 2012, which is 11 times its annual operating expenses and five times its long-term debt. Its passive equity investments over the past decade have averaged 7.5% annually.
Its financial situation is so strong, Fitch rates its $305 million of debt at ‘AAA,’ which is equal to the top private universities in the country. Of its various endeavors, its private equity group is the most interesting with investments in life sciences, technology, telecom, media, consumer products, financial services and other private equity funds. If this was a public company, I’d definitely give it a look.
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation
Based in Barrow, Alaska, this for-profit corporation represents the interests of 11,000 Iñupiat Eskimo shareholders. Incorporated in 1972, it’s now the largest Alaska-owned company (the 177th-largest private company in America) employing 10,000 people worldwide.
Approximately 40% of the company’s earnings are distributed as dividends to shareholders. The rest is reinvested in its five business segments: Energy Services, Petroleum Refining and Marketing, Government Services, Construction and Resource Development. Since its inception, the company has distributed $543 million in dividends to shareholders, which works out to $1,204 per shareholder per year for the past 41 years.
In 2011, ASRC generated $2.5 billion in revenue. An important note — 75% of its senior executives are Iñupiat Eskimos including CEO Rex Rock, Sr. ASRC is a vital part of the community, employing almost 4,000 people. Of its businesses, I’m most intrigued by Alaska Growth Capital, which provides business loans to small, medium and large companies in both Alaska and Hawaii. It’s the largest SBA lender in Alaska, having made more than $200 million in loans since its beginning in 1997.
Even more interesting is the $170 million in New Markets Tax Credits transactions it has closed during the past 10 years. Investors receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes as an incentive for investing in low income communities. It’s a great way to bring lenders, investors and communities in need together.
All three of these holding companies would be attractive investments were they publicly traded. Perhaps someday they’ll consider it.
I’m very interested in the concept of Community Development Entities or CDEs, which last year received something like $3.5 billion in NMTCs from the Treasury Department. If I’ve read the materials correctly, anyone can apply for NMTC allocations as long as they are a legal entity, have a primary mission of helping low-income communities and maintain accountability to the residents of the targeted community.
That’s one more investment possibility I didn’t have prior to writing this article.
As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.