Jawbone, best known for fitness wearable technology, went into liquidation last month in part because of too much funding, according to CNBC. I believe that this is a good case study for some of the companies in the GCC that receive easy funding. Too often, certain investments are deemed strategic and then there is a blind mandate to fund them at any cost. One of the most frequent cases is the legacy business of a family conglomerate. Although other business lines might be doing fine and the commercially rational decision is to liquidate the legacy business, there is too much emotion tied to it. Often there is the belief that the loss of the legacy business would signal an unacceptable loss of face.
Of course if that funding is never-ending, you end up with zombie companies as the negative cash flows from operations and investing are offset by positive cash flows from funding, forever. This is why it is extremely important to look at the cash-flow statement. I have seen actual financial statements of large companies show that new debt funding is not only being used to pay for operations, an unsustainable situation, but to also pay off maturing debt. When you start using debt to pay for debt you’re in trouble.
The way this is explained to boards is that a certain debt is being matched to a certain activity. This is, of course, baloney – a proper analysis looks at the aggregate. If operating plus investment cash flows are negative and there is maturing debt it can only be paid off via more funding, be it equity or debt.
Sabah al-Binali is an active investor and entrepreneurial leader with a track record of growing companies in the Mena region. You can read more on his Twitter feed or for deeper analysis on LinkedIn and al-binali.com.