Last week I attended the AGM of industrial supplier Invicta Holdings. I soon wished I’d stayed at home.
I recently wrote a Financial Mail cover story on the company — highlighting a difference in perceptions, between its executives and some minority shareholders, around the detail issued on a reportable irregularity raised on part of a share re-purchase exercise.
At the AGM, Invicta chairman and major shareholder Christo Wiese was adamant that my story had made a mountain out of a molehill. I have always attended AGMs as a silent observer, the business of such meetings belonging exclusively to shareholders. But I found myself being questioned by Wiese on matters such as the cover story’s headline and other issues.
I can’t remember enjoying an AGM less. Then again, I suppose those who regularly call for accountability must in turn be prepared to account for their own actions.
Thankfully there was not a crowd at the AGM. But let me say this: having known Wiese for more than 20 years and having enormous respect for his investment skills, I can’t think of another business personality I’d rather take flak from at an AGM. I’ll wear it as a badge of honour. Wiese lightheartedly asked me not to use the headline "Shareholders grill Wiese" when I reported on the AGM.
I was tempted to use "Wiese grills media", but thought I’d go for something a tad more diplomatic, as the next Invicta AGM is only around 350 days away.
In short, the AGM threw no new light on the reportable irregularity. At times, Wiese was quizzical: "What sort of detail do you want ... what more do you want to know?" He maintained that Invicta was not trying to duck and dive. "We immediately put the matter right without prejudice to the company."
For those with a more fundamental interest in Invicta there were some tangible tidbits to savour. Deputy chairman Arnold Goldstone provided a cautiously optimistic overview of trading conditions, noting some improvement in certain segments of the company’s markets. Most interesting was his observation that while trading conditions were still on the soft side, there were fewer players contending certain niches. "Some have fallen over ... "
Looking offshore, efforts are still being made to extend the footprint of engineering supplies subsidiary Kian Ann in the Far East. Probably the most intriguing moment at the AGM was the surprisingly frank response to a question from small-cap expert Anthony Clark on further consolidation of Wiese’s industrial interests. Clark raised the matter in the context of a recent investment presentation by Stellar Capital Partners (SCP), an investment company where Wiese has some influence. SCP holds a majority stake in industrial supplies group Torre, and there have been whisperings in the market that Wiese may reverse his stake in Invicta into SCP or initiate a tie-up with Torre. On rearrangement possibilities, Wiese said: "It is a work in progress. I would like things as neatly packaged and boxed as I can ... a number of deals are being discussed."
As I was leaving the boardroom, Wiese suggested that I should buy some Invicta shares. I’m not keen on industrial counters at this stage of the economic (and political) cycle, except maybe for a highly specialised play like Consolidated Infrastructure Group.
But I’ve learnt over many years that Wiese’s parting shots are ignored at your peril.