В Economist есть регулярная рубрика под названием Face Value, в которой рассказывается про какую-нибудь персоналию из бизнес-мира и вокруг. В новогоднем номере редакция решила пошутить и напечатать статью о Санта-Клаусе, написанную с классических позиций corporate finance и company valuation. По-моему получилось весьма забавно. В какой-то степени юмор ориентирован на знакомых с предметом, тем не менее рискну порекомендовать всем читающим по английски.
Ho ho ho
Dec 20th 2005
From The Economist print edition
Santa Claus transformed Christmas. Can he also transform investors' perceptions of it?
THE man who created the world's most valuable brand remains an elusive figure when not in his grotto, often shielded by the tinted windows of a personalised executive sleigh that serves as his mobile office. Friends say that money is not his motivation, even though he is apparently seeking now to sell off all or part of his privately held empire. Talking to the elves, seeing the children smile, guiding the creative side of Christmas, these are the things that drive him, he says.
Yet the owner of the trademark beard and belly-laugh is also a man shrewd enough to have grasped the money-making potential of Christmas when nobody saw it as a commercial enterprise at all, and many thought it doomed to merge with New Year. Santa Claus, a former bishop from Asia Minor, thought differently. He did not invent Christmas, he likes to say now, but he did re-invent it. Probably nobody has ever seen the link between reindeer and revenues more clearly. “Besides”, says one high-ranking elf, “he throws great parties.”
Santa's quirky management style, combining large quantities of mulled wine with a tight grip on the reins, has turned the ho-hum into the ho-ho-ho. Once just a two-day affair in churches and private houses, Christmas is now the biggest-spending item in most western countries after health care and defence. The logistics of that success require Santa to be in thousands of malls by day and down millions of chimneys by night. Advisers say he relies on a series of proprietary algorithms derived from Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which allow him to be in an infinite number of places simultaneously so long as nobody believes he is really in any one of them.
Of course, Christmas has to grapple with the fundamental uncertainties affecting all modern industries. They include globalisation, the spread of the internet and the pervasive power of Wal-Mart. All of these seem to be working, for the moment at least, in Christmas's favour. Global warming may pose a long-term risk. The ageing of the population in many of Santa's major markets is less of a worry. Even if it means relatively fewer children, whether naughty or nice, it may also mean more indulgent grandparents.
But the biggest question overhanging Christmas is one of succession. What if some accident sleighed Santa tomorrow? Christmas would probably survive as a religious festival, economists say, but spending patterns might never recover—throwing much of the world into a perpetual mid-winter recession. That, says Santa, is the main reason he now wants to involve outside shareholders and professional managers, or, as he calls them, “subordinate Clauses”, in the owning and running of Christmas.
Some analysts think the man in the red suit has simply spotted a good moment to sell. With liquidity booming around the world, Santa can hope to get a fat price for all or part of his franchise from “sledge-funds” run by rich private investors. Kris Kringle, owner of snowbiz.org, a Santa-watching web site, believes that Santa's decision to bring in outside managers also reflects the failure of his past attempts at diversification using in-house elves and Lapps. A British health-care subsidiary, the National Elf Service, lost money and was taken over by the government. The Lapp-Dance chain of folk clubs in Scandinavia was sold to a trade buyer who relaunched them for an adult audience.
There has been speculation, too, that Santa wants to cut back on his business commitments in order to launch a political career in one of the many countries where he could claim citizenship, possibly Canada. After decades of being told that government was “no Santa Claus”, commentators say, voters would welcome a government that was, indeed, Santa Claus.
Santa himself denies any such plan, insisting that Christmas will remain his top priority. If he does ever get more free time, he says, he will do more good works. He rarely uses his official title of Saint Nicholas, but it clearly rankles with him that the Catholic Church demoted him in 1969, by making observance of his feast day (December 6th) optional—a move he blames on “pro-Easter” forces in the Vatican. He is also a saint in the Orthodox Church, he points out, and enjoys worldwide acceptance as a patron saint of children, thieves, bankers, prisoners, sailors, unmarried girls and pawnbrokers, not to say Greece and Russia. All that means quite a backlog of problems, some of them going back to medieval times.
Whatever the motives for a Christmas sale, the prospectus, if it comes, will be much in demand. With the Arctic as its home and a fat man as its trademark, the business looks, says one potential investor, “like a cross between the Alaska purchase and Kentucky Fried Chicken”. The assets will be almost all intangible, but “what do you expect—it is the season for goodwill”, says another. The more pressing question will be whether the trade marks and copyrights assembled by Santa can guarantee real effective ownership of Christmas worldwide, and for how long.
A banker close to the deal says the small print here will be reassuring. He says that Santa quietly bought up a lot of outstanding rights and licences after a bid to “steal” Christmas, by the Grinch, came dangerously close to succeeding in 1957. This same source also plays down worries about the size of the health and pension benefits owed to the elves and reindeer. Outsiders have wildly over-estimated the scale of Santa's toy-making operations, he says. They require only a tiny workforce. More than 99% of Christmas gifts for children are bought in shops by parents, and are merely “co-branded” by Santa at the moment of giving. The real key to the deal, this banker concludes, is whether Santa sticks by his promise of continued involvement. For Christmas to go on working, he says, “you just have to believe in Santa Claus”.