The stock market is near record highs despite the global economy still working on climbing out of a once-in-a-century pandemic. A couple of themes for high-flying equities are ESG and companies that have yet to turn a profit. Rivian Automotive takes this a step further, as its prospectus indicates it will lose $1.28 billion in the third quarter while revenue will range from $0 to $1 million. However, as of its opening price, Rivian is already worth more than Ford and GM. From a valuation perspective, all the value is clearly placed in the terminal value with minimal production to date.
Amazon and Ford are backing the electric vehicle startup, and investors are clearly betting the company can grab a meaningful amount of the burgeoning EV market. Rivian has beat Tesla, GM, and Ford to market with a fully electric pickup truck, the R1T. While this is expected to launch in December, it remains to be seen how meaningfully the company can scale production—if it can’t, being first may not mean much.
Rivian indicates its factory in Illinois has the capacity to produce approximately 65,000 pickup trucks/SUVs and 85,000 commercial delivery vans, the latter of which is why Amazon is interested. Amazon owns 20% of Rivian and has ordered 100,000 Rivian vehicles to be delivered by 2030. Ford was also interested in collaborating on production for its EV business. The investment increased to become a meaningful part of Ford’s market capitalization, regardless of synergistic opportunities. However, on Friday, it was announced that Ford and Rivian had canceled their plans to jointly develop an EV.
There are numerous potential reasons for this split, and Rivian indicated the decision to split was mutual. When Ford invested in Rivian in 2019, it was likely viewed as a way to jump-start its EV initiatives. Since then, Rivian’s production has been de minimis while Ford sold about 22,000 Mustang Mach E’s alone in 2021, which was named Car and Driver’s Electric Vehicle of the Year. While Ford will continue to benefit from its investment in Rivian, it doesn’t “need” Rivian to be successful in EVs.
Below, we have included a recent blog from my colleague Atticus Frank on Mercer Capital’s Family Business Advisory Services team, highlighting the decision to invest in Rivian from Ford’s perspective.
Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) is one of America’s most iconic brands. Did you also know they are still significantly led and run by the Ford family? One of the great-grandsons of founder Henry Ford, William Clay Ford Jr., leads the board of directors at Ford. Another great-grandson, Edsel II, is also on the board. Collectively, the Ford family holds enough Class B super-voting shares to elect 40% of the board of directors.
A newer car maker, Rivian Automotive (NasdaqGS: RIVN), saw its IPO price the company at nearly $70 billion. Admittedly, my first thoughts are best reflected by an investor of “The Big Short” fame Michael Burry: speculation gone wild. Rivian is an electric vehicle (or “EV”) startup that has generated virtually no revenue. At the time of this writing (November 12, 2021), Rivian’s market capitalization was north of $127 billion, making it the second most valuable U.S. car maker behind Tesla. Rivian has made 156 vehicles, implying a cool $1 billion per vehicle delivered valuation. Those are numbers that would make Elon Musk blush. For perspective, Ford delivered over 5 million cars in fiscal 2019, or an implied $15,000 per car.
As fate would have it, Ford has an effective 14.4% ownership interest in the electric car startup, giving it an implied stake of over $18 billion. Not bad, given its sub-$1 billion of invested capital. If one were to do a “back-of-the-envelope” sum of the parts valuation of Ford, Rivian now represents over 20% of Ford’s market capitalization.
We don’t highlight the current irrational exuberance to spur you into investing in an EV startup or give you a case of ‘FOMO’, but to encourage us to think again about family business diversification, something we have written on previously. When thinking about diversification, it is helpful for family business owners to think about three questions: What, Who, and Why?
What Is Diversification?
Diversification is simply investing in multiple assets as a means of reducing risk. Suppose one asset in the portfolio takes a big hit. In that case, some other segment of the portfolio will likely perform well at the same time, thereby blunting the negative impact on the overall portfolio. A big question when considering diversification is a correlation: if what you are investing in is closely tied to your business currently, diversification benefits are blunted. The following example illustrates the two sides of the equation when diversifying expected returns and correlation.
We note there is not a right answer to the investment choice example above ex-ante: That choice depends on who is investing and for what purpose (discussed in detail below). If you aim to maximize returns and have confidence in your industry, you would pick option #1. If you are more conservative or are not highly confident in your near-term outlook, you may likely choose #3. We discuss the who and why later in this article.
When one thinks about Ford’s investment in Rivian, it appears the legacy car company took the middle road (some correlation, but higher expected return). Rivian is very much a car company, but one focused on electric vehicles. Initially, Ford invested in Rivian so the two would work together to develop a fully electric Lincoln. Ford has catapulted into the electric car space in recent years to much fanfare, with its Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting, making its current investment in a certain light appear redundant, albeit lucrative.
However, Ford considers Rivian a “strategic investment,” according to a spokesman’s comments to CNBC. “We’ve said that Rivian is a strategic investment and we’re exploring potential collaborations,” T.R. Reid said. “We won’t speculate about what Ford will do, or not, in the future.” What Ford decides to do with its very richly priced potential conflict-of-interest investment (competitor, plus Ford supplies certain parts to the startup) is yet to be seen.
Diversification to Whom?
Whose perspective is most important in thinking about diversification? As we have discussed in previous posts, a family business shareholder likely has a view on diversification within the company based on their own personal portfolio mix. For example, if the vast majority of a shareholder’s personal wealth (and income) is derived from the family business, that individual would likely be more concerned with the riskiness of the business overall and prefer more diversification within the company to ensure stability.
Also, consider a well-diversified shareholder outside the family business, and their family business ownership represents a smaller allocation of their personal portfolio. That person would likely prefer to make their own diversification decisions (with dividends paid by the company) or prefer the company to make focused (undiversified) investment decisions to maximize expected returns.
In the case of Ford, one wonders how the Ford family feels maintaining a heavy weighting in the new venture. The Ford family has considerable wealth outside their Ford stock stakes, lowering the need to maintain conservatism within Ford. The family may view the large EV car company stake as a distraction and prefer to make their own, if they so choose, large EV investments outside the business. This logic could lead to a sale or paring down of the stake. This would also allow Ford to utilize part of the proceeds and invest deeper in their own company efforts.
Conversely, one could argue the ‘combustion engine’ is going the way of the Model T, and diversification into an electric vehicle company might be a way to stabilize company performance. The family may view the investment in the separate EV company as a ‘safety valve’ if Ford’s own EV efforts do not pan out. While it may partially distract from the core Ford mission, it could lead to more stable shareholder returns. Again, ‘who’ is experiencing diversification affects how the company will likely face this question in the future.
Family businesses often provide a different ‘who’ regarding diversification and a different ‘why’ to their publicly traded, non-family controlled counterparts. What the family business means to you impacts how you think about diversification decisions for the family business.
Depending on what the business means to the family, the potential for diversification benefits (correlation, discussed above) may take priority over absolute return. There are no right or wrong answers regarding risk tolerance, but there are tradeoffs that need to be acknowledged and communicated plainly. Family shareholders deserve to know the ‘why’ for significant investment decisions.
How do you or the Ford family think about your family business meaning? If dividends were key for Ford, with meaning in the ‘lifestyle’ or ‘wealth accumulation’ buckets, a divesture of sorts might be appropriate to generate liquidity for investing in other uncorrelated assets or maintain the family’s lifestyle. But as discussed, Ford’s recent performance and prior move into the EV space has been a big splash for the legacy car giant. Keeping Rivian may be a sign that the family views Ford as the combustion (or electric) engine for future generations of the family and is willing to keep diversification within the company lower and not attempt to overly diversify outside it. Your family must decide its meaning as a business before you begin to think about diversification to provide the framework and context for coming to a big decision.
Family business owners can take these three questions and apply them to their businesses. Remembering what diversification is and the importance of correlation, who are the stakeholders seeing the largest impact of diversification, and defining what the business means to you all can help guide the diversification question. Some next steps he has highlighted in The 12 Questions That Keep Family Business Directors Awake at Night include:
- Calculate what portion of the family’s overall wealth is represented by the family business
- Identify the three biggest long-term strategic threats to the sustainability of the existing family business operations
- Establish a family LLC or partnership to hold a portfolio of diversifying assets (real estate, marketable securities, etc.)
- Create opportunities to provide seed funding to family members with compelling ideas for new business ventures
And if in the end, your diversification plans send you into uncharted territory or lead you to maintain the status quo, Mr. Henry Ford Sr. has quotes for both.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
Takeaways From Rivian
Auto dealers are unlikely to be able to invest in the next Rivian, but that doesn’t mean there are no lessons to be learned here. The market is clearly indicating it believes EVs are the future, so dealers should be positioning themselves accordingly. With heightened margins in 2021, auto dealers need to decide the best way to reinvest their capital. That may mean using profits earned in the past years and investing in infrastructure to support EVs. Local markets will still be necessary and there won’t be a one size fits all solution, but Rivian making headlines should get auto dealers thinking about what it means for them.
Mercer Capital provides business valuation and financial advisory services, and our auto team helps dealers, their partners, and family members understand the value of their business. Contact a member of the Mercer Capital auto dealer team today to learn more about the value of your dealership.
In addition to auto dealers, Mercer Capital also provides financial education services and other strategic financial consulting to family businesses. Click here to learn more about our Family Business Advisory Services.