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Press Releases

  • January 25, 2012
  • Diversification, Long Out of Favor, May Be the Best Business Model for Tough Economic Times

  • During the Recent Financial Crisis, Diversified Companies Had a Measurable Financial Advantage; The Best Translated This Financial Edge into Superior Performance and Recovered Faster from the Downturn, Says Report by The Boston Consulting Group and HHL – Leipzig Graduate School of Management

BOSTON, January 25, 2012— The diversified company, long out of fashion and derided by commentators for lack of focus and lack of value, may in fact be the best business model for tough economic times, according to a new report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and HHL – Leipzig Graduate School of Management. The report, entitled The Power of Diversified Companies During Crises, was released today and is available on www.bcgperspectives.com.

Diversified companies actually perform as well as focused companies and also have a measurable financial advantage, according to the report. More critically, top diversified companies turn this financial edge into a competitive advantage that enables them to outperform their peers and recover rapidly from crises. These findings are based on an analysis of more than 1,100 diversified and focused companies conducted jointly by BCG and HHL – Leipzig Graduate School of Management.

“Diversification is a compelling strategy—it represents the time-tested idea that it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket,” said Dieter Heuskel, a Düsseldorf-based senior partner at BCG and a coauthor of the report. “But in recent years, conventional wisdom has held that focus produces superior financial and operational performance, and the markets have agreed, penalizing diversified companies with the conglomerate discount. Our analysis shows that the discount has declined, and in many cases, it is unwarranted. The best diversified companies perform better for investors and operationally, and their business model is demonstrably more resilient in hard times.”

Diversified Companies Had a Superior Risk Profile During the Financial Crisis

  •  During the financial downturn, diversified companies had significantly less volatile—or less risky—total shareholder returns (TSRs) than their focused counterparts.

  •  This risk advantage was reflected in solid global credit ratings and narrower credit-default-swap spreads. These factors enabled diversified companies to get easier and cheaper access to capital, particularly at the height of the crisis.

Financial Markets Have Begun to Recognize and Reward the Superior Financial Performance of Diversified Companies

  •  Investors use the conglomerate discount to compare the valuation of a diversified company with the valuation of a portfolio of focused companies that operate the same lines of business; the discount reflects a lower valuation for the diversified company. From 2005 through 2009, the conglomerate discount in Western Europe and North America shrank to –6.0 percent and –7.2 percent, respectively. In the Asia-Pacific region, a very small conglomerate discount was transformed into a conglomerate premium.

  •  Detailed regression analysis shows that the decline in the conglomerate discount is directly correlated with the onset of the financial crisis. In other words, financial markets have recognized and rewarded diversified companies for their superior risk profile and their easier and cheaper access to capital. 

The Top Diversified Companies Turned Their Financial Advantage into a Competitive Edge

  •  The financial crisis magnified the differences between strong and weak diversified companies. The performance gap between companies that outperformed in the crisis and those that underperformed widened from 16 percent in the period from January 2006 through December 2007, to 52 percent by the end of 2009. The gap continued to grow to 73 percent as the recovery got under way in 2010.

  •  By the end of 2010, the top 50 percent of diversified companies had recovered their crisis losses and achieved a median TSR of 11 percent since the end of 2007. By comparison, the diversified underperformers were still far from recovered, with a median TSR of –34 percent.

How to Do It: These Four Lessons Show How the Top Diversified Companies Outperformed Their Peers

The top diversified performers set themselves apart by following four key strategies that take advantage of the greater stability that diversification provides. Other diversified companies can apply these lessons in order to become outperformers.

  •  Use the financial stability provided by diversification to avoid crisis overreactions, such as mass layoffs.

  •  Invest in the future while peers are financially constrained. This enabled the top companies to ensure a faster rebound from the crisis and secure an ongoing competitive edge in capital-intensive areas such as research and development.

  •  Pursue mergers and acquisitions while prices are low and competitors are short on cash.

  •  Leverage the diversity of the company’s portfolio to shift capital into higher-growth, higher-return businesses. 

“There is strength in diversification—and this study bears it out,” said Harald Rubner, a Cologne-based senior partner at BCG and a coauthor of the report. “Focus has its advantages, but in hard times, the ability of a diversified company to pursue its strongest opportunities, while sustaining those that are temporarily weak, provides a lasting competitive advantage.”

A copy of the report can be downloaded from www.bcgperspectives.com.

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or gregoire.eric@bcg.com.

About HHL
Founded in 1898, HHL – Leipzig Graduate School of Management was the first business school in Germany. Currently, HHL is one of the country’s leading graduate schools, offering a variety of academic and executive programs for different graduate degrees, including MSc, MBA, and PhD. The Center for Corporate Transactions, headed by Prof. Dr. Bernhard Schwetzler, is HHL’s major research unit in the field of mergers and acquisitions. It is designed to bring together scientists of HHL and its research partners working in the areas of corporate finance, accounting, law, and game theory to analyze and discuss problems in corporate transactions. For more information, please visit www.hhl.de.

About bcgperspectives.com

Bcgperspectives.com features the latest thinking from BCG experts as well as from CEOs, academics, and other leaders. It covers issues at the top of senior management’s agenda. It also provides unprecedented access to BCG’s extensive archive of thought leadership stretching back 50 years to the days of Bruce Henderson, the firm’s founder and one of the architects of modern management consulting. All of our content—including videos, podcasts, commentaries, and reports—can be accessed by PC, mobile, iPad, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 81 offices in 45 countries.

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