Wake up, Toronto !

Des investisseurs établis à Toronto s'opposent à ce... (Photo Reynard Li, Archives Bloomberg)

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Des investisseurs établis à Toronto s'opposent à ce que la clause des actions à vote multiple de Couche-Tard soit reconduite en 2021.

Photo Reynard Li, Archives Bloomberg

Désolé, chers lecteurs, mais je dois écrire l'essentiel de cette chronique en anglais, exceptionnellement.

In English, because most Toronto bankers do not understand a single word of French, unfortunately, so they don't comprehend the vital issue affecting Alimentation Couche-Tard's business. More specifically, they probably haven't read the excellent La Presse feature our team produced yesterday on that matter.

The main conclusion of the feature ? The CEO of Couche-Tard, Alain Bouchard, and his three partners will have no choice but to sell the company because of a sunset clause in the dual-class share structure. This clause will cancel the multiple voting shares, put the four partners in a minority position and open the public company to a hostile takeover. Instead of that, Bouchard thinks it would be preferable to sell the company to a chosen competitor. So bye bye headquarters, again.

L'enjeu est simple à comprendre : il met à risque un autre fleuron québécois, donc canadien. La plupart des financiers torontois ne lisant pas ou peu le français - et encore moins nos journaux - , ils sont imperméables à notre vision des affaires.

At the last annual meeting, Bouchard tried to ask an extension of the clause after 2021, but some Toronto shareholders informed him they would refuse, among them, presumably, Fidelity, the big mutual fund company. Consequently, Bouchard abandoned the idea, calculating he wouldn't get the two-thirds of the votes he needs.

Il faut savoir que la filiale canadienne de Fidelity est située sur Bay Street, principale rue de Toronto. En clair, « il y a un blocage à Toronto », a expliqué Alain Bouchard à mon collègue Réjean Bourdeau.

Hey, Toronto ! Canadian citizens controlling their own economy, does it not ring a bell ? Does it not still touch a Canadian patriotic fibre, even a little bit ?

Remember the reaction when a Chinese group tried to buy the western firm PotashCorp in 2010 ? A big chunk of Canada Inc. was behind Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, so the deal was blocked.

Couche-Tard is not a Mickey Mouse operation, by the way. The company operates more than 13 000 accommodation stores and gas stations and has a market capitalization of $33 billion, one of the biggest in Canada. Its revenues of about $50 billion come mainly from the U.S.

In fact, Couche-Tard is one of the most successful companies in Canada, with Magna International, Rogers Communications and Canadian Tire. Did you notice ? Those companies all have a dual-class share structure.

Bref, la valeur de Couche-Tard en Bourse équivaut au tiers du budget du gouvernement du Québec. Oui, les fondateurs possèdent des actions à vote multiple, mais c'est aussi le cas de Rogers et de Cara, cette même entreprise qui vient justement d'acheter les Rôtisseries St-Hubert.

Oh, I know. According to some economic theories, the dual-class share structure puts a downward pressure on the stock value of a company, because it might scare off potential investors. And I know as well that the first and only goal of Fidelity and others is to give their mutual fund customers the best return possible for their money, regardless of what happens to Canada Inc.

But you know what ? The four main research reports on the topic conclude that it's not necessarily the case. One of them, published by the Toronto-based Clarkson Center for Board Effectiveness - yes, Toronto ! - found that family-controlled companies with multiple voting shares in Canada have a better return (8,8 %) over 15 years than others companies (6,6 %).

Pas besoin de la tête à Papineau pour comprendre : les entreprises familiales qui recourent aux actions à vote multiple obtiennent souvent de meilleurs rendements que les autres entreprises, selon diverses études. Et de telles structures d'actions permettent de conserver le contrôle de nos entreprises.

Je sais, je sais, il y a certains cas qui ont donné de piètres résultats à long terme, notamment Bombardier, pour ne pas la nommer... en anglais. Mais pour un Bombardier, il y a plusieurs Couche-Tard.

We ask you no money, no candy, Toronto. Just one thing : consider a deal with the four Couche-Tard founders that will enable them to keep control of the company. After all, hasn't their way of running the family business allowed you to make big bucks ? An investment of $1,000 in 1986 is worth over $600,000 today.

Wake up, Toronto...




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