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Wrigley Case Finance Essay

Interest rates are at their lowest point in 50 years. Yet the use of debt financing by corporations is declining—this happens anyway in a recession. And some deleveraging is due to strategic changes in an industry, such as technological innovation or other developments that increase business risk. But corporate deleveraging seems to have gone too far. CEOs are missing valuable opportunities to create value for their shareholders. In the extreme case, you have mature firms who use no debt at all! Take William Wrigley Jr. Company, for instance.

It has a leading market share in a stable low-technology business—it makes chewing gum—and yet has no debt. I bet that if we could persuade Wrigley’s board to do a leveraged recapitalization through a dividend or major share repurchase, we could create significant new value. Susan, please run some numbers on the potential change in value. And get me the names and phone numbers of all of Wrigley’s directors.

With those words, Blanka Dobrynin, managing partner of Aurora Borealis LLC, asked Susan Chandler, an associate, to initiate the research for a potential investment in Wrigley. Aurora Borealis was a hedge fund with about $3 billion under management and an investment strategy that focused on distressed companies, merger arbitrage, change-of-control transactions, and recapitalizations. Dobrynin had immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1991, and had risen quickly to become partner at a major Wall Street firm. In 2000, she founded Aurora Borealis to pursue an “active-investor” strategy. Her typical mode of operation was to identify opportunities for a corporation to restructure, invest significantly in the stock of the target firm, and then undertake a process of persuading management and directors to restructure. Now, in June 2002, Dobrynin could look back on the large returns from the use of that strategy. Chandler noted that Wrigley’s market value of common equity was about $13.1 billion.

Dobrynin and Chandler discussed the current capital-market conditions and decided to focus on the assumption that Wrigley could borrow $3 billion at a credit rating between BB and B, to yield 13%. Chandler agreed to return soon to discuss the results of her research. This case was prepared by Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr, research assistant, from public data about the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company. Other persons and events are fictional. Copyright © 2005 by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation, Charlottesville, VA. All rights reserved. To order copies, send an e-mail to [email protected] No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of the Darden School Foundation.

This document is authorized for use only by Ryan Maloney at St. Francis Xavier University. Please do not copy or redistribute. Contact [email protected] for questions or additional permissions.

The William Wrigley Jr. Company

Wrigley was the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of chewing gum. The firm’s industry, branded consumer foods and candy, was intensely competitive and was dominated by a few large players. Exhibit 1 gives product profiles of Wrigley and its peers. Over the preceding two years, revenues had grown at an annual compound rate of 10% (earnings at 9%), reflecting the introduction of new products and foreign expansion (Exhibit 2). Historically, the firm had been conservatively financed. At the end of 2001, it had total assets of $1.76 billion and no debt (Exhibit 3). As Exhibit 4 shows, Wrigley’s stock price had significantly outperformed the S&P 500 Composite Index, and was running slightly ahead of its industry index.

Estimating the Effect of a Leveraged Recapitalization

Under the proposed leveraged recapitalization, Wrigley would borrow $3 billion and use it either to pay an equivalent dividend or to repurchase an equivalent value of shares. Chandler knew that this combination of actions could affect the firm’s share value, cost of capital, debt coverage, earnings per share, and voting control. Accordingly, she sought to evaluate the effect of the recapitalization on those areas. She gathered financial data on Wrigley and its peer companies (Exhibit 5).

Impact on share value

Chandler recalled that the effect of leverage on a firm could be modeled by using the adjusted present-value formula, which hypothesized that debt increased the value of a firm by means of shielding cash flows from taxes. Thus, the present value of debt tax shields could be added to the value of the unlevered firm to yield the value of the levered enterprise. The marginal tax rate Chandler proposed to use was 40%, reflecting the sum of federal, state, and local taxes.

Impact on debt rating

A key assumption in the analysis would be the debt rating for Wrigley, after assuming $3 billion in debt, and whether the firm could cover the resulting interest payments. Dobrynin had suggested that Chandler should assume Wrigley would borrow $3 billion at a rating between BB and B. Was a rating of BB/B likely? In that regard, Chandler gathered information on the average financial ratios associated with different debt-rating categories (Exhibit 6). Dobrynin thought that Wrigley’s pretax cost of debt would be around 13%. Chandler sought to check that assumption against the capital-market information given in Exhibit 7.

Impact on cost of capital

Chandler knew that the maximum value of the firm was achieved when the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) was minimized. Thus, she intended to estimate what the cost of equity and the WACC might be, if Wrigley pursued this capital-structure change. The projected Page 2 of 11

This document is authorized for use only by Ryan Maloney at St. Francis Xavier University. Please do not copy or redistribute. Contact [email protected] for questions or additional permissions.

cost of debt would depend on her assessment of Wrigley’s debt rating after recapitalization and on current capital-market rates (summarized in Exhibit 7).
The cost of equity (KE) could be estimated by using the capital asset pricing model. Exhibit 7 gives yields on U.S. Treasury instruments, which afforded possible estimates of the risk-free rate of return. The practice at Aurora Borealis was to use an equity-market risk premium of 7.0%. Wrigley’s beta would also need to be relevered to reflect the projected recapitalization.

Chandler wondered whether her analysis covered everything. Where, for instance, should she take into account potential costs of bankruptcy and distress or the effects of leverage as a signal about future operations? More leverage would also create certain constraints and incentives for management. Where should those be reflected in her analysis? Impact on reported earnings per share

Chandler intended to estimate the expected effect on earnings per share (EPS) that would occur at different levels of operating income (EBIT) with a change in leverage. The beginnings of an EBIT/EPS analysis are presented in Exhibit 8.

Impact on voting control

The William Wrigley Jr. Company had 232.441 million shares outstanding. A repurchase of shares would alter that amount. The Wrigley family controlled 21% of the common shares outstanding and 58% of Class B common stock, which had superior voting rights to the common stock.1 Assuming the Wrigley family did not sell any shares, how would the share-repurchase alternative affect the family’s voting-control position in the company?


Although Susan Chandler’s analysis followed a familiar path, each company that she had analyzed differed in important respects from previous firms. Blanka Dobrynin paid her to run numbers and, more importantly, to find the differences wherein hidden threats and opportunities lay. Running the numbers was easy for Chandler; drawing profitable insights from them was not.

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