Thayer Watkins

A New Type of Arbitrage

The market for assets is quite efficient because throughout the world profit-seekers pore over market data looking for discrepancies that can be exploited. They look for discrepancies in the prices of the same things in different markets. They look for discrepancies in the prices of the same things available at different points in time. They look for discrepancies in the prices of things at different stages of processing such as between soy oil, soybean meal and the soybeans from which they are made. As a result of this diligent effort arbitrage opportunities do not exist very often and if they do occur they do not persist for very long.

Irwin Jacobs found an overlooked arbritrage opportunity in 1989. Shaklee, an American company, owned part of company in Japan. The valuation of stocks in Japan in 1989, the era of the "Economic Bubble," was so high that Shaklee's share of the Japanese company was worth more than the whole of Shaklee.

Jacobs bought enough of Shaklee to have an influence on its operation. He induced Shaklee to sell its Japanese subsidiary. Shaklee's share of the proceeds of the sale was greater than the market valuation of Shaklee before he bought in. The market valuation of Shaklee increased, as it had to, and later a Japanese company purchased it.

Jacob's discovery led arbitrageurs to check the valuation of multinational companies with foreign subsidiaries. Because of differing risks the capitalization rates in different countries vary so valuation of the same profit stream in different countries can be different.

HOME PAGE OF Thayer Watkins