I’ve seen some truly awful infographics of corporate ownership structures. I’ve even occasionally perpetrated them. But this image is a classic of the genre:
Pretty convoluted, huh?
It’s from Muddy Waters, a much-feted research and short-selling firm. They are arguing that French conglomerate Bolloré owns a lot of itself through intermediate companies. We’re looking here at Financière Moncey, an indirect subsidiary of Bolloré, and the point is to show “how complex the relationships actually are” among these structures.
Look a bit more closely, though, and you’ll see that most of the complexity is artificially added. The diagram is just the same structures repeated again and again and again.
Fair play to Muddy Waters for figuring out the ownership structure. That kind of structure is painful to make sense of, and it’s easy to miss the circular ownership.
But they do seem to be deliberately exaggerating the complexity. Presumably the point is to show that things are so complicated that only their analytic genius can make sense of it. It goes with some snarky digs at analysts in the report itself — “BOL has likely been misunderstood because the complexity of its structure makes it infeasible to use Excel to estimate the percentage of circular ownership“. Much as I enjoy their approach, I wish they could make their point without, well, muddying the waters.