Spin-off Business Examples

This week, we look at spin-offs as an investing opportunity, looking at Illumina (ILMN) and its spinoff of Grail (GRAL) as a potential investment. We discuss what a spin-off is, the mechanics, and why GRAL could be worth researching for your next investment.

Hello and welcome to this week’s Lockstep Investing Newsletter.

This week should be exciting as we discuss a potential investment opportunity unfolding today.

  • Spin-off Business Examples: A spin-off can create a unique investing opportunity for the astute investor. This week, we discuss spin-offs; what they are, the mechanics behind them and provide a real-life example of a potential opportunity that is listing today.

  • Lesson Learned: We turn again to Joel Greenblatt, whose advice can guide us in better understanding spin-offs and how to take advantage of them.


Let’s dive in!


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Investing is hard and the best way to improve your own investing is through others. So, under “Investing Chronicles”, I’ll share my learnings from my 18+ years in the stock markets.

A few months back, we discussed the advantages you and I have as individual investors compared to institutional money managers. Today, I want to dive deeper into one of these advantages using a real-life example.

Taking Advantage of Spin-Offs: A Real-Life Example

Unfortunately, before we can begin, we need to discuss some theory, but I promise to keep it short!😅 

What is a Spin-Off?

A spin-off occurs when a parent company separates a portion of its business or a subsidiary into a new independent company. This involves splitting out all the new entity’s assets, liabilities, and operations so it can operate independently from the parent company.

If the parent company is listed on a stock exchange, the new business will be listed as a separate entity.

Mechanics of a Listed Spin-Off

Shareholders of the parent company receive shares of the new entity. The distribution ratio (e.g., one share of the new company for every five shares of the parent company) is predetermined and announced during the spin-off process.

The new entity is then listed on the stock exchange and trades independently of the parent company.

Shareholding at a 1:5 ratio spin-off

Valuation of the Two Separate Companies

On the day the new entity is listed, the new entity’s value is determined by the market. So, the share price the new entity trades at is the value of the business the market believes accurately represents the company’s prospects.

The parent company’s value typically drops by an amount roughly equivalent to the market value of the new entity.

Initially, the new company’s share price might be quite volatile as existing shareholders sell the business if it doesn’t meet their investment criteria. And therein lies the opportunities for astute investors.

Index Tracking Fund (you’ll need this for later)

An index tracking fund is designed to replicate the performance of a specific market index, such as the S&P 500. These funds aim to mimic the returns of their chosen index by holding a portfolio of securities that mirrors the index composition.

If the index constituents change or the weighting within the index changes, the index tracking funds HAVE to adjust their fund accordingly.

Illumina and Its “Holy” Grail

With the theory out the way, let’s look at a real-life example!

Illumina, Inc. (ILMN): Illumina is a leading genomics company that develops and manufactures technology for genetic analysis. It is a listed company and is part of the S&P 500.

Grail (GRAL): Grail is a subsidiary of ILMN. It focuses on early cancer detection through blood tests.

The Backstory

In 2016, ILMN spun off GRAL to raise capital for the business and had notable early investors, including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.

In 2021, ILMN reacquired GRAL for $8 billion. However, the company did not follow due process, such as seeking EU approval for the acquisition. The EU launched an antitrust investigation, causing multiple years of headaches for ILMN and GRAL and ultimately leading to a fine.

This multi-year legal battle has resulted in GRAL being unable to reach its potential due to regulatory barriers. It has concluded with ILMN being forced to spin-off GRAL again.

For a complete history, read here.

The Opportunity

ILMN doesn’t want to spin off GRAL, as it clearly sees potential in the business. Fortunately for ILMN, it will retain a 14.5% ownership stake.

Furthermore, GRAL has been unable to achieve its potential due to regulatory barriers. The spin-off should be the final catalyst for regulatory approval of its cancer tests.

Since ILMN is part of the S&P 500 index, funds tracking the index (told you you need this 😉 ) will have to sell GRAL shares, as it will likely have too small a market cap to be part of the S&P 500.

Vanguard owns 11.4% of Illumina, and BlackRock owns 8.4%. So, over 20% of Grail’s shares might be sold upon listing. This selling will be done regardless of GRAL’s share price, which could result in the company being oversold!

We don’t have these restrictions and can buy shares in GRAL regardless of size IF we believe it to be a good investment.


As always, there are risks involved, and the following are my two main concerns:

  • Grail is not yet profitable and is burning through cash, estimated at around $250 million for 2024. However, ILMN is funding GRAL with almost $1 billion as part of the spin-off agreement, giving it about four years of operating cash.

  • The potential for Grail’s cancer tests is significant, but commercial success is uncertain.

My Next Move

Despite the uncertainty, I believe it’s worth taking a small bet (a small position in my portfolio) IF GRAL’s shares are heavily sold down upon listing – It could take a few days to happen, so I am not in a rush.

The spin-off should clear the way for regulatory approval of its tests, unlocking value in the business. As things progress and if the company can improve its profitability, I may look to increase my investment.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice. It is important to conduct your own research and consider your financial situation, risk tolerance, and investment goals before making any investment decisions.


There is no faster way to learn about investing than through the Greats. Here, I share lessons from the best investors and thinkers.

Given today’s Investing Chronicle is all about Spin-offs, I recommend reading “You Can Be a Stock Market Genius” by Joel Greenblatt.

I know the title is terrible, and I have mentioned the book before. Still, it details the potential opportunity spin-offs present as they tend to be overlooked and undervalued by the broader market.

Greenblatt highlights several reasons why spin-offs can be attractive:

  1. Market Inefficiency: Spin-offs are often neglected by investors and analysts, leading to temporary mispricing. This inefficiency can allow investors to buy shares at a discounted price relative to their intrinsic value. (See “Reducing Risk When Buying Shares in a Company” for why this is important)

  2. Focused Management: Newly spun-off companies typically benefit from a more focused management team incentivized to grow the business independently. This can lead to improved operational efficiency and better decision-making.

  3. Special Situations: Spin-offs can create special situations where the new company’s stock might be under pressure due to forced selling by shareholders who received the shares but have no interest in holding them long-term. This selling pressure can artificially depress the stock price, presenting buying opportunities. (Sound familiar 😉)

  4. Corporate Restructuring: Companies often spin-off divisions to streamline operations, unlock value, or facilitate growth in specific areas.

Greenblatt suggests that patient investors who understand these dynamics and are willing to wait for the value of a spin-off to unlock can do very well for themselves.

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