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EQUUS TOTAL RETURN, INC. - 10-Q - Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

May 15, 2014


Equus Total Return, Inc. ("we," "us," "our," "Equus," the "Company," and the "Fund"), a Delaware corporation, was formed by Equus Investments II, L.P. (the "Partnership") on August 16, 1991. On July 1, 1992, the Partnership was reorganized and all of the assets and liabilities of the Partnership were transferred to the Fund in exchange for shares of common stock of the Fund. Our shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol EQS. On August 11, 2006, our shareholders approved the change of the Fund's investment strategy to a total return investment objective. This new strategy seeks to provide the highest total return, consisting of capital appreciation and current income. In connection with this strategic investment change, the shareholders also approved the change of name from Equus II Incorporated to Equus Total Return, Inc.

We attempt to maximize the return to stockholders in the form of current investment income and long-term capital gains by investing in the debt and equity securities of companies with a total enterprise value of between $5.0 million and $75.0 million, although we may engage in transactions with smaller or larger investee companies from time to time. We seek to invest primarily in companies pursuing growth either through acquisition or organically, leveraged buyouts, management buyouts and recapitalizations of existing businesses or special situations. Our income-producing investments consist principally of debt securities including subordinate debt, debt convertible into common or preferred stock, or debt combined with warrants and common and preferred stock. Debt and preferred equity financing may also be used to create long-term capital appreciation through the exercise and sale of warrants received in connection with the financing. We seek to achieve capital appreciation by making investments in equity and equity-oriented securities issued by privately-owned companies in transactions negotiated directly with such companies. Given market conditions over the past several years and the performance of our portfolio, our management and Board of Directors believe it is prudent to continue to review alternatives to refine and further clarify the current strategies.

We elected to be treated as a Business Development Company ("BDC") under the Investment Company Act of 1940 Act ("1940 Act"). We currently qualify as a regulated investment company ("RIC') for federal income tax purposes and, therefore, are not required to pay corporate income taxes on any income or gains that we distribute to our stockholders. We have certain wholly owned Taxable Subsidiaries each of which holds one or more portfolio investments listed on our Schedules of Investments. The purpose of these Taxable Subsidiaries is to permit us to hold certain income-producing investments or portfolio companies organized as limited liability companies, or LLCs, (or other forms of pass-through entities) and still satisfy the RIC tax requirement that at least 90% of our gross revenue for income tax purposes must consist of investment income. Absent the Taxable Subsidiaries, a portion of the gross income of these income-producing investments or of any LLC (or other pass-through entity) portfolio investment, as the case may be, would flow through directly to us for the 90% test. To the extent that such income did not consist of investment income, it could jeopardize our ability to qualify as a RIC and, therefore, cause us to incur significant federal income taxes. The income of the LLCs (or other pass-through entities) owned by Taxable Subsidiaries is taxed to the Taxable Subsidiaries and does not flow through to us, thereby helping us preserve our RIC status and resultant tax advantages. We do not consolidate the Taxable Subsidiaries for income tax purposes and they may generate income tax expense because of the Taxable Subsidiaries' ownership of the portfolio investments. We reflect any such income tax expense on our Statements of Operations.

Critical Accounting Policies

Our financial statements are based on the selection and application of significant accounting policies, which require management to make significant estimates and assumptions. We believe that the following are some of the more critical judgment areas in the application of our accounting policies that currently affect our financial condition and results of operations.

Valuation of Investments- Portfolio investments are carried at fair value with the net change in unrealized appreciation or depreciation included in the determination of net assets. Valuations of portfolio securities are performed in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America and the financial reporting policies of the SEC. The applicable methods prescribed by such principles and policies are described below:

Publicly-traded portfolio securities-Investments in companies whose securities are publicly traded are generally valued at their quoted market price at the close of business on the valuation date.

Privately-held portfolio securities-The fair value of investments for which no market exists is determined on the basis of procedures established in good faith by our Board of Directors. As a general principle, the current "fair value" of an investment would be the amount we might reasonably expect to receive for it upon its current sale, in an orderly manner. Appraisal valuations are necessarily subjective and the estimated values arrived at by the Fund may differ materially from amounts actually received upon the disposition of portfolio securities.

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Thinly Traded and Over-the-Counter Securities-Generally, we value securities that are traded in the over-the-counter market or on a stock exchange at the average of the prevailing bid and ask prices on the date of the relevant period end. However, we may apply a discount to the market value of restricted or thinly traded public securities to reflect the impact that these restrictions have on the value of these securities. We review factors, including the trading volume, total securities outstanding and our percentage ownership of securities to determine whether the trading levels are active (Level 1) or inactive (Level 2) or unobservable (Level 3). These types of securities represented 11.0% of our investments in portfolio securities as of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013, respectively. We utilized independent pricing services with certain of our fair value estimates. To corroborate "bid/ask" quotes from independent pricing services, we perform a market-yield approach to validate prices obtained or obtain other evidence.

During the first twelve months after an investment is made, the original investment amount is utilized to determine the fair value unless significant developments have occurred during this twelve month period which would indicate a material effect on the portfolio company (such as results of operations or changes in general market conditions). After the twelve month period, or if material events have occurred within the twelve month period, Fund management considers a two-step process when appraising investments of privately held companies. The first step involves determining the enterprise value of the portfolio company. During this step, our management considers three different valuation approaches: a market approach, an income approach, and an asset approach. The particular facts and circumstances of each portfolio company determine which approach, or combination of approaches, will be utilized. The second step when appraising equity investments of privately held companies involves allocating value to the various debt and equity securities of the company. Fund management allocates value to these securities based on their relative priorities. For equity securities such as warrants, the Fund may also incorporate alternative methodologies including the Black-Scholes Option Pricing Model.

Market approach-The market approach typically employed by our management calculates the enterprise value of a company as a multiple of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization ("EBITDA") generated by the company for the trailing twelve month period. Adjustments to the company's EBITDA, including those for non-recurring items, may be considered. Multiples are estimated based on current market conditions and past experience in the private company marketplace and are subjective in nature. We will apply liquidity and other discounts we deem appropriate to equity valuations where applicable. We may also use, when available, third-party transactions in a portfolio company's securities as the basis of valuation (the "private market method"). The private market method will be used only with respect to completed transactions or firm offers made by sophisticated, independent investors.

Income approach-The income approach typically utilized by our management calculates the enterprise value of a company utilizing a discounted cash flow model incorporating projected future cash flows of the company. Projected future cash flows consider the historical performance of the company as well as current and projected market participant performance. Discount rates are estimated based on current market conditions and past experience in the private company marketplace and are subjective in nature. We will apply liquidity and other discounts we deem appropriate to equity valuations where applicable.

Asset approach-We consider the asset approach to determine the fair value of significantly deteriorated investments demonstrating circumstances indicative of a liquidation analysis. This situation may arise when a portfolio company: 1) cannot generate adequate cash flow to meet the principal and interest payments on its indebtedness; 2) is not successful in refinancing its debt upon maturity; 3) we believe the credit quality of a loan has deteriorated due to changes in the business and underlying asset or market conditions which may result in the company's inability to meet future obligations; or 4) the portfolio company's reorganization or bankruptcy. Consideration is also given as to whether a liquidation event would be orderly or forced.

We base adjustments upon such factors as the portfolio company's earnings, cash flow and net worth, the market prices for similar securities of comparable companies, an assessment of the company's current and future financial prospects and various other factors and assumptions. In the case of unsuccessful operations, we may base a portfolio company's fair value upon the company's estimated liquidation value. Fair valuations are necessarily subjective, and management's estimate of fair value may differ materially from amounts actually received upon the disposition of its portfolio securities. Also, any failure by a portfolio company to achieve its business plan or obtain and maintain its financing arrangements could result in increased volatility and result in a significant and rapid change in its value.

Our general intent is to hold our loans to maturity when appraising its privately held debt investments. As such, we believe that the fair value will not exceed the cost of the investment. However, in addition to the previously described analysis involving allocation of value to the debt instrument, we perform a yield analysis to determine if a debt security has been impaired.

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The Audit Committee of the Board of Directors may engage independent, third-party valuation firms to conduct independent appraisals and review management's preliminary valuations of each privately-held investment in order to make their own independent assessment. Any third-party valuation data would be considered as one of many factors in a fair value determination. The Audit Committee then would recommend the fair values for all privately-held securities based on all relevant factors to the Board of Directors for final approval.

Because of the inherent uncertainty of the valuation of portfolio securities which do not have readily ascertainable market values, amounting to $13.4 million and $13.3 million as of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013, respectively, our fair value determinations may materially differ from the values that would have been used had a ready market existed for the securities. As of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013 respectively, one of the Fund's portfolio investments, the 73,666 ordinary shares of Orco Property Group, S.A. ("OPG"), was publicly listed on the NYSE Euronext Paris Exchange, along with €1,200,790 [$1.5 million] in newly-issued 6-year OPG Notes. However, as of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013 respectively, there had been no significant trading activity in the OPG Notes.

On a daily basis, we adjust our net asset value for the changes in the value of our publicly held securities, if applicable, and material changes in the value of private securities, generally determined on a quarterly basis or as announced in a press release, and reports those amounts to Lipper Analytical Services, Inc. Weekly and daily net asset values appear in various publications, including Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.

Federal Income Taxes

On May 15, 2014, we announced that we had adopted a Plan of Reorganization, which may involve the transformation of the Fund into an operating company, which will likely result in the loss of our status as a RIC for Federal income tax purposes. However, if we do not effect a transformation of the Fund into an operating company, we intend to comply with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code necessary for us to qualify as a RIC. So long as we comply with these requirements, we generally will not be subject to corporate-level federal income taxes on otherwise taxable income (including net realized capital gains) distributed to stockholders. Therefore, we did not record a provision for federal income taxes in our financial statements. As of December 31, 2013, we had a capital loss carry-forward of $32.5 million which may be used to offset future capital gains. We may borrow money from time to time to maintain our status as a RIC under the Internal Revenue Code. See Note 2 for further discussion of our RIC borrowings. See also "Subsequent Events" and "Risk Factors" on pages 27 and 30.

Interest Income Recognition

We record interest income, adjusted for amortization of premium and accretion of discount, on an accrual basis to the extent that we expect to collect such amounts. We stop accruing interest on investments when we determine that interest is no longer collectible. We may also impair the accrued interest when we determine that all or a portion of the current accrual is uncollectible. If we receive any cash after determining that interest is no longer collectible, we treat such cash as payment on the principal balance until the entire principal balance has been repaid, before we recognize any additional interest income. We accrete or amortize discounts and premiums on securities purchased over the life of the respective security using the effective yield method. The amortized cost of investments represents the original cost adjusted for the accretion of discount and/or amortization of premium on debt securities.

Payment in Kind Interest

We have loans in our portfolio that may pay PIK interest. We add PIK interest, if any, computed at the contractual rate specified in each loan agreement, to the principal balance of the loan and record it as interest income. To maintain the Fund's status as a RIC, we must pay out to our stockholders this non-cash source of income in the form of dividends even if we have not yet collected any cash in respect of such investments.

Current Market Conditions

Overall economic conditions in the United States have improved, albeit marginally. However, the economic recovery has been hampered by slower growth and persistent high unemployment levels. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office is forecasting higher growth in 2014 (3.1%), with a projected unemployment rate exceeding 6.0% until 2017.

Further, the banking industry continues to experience additional bank failures as regulators continue to impose strict capital requirements. Additionally, future economic expansion and business investment is threatened by perceptions of higher taxes and healthcare costs, as well as the high levels of government deficit spending.

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Market conditions for business transactions including mergers and acquisitions and private equity investments improved significantly in 2013 compared with previous years, and has continued through the first quarter of 2014, as corporations have been deleveraging and are holding significant amounts of cash and many have begun to focus on acquisitions as part of future growth plans. Private equity firms as a group enjoyed more success in 2013 in monetizing their investments through sales and public listings.

During the first quarter of 2014, our net asset value decreased to $3.09 per share from $3.14 per share. As of March 31, 2014, the closing price of our common stock closed was $1.92, which is a discount of 37.9% to our net asset value.

Over the past several years, we have executed certain initiatives to enhance liquidity, achieve a lower operational cost structure, provide more assistance to portfolio companies and realize certain of our portfolio investments. Specifically, we changed the composition of our Board of Directors and management, terminated certain of our follow-on investments, internalized the management of the Fund, suspended our managed distribution policy, modified our investment strategy to pursue shorter term liquidation opportunities, pursued non-cash investment opportunities, and sold certain of our legacy and underperforming investment holdings. We believe these actions continue to be necessary to protect capital and liquidity during this turbulent economic period in order to preserve and enhance shareholder value. Because our management is internalized, certain of our expenses should not increase commensurate with an increase in the size of the Fund and, therefore, we expect to achieve efficiencies in our cost structure if we are able to grow the Fund.

Liquidity and Capital Resources

We generate cash primarily from maturities, sales of securities and borrowings, as well as capital gains realized upon the sale of portfolio investments. We use cash primarily to make additional investments, either in new companies or as follow-on investments in the existing portfolio companies and to pay the dividends to our stockholders.

Because of the nature and size of the portfolio investments, we may periodically borrow funds to make qualifying investments to maintain our tax status as a RIC. We often borrow such funds by utilizing a margin account with a securities brokerage firm. There is no assurance that such arrangement will be available in the future. If the Fund is unable to borrow funds to make qualifying investments, it may no longer qualify as a RIC. The Fund would then be subject to corporate income tax on its net investment income and realized capital gains, and distributions to stockholders would be subject to income tax as ordinary dividends.

The Fund has the ability to borrow funds and issue forms of senior securities representing indebtedness or stock, such as preferred stock, subject to certain restrictions. Net taxable investment income and net taxable realized gains from the sales of portfolio investments are intended to be distributed at least annually, to the extent such amounts are not reserved for payment of expenses and contingencies or to make follow-on or new investments.

The Fund reserves the right to retain net long-term capital gains in excess of net short-term capital losses for reinvestment or to pay contingencies and expenses. Such retained amounts, if any, will be taxable to the Fund as long-term capital gains and stockholders will be able to claim their proportionate share of the federal income taxes paid on such gains as a credit against their own federal income tax liabilities. Stockholders will also be entitled to increase the adjusted tax basis of their Fund shares by the difference between their undistributed capital gains and their tax credit.

We are evaluating the impact of current market conditions on our portfolio company valuations and their ability to provide current income. We have followed valuation techniques in a consistent manner; however, we are cognizant of current market conditions that might affect future valuations of portfolio securities. We believe that our operating cash flow and cash on hand will be sufficient to meet operating requirements and to finance routine capital expenditures through the next twelve months.

Results of Operations

Investment Income and Expense

Net investment loss was $0.5 million and $0.8 million for the three months ended March 31, 2014 and March 31, 2013, respectively. Investment income was $0.3 million for the three months ended March 31, 2014. The investment income of ($0.1) generated for the three months ended March 31, 2013 is due primarily to due to the impairment of accrued interest income from Spectrum.

Total expenses were relatively unchanged at $0.7 million for the three months ended March 31, 2014 and March 31, 2013, respectively.

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Realized Gains and Losses on Sales of Portfolio Securities

During the three months ended March 31, 2014, we realized a loss of $0.1 million from the sale of temporary cash investments. We did not realize any net capital gains or losses for the three months ended March 31, 2013.

Changes in Unrealized Appreciation/Depreciation of Portfolio Securities

Net unrealized depreciation on investments increased $0.07 million during the three months ended March 31, 2014, to a net unrealized depreciation of $4.0 million. Such increase in unrealized depreciation is largely due to the decrease in fair value of our holdings in OPG of $0.1 million due to a decline in the price of OPG shares.

Net unrealized depreciation on investments increased $0.7 million during the three months ended March 31, 2013, to a net unrealized depreciation of $17.9 million. Such decrease in unrealized depreciation is largely due to the following changes:

(i) Decrease in fair value of Equus Energy of $0.2 million due to operating


(ii) Decrease in fair value of our holdings in OPG of $0.1 million due to a

decline in the price of OPG shares and foreign exchange translation; and

(iii) Decrease in fair value of our holdings in Spectrum of $0.4 million due to a

decline in operating performance. Dividends

We will pay out net investment income and/or realized capital gains, if any, on an annual basis as required under the Investment Company Act of 1940.

Portfolio Investments

During the three months ended March 31, 2014, we capitalized consulting expenses of $0.07 million relating to Spectrum Management. We also received a semi-annual interest payment of $0.04 million in respect of our €1.2 million [$1.5 million] in OPG notes.

During the three months ended March 31, 2013, we capitalized legal and consulting expenses of $0.1 million relating to Spectrum Management. We also received a semi-annual interest payment of $0.03 million and a 5.75% partial principal repayment of $9,000 in respect of our €1.2 million [$1.5 million] in OPG notes.

Subsequent Events

Management performed an evaluation of the Fund's activity through the date the financial statements were issued, noting the following subsequent events:

On April 3, 2014, we sold all of our 73,666 remaining shares of OPG, wherein we received $61,867 in net proceeds.

On May 15, 2014, the Fund announced that it had adopted a Plan of Reorganization (also referred to hereinafter as the "Plan") within the meaning of Section 2(a)(33) of the 1940 Act. Under the terms of the Plan, Equus intends to pursue a merger or consolidation with MVC Capital, Inc. ("MVC"), a BDC traded on the New York Stock Exchange, or a subsidiary of MVC, or one or more of MVC's portfolio companies (referred to in the Plan as a "Consolidation") within the next twelve months. Absent Equus merging or consolidating with/into MVC, the present intention is for Equus to (i) consummate the Consolidation, (ii) terminate its election to be classified as a BDC, and (iii) be restructured as a publicly-traded operating company focused on the energy and/or financial services sectors.

On May 14, 2014, a Share Exchange Agreement was entered into between MVC and Equus as a first step in the Plan, wherein MVC received 2,112,000 shares of the Fund in exchange for Equus receiving 395,839 shares of MVC. The exchange was determined based on each company's respective net asset values per share, calculated as of May 12, 2014. The number of MVC shares that were received by Equus is subject to adjustment following MVC's release of its Form 10-Q, which will include its published net asset value per share for the quarter ended April 30, 2014. If a Consolidation has not occurred within one year from the date of the share exchange, MVC has the right, to the extent permitted by applicable law, to rescind the exchange, recover its shares that have been issued to Equus, and return to Equus the 2,112,000 shares issued by the Fund. As part of the reorganization, MVC may also acquire additional Equus shares from time to time, either through Equus' direct sale to MVC of newly-issued shares from treasury (which would require the approval of a majority of Equus shareholders) or through the purchase of Equus shares from existing shareholders.

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