Activist investors are globalizing.
New York-based Third Point, run by chief executive officer Daniel Loeb, is the latest example. The firm’s latest move — suggesting Nestlé sell its 23.3 percent stake in beauty giant L’Oréal — shines a light on the increasingly international focus of activist shareholders. Third Point has been involved in three other European global activist situations, according to data from Activistmonitor analyst Prithish Ray, and the firm has also been involved with Japanese robotics company Fanuc.
Other funds are getting in on the action, too. According to Ray, Elliott Management Corp. has been involved in 12 European activist shareholder situations, and Southeastern Asset Management was involved in three, including one at Adidas.
Financial experts agree there’s an uptick in the global nature of activism.
“The market for activism is very strong in the U.S. and becoming stronger outside of the U.S.,” said Bruce Goldfarb, ceo of Okapi, an investor advisory firm. “Investors are doing significant research right now all over the globe to find companies where value can be unlocked through a strategy that requires a more active posture from investors in terms of providing suggestions, ideas, operational knowhow, change at the board level or change within the management and capital structure of the company.”
Because stocks in the U.S. are at “very high valuations,” hedge funds are looking at companies in other markets where they may be able to “unlock value,” Goldfarb contends. In 2017, with the availability of Internet-based information, travel, and lower transaction costs because of technology advancements, the international activism practice is easier than ever, he noted. “We have a global society for goods and products and with that, globalization comes the ability to compare and contrast from market to market, and for the activist investors…they have the ability to buy companies anywhere in the world and put their strategic viewpoints to work.”
The pushes of activist shareholders may have faded slightly from the headlines, said Kai Liekefett, head of Vinson & Elkins’ shareholder activist practice — he focuses on defending the companies from the activists — but that’s because the activists have moved to smaller companies. “Activism is at record level in the U.S., and globally it’s still a phenomenon that’s slowly getting traction,” he said, noting cases in South Korea, Australia, Hong Kong and Ireland.
For hedge funds, trading outside the U.S. markets is now fairly common, according to Eleazer Klein, partner at Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, who provides legal advice to activist investors. “There’s a recognition that globalization and the markets are intertwined to some extent. That’s the reason a lot of investment offices have offices in Asia, in the U.K. and Asia,” Klein said. “It’s a natural progression — they will start using the same types of tools to drive value. As the space continues to mature, that’s another reason [we’re] seeing growth in cross-border [moves].”
Financial sources agreed more cross-border activism is in the cards. “We’re going to see a continued trend of activism all over the globe,” Goldfarb said. “This is coming. It’s already happening — not in great numbers, but it’s clearly happening,” Liekefett said.