Steel Partners urges Ezaki Glico on divs, other steps

TOKYO, March 17 Mon Mar 17, 2008 3:51am EDT

TOKYO, March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. hedge fund Steel Partners said on Monday it had proposed steps to confectioner Ezaki Glico Co (2206.T) to boost its corporate value, including appointing an independent board member and raising dividend payments.

The fund, which owns 14.4 percent of the Osaka-based maker of chocolate bars and chewing gum, also said the firm's share price was low compared with rivals, and called for it to repurchase and cancel its own shares.

Steel Partners is well-known in Japan for having pressured management of several firms to boost shareholder returns. It lost a court case last year in which it had sought to block anti-takeover moves by Bull-Dog Sauce Co (2804.T), while it is currently seeking a one-third stake in beermaker Sapporo Holdings (2501.T).

The fund said it had asked Ezaki Glico to accelerate efforts to raise product prices to pass on rises in raw materials costs. It also urged the firm to expand its overseas operations, saying the North American market was promising for confectioners.

Steel Partners said it had submitted its suggestions to the confectioner late last month.

In a statement, Steel Partners said these suggestions would help the firm achieve an 8 percent return on equity, the minimum required by the fund to support a board of directors. (Reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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