April 30, 2019 / 9:04 PM / 22 days ago

Hedge fund Voce urges Argo to slash expenses, nominates five directors

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) - An activist hedge fund on Tuesday nominated five directors and urged insurance company Argo Group International Holdings Ltd to cut $100 million in expenses, including corporate jets and housing for its chief executive.

Voce Capital Management LLC wants Argo shareholders to back its plan to double return on equity at the company’s annual meeting next month, saying the current board is responsible for a “culture of indulgence,” according to a securities filing, seen by Reuters.

Voce, a $250 million hedge fund run by J. Daniel Plants, said Argo’s return on equity could climb to over 10 percent from an average of 5.7 percent if it slashed expenses such as the jets, sponsorships and CEO pay and housing, including a waterfront villa in Bermuda and a penthouse apartment in New York City.

“The numbers Plants has put forward are fantasy,” an Argo representative said.

The hedge fund owns 5.6 percent of $2.4 billion Argo, which specializes in insurance and reinsurance products in property and casualty insurance. Voce announced plans to push for changes in February.

Voce’s director candidates have global insurance and capital allocation expertise plus public company board experience. Voce proposes to replace five directors, including ones not up for re-election now, and called the current board weak.

Voce wants a combination of expense cuts, improved capital allocation and portfolio realignment, including possibly spinning off certain businesses.

Investors would reward such moves, Voce said, forecasting shares could climb as high as $126, compared with Tuesday’s closing price of $78.07. If nothing is done, the hedge fund said, the stock price could also drop, erasing gains made since Voce began pressuring Argo.

Voce also said the company’s Gulfstream 5 jet logged 584 flights in the last three calendar years to places where Argo CEO Mark Watson III has homes.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Beverly Hills, California; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker

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