FRANKFURT/BOSTON (Reuters) - Elliott Management Corp has invested more than rivals in its push for corporate change so far this year and there has been an increasing focus among activist investors on German companies.
Elliott, Paul Singer’s $35 billion hedge fund, committed $3.4 billion in new capital in the first six months of 2019, data on the sector compiled by Lazard show, outpacing Carl Icahn who spent $2.8 billion.
“Two years ago, many German corporates did not think about activists. Now we are getting more and more calls from management teams and supervisory boards. There’s a real awakening, a dramatic shift,” said Richard Thomas, who leads Lazard’s European shareholder advisory practice.
“All have been situations where there were opportunities for improvement and questions being asked about what the company can do to create value for all stakeholders,” Franck Tuil, Elliott’s senior portfolio manager, told Reuters.
“What has changed is that now managers have started to listen. We like to get the board to endorse us,” he said.
Institutional shareholders were increasingly seeing the value of engaging with activist investors in Germany, said Louis Barbier from Squarewell Partners, which surveyed asset managers.
“The state of governance at German companies is not strong. They have for a long time been very reluctant to engage with investors,” he told Reuters.
Some German firms have been shifting strategy before activists take a stake. Siemens (SIEGn.DE) Chief Executive Joe Kaeser said the industrial group would split after saying he had turned down an offer from activists to help with restructuring.
Others are embracing activists. Bayer and Elliott sent coordinated statements on a change in the German firm’s litigation strategy and SAP CEO Bill McDermott has called Elliott a “fantastic” investor.
Corporate consultancy Alix Partners said activists launched at least 26 campaigns at German groups in 2016 to 2018, although advisers say many campaigns go under the radar.
But some firms still oppose the intervention. Ulrich Lehner accused Elliott and European activist investor Cevian of “psychoterror” when he quit as Thyssenkrupp chairman last year. The firm was later split along the lines pushed by activists.
Elliott had 171 investment professionals focusing on its targets, while Cevian had 30 with that focus at the end of the first quarter.
Elsewhere in Europe, the top 10 U.S.-based activist investors have also stepped up activities.
Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management disclosed a position in British plumbing products distributor Ferguson (FERG.L) in June.
But the reaction by the national authorities in some parts of Europe, such as France, is not always welcoming.
“In France, our Pernod (PERP.PA) campaign immediately drew comments from the Finance Ministry about the dangers of activists,” said Elliott’s Tuil. “In Germany, all voices are welcome.”
Reporting by Arno Schuetze, Alexander Hübner, Christoph Steitz in FRANKFURT and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York; Editing by Georgina Prodhan