Texas land trust takes step to counter activist investor

BOSTON (Reuters) - Texas Pacific Land Trust, one of the biggest private landowners in Texas, on Monday took a first step in fighting back against a large investor which is seeking to install its own trustee and begin selling off the firm’s portfolio.

Texas Pacific plans to postpone by two weeks the date of a special meeting where shareholders will vote to fill a vacant trustee spot, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. The meeting to replace Maurice Meyer III, one of three trustees who resigned his office earlier this year and died on March 24, will be on May 22.

The record date remains unchanged at March 28.

The proxy contest illustrates how even strongly performing companies can run afoul of activist investors at a time both experienced corporate agitators and newcomers are pushing corporations to perform better to help boost their own returns.

There are currently around a dozen activist campaigns focused on U.S. energy stocks, as shareholders - buffeted by years of sub-standard returns versus other areas of the economy - seek remedies from changes to management pay and cost-cutting, to the sale of parts or all of the company.

In this case, the activists hope to cash in on excitement around the Permian basin, which covers Western Texas and parts of Eastern New Mexico and which has been the center of the U.S. shale revolution.

Texas Pacific wants shareholders elect an independent trustee. Horizon Kinetics and its partners will urge shareholders to back Eric Oliver, president of hedge fund SoftVest, L.P., according to a regulatory filing.

“The postponement is intended to provide the Trustees with sufficient time to consider the nomination notice,” a lawyer for Texas Pacific said.

Horizon Kinetics, a New York-based money manager, is working as a group with SoftVest and others, according to one filing and said in another filing that it is looking into ways to “maximize the value” of its shares.

The group wants to convert Texas Pacific, which has been operating since 1888, into a Delaware corporation subject to modern governance principles, to establish an experienced team around its water business and be more transparent.

Texas Pacific has a market capitalization of $5.6 billion and its stock price has climbed 482 percent over five years, gaining 36 percent since Jan. 1, 2019. It controls roughly 900,000 acres of land.

Roughly 23 percent is owned by Horizon Kinetics and roughly 60 percent is owned by retail investors.

Additional reporting by David French; Editing by Susan Thomas