This issue of Barron’s carries a brief article on activist hedge funds and makes mention of activist Jeff Ubben and his firm ValueAct Capital, which is regarded as one of the elite activist funds because it has averaged gains of 144 percent in companies where they filed 13D forms.
Some notable holdings include:
- ADOBE SYSTEMS INC
- CBRE GROUP INC
- MCGRAW HILL
- MICROS SYSTEMS INC
- MICROSOFT CORP
- MOTOROLA SOLUTIONS INC
- MSCI INC
- VALEANT PHARMACEUTICALS INTL
You can see a list of their most recent holdings here.
Ubben is speaking at the 9th Annual New York Value Investing Congress taking place September 16 & 17, 2013 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Fredrick P. Rose Hall.
Ubben will be accompanied by some of the world’s most accomplished investors, and for good reason: they want to be the first to hear investment ideas from money managers who have a proven track record of generating stellar returns for their clients and themselves.
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There are good reasons for tracking activists. For one, research supports the view that stocks the subject of activist campaigns can generate significant above market returns, on the filing and, importantly, in the subsequent year. Recent industry research by Ken Squire, manager of the 13D Activist mutual fund (DDDAX), finds an average outperformance of 16% over the subsequent 15 months for companies larger than $1 billion in market cap:
Ken Squire is founder and principal of 13D Monitor, a research service that tracks activist investing and has data on Icahn-led activist situations since 1994, when the investor targeted Samsonite Corp. The average return of the 85 positions since then was 18.7% (measured until he closed the position, if at all), compared to 12.7% for the Standard & Poor’s 500 over comparable time frames.
Yet this impressive-seeming average outperformance should be viewed in the context of a general tendency of stocks to outperform once they have attracted the intense interest of known activist investors. In other words, this doesn’t apply to Icahn alone.
Squire calculates that, following a 13D filing, the shares of companies larger than $1 billion in market value have historically outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 16 percentage points over the subsequent 15 months. A separate study of nearly 300 activist actions by hedge funds between April 2006 and September 2012 found a similarly strong record of success. Squire runs the relatively new (and so-far small) 13D Activist mutual fund (DDDAX), which chooses stocks from among ongoing activist situations and beat the S&P 500 by 5.27% in 2012, after fees.
Squire takes into account the past record of specific activist investors when considering fund holdings. Hedge fund JANA Partners, for example, has a strong success rate in its arm-twisting maneuvers on corporate executives it deems lacking. One of its prominent targets currently is Canadian fertilizer giant Agrium Inc. (AGU).
Squire’s research accords with earlier studies on this site, most notably these two:
- In Entrepreneurial Shareholder Activism: Hedge Funds and Other Private Investors, April Klein and Emanuel Zur examined recent “confrontational activism campaigns” by “entrepreneurial shareholder activists” and concluded that such strategies generate “significantly positive market reaction for the target firm around the initial Schedule 13D filing date” and “significantly positive returns over the subsequent year.” The authors find that the filing of a 13D notice by an activist hedge fund is a catalytic event for a firm that heralds substantial positive returns in the stock. Klien and Zur found that “hedge fund targets earn 10.2% average abnormal stock returns during the period surrounding the initial Schedule 13D. Other activist targets experience a significantly positive average abnormal return of 5.1% around the SEC filing window. These findings suggest that, on average, the market believes activism creates shareholder value. … Furthermore, our target abnormal returns do not dissipate in the 1-year period following the initial Schedule 13D. Instead, hedge fund targets earn an additional 11.4% abnormal return during the subsequent year, and other activist targets realize a 17.8% abnormal return over the year following the activists’ interventions.”
- In Hedge Fund Activism, Corporate Governance, and Firm Performance, authors Brav, Jiang, Thomas and Partnoy found that the “market reacts favorably to hedge fund activism, as the abnormal return upon announcement of potential activism is in the range of [7%] seven percent, with no return reversal during the subsequent year.” Further, the paper “provides important new evidence on the mechanisms and effects of informed shareholder monitoring.”
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Update: See Ryan’s interview on Bloomberg.
Great article from Businessweek about Ryan Morris, the 28-year-old Canadian managing partner of Meson Capital Partners, LLC who “resembles a sandy-haired Mitt Romney,” and seems to be all out of bubblegum:
Ryan Morris spent a week steeling himself for the showdown. Then 27 years old, he was in his first campaign as an activist investor, trying to wrest control of a small company named InfuSystem (INFU), which provides and services pumps used in chemotherapy. In the meeting, Morris would confront InfuSystem’s chairman and vice chairman, two men in their 40s, and tell them that as a shareholder, he thought the company was heading in the wrong direction.
Morris is competitive—his high school rowing teammates nicknamed him “Cyborg,” and he took a semester off college to race as a semi-pro cyclist—but face-to-face confrontation wasn’t something he relished. “I like the thrill of the hunt, but not the kill,” he says. To prepare, Morris outlined questions, guessed potential responses, and tried to anticipate what tense “pregnant moments” could arrive. He built his clout by lining up support from InfuSystem’s largest shareholder as well as a veteran activist investor. Morris knew his own looks—he resembles a sandy-haired Mitt Romney—could help mask his youth, and decided he’d wear a tie, much as he hates to.
The company, with just $47 million in revenue, was spending too much money, and in the wrong places. In the previous year, InfuSystem’s board and CEO earned more than $11 million combined. This was for a company whose stock had lost 40 percent of its value over the previous three years. Morris figured that as a shareholder voice on the board, he could help cut expenses—including the high pay—and, once it was clean enough to sell, reap a return for his own small hedge fund.
On Dec. 13, 2011, he finally sat at a conference table across from the two directors. After 45 minutes of discussion, he still didn’t think his concerns were being acknowledged. So he got to the point: He wanted three board seats.
It’s a great story. Read the rest of the article on Businessweek.
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New research co-authored by London Business School’s Elroy Dimson suggests that investors who actively engage with the companies they own to improve governance and strategy outperform more passive rivals.
The paper, Active Ownership with Oguzhan Karakas and Xi Li, focuses on corporate social responsibility engagements on environmental, social and governance issues.
The authors find average one-year abnormal return after initial engagement is 1.8%, with 4.4% for successful engagements whereas there is no market reaction to unsuccessful ones. The positive abnormal returns are most pronounced for engagements on the themes of corporate governance and climate change:
We find that reputational concerns and higher capacity to implement corporate social responsibility changes increase the likelihood of a firm being engaged and being successful in achieving the engagement objectives. Target firms experience improvements in operating performance, profitability, efficiency, and governance indices after successful engagements.
Figure 1 from the paper shows cumulative abnormal returns around corporate social responsibility engagements (click to enlarge):
Dimson is perhaps best known for his global equity premia research (for example, Triumph of the Optimists and Equity Premia Around the World) with LBS colleagues Paul Marsh and Mike Staunton.
A version of the paper can be found on SSRN here.
Via Financial News’ Studies reveal the value of activism.
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What do requests for confidentiality reveal about hedge fund portfolio holdings? In Uncovering Hedge Fund Skill from the Portfolio Holdings They Hide, a paper to be published in the upcoming Journal of Finance (or see a February 2012 version on the SSRN), authors Vikas Agarwal, Wei Jiang, Yuehua Tang, and Baozhong Yang ask whether confidential holdings exhibit superior performance to holdings disclosed on a 13F in the ordinary course.
Institutional investment managers must disclose their quarterly portfolio holdings in a Form 13F. The 13(f) rule allows the SEC to delay disclosure that is “necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors.” When filers request confidential treatment for certain holdings, they may omit those holdings off their Form 13F. After the confidentiality period expires, the filer must reveal the holdings by filing an amendment to the original Form 13F.
Confidential treatment allows hedge funds to accumulate larger positions in stocks, and to spread the trades over a longer period of time. Funds request confidentiality where timely disclosure of portfolio holdings may reveal information about proprietary investment strategies that other investors can free-ride on without incurring the costs of research. The Form 13F filings of investors with the best track records are followed by many investors. Warren Buffett’s new holdings are so closely followed that he regularly requests confidential treatment on his larger investments.
Hedge funds seek confidentiality more frequently than other institutional investors. They constitute about 30 percent of all institutions, but account for 56 percent of all the confidential filings. Hedge funds on average relegate about one-third of their total portfolio values into confidentiality, while the same figure is one-fifth for investment companies/advisors and one-tenth for banks and insurance companies.
The authors make three important findings:
- Hedge funds with characteristics associated with more active portfolio management, such as those managing large and concentrated portfolios, and adopting non-standard investment strategies (i.e., higher idiosyncratic risk), are more likely to request confidentiality.
- The confidential holdings are more likely to consist of stocks associated with information-sensitive events such as mergers and acquisitions, and stocks subject to greater information asymmetry, i.e., those with smaller market capitalization and fewer analysts following.
- Confidential holdings of hedge funds exhibit significantly higher abnormal performance compared to their original holdings for different horizons ranging from 2 months to 12 months. For example, the difference over the 12-month horizon ranges from 5.2% to 7.5% on an annualized basis.
Read a February 2012 version on the SSRN.
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Forbes has a great article on Carl Icahn’s activist campaign at Oshkosh Corporation(NYSE:OSK) called Is Icahn Trying To Nickel And Dime Oshkosh? Sum Of The Parts Worth Way More, BofA Says. Icahn, who, according to the article, holds 9.5 percent of the outstanding stock, is pushing to takeover the company and possible split it up. Icahn has offered $32.50 per share for the stock he doesn’t own. Bank of America’s analysts argue that the value of OSK is between $35 and $38 per share:
Their view, they noted, is supported by the average price target analysts have on the stock, which is approximately $32. Data from Thomson One shows that out of the 14 analysts that cover Oshkosh, 8 have a “buy” or “strong buy” for the stock, with a mean price target of $32.91 and a median of $34.
That valuation excludes a change of control premium, which Bank of America estimates should be between 20% and 30% over their estimate. That would take their sum of the parts valuation to between $42 to $49 per share. “While we believe that it would be very hard to get a bidder without significant synergies at levels greater than $42/share, the current offer of $32.50 while representing a 21% premium to closing price on October 11, 2012 [sic] seems indeed too low,” they added.
Read the article.
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I’ve been closely following on Greenbackd the Kinnaras stoush with the board of Media General Inc (NYSE:MEG) over the last few months.
Kinnaras has been pushing the Board to “take advantage of the robust M&A market for both newspaper and broadcast television and to sell all operating units of MEG in order to retire existing corporate and pension debt and achieve a share price shareholders have rarely seen in recent years.”
It looks like Kinnaras has succeeded, with the board announcing recently that it had reached an agreement to sell its newspaper division, excluding the Tampa Tribune, to Warren Buffett’s BH Media Group for $142 million. In addition, Buffett would also provide MEG with a new Term Loan and revolver in exchange for roughly 20 percent of additional equity.
MEG is a provider of local news in small and mid-size communities throughout the Southeastern United States. It owns three metropolitan and 20 community newspapers and 18 network-affiliated broadcast television stations Virginia/Tennessee, Florida, Mid-South, North Carolina, and Ohio/Rhode Island.
Kinnaras’s Managing Member Amit Chokshi has a new post analyzing the sale and the valuation of the remaining rump of $MEG. Chokshi sees the valuation as follows (against a prevailing share price of $3.50):
A 6.8x multiple would imply a valuation of about $8.50/share when using my estimates for how MEG’s capitalization will look post the BH Media transaction and accounting for BH Media’s warrants. By year-end, it is possible that another $10-20MM in debt is reduced which would bring share value up close to $1. The reason the jump is so significant is because each dollar of cash flow erases some very expensive debt. In addition, pure-play broadcasters are valued from 6-9x EV/EBITDA and one could argue that MEG deserves a valuation closer towards the mid point or higher for its peers when factoring the disposal of newspapers and accounting for the high quality locations of its key stations.
Lastly, as I’ve repeated in each prior post, another potential value creation event would be selling off the entire company. BH Media will now occupy a Board seat and I don’t expect the blind subservience other Board members have. Management has demonstrated a clear lack of competence in every facet of managing MEG. The only thing they have done thus far is get lucky in terms of finding a buyer for their assets and providing them financing. As an owner of MEG, BH Media will get an up close look at the type of management this team brings and I suspect will compare the value management adds or detracts. To any sane observer, management is just pitiful and MEG’s value suffers for it.
Read the full post here.
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