Shareholder activism outside the US is on the rise, with the UK at risk of more campaigns

Lucy White
A selection of Nestle chocolate bars is
Nestle has been subjected to an activist challenge from Third Point this year (Source: Getty)

Investors are getting more plucky, it seems, as shareholder activism outside the US is on the rise according to FTI Consulting.

A total of 201 activism campaigns took place beyond the US's borders in the first half of 2017, compared to just 70 in the whole of 2010.

Although the US has traditionally been the most active country for activist investors, FTI's research shows that Australia, Canada and the UK are at the highest risk of a surge.

Read more: The activist mindset is invading the boardroom

It attributes this to changing economic factors such as a strong US dollar, undervalued asset prices and increased global scrutiny of corporate governance standards.

As the report observes, notable activist investors such as ValueAct, Elliott Management and Third Point are becoming increasingly global.

Five of Elliott's 12 campaigns so far this year were outside the US, including the long-running battle to try and make Dulux manufacturer AkzoNobel accept a takeover offer from US rival PPG.

Read more: Activist investor takes swipe at Johnston Press chief executive after building up 21 per cent stake

Meanwhile American philanthropist Daniel Loeb has been trying to urge change at household goods conglomerate Nestle, through his hedge fund Third Point.

However, despite fears that activism might increase in the UK, there is currently no sign of an uptick. Some 30 campaigns were waged in the country in the first half of 2017, similar to previous years.

Of those that were launched, FTI found that an increasing proportion of activist investors were from the UK or mainland Europe rather than the US.

Further afield, Australia was found to have supplanted Canada as the second highest jurisdiction for shareholder activism. Elliott's tirade against mining company BHP Billiton, trying to push the company to replace its board, was just one example of 48.

Japan and China are not insulated from the trend. FTI's research noted Chinese activism tends to be short focused, where Japan’s increase is down to changes in its corporate governance rules.

In 2015, the Japanese government compelled firms to appoint at least two outside directors, with the idea that this would make them more attractive to investors.

The most popular type of campaign waged in the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions was the removal of the chief executive or other board member, as 26.5 per cent of activist investors chose this route.

Around 15 per cent challenged remuneration, while 9.2 per cent gained board representation.

This is in contrast to North America where gaining board representation was the most popular resort, followed by adopting a majority vote standard and removal of a chief executive or other board member.

Read more: Activist investor Chris Hohn tells Safran chairman: Pull €8.5bn Zodiac deal or we'll try to oust you

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