The number of activist campaigns in Europe has climbed each month this year to a total of 25 campaigns by May, fuelled by a spike in environmental campaigns calling for more ambitious action, according to research from Alvarez & Marsal.
The growing momentum bucks the trend of previous years where new campaigns dipped after annual general meeting (AGM) season, typically and March and April.
Malcolm McKenzie, a managing director at A&M, said campaigns were likely to continue to rise this year as uncertainty in the market eases in the second half of the year.
“Management teams should expect significantly increased levels of shareholder scrutiny in the coming months and, with even more funds taking activist positions, anticipate demands from multiple activists at a time,” he added.
Environmental campaigners have been pushing firms to back more ambitious climate change policies, with green campaigns accounting for 12 per cent of all activist campaigns in 2023, compared to just four per cent in 2019.
Energy giants BP and Shell are among the big UK businesses to have faced shareholder revolts as more ethically-conscious investors piled pressure on boards for change.
Shell came under fire from pension funds to strengthen its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at its AGM in May, while BP faced a rival climate proposal from agitator Follow This.
Activist group ShareAction also corralled a group of investors to pressure Barclays to stop financing new oil and gas fields this year.
For the first time, there are more than 100 major funds using activist tactics across Europe, A&M found.
ShareAction separately rounded up a group of a coalition of 15 investors worth £2.37 trillion to press companies to take decisive action this AGM season to protect their lowest paid workers.
Elsewhere this year, Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s owner The Restaurant Group was hit by a shareholder revolt over the £792,000 pay package handed to chief executive Andy Hornby. Activist fund manager Oasis Management protested against the “unpalatable” pay after four years of deep losses.
The flurry of activism is likely to continue throughout the year and into 2024, A&M said.
The firm said there are at least 140 European companies at higher risk of shareholder revolts unless they urgently address their own performance.